Monday, September 10, 2007

Back From The Dead: End of Summer Movies

Okay, so I've been dealing with some pretty crappy circumstances the past few days. A power outage blew some telephone wires near my house, and my internet access went down. Then my family had the brilliant idea to switch to a much faster Comcast cable internet...which doesn't support Macintosh my brand new MacBook I am stranded on another computer, posting here for a little while before I leave for college at the end of the week.

However, after being gone for a few days, I'll delve into something that I've been pleasantly surprised by over the past few weeks.

My dad and I have always talked about how shitty movies get when August, September, and January roll around. It's like clockwork, what with box office numbers declining and quality of movies going downhill even faster. The idea is obviously that as kids start to go back to school, there is less money to be made, and thus less viable movies in theatres. It also means that studios dump crappy films into the release schedule hoping that nobody will go see them and their reputation can remain as clean as possible.

On top of all that, I hate August and September movies even before they come out strictly on the basis of their release date. Knowing what I know about how studios release and promote movies, I tend to judge a movie based on the release date at the end of a trailer. If it says it's coming to theatres in August or September, it already has a hurdle to get over in my mind before I give it a fair chance.

This doesn't come without some crappy summer movie-going experiences. Back in the day I had to suffer through horrific pictures like XXX in late August because nothing else better was out. Let me repeat myself: in that particular August, the best movie in theatres was XXX, so bare was the selection.

That is not to say that good movies do not get released in August or September. There's almost always one film that shines through the dreck, like Michael Mann's Collateral or Talladega Nights (give me a little leeway, it was good for an August flick). This year already had its one great film after July 31st: The Bourne Ultimatum. Yes, it was released on the first weekend of August so it barely counts, but it still came out in August and kicked ass. So imagine my surprise when another couple movies came along and were actually substantial movies getting wide releases late in the summer and early in the fall: Superbad and 3:10 to Yuma.


I loved Arrested Development. It was one of the greatest TV shows I've ever seen, and I followed each cast member after its untimely demise to see whether or not they could recreate any of that show's magic. Will Arnett has basically been playing GOB in every single one of his small film roles, from Blades of Glory to last weekend's bomb The Brothers Solomon, both of which oddly co-starred Pam from The Office, and she might want to avoid any other offers for Will Arnett films. The young Micheal Cera, on the other hand, landed a role in a movie I tracked for months before it opened: Superbad.

These kinds of movies aren't supposed to be this good. There hasn't been a teen film like this since American Pie, and even that is pushing the limits when you list great teen comedies. Much like every review of the film said, it is extremely impressive to me that Seth Rogen and his writing partner started the script when they were just 13, but I credit Cera and Jonah Hill for really selling the parts. Michael Cera has proven to be a great young actor, and I'll be looking forward to his next role in the upcoming Juno.

I think I liked the film so much because unlike so many other lesser high school comedies, the film really isn't about high school at all. We spend almost no time actually at the school or involved in anything related to the school they attend. There's no football game, no teacher with a large supporting role, no fifty different funny kids to keep track of. The film is about leaving for college and what changes when that occurs. Seth and Evan are having a last hurrah as high school best friends, and I guess I latched onto that idea because I'm currently in the same transition.

I thought the script was totally believeable until the end, at which point I have to admit I agreed with one of my friends that some of the dialogue in Transformers was more believable than the final meeting in the mall. That aside, this wasn't a film that would normally come out in August, nor a film that would be so honest and heartfelt in its delivery. It's a credit to the Apatow school of comedy that something of this caliber came out of the film, and it was great for Superbad to turn out as good as we all wanted it to be.

3:10 to Yuma

When you direct an Oscar-nominated film, normally your next movie doesn't have too much trouble getting made and released with a big marketing campaign. That of course is unless your name is James Mangold, and you are trying to remake an old Western called 3:10 to Yuma. After years in development hell (the original stars were to be Eric Bana and Tom Cruise), this remake of the 1957 film of the same name was supposed to be released in October, the same month as Mangold's previous film Walk the Line was a few years ago. Then, LionsGate decided that the Brad Pitt-headlined flick about Jesse James would steal the western's thunder, and thus moves the release date up a month, hoping to make a little more money and get exposure at a time when no other westerns are in theatres. Also, DVDs will get released around early January, allowing LionsGate to attempt the same award campaign scheme that worked with a little movie some people out there might remember. It was called Crash, and was one of the first movies since The Silence of the Lambs to win Best Picture without a release during the October-January release window.

Just like with Superbad, movies like this released during September aren't supposed to be this good. They're supposed to be horrifically edited, or badly acted by one of the stars, or just mishandled by a studio and dumped into the end of summer movie graveyard. I guess the original October release date gives a little bit away about the quality, but I haven't seen a remake this good in years. Russell Crowe really gets back to some great acting, and Christian Bale continues his streak of wonderful performances following his lead role in Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn.

I can't really understand any sort of stigma against this film. It's got two well-acted leads, a fine job by an Academy-Award nominated director, and one of the few good remakes to come around in about 10 years. I think all the people involved deserve a lot of credit, and anybody out there should give it a shot in theatres.


So I've been pleasantly surprised by the quality of films during the end of this summer before I head off to college. Looking ahead, this fall is shaping up to be a good one, so I hope some of these films premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival turn out to be as good as the initial buzz has been.

And another random note: The posts will get much thinner over the next 7 or 8 days, as I am leaving for Northwestern University. Once I get settled in, I'll be posting some more about the new music that got released on 9/11, the first couple weeks of college football and the NFL, and even some more movies if you're lucky...

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