Cinema Psycho

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Archive for August, 2009

RIP John Hughes

Posted by CinemaPsycho on August 14, 2009

“So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?”

As I’m writing this, writer/director/producer John Hughes died one week ago. I know there have been tons of online tributes and obits (while the mainstream media, sadly, has mostly ignored the story) in the seven days since, but I’d feel remiss if I didn’t throw in my two cents. I was actually pretty devastated when I first got the news, much more so than when I heard about Michael Jackson (no offense, just a personal reaction), and it’s taken me this long to sort out my thoughts and feelings and figure out exactly what I wanted to say. I don’t usually write these things, but the simple truth is that the work of John Hughes meant a lot to me, as it did to many others. It’s common language to say that one “grew up on” one artist or another, meaning that they were kids at around the time they were popular, but I feel like I literally grew up watching Hughes’ films. I think a lot of people of a certain age may have felt (consciously or not) that an important part of their childhoods died when Hughes did, and I’m not exaggerating or being hyperbolic.

I’m sure some people won’t understand this feeling, and that’s OK. If you weren’t a teenager between the years 1984-1987, you probably won’t relate to any of what I’m about to say, and that’s fine. For others, it simply wasn’t their thing, and that’s fine too. But I feel the need to explain why some of us from that generation feel this way, as well as pay tribute to a man who I genuinely believe was a phenomenal talent. I don’t intend to go through his entire filmography or anything like that; when I refer to his films, I’m mostly referring to the six “teen comedies” he made between Sixteen Candles and Some Kind of Wonderful. That’s when most of us feel he was at his creative peak, and those are the films that meant the most to us (though he did make other films, before and after those, that I’m quite fond of). By the way, the quote on my main page was put up a couple of weeks ago, total coincidence (yes, I know the character’s name is Allison. I guess I was just trying to be ironic or something).

The reason I’m writing this is mainly because John Hughes was one of the four of five people responsible for my lifelong obsession with film. Again, not exaggerating or being hyperbolic; his films came along at just the right time in my intellectual and emotional development (OK, I was 14 when Sixteen Candles was released in early 1984, and turned 15 later that year, if we have to put an exact timeline on it) to really have an effect on me. Of course I loved Spielberg and Lucas and all that 80’s blockbuster stuff, but it was those six films that really made me think about the world I lived in for perhaps the first time. I once described The Breakfast Club to an acquaintance as “the first movie I ever saw where the people on the screen were just like the people around me”. Which doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment now, but for a kid raised on a steady diet of Walt Disney and Star Wars and Indiana Jones, that was a real eye-opener.

You also have to remember, it was a very different time then. Not better or worse (I’m not one of those nostalgia-driven people), just different. It was pre-Internet and pre-irony. It was before everything was instantly available, before our entertainment had to be put in “quotes”. The Atari 2600 was the height of recreational technology. We took things at face value then, there wasn’t a high level of snark and cynicism surrounding the things we loved. There was no reality TV, no 24-hour news, no one commenting on things every minute of the day and then commenting on the other commentators. And I don’t know about you, but where I lived we didn’t exactly have access to foreign films, or even many classic Hollywood films. So most high-schoolers didn’t exactly have much of a frame of reference when it came to filmmaking (nor did most adults I knew). We knew Spielberg and Lucas, some of us knew Hitchcock, and that was pretty much it. The very idea of a “film geek culture” was pretty much foreign to us. So a filmmaker had to make a really large impact on us to really know his work, and by the end of 1985, we all knew John Hughes. By the time Pretty in Pink came out in the spring of ’86, John Hughes was our Movie God.

The first time I encountered the name was, naturally, with the release of the first produced film based on one of his scripts, the rather infamous flop National Lampoon’s Class Reunion (1982). It was intended to be a slasher-movie parody, but the final film (directed by someone named Michael Miller, whose only other major credit was the Chuck Norris vehicle Silent Rage) was a chaotic mess where the laughs were somehow lost in translation. Still, I managed to see it theatrically during its brief run (back then I would watch just about anything, especially if it was rated R and I was able to sneak in) and I was fascinated by this crazy thing. I hadn’t actually seen the movies it was attempting to make fun of, so it made no sense at all to me, and it wasn’t particularly funny even at that age, but I wound up enjoying it anyway just because it was so bizarre and so different from anything else I’d ever seen. Most people would have written off Hughes right then and there (as well as everyone else involved with it) but I suspected that anyone who could write something so insane was destined for greatness. I’m usually right about these things, and I definitely was that time.

Then came the hit Mr. Mom (1983), a very funny film that sadly has become a bit dated as traditional gender roles have broken down, but it worked at the time and helped make a star out of Michael Keaton. The big one for Hughes turned out to be National Lampoon’s Vacation (also ’83), directed by Harold Ramis, which I consider to be one of the absolute funniest movies ever made. The epic tale of the Griswold family’s trip to Wally World became an instant comedy classic and catapulted Hughes to the A-list of screenwriters, allowing him to start directing his own material relatively quickly in his career.

“Could you describe the ruckus, sir?”

That’s where the teens came in, and Hughes’ legend really started. Looking back on his career now, it’s difficult to remember that he only directed eight films, given that he was responsible for so many more as a writer and producer. He only directed four of the six teen films for which he’s best known (Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful were helmed by his protégé Howard Deutch), and his biggest box-office hit, Home Alone, was actually directed by Chris Columbus. Still, the Hughes brand became as big a draw as the man himself – just his name somewhere on the film was enough for people to buy tickets.

It’s one of those rare moments in film history where the term “From the Creator of…” actually worked in putting asses in seats. For awhile, anyway.

It’s difficult to explain to the uninitiated why the Hughes teen films affected people so much. It has become fashionable in some circles, particularly the hipper-than-thou crowd, to denigrate Hughes’ work as being hopelessly clichéd and old-fashioned. What they don’t get, of course, is that Hughes invented those clichés, and that he was the game-changer for the entire genre. You have to remember, this was a time when the “teen sex comedy” was the fad, and movies like Porky’s, The Last American Virgin, Spring Break, Hardbodies, etc. portrayed teens as being nothing but mindless walking hormones on an endless quest to lose their virginity. Hughes knew better. He remembered his own high-school experiences and believed that adolescence hadn’t been accurately portrayed in Hollywood films. He chose to paint his characters as intelligent, sensitive and aware young people who were trapped in a system that unfairly pigeonholed them as simple stereotypes. They weren’t the juvenile delinquents of the ‘50’s films or the “dangerous” hippie kids of the late 60’s and early ‘70s, and certainly not the raging horndogs of the early 80’s. They were simply typical middle-American high school kids of the time as he knew them. If they were somewhat idealized (most teens don’t have someone with the wit and dexterity of language of Hughes writing dialogue for them), it was never to the point where we couldn’t recognize ourselves, or someone we knew, in them.

For my money, Hughes’ masterpiece has always been The Breakfast Club. Still one of my all-time favorite films, this deceptively simple story of five teens stuck in a Saturday-morning detention was literally the film that changed the way I viewed movies. No shit. Beautifully written, expertly directed (which Hughes doesn’t get enough credit for), and wonderfully performed by an ensemble of five terrific young actors (some of whom never got another role anywhere near as good), The Breakfast Club became an iconic 80’s film not because of studio hype (there was very little) or box-office grosses, but because it spoke to people of that age group in a way that nothing else had before. I actually never saw the film theatrically (blasphemy, I know) but when I first saw it on VHS a few months later, I became instantly obsessed with it and probably watched it 20 or so times over the next few years. Even though I haven’t watched it in its entirety in years, I practically have the whole damn thing memorized (were I an actor, I could probably do it as a one-man show), and to this day lines and scenes will pop into my head, seemingly at random. And I wasn’t the only one: it seemed like everyone my age loved The Breakfast Club (well, anyone who actually had half a brain), and some of my few good memories of high school involved trading lines from the film with the other kids who “got it’. Not just because it was meaningful, but also because it was extremely profane and drop-dead hysterical. The perfect combination for a high-school cult classic.

I’ve always been mystified by fans of the film who ask each other, “which one were you?” It’s as if they missed the point of the entire film – and it’s not like Hughes didn’t spell it out for us with the voiceover at the very end! The whole point of the film is that people are more than the stereotypes assigned to them by their peers, their parents or by fate itself. The point is that we are all “a Brain… and an Athlete… and a Princess… and a Rebel… and a Basket Case” (I’m paraphrasing here). To a 15-year-old viewer, especially one who grew up in the outskirts of nowhere, that’s a pretty revolutionary concept. “Wait… you mean… this is all bullshit? And everyone knows it?” Whoa. Nor have I ever wondered what happened to the characters after high school, where they would be now, etc. That’s beside the point, isn’t it? Those characters, for me, exist in that film and that’s where they belong. Anything before or after that is irrelevant. There was always talk about Hughes writing a possible sequel, but I’m actually kind of glad that it never happened. I honestly can’t imagine a sequel working or living up to the original, and it would be foolish to even try. Don’t mess with perfection.

“It’s pretty childish and stupid, but then so is high school.”

Hughes excelled at bringing the laughs, but even more so he excelled at writing about modern teens the way no screenwriter ever had. That’s why those of us who were in that age group at the time related to his films so much. When you’re that age, you feel like nobody really understands you – not your peers, not your siblings, and certainly not your parents. Hughes’ films spoke to us, and what they said was, “I know what it’s like. You’re not the only one.” That’s an important thing for kids to hear, whether they realize it consciously know it or not. Even if we hadn’t been through the exact situations the characters had, we could still recognize the essential truth in them. It wasn’t necessarily the plots they were living through, it was the way they felt that we saw ourselves in. No previous “teen films” before Hughes had really portrayed that intense sensitivity, that bruised feeling where every minor slight felt like being set on fire. He understood the pain of growing up, the torment that came with the realization that the world was not what we thought it would be. The burn of learning that the whole deal pretty much sucks.

And if he wanted to put a salve on that burn, to make us feel better, at least temporarily, who could blame him? Hughes has often been criticized for his happy endings, where the geeks get the girl, the poor girl lands the rich boy, etc. Yeah, those things really don’t happen in real life, and we knew that. We dealt with that reality every day. There was no Kristy Swanson waiting for us at the prom, and we couldn’t conjure up Kelly LeBrock with our Commodore 64s. No shit, Sherlock. But Hughes was all about transcending all the bullshit that limited us in our everyday lives. He loved his characters, and he wanted them to be happy. What’s so horrible about that? The guy wasn’t Ingmar Bergman. If there was a level of wish-fulfillment fantasy in all of his films, what’s the harm in that? I wonder how these curmudgeons wanted those films to end? Lifelong depression? Drug and alcohol abuse, maybe suicide? Would you really wish that on poor little Molly Ringwald? Christ, what did she ever do to you?

Of course, that’s the Jeffrey Wells argument, that everything that happens in movies should happen exactly as they would in real life, and anything else is bullshit. I’m really very glad I don’t believe that. It’s because real life generally sucks that we need movies in the first place. If Hughes was at times a shameless fantasist, it was because his audience needed him to be. We got enough of cruel reality in everyday life. The last thing we needed to see was Anthony Michael Hall shooting heroin or Ally Sheedy getting an abortion. This was the 80’s, remember? Fantasy was the order of the day. At least his fantasies were a reaction to the way the world really was. You can’t say that about most of the Hollywood films of that decade (and I should know, because I saw pretty much all of them, if not theatrically then on VHS or cable). Let’s face it, most of those movies were total bullshit, and most of them have been justifiably forgotten. Hughes’ films have not been, because they gave us something more than just escapism.

“The kids haven’t changed, Dick. You have.”

One thing that Hughes doesn’t get enough credit for is how genuinely subversive his films were. They weren’t political at all, but they always had an air of rebellion to them, a subdued anger at the way the system worked, the way parents treated their kids, the way kids treated other kids. He was willing to explore the class system in ways that other teen films weren’t even smart enough to consider. Hughes saw through all the Norman Rockwell bullshit that the Reagan era tried to sell us. He knew that high school could be a living hell, that families could be a nightmare, that rich people were generally snobs and assholes, and that love hurts more often than not. You didn’t see that kind of content in the likes of Secret Admirer or Mischief. But he also believed that if you were smart enough and strong enough, you could get through it all with at least some of your sanity intact. That no matter how humiliating or embarrassing high school was for you, it wasn’t the end of your life. That was also something we desperately needed to hear. It seems very far away now, but I remember a time when I thought high school would literally never fucking end. It was one shitty day after another, the longest four years of life, and if some of us are still “Basket Cases” at the end of it all, I totally understand why. I can only speak for myself and the people I knew then, when I say that Hughes’ films played a large part in getting us through.

Something else that’s been unfairly forgotten about Hughes is his soundtracks. He was several years ahead of the alternative-music boom. When most mainstream movie soundtracks were full of pop fluff, Hughes was introducing the kids of America to the eclectic sounds of bands like The Smiths, Simple Minds, Psychedelic Furs, Oingo Boingo, OMD, Yello, Big Audio Dynamite and Flesh for Lulu, among others. It took quite awhile for the rest of Hollywood to catch up to what he (and his music supervisors) were doing. Long before the grunge wave hit and alternative rock took over the music scene, Hughes’ kids were already hip. He also introduced us to “older” music ranging from Otis Redding to David Bowie, and helped influence a whole generation of music geeks.

As with any success story, Hughes had his share of copycats and wanna-bes, but none of them really seemed to get what he was all about. They copied the profanity and the “geek” status of the characters, but they didn’t have his heart. They didn’t see the humanity behind the stereotypes. That’s why Hughes’ films have endured and been rediscovered by new generations of kids, while the literal tons of other teen films of that decade have been pretty much forgotten. He was a known influence on writer-directors ranging from Kevin Smith (who paid homage to his fictional town of Shermer, Illinois in Dogma)to Judd Apatow. It’s safe to say that teen films would never have progressed without him – even the films that were an opposing reaction to his wouldn’t have existed if he hadn’t come along. Without John Hughes, there would be no Heathers, no Clueless, no Mean Girls, no Juno. Few filmmakers have had that kind of wide-ranging influence.

“Well Brian, it doesn’t sound like you’re doing any business”.

It was inevitable that Hughes would want to leave the teen films behind, and after the relatively less successful Some Kind of Wonderful, he mostly did just that (though he would sort-of revisit the genre with 1991’s mostly forgotten Career Opportunities and 1998’s little-seen Reach the Rock). He made some terrific “adult” comedies, with Planes, Trains and Automobiles by far the best. In a way, the smash hit Home Alone (far and away his biggest box-office success) kind of ruined him creatively, as the studios demanded the same kind of lowbrow comedy without the nuance of his previous work. It was only natural then, that he would turn to making family films, and spent most of the 90’s cranking out screenplays for films like Beethoven, Flubber and Dennis the Menace. (His last credit was on 2008’s Drillbit Taylor, which was based on an old idea of his; he was not involved in any way with the production.) As he moved on, so did we. Some of us discovered other films and filmmakers that captured our interest; others just simply “grew up and out of it”. But we never forgot him either, and even after he disappeared completely from Hollywood some of us held out hope for an eventual comeback. That, of course, will never happen now.

But we still have his films, to be discovered and re-discovered, and most of all to be enjoyed. Just before writing this, I re-watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for the first time in years, and it’s still hilarious (though I will always maintain that the film is really about Cameron). Just a few months ago, I gave my 11-year-old niece a copy of Pretty in Pink for her birthday. She loved it. My 12-year-old nephew recently discovered The Breakfast Club. That pretty much says it all about the lasting influence of John Hughes. A lot of things have changed for teens since the 80’s, but the feelings really don’t. Kids will be discovering the work of John Hughes for decades to come, and finding something to relate to in it.

For those of us who lived through it, John Hughes did a very important thing, something that’s been lost among all the whiz-bang CGI Michael Bay Hollywood bullshit. John Hughes made us care. And that’s something you just can’t fake.

Thank you, John. In the language of your characters… you kicked fuckin’ ass. Totally.

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Summer Catch-Up 09: Hollywood Takes the Red Pill

Posted by CinemaPsycho on August 1, 2009

Hey there, cats and kittens. I know it’s been a while since I’ve churned out one of these, and I do apologize for the long delay. The reason is that I finally got a new computer, which has been a long time coming. It became difficult to write anything too long with my old machine, which got into the irritating habit of shutting down on me for no apparent reason. That’s no fun. So naturally I wanted to wait until I had something that functioned properly before delving into another long column. So, for those who are really and truly interested, here are the topics I would have written about over the past few months:

– Roger Ebert putting down Star Wars fans in his Fanboys review (my argument would have been that there’s essentially no difference between die-hard sci-fi fans and people who bond over sports, music, art-house films or other recreational interests).

– Why I hate Blu-Ray (I can’t afford to buy a new TV and Blu-Ray player, and I don’t really want to, given that standard DVD looks just fine. Why do we have to buy new shit every 10 years anyway? Not every film needs to look like an aquarium. And I’d really appreciate it if people stopped pushing this unnecessary technology on me, and that includes Harry Knowles)

– Adults who don’t have kids but pay to see kids’ films such as Harry Potter (seriously, what’s up with that? I just took my nephew to see that last weekend and the crowd was like 95% adults without kids! Are they just pathetically immature, or do they really think there’s nothing else out there to see? Go see Public Enemies, you dopes! I can understand this if you’re bringing a kid, but I kind of pity the mentality of any adult who’s really dying to see a Harry Potter movie. Hate to sound like Jeffrey Wells here, but…seriously.)

– The inexplicable popularity of toy marketing events disguised as movies (cases in point: Transformers, GI Joe, etc. I’m sorry, I don’t get this. I didn’t really grow up with this stuff, and it doesn’t really interest me in the least. I don’t know a Decepticon from a Triceratops, and I can’t imagine any intelligent adult giving a damn. I suffered through the first content-free Transformers on HBO, and that was quite enough for me, thanks. I also want to apologize for having ever defended Michael Bay. I didn’t know what it would lead to! I don’t want to sound like a snob here, but I like movies to be about something besides shiny metal boxes fighting each other. Is that too much to ask?)

So, that about covers it. See, you didn’t really miss anything. So, let’s discuss summer movies. I always enjoy talking about this season, because let’s face it, these are the movies that keep the industry running. We can obsess about the Oscars all day long, but there wouldn’t be a Hollywood without the summer blockbusters. It’s easy to be cynical about this stuff now, but when I was growing up, summer movies were awesome. This was back when Hollywood knew how to make escapist entertainment that actually meant something to people, not just disposable high-concept crap. You can argue about the whole “death of the auteur” that happened with the rise of Lucas and Spielberg, and many have. But as far as I’m concerned, you can’t argue that they made some fucking great movies back then. If you didn’t grow up on Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., etc., you just didn’t have the same kind of childhood as those of us who did. I’m willing to bet that 95% of the people who went to film school in the last 25 years or so grew up on 80’s Hollywood movies. The other 5%, of course, are pretentious douches (yeah, you saw Fellini’s Satyricon when you were nine. Right…) The sad part is that Hollywood has largely forgotten how to recapture that magic for the last 20 summers or so.

For those of us who follow the inner workings of the major Hollywood studios, the most fascinating story this summer has been the box-office flame-out of Universal, historically one of the most successful studios when it comes to summer blockbusters. I’m not one to kick a man (or a corporation) when he’s down, but these guys literally cannot do anything right lately. Of course, someone always has to be in last place, and Universal’s suffering is reminiscent of Sony’s problems a few years ago, when the best they had to offer audiences were the likes of Stealth and Bewitched. Yikes.

What’s fascinating about this, at least to me, is that Universal’s summer line-up actually consists of some really good films that audiences just seem to have uniformly rejected. Here’s the summer slate: Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, Land of the Lost, Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, Bruno, and Judd Apatow’s Funny People, which opens today. I’m purposely only counting their major wide releases, and not those of their side companies Focus Features and Rogue Pictures for the purposes of discussion, nor am I including Inglorious Bastards, which they own the international rights to (it will be released in the US by the Weinstein Company, of course).

Now let’s take a look at those five films. First, what’s not there? No sequels, no remakes, nothing based on comic books or video games. With the possible exception of Land of the Lost, which is based on an old Saturday morning TV-show (albeit one that few people actually remember), there are no real “franchise” films on that list of any kind. That’s a risky slate for a major studio to put up there in the summer alongside gigantic juggernauts such as Wolverine, Star Trek, Transformers and Harry Potter. What anyone thinks of any of these films personally is irrelevant to the discussion, of course; the point is, they’re putting these unproven quantities up against brand-name behemoths.

On paper, this line-up doesn’t look so bad. You’ve got a PG-13 horror flick from the director of the blockbuster Spider-Man films, who has a huge cult following himself; a mainstream, special-effects driven comedy starring one of the biggest comedy names in the business; a large-scale period piece from a major director, starring two of the most popular dramatic actors currently working today; the follow-up to one of the biggest runaway comedy hits in recent years; and the latest film from the most popular and well-regarded comedy director-producer around, starring one of the biggest names in comedy films as well as several up-and-comers. OK, not a totally uncommercial list of films.

But then the films come out. Drag Me to Hell turns out to be an old-fashioned spook-a-thon of the type that’s not exactly in vogue with the young horror crowd; Land of the Lost turns out to be a vaguely raunchy improv comedy disguised as a kids’ dinosaur movie; Public Enemies turns out to be somber and low-key (although I loved it, it’s not exactly what mainstream moviegoers were looking for on 4th of July weekend); Bruno turns out to be about homosexuality – whoops, there goes Middle America; and Funny People turns out to be about a lonely comedian with cancer. Now, what initially looked like a promising slate suddenly seems problematic. Not to mention the disappointing response to this spring’s expensive “adult” movies Duplicity and State of Play. Did the Universal execs know what they were getting into with any of these? Or did they just see the big names attached to them and sign immediately on the dotted line?

Naturally, when things start going badly, executives start getting reactionary. It was recently reported that the head of Universal tore his underlings a new one, saying that he wanted the studio to develop movies based on “easy-to-digest concepts and wish fulfillment”. So they’re getting into the porn business now? Excellent! Seriously though, what this statement basically means is “the movies we’ve been making are too intelligent, too interesting, too good for American audiences. We really need to dumb it way down”. I would love to argue with this point, except from a purely business-minded point of view, he’s not entirely wrong. No one ever got rich overestimating the taste of the American public. Case in point: Paul Blart Mall Cop.

However, from my perspective, the problem is not necessarily the movies themselves – it’s their release schedule. With the exception of Land of the Lost, none of these movies are really summer movies. They didn’t really have to be released in the summer, and most of them probably shouldn’t have been. Come on guys, this isn’t rocket science. I know hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but even casual observers could have looked at this slate and predicted potential problems. I know some people don’t give this stuff much thought, but anyone in the business can tell you that the right release date is key to any film’s success. Universal’s problem is that they ignored this basic fact, and suffered the consequences.

Here’s what I would have done if I had been running things over at The Globe (and guys, I’m available for any paid consultation positions you may have open). My first move would have been to release their Fast and the Furious sequel in early June rather than April. I don’t particularly care for those movies, but again, that’s irrelevant. That’s the most sure-fire hit they had this year, and they blew it by not putting it out in the summer. It made money, but they would have cleaned up even more in the first weekend of June. Move Land of the Lost to maybe early or mid-July. Before Harry Potter, obviously. Drag Me to Hell – October. Halloween season. Duh. Give Bruno the Borat slot in mid-November. Public Enemies should’ve been a December film, preferably early December to kick off Oscar season. Maybe even a limited release at first, then expand it wide over the next several weeks. With Funny People (which I’ve not yet seen), I’d have gone for August or September, so they weren’t too far off with that one.

Honestly, this stuff ain’t brain surgery here, folks. All of these choices should have been really, really obvious to any so-called professionals. The problem was not the movies themselves, the problem was the lack of forethought given to their scheduling. To put it mildly, Universal screwed the pooch and, like most Hollywood execs, have decided to blame everyone but themselves. So now they’ve shuffled most of their upcoming releases in a panic and decided they should be in the business of making moronic crap. In other words, they’ve clearly learned the wrong lesson here. The lesson should have been not to underestimate the audience, but to give them the right films at the right time. You can’t sell ice cubes in January, but you can sell them in July. Give people what they want, when they’re going to want it, and you’ll make money. Rightly or wrongly, the movie seasons are divided up the way they are for a reason. Ignore that at your peril.

I’m pretty sure Universal will be OK though. I’m certainly not worried about them. It may take a year or two to pull out of this slump, but they’ll eventually come out with a Jurassic Park IV or something and make a literal ton of money. No, what concerns me is the future of Hollywood movies. When one major studio decides that they really need to start making nothing but dumb-ass movies for the intellectually stunted (I imagine they’ll start with Death Race 2), it won’t be long before all the others are right behind. Hell, Fox is already there! They’ve been leading the charge for a few years now. Do I think that quality movies are dead in mainstream Hollywood? Not necessarily. But I do think it will be a little harder to get them made due to Universal’s incompetence. My advice to them would be to suck it up, fire your marketing department and get some people in there who know their asses from their elbows. Don’t blame the movies, don’t blame the audience. The problem, as usual, is you.

So, I’m going to do something a little different now. It takes me forever to write a paragraph for each movie I’ve seen, and frankly, who wants to read mini-reviews of movies that came out a month or two ago? Who cares at this point? So I’m just going to make some lists of this summer’s movies that I’ve seen and put them into groups based on preference, with maybe a little comment about each that sums them up for me. Sorry if this doesn’t do it for you, but be honest; do you really want to read all of that? I certainly don’t want to write it all. So let’s just do it this way and see how it goes. Here we go:

Movies I Loved (****): Star Trek (J.J. Abrams and company make Trek fun again, and it’s about damn time); Up (Pixar has clearly gone beyond simple “kiddie movies” and are absolutely making art now. Yes, I did bring my nephew); Away We Go (Sam Mendes’ excellent comedy about real love, not “romance”; John Krasinski absolutely kills here); Public Enemies (Michael Mann’s terrific gangster film questions the methods of an out-of-control government – sound familiar?); Bruno (Sacha Baron Cohen rubs our faces in our own homophobia, and man is it fucking funny).

Movies I Liked (***): Drag Me to Hell (fun old-school horror, but for my money the worst ending of a good horror film since The Mist); Land of the Lost (yes, it was destined to bomb, because it was sold as something it really wasn’t, but I had goofy, ridiculous fun with it. It’s not Shakespeare, it’s freaking Land of the Lost! What the hell did you expect?); The Taking of Pelham 123 (other than the shitty rap song, I thought it was a tense little heist movie, though nowhere near as good as the original); Year One (wow, did people really miss the boat on this one. It’s a satire of insane religious practices, from circumcision to human sacrifice. If you like Mel Brooks, Python or early SNL, you should love this); Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (say what you will, at least these movies aren’t overbearing or stupid like most kids’ movies. But yes, they’re still kids’ movies).

Movies that were OK/barely passable (**): Wolverine (didn’t realize they were remaking First Blood with Hugh Jackman. Come on, it’s Fox, did you really expect it to be good?); I Love You, Beth Cooper (Chris Columbus tries to do John Hughes but winds up sort-of remaking Adventures in Babysitting. A few laughs, but not nearly enough to recommend. Other than her looks, what exactly did the kid see in her again? Doesn’t quite compute. Nice try though).

Movies that I really, really hated with every fiber of my being (*): Terminator Salvation (see review). It’s still shit. And I liked Land of the Lost, so that should tell you something.

Movies that I haven’t seen because they haven’t played anywhere near me (but really want to see): The Hurt Locker, Moon, Whatever Works, Adoration, Pontypool, Departures, Dead Snow, Tetro, Cheri, Surveillance, Humpday, Blood: The Last Vampire, In the Loop, (500) Days of Summer, Deadgirl, Thirst, Not Quite Hollywood. Are you listening, exhibitors? I’d be happy with one or two of these. Start from the top of the list if you must.

So that about sums up my summer so far. I’m actually looking forward to August, because that’s usually one of the more interesting months of the summer. That’s when the studios bring out their B-level hitters – “hey, we also have this!” But how can you not look forward to a month that brings us Inglorious Bastards, District 9, A Perfect Getaway, Taking Woodstock (if I’m lucky) and Halloween II? However it all shakes out, it’s going to be really interesting. Can’t wait to start digging in. Talk to you later.

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