(Editorial note: Mr. Ricard has been barred from admonishing everyone who has been whining about Ben Affleck as Batman until next month. Mr. Ricard is contractually obligated to include this note at the start of the column, but would like for the offices of Drunk Monkeys to emphasize that he does so under protest. We here at Drunk Monkeys are deeply committed to anything that will cease his endless bitching for even a moment. Thank you, and bless)
Everyone is already writing a grim review of the summer movie season, and I suppose that’s fair enough. August is behind us, after all, and when you compare this year to last year, it’s not going to be pretty.
Last summer’s movie collection struck many as the kind of thing that built the concept of the blockbuster season in the first place. Not only did a lot of different movies (super heroes, comedies, sequels, animated films, alternatives along the lines of Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild) make a tidy profit, (The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises both crossed the billion-dollar mark), but a lot of them weren’t too bad either. In fact, a disconcerting number of them were excellent.
2012 in general was arguably a great stretch of 12 months for movies. I wouldn’t say 2013 has been dismal, but I also wouldn’t say this year has a shot of being compared favorably with last year. You can point to mixed-bag super hero movies (Man of Steel, but it’s also to my understanding that some people didn’t care for Iron Man III), Pacific Rim losing at the box office to Grownups 2 (which we covered last month), and just a big bunch of movies that failed to find a significant, appreciative audience. That’s not to say the summer has been all bad, but the numbers and reviews haven’t been kind to a fairly large percentage of the big releases from the past few months. Some movies have been outright box office and critical disasters. The best way to describe the end of the summer, and from there, the rest of year, will probably be “lackluster.”
Does all of this really mean anything? Not really. It’s conversation that can be fun to engage in, but in the end, how this particular summer performed critically and financially doesn’t have any long-term implications that I can think of right now.
Things are just going to keep howling recklessly and gleefully along. As an industry, film is circular. As a creative field, something wonderful is always going on. Anyone who claims there isn’t is too cynical for their own good. A disappointing summer is indeed disappointing, but I’m not going to take a sense of hopelessness about the future from that. We still have four months of movies to get through, and while I don’t see the forecast for the rest of the year rising from “cloudy” to “shining”, I will say that this is probably just going to be one of those years where the bad outweighed the good, but that doesn’t make the good any less so.
Pretty soon, the year will draw to a close, and we’ll be bitching about awards season, and taking a look at what 2014 has to offer, which at this point is going to probably be more than we will know what to do with (which will give us something COMPLETELY different to complain about). Not much else to do, but ride the next few months out, see what’s out there, and keep up whatever it is you do in regards to movies. I don’t really see a point in taking a conversation about the movies of summer 2013 any further than that.
Charade (1963): A+
One of the best of each star’s (Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn) respective careers, Charade was praised in its time for being a witty, creative, charming thriller. All of that holds true fifty years later, making a number of similar films look amateurish and hackneyed by comparison. Watching Charadenow for the first time, as I recently did, brings to mind a number of movies that have certainly taken various cues from Peter Stone and Marc Behm’s story, as well as other elements of the film (such as the editing and cinematography). It certainly brought to mind the 2002 remake, The Truth About Charlie, which I faintly remember as being not bad. Charade is a lot more than not bad. Those who haven’t seen it can look forward to a lot. You get flawless performances by Grant and Hepburn (whose scenes together continue to remain a viable case study for dialog that accomplishes everything film dialog is supposed to). You also get a supporting cast that includes Walter Mathau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy. Who these characters are, where they stand in relation to each other, and where everyone stands in relation to some valuable goods, are things that change constantly throughout the film. Like any great thriller, anything that leans heavily on doubt and plot twists, Charade makes us pay for the assumptions we make about the characters and plot over and over again. And it’s wonderful. It feeds an addiction to be proven wrong, and it remains one of the great cinematic rides.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008): B+
It’s been five years, since the release of this 2009 Oscar juggernaut (it won 8 Academy Awards from its 10 nominations). Not surprisingly, it remains an excellent film. If Slumdog Millionaire is guilty of anything, it’s for being one of those movies that became swept up in a sea of attention, analysis, awards, criticism, and scrutiny. With a good deal of that concentration having long since moved on to other things, all that stands is a energetic frenzy of music and movement, intensely believable and rich performances (particularly Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, and Mahesh Manjrekar), and a story that draws deep from the well of Charles Dickens. Slumdog Millionaire shouldn’t be seen as the sole representative of cinema in India. Nor should it be seen as stirring social/political drama, even though it depicts certain images and scenes. Regardless of anything director Danny Boyle has ever said about intentions, the only thing anyone who still hasn’t seen this really needs to pay attention to is its merits as a film. To that end, Slumdog Millionaire is essentially a love story, with a lot of other things going on around that. It tells that love story quite well, and the other things add further wealth to the love story. I certainly won’t call everything people have said about the film static that should be ignored. At the very least, the movie is excellent as simply a movie.
V/H/S (2012): B-
While not a masterpiece, not even of its own genre, V/H/S is still a pretty enjoyable collection of horror shorts. A group of kids break into a home, and discover a cache of old VHS tapes. They start watching them out of curiosity, and from there, we get a surprisingly fresh entry into the found-footage genre, with five vignettes that each present a different found-footage horror story. Some of the films work far better than the others. “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger” is extremely creepy, with a nice ending to punch the end of it. “Tuesday the 17th” is a lot weaker than the others, and “Amateur Night” wavers a little. Even with this to consider, the overall quality of V/H/S is impressive. The inevitable sequel may or may not ruin a good thing, but what we have for this first collection (“10/31/98” is innovative, honestly funny, and pretty darn suspenseful) makes for a solid modern horror offering.
A Change of Seasons (1980): F+
Even with what sounded like a terrible plot, involving a middle-aged couple (Hopkins and Shirley MacLaine) having affairs with younger people (Bo Derek, probably the movie’s big draw, and Michael Brandon), I forged ahead, and hoped for the best. I didn’t even know until later the terrible reception this movie received in its day (including nominations at the first-ever Razzies). I’m not surprised that virtually everyone seemingly hated this movie in 1980. I don’t blame them, and what was terrible then is even worse now. Some movies don’t deserve harsh treatment in their time. Others do, but find life later on with camp value. And then there is something like A Change of Seasons, with terrible performances from everyone, and a story so sleepy, so sluggish, it doesn’t even know the hell it’s putting you through. It depresses me that my long-suffering career has just devoted so many words to a movie that a lot of people have forgotten about, but I have a method in my madness: Some movies deserve to be forgotten, and vintage crap is sometimes still completely non-existent in having a single redeeming value. I wanted to laugh repeatedly at this, but I couldn’t. A Change of Seasons’ cruelest joke is that mocking it is just no damn fun at all. If A Change of Seasonshas anything in common with certain contemporary movies, it’s that. Everything else to do with is dated and painful.
House (1977): A-
Calling Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 cult film House a good film makes me feel a little weird. Just calling it a good movie seems simplistic, but it is something that everyone absolutely has to watch once. The temptation is to try this haunted house story (I think you can call it that, but that’s kind of like calling El Topo a western, and then leaving it at that) under a chemical influence or two. Don’t. Bring a clear mind to this story (and it’s honestly a good story) of Japanese schoolgirls visiting a house in the country for the summer. That’s the best and only way to experience a movie that truly seems to believe things like logic and structure are just loose ideas that can be tossed out the window with ease. House isn’t what I would call brave, but it doesn’t seem to give a damn about whether or not those of us watching are properly strapped in, for one of the strangest, most imaginative, and hilarious movies ever made. What makes Obayashi’s film (and Chiho Katsura’s script) so wondrous is in the many ways in which it functions cinematically. The visuals, the set designs, and the overall mood of House suggest a wide variety of art film ideals. The bizarre, silly, and disturbing nature of the plot mixes with a number of baffling sequences (ever wanted to see a piano eat someone?), to bring to mind everything good about the kind of midnight movie madness that must be seen to be believed. House is a strange trip, but one of the greatest strange trips of all-time. It can be enjoyed by more serious film types, just as easily as it can be adored by people who just want to be shocked by a true original. You’ll either love everything about it, or despise yourself for staying all the way through to the end. Whichever way you go, you won’t be bored. It’s impossible to describe every single moment that you are almost certainly not going to find in any other film. The nightmarish hits in House never, ever stop. To be honest, even though it’s one of my favorite things in the movie, the carnivorous piano scene is really just the tip of a very what-in-the-sweet-fuck-is-that iceberg. Do yourself a favor, and find out why I really can’t tell you anymore than what I’ve already said.