Lebeau and Daffy on Summer Movies 2016
The kids are back in school which is a sure sign that the Summer Movie Season has drawn to an end. Traditionally, this is when the Hollywood studios release their big budget crowd pleasers. It’s the season of popcorn movies. It’s also a make or break period for the studios who are betting big on their summer releases. As this summer movie season comes to an end, I thought I’d check in with Daffy Stardust for a recap.
Lebeau: Neither one of us wrote a single movie review this summer which is somewhat unusual. The last time we did one of these conversation pieces, it was to discuss Captain America: Civil War which kicked off the season. Since then, we have both been quiet on the new releases. I actually ended up seeing quite a few movies this summer. But none of them made enough of an impression on me to do a write-up. Daffy, I know your summer is often taken up with community theater. Were you too busy to go to the movies or did you share my ambivalence about what you saw?
Daffy: Well, it was a little bit of both, I guess. Like you say, I was pretty busy with my theatre company this summer and I got a chance to act this time around instead of directing. It was the lead, which meant that the time away from rehearsal that is usually one advantage of acting over directing did not apply as much and my line memorization time was pretty heavy, too. For a good month, any time that I was home and not working on lines was a time I was felling a twinge of guilt. Obviously the stuff I did see didn’t motivate me to log in here at LeBlog to share my thoughts.
But I want to mention a couple of other factors which impacted the summer movie scene to my mind. First of all, well, there just weren’t that many movies out there that I couldn’t wait to see. On those occasions when I did search out the list of flicks that were playing at the theater what I found never made me stand up and run out the door. Part of this is because over the last decade the movie studios have steadily expanded what the “summer movie season” means. Maybe this is because they think they can expand it to get us there more often or because they’re afraid of the competition, but we’re getting big time movies that seem like summer fare released in springtime.
You mentioned Civil War which was released in April. Well, just three days later Disney released another of its four blockbusters this year, The Jungle Book (to be fair that movie could have been significantly less successful than it was, so I’m not calling for it to have been a summer release). The X-Men movie, The Nice Guys, and even Warcraft were all either released in May or in early June before most kids are actually out of school. This made Finding Dory the first real summer movie of the year and it spent a few weeks absolutely wiping the floor with stuff like the Independence Day sequel, The BFG, and The Legend of Tarzan. Only The Secret Life of Pets made any real inroads at the box office and that came out a few weeks later after everyone had already seen Finding Dory and they were looking for something else to take their kids to.
I also want to nominate home streaming as one of the reasons the summer movie season has gone out with a whimper. I personally spent a lot of time looking at stuff at home this summer. The Netflix original series Stranger Things has been all over my Facebook feed and as soon as I started watching it I was hooked and finished it within just three days. I haven’t noticed anything that came out on the big screen that created that kind of buzz this summer. Personally, I have also been doing those weekly articles on classic films and so I’ve been spending some of my movie watching time on those, often renting them on my Apple TV device. Obviously these aren’t brand new movies, but it’s also much cheaper to rent them than it is to go to the movie theater.
L: There’s no avoiding the Summer Movie Season creep. I hate to be the cranky old guy, but when we were kids the Summer Movies were released in the summer. Now, there’s a pretty steady stream of popcorn fare. It feels like that’s all the studios know how to make any more. There was a movie in which Batman and Superman punched each other and it was released in March! Granted, there was some release date turf war going on with Marvel, but that’s how crazy the summer movie season has gotten. It’s very difficult to tell when it officially starts anymore.
Speaking of Facebook feeds, one day this summer a FB friend of mine posted a series of mini-rants on the subject of remakes. This person, who shall remain nameless for the time being, made several posts illustrating that not all remakes are inherently bad. This summer saw remakes of Ghostbusters, The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon. One of those movies in particular inspired a lot of belly aching about remake fatigue and ruined childhoods. Not that I don’t already know your stance on this subject, but are you sick of all the remakes?
D: Ha! Obviously you know my opinion because that ranter was yours truly. Clearly the complaining about remakes is more odious than the remakes themselves. There seemed to me to be a strain of thought among many internet commenters and even writers that remakes are inherently bad and that’s just a ludicrously idiotic point of view. Hollywood has always made lots of remakes and yes, some of them are better than the originals. If a remake looks like it is going to be bad, well…don’t go see it. That’s a problem with a solution, isn’t it?
I had some very specific criticisms of The Jungle Book remake, for example, but I’d say at least 90% of what they did with that movie was really good and interesting during the moments when it was allowed to stake out its own territory in telling the Rudyard Kipling story. But of course that’s not really a summer movie, is it? The Ghostbusters remake was the big target of dainty little fanboys with easily hurt feelings and we covered that controversy a little here at LeBlog.
I didn’t go to see that movie, but I’ll probably check it out when it hits cable and although I have fond memories of seeing the original when it was first released in theaters, no matter how good or bad this new all-female version is, it won’t affect my feelings about the original in any way. We all agree that the original is fun, but kind of overrated, right? 😉
L: You might want to go into hiding for a bit after calling Ghostbusters “overrated”. Fortunately, I think Le Blog is a safe place in the sense that the internet crazies are unlikely to read this far into our conversation, so you should be all right.
Of all the summer movies, the Ghostbusters remake was the one I came closest to writing about. I had an article which wasn’t quite a review that was about 85% written, but ultimately I deleted it because I was just sick of talking about Ghostbusters. (I also deleted a review from KevtheWriter for similar reasons. Sorry about that, Kev.) At the end of the day, the Ghostbusters controversy was a lot of meaningless noise from a few immature and self-entitled people who ended up making fools of themselves. I’d like to think they learned a lesson, but I know better. They are still out there aggressively insisting that the movie was a flop.
I could have easily skipped Ghostbusters 2016. The trailer certainly didn’t do the movie any favors. But after it got decent reviews and my oldest announced she wanted to see it, I decided to take her to check it out. It turned out to be an okay movie that probably would have been considered a pleasant surprise if it had been called anything but Ghostbusters. It wasn’t as funny as the original movie, but few special effects-heavy comedies are. These kinds of movies are tricky to pull off. Even the makers of the original Ghostbusters struggled to duplicate its success. Feig’s remake was definitely an improvement over Ghostbusters 2 or Ivan Reitman’s Evolution.
The problem with the remake is that it makes a trade-off. It’s not as funny as it could have been. Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy have had a lot of success making bawdy R-rated comedies. Last summer, we both enjoyed their spoof, Spy. But the Ghostbusters remake was made for a specific audience. It’s a movie made for families. Specifically, it was made with little girls like my daughter in mind. That meant the comedy had to be restrained. Feig couldn’t just set McCarthy loose. They sacrifice some laughs as a result.
But what you get in return is a fun movie in which little girls are given some pretty cool role models. How often do young girls get to see women on the big screen who can be funny and kick ass? As the father of two daughters, I can tell you that is a rarity. Even in animated movies where this is a bit more common, the female character is usually a supporting player. To have four interesting female protagonists getting to do things male characters take for granted was its own reward. The movie may not be as funny as it could have been, but I think it accomplishes some things more movies should try to do.
Josie liked the movie enough to want to see the original. She and I watched classic Ghostbusters on basic cable where anything remotely objectionable was cut out. One noticeable exception to that statement was when Bill Murray referred to the female antagonist as a “prehistoric bitch”. The censors wouldn’t allow him to say that William Atherton had no dick or that Mr. Staypuft needed to get laid, but calling a woman a bitch was a-okay. Maybe we needed female Ghostbusters more than we thought we did.
Anyway, Josie really liked the original movie. We both agreed it was better than the remake. I will say the thing she was most taken with was the old school practical effects. She said “They are obviously fake, but they look so cool.” I was pretty proud of her for that.
Of the summer remakes, the one I thought looked the least promising was Pete’s Dragon. But to my surprise, the reviews were really solid. I tried to encourage the girls to go see it during our end-of-summer staycation, but they rejected the movie as “too sad” based on the commercials. After Inside Out proved to be more traumatic than fun last summer, I decided not to push the issue. They are very sensitive movie viewers just like their mother who still fast forwards through the beginning of Finding Nemo every time she watches it.
Which I guess brings us to Finding Dory. Did you watch it or any of the other animated offerings this summer?
D: Yes, when I went up to Virginia to see my Mom earlier this summer she asked if I wanted to see a movie and I thought that would be a good one for us to see together. It was fun and I liked revisiting those characters, but the film had some weak points that put it in danger of wandering into Dreamworks territory. We both were entertained and felt like our dollars had been well spent, but I don’t think Finding Dory belongs in the elite of Pixar flicks. Neither of us noticed the presence of a lesbian couple that was apparently making some people on the internet lose their minds. My Mom was surprised because she had been given the impression that it was going to be some sort of plot point. Well, that’s the internet for you, isn’t it?
L: I agree with you about Finding Dory. It was an adequate but completely unnecessary follow-up that relied heavily on the first movie. I put this in the Monsters University category of Pixar sequels that didn’t embarrass themselves. I’d really prefer a world in which Pixar stuck to original films, but seeing as how Finding Dory broke box office records I think you can expect a lot more sequels.
D: More recently a couple of friends invited me to go see the very adult animated feature Sausage Party. I really do hope parents make use of their literacy and listening skills and don’t take their kids to see this raunchy comedy. If they do, they will be the only ones to blame and should feel badly about themselves. On the other hand, as a grown ass man, I found Sausage Party to be good tasteless fun, kind of in the tradition of a classic like Blazing Saddles. I’m not saying Sausage Party was as good as that Mel Brooks great, but that the kind of comedy it is doing is in the same ballpark. The movie not only elicits gasps and guffaws but also has some sneaky things to say about religion, sex, and getting along with other people. It’s a funny flick that I’m glad I saw, but I don’t anticipate it becoming something I’ll return to much in the future.
Is there anything you saw this summer that surprised you in a positive or negative way?
L: There really weren’t any surprises this summer. The movies you expected to be bad (Warcraft, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, Angry Birds) were bad. The ones you hoped would be good were generally adequate at best.
I suppose Suicide Squad was the biggest disappointment of the summer for me. The trailer kind of gave you hope that Warner Brothers would redeem themselves for Batman V Superman. But the final product was just as big of a mess as the last DC movie. I’ll be interested to see if at some point, audiences revolt. I’m a little concerned that after having been stung twice, some movie goers will decide to skip Wonder Woman and its failure will be taken as confirmation that female superheroes don’t work. However, Suicide Squad is doing reasonably well despite the negative reviews largely on the appeal of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. So hopefully the studio guys are taking note of that.
D: Based entirely on the one trailer I’ve seen, I’m guessing that I’m much more likely to see the Wonder Woman movie than any of the other recent DC films. It looks like they’re at least trying to be relatively true to the origins and surrounding cast of the classic Wonder Woman stories that I’ve got a passing familiarity with. The period piece element to it seems promising. Maybe they learned something from watching Captain America: First Avenger?
L: One can certainly hope. As far as pleasant surprises go, there were a couple of movies that marginally met that criteria.
I went into The Secret Life of Pets with low expectations based on other Illumination animated features like last summer’s uninspired Minions. I don’t want to oversell my endorsement, but I’d say that Pets was moderately better than I expected it to be. The kids loved it.
D: The Secret Life of Pets is something I will likely be checking out on cable once it shows up there. I initially had high hopes for it based on the first teaser and the fact that it looked like it was going to focus on a character voiced by Louis C.K., but once the trailers and TV ads started focusing on the psychotic rabbit voiced by Kevin Hart my enthusiasm faded because the movie started to look pretty cookie cutter and scattered in its focus. I’ll look at it eventually. Hey, it made out pretty well at the box office, so the marketing campaign clearly worked for them.
L: Similarly, I went into Star Trek Beyond with a lot of trepidation because I disliked Star Trek Into Darkness intensely. The latest Star Trek movie turned out to be a lot of fun and it brought back some of the optimism that the series is known for. The characters felt more true to their previous incarnations and Karl Urban was given more to do which is a good thing because of all the new cast, his Dr. McCoy is the best. But while I liked the movie, there was no getting around the fact that it was as disposable as any of the Fast and Furious movies Justin Lin has directed. By the time the credits roll, you’re not left with all that much.
D: If we’re counting May as summer, the only movie I saw that we haven’t covered yet was the Ryan Gosling/Russell Crowe 1970s private eye flick The Nice Guys. I had maybe set my expectations too high based on the trailer, but it was a very mild disappointment for me. I would give it an only slight recommendation because I felt like they went over the top in too many moments without nearly enough real consequences even though they had indicated that they weren’t afraid to deliver some. I predict that The Nice Guys will become a late night favorite for college aged guys when they’re back home from a night out and the drinking is starting to slow down.
If I was a movie studio executive I would be very worried about how this summer looked. Disney has the four top earners of the year so far and three of those had a footprint in or slightly prior to summer. Nobody else appears to have a good plan. The fact that they can shrug off a huge disappointment like The BFG just shows how dominant they’ve been.
L: And let’s not forget Disney also stubbed its toe on that Alice sequel no one asked for. I think Disney’s handling of The BFG says a lot about what is wrong with the way the studios are doing things. The BFG was one of the few summer movies critics actually liked. It was adapted from a beloved children’s novel by one of the few directors working today whose name actually sells tickets. And as you say, Disney just shrugged it off. Who makes a family film with Steven Spielberg and then doesn’t support it? Disney, that’s who. Given some nurturing from Disney marketing, that movie could have been a hit, but Disney dumped it unceremoniously.
D: While I agree that The BFG could have gotten a much better release date, I’m surprised to see the suggestion that it wasn’t marketed appropriately. I feel like I was very aware that it was coming out. I saw lots of TV ads during shows I was actually watching on live television and I knew who the director and star were based on those ads.
I love a lot of what special effects have allowed filmmakers to do, but it does seem like some of them are leaning on those rather than placing any value on their scripts and dialogue and performances. I go to movies to see those last three things. If awesome special effects come in the package too, then great, but without real human interactions on screen I will walk out feeling like the film was so much bubble gum: tasty for a short time, but never ingested. Instead, it is spat out and forgotten.
L: A few years ago, Spielberg and his buddy George Lucas made headlines for predicting that the studio system that concentrates only on big budget tentpole movies was doomed to implode. I think we might be seeing the beginnings of that. If not a full on implosion, then at least the cracks are starting to show. Back in the days before CGI made spectacle cheap, we used to get a few big movies a year. And since they were rare, audiences would be more forgiving of the faults of a movie like Independence Day. But in the 21st century, there is at least one big budget special-effects movie every weekend. Audiences have become more selective which means there aren’t enough viewers to support every $200 million dollar movie.
The risk-averse studios have responded by doubling down on “sure things”; sequels and remakes with built-in brand recognition. But audiences are catching on to that too. As much as there is an appetite for super hero movies, they don’t necessarily need to see the latest X-Men movie in theaters. If it turns out to be a retread of the last one, they can wait for it to come to home video or streaming. Matt Damon initially resisted returning to the Bourne franchise because he thought the character’s story had been completed. This summer, the much-hyped Jason Bourne proved his initial instincts were correct.
Another contributing factor is that most of these movies have release dates set in stone before the script is even written. X-Men: Apocalypse was scheduled before Days of Future Past was released. That’s madness. What happens is that these movies face a mad scramble to get made in time for their release date which cannot be moved for fear of bad press. And the fact that they are really in trouble just makes the threat of bad press just that much more frightening. What they need to do is to make the movie after the script is ready and then find the best release date. But instead, they are putting the cart before the horse because they are afraid that Disney will fill all the best release dates with Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars movies. Which they are going to do anyway, so you might as well take your time and come up with a good movie that can compete with those tent poles.
D: I do completely agree that the studios appear to be squeezing their own creative process unnecessarily. While live theatre has to establish its running dates well in advance because everybody involved has to be there each night to make it happen, filmmaking should have the advantage of being able to get a piece just right before displaying it, sort of like a painter working on a still life or portrait. If it’s not ready for people to see, well don’t hang it on the wall yet. I appreciate that the studio needs a release date at some point in order to advertise appropriately, but their current approach appears to be cutting off their nose to spite their faces. Long term sales of movies and streaming rights or however we get our movies in the future will show them that they rushed some projects and were left with something nobody is in a hurry to see twenty or thirty years later.
L: Part of the problem is that these movies cost too much. Every weekend, there’s a movie with a $150-200 million dollar production budget. Then they add in distribution and marketing costs. Movies like Batman V Superman can gross over $800 million dollars and still not break even. That’s madness! Since every movie is a high stakes gamble, the studios can’t afford to take chances. They need to play it safe which they do by essentially making the same movie over and over again. Even the movies that aren’t sequels or remakes feel like they might as well be.
What I would like to see is a return of the mid-budget movie. A movie that doesn’t have the fate of the studio riding on it can take a few more chances. Those were the movies that became sleeper hits every summer when we were growing up. But the studios don’t have any interest in making movies that can be base hits at the box office. Everything has to be a grand slam. If only they would let us run things, Daffy. We’d make much better summer movies.
D: If there’s a better conclusion to this article I can’t think of it.
So there you have it folks, based on very sophisticated research and reasoning most of the major movie studios need to put Lebeau and Daffy in charge. Except maybe Disney/Marvel. They appear to be doing pretty well for themselves.
Posted on August 26, 2016, in Daffy and Lebeau, Movies and tagged Finding Dory, Ghostbusters, Independence Day, jason bourne, Pete's Dragon, Sausage Party, Star Trek Beyond, Suicide Squad, The BFG, The Jungle Book, The Nice Guys, The Secret Life of Pets, X-Men: Apocalypse. Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.