Summer Movie Recap: “Where’s the Beef?”

Is it just me, or has this summer been a bit of a dud, movie-wise? Lately, when I go see a movie, I’m way more excited about the previews than I am about the feature – generally not a good sign. As a self-professed cinephile, I’m very familiar with the Oscar-dictated ebbs and flows of seasonal cinematic patterns. I get that the summer is for blockbusters, and that producers/promoters hold off releasing potential Oscar contenders so they’ll be fresh on the minds of Academy voters come the Dec. 31 deadline. But even so, usually there are a number of guilty pleasure movies (at the very least) that are interesting and engaging during the summer. But I think I missed these this year and am left to look ahead to the next few months with eager anticipation to break the long drawn out dry spell I’ve been having at the theatre.

Summer movie season generally begins with Memorial Day weekend in May. I only started Popcorn Dinner in July, so the summer was already well underway. What follows is an overview of my summer movie viewing. Some I’ve posted about already including Beasts of the Southern Wild, Savages, and Batman: The Dark Night Rises, all of which I found underwhelming. Going over them for the purpose of this post, I realize I didn’t really hate any of these summer flicks… they were mostly fine in a kind of “tastes like chicken” sort of way. I like chicken. But sometimes I really crave a thick, juicy steak. I haven’t had movie sirloin in awhile.

Here’s a review of some others that I didn’t get a chance to write about at the time:

The S.H.I.E.L.D. team unites to save the world in “The Avengers” (Source)

The Avengers – I confess I did really enjoy The Avengers. I like a good superhero movie with a cohesive plot, snappy dialogue, and original action sequences. The Avengers had all of these things thanks to Joss Whedon’s script and direction. It was good, mindless summer fun.

Promotional poster for “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (Source)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – my favourite film of the summer by far. I saw it twice in the theatre. I adored the story, the tight script, the nuanced characters, and the all-star (mostly British powerhouse) cast at their most charming and delightfully droll. It was funny, touching, and superbly acted. Recommend.

Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen obsessed with youth and beauty in “Snow White and the Huntsman” (Source)

Snow White and the Huntsman – I didn’t hate Snow White… the visuals were striking and Charlize Theron is perfectly wicked as Ravenna the Evil Queen, but I was distracted by Kristen Stewart’s non-acting. She really just seems to play the same character in everything – a surly, “screw you”, deeply wounded ingénue. Been there, seen that.

Rock of Ages – I need to preface the fact that I saw this in the theatre with a confession. I love musicals. I love to sing and I love the spectacle of timeless song and dance numbers in the spirit of classic movie musical fare. I am a sucker for punishment because movie versions of Broadway shows are usually painful to watch. Case in point, Rock of Ages. While it was pretty much the cheesy adaptation I expected, it wasn’t so much cheesy in a fun way, mostly it was just uncomfortable. The scene with Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand singing REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling”, however, is so unapologetically over-the-top, you have no choice but to laugh hysterically. (Forgive the quality of the video – the dubbing is off, but you get the idea…)

The Scottish princess Merida, Pixar’s feisty heroine in “Brave” (Source)

Brave – I liked the idea of “Brave” more than the actual execution. Don’t get me wrong, Pixar’s animation is outstanding and it’s visually beautiful. I liked the premise of a female hero / princess whose role isn’t primarily to be another character’s love interest. But the story of how her overbearing mother literally turns into a bear, and their quest to turn her back to her human form before it’s too late fell a little short for me. The concept of a female heroine alone isn’t really enough of a basis for a script, she still needs something interesting to do.

Channing Tatum and company on stage in “Magic Mike” (Source)

Magic Mike – I got a little peer-pressured into seeing Magic Mike but was pleasantly surprised. While I could’ve happily gone the rest of my life without seeing Matthew McConaughey’s butt crack 20 feet tall, there was enough relative substance (stripper with the heart of gold who dreams of designing furniture?) to balance out the eye candy making this more entertaining than the summer drivel that I anticipated.

Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones at the top of their game in “Hope Springs” (Source)

Hope Springs – Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones put on a master class in subtle, quiet-moment acting. Steve Carell strikes the perfect compliment as the understated therapist trying to repair their failing marriage. I wasn’t all that impressed with the film as a whole, perhaps because it was billed as a comedy, and  the moments that were funny were also incredibly painful to watch. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see both Streep and Jones as acting nominees come Oscar season. Especially Jones. I guarantee you’ve never seen him this vulnerable and heartbreaking on screen before. In a summer of chicken, this was elite chicken, like chicken cordon bleu.

Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz on the run in “The Bourne Legacy” (Source)

The Bourne Legacy – I had heard a lot of negative things about Bourne before seeing it, particularly with regard to the plot (or lack therefore) and the excessive length. All this is true, however, being prepared for them, I was still able to enjoy it (except the last 45 minutes – there’s a climactic chase scene on a motorcycle that goes on way too long). Of course, take this with a grain of salt: I’m a huge fan of the whole Bourne universe (both the Ludlum novels and the original movie trilogy), as well as of Jeremy Renner in particular, so I was willing to overlook a multitude of sins. Check out Roger Ebert’s review for all of the irreverent and astute details of the film’s shortcomings.

Bradley Cooper attempts to make amends to Jeremy Irons in “The Words” (Source)

The Words – the script is fairly convoluted here with a story within a story within a story that involves a writer who plagiarizes a book that (of course) turns out to be world-renowned. There’s just too much going on here, but Jeremy Irons single-handedly redeems the messiness. He has this way of delivering a seemingly innocuous line in a way that is simultaneously benign and chilling: “I want to tell you a story. It’s about a man who wrote a book and then lost it and the piss-ant kid who found it”. Irons would totally deserve a Supporting Actor nod here, but will likely be overlooked because his is a superb performance in a mediocre film.

Back in elementary school, this post could be titled “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”. Except I wasn’t on vacation, and this actually represents a lighter line-up of movies than I would usually see in a summer. And the movies I missed might’ve delivered the “meat” I’ve been craving. I’ve heard great things, both from friends and critics, about Celeste & Jesse Forever, Ruby Sparks, and Moonrise Kingdom. I recently moved to a fairly rural community, which does have a seven-screen movie theatre (this was actually a deciding factor), but the selection tends to be pretty mainstream, blockbuster-y fare (none of the three aforementioned films played locally). How do others in this situation arrange to see off-the-beaten-track films? Gas is too expensive in Nova Scotia for me to drive for an hour every time I want to see a good movie!


4 thoughts on “Summer Movie Recap: “Where’s the Beef?”

  1. You sure have seen a lot of movies this summer. I’ve seen some of them too, and agree with you about Bourne Legacy. Despite its flaws, I was still able to enjoy it and engaged, maybe I’m partial to Jeremy Renner, me being a fan of Hurt Locker. Now, as for the three you haven’t seen, if you’re to drive out to a big city anyway, then I’ll recommend Moonrise Kingdom, which is being noted as one of the front runners of Oscars 2013. For the other two, just my own personal opinion, you don’t miss much. (BTW, glad to see a fellow Canuck in the movie blogosphere. Just followed you on Twitter. Hope to chat there too. 🙂 )

  2. Yeah, I was pretty bummed that I didn’t get to Moonrise Kingdom… it’s now passed through theatres here. I’m a big Wes Anderson fan. And I know what you mean about the lack of Canucks writing about film… I follow lots of movie bloggers from the US and UK, but no Cdns. Glad to have found you!

  3. Jen says:

    Chicken cordon bleu…you’re funny. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at The Watch…mainstream but funny and more of a plot then I was expecting. Chicken with swiss chalet dipping sauce! Otherwise it was a disappointing movie summer.

  4. Ha ha. Swiss chalet sauce – you’re funny too 🙂 . I forgot about The Watch – I kind of wanted to see that, but didn’t get around to it. Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill and that guy from the IT Crowd. What’s not to like? I’ll have to catch it on DVD!

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