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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

things wot we learned from the 2013 summer movies

summermovies

Have you been paying attention to what the movies have been saying — what the movies have really been saying — all summer? Here’s a refresher. Bone up: there will be a pop quiz when you least expect it.

• If you can cram some Asian stuff in a flick, like maybe an exotic location or an actor from the Mysterious East, this is good for drawing in newly all-important global markets: ie, Pacific Rim, $397m worldwide and counting; The Wolverine, $351m worldwide and counting. But you’ll do even better with a fake Asian villain who gets to say “Croydon”: ie, Iron Man 3, $1.2b worldwide and counting.

• If you want to avoid trouble crossing back into the U.S. from Mexico after visiting a drug lord, you’re better off with a Friend (Jennifer Aniston, We’re the Millers) than a New Kid on the Block (Mark Wahlberg, 2 Guns).

• Wait. The Navy is engaging with the Mexican cartels (2 Guns)? For real? (Apparently, for real.)

• Stealing from criminal kingpins is actually not so bad, because you get some really good male bonding out of it (The Hangover Part III, 2 Guns).

• If you want to be a hero, arrange to have your beloved brother killed, preferably before your own horrified eyes. (Pacific Rim, The Lone Ranger) Beloved older mentors are suitable in a pinch (Star Trek Into Darkness).

• The hellish future-Earth afterscape is going to be so pretty (Oblivion, After Earth)! But not right away (Elysium).

• Speed is awesome, but mostly only dudes are into that sort of thing (Fast & Furious 6, Turbo, Planes).

• Married couples are extra good at deluding themselves into believing the world is entirely unlike what it actually is (The Conjuring, Oblivion, The Purge).

• Dudes can be grouchy, clumsy, vain, brainy, handy, gutsy, hefty, panicky, greedy, jokey, smooth, passive-aggressive, clueless, social, or crazy, but chicks are distinctive only for their gender (The Smurfs 2). This is progressive next to the culture of the Minions, which has yet to embrace such social advancements as nonmale gender (Despicable Me 2).

• Not apocalypse, not rapture, not even death can bring an end to a manly bromance when dudes really, really love each other (The World’s End, This Is the End, Star Trek Into Darkness). When the end of the world comes, however, a dude is only going to leave a woman behind in order to go be heroic (World War Z), scare her away with cowering cowardice (This Is the End), or turn out to have utterly lied about the protections he has put into place to keep her safe (The Purge). Being an agent of destruction, on the other hand, will totally make a girl want to kiss you (Man of Steel).

• Teen boys need to be taught how to ogle women (The Way, Way Back), because women are constantly stripping down to their underwear for no reason (Star Trek Into Darkness), bending over to expose their cleavage (Grown Ups 2), or ripping their clothes off in nightclub restrooms (The Heat).

• Women are well suited for positions of authority, as long as men don’t have to actually pay them much heed (The Internship, Monsters University).

• Slugs are sexually attracted to human females (Epic).

• “Men were deceivers ever” (The World’s End, 2 Guns, Grown Ups 2, The Great Gatsby, Now You See Me, Much Ado About Nothing).

• The world is lousy with the halfblood offspring of supernatural beings and humans, and being a teen is no easier for them, you know (Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones).

• Chicks can too carry movies that dudes want to see (Kick-Ass 2, Red 2, The Heat).

So much good life advice for ordinary people and studio execs. Educational for all!


posted in:
maryann rants | movie buzz
  • FormerlyKnownAsBill

    i have nothing of value to add. so i will just say this. Marky Mark was no New Kid. :)

  • FormerlyKnownAsBill

    Well, shit. i take that back. according to imdb http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000242/bio, he was an original member, “but had backed out early on – uncomfortable with the squeaky clean image of the group.”

    carry on.

  • RogerBW

    It doesn’t matter how tired and trite it is, blow shit up and skip anything that seems thinky or outlandish and the punters will still lay down their cash.

  • singlestick

    RE: Dudes can be grouchy, clumsy, vain, brainy, handy, gutsy, hefty,
    panicky, greedy, jokey, smooth, passive-aggressive, clueless, social, or
    crazy

    Almost sounds like Disney’s 7 Dwarfs for the Modern Age!

  • singlestick

    Actually, this summer in particular has seen a number of notable duds. The Lone Ranger, R.I.P.D., Jack the Giant Slayer, White House Down, and Turbo are all huge flops. HUGE. Hollywood convinced itself that sequels and recognizable brands are sure fire hits, and yet Red 2, Hangover whatever, Red 2, Smurfs 2, Wolverine and even Star Trek have notably under-performed. Even late entries like Kick Ass 2 and The World’s End are big disappointments. On the other hand, audiences still tend to shun earnest (and mostly interchangeable) indie films. There is just not much value compared with a good tv or cable show.

    Movie ticket prices, even adjusted for inflation, are too high, and yet Hollywood tries to distract folks with a 3D upcharge, even as they force theater owners to fork over a bigger share of the box office pie.

    Despite all this, the studios refuse to learn any lessons, and are getting ready to serve up more re-warmed goods in the future (along with the standard Oscar bait).

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Wait. The Navy is engaging with the Mexican cartels (2 Guns)? For real?

    Well, sure. You use the Navy to run interdictions on smuggling operations through international waters. You also use the Coast Guard for smugglers who make it to U.S. territorial waters. And every agency with any sort of military or law enforcement capability is gonna be clamoring for some of that Federal War on Drugs money. If you think about it, the only aspect of Mark Wahlberg’s story in 2Guns that strains credibility at all is that Naval Intelligence would be conducting an undercover sting on a cartel kingpin that, as far as we see, isn’t running drugs over water. How would the Navy apprehend any of the cartel’s people? Of course, since it’s all a con being run by a corrupt officer, that hardly matters.

    Being an agent of destruction… (Man of Steel).

    Oh good grief, not you too!

  • RogerBW

    There have always been flops. And total ticket revenue is up.

    I don’t disagree with your basic point, and perhaps I should expand on my original statement – make it loud and obvious, and you’re in with at least as much of a chance as if you spent some actual effort on it.

  • singlestick

    RE: There have always been flops. And total ticket revenue is up.

    But the Lone Ranger is a megaflop. The budget was around 270 million, and the real loss is in the area of $500 million. Start Trek probably made very little money and less than the reboot. Pacific Rim and World War Z are big losers.

    And ticket revenue valuations are tricky, especially when you adjust for inflation and the 3D premium. If you omit the two biggest films this summer, Iron Man 3 and Despicable Me 2 (the latter still has not opened in some foreign markets), this summer has been particularly dismal in terms of movies not performing to expectations, even Pixar stuff like Monster’s University. And much of this is due to the fact that audiences are not reliably coming out to see the same old crap doled out. And Hollywood thought that any film based on a YA novel would pull in the fans no matter how crappy the movie is. Instead they have been smacked down hard by audiences not quite as willing as before to just line up for the same old same old.

    Bottom line: this summer has seen a higher number of disappointments than earlier years, and Hollywood’s business model (max screens, targeted marketing, 3D premiums) has not been as effective as before. However, I don’t know yet if this is a blip or an indicator in a bigger shift. The fall and winter is loaded up with some quality Oscar bait, which may save the studios bacon. However, the next few summers, which Hollywood counts on, might deliver some unpleasant surprises.

  • RogerBW

    I very much hope you’re right. But I suspect that, if Hollywood is really worried, it’s going to stick even more strictly to formula.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    You seem to be laying a lot on the shoulders of The Lone Ranger, but if there’s someone with a lesson to learn there, it’s not Hollywood as a whole. It’s Disney. Or, to be more specific, Disney’s marketing team. That makes film with budgets north of $200M in as many years that have failed epically for them. In both cases, marketing can take more than a small amount of the blame, since while neither movie is great, neither is all that bad, either.

    Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, and Pacific Rim all grossed more than twice their reported production budgets, with only Pacific Rim failing to go into the black on US box office alone. While STID missed the US box office mark of its predecessor by $30M, it outperformed in the global market by $100M.

    Bottom line: this summer has seen a higher number of disappointments than earlier years

    It might be useful if you could support this assertion with some data. Something to note if you do: 2012’s box office was buoyed significantly by the unexpectedly phenomenal success of The Hunger Games. In fact, I’d wager that Catching Fire is going to do for Q4 2013 what The Hunger Games did for Q2 2012.

  • RogerBW

    Of course, this is Hollywood accounting.

    Rule of thumb used to be that twice the production budget, as domestic gross, was a break-even (after paying the cinemas etc.). I hear people saying these days that ought to be more like three times. But of course that doesn’t account for DVD/streaming sales.
    What I think can possibly be learned from The Lone Ranger (and John Carter, since I assume that’s the other example you were thinking of) is “don’t count on ancient IP, that most modern filmgoers have never even heard of, to generate a success”.

  • LaSargenta

    Will no one remember Menudo?

    :(

  • singlestick

    RE: You seem to be laying a lot on the shoulders of The Lone Ranger … marketing can take more than a small amount of the blame, since while neither movie is great, neither is all that bad, either.

    The Lone Ranger is a steaming pile of crap. No amount of marketing could save it. It didn’t know whether it wanted to be a revisionist western or an empty-brain summer tent pole movie. You cannot market something that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Marketing is not magic.

    The producers may be lying about World War Z’s total budget; Star Trek Into Darkness grossed less than the reboot, never a good sign. Other sequels this summer significantly under-performed the previous outings (Hangover, Red, Smurfs, etc). New movies like After Earth, Pain and Gain, Epic, Turbo, Elysium also under-performed. And then there was RIPD.

    I have specifically written about the summer of 2013, not accounting quarters. Everybody and his mother is coming out with summer post mortems, so there is nothing that I am particularly hiding or distorting. The Guardian, notes, for example that Hollywood seems unwilling or unable to learn anything from this summer: “US film studios unlikely to be chastened by big-budget failures from The Lone Ranger to Elysium and change business model”

    http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/aug/30/hollywood-summer-blockbuster-failure-box-office

    Many stories are noting that the summer box office is up, but they tend to look only at dollars, not at tickets sold. They talk to studio execs, but not theater owners or movie goers. As ever, Hollywood accounting is more make believe than real.

  • singlestick

    RE: Rule of thumb used to be that twice the production budget

    I’ve seen in some places that a multiplier of 2.4 to 2.5 is more reasonable. This is interesting, since one might think that some production costs in the shift to digital allows for increased savings. Marketing budgets sometimes seem entirely fictional. And the deals that the studios have with theater distributors have a big impact. DVD/streaming revenues come later and cannot be reliably laid against production costs. Also, production budgets can be fudged. I recall reading stuff about the supposed $270 million production budget of 2006’s Superman Returns. But few industry reporters noted that this amount included the assumption of costs related to earlier attempts to revive the franchise and did not refer to actual production costs.

  • singlestick

    RE: But I suspect that, if Hollywood is really worried, it’s going to stick even more strictly to formula.

    Yeah, all the signs indicate that Hollywood is sticking to the formula. And here’s a fun tidbit. Over the weekend, a Spanish language film starring a popular Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez called “Instructions Not Included” grossed $7.8 million and (according to Box Office Mojo) “wound up in fifth place despite playing in fewer than 400 theaters.” The strong showing indicates considerable wide appeal for this movie.

    Also, “Hispanics made up 17 percent of the population, but 26 percent of frequent moviegoers,” but despite this Hollywood claims that it’s too hard to come up with films for this market with crossover appeal. Instead, Hollywood insists that it must make dumbed down action movies and tack on a 3D premium to make sure that films play in international markets.

  • singlestick

    Another quick thing, if you will allow, on lessons not learned. Over the weekend I noticed a long line at a second run theater in Pasadena, California. I walked by and heard a theater employee note that two films, Pacific Rim and Despicable Me 2, were sold out. The other films available were Man of Steel, Monsters U, Now You See Me, RIPD, White House Down and World War Z. Some of these films are still playing at the nearby first run theater, but at $15 for an adult ticket and $$ millions for popcorn and drinks. At the second run theater, tickets before 4pm are $2 and $3 after 4 pm. Lots of families, college students, adults and teens in line. People who want to see a movie on the big screen, but who may be priced out of the first run theatrical experience.

  • RogerBW

    Hmm. Time for a statistical exercise. I wonder how good a predictor the opening weekend is of a film’s, say, first-year gross?
    Off to write a scraper for boxofficemojo…

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I’d argue that the essence of marketing is to provide the customer with clarity, regardless of the confusion in the product. So in that sense, Disney’s marketing failed to do their job for both The Lone Ranger and John Carter. That the job was hard isn’t much of an excuse.

    Sure, WWZ’s producers may be lying. But we can only work with the numbers we can see.

    In the history of sequels, having a sequel outperform it predecessor is the anomaly. Cranking up the budget with each successive film is a relatively recent, and historically questionable, practice.

    You keep applying ambiguous modifiers (“significantly underperformed”, for example). At what point does the difference shift from “acceptable” to “significant”. Also, you don’t seem to be accounting for non-US box office. You can bet your sweet bippy studios are counting that money.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Boxofficemojo, as I’m sure you’ve discovered by now, is way ahead of you, listing what percentage of the lifetime domestic was earned in the opening weekend. It generally runs in the 40-60% range on modern films, under 30% for films made before the mid-80s.

  • singlestick

    RE: I’d argue that the essence of marketing is to provide the customer with clarity, regardless of the confusion in the product.

    A reasonable definition. But audiences saw and rejected the Lone Ranger and John Carter. They just didn’t care. After a certain point after a movie’s opening, marketing is irrelevant. And misleading marketing up front often makes things worse.

    RE: Sure, WWZ’s producers may be lying. But we can only work with the numbers we can see.

    Not really. There is good industry analysis, and crappy industry analysis. Sometimes, you have to look harder to find it.

    RE: In the history of sequels, having a sequel outperform it predecessor is the anomaly

    But this is what the current conventional wisdom is looking for.

    RE: At what point does the difference shift from “acceptable” to “significant”.

    Using the 2.5x multiplier, a number of summer films have been duds even when you account for non-US box office. And Hollywood is strange. I’ve seen stories in the trade papers that focus on domestic box office even when the foreign box office is good. However, note that because of currency conversion, and when foreign box office is actually collected, among other issues, these numbers may not always be as solid as domestic numbers.

    But as I noted, the numbers are rolling in and Hollywood is, for now, still happy:

    “2013 Summer Box Office the Biggest Ever Recorded, Attendance Up 7%”

    http://filmdrunk.uproxx.com/2013/09/2013-summer-box-office-biggest-ever-attendance-up-7-percent

    Some definitions. Summer lasts from the first weekend of May through Labor Day. Box office was up 10.2 percent, and tickets sold were up 7 percent, looking only at the US and Canada.

    The linked article references a Disney exec who says that the big movie tent pole strategy has been vindicated. And yet, the article also notes, “The real surprise was the number of lower-budget movies that drew big crowds. Five films that cost less than $50 million to make grossed more than $90 million at the domestic box office, compared with two last summer.”

  • RogerBW

    Yeah; I can’t get a quick summary for lots of films, but some random sampling of releases from last year suggests that there’s at least a 50% variation in the ratio. It’s hard to say how often that spread might cover the difference between success and failure… though as I dig into the numbers, it doesn’t appear that that’s a usual thing.
    A rule of thumb would seem to be that the first weekend domestic gross should be at least half the production budget, or the film will be regarded as a failure.

  • Anthony

    I always thought Minions were asexual, or even genderless. We only see them as “male” because that’s what hundreds of years of normalization have told us is the “default.”

  • singlestick

    RE: I always thought Minions were asexual, or even genderless. We only see
    them as “male” because that’s what hundreds of years of normalization
    have told us is the “default.”

    As far as I can recall, all the minions are referred to by “male” names. But their behavior is sometimes “male” and sometimes “female.”

    As an aside, where “hundreds of years of normalization” may come into play might be here: I wonder whether audiences would react squeamishly watching specifically “female” minions being hit and knocked about.

  • bronxbee

    no, we see them as male because every advertisement that featured a minion gave them male names. i thought originally they were genderless also, but no… the studio insisted on giving them male names. and, i don’t know what “female” behavior you’re referring to. dressing up in a maid’s costume? doing housework?

  • singlestick

    RE: no, we see them as male because every advertisement that featured a minion gave them male names

    Aren’t there scenes in both films in which Gru specifically calls some of the minions by their names?

    And according to the “Despicable Me Wiki” (who knew?)

    http://despicableme.wikia.com/wiki/Minions

    “Minions have standard English names such as Dave, Stuart, Kevin, Jerry, Carl, Phil, Paul, Jorge, Tim, Donny, Mark, Lance, Tom, John, Steve , Frank , Bob, Lary and Josh….” But also, supposedly, “Minions are genderless.”

    RE: i don’t know what “female” behavior you’re referring to. dressing up in a maid’s costume? doing housework?

    No. It’s that their behavior is more plastic, and not necessarily constrained by gender.

  • Every Minion we’ve heard called by name has a male name.

  • Anthony

    Thanks, I stand corrected. I’ve only watched the Latin American dubs, which kinda gloss over that.

  • AnnJoyViewster

    Quite funny, and mostly true. I enjoyed this. The only thing I disagree with is “If you want to be a hero, arrange to have your beloved brother killed, preferably before your own horrified eyes” for Pacific Rim. This is neither funny nor true. If you want to scoop what the movies have REALLY been saying, think of something more relevant. Like “Use giant clumsy robots to fight the monsters instead of missiles or bombs. They are slow, but more eco-friendly” – if you want to sound funny, of course. The message of Pacific Rim is more serious, but there’s no need to discuss it here as this article is not meant to be serious. “Arrange to have your beloved brother killed” just sounds awful and is outstandingly irrelevant, as this is war, and nothing is arranged to kill its heroes, especially by their beloved or relatives.

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