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The way that people respond to summer madness”

by Kevin J Johnson

It turns out the whole world loves movies! Apparently more than we ever did here in the states, which is why several major motion pictures have been released internationally ahead of their domestic release, including this year’s AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (5/2, Sony). International grosses have become so important to studios, that tentpoles are being tailored to other markets, like China, Brazil, Russia and so on.

 

This spring’s Captain America sequel had a notepad gag that changed according to the region it played in. IRON MAN 3 had two extra scenes featuring Chinese superstars. Even ROBOCOP (2014) and TRANSCENDENCE had 3D releases exclusive to China.

 

Consider this (the hint of the century?): 13 of the 18 billion dollar grossing films came out in the last six years, all thanks to international grosses upwards of $500 million or more, the lone exception being THE DARK KNIGHT. If studios want to gross a billion dollars, and they do, they need films to hit the worldwide market as soon as possible, now that more theaters have opened up all over the globe.

 

I remember a time when it was a big deal that films like X2: X-MEN UNITED and THE MATRIX RELOADED had global day-and-date releases, breaking new ground. Before then, international audiences were content to wait for the next big film to hit their screens after we were done. Nowadays, we’re lucky if we get to watch a big summer movie one whole month after it was released elsewhere. Studios figure we’ll watch it anyway (they’re right), and they get to combat piracy in regions prone to it (good point).

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Even films like PACIFIC RIM, which flopped stateside, still recoup costs thanks to international grosses (thanks China!). So when movies like RESIDENT EVIL 5 or Dwayne Johnson’s HERCULES (7/25, Paramount) get made, it’s because of stars with worldwide appeal, stories and concepts with global recognition, and spectacle that still wows crowds the world over. Not because we in America were clamoring for these pictures, though we still do in some cases.

 

Even the Step Up series, a dance franchise with low to mid-range budgets, makes its money back thanks to foreign grosses. Dance films are still popular in many parts of the world (UK, India, Korea), and each Step Up sequel’s foreign gross at least doubled its domestic; the fourth entry, STEP UP: REVOLUTION (2012), tripled its domestic. And so we have STEP UP: ALL IN (7/25, Summit) to look forward to. I’m a “Moose” fan, by the way.

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To reiterate an earlier point, I didn’t ask for TRANSFORMERS 4 (6/27, Paramount), but a whole lotta people from a whole lotta places sure did. What I want as a moviegoer in this instance kinda doesn’t matter anymore, and it’s something American audiences will have to get used to. Expect EDGE OF TOMORROW (6/6, WB), HERCULES and JUPITER ASCENDING (7/18, WB) to get some global love despite domestic snubs. And expect quite a few of these other blockbusters (ASM2, DOFP, Dragon 2) to be in kissing range of a billion if not all the way there.

 

It’s like the summer’s a natural aphrodisiac”

 

No one does sexy like Hollywood.

 

That is, I guess, until everything had to be PG-13. Outside of SEX TAPE (7/25, Sony), there aren’t many films on the carnal side, which is to expected; it ain’t the 80s anymore. Maybe because my hormones were in overdrive, but I remember movies in general being way sexier than they are now. You either wanted to have sex with, or be as sexy as, the stars onscreen. Then again, not everyone can be Brad Pitt or Denzel Washington, or even… Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg?

 

Back in the day, James Bond films had sultry starlets that sizzled the silver screen like Ursula Andress, Famke Janssen, even Halle Berry. But I guess it’s all good, because SKYFALL had, um…, who was that… uh…?

 

(Naomie Harris.)

 

No, not her, she didn’t really count as a Bond girl, more as a co-worker. Um…

 

(Dame Judi Dench?)

 

Technically, but I’m not going to form the visual. Let’s see, uh…

 

(Ah! Bérénice Marlohe. She played “Severine.”)

 

YEAH! She was hot!

 

(She’s an accomplished French actress and pianist. Show some respect.)

 

Oh… um… my bad.

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This summer sees Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller return with SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (8/22, Dimension), featuring a bevy of femme fatales. Newcomers Joseph Gordon Levitt, Eva Green and Josh Brolin join returning Sin Citizens Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson and Jessica Alba. It’s been nine years since the first groundbreaking film and I would’ve liked to see this made sooner, but I’m glad it’s here now. Time will tell if this was worth the wait.

 

We also have the indomitable Luc Besson, who gave us strong and sexy female leads in La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element, coming back to cinemas with LUCY (8/8, Universal) starring Scarlett Johansson. By the way, Scarlett Johansson’s performance in Jonathan Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN was outstanding. Highly recommended, but don’t watch it in the dark. Unless you’re into that sort of thing.

 

There’s also GET ON UP (8/1, Universal), the biopic of The Sex Machine himself, James Brown. Tate Taylor (THE HELP) directs Chadwick Boseman (42) in his performance as The Godfather of Soul. A lot of talented might is behind this one, and while it probably won’t be as sensual as the man himself was, it’s likely to be scintillating nonetheless.

 

“Yeah I got on sneaks, but I need a new pair”

 

Sequels, sequels, sequels. Cinema’s bread and butter, a tradition harkening back to its serial days. You make a good movie plenty of people like? Then make another one, but better! On second thought, better’s optional.

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We have twelve major sequels coming out this summer (ASM2, X-Men DOFP, 22 Jump Street, Dragon 2, Think Like a Man Too, Transformers 4, Apes 2, Planes 2?, Purge 2, Step Up 5?!, Sin City 2) including the throwback actioner THE EXPENDABLES 3 (8/15, Lionsgate).

 

Now I don’t wanna get off on a rant here, but sequels have a story problem. These films get bigger and crazier, tearing down whole city blocks and depicting artificially bloodless collateral damage. Finales have such a sense of annihilation upon them nowadays that it leaves me flummoxed that anyone can consider these entertaining. Damon Lindelof (Lost) referred to this as ‘Story Gravity,’ the tendency for studio-mandated bloat (and audience-mandated, let’s be fair) to override the organic development of a story. I have another word for this: Destructo-Porn.

 

I’ve been at screenings for TRANSFORMERS 3, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, MAN OF STEEL and all of these had two things in common: entire cities leveled to the ground, and wild applause from the audience. Point is, destructo-porn works. You shut your brain off, watch 100 million dollars worth of special effects compressed into thirty minutes and you shout for joy.

 

But I can give you a beat by beat of any of the Indiana Jones action set pieces from the 80s, Matrix, Gladiator, X2, you name it. Can you remember what happened in any of the Transformers films? Hobbit 2 even? These films are forced to escalate into an empty climax of hot air and nothingness, a cacophony of digital madness. WORLD WAR Z bucked the curve due to rewrites, because it had to remind itself that it was a friggin’ zombie movie. But before that, it had a massive zombie battle set in Moscow that turned off test audiences because it had

 

NOTHING TO DO WITH THE STORY IT WAS TELLING.

 

The Matrix, for example. Despite all the groundbreaking action sequences and massive scale, the film ends with a skirmish in a hallway that completely redefines the main character. In Raiders, Indy and Marion shut their eyes in order to avoid the wrath of the Ark, unable to do anything else. Try that nowadays.

 

Even after all the Colosseum fights in Gladiator, Maximus stabs Commodus one-on-one. These movies ended like this because their stories demanded it, because they had to. Not with an entire city destroyed because you could afford the effects budget to pull it off.

 

And I gotta tell you, my spider-sense is tingling. Based on the trailers for ASM2, Sony seems more interested in setting up a mega-franchise (a la Avengers) in the Spider-Man universe instead of telling One Good Story. When Sam Raimi made SPIDER-MAN (2002), he wasn’t thinking about part 2. When he made SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004), he wasn’t concerned with part 3, only with making the best sequel he could, and so on.

 

Sony has pre-planned the Amazing Spider-Man universe to such an extent, through 2018, that it feels less like a large tapestried story than it does instructions for printing money. When Peter Jackson and Robert Shaye at New Line decided to make The Lord of the Rings into a trilogy, the story structure demanded it and the filmmakers were rewarded for it.

 

Look here, Sony, what you’re doing with Spider-Man is scary but I really hope I’m wrong about this. The sequels and spinoffs could all be amazing (see what I did there?), but this looks like narrative exhaustion. If you have an actual story to tell, tell it. We had to wait decades for computer technology to catch up to the thrills of Spider-Man comic books. But if you’re trying to meet a release date instead of pleasing your audience, then it sends us a message:

 

You haven’t learned your lesson yet.

 

 

Two miles an hour so everybody sees you”

 

I just really like that line. But it sorta fits because this next film is the one I think everybody should see.

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My top pick for this summer is the original Marvel entry GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (8/1, Disney) from director James Gunn. It’s the tenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, technically making it a sequel of sorts, but not. Sort of like a quantum blockbuster.

 

James Gunn is known (or not known, depending on who you ask) for directing SLITHER (2006), SUPER (2010), and for writing the screenplays for SCOOBY-DOO (2002) and the DAWN OF THE DEAD 2004 remake. Marvel has shown a remarkable eye for talent, selecting idiosyncratic auteurs like Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon and Shane Black.

 

Like those three, Gunn is a writer-director with a dedicated fan base and solid geek cred. Apparently, the Marvel formula is exactly that, and then add 200 million dollars. The mainstream audience considered Iron Man to be a B-lister until the very first MCU hit proved what comic book readers knew all along. And now, Marvel Studios is looking to do that again by releasing GUARDIANS, with Gunn directing from his script.

 

Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) stars as, well, Star-Lord. He is a legendary outlaw who is considered a legend mostly just by himself. He is joined by two deadly assassins: Gamora, played by the elegant Zoe Saldana (AVATAR), and Drax the Destroyer, played by WWE World Champion Dave Bautista.

 

Plus, the two biggest stars in the movie, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, are the voices of a TALKING HOMICIDAL SPACE RACCOON AND A GIANT WALKING TREE. Who does that?! No one does that! So, yeah, it’s my new favorite movie and I’m gonna watch this a dozen times. No bias whatsoever. Karen Gillan (Doctor Who), Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace and Benicio del Toro fill out the intergalactic ensemble.

 

Okay folks, this is the end of my massive Summer 2014 preview. I wanna know what you’re looking forward to this summer, what you liked most about summer movies of yesteryear, even some of your favorite summer movie memories. What was the longest line you were in? What was the most fun you had in a theater watching with an audience? Are movies still fun for you?

 

Lemme know in the comments below, and enjoy yourselves this summer. Thanks for reading, and stay awesome ~ PEACE!

 

Here’s a little somethin’ to get you equipped for the summertime:

Follow Kevin on twitter as he battles atrophy from sitting through every Summer movie.