Silver Screen: Summer Report Card

Posted Wednesday, June 29, 2011 in Culture

Silver Screen: Summer Report Card

Young "Super 8" stars Ellie Fanning and Joel Courtney.

 

by Brandon Carter

Another summer at the movies; another carnival of sequels, reboots and raunchy comedies. With the month of August usually reserved for the bottom of the barrel, it's time to grade the Hollywood summer program before the last of the bulldogs are unleashed on the market in July.

Taken as a whole, the summer movie season has undoubtedly been a disappointment ... but only mildly so. For the most part, each movie lived precisely up to expectation, whether good or bad. Case in point: Fast Five. It delivered the advertised goods of fast cars, imaginative chases, and good-looking actors doing dangerous things. It was mediocre at best.

With the heaviest hitters in Harry Potter, Captain America, and the new Transformers movie yet to come, here are the big winners and the big losers so far.

Winners:

 Bridesmaids – Probably the most pleasant surprise of the early summer season, Bridesmaids featured a breakout performance from SNL's Kristen Viig, a gifted comedian and an even better actress. She got help from a well-rounded cast that includes Maya Rudolph and the sneakily good Rose Byrne, but it's Viig who stole the show and should, in this writer's opinion, be on Oscar's radar at the end of the year. But what really set Bridesmaids apart from its typical male counterparts (which I'll get to in a second) was its heart. I'll take that over easy cynicism any day.

Super 8 – There's a moment in Super 8 where Elle Fanning impersonates a kid who has to do a crying scene in her friend's cheesy low-fi zombie movie. So convincing is she that all the kids on the set just stop and stare, and so did I. The child actors were by far the best assets in J.J. Abrams' thrilling '70s sci-fi throwback. In fact, Super 8 was so good, it was a little disappointing that it wasn't great – Abrams never does find a way to tie the monster movie and the coming-of-age story together. Still, groovy effects and great chemistry between the young actors went a long way in making Super 8 a worthy entry in its genre and one of the best blockbusters of the year.

X-Men: First Class – It wasn’t Shakespeare, but hey, don't tell the actors. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender made excellent leads as Professor Charles Xavier and Eric "Magneto" Lehnsherr, respectively, bringing just the right amount of gusto and humor to roles well established by a pair of legendary Brits (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan), and Kevin Bacon was a hoot as the villainous Sebastian Shaw. The X-Men franchise has always underachieved to a certain extent, and First Class is no exception (the script is mechanical in places, and there are a bunch of auxiliary mutants we don't care about), but next to X-3 and that woeful Wolverine movie, it almost was Shakespeare.

Losers:

Thor – Barring a catastrophe from the upcoming Captain America, Thor looks to be the runt of the Avengers' litter by a long shot. Maybe it was the 3-D, but rarely have I been more conscious of the fakery behind movies than when I was watching Thor. For every shimmering surface and cheesy effect, an actor frowned in confusion or, in the venerable Stellan Skarsgard's case, outright fell asleep. It wasn't a complete disaster – Chris Helmsworth was charming in fits and starts – but it was far from memorable.

The Hangover Part II – Why pick on the doomed Green Lantern when there's this? Sadly, The Hangover Part II made all the mistakes the worst sequels tend to: Relocate overseas (Sex and the City 2, anyone?), repeat the same jokes except louder (Home Alone 2) and turn downright mean-spirited (also Sex and the City 2). Director Todd Phillips isn't wholly to blame; like this year's Bridesmaids, the first film had the benefit of surprise when it first introduced unreal characters like Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong). Turns out it was just another case of lightning in a bottle.

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