Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, I wrote the first half of a summer movie preview. Now I am going to complete it. (Because sometimes, only sometimes, I am a woman of my word.)
In case you don’t remember the system, it goes a little something like this:
I rate a film’s likely problematic nature based on a 1 through 6 scale, with 1 being the least offensive in terms of the lenses of gender, race, sexuality, class, etc and 6 being I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. I will also rate the films based on (my own) fangirl excitement, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. Snark and trailers abound, so let’s play.
The Last Airbender (July 1)
This is the big screen adaptation of the popular American anime Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender, known for its depth of imagination, humor, and surprising artistic competence despite it being American anime. Also, it has protagonists that are people of color and female characters who do useful things rather than screaming and falling in love. The adaptation made the (Native American and Asian) protagonists white. This is just the beginning of the terribleness, as this review from io9 demonstrates:
This is the part where I would insert a quick plot synopsis of the film, but it’s really unnecessary – Shyamalan has boiled every epic heroic story of the past 20 years down to its most basic, primal soup-y essence, so he can spray it all over the audience, in a kind of Hero’s-Journey bukkake. You will be finding chunks of Joseph Campbell’s calcified spooge behind your ears for three days after watching this film, no matter how many times you bathe.
Shyamalan’s true achievement in this film is that he takes a thrilling cult TV series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and he systematically leaches all the personality and soul out of it — in order to create something generic enough to serve as a universal spoof of every epic, ever. All the story beats from the show’s first season are still present, but Shyamalan manages to make them appear totally arbitrary. Stuff happens, and then more stuff happens, and what does it mean? We never know, because it’s time for more stuff to happen. You start out laughing at how random and mindless everything in this movie is, but about an hour into it, you realize that the movie is actually laughing at you, for watching it in the first place. And it’s laughing louder than you are, because it’s got Dolby surround-sound and you’re choking on your suspension of disbelief.
Feminist-y Scale Rating: 5.1 (i.e DANGER ZONE)
Fangirl Scale Rating: 3 (M. Night, I have been burned by you before.)
Despicable Me (July 9th)
Ahhhh HA HA HA look a dude trying to raise kids! And he’s a supervillain! Hilarity ensues. Forgive me if I’m unimpressed but it’s kind of like they turned the Rock’s Vin Diesel’s [how embarrassing to have mixed them up!] The Pacifier into an animated film, with all the lowbrow adjustments that entails. In the era of Pixar, we can’t let them get away with this.
Besides, Megamind, coming in November, is so much more interesting in its deconstruction of the Superman mythos. Also, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, and Brad Pitt!
Feminist-y Scale Rating: 3 (Male parenting doesn’t make up for the fact that there seem to be no women in the super-community)
Fangirl Scale Rating: 0 (Thanks, Universal, but Dr. Horrible, Soon I Will Be Invincible, and Megamind have me covered as far as sympathetic supervillains go. Nice try.)
Predators (July 9)
Alice Braga takes up the familiar role of token female (a role she had in Repo Men and I Am Legend) in the next installment/possible reboot of the Predator franchise, and Predators gets points for its multicultural cast. It remains to be seen whether it just ends up being Brody as the last man standing, but it seems like the Predators want to kill everyone, not just the minorities. Would it have killed them for there to have been more than one woman and for her not to obviously be a stand-in for Michelle “I get killed in every movie” Rodriguez?
Feminist-y Scale Rating: 3.1 (It’s on the tipping point, but hey, most action movies are.)
Fangirl Scale Rating: 5 (The original Predator obeys lots of TV Tropes “Rule of Cool,” so it’s a fun, mindless action movie. Sometimes that’s all you need.)
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (July 16)
Believe it or not, the concept for this movie came out of the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence in Fantasia. Now it’s a leviathan of a Nicholas Cage vehicle, and honestly I don’t know what to do with it. The trailer tells you nothing about the film except that it has lots of special effects. ….I don’t know, Lemons, I just don’t know.
Feminist-y Scale Rating: 4 (The only woman I saw was the love interest, and the only person of color I saw as a monster like butterfly creature. Really? Really?)
Fangirl Scale Rating: 3 (Did you see that little flash where the Apprentice had the problem Mickey has in Fantasia? That’s kind of exciting. And Nicholas Cage is always good for a laugh and a WTF? Sometimes he’s even wonderful, like in Kick-Ass.)
Inception (July 16)
*Does a little Inception dance* Inception appears in the slot that would be occupied by The Dark Knight or the as-of-yet untitled Batman 3, i.e. awesome mind-blowing Nolan brothers project. The visuals are stunning, the cast is to die for, and the Nolans are returning to the architecture of the brain for their “Mind heist” film. Could do with a few more women on the team, and some more POCs but Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the awesome keep distracting me.
Feminist-y Scale Rating: 2 (It’s nice to see a woman offered an important and essential job on an elite team and she gets to keep her clothes on.)
Fangirl Scale Rating: 10 (Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the usual suspects from Nolan films, and obvious speculative fiction and sci-fi elements. AWESOMESAUCE!)
Salt (July 23)
This spy thriller was originally conceived for Tom Cruise and Michael Mann, but when Cruise turned it down, Jolie asked them to just change the pronouns and go into pre-production. Could not be more excited about a spy movie that doesn’t star Daniel Craig.
Feminist-y Scale Rating: 1.5
Fangirl Scale Rating: 8
Dinner for Schmucks (July 30)
A remake of the French 90s comedy The Dinner Game directed by the same guy who gave us the humiliation comedy Meet the Parents, Dinner for Schmucks is about a man who wants a promotion so badly that he agrees to participate in an upper executive dinner game, where each guest brings a “schumuck,” or a fool, or an idiot so the executives can laugh at them. Are you losing faith in humanity? Me too! I’m pretty sure this eventually gets exposed as awful, especially since Paul Rudd’s schmuck is played by (usually lovable) Steve Carrell, but the whole thing makes me squirmy. (Kind of like Meet the Parents.)
Feminist-y Scale Rating: 4.5 (A female executive takes part in the dinner game, but the girlfriend also plays the part of the no-laugh voice of reason. Kristen Schaal (Flight of the Conchords and The Daily Show) also appears as a “one-of-the guys” underling. I kind of don’t want to touch this with a ten foot pole, no matter how French its origins might be.)
Fangirl Scale Rating: 0.5 (Kristen Schaal’s siren call beckons me, but again, ten foot pole.)
The Other Guys (August 6)
Following up on a bit role in Date Night, Mark Wahlberg gives into his comedic side that we got such lovely glimpses of in The Departed and Saturday Night Live (and in Boogie Nights, but there were other glimpses that were a bit more pressing at that time.) Will Ferrell and Adam McKay team up again to give us another “Will Ferrell does stuff that would be annoying if he wasn’t Will Ferrell” film. There’s some interesting lampshading of the action movie going on, a la Hot Fuzz.
Feminist-y Scale Rating: 3 (There’s some interesting deconstruction of masculinity going on, and casting Samuel L. Jackson as the star cop creates an interesting racial dialogue. Then again, this is Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.)
Fangirl Scale Rating: 4 (If it looks like Hot Fuzz and has Mark Wahlberg, I’ll see it.)
Eat, Pray, Love (August 13)
There’s something very charming about Eat, Pray, Love. The ever lovely Julia Roberts realizes that though she might date James Franco and be married to [talented, kind, wonderful] Billy Crudup, she’s not really happy because she doesn’t even know who she is. So she goes on a one year voyage around the world to figure it out. Sounds beautiful, right? It’s wonderful that in a world filled with Sex and the City, someone’s pointing out that fulfillment is more than marrying the right man. But where does one find the time? And money?
When Oprah began promoting Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love, the always interesting and fearless Bitch magazine published an article entitled “Eat, Pray, Spend,” pointing out the assumed position of privilege that Gilbert’s book was founded on. “You really must take time out for yourself.” she told the Samantha, Carries, and Mirandas of the world. But what about the women who are more like Precious or Liz Lemon? Where do they find the time and money for self-help projects and yoga retreats?
The short answer is they don’t, the same way that very few of us can afford Carrie’s wardrobe. It’s what escapism is made of, but when you examine it closely, it all looks rather rotten.
Feminist-y Scale Rating: 4
Fangirl Scale Rating: 4 (Gotta see it as a matinée, if only to support Mr. Crudup and Ms. Roberts who deserves a comeback.)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (August 13)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, adapted from a comic by Bryan Lee O’Malley, is about a slacker who begins dating the girl of his dreams only to discover that in order to continue to do so he has to defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends. O’Malley’s comic mixes video games with comic and topical references to create a series that’s too cool for school. Because the series is based in video games, there’s a lot of Scott saving girls from other males, which got old very fast when I first gave the comic a try. Despite nice gestures like Scott’s gay roommate and resident sarcastic conscience Wallace, the gender politics in the series are all messed up. The girls are all focused on who they’ve previously dated so much so that they come to blows, but they hardly ever take part in the actual “fights for their honor.” A friend tried to tell me that Ramona can’t fight her exes because it’s kind of like a curse and I say that. is. bull. sh*t. Justifying your chauvinism in universe doesn’t justify it outside. VOM. DOT. COM.
Feminist-y Scale Rating: 5.5
Fangirl Scale Rating: 2 (I will probably get dragged to it at CMU, but I will kick and scream. I love Michael Cera, but this stuff is inappropriate. At least Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead) ensures the action will be well done.)
The Switch (August 20)
The Switch tries very hard to convince you that its heart is in the right place, referencing Juno and Little Miss Sunshine in its title, but its one of the same producing teams, not writers or directors. In fact, The Switch is based on “Baster,” a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides, the author of troubling and thought-provoking The Virgin Suicides. When asked by the New Yorker‘s book blog about the film, Eugenides said
The fact that the movie has a different title than the story might give you some idea of how close a correspondence exists between the two. The plot of my story takes up the first twenty or thirty minutes of the film. From there, the screenwriter developed an entirely different outcome. “Baster” is merely the premise of the film. But even that’s not quite true. My story is about an unattractive man who’s in love with a beautiful woman. It deals, comedically, with the Darwinist question: is it better to be good-looking or clever? Now, Jason Bateman isn’t unattractive. The casting went in the other direction, as they say out in Hollywood, and the movie followed it. You might say that “Baster” is to “The Switch” what cello is to cellophane.
You want to know if this bothers me, I think. I’m not sure. I don’t mind that they extended the storyline. I understand the need for that. “Baster” just doesn’t contain enough plot for a feature-length movie. What I mind more (though I don’t really mind, I don’t really care all that much, to be honest—it’s just a movie) is that the story was about one thing and the film is about another.
Making movies is a fragile enterprise. You might have a wonderful script but not be able to cast an appropriate actor to play the lead. Then you get another actor and you have to re-write the script for him or her. As a novelist, I pity film directors their lack of autonomy. And I’m sure film directors pity just about everything about novelists.
For now I will reserve judgement, even though the very idea of “hijacking a pregnancy” makes me do all kinds of squick. I love watching Patrick Wilson be a tool (see The A-Team and Hard Candy for two sides of that coin) and Jason Bateman and Jeff Goldblum are always fun. And, hey, Juliette Lewis where have you been? I missed you!)
Feminist-y Scale Rating: 3 (Could go either way. Which side of the fence will it fall on: Virgin Suicides or Killers?)
Fangirl Scale Rating: 7 (Love me that cast.)
That’s it for now Lemons! I leave you with some vintage Patrick Wilson being an adorable tool. (He is so much better than the bland/tool-y guys he often ends up playing. Carnegie Mellon represent, Patrick!)
Patrick Wilson is so cool, he can disarm King Leonidas. (I often wonder if he learned some of those moves from our amazing fight master and movement teacher Catherine Moore.)
A vote for Patrick Wilson is a vote against stalkers and pregnancy hijackers. Vote Patrick Wilson!