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Perfect ’10? Summer So Far…

Am I the only person hugely disappointed with the summer so far this year? I mean, the summer isn’t traditionally where you find the best movies of the year, at least no more or less than any other time of year, but I’m not looking for great movies, just good ones. just solidly entertaining ones. At the most basic level, I’d settle for just an excuse to go to the cinema on a Friday night (although I’m sure my better half is glad of the weak string of movies – it really frees up our schedule). What the hell is wrong here?

Leo's looking for good movies too...

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It Was the Summer of ’09… BIGGEST. SUMMER. EVER…

Well, at least one of my predictions worked out. Waaaay back when this blog was just starting I called this year to be the biggest summer at the American Box Office ever and – with one weekend still to go – I was right about that one.

Well, I was due after Shutter Island was moved to February scuttling my Oscar forecast. Now, if the Academy could come around to nomination Inglourious Basterds (yeah, right!), I might forgive them for that whole fiasco with The Reader.

I’m quite proud of myself, but that isn’t really a good enough reason to post (at least on its own), so I’ve brought some facts and figures and observations below.

Christian Bale isn't going to happy about this...

Christian Bale isn't going to happy about this...

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Is the Terminator Franchise Terminated?

In the knowledge that Terminator: Salvation has ‘only’ taken in $71m at the US Box Office, having cost over $200m to make and market, prognosticators are rushing to pronounce the Terminator franchise as dead. The facts don’t look good – so far it has earned less than the previous franchise killer (the disappointing-in-so-many-ways Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines), it is reviewing badly, and it got its ass handed to it by a Ben Stiller family comedy. This is surely bad news for Warner Brothers, the studio that produced the other $200m ‘dud’ of the year, Watchmen – but does it really signal the end for everyone’s favourite time-traveling robotic assassin?

No bones (or metallic endoskeleton) about it...

No bones (or metallic endoskeleton) about it...

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It was the summer of 2009…

Lately I’ve taken a bit of interest in Box Office numbers – I figure that might distract me from the fact Ryan Tuberty is hosting the Late Late. And looking at the few months ahead of us, I can see this being a very big summer for the US box office. In fact, I can see the film industry beating the recession with a large stick (cinema generally does quite well during recessions as it’s well, cheap), thanks to a fairly epic and broad lineup of blockbuster films.

It seems that just about every film this year is a sequel or prequel. Some (Angels & Demons) are both – it’s complicated (the book is a prequel the film is a sequel). We’ve had a relatively strong introduction to the season with the two prequels on offer. Neither Star Trek nor Wolverine broke any major records (though the Imax thing is pretty neat, as is the biggest second-week in May ever). I can see Star Trek having the legs to last in the background at least a month (which, given the onslaught of bigger movies and the disappointing staying power of other would be blockbusters, is really something).

Even before we reach the end of the month, we’ll have the second Dan Brown film, which can’t do too badly with a cast like Ewan McGregor and Tom Hanks and a cult following among a slightly older demographic usually ignored, the fourth Terminator film, which should do big business despite all the reasons that geeks have to worry, and the kid-friendly A Night at the Museum. Rounding off the month’s smaller (pbut possibly slow-burning) releases are Pixar’s Up and Sam Raimi’s return to cult horror with Drag Me to Hell. Again, neither should set opening weekend alight, but I’d expect a decent amount of business from either or both.

Then we have the traditional summer months. Summer movies have been creeping in earlier and earlier (Watchmen was arguably better suited to a summer release; Iron Man last year set the official start-of-season bell back at least a few weeks), but your meat-and-potatoes are here. These are the movies that cannot possibly fail, they are just that wired-in to cheesy pop sentiment. Michale Bay will confirm his title to the throne of summer blockbusters with a brainless sequel to a feature-length toy commercial with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but even he will likely have to stand in the shade created by what most commentators have settled on as the biggest money-spinner of the year, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. The series has built in devotees that Star Trek can only dream about, and they will be out in full force along with any parent looking to entertain a child over the summer months. This and the fact that my sources within the fan community tell me this is the best book points to a right to print money.

I think that GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra may falter as a brand with relatively little name recognition, despite the most over-qualified cast ever – Christopher Eccleston, people! On the other hand, I really hope that Michael Mann’s Public Enemies can do at least respectably, as the man generally delivers and has an amazing cast at his disposal.

All that said, I wouldn’t expect anyone to dethrone The Dark Knight or Titanic. I just think that culminatively the box office should be huge, but it could hugely backfire and lead to blockbuster fatigue, though I doubt it. It’ll be interesting to read the end-of-year numbers.

After that there’s the lonely Autumn followed by the glut of awards-bait. I’m already hyped about some of the movies we won’t be seeing on this side of the Atlantic for another nine months, but I’ll talk about them some other time.

Up, Up and… Away?

I’m a huge Pixar fan – I always have been. I’ve seen every film they’ve released since Toy Story, and the only one that has disappointed me was Ratatouille. The studio is one that manages to be obscenely crowd-pleasing while seemingly equally risk-taking, seemingly disproving the notion that mainstream audiences dislike challenging entertainment – let alone challenging animation.

"Merchandise this!"

"Merchandise this!"

Still, I’m a little surprised at the assertion that Up might be the studio’s riskiest commercial venture yet. There are a whole host of convincing arguments that suggest that the company is making a risky gambit – from the commercial-based suggestion the movie isn’t as toyetic as Cars or Toy Story to the reasonably valid observation that the film may alienate younger viewers by focusing on a lonely old man rather than more visually appealing characters like Monsters Inc. or Ratatouille – but I’m not convinced.

Wall-E finds himself on top of the heap

Wall-E finds himself on top of the heap

In defense of my point, I point to Wall-E. The movie was the most breathtaking major release last year, and my third favourite film of the year (it was also my girlfriend’s favourite) – and before you label me as an indie-loving arthouse snob, my top two were The Dark Knight and Frost/Nixon. The film was about as non-commercial as you can get: next to no dialogue for the superior first half, an almost invisible bad guy in the autopilot, a lead cast that couldn’t speak and a soppy robotic romance. Yet somehow the film made over $500m at the world-wide box office (58% of which came from outside the US). Clearly the guys at Pixar know what they were doing.

I’ll admit that Up has (pardon the pun) an uphill climb. In the United States it’s opening in one of the most crowded Mays on record. It doesn’t really have much direct completion (save the delightfully titled Drag Me To Hell – I doubt it’s the same market), but Star Trek, Wolverine and Terminator will still be playing at the matinee. The more direct threat for the family money is opening only a week before. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonion will be arrive in theatres on May 22nd. Still, I think Pixar can do it. They always do.

Maybe I should be a little relieved, though, that the movie isn’t opening in Ireland until October.

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Up is the latest film from Pixar, starring the vocal talents of Edward Asner (Freakazoid, Batman: The Animated Series) and Christopher Plummer (Inside Man, The Sound of Music, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country). It opens 29th May 2009 in the United States and 16th October 2009 in the UK.