Thank your favorite deity: Summer movies are over

Hugh Jackman overdoes it and Paul Dano refines his creepy persona in "Prisoners," which is actually pretty good. Photo Credit: Wilson Webb Hugh Jackman overdoes it and Paul Dano refines his creepy persona in “Prisoners,” which is actually pretty good. Photo Credit: Wilson Webb

Let’s not mince words. It was a lackluster summer, movie-wise. For every decent surprise (Fast & Furious 6, which was better than it had any right to be; The Spectacular Now, which is a bittersweet rumination on growing up), there was a major letdown.

Take Elysium. The Matt Damon-starring, Jodie Foster-supporting progressive sci-fi bloodfest should have been a home run, but it was undone by several things, including Foster’s distracting accent and a protracted finale that, on second viewing, was way, way, way too protracted. Plus, I’m not sure how much I buy the notion that a guy whose body is being rapidly taken over by tumors can fight like RoboCop on his best day.

In the meh/so-so department, there is Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, which, though it had its moments, I found depressingly misogynistic—and not because of Andrew Dice Clay, who’s excellent. In the really bad department, there is R.I.P.D., which again finds Ryan Reynolds’ charisma going nowhere in a terrible screenplay.

And finally, in the this-may-actually-be-the-worst-movie-I’ve-ever-seen-no-joke-department, there’s Austenland, which doesn’t have a single thing to recommend it. Starting with the it’s-not-really-interested-in-Jane-Austen angle to the sure-Keri-Russell-can’t-maintain-a-relationship angle to Jane Seymour’s underbaked Prunella Scales-lite character to Jennifer Coolidge’s unrestrained and idiotic performance, it’s an unmitigated shit show.

Thankfully that’s all behind us. We never have to think about those movies until someone writes a Woody Allen career retrospective—again—but at least Blue Jasmine is better than, say, Mighty Aphrodite.

Now that it’s Autumn, we have two kinds of movies happening, the early fall crap-dump (see: Thanks for Sharing) and the early awards fodder (see: Prisoners).

The crap-dump (patent pending), for those unfamiliar with it, is the process by which a studio releases a movie at an inopportune time of year for filmgoers—say, back to school time when many households are concentrating on school, not recreation—that it has little to no faith in. Maybe the movie is bad or it has difficult subject matter or the studio simply doesn’t think it will find an audience. Although the movies probably won’t make much money at the box office, they may make some, and that’s better than none—which is to say, better than keeping the movie in the vault, unreleased. Hence a bad release date.

Movies released in September that reasonably qualify for the crap-dump: The Family (half-baked, stupidly violent, unblinkingly sexist); Riddick (an effort to revamp a once-powerful character by a passionate star, but the studio doesn’t care much); Thanks for Sharing (this is a guess, as its studio, Roadside Attractions, generally does smaller releases, but three big names—Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo and Tim Robbins—usually means brouhaha and this movie has none).

On the other end of the spectrum, awards fodder is upon us with Prisoners, director Denis Villeneuve’s creepfest about kidnapped children and familial despair. Despite Hugh Jackman’s way overblown performance (he apparently learned interrogation techniques from Batman), the movie is a quiet winner that takes its time following leads and examining motives. Plus, it quietly tells us, “Oh, you want to watch a movie about endangered children? Well, it’s going to be excruciating.” Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent. Prisoners could have used more Terrence Howard and Viola Davis.

Coming soon in the early awards fodder category, we have Rush, Ron Howard’s biopic of Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon, which the star also writes and directs. In October there’s Sandra Bullock in Gravity, which is being advertised everywhere, a good sign for studio faith. There’s also Captain Phillips, which features Tom Hanks in serious mode, and why not? It’s a movie about Somali pirates, after all.

Of course, Machete Kills, Robert Rodriguez’s sequel to Machete, opens the same weekend as Captain Phillips. Crap-dump or not, guess which one I’ll be seeing?

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