Tag Archives: Summer blockbuster

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: BAZ LURHMANN’S ELVIS (2022)

Baz Lurhmann’s first film in 9 years is none other than Elvis (2022), as the entire globe seems to know by now. A summer blockbuster with no superheroes? So it would seem. As soon as the film was announced, a good number of American-variety Elvis fans took to the Internet, alternately expressing outrage and excitement, which validated that we have summer blockbuster material here. Most of the outrage focused on star Austin Butler, whom many compared unfavorably to Elvis (without seeing the film) or even hostility, accusing Butler of trying to replace Elvis. A disconcertingly large percentage of Elvis fans scrape the barrel bottom of all fandoms (and, given the competition from Marvel boys, that’s saying a lot).

Still from Elvis (2022)Since Elvis’ death in 1977, he has become a patron saint for rednecks in double wides, so it’s no surprise that a lot of Elvis fans are dyed-in-the-wool Trumpers. Given that, it’s equally no surprise that his posthumous association with a faction of the zealous WASP demographic has done him considerable harm. Over the last several years, Elvis’ sales have dwindled. Many minority groups see Elvis in a disparaging light, accusing him of cultural appropriation and lumping him together with the most deranged of his fan base. When Lurhmann’s film was announced, Butler wasn’t the only one Elvis fans pounced on. Luhrmann was targeted because of his assumed sexual orientation (“How dare one of ‘them’ make a film about our King?”), as well as Hanks, because he supported Hillary Clinton (cue Qcumbers-styled blood libel).

Of course, Elvis’ late in life supposed conservatism has fueled right-wing fantasies about him. Never mind that he once supported Adlai Stevenson, RFK, and MLK (although, reportedly Elvis never voted, and his 1970 rendezvous with Nixon seems to have been mostly born of a bored little boy fantasy about being a federal drug agent). Opinions are divided on whether 1970s Elvis was really the conservative he is sometimes painted to be. Still, one might argue that the 1950s progressive Elvis was far more innovative than the institutionalized Elvis of his last decade. Regardless, Elvis’ reputation has practically been flushed by Grand Old Party fans.

Mighty Mouse cape intact, here comes that madman Baz Lurhmann to save the day (and he has, with the box office approaching 200 million and Elvis product selling at its best levels since 1977). Still, Luhrmann did not set out to make a typical biopic, and has said that all along. He has a focused, if lean, narrative: the relationship between Col. Tom Parker (Hanks) and Elvis (Butler). Of course, not all films make an altar out of narrative, and Lurhmann has always been a maximalist aesthete. That idea that Elvis is not a biopic has been a source of contention for some of star’s ex-girlfriends (who were not Continue reading ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: BAZ LURHMANN’S ELVIS (2022)

READER POLL FOR ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS OF THE PAST: THE CANDIDATES

Blockbuster movies have been around since the late 1930s (e.g., The Wizard of OzGone with the Wind, The Adventures of Robin Hood), but they weren’t called that. Hits were released at different times of year, but rarely during the summer. Indeed, summer was generally regarded as a poor time for movie releases: the general belief was that people would be going to be the beaches and traveling, having no time for movies.

The drive-in circuit knew better, and was inching toward movie watching as a summer event for over a decade. The Ten Commandments (1956) was still occasionally showing on drive-in screens well into the 70s. The Planet of the Apes film series, in its entirety, made for a well-attended all-nighter; and, of course, one could always count on the Harryhausen “Sinbad” movies for a night of monsters and cleavage on the high seas. Despite the success of these warm-weather alfresco films, the idea didn’t catch on with Hollywood (the popularity of the provincial drive-ins was probably too little publicized).

Poster for Jaws (1975)It wasn’t until 1975 that Steven Spielberg gave birth to the concept of the summer blockbuster with the release of Jaws on June 25. The date was no accident, but deliberately planned. Spielberg and Universal did something previously unheard of; investing a then-unheard-of two million dollars into a publicity campaign that pulled the masses off the beaches by making them fear the beaches. The result was epic box office (and a mass hysteria that resulted in people slaughtering dolphins, etc.) My father took us to see Jaws on the day it was released, and we were admitted late as theater employees were still furiously cleaning up from where traumatized patrons had literally vomited during the previous showing.

Of course, there was no turning back after the summer of 1975 box office recipts, but how the hell do you top a great white shark? 1976’s The Omen thought it had the answer in the Antichrist, who was not some fearsome, screaming red-faced demagogue, but a child. In 1977, George Lucas then topped his peer Spielberg with Star Wars, of course; naturally Spielberg would respond with Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Jurassic Park, and Saving Private Ryan. The annual summer blockbuster has continued to this day with others, notably through Marvel Comics getting in on the act.

The concept now seems so simple, so winning a financial formula that one wonders why it took until 1975 to figure it out. The pandemic has temporarily changed the playing field, so we are going to give 366 readers a chance to vote on four summer blockbusters of the past, which I will then review through the summer. The criteria chosen was the biggest blockbuster of each year, up to 1999. 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns were skipped, as they have been covered here.  You may choose up to four from the list below. Poll closes at midnight eastern time on Sunday, May 2.


ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: JOKER (2019)

Todd Phillips’ The Joker (2019) is a tedious, derivative manifesto for the “woe is me” white American male.  “I haven’t been happy one minute of my entire f—ing life,” says Arthur Fleck () and that sentiment is all too contagious while sitting through this self-pitying exercise of hackneyed seventh grade psychology. There’s more fun to be had here twirling one’s straw while waiting for the paint-by-number soundtrack accompaniment. Do a countdown while checking off “Send in the Clowns,”  “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” “That’s Life,” and Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll, Part 2” (its inclusion is a blatant, adolescent attempt to be provocative, given Giltter’s history). At least you’ll stay awake, if your straw is strong enough to endure all that twirling.

Still from Joker (2019)Another way to enhance what little entertainment that can be squeezed out of this lesson in masochism is to locate the the slivers of other films embedded in it: King of Comedy, Taxi Driver (cue the Robert De Niro cameo) ‘s Modern Times, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, The French Connection, and ‘s Batman, to name a random few (throw in at least one reference to ‘s “Dark Knight” comics as well).

For all its derivativeness, The Joker is yet another comic book based movie that’s embarrassed of its comic book origins. Angst-ridden fanboys, who haven’t seen a movie that’s not comic book-based in a decade or more, will hardly care. They’ll heap a ton of praise (and money) on it, proclaiming it profound, with an Oscar worthy performance from Phoenix, which will validate their own basement profundity.

It seems to be set in the 1980s (i.e. the Mark of Zorro marquee has been changed to Zorro, the Gay Blade) and it is essentially plotless. Fleck works for a clown agency, understandably gets fired for not being funny, rages against swamp-entitled self-righteous public figure Thomas Wayne (hint, hint), has mommy issues, sees conspiracies afoot (mostly involving Wayne) and descends into … whatever. End of story. It takes 90 muddled minutes (!) for Fleck to get into the makeup—but the makeup is rather a pronounced point of the Joker, a bit like the suit is a pronounced point of the superhero.

Phoenix’s may be the worst  portrayal of the character to date. Cesar Romero, (who’s looking better with each new portrayal), and each brought a sense of glee to the role, albeit a  maniacal one. Not so with Phoenix. He’s a tiresome gray, and when he does finally go black, he does not enjoy a moment of it.

The Joker is certainly bound to have a huge opening, but is it worthy of the controversy its generating? It deserves neither. Nor does it deserve to be remembered, celebrated, or mistaken for art, or cinema, for that matter. The Joker is merely a tasteless nothingburger.

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

is claiming (again) that he only has a single film left in him: an R-rated “Star Trek.” Of course, volunteered to revive Captain Kirk. Paramount needs to jump on this. If anyone could breathe life into that long dead formula, it would be Tarantino. As for Shat, perhaps he would learn something, even at his age. When Shat took his Star Trek V idea of the Enterprise crew battling God to the studio, Paramount, Gene Roddenberry, et. al. shot back: “They can’t meet God!” Shat lost his balls. He should have grabbed Tarantino, then because this is a filmmaker who does not let history, social norms, or formula expectations dictate to his art.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood posterAfter his films with Sergio Leone, composer Ennio Morricone became such a cult figure that it wasn’t long before wannabe film composers began paying homage to him with one yawn-inducing, predictable tribute after another. Of course, most attempted to solicit his endorsement, and received blank stares and unanswered letters in reply. That is, until jazz composer John Zorn came along and filtered Morricone through snippets of Carl Stalling, video game music, and his own sensibilities. Morricone was delightfully startled, breathed a sigh of relief, and gave a resounding accolade, noting that finally here was a worthy tribute, because Zorn refused to treat him with reverence. Zorn was as radical and revolutionary as Morricone himself.

This is what Tarantino does consistently. The title of his latest is no coincidence, paying his homage to cinematic idol Leone. Tarantino clearly has an authentic love of 1960s and 70s grindhouse cult film as well; so much so that he is no mere imitator, and this makes him one of the most interesting filmmakers of the last 25 years.

As in Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino takes the role of a celluloid antifa and wallops the fascists. “Let’s kill Nazis,” goes the chant, probably much like the American troops sang  on D-Day (one must ask: when did hating Fascism become a bad thing?), but he has a new Fascist offshoot target as well: cultists. And, as before, he rejects the way his source material ended, and so crafts a new dreamscape ending. In this, Tarantino reminds me of an artist named Antonio Adams who created adult sculptures of JonBenet Ramsey and Emmett Till, allowing them to grow up in his sculptures, denying their fate. So Continue reading ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: ALADDIN (2019)

One has to wonder about the mindset of studio executives. Disney handed the live-action Dumbo remake over to , who hasn’t made a good movie in twenty years. Then, they assign Aladdin to Guy Ritchie, who has never made a good movie. On top of that, there’s the utter pointlessness of “live action versions” of animated classics. This one is no exception. Unless the original fell short some one way or another, why remake it (except to improve on it)? It’s especially futile when the original was so damned good.  Aladdin (2019) is just a piece of crap, and the only actor who survives this embarrassment—and smells like roses, comparatively—is Nasim Pedrad as Dalia, the handmaiden of Jasmine (Naomi Scott).  Why does Aladdin (Mena Massoud) prefer the personality-bankrupt Naomi over Nasim? Oh, because that’s in the script. And, Aladdin is a braindead jackass.

Still from Aladdin (2019)The original Aladdin (1992) came at the tail end of a brief Disney resurgence that began with Little Mermaid (1989) followed by Beauty and the Beast (1990). This revival came crashing down with the saccharine, run amok Lion King (1994), which of course has a live-action (sort-of) version in the works. Why does Disney keep doing this? Because fans don’t give a hoot. Aladdin has already made a zillion dollars and the undemanding Disneyphiles, who actually crave more of the same, are singing its praises all over social media.

The changes Ritchie makes are hardly worth mentioning, with two  exceptions. First, he manages to solicit a dull performance from Will Smith, which is not an easy task. Understandably, Smith does not attempt to copy the fiery performance of the late , but Ritchie slaps a harness on Smith—which echoes the film itself, because the director sucks every ounce of color and fun out of the original.

Clunky, clumsy, and gray, Aladdin was an endurance test, and likely the briefest Summber blockbuster write-up I’ve given. Instantly vapid and unmemorable, it does not deserve more of my time. It does not deserve yours ether. If you’re craving the story, go back to 1992.

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU (2019)

What the hell can I say?  When I saw that 366 Weird Movies’ readers had topped themselves in sadism with this year’s summer blockbuster picks (a video game, a Disney, AND a comic book movie) you can understand why I, quite frankly, forgot the lot of you. The only possible reprieve is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,  which is why I’m here belatedly for the video game entry and did not bail entirely (or get my revenge by making Greg go in my place).

You could have at least sent me to the Star Wars thingamajig so I could piss off both the lovers and haters (they’re still bellowing over The Last Jedi, which, let’s be honest, is the first Star Wars with any sense of surprise since 1980).  And you hit me first with a goddamned video game movie adaptation, which is about as low a bar as it gets.

First, let me tell you what annoys me about gamers. Now, mind you, I did play Pacman and Centipede once, in a Godfather’s Pizza, but I least I got to enjoy smoky treats while I got slaughtered (not that many of you would remember, but yeah, we used to smoke in public—restaurants, college, malls, airplanes—before all you annoying nonsmokers overbred and took over the entire world). But that was not when I decided that suicide would be preferable to the whole video game thing.  No, that realization came after I did a few years managing a video store (Do you remember these? that’s a Statler Brothers reference, by the way) when I had to deal with gamers. They would call the store and, to a man, they would rattle off game titles, most of which had some kind of X followed by a number. Those excitable boys would say the names at such a fast clip I always had to ask them to repeat that a tad slower. I remember one gamer coming in wearing a shirt which said something to the effect that Nintendo (or whatever) was better than girls. How would he even know?  And then their comedy is the cherry on the cake; you know, when they get defensive and claim they are  being productive and that video games are art and they are complex and… zzzzz.

Now you gaming twits have taken a swipe at me by sending me to Pikachu. Oh, how cute. Now it’s my turn.

Still from Pokemon Detective PikachuOK, first, is this yellow a guy a rabbit? He sort of looks like a rabbit, which might explain why this movie rips off Roger  Rabbit (and several other films). Except that director Rob Letterman is no Robert Zemeckis, Pikachu is no Roger, and Justice Smith is no (actually all the humans here are pretty lifeless, like that one Star Wars prequel where Yoda was the most animated person). Also, Roger Rabbit was actually a funny screwup. Pikachu does cutesy one-liners that are predictable and ingratiating.

I suppose we should get to the plot. Tim (Justice Smith) does not like Pokemons because his detective dad was supposedly killed by one (sound familiar?) Tim lives on the outskirts of Ryme City (visually, a cross between Blade Runner and Toon Town), where Pokemons and humans cohabitate, and now has to team with Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) who was his dad’s partner. Insert Phillip Marlowe references. Repeat often for filler.

Of course, there’s a plethora of universe building. Am I the only one who does not give a hoot about all the extended universes of late (Marvel, DC, etc)? Someone in the popcorn line (you tightwads have never even sent me a damned AMC gift card for enduring these summers) referred to it as the “Pokeverse.” OK, I’m putting my foot down. I will not even include the next Pokefeature as a summer blockbuster poll option (and no doubt there will be many more to come as it has already made a zillion dollars. As the saying goes, you’ll never go broke underestimating the intelligence or taste of the American public.)

Anyway, the CGI excess is not a surprise. It becomes tediously hedonistic about the midway mark. What is surprising is that the plot gets complicated and sloppy. There’s the rub, so to speak. Pokemon wants to be taken seriously, but it wants to be entertaining, too, and tries this mostly through Pikachu’s sidekick, Psyduck (I’m not making this up), who has to be kept calm or he will implode (think of the tradition of bringing in a cantankerous duck when the protagonist toon gets too goody-goody dull.)

The Sherlock Holmes bit apes countless cop buddy movies, but suffers most from an outcome that is anything but a mystery. Some of the humor is a tad risqué—that’s clearly the reason for casting Deadpool‘s Reynolds—but even that can’t save Pokemon, once it ceases to be a movie in favor of product building.

For Pokefans only.

Next week: Aladdin.

I hate all of you.

READER POLL FOR ALFRED EAKER VS. THE 2019 SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: THE CANDIDATES

Summer’s almost here, and that means it’s time for the 366 Weird Movies reader base to send me, Alfred Eaker, on my sixth masochistic field trip of blockbuster movie torture. Since the blockbusters listed here actually extend to the end of the year in 2019, I will grant readers a choice of 4, rather than the normal 3 (AS LONG AS AT LEAST ONE CHOICE IS A FILM DEBUTING AFTER JULY). The candidates are below. Be sure to view the entire post; you will vote at the end.

  1. We’ll start with the most masochistic film imaginable: Pokémon Detective Pikachu (Opening May 10). Do I have to explain why a field trip to a mortuary would preferable? Although I’ve never seen anything out of the Pokémon franchise, I know it’s supposed to be the most profitable media franchise of all time and I’ve seen enough of its merchandising to know this is something to be quite afraid of. Of course, one will never go broke underestimating the intelligence and taste of the American public, so it will naturally be the biggest thing since Moses parted the Red Sea… until the next big thing, that is.
  2. Aladdin (Opening May 24). Strike one: is dead. Strike two: This is directed by Guy Ritchie, who’s never made a good film in his entire career. Strike three: Uh, live action movies of animated Disney fodder are lessons in banality and redundancy. The proof is in the pudding of Dumbo. Did anyone really think that was going to be anything less than a pile of excrement? Especially, since it was directed by whose mojo violently gave up the ghost twenty years ago. Disney never learns.
  3. X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Opening June 7). There has been a pretty consistent lesson with the whole “X-Men” thing: hire , avoid all the entries not directed by him, and do not let him direct anything else. With Singer’s personal and legal matters, his career seems to be history now, so why not put the franchise out of its misery? Not a chance, no matter how many godawful movies they churn out.
  4. Child’s Play (Opening June 21). On the (maybe) plus side, Mark Hamill has a supporting role, hopefully as a villain, as he is far more interesting when his ugly side comes to the surface (something the crying fanboys could not grasp regarding Last Jedi). On all of the negative sides; the director, Lars Klevberg, has only directed one feature, and it was reportedly dreadful. So too was the original Child’s Play, which failed to do in 2 hours what Trilogy of Terror accomplished in 15 minutes. The sequels were even worse—so now, let’s revive that dead horse.
  5. Spider-Man: Far From Home (Opening July 5): Ok, the previous one, also directed by Jonn Watts, received great reviews. However, the trailer for this looks like a preview for the next Avengers thingamajig. Besides, I heard they killed Spidey in the last Avengers thingamajig. Still, hopefully it will suck so I can pan it and piss off Marvel fundamentalists.
  6. The Lion King (Opening July 19). Oh, come on! Two–count ’em, two–pointless live-action rehashes from the studio of mucus in Continue reading READER POLL FOR ALFRED EAKER VS. THE 2019 SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: THE CANDIDATES