07 August 2013

The Road to a Blockbuster: Pot Smugglers, Ocean Monsters, Planes, and Matt Damon's Robot Arms

Here is a special Wednesday Edition of the Road to a Blockbuster. There are no less than four very disparate films dropping this week, and two today. They're all in crazily different genres and none are very likely to succeed financially. This column is not only focused on the films' commercial success, though, but also any potential for critical praise or more importantly, cultural cachet. Let's start with the Wednesday films:
At least it has that chick with the cute eyes from that Imagine Dragons video

First up is Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013), which is a sequel to Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010) that I did not realize was being made. Based on a popular series of young adult novels, the first film was a reasonable hit for a February release, although I'm not sure it deserved a Summer Sequel. Still, this is August, where plenty of crazy random movies are typically dropped and sometimes succeed (District 9 [2009]) and sometimes plummet (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World [2010]). So what kind of potential does Sea of Monsters have?

Although it's an established property that likely has a good number of fans who are eagerly anticipating the release, but the marketing campaign has barely registered with anyone outside its demographic. While the first one was competent enough of a tween-pleasing modern mythological romp, no one else really gave a shit about it. There's also a shitload of these books. Like eight of them, apparently. These tend to be to Twilight what the The Chronicles of Narnia to The Lord of the Rings - a much less successful adaptation that will fizzle out far before its time with very little cultural significance. Or perhaps we can see it as the children's version of Clash of the Titans (2010). Either way, this franchise is garbage.

Next we have We're the Millers (2013), a nice raunchy late summer R-Rated comedy. This is often a good launching point for these kinds of flicks, from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) all the way through The Campaign (2012). We're the Millers features an exceptional cast, from supporting Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, and Katherine Hahn to the core of Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston. Aniston in particular seems to be finding a better niche playing against type than she ever did in forgettable roles that could have been played by anyone, like Bruce Almighty (2003) up through The Bountry Hunter (2010). Between this and Horrible Bosses (2011), though, she's really been playing the R-rated older sexcat pretty damn well.
Not bad for 44 years old...

If anything, We're the Millers ought to be remembered as that movie with the Aniston striptease scene, not unlike how a film like Your Highness (2011) is known for showcasing Natalie Portman's butt. It's a great achievement. As for Sudeikis, is there any other SNL alumn who is more desperate for leading man stardom? He's had a string of low to high profile flicks poised to be his breakout flick, his Happy Gilmore (1994), or his Anchorman if you will, but none have really caught on to become classics. Sudeikis just isn't terribly funny. He's more bland and snide than really likeable and relatable, even if A Good Old Fashioned Orgy remains underseen and underrated.

I'm not sure We're the Millers will break out and become the next huge comedy movie or even become a beloved cult classic, but it's got a decent premise, a measurable spin on the family vacation movie, and the kind of sardonic attitude it needs to become decent Netflix material. Speaking of films that are better at home viewing, let's move on to Disney's Planes (2013).

Planes is a spin-off of Pixar's Cars (2006), that was not created by Pixar, but rather Disney, originally for a direct-to-DVD release that suddenly got a nice theatrical release in one of the more crowded summers for Animation in recent memory. Hell, it's even been a croweded July for kids at the cinema. From EPIC (2013) to Monsters University (2013), Despciable Me 2 (2013), Turbo (2013), and The Smurfs 2 (2013), it's been a little overwhelming. And Cars was soulless enough without the blatant cashgrab Cars 2 (2011), much less the needless spinoff, Planes. I mean, the Cars franchise basically did the unthinkable, lowering Pixar's brand and reputation as a vaunted movie studio that effortlessly churned out hit after hit, critically and commercially. Planes is just further skewering their goodwill, although to be fair, all that is actually doing is bringing them down to everyone else's level.

There's no way Planes succeeds this weekend. Parents are already sick of dragging their stupid brat kids to every dumb movie this summer, and assuredly won't dish out more dough for a version of Cars in the air. There is also very little chance it catches on culturally in any way. If anything it will merely add to the hated legacy of Cars than build anything on its own. That's why Cars is so criticised. It's symbolic of Pixar finally failing and making subpar movie with the intention only to sell toys. Planes is a reflection of that and as a result, is ultimately hollow.
Is Matt Damon turning into Bruce Willis?

Finally, we've got the big hitter this weekend - Elysium. All this took was a cool name and a proven director - Neill Blomkamp and I was in. Of course, Blomkamp really only has District 9 to his name, which more built off what he had previously created. Who knows if he can actually make a decent big original sci fi film, but at this point, originality should be praised. This summer actually had a handful of original sci fi flicks, from Oblivion (2013) to After Earth (2013) to Pacific Rim (2013). It may be argued that Rim serves more as an homage, Oblivion as a pastiche, and  After Earth as a heaping pile of shit, but at the least, none were sequels. None of these films have exactly lit up the box office, either, which doesn't portend well for a future that is full of sequels and remakes ad nauseum.

There is hope with Elysium, though, right? There's no telling how the film will actually be or whether or not we'll by Matt Damon in his bald glory, but out of every film dropping this summer, this is about the only one that could really make the kind of cultural impact we've been looking for. This is the movie that will inspire the hipsters of 2035 - the ones who will wear ironic Matt Damon T-shirts and reminisce how they don't make movies like Elysium anymore. Those may be some steep expectations, but it's what we need in these dark times. Help us, Matt Damon, you're our only hope.

Which of these four insane movies will be you watching on Netflix 6 months from now?

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