16 June 2017

Sharks, Cars, Girls, and Pac as Summer Rounds the Bend

Hello again, folks - a lovely Summer Friday is upon us and we have an absurd amount of films dropping today. Chances are that your best bet is still Wonder Woman (2017), but really there should be something for everyone today. Music fans, comedy fans, animation fans, shark fans - we got all the major genres covered. Let's roll out from least notable to most notable today as we examine cultural, critical, and commercial potentials for everything:

Shipp does look super-like Pac tho
First up is All Eyez on Me (2017), the long-awaited Tupac biopic, which lands with almost no hype at all. It seems bizarre in the wake of Straight Outta Compton (2015), which is definitely the only reason this was made, but for some reason doesn't feel nearly as timely or as investing, despite Tupac Shakur being a decently beloved rapper and another notch in 90s nostalgia for us to feed. This might simply be because it's apparently a total shit film that follows really standard biopic tropes, even if Demetrius Shipp, Jr in the lead role is spectacular.

It makes me recall more the Biggie biopic Notorious (2009), which is so obscure you forgot it existed, much less came out eight years ago. This feels just like something that has been on the periphery for a while without much belief that it was actually getting made. Now I'm struggling with how Straight Outta Compton became such a game changer. Maybe it was the still-pretty-popular Dr. Dre and Ice Cube putting their full weight behind it? Maybe it was the fact that NWA themselves were such innovators in the rap game, or that Straight Outta Compton was the first epic rap group biopic, which was actually legitimately solid. All Eyez on Me feels essentially derivative.

That's a shame because Tupac's dual acting / rapping career (which got started at virtually the same time - in fact, Juice [1992] predates his biggest singles) is endlessly fascinating. He's also hands down one of the greatest rappers who's ever lived. In the end, the cultural effect seems like a drop in the pond, and critically it's getting drubbed. Commercially it might do okay - even Notorious made $20 million its opening weekend, but I don't think it will be the smash that Straight Outta Compton was.

Oh no! Sharks!
Moving on we got 47 Meters Down (2017), the Mandy Moore Shark Cage movie we've always been waiting for. This is totally jumping off the success of last year's The Shallows (2016) with Blake Lively, which got a lot of points for being original, if not still pretty stupid, and tension-filled, if not pretty exploitative. That even premiered around the same time, which was also around the same time as JAWS (1975) forty-two years ago. Sharks in June are like Star Wars in May. Or now December.

By all means, advance reviews are that 47 Meters Down does what The Shallows and even JAWS failed to do - get right to the shark attack and get to it damn fast. I'm okay with this. This is what Shark Attack fans always dream about. I get the impression that this is exactly as good as you'd expect it to be, with a solid mix of schlock and genuine terror to make it enjoyable. As far as the Shark genre goes, you have these films, all the other Jaws movies, Deep Blue Sea (1999), Open Water (2003), Sharknado (2013), and wait...shit...so much more. It is the original blockbuster genre, after all.

Mandy Moore's stock is actually rising after This is Us and La La Land (2016), even if the La La Land Mandy Moore is a different Mandy Moore. It didn't seem to matter much for Blake Lively last year, as long as she's hot. Hey, this is how America works, people. The marketing hasn't been nearly as cool as last year's Shallows - in fact, that trailer was way cooler than the movie turned out to be. It will probably do okay, although we're not exactly horror-starved with It Comes At Night (2017) dropping last week. That film has already disappointed a lot of horror fans, though, and 47 Meters Down is certainly a different, specific sort of creature feature. It's also PG-13, which means lots of little kids can get in and be scared of big mean sharks. It'll likely do just fine, now that I'm thinking about it.

Culturally, The Shallows did actually penetrate culture and make a memorable impression, even if it ended up being kind of lame. I at least remember how it ended. That's more I can say for its competition, Independence Day: Resurgence (2017), whose name I had to look up. If 47 Meters Down is solid, it could break through, if not, then it'll just be another Shark Attack 3 (2002). While its Rotten Tomatoes isn't good at all (51% right now), it's actually a notch above All Eyez on Me and Rough Night (2017), and right below Cars 3 (2017). So, no matter what you're getting a meh movie this weekend - if you're a shark guy, then go for it.

Weekend at Scarlett's
Moving right along, next we have Rough Night - the Scarlett Johansson Very Bad Things (1998) rip-off Bachelorette movie, which looks like the greatest comedy ever if it wasn't derivative of like four great comedies in the past. I mean, this just Bridesmaids (2011) with less heart and a modern cast, right? Or is it more just the straight female Hangover (2009) remake that Bridesmaids really wasn't?

I don't mean to be totally deriding because this cast is a fucking dream, even if I still think this is the second-worst Scarlett Johansson casting of 2017. Ilana Glazer and Kate McKinnon need to be movie stars, and their supporting turns here could propel them to the spotlight, which is what I've been hoping to happen to McKinnon since Sisters (2015). To be fair, a lot of the jokes in the trailers and commercials have landed pretty well, and like all comedies, if the movie is just funny, it'll rise to the top. If it can't, it'll spin in purgatory with Bad Moms (2016), Masterminds (2016), and Office Christmas Party (2016) that we don't care about.

Critically it's already been not great, which isn't a good prospect for a comedy's legs. Despite the fact that a film only needs to be funny, if it's going to last it helps if it's actually full of clever writing. Comedy is inherently subversive, if a film's just going through the motions there's not a lot there. With all this crap, though, there's still some high anticipation with the coming together of every great rising comedy star there is right now, and I still want to see it for what this mix of SNL, Idiotsitter, Broad City, and uh...The Avengers (2012) can do on the big screen together. Without a ton of comedic competition around it could do well financially, but there's also enough general competition right now to divert attention.

HAHAHA, what?!
Finally, we come to Cars 3. The advertising for this movie has been completely insane, and you've got to wonder if that has to do with the fucking terrible cultural reputation of the Cars franchise as "that one where Pixar sold out for merchandising profits." That's totally true. Cars 3 seems like it's layering on maudlin serious dark heavy overtones, which is absolutely nuts. Why not double down on what has worked for Cars before, the stupidest of all Pixar's kid-friendly properties?

It's pretty clear that the studio is upset about Cars 2 (2011) universally ranked as their worst film, both critically, almost financially, and in Oscar nominations (at zero). Nothing is really going to help the clear direction of the studio, though, who seems to have shifted towards returning to the well, perverting old characters rather than all that constant innovation that they did so well for so long. There's no hiding Finding Dory (2016), along with sequels to The Incredibles (2004), and the worst offender, an upcoming Toy Story 4 (2019), which threatens to unravel all the great closure from Toy Story 3 (2010). It all points to not a great point in the studio's history, although we're also only two years removed from Inside Out (2015), which spits in the face of all this criticism and is at least in the Top 3 of anything they've done.

Culturally this feels incredibly derivative. There's just not a lot of reason to be invested in this. If it's about finality, it's basically the Cars version of Toy Story 3. If it's about selling toys (the other big Cars theme), then it's just another installment in the crappy franchise. I'd really like to know more about the Cars world. How does any of it work? How do they have kids? Why do they have car doors for passengers? What happened to the humans? How big are these stadiums? What happened to all the stairs? Why are there tractor-cows? Are you born into whatever role you have in life based on your car make and model? What kind of insane society is this?!

This ought to win the weekend - you know that The Mummy (2017) isn't going to give any real competition. Still, I don't think anticipation is all that high, and it's not going to be a mondo Pixar movie like in years past. No one "wants to know how Cars ends". It'll do just fine, but you've got to think that out of all these four random movies dropping this week, none is going to be crazily successful. The weekend as a whole will probably be fine just because there's so many options to attract a wide range of people, but I don't see any one film doing great. Wonder Woman it is.

Which will you pick this weekend?

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