Lessons Learned This Summer At the Movies

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Summer 2015 had a lot to offer, a lot to lose sleep over, and a lot to learn from. It gave us hope that the next summer could be even better, and that Hollywood blockbusters still have some life in them yet. Before back to school this month, here are nine lessons we took away from this summer at the movies.

Lesson #1: Mad Max: Fury Road reset the bar for action movies – Zach Dennis

In a summer overrun by dinosaurs and emotive minds, the real kings of the season busted through the Australian apocalypse on top of supercharged cars with a chrome-infused vengeance. In a summer where nostalgia boomed, a new film that will influence the future was born — and it was born on the Fury Road.

Good movies are invigorating, and nothing awoke everyone’s passion like Mad Max: Fury Road did. It wasn’t just classic fun tied up in a more modern bow, but that it become a beacon for the future of action filmmaking. The set pieces were kinetic, the characters three-dimensional, and the theme was admirable and pronounced. Even though the title had his name, nobody wanted to be Max — we all wanted to be Furiosa.

What left Fury Road in our minds was how it took blockbuster filmmaking and raised the bar by a lot. In the coming years, the directors of the future big-budget films will be talking about how the movie influenced their product, and that’s something to smile about. If we get more practical stunt work, female-driven plots, and consistently paced action, then “what a lovely day” it will be.

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Lesson #2: I have what it takes to be a male stripper — Dylan Griffin

Since seeing Magic Mike XXL, I still fight the insatiable urge to put on a strip routine to every single song that I hear. I no longer listen to music for the music itself, but to think about the routines I could do to those tunes. Magic Mike XXL convinced me that I 100 percent have what it takes to be a male stripper. I tried to convince all my male coworkers that we should quit our jobs and start stripping. When I go into a gas station, the first thing I want to go for is the Cheetos and water and make the attendant smile, but I have to stop myself.

How could a movie make me feel this way? It starts with Channing Tatum. Even in the same summer as Mad Max: Fury Road, watching Tatum bump and grind was still probably the most physically impressive thing to happen on screen. The stunts in Fury Road were as good as they get, but XXL‘s routines were a step above. They weren’t stunts. Tatum didn’t have a stunt double. He actually did those unbelievable things with his body. To watch him dance and strip was to watch a master of their craft, to witness perfection, and nothing is more inspirational than that.

You know when you’re a kid and you’re watching a hero kick ass and you think to yourself, “I could totally do that; this movie makes me believe in my abilities.” That’s how I felt watching Magic Mike XXL. It made me believe I could be the assless-chap wearing hero that was on screen. And in a strange way, that’s what movie magic (Mike XXL) is.

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Lesson #3: Offensive “Nerd Rage” didn’t matter in 2015 — Colin Biggs

This summer, several casting decisions in big franchises angered nerds, and though they took to the Internet to share their disgust, we learned very quickly how impotent their nerd rage has become. Charlize Theron stole the show in Mad Max: Fury Road, earning high praise for her role as Imperator Furiosa, but there was much whining about how the focus in a Mad Max shouldn’t be on women. Aggrieved white men called for a boycott of the film, but Fury Road has currently made $374 million worldwide for their efforts.

A teaser for The Force Awakens started out innocently enough. A long shot of a sand dune reveals a very panicked John Boyega outfitted in Stormtrooper gear. While most fans were most perplexed over a three-pronged lightsaber, the trailer that gave millions of viewers new hope in the Star Wars franchise had a fanatical bunch performing mental gymnastics to explain away why a black man could be wearing a Stormtrooper outfit.

The worst example by far, though, has been the treatment of the upcoming female Ghostbusters film. More than a few disgustingly compared a reboot of the original as “raping their childhood”, but the real vitriol came next. Some of these fanboys hate the project so much they even took issue with stars McCarthy, Wiig, Jones and McKinnon visiting children in a hospital.

Look guys, you can either engage with a film as it is, or you can stay home. Just know that you don’t get the luxury of pretending your vitriol matters anymore.

Bill Hader and Amy Schumer in Trainwreck

Lesson #4: Women are comfortable with R-Ratings — Christina Leo

I know of more than a few people who walked out of Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck before the first 15 minutes were over, who turned away from the raunchiness of the opening scene and the apparent tastelessness of its main character, both of which combined into a sense of humor ill-fitted to certain sensibilities. And I get it. R-rated comedies have never been my cup of tea, filled with too many bathroom jokes and distracting expletives. Trainwreck is raunchy. Schumer’s character is often tasteless.

And yet, against all odds, I really liked Trainwreck, along with another R-rated comedy, Melissa McCarthy’s Spy.

I went into these movies expecting little more than vulgar tropes of a mostly-male-dominated genre, playing out the same characters I’ve seen a hundred times. What I found instead were two women who managed to be creations I recognized as real-life human beings: A crass woman struggling with infidelity who remains fiercely loyal to her father; an unlikely spy who outmatches her opponents by thwarting biased expectations; two women famed for their “unconventional” weights and appearances, but with nary a fat joke in sight.

I learned the pleasant irony of two marginalized women breaking boundaries of target audiences and genre restrictions. Two people unhindered — not unlike Furiosa’s prosthetic arm in Fury Road — by their imperfections, learning to survive in a world of challenges that, in hindsight of their success, seem pretty laughable.

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Lesson #5: The gap between sequels and remakes was widened Charlie Saunders

Remakes and sequels continue to show Hollywood’s allergy to originality, but this summer there was a clear division, both in quality and box office returns, between the carefully put together sequels that respected their legacy (Jurassic World, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Mad Max, Age of Ultron) hitting it big and the remakes and thinly veiled reboots (Poltergeist, Vacation, and Terminator: Genysis slashing and burning through its canon) falling flat, showing that continuing a story instead of trying to recapture a previous success is where to take a franchise.

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Lesson #6: Ian McKellen is (possibly) the best Sherlock Holmes ever Sarah Pearce Lord

The world collectively swoons when a new season of the BBC’s Sherlock returns every 10 years. And everyone packs into the theaters when Guy Ritchie unleashes his action-packed reinvention of Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic character. But who needs all of that when you can have Ian McKellen?

Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes graced theaters this season with a new take on the iconic character, and McKellen’s might be one of the best. Classic Sherlock Holmes adaptations are still beloved by diehard fans. Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett have made their unique mark as the consulting detective, with Brett’s version arguably being the most faithful to the Arthur Conan Doyle canon. With newer, hipper incarnations by Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr., and Johnny Lee Miller (Elementary), it’s no surprise that Condon wanted to harken back to the days of the subtler portrayals.

Ian McKellen breathes a different kind of life into the character. He’s an old man at the end of his days, not the dapper detective that most of us are so used to seeing. He brings humanity to a character that is normally depicted as being above everyone else. This film debunks Holmes as a myth and makes him real, and McKellen fulfills this by playing him as honestly and respectfully as possible. Yes, the new adaptations are fun and revitalize the character to a younger audience, but Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes has a more universal appeal. He allows you to identify with a character who is often impossible to identify with.

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Lesson #7: Old People love going to the movies — Rodney Uhler

During a year when teen-focused art films with high expectations yielded low box-office results (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Dope), films for the gray-haired crowd became the theatrical tortoises, slow and steadily winning the race. I’ll See You in My Dreams, starring Blythe Danner, Rhea Perlman and Sam Elliot has made nearly $7.5 million theatrically. Mr. Holmes, starring Ian McKellan, has made over $16 million in just over a month and is still in select theaters.

Even late in the summer, a distinctly unglamorous time for releases, seniors are still spending money at the box office. Grandma, the acclaimed Lily Tomlin Sundance title, opened on August 21 to a per-screen average of over $44,000, far better than Sony Pictures’ earlier Diary of a Teenage Girl. The same week Learning to Drive, a Toronto and Hamptons fest hit starring Patricia Clarkson and Sir Ben Kingsley, showed solid promise with a $64,000 in four theaters.

There’s many things to admire about an influx of films for this generation: great actors are not being aged out of great roles and stories about an older generation are not just being told but are being seen. But with Hollywood, only one element is bound to really make an impact, and its that audiences are creating a demand. When the distribution landscape is ever changing, it’s nice to know that the hip, young indie-film scene can still learn a thing or two from the older generations.

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Lesson #8: Comedians can ACT — Joseph Allen

This summer has been one filled with comedians who can act. Whether it comes in the form of a dramatic performance like Jason Segel’s in The End of the Tour, or one that is simply a nuanced portrayal of a woman in crisis like Amy Schumer’s work in Trainwreck, these actors proved that they could do more than deliver workable punchlines.

Both performances could ultimately usher in a new wave of great drama, one that sees characters become more mundane but understandable, and tries to find a dramatic pulse in the everyday world. Schumer’s performance allowed a rather mean character to become a sympathetic and likable one. She was wounded, but not because of anything particularly traumatizing. She was just an unhappy child of divorce, a completely relatable character whose decisions are always comprehensible.

Segel’s performance as David Foster Wallace is, perhaps, even more wounded. Wallace is a great thinker, but not an outstanding speaker. Watching the man deal with his fame in the film, it becomes clear that Segel’s Wallace is not entirely unique. He’s an everyman in a lot of ways. These are the kinds of characters we should want to populate our screens, people whose problems are similar to ours. If this wave of comedic talent has anything to say about it, that’s exactly what we will get.

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Lesson #9: Hype is alive and well in 2015 — Brian Welk

So many blockbusters and superhero movies are designed for their opening weekend and little else. The purpose is for audiences to leave the theater not thinking about the movie they just saw but the next one. These films are disposable.

And yet so many films this summer became hits purely because of that old fashioned phenomenon known as word of mouth. Mad Max: Fury Road never hit #1 at the box office, but it has made over $150 million because it was a movie that when you walked out of the theater, you had to tell others to see it. Ex Machina was released in April but slowly trickled into more theaters by its fifth week to become a small summer darling. It Follows went from an indie horror movie to the horror movie of the year and has been hanging on with parodies and criticism to the point that Quentin Tarantino recently had some thoughts. Even Jurassic World, a movie that had a massive, record breaking opening, hung on as a formidable box office presence because, good or bad (it’s bad), people had a lot on their minds after watching it.

For that matter, is anyone still talking about Avengers: Age of Ultron?

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