×

Crix seek relief from blockbuster fatigue

Summer counterprogramming clicks, but global auds are still gobbling up familiar film stew

Summer’s end spells relief for some folks — parents who are glad to see their kids back in school or film critics who won’t have to review any more superhero movies.

A case in point are the two chief critics for the New York Times who wrote one of their joint columns last week acknowledging their “blockbuster fatigue” while at the same time expressing relief that summer releases offered more counterprogramming than in past years.

I share their conclusions, though I never understood why the Times has two “chief critics,” why they write joint columns or why, like nervous newlyweds, they always seem to agree with each other. On the other hand A.O. (Tony) Scott and Manohla Dargis consistently bring fairness and intellect to their craft — perhaps sometimes too much intellect (some of the Times critics of old, like Vincent Canby, were inhibited about putting scholarship on display).

Scott and Dargis made some valid points about the surprises of summer 2012, even though they arguably singled out the wrong surprises.

Dargis billed “Magic Mike” as “the biggest story of the summer,” noting that its success “affirms that some like it hot and without any underwear.” In reality, “Ted,” about the talking teddy bear, was a bigger box office story than Channing Tatum’s package, the film grossing twice as much. Even more surprising, an even dopier film, “American Reunion,” the fourth installment of a creaky franchise, grossed some $235 million worldwide. (The two critics didn’t mention either film but understandably raved about “Moonrise Kingdom,” a vastly better film, which has passed the $40 million mark at the box office.)

Further, while Scott and Dargis focused on “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” as the international counterprogramming success story, that film has done less than half the business of “The Intouchables,” and is not as good a movie.

The Times critics acknowledge that all these films still lived in the shadow of summer superhero epics like “The Avengers,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” Scott even admired the Batman sequel, writing that he was “amused by its snarl of conservative anti-populism — respect the rich! Obey the police! Don’t trust environmental do-gooders!”

Is that what Chris Nolan was telling us? I’d like to offer the Batman director equal time.

Dargis did not share her assessment of superhero ideology but did express satisfaction that “four movies in the top 20 were made for $20 million or under.” She further wrote that if she were made chief of a studio (admittedly a remote possibility) she would offer her favorite directors a budget of $10 million apiece “to make whatever they want as long as their results come in with an R rating or below and don’t run over two hours.” Years ago, another tough-minded critic, Pauline Kael, was offered a studio job but self-immolated before ever greenlighting a movie.

Scott, ever polite, responded to Dargis’ idea by writing “That would be cool” and adding that he was pleased lately by the growing power of the female audience. He cited “The Hunger Games,” and Pixar’s “Brave” (which features the company’s first female protagonist), noting that this year’s films don’t reflect the usual “male-dominated entertainment universe.”

All in all, Scott concluded that there’s evidence of “a desire among audiences, filmmakers, actors and maybe even studio executives for variety and surprise.”

I’m glad the two Times writers have found some grounds for critical equanimity going into the fall. I would like to share their good feeling but worry about those friendly overseas audiences that are really paying Hollywood’s bills these days. Are they sharing in this “variety and surprise”?

As Variety’s Andrew Stewart has observed, Hollywood’s ever-loyal foreign filmgoers have rescued clunkers like “John Carter,” “Battleship” and “Wrath of the Titans,” to the tune of $890 million at the box office. A pedestrian movie like “Ice Age: Continental Drift” has registered some $773 million (and still counting) worldwide, with its foreign gross totaling four times its domestic return.

Does this suggest that while American audiences might be showing early signs of sophistication, Hollywood has succeeded in vulgarizing the tastes of everyone else?

Surely Americans in their infinite generosity will be willing to share some of their hard-earned “blockbuster fatigue” with the rest of the world.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Empty movie theater

    Theater Owners Create $2.4 Million Fund for Cinema Workers

    The National Association of Theatre Owners and the Pioneers Assistance Fund have created an initial $2.4 million fund to provide financial assistance to movie theater employees who need help due to the coronavirus pandemic. The organizations said Monday that the first part of the initiative is a grant program that will provide a stipend to [...]

  • Bob Chapek Bob Iger Disney

    Bob Iger to Give Up Salary, Other Senior Disney Executives to Take Pay Cuts

    Disney has joined the list of companies implementing sizable pay cuts for senior executives amid the upheaval caused by the coronavirus crisis. Bob Iger, who shifted from chairman-CEO to executive chairman last month, has opted to forgo his salary for the year. Bob Chapek, who succeeded Iger as CEO, has taken a 50% pay cut. [...]

  • Sundance Horror Movie 'Relic' Picked Up

    Sundance Horror Movie 'Relic,' Starring Emily Mortimer, Picked Up By Film Constellation

    London-based production, finance and sales company Film Constellation has boarded the critically-lauded “Relic,” the debut feature from Natalie Erika James. The film, which stars Emily Mortimer (“Shutter Island”), Robyn Nevin (“The Matrix Trilogy”) and Bella Heathcote (“The Neon Demon”), had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in the Midnight section. The film, which [...]

  • Judy Movie 2019 renee zellweger

    Korea Box Office: ‘Judy’ Debuts on Top as Cinemas Slump to Historic Lows

    The South Korean box office, which has been widely affected by coronavirus and has fallen to historic lows, was further hit by leading exhibitor CJ-CGV’s recent decision to shut 35 complexes nationwide, and to reduce screenings at those theaters remaining in operation. Opening on Wednesday (Mar. 25), Oscar-winning drama “Judy” debuted on top of the [...]

  • 'Elephant' Review: Less Majestic Than the

    'Elephant,' Narrated by Meghan Markle: Film Review

    Of all the members of the animal kingdom we think of as akin to humans — chimps, dolphins, whales, perhaps (if we’re being honest about it) our dogs — elephants may be the most movingly and preternaturally aware. Because you can see how intelligent they are. You see it in a chimp’s face, too, of [...]

  • Ken Shimura

    Japanese Comedian Ken Shimura Dies of Coronavirus at 70

    Ken Shimura, a comedian who was a fixture on Japanese television for decades, died on Sunday evening from the coronavirus, the Japanese media reported Monday. He was 70, and immediately before his illness had been set for his first starring role in a feature film. Shimura entered a Tokyo hospital on March 20 with fever [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content