The Dog Days

August 05, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

There are three definitions of "summer" in the northern hemisphere. Going purely by the calendar and the stars, summer starts two-thirds of the way through June and ends two-thirds of the way through September. Based on holidays, school, and marketing, it begins on Memorial Day (late May) and concludes on Labor Day (early September). Then there's the Hollywood definition. By movie releasing standards, summer starts the first weekend in May and ends the first weekend in August. The length of the season is the same but it has been time-shifted forward by seven weeks.

What this means is that August has become known as a dumping ground for orphan features than no one is expected to see or want to see. Get these titles into theaters for a few weeks to avoid the "direct to video" stigma when they arrive on DVD in the fall. While there are still some high profile films to be found opening during the first weekend of the month, after that the dog days truly set in. Only February fare is to be dreaded as much. It can become a trial to figure out what to see during August. I pick and choose and hope that I manage to miss the most heinous sludge. Attendance is usually down during the month, but it's hard to determine whether that's because the average movie-goer is spending the waning summer weeks on vacation or getting ready to go back to school (Hollywood's excuse for the poor fare) or because there's no compelling reason to go to a multiplex. It looks like fully 1/3 of the titles opening in August will do so without advance critics' screenings.

This weekend, I saw only about half the new releases. The big movie - summer's final gasp - is The Bourne Ultimatum. It's the best action film of the summer and second in 2007 thus far to 300 for adrenaline-and-testosterone. Counter-programmed against it is Becoming Jane, which is going for the estrogen crowd. The movie has alienated some die-hard Jane Austen fans because it takes "poetic license" with her life. My problem with the film is lead actress Anne Hathaway, whose lack of range mutes its emotional appeal. Other titles include The Ten and Interview (which I reviewed) and El Cantante, Underdog, Arctic Tale. and Bratz (which I did not). Why did I skip so many films this weekend? Word of mouth was awful four all four. (I had initially planned to see both El Cantante and Arctic Tale but the rumblings from early promotional screenings were so bad that I decided neither was worth the investment of time and money.)

August 10-12 is a transition weekend. Rush Hour 3 is the weekend's highest profile new film, but it's not being greeted with a lot of enthusiasm. The general feeling is that the series has overstayed its welcome. Was anyone clamoring for this movie? Is anyone excited about it? Stardust, based on the Neil Gaiman book, is a nice late-summer parfait. It's a pleasant experience but falls a little short of its obvious inspiration, The Princess Bride. And it lacks a killer refrain like "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Other stuff: Skinwalkers (the PG-13 werewolf movie that keeps shifting release dates - it was originally slated for July), Rocket Science (about high school debating), and 2 Days in Paris (Director/writer/star Julie Delpy once again wandering around the French city in the company of an American). The last film interests me since Delpy has remarked that she came up with the concept while filming Richard Linklater's Before Sunset. Delpy's co-star from that film, Ethan Hawke, also has a film opening this month. His The Hottest State (based on his novel) is due out in very limited release on August 24.

August 17 sees the delayed arrival of Death at a Funeral, which was originally supposed to reach theaters in June. It's a funny movie but the biggest laugh is ruined by the trailer. Those who go into this as virgins will have a more enjoyable time than those who have seen anything about it beforehand. The big-budget The Invasion also comes out this day - the third time Invasion of the Bodysnatchers has been remade. I'm getting tired of this story. Hopefully, the screenwriters will find a new angle. If nothing else, the cast looks promising. Last Legion is being marketed in the 300 vein, which probably means there will be no resemblance. I'm thinking King Arthur. Finally, there's Superbad. Judd Apatow is attached to this one, but not as writer or director. While I love both The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, I'm wary of this one. The trailer is decidedly unfunny, and that's almost always a bad sign. Images of Grandma's Boy are dancing in my head.

Mr. Bean is a big deal almost everywhere except the United States, and that's why Mr. Bean's Holiday has been relegated to an August 24 debut. It was a big hit internationally but expectations for North America aren't high. It doesn't have anything to do with the date. Mr. Bean's Holiday could be released the week before Christmas and no one would see it. I love British humor and Rowan Atkinson and I don't think I have ever laughed at Mr. Bean. Maybe this will change (fingers crossed). The Nanny Diaries, postponed from earlier this year, sees the light of day. Scarlett Johansson's career has been sputtering lately - whether or not this will put a little spark into it remains to be seen. The fact that it was dumped into August (and late August at that) is not a promising sign. Also opening: War, Illegal Tender, and the aforementioned The Hottest State. (I saw that film last year in Toronto but need to see it again to write a review. The only thing I remember about it is that Catalina Sandino Moreno has a nude scene.)

Finally, there's the worst movie weekend of the year - worse even than New Year's weekend. That's Labor Day weekend, which this year begins on August 31. There are only three significant releases: Balls of Fury, a satire of sports movie/action adventure films with Ping Pong as the sport; Death Sentence, a revenge thriller starring Kevin Bacon in the Charles Bronson role; and Rob Zombie's Halloween. I will admit to being morbidly curious about this remake. On one hand, there's the inclination to ask "WHY???" On the other hand, no matter how badly Zombie stumbles, it's hard to imagine this being any worse than Halloween Resurrection (which is often referred to in Halloween circles as Halloween: Attack of Busta Rhymes). Plus, male fans are looking forward to the return of Danielle Harris (Jamie in the fourth and fifth films), now grown up and showing a few things she didn't show when she last met Michael. However, can anyone explain why a movie called Halloween is being released on August 31 instead of October 31? No matter how bad it is, this sounds like the dumbest marketing move imaginable... (Then again, maybe the hope is to release the DVD around Halloween. It would be a quick turnaround, but it's not out of the question.)