We’re at the half-year mark. Six months of cinema has been bequeathed upon us. I count four films deserving of masterpiece status, and two hopefuls. Hot Fuzz, Knocked Up, Grindhouse, and Zodiac represent (to me) the cream of the crop (Once and Ratatouille are as yet unseen by me, but I hope to remedy that shortly, while The Host and Black Book don’t totally count as 2007 releases. If you’re me). In that respect, it’s been a weak year so far.
AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR SPONSORS
1989 is one of the most critical summer years in our modern world of the numbers game. It brought sequel upon sequel (much like this year), with all sorts of big summer events. Batman was an original, sort of, but then you have the two’s of Lethal Weapon, Eddie and the Cruisers, and Ghostbusters, the threes of Indiana Jones and The Karate Kid, and the five of Star Trek. And like this summer, most delivered less than met the eye.
Funnily enough, it was about eighteen years ago to the day that the best film of that year was released to the mainstream. It was Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. I just watched the film again (and by just I mean about thirty minutes before starting this column), and it’s a completely different viewing experience. Removed from the controversy, it speaks in totally different ways, and not just because most current viewers will either be jarred or search wikipedia for Howard Beach (note: location, not a person).
Many white audiences and critics were so incensed by the ending that they missed the deliberate critiques of black culture at the time, were too afraid of the idea of protest that they missed how absurd Buggin’ Out was portrayed, too caught up in the minutia about where Lee stood on "should Sal have put pictures up of black people in his pizza place?" to fully accept what Lee had accomplished (David Thompson called the film "naïve but reckless.") Watching it again, I was moved to tears twice, once by Ruby Dee’s blood-curdling scream once the riot is nearing its end, and the second time when Mister Senior Love Daddy announces that the mayor is coming, and is more concerned with the destruction of property than the death that also marks the incitement of the riot. It strikes me that Lee’s garbage can of "hate" is an act of transference that saves three lives, but also the first thing the rioters do is raid Sal’s cash machine. I say this because I think the many facets of the film were polarized when the film came out and fresh eyes on the film – removed from the film’s heated release – reveals much that was too subtle to escape the controversies of the time.
Lee’s film is a masterpiece and (to steal Quentin Tarantino’s quote about Fight Club) was "a diamond bullet to the brain" of cinema. I made my mother take me (I was 13) to see it at the Guild Theater in Portland, Oregon – the one screen it played in the town – and we had a bit of a talk afterward, and she made me read articles about it afterwards. But I had to go; Siskel and Ebert said it was the best film of the year. That summer I also went to see Earth Girls are Easy by myself, so there you go.
Eighteen years later, its release date is paralleled by Transformers, License to Wed, Joshua and Introducing the Dwights. (though, as Jeremy pointed out in his excellent piece here, Lee’s film was sandwiched by The Karate Kid Part III and Great Balls of Fire). I’m not the sort of person who wants to complain about how one year is terrible, or how things were better back in the old days (I have mixed feelings about 1982 as a whole), but if I pine for anything, it’s that there hasn’t been a film that challenges an audience like that in quite some time.
I’ve heard many people express hope that either Harry Potter V or Transformers would "save the summer." Granted, it’s a different equation that people are looking for and it’s doubly sad that Hollywood has failed to deliver what should be its best dish, but I pine for a film that might evoke a greater debate than "she’s way too pretty to fuck that dude" or "Why isn’t abortion given greater weight?" And I’d like it if it wasn’t the latest subtitled hit from Cannes. For this Fourth of July weekend (such as it is) I’d like to see Americans kick ass by making an insightful film about people and shit.
AND NOW BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING
Transformers is a mega-smash already (Best Tuesday Number Ever!) having done $36 million in 36 hours (which translate to… God, my math is bad, like a lot of money per hour), and License to Wed is a non-starter. Neither of which is a surprise. How big Transformers gets will depend on how it weathers Harry Potter. I PM’d Michael Bay from the message boards about these numbers (and about Megan Fox), but he responded with a polite "Fuck off."
I live in LA, I see the LtW poster all around, and since Defamer ran this, it’s all I can see:
Dear dude from The Office, be fucking careful, cause the payday might have been sweet, but your career won’t be if you keep making crap like this.
NOW WHAT YOU HEAR IS NOT A TEST, I’M PREDICTING TO THE BEAT
Transformers takes the weekend, and Pixar holds well. Die Hard should take about a 50% hit for the weekend, but the three day wasn’t that great, so if it’s closer to 40% it’s only because of the spread-out date.
So let’s do this, a don’t stop y’all, ticky-tock y’all, get on the floor:
1. Transformers - $73 Million (145 six and a half day total)
2. Ratatouille - $28 Million
3. Live Free or Speak Esperanto - $18 Million
4. Evan Almighty - $8 Million
5. License to Driv… er Wed - $6.5 Million
6. 1408 - $6 Million
7. Knocked Up - $5.5 Million
And then on Sunday… well, we’ll see what happens when I mix this baking soda and vinegar. I’m guessing a volcano. A volcano of science.