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Saturday, December 09, 2023

The summer’s best, worst and weirdest

A summer of laughs, tears and the mutant X gene has come and gone, and now it's time for you to return to your boring life at what's not even the nation's No. 1 party school any more. Here's a fond remembrance of those happier times. Can it really have been just a week ago? Or was it all just a dream...? Most Pathetic, Self-Indulgent Swipe at Critics Disguised as a Movie: ""Lady in the Water"" ""Lady in the Water"" is stupid enough to begin with, with nefarious grass creatures that can only be seen in a mirror's reflection and a little boy who becomes suddenly clairvoyant after reading cereal boxes. (You have to see it to believe it.) But it gets worse when it becomes clear that ""Lady in the Water"" is nothing more than a childish jab at the critics who assailed ""The Village."" Shyamalan's hubris has been growing exponentially since ""The Sixth Sense,"" but this is the first time it has manifested itself so completely into one of his movies. Shyamalan takes special glee in the scene in which the villainous movie critic character gets viciously killed by a grass creature, despite the fact that, even more than the rest of this mess of a movie, it doesn't make any logical sense. ""Lady in the Water"" is a baffling, astonishing failure that even the ample talents of Paul Giamatti can't salvage, and is certainly the worst movie of this lackluster summer. —Joe Pudas Most Inspired Typecasting: Patrick Stewart and Kelsey Grammer in ""X-Men 3"" In an effort to make their film more imaginative and daring than their previous entries, the producers in charge of ""X3"" made the ""risky"" choice of Kelsey Grammer, most famous for playing an intellectual, verbose, up-tight psychiatrist to play the role of Henry ""The Beast"" McCoy, an intellectual, verbose, up-tight mutant. But paired with Patrick Stewart, famous for playing ""Star Trek's"" Captain Picard, playing another humanity-lauding chief in charge of a group of unique humans and quasi-humans. The chance taken by casting these two untried actors in risky roles no doubt contributed to making an excellent film. —Brad Boron Best Summer Songs You Never Want To Hear Again: ""Promiscuous"" by Nelly Furtado and ""Hips Don't Lie"" by Shakira There have been two songs fighting for the title of ""the"" summer song this year: Nelly Furtado's surprising comeback ""Promiscuous,"" featuring producer Timbaland, and Shakira's ""Hips Don't Lie,"" a retooled version of Wyclef Jean's ""Dance Like This"" (first heard in the film classic ""Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights""). Both were equally catchy, sexy pop tunes with tons of energy, making them infinitely danceable and thoroughly enjoyable. But, as fall rolls around, it has become obvious that these infectious songs are now a plague on radio and music TV stations, taking up more airtime than quite possibly all other songs combined. For music that claims to be about the beauty of a one-night affair, the two songs have become more like a summer fling now pleading for commitment. It's time to cut the strings and bring the ""Sexyback"" to the airwaves. —Kristin Czubkowski Song That Should Have Caused the End of the World But Ended Up Only Sucking Mildly: ""Stars Are Blind"" by Paris Hilton Let's get one thing straight: Paris Hilton's summer hit ""Stars Are Blind"" is a bad song. Combining teen pop, reggae-lite and soulless vocals, ""Stars Are Blind"" is so lightweight it floats by without making any lasting impressions. It is too fluffy to function even as pleasant diversion. But make no mistake—this makes the song a resounding triumph for Paris. As an American aristocrat famous for nothing more than being filthy rich and being well, just plain filthy, everyone expected her singing career to be an embarrassment of Shatner-Nimoy proportions. But ""Stars Are Blind"" isn't a miserable way to spend four minutes—it isn't interesting, fun or diverting, either—but it is thankfully so soft and mechanized that it's hard to pay attention to the song for more than thirty seconds at a time. Which is probably why the record label decided to make the music video look like an outtake from ""1 Night in Paris."" —Joe Lynch

Only Mainstream Movie That Surpassed Expectations and Actually Kicked Ass: ""Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby"" This summer's movie selection was, hands down, one of the absolute worst in recent memory. Nearly every overhyped wannabe blockbuster landed with a resounding thud—""The Da Vinci Code"" slavishly replicated every dull, ludicrous twist of Dan Brown's simplistic, R.L. Stine-esque prose, ""X-Men: The Last Stand"" worked breathlessly to sully a once-superb franchise, ""Superman Returns"" was nothing more than a mega-budgeted chick flick with Kryptonite—indeed, things were looking pretty grim before August. Of the best movies of the summer, ""Talladega Nights,"" the hysterical second entry in Will Ferrell's planned ""Mediocre Man"" trilogy (which began with ""Anchorman""), was the only unqualified success that wasn't an import (""The Descent"") or an indie (""Little Miss Sunshine""). Anchored by one of Ferrell's more focused performances and a fantastic ensemble cast constantly eager to improvise, ""Talladega Nights"" was a gut-busting, surprisingly incisive satire of NASCAR culture. —Joe Pudas Best Performance by an Actor Way Out of His Element: Steve Carell in ""Little Miss Sunshine"" While plenty of movies baffled, frightened and exploded this summer, very few actually impressed. One hilarious exception is the underdog, power-casted ""Little Miss Sunshine""—a movie that follows one family's outrageous road trip. Steve Carell plays Frank, the gay, suicidal uncle to Dwayne (Paul Dano) and Olive (Abigail Breslin). His performance is unlike anything he's done before. There is not a single, traceable element of Michael Scott or the 40-year-old virgin; it proves that comedic actors can succeed in the face of a true, dramatic script. Carell is similar to Will Ferrell in his versatile sense of vulnerability that makes him an easy comparison to real-life men. The difference is that Carell has made a real career for himself, while Ferrell has made it so difficult for a crowd to take him seriously that roles outside the Ricky Bobby/Ron Burgundy category are unlikely. —Tarah Scalzo Rap Song That Sounds Most Like When You and Your Friends Make Fun of Rap: ""Tell Me When to Go"" by E-40 This summer saw the ""hyphy"" movement show up on the national stage, after captivating the San Francisco hip-hop scene the same way crunk did in Atlanta. Hyphy is a gift to suburban white kids everywhere, because if the video for E-40's infectious ""Tell Me When to Go"" is any indication, the more ridiculous you look and sound, the more hyphy cred you get. E-40, who previously scored with another absurd-but-awesome hit, ""Automatic Systematic,"" goes to the liquor store on his ""Second or third trip; / Some henny, some swishers and some Listerine strips,"" and the extreme-energy mass of spastic dancers make Dem Franchize Boyz look like a Handel oratorio by comparison. And rarely has a rapper been so accommodating to those unfamiliar with his unique vernacular; perhaps when listening you thought E-40's pronunciation of ""doors open man"" sounds more like ""mayeng?"" Well, he apparently agrees with you, as the text ""DOORS OPEN MAYENG"" scream across the screen when he says it in the video. —Dan Wohl Most Different Films About the Same Thing: ""United 93"" and ""World Trade Center"" Nobody expected Paul Greengrass to attempt a film about September 11, 2001. Everyone expected Oliver Stone to. Yet Greengrass' ""United 93"" was a chilling masterpiece, evoking real emotion while depicting the struggle of the doomed flight; In comparison, Stone's ""World Trade Center"" amounted to insulting piffle. Knowing Stone helmed the film made its loud patriotic messages creepily awkward, and his melodramatic style probably reinforced some observers' belief that 9/11 has been irreversibly mythologized. Based on ticket sales alone, ""World Trade Center"" will probably get more nods come Oscar time than Greengrass' film. But it will never be considered a great American movie, as ""United 93"" might be. ""World Trade Center"" lacked heart by trying too hard to have it, while ""United 93"" knew that less is more. —Eric R. Schmidt Most Misleading Trailer of the Summer (or ever): ""The Night Listener"" Money-sucking blockbusters aside, this summer's best trailer was by far for the movie ""The Night Listener."" It pushes its powerhouse cast—Robin Williams, Toni Collette, Sandra Oh, one of the Culkins—and creates a womb of conspiracy, tragedy and lies. It takes images that mean nothing to the real movie and spins them into pure magic, all while attempting to create this complex agenda for a secret. It's deceptive. The movie is actually reminiscent of a short story—one where the twist is not initially clear but cracks wide open on the second page. As a film, this turns out a failure. The secret is so crystal clear that instead of surprise there is only waiting, wishing, hoping, that soon, very soon, the real twist will come, turning the movie into what the trailer said it was: a thriller. —Tarah Scalzo Most Hyped Movie of the Summer: ""Lady in the Water"" With an entire sub-sect of the Internet devoted to this film months before its release—not to mention the personalized phone calls from Paul Giamatti—""Lady in the Water"" was undoubtedly the most buzzed about movie this summer. It's getting to the point where you can't spend an hour in a bar or coffee shop without some wiseacre shouting the now infamous catchphrase, ""I want these motherfucking ladies outta this motherfucking water!"" —Joe Lynch

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