A fleck of kernel in the back of the throat


Summer is a thing that one knows.  It has a texture and a scent.  It is familiar to us.

If this is true of all the seasons to an extent, it is most true of summer.  Might I remind you of the odors and flavors – some good and some excruciating – of the state fair?  May I recall for you the tangy fog of chlorine hanging over a crisp, clear pool?  How about if I offer up fresh-cut grass, the dense humid air of a 90 degree day, basketballs bouncing on pavement, and the smell of a charcoal grill charring the edges of a succulent lump of animal tissue?

Or I could just get to the point and say this: summer is the time of year when the dark, cool abyss of the cineplex feels most right; when the scent of hot, oily, salty popcorn is most undeniable; and when ten minutes of Coke ads followed by twenty minutes of previews for “Harold And Kumar Go See The New Die Hard” feels less like a colossal waste of your depleting time on earth, and more like relaxation and entertainment rolled into one satisfying package.  When you walk out of a useless bore like “The Day After Tomorrow” and think, “That wasn’t too bad,” you are fully in the grip of summer, and all you can do is ride it out.

But that doesn’t mean we should have to put up with “The Day After Tomorrow”; it just means that we do.  And I’ll grant that that tedious, effects-driven behemoth, while it managed to make Jake Gyllenhaal seem boring and the destruction of half the globe fairly pedestrian, was nowhere near the bottom of the pile.  This summer we have already seen flailing from the previously reliable “Spider-Man” franchise, and that new “Die Hard” looks like a Michael Bay movie minus personality – but at least these warhorses offer more charm than the truly execrable work of Uwe Boll, et al.

What concerns me, Diane, is that you might find yourself eyeing the show times in the newspaper (or more likely on rottentomatoes), and see only the latest example of the Rock abasing himself, and decide instead to rent that summer event movie that you missed a year or two or three ago.  Maybe you’re lucky and it was “Batman Begins.”  Or maybe you’re unlucky and it was “Van Helsing.”  So what we’re going to do today is separate the chaff from the wheat, and give you a list of


1. Fantastic Four

What power-gorged madman had the vision to realize he could not only feed us this massive piece of crap, but make us smile and politely ask for seconds?  Kudos to him, whoever he is – I’m sure he has a great parking spot in the studio lot.  “Fantastic Four” had the worst characteristics of an abortion and a nasty case of diarrhea, and naturally it was a big hit that spawned a similarly awful-looking sequel.  And for reasons that remain shrouded in mystery, I saw this abomination in the theater with my significant other and a couple friends.  If there is any better demonstration of the power of summer, I am not aware of it.

Key mistake: Jessica Alba is cast as a blonde, then asked to disrobe – and when she does they wipe her off the film with special effects.  Thor strike them dead.

2. Speed 2

You know, it seems to me that when you have an improbable blockbuster with only two good qualities (Keanu’s braindead good looks and the central idea of a bus having to go really fast), you don’t flush both of them down the toilet for the second movie by replacing the star and swapping the bus for a giant, slow-ass boat.  We weren’t all coming back for America’s would-be sweetheart – as was amply demonstrated by most of the movies Sandra Bullock made starting with “Speed 2.”

Key mistake: clearly, the boat.

3. Van Helsing

“I know!  Let’s take a concept that absolutely can’t miss – it’s got werewolves, vampires, Frankenstein’s monster, and a kickass monster hunter with a great name.  We’ll cast that guy that played Wolverine in it, since he’s interesting-looking and popular and not a bad actor.  We’ll get some ridiculously hot chicks as window dressing.  Yes, gentlemen, this could be the perfect summer movie… except we’re going to make the worst possible decision at every crucial stage of production, starting with the script and continuing until the last frame is poorly edited together, and then we’ll slap $48 worth of shitty digital effects over the whole thing so the kids feel like they’re getting what they came for.  Why?  Because we’re sadists!  And we’ll still make a fortune!  BWAHAHAHAHA!”

Key mistake: everything.

4. Catwoman

I didn’t pay to see this movie, unless you count the paltry few dollars per month I am billed by my satellite provider for the movie channel package.  However, I did up my dollars-to-entertainment ratio unwittingly by A. turning off the movie 2/3 of the way through, and B. completely failing to be entertained.  The best moments (read: the most unintentionally hilarious moments) were all in the trailer – Halle Berry eating too much sushi (har har!), Halle Berry hissing like a cat, Halle Berry in the catsuit with the rat ears, Halle Berry pretending to have acting ability (see also: other Halle Berry movies).

Key mistake: It’s hard to isolate one from the pack.  Picking over “Catwoman” makes me feel like a predator approaching a herd of oxen and realizing every one of them is four months old and has a broken leg.  But if I had to focus in on one thing, it would be the outfit.  That thing looks like it was designed by a blind prostitute.

5. The Postman

Is it any wonder that this movie came out in 1997, the first year of the decade of crap we are commemorating here?  “The Postman” may well have invented the horrible summer bomb.  “Waterworld” be damned – this is Kevin Costner’s worst movie, worst performance, and catalogue of worst ideas (e.g. Tom Petty playing himself as mayor of Futuretown).  I distinctly recall the night I was made to suffer through “The Postman.”  My (ex-)friend Eric came in the door of his apartment with a demented smile on his face and said only, “I got a free rental.”  The movie he had paid to rent was Peter Jackson’s horrifying “Meet The Feebles”; the freebie was “The Postman.”  And we watched them both in one long, painful marathon that lasted until after 2 a.m.  We saw puppets fucking and Costner fucking.  We enjoyed the adventures of an inspiring little douchebag calling himself Ford Lincoln Mercury, as well as those of the Feebles fly who eats feces.  We saw all manner of horrors that night, Diane, and they all blended together in one stupefying mass.  To this day, I think that “Feebles” was the better, less scarring movie, and was a better value at $3.99 than “The Postman” was for $0.

Key mistake: thinking the central premise, of a man who inspires hope in a scrappy herd of faceless characters by pretending to deliver them mail, was anything other than ludicrous.  (It certainly didn’t warrant any slow-mo shots of Ford Lincoln Mercury.)

6. The Matrix 2/The Matrix 3

I saw the second one because I had no idea it was going to suck, and I saw the third one out of a misguided sense of completism.  I resent both of those wasted blocks of time.  This trilogy should have ended after the first movie.

Key mistake: it’s a tie between setting two movies with “The Matrix” in their titles mostly outside of the titular Matrix, and making Keanu an unkillable superman who flies away at the end of a fight because he’s just realized his opponent is ALSO an unkillable superman.  Way to ratchet up the dramatic tension, movie.

7. Star Wars Episodes 1-3: The Long Hard Suck

This is a point of contention for geeks of a certain age, but it shouldn’t be.  All you “Star Wars” enthusiasts out there – I can only beg you to put down your Lucas’s anus-colored glasses and see these movies for what they are, which is a frenetic mess of videogame-level effects, Z-grade acting, and porn-quality dialogue.  (I swear “Butt Bangers 6” had a scene with that exact same line about how the girl is soft and smooth, unlike sand.)

Key mistake: not involving other people (or maybe just not the right people) in the creative process.  I’ve been enjoying an enlightening read through “The Making of Star Wars” recently, and one thing that jumps out at me is how Lucas knew that he was not a great writer or visual artist, and employed other people who were much better at these things to flesh out his ideas.  There’s one particular section where it’s made clear that most of the clever or relatable lines in “Star Wars” (e.g. Han’s line about how flying isn’t like “dusting crops”) were added by Lucas’s friends, and his original screenplay was basically a tech-obsessed block of wood with zero personality.  What the prequel trilogy needed was for someone talented and funny to sneak into Lucas’s office at night, grab his screenplay, and cross out all the stupidity and bullshit while writing in at least a few decent lines.  Then they could fire both child and teenage Anakin, forget about Jar Jar, and allow Samuel Jackson to A. act and B. swear.  Problems solved, movie trilogy saved.

8. Nightwatch

Maybe a Russian movie that only played arthouses in the states doesn’t really qualify as a summer event movie, but it clearly wanted so badly to be one, I’m awarding it honorary status.  Besides being a hallucinatory nightmare plot-wise (the story came off like a hybrid of “Mulholland Drive” and “Van Helsing”), the movie’s biggest offense was running every scene through the Bargain-Priced Matrixizer, which was set to Super-Slow-Motion-Then-Super-Fast-Over-Exposed mode.  Any random five minutes of that movie will send an unsuspecting viewer crawling down the aisles looking for dropped Advils.

Key mistake: accidentally reorganizing the script in William Burroughs fashion and continuing to make the movie anyway.

9. The Patriot

If this movie had just been a one minute scene of Mel Gibson spearing a Brit with the American flag, I would now own the DVD.

Key mistake: confusing patriotism and history lessons (boring) with violent action movie hijinks (exciting).  Bad Mel.

10. Con Air

This movie seems like a game of “Can You Top This” gone horribly awry.  e.g. “Can you top this?  We’ll have a crappy Aerosmith ballad in the opening ten minutes of a purported action movie!”  “Well, can you top this?  We’ll cast Nicolas Cage, of all people, as a buffed-up Bruce Willis type!”  “I can top that – we’ll give him LONG HAIR.”  “Oh shit, you win… no, wait!  John Malkovich as a mincing but totally evil villain!”  “How about we throw John Cusack in there for no reason except to get the ‘Say Anything’ crowd to watch a movie they’d normally avoid like a creepy guy at the bus station with open sores?”  etc.

Surprisingly correct key decision: Steve Buscemi as a creepy killer who gets off the plane of the title and then has tea with a little girl.  In a movie of almost no worth, the awesomeness of that scene is both perplexing and exceedingly welcome.

Special mention: All Uwe Boll movies

The man makes a living adapting mediocre videogames into abominable movies.  His masterwork, “House of the Dead,” features actual clips from the game.  I call on you again, Thor – make a char-mark of this man.

Now back to your summer, Diane.  Maybe we should both skip “Fantastic Four 2,” eh?


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