Summer school

What can we learn from box-office movies? Time Out looks at the real lessons that Hollywood is teaching us.

We came, we saw, we survived the hype. But before turning our attention to such autumn Oscar bait as Death Race and Beverley Hills Chihuahua, it’s probably a good time to figure out exactly what we learned from this summer’s movies.

You never go ‘full retard’
From Tropic Thunder, that’s Robert Downey Jr.’s controversial advice on the do’s and don’ts of Oscar pandering. (In Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks played only a borderline retarded man; Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man was autistic.) But Downey’s advice could, with some adjustment, easily apply to other summer movies. How about ‘you never go full pothead’? There’s a reason the first Harold And Kumar focused on its protagonists’ attempts to obtain pot (and food). The second one made the mistake of assuming that watching two people baked out of their minds makes for an automatic high.

Superhero flicks are apologies for Bush…unless they’re not
There’s nothing more exasperating for admirers of The Dark Knight than the Wall Street Journal claiming that the movie is ‘at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war.’ For starters, that’s extremely selective viewing. Far more than most superhero movies, The Dark Knight asks viewers to question Batman’s actions; when he beats up Heath Ledger’s Joker in the police station, the dialogue may even be too on-the-nose in suggesting that Batman has crossed the line. On the other hand, the movie appears to suggest that wiretapping is a necessary evil, and the notion that Harvey Dent should be held up as a white knight is the kind of ‘noble lie’ that would have appealed to neo-con figurehead Leo Strauss. We’re no closer to answers, but we definitely have a headache. Meanwhile, Hellboy II implies that secret government agencies and clandestine warfare are A-OK, so long as Hellboy doesn’t get caught.

Androids make good astronauts; animals and insects, not so much
You’d have to have a heart of metal not to be moved by WALL-E and EVE’s fire-extinguisher waltz in WALL-E. Unfortunately, this summer brought us another cartoon about nonhumans in space. Not that we’re encouraging pop-culture references, but would it have killed the writers of Space Chimps to come up with a good Planet Of The Apes joke?

Special effects aren’t always special
For all of Spielberg’s claims to be interested in long takes and silent comedy, the fourth Indiana Jones movie got bogged down in digital ants, monkeys and – in a choice that conjured unavoidable flashbacks to Caddyshack – gophers. (We can also thank the movie for expanding our vocabulary; according to Urban Dictionary, the phrase nuked the fridge is now officially synonymous with jumped the shark.)

Reality bites
An older Ben Stiller title is also the lesson of Tropic Thunder, which spoofs the vogue of realism – whether it be through actors giving insane Method performances, would-be auteurs going into the jungle to make Apocalypse Now – like follies or fake memoirists masquerading as war heroes. Being true to life is overrated, the movie suggests.

M. Night Shyamalan is the new Woody Allen
Is any director as consistently atrocious as the self-proclaimed genius behind The Happening? (Admittedly, we’ll always treasure that scene of Mark Wahlberg talking to the plastic plant.) Indeed, the former Sixth Sense wunderkind may be on a losing streak comparable to that of Woody Allen, who’s been turning out a turd a year since the mid-’90s.

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