Sing a Song of Summer

If a film screens in a movie theater and there’s no one to watch it…did it screen at all? It’s not news that the movie industry had a rough year in 2020. This year is looking better, finally. This was an amazing Spring and Summer of film releases but sadly, there wasn’t a lot of people in the theaters to watch those great films. Starting with “Raya and the Last Dragon” in March, which I watched on a big screen with a family of four as the only other attendees. A beautiful film with a fun co-star in the Awkwafina-voiced pastel colored dragon. It debuted at the same time on Disney+. Did families pay to add it to their streaming service for $30? And could this quiet story of one young woman’s quest to save her father compete with kids jumping on the couch?

“Cruella” (Craig Gillespie) was another film that opened in theaters and streaming as a Disney+ Premium Access title. Emma Stone gives a zany multi-faceted performance as the maligned dog fur-wearing demon from “101 Dalamations”. The outlandish fashion scene of London in the 70’s was delightful. Emma Thompson shines at The Baroness and creates a new character, a fashion icon who’s the reason young Cruella becomes a villian. The fashion shows were big production numbers that were resplendent on the big screen. Released at the end of May to coincide with some schools getting out for summer, the film received some positive critical reviews but not a lot of theater traffic was generated. I watched it with friends in a fairly full movie theater. Full review here: “Cruella“: “How Many Dalamations?”

Movie goers began returning to theaters in our fleeting release from restrictions before the Delta variant wave. There was good attendance for “Jungle Cruise” and “Black Widow”. Labor Day had record box office for one film that’s still screening in theaters, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (Destin Daniel Cretton). A ground-breaking film with an Asian lead as the superhero and a multi-generational cast pairing some screen legends (Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung Chiu-wai) with wonderful new talent (Simu Liu, Fala Chen). Awkwafina went from voicing a dragon in “Raya” to killing one in “Shang-Chi”. As a well-known American actress and comedian, her comic timing and charm lend both films a relatable presence.

Based on the comic book, “Shang-Chi” has more in common with the animated “Raya” with it’s mythic kingdom and dragons than a typical Marvel movie. The movie takes it’s time to develop the family relationships and each of the main characters is furnished with a back-story. These are not cookie-cutter characters. Beyond the action set-pieces and beautiful location shots in exotic locales, there’s an emphasis on the comic elements and the family dynamics. Though Awkwafina’s character is clearly meant as comic relief, she’s also the love interest and has an active role in the plot.

“Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings” begs to be seen on the big screen with it’s many breath-taking martial arts skirmishes and choreographed battles–in spaces both cramped (inside a bus) and vast (outside a skyrise). The plans to release “Shang-Chi on the streaming service were shelved by Disney earlier this summer, with the studio choosing to give it a traditional wide release in cinemas around the world.

This last weekend recorded the biggest box office numbers since pre-Pandemic times. Fueling that return to theaters was the blockbuster Marvel movie, “Venom—Let There Be Carnage” but also the staying power of “Shang-Chi” and “Free Guy”. The reason these summer hits have held steady at the box office? They’re both the fun, big-screen entertainment that audiences look forward to sharing. This year’s release calendar was packed with horror films and many animated and big-budget family films chose the duo-release route of streaming and theaters, or like the Pixar film, “Luca“, went streaming only.

“Free Guy” (Shawn Levy) is currently the number one film on all the main streaming sites–Netflix and paid streaming ($19.99), but like “Shang-Chi”, it’s meant for the big screen. Ryan Reynolds is in great form as the perpetual optimist. Resembling the hero from “The Lego Movie”, Guy wears that same uniform and drinks the same cup of to-go coffee every day. In a “Truman Show” twist, he doesn’t realize he lives in a video game till he falls in love with a player. Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve”) gives another nuanced performance as Molotov Girl. Kudos to the filmmakers for creating a more complex relationship that’s starts out as a fantasy, becomes friendship and has the woman as the dominant action figure. Plus there’s the bonus of watching actor/director Taika Waititi as the inspired choice as the Douche Bag Gaming Mogul.

“Free Guy” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” are more than the genre of film they represent. The storytelling and character-development elevate “Free Guy” from a snarky comic-book style movie. There’s violence aplenty but it’s mostly played for laughs; unrealistic and not bloody. There are a few well-developed relationships, and the fast pace and silly set pieces hold your attention for the almost two-hour running time. “Shang-Chi” melds action and fantasy and serves up solid entertainment.

Before you spend your money on another big-budget film to stream on your home screen, consider a trek to your local cineplex. You might be surprised to find out how clean they are right now and how much you missed the company of strangers–laughing and cheering beside you.

Drinks With Films Rating

“Free Guy” 🥤🥤🥤🥤 To Go Coffees (out of 5) Inventive, fun and warm-hearted, the characters have great chemisty and it’s a fun look at gaming culture.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” 🍵🍵🍵🍵 cups of Ginseng tea (out of 5) The flashback to Shang-Chi’s training as a child is brutal but the martial arts scenes are masterful and the story is intriguing. And Awkwafina is great.

Research links:

‘Venom’ Sequel Opens to $90 Million at Domestic Box Office › film › news › venom-2-box-office…4 days ago — “VenomLet There Be Carnage” roared to $90.1 million in its debut, setting a new pandemic record. It’s an impressive result, …

On Monday, Disney/20th Century Studios’ Free Guy crossed the $300M mark globally, becoming the fifth Hollywood title to the milestone this year. To date, the Ryan Reynolds-starrer has grossed $108.8M domestically and $193.6M at the international box office for a worldwide total of $302.4M. ‘Free Guy’ Crosses $300M Global Box Office – Deadline

How 2021 Box Office Compares to Pre-Pandemic Times › 2021 › film › box-office-2021-pr…
Jul 6, 2021 — Movie Theaters Slowly Recover, but 2021 Box Office Still Down 81% From … in ticket sales, down 42.3% from 2020 and down 81.3% from 2019.

Disney’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” topped $90 million in sales at the domestic box office over the four-day Labor Day weekend, helping AMC Entertainment smash its admissions record for the holiday. More than 2 million people watched movies at AMC’s U.S.-based cinemas between Sept. 2 and Sept. 5, marking the highest number of admissions for Labor Day weekend in the company’s history. This holiday weekend also marked the first time since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic that attendance during a weekend in 2021 outpaced attendance from the same weekend in 2019.

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