Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Good, The Ehhh and The Ugly of Summer 2017

The Good
1. All Things Wonder Woman
            What can be said about Patty Jenkins’ first theatrical outing in 14 years that hasn’t been said already? Some said an early cut was a mess. Some said it would bomb. Others believed it would have the DCEU’s smallest opening. A select few even wondered why Gal Gadot had shaved armpits for crying out loud.
            But what are they saying now? The film critic community loved it. Theatre owners loved the increased concessions sales. Warner Brothers went crazy for the $800+ million worldwide gross. Girls, both the young & the young at heart, cheered as they saw their heroine come out of the box swinging. Comic book bros were (mostly) quieted by what they saw on screen.
            As for yours truly, a CBM skeptic if there ever was one, I was astonished by the entire 140 minutes. Gal Gadot went into a gear she never displayed in any of her previous work. She feels so comfortable in that armor. Jenkins’ direction & the writing of Geoff Johns provide the excellent crescendo for Diana (and Gadot by extension) to rise from princess into warrior. But she is not without help. With his role as Steve Trevor, Chris Pine should finally get that final boost needed for him to be considered a star. The chemistry between Gadot & Pine is electric. Their first two scenes of just them talking (the hot springs & the boat) are so natural you’d swear they’ve known each other for years. The rest of the cast from the powerful Connie Neilsen & Robin Wright to the always reliable Lucy Davis & David Thewlis create an ensemble that would rival any other created this year. Most criticism is placed on the now-typical big & loud CBM ending. I would argue that even though the villains are a bit on the slight & cartoony side, the climax is the only time WW goes into full CBM mode with big, major set piece.
            What we are left with is the best movie of the summer, the best summer blockbuster in years & a financial success beyond comprehension.

2. Logan Lucky
            This was familiar territory for Oscar winning director Steven Soderbergh. He’s done heist movies before with his Ocean’s Trilogy. But those movies weren’t as exciting or as fun or as funny as this. Logan Lucky follows the exploits of Jimmy Logan, an unemployed former football star, as he leads a team of small town “experts” as they attempt to burgle Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600. Each member of the team is unique. You have the wounded war vet turned one-armed bartender. You have the incarcerated improvised ballistics expert. All these characters & more all set out to get the American Dream.

3. All Things Baby Driver
            When Sony moved Edgar Wright’s newest flick from the August 11th to June 28th, I was skeptical. Not of the picture itself but of the strategy behind the move. August was wide open outside of the potential blockbuster The Dark Tower (which Sony didn’t need to worry about after all). Why release any movie targeted towards the prime demographic (males aged 15-34) five days after the 5th Transformers movie & nine days before the newest reboot of Spider-Man? It turns out we needn’t worry: the people came to the tune of almost $200 million worldwide on a $34 million production budget, making it one of the few movies to show a profit this summer.
            As for the movie itself, I have to defend my position on it. First & foremost, I liked it but didn’t love it. I enjoyed to inventiveness of the action sequences. I loved the smart, fresh dialogue and the small interactions between Baby & his caretaker. I liked most of the characters, especially Baby’s fellow criminal cohorts. So, why didn’t I love this movie like everyone else? First, the gimmick of having every action sequence be choreographed to a piece of popular music wore off especially when it bled into mundane acts like opening a car door. Secondly, I didn’t feel that the Debora was developed enough as a character. Outside of those two mild pieces, Baby Driver was quite the satisfying experience in the middle of this dull summer.

4. The Big Sick
            Kumail Nanjani & Emily Gordon have such a unique love story that they wanted to tell us about it. Boy, am I happy they did. Their semi-autobiographical look at their story pulls the heartstrings in every direction possible so often that one might wonder if their heart might stop under protest. We meet Kumail as an up-and-coming comic who gets heckled by young Emily in the audience. They soon hit it off & have what they perceive to be a one night stand. Meanwhile, Kumail is being pressured by his parents to find a suitable Pakistani wife, just like his brother. Soon, his profession & personal worlds are turned upside down as Emily goes into a coma and Kumail is forced to meet & entertain her parents for the first time. What The Big Sick gives us is a story about the hopes & dreams of two separate cultures and how creating the American Dream in the melting pot that is Modern America is difficult & sometimes can tear family bonds. Nanjani (as “himself”) & Zoe Kazan are great as the central couple but the movie is almost stolen from them by Ray Ramano & Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents. The Big Sick is that special Sundance hit that the world needs in the middle of every summer in between all those overblown blockbusters to settle the stomachs of the movie-going public and it succeeded critically & commercially.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 @ the Box Office
            This sequel to the surprise hit of 2014 was supposed to be the biggest movie of the summer of 2017. While it didn’t get that title this year, it wasn’t because it was a disappointment. A $390 million domestic & an $860 million worldwide gross is nothing to laugh at for these characters who aren’t as well known as most comic book heroes with their own movie franchises.

6. Captain Underpants
            On the surface, Captain Underpants looks to be made for the lowest common denominator: little children & childish tweens. But once the lights went down, we were treated to a fable about the power of imagination & creativity. Best friends George & Harold use a magical decoder ring to turn their authoritarian school principal Benjamin Krupp into their comic creation, Captain Underpants. Don’t you hate it when that happens?! Captain Underpants, with the illusion of superpowers & with a office curtain as a cape, must face off against the diabolical Professor Poopy Pants & his plot to take over the world using giant toilets.
            Childish & bathroom humor are prevalent throughout but heart is never far behind. The animation style is never revolutionary nor did it try to be but what there was was expertly faithful to the source material as possible. Each of the voice actors is great in their own way with Nick Kroll getting the highest marks as the absurd villain. One can only hope that we are treated to another installment but with the moderate box office success, I’m not getting my hopes up.

Upper Limbo
Spider-Man Homecoming Box Office
            With its $325 million domestic take, this Spider-Man adaptation was surely boosted by the presence of Tony Stark after the previous installment disasterous post-opening weekend run. So why am I not 100 % positive about this? The international numbers are down significantly ($500 million vs $418 million), showing the possibility of Spider-Man fatigue. Marvel & Sony need to tread lightly.

The Eh…
1. Atomic Blonde
            Based on a graphic novel, Atomic Blonde is the story of an MI6 agent who is tasked with reclaiming a list of undercover agents before it gets into the wrong hands. The first 60% of the pic nearly all style with a sliver of overstuffed substance. Taking place in 1989 Berlin, you see & feel 1989 Europe all around you. Old, dirty buildings on the outside with all the neon pink & yellow the set designer could find on the insides. The spy story gets too complicated & jumbled too quickly that if you arrived on time you might miss something. But once all that stuff got out of the way, Charlize Theron & the fight choreography took over & never quit. There’s an “no cut” fight scene that takes place in an apartment & stairwell that will rival any previous type of scene in its precision & kill count. Theron continues to show she is more than an pretty face. She is a bad ass of the highest order. If Atomic Blonde were as exciting & pulse-pounding as the last 45 minutes, I could whole heartedly recommend it. But as it exists, watch the first 10 minutes then skip to the action scene above at about the 1:20 mark, sit back & enjoy.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy
            As for the movie itself, I have to be honest: it has been about two months since I watched the picture, I don’t remember a thing I liked. I vividly remember sitting in the theatre with popcorn in my lap, watching the images on the screen, enjoying some of what I saw then the end credits started rolling, I stood up to yell at some teenagers who fooled around the entire time & finally left. But I can’t for the life of me remember a single specific thing I enjoyed about the movie. I can tell you that the opening credits “fight” was an unwanted distraction. I can remember thinking that the subplot revolving around the spaceships piloted remotely deserved their own 95 minute movie & not just a subplot in a 130 minute one. I remember the sneezing fit I had in the middle. But GotGV2 is nothing but a typical forgettable entry in the MCU.

3. The Mummy
            I’ll be talking about the failures of numerous franchise or would-be franchise entries a little later in the piece but here I want to talk about one that failed but was not nearly as bad as most say it was. Universal Pictures’ Dark Universe has the possibility of being something with the pedigree of acting talent they have arranged. This franchise-starter was able to bring in Tom Cruise & Russell Crowe for crying out loud. Cruise is the only reason why this movie isn’t a disaster. In his 35 years in front of the camera, Cruise is never the reason a movie is terrible & The Mummy is the best example of that. The movie is a mess with its terrible Alex Kurtzman direction & special effects and an overcooked screenplay. But Cruise makes the best of it as he runs from set piece to set piece like a madman while I alone smiled the whole time. Crowe hams it up as Jekyll/Hyde but everyone else is given nothing to do. A big missed opportunity nonetheless.

4. Trio of Three-quels
            What can be said about Cars 3 and Despicable Me 3 that hasn’t been said already? Both are new entries to animated franchises on the decline critically & commercially. Both are movies that succeed in making my MoviePass subscription worth it for seeing these. Cars 3 has a feminist angle that doesn’t work since it isn’t all that feminist. DM3 has a brotherhood angle that doesn’t work since the movie ends just as the movie got interesting. Both had small moments that worked (Cars 3 looked like it wasn’t going to have a happy ending for a moment while DM3’s villain was an interesting character for a while before blowing up in our face). Both are so unworthy of continuing to be talked about.
            War for the Planet of the Apes, on the other hand, had the potential of finishing off as one of the best cinematic trilogies. For half the runtime, it looked that way as our protagonists ventured into the post-Simian Flu world. That excitement came to a screeching halt once they encounter The Colonel & his ape prison.

Lower Limbo
Girls Trip
            Let me get something off my chest: I laughed a few times during the first hour of Girls Trip due to the sheer outrageousness of some of the proceedings. In the weeks since, I’ve forgotten all the laughs. One big reason is that they weren’t all that noteworthy. Another reason is that the movie devolves into a borefest about the main character & her professional athlete husband’s marriage & whether they can hold it together for a television deal. But my biggest issue with Girls Trip is the character played by the breakout star of the summer, Tiffany Haddish. Her Dina is played as if she’s a bonafide cartoon. She is completely untethered to any possible reality this movie can offer, making any believability in her character impossible. Combine that with an abrupt half-ending, Girls Trip won’t make a place in my summer scrapbook.

The Ugly
1. Dunkirk
            I freely admit I am a crazy person. This is one of those times where I’m in the vast minority. I found Dunkirk to be an empty attempt by virtuoso Christopher Nolan to make his version of Gravity. I couldn’t find a single character to care about. For more, check out my review elsewhere on this blog.

2. Victims of Sequel Fatigue & Franchise-itis
            Per usual, this summer had its share of sequels & potential franchise starters. A select few did well, most wearing capes & previously mentioned. The fifth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean did fairly well internationally ($620 million) to help Disney show a small profit for the summer. Most every other franchise tanked and it started early with the disaster that was King Arthur ($146 worldwide on a $175 million budget), which resembled the legend in name only. The following weekend, Alien: Covenant ($74 million domestic) failed as word got out as well. The weekend after that Baywatch ($58 million domestic) attempted to pull a 21 Jump Street-type reboot but failed miserably. The fifth Transformers installment crashed & burned domestically ($130 million) but is still a thing elsewhere ($473 internation). Even the critically acclaimed War for the Planet of the Apes suffered this summer ($144 domestic & $366 worldwide). But the two disasters waited until the disaster that was August. The Dark Tower was supposed to start a multimedia universe but after critical & commercial failure ($101 worldwide on a $60 million budget) that might not happen. But at least Sony is in better shape than Open Road, who put all their chips behind a sequel to an animated movie few saw to begin with. Now, after The Nut Job 2 ($28.7 million worldwide on a $40 million budget), Open Road is in dire straits.

3. Comedy
            Outside of Girls Trip, comedy took a pounding this summer critically & commercially. Heck, even I skipped most of them (I saw Rough Night only because of a drive-in double feature with Baby Driver). In addition to the previously mentioned Baywatch, Snatched ($46 million), Rough Night ($22 million) and The House ($25.5 million after being hidden from critics) all failed miserably.

4. The Emoji Movie
            This thing (it shouldn’t be confused with an actual movie) isn’t worth writing about any further. Check out my review on this monstrosity elsewhere here.

The Worst
5. A Ghost Story

            David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is the perfect example of a movie cinephiles are made fun of for liking. Lowery, who made this in between commitments for last year’s Pete’s Dragon remake, wrote & directed this to be as artistic & ambiguous as possible. Unfortunately, what was projected is pretentious & ambiguous until the final 15 minutes, which is balls-to-the-wall bizarre leading to an abrupt, infuriating ending. Casey Affleck acts his heart out under that giant bed sheet & Rooney Mara eats the heck out of a pie but all is for naught.

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