Friday, September 2, 2016

Is It That Time Already?

Has it really been four months since I've posted something? Yikes. Time to scrape the lime deposits off my knuckles and start typing again.

You must excuse my silence this past summer. For once it had nothing to do with professional obligations (those will take their toll soon enough), and everything to with having little to say in regards to the summer movie scene.

Let's face it: This was a lousy summer at the movies.
Sure, savvy cinephiles in major markets were able to treat themselves to indie gems, foreign oddities and documentaries up the wazoo, many of which I'll catch up with at a later date. But for those of us beholden to whatever multiplex we can access, we were starved for choice, forced to predict which uninspired sequel or nostalgia-exploiting remake or child-pandering cartoon would make us feel the least dirty for giving our hard-earned ticket money.

Marvel continues to do well by its comfortable, audience-friendly formula. You know what you're getting, but on the other hand, you know what you're getting. The Russo brothers' second entry in the MCU, Captain America: Civil War, is technically as strong their excellent Winter Soldier, but by the time I reached the end of it I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed, like I've seen this movie too many times before. (We can apply the same "yawn" to Star Trek Beyond while we're at it).
Disney continued to do well by its incessant remakes formula. The Jungle Book is a hit, but I found its noncommittal fence-straddling between clear departure and flat-out mimicry of the 1967 animated classic to be weirdly off-putting. It's a helluva thing to look at though. Practically an animated film in its own right, the ubiquitous effects are probably leading the way in the Oscar race as of this point.

June and July brought little reprieve. I consciously skipped the sequel-laden minefield of Finding Dory, Jason Bourne and Star Trek Beyond. If the need arises come Oscar time, I'll stream em'.

The only retreaded property I deigned to support was Paul Feig's Ghostbusters reboot. I didn't come out of it thinking it was terrible (despite outstaying its welcome by 20 CGI-swamped minutes), but that may have had more to do with my hopes of seeing it make a mint and silence the misogynistic fanboys who'd been slandering it sight-unseen for months. Looking back on it with a clearer gaze, it should have been funnier. I remember little beyond a couple of throwaway gags and Kate McKinnon's jazzed energy. But the numbers don't lie. It's a domestic flop. The Ghost-bros won.

The only shimmering blue (and red) oasis of tight thrills for me in those particularly arid months was Jaume Collet-Serra's unembarrassed B-movie The Shallows, which played out kinda like Jaws meets Gravity; A guerilla thrilla for millennials.
Though scarcely elevated above its own gimmick, The Shallows was the most compact, satisfying mainstream offering of the season, managing to hold tension while embracing its own silliness. Not to suggest that it's a hack job in any way. It economically maps out its internal geography, enveloped by a sound palette that keeps us precariously unnerved both above and below the pounding surf.
The often underused or misused Blake Lively (see The Town, Green Lantern) finally has a top-billing she can proudly hang her surfer suit on. She seemed to understand and gamely embody Collet-Serra's intended blend of camp and suspense, carrying the picture with enough screen charisma and earned empathy to make Flavio Labiano's sultry Victoria's-Secret-swimwear photography an unnecessary indulgence – not that she doesn't rock the bikini bod, and with a bloodied leg no less.

But then there was Suicide Squad, every bit as joyless and ill-conceived a train wreck as you've heard (or worse yet, seen for yourself... I'm so sorry). I don't know what's more bewildering: That David Ayer couldn't think of one single interesting interaction to script between such an eclectic roster of DC rogues, or that he could make it so visually boring. It seems his biggest compositional concern was how many different ways he could shoehorn Margo Robbie's ass into frame.

It was with that bitter taste in my mouth that I embarked upon a much-needed three week vacation, while some interesting counter-programming options started to pop up in the August lull. I didn't get to them until recently.

Florence Foster Jenkins – our annual mid-August Meryl Streep vehicle – provided a genteel diversion for the older demographic. It's a genial farce, even though it can't stretch out its central conceit for the whole runtime. Streep is good, as always, and is perfectly off-key (it can't be easy to sing every second note slightly flat). Hugh Grant has the trickier part to play, and he acquits himself effortlessly.
Disney's second remake of the year, Pete's Dragon, dared to do what remakes should do: Be as different from the original as possible. The only things this family feature shares with its campy 1977 curio are a title and the names of two characters. Director David Lowry seems to be aiming for a vintage Amblin vibe of child-like wonderment, but ultimately misses a lot of opportunities to nail it down – possibly at the behest of boardroom hand-wringers. I wouldn't call it a total misfire. The moments that worked for me really worked for me, it just never achieves liftoff as a whole. Young star Oakes Fegley brings it, working well above the limitations of his character on the page.

But let it never be said that I don't strive to accentuate the positive. It took until August 31 but I finally found a pre-September picture to pencil into my top ten. Laika's fourth stop-motion marvel, Kubo and the Two Strings, takes all the eye-popping panache of the studio's previous three features and finally uses it to prop up a story that didn't leave me distanced or unsatisfied. I'll save more on this for a later post, but suffice it to say that – despite discouraging box office returns – it's a winner.

With fall festival season ramping up and distributors grooming their awards hopefuls for the public, there will be more grist for the blogging mill in the coming months. Like last season, I can't commit to much more than weekly updates, but at least I'll be back to writing with more regularity. The sabbatical is over. Bring on the Oscar movies!


  1. It was an interesting year. I found some more stuff to enjoy than others. I liked Finding Dory and Star Trek Beyond, as well as the raunchy Sausage Party (song by Alan Menken could be up for Oscar potential?), but I do see how it can be bleak. Luckily, I had a move to keep my mind off of that. Look forward to the more stronger offerings of the year also.

  2. I thought Finding Dory's rave reviews on Rotten Tomatoes were vastly overrated. I still think Inside Out is the only really good Pixar film since 2011. Dory seemed more of a film being driven by gags and humor over things like character and story. It wasn't bad, but wasn't great to me. Kubo and the Two Strings is so far probably the only film I've enjoyed watching this summer.