So I know it’s been a while. It’s been a pretty hectic summer for me, and for various reasons I haven’t been able to publish a single review despite seeing plenty of this summer’s biggest movies. So now that the summer is coming to a close, I decided to write a huge long post of all my reviews for the movies I saw this summer. They’ll be briefer that my average review, but they’ll say everything I need them to, and that’s what matters. So here we go, in chronological order. Beginning with…
I actually didn’t see this one until a few weeks ago, when it was part of AMC’s Summer Nights screening series. It was only $3, so I figured I’d give it a whirl. And I actually kind of loved it. Pretty much every big summer movie is a sci-fi movie nowadays, but few of them have returned to the genre’s roots in recent years. Watching Oblivion, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the stories of Philip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov. A few of the story’s many twists were predictable, but one reveal late in the film genuinely caught me off guard, and it held up even after I left the theater. A lot of movies rely on twists for in-the-moment shock value, but when you really look at them they don’t make sense in the context of the rest of the film. Oblivion doesn’t have that problem. The story is pretty straightforward, although it isn’t perfect. Director Joseph Kosinski tries so hard to make the mysteries of the plot resonate that I found it really difficult to figure out exactly what was going on for most of the second act. It wasn’t until a big expository speech from Morgan Freeman at the end that everything clicked. Normally that sort of thing would annoy me, but it was actually necessary here, at least for me. So while the plot ultimately does hold together, it was still unpleasantly convoluted for most of the running time. However, if you’re looking for something pretty to stare at for 2 hours, no movie this summer quite matched what Kosinski and cinematographer Claudio Miranda, who won a well-deserved Oscar for Life of Pi last year, were able to capture. The bleached ruins of New York are consistently astonishing, and even smaller-scale shots of Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough are put together with all the precision of a master at work. Is it alright to give a movie a pass based on visuals alone? I don’t think so in most cases. But since most of Oblivion actually works pretty well, I don’t feel like that’s what I’m really doing here. It gets a solid B.
Iron Man 3
Being tasked with following up one of the most successful superhero movies of all time can’t have sat easily on writer/director Shane Black’s shoulders, but from the film he brought us you wouldn’t know it. Iron Man 3 is supremely confident, and for good reason. It takes its lead character to places that most movies of its ilk would do timidly or with hesitation. Of course, Black has an advantage with the character he was given. If this film has a thesis statement, it’s that Iron Man isn’t the hero of these films. Tony Stark is. And Stark doesn’t need the suit to beat the bad guys. That’s a brave direction for the third film in a hugely popular trilogy to take, especially when this character is expected to appear in future films. But then again, I’m glad that this film didn’t have constant callbacks and references to other films in the same universe. This is very much a standalone venture, and it works all the better for it. There are no lame handwaves of why the Avengers can’t help Tony out. The Avengers and SHIELD aren’t mentioned at all, in fact. The film doesn’t need them for the story, so they don’t appear. Simple as that. I could talk about everything else the film does that is unprecedented in a superhero film, but that would veer into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say that it subverts audience expectations in a way that none of its predecessors have dared to do. The film is sly, daring, unpredictable, witty, and charming. It’s a lot like Tony Stark in that way. It earns an A-.
The Great Gatsby
Was Baz Luhrmann the perfect choice for this film, or the worst one possible? Even he seems to be struggling with that question in this intermittently entertaining, confused adaptation. He mostly plays the film’s endless party scenes straight, which pretty much defeats the purpose of hiring him in the first place. It’s almost like he wanted to deny people what they expected of him. Unfortunately, he dumps all of that excess style into scenes that don’t need it, making this a very lopsided picture. The middle section of this film is pretty much interminable, with so many sweeping shots of the romantic leads dancing and staring at each other that it makes you want to vomit candy hearts. You have to wonder if Luhrmann was going for irony here, or if he actually understands what the book was trying to say. Had he dropped all this showy nonsense for the final 20 minutes, this would have been a brilliant adaptation. It would have turned the preceding 2 hours into a sarcastic comment on Gatsby’s self-indulgent, pointless lifestyle. As it stands, Luhrmann presents the man as an idol instead of a figure of pity and ridicule. Gatsby’s parties shouldn’t look fun. They should look empty and soulless. But Luhrmann wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to stage lavish, fun-looking party scenes while also wagging his finger and saying, “Yeah, but the book said this was bad so yeah.” It’s pathetic. There is one scene late in the film, a confrontation between Gatsby and Tom in a New York City loft, where Luhrmann finally drops all the bullshit and gives us some honest-to-god emotional stakes. The characters turn from caricatures into people, and the facades that they’ve been presenting drop away as their true goals are revealed to each other. We even see Gatsby as something other than a saint with a beautiful mansion. But it’s too little too late. By the time the final scene rolls around, where an institutionalized Nick looks at his manuscript titled “Gatsby” and adds “The Great” above it in pen, I wanted to vomit. Maybe this is a book that’s impossible to adapt. In any case, this attempt was in turn laughably pathetic and soul-deadeningly dull. It’s great soundtrack (though I found it distracting whenever it appeared in the film) saves it from F territory, but I can’t in good conscious give it anything higher than a D.
Fast and Furious 6
God this thing was dumb. It’s a mishmash of so many cliches and tropes that it gets overloaded in the first few minutes of screentime. The plot is pointless and arbitrary, the characters are so thin they’re practically nonexistent, the dialogue is terrible, and in general this is exactly the kind of summer movie that I hate and that people should stay away from. So yeah, I had a good time with it.
What? What can I say, this was a fun time at the movies. The action scenes are so stupidly over-the-top that they have to be self-aware, and who goes to see these things for the plot anyway? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a bad movie, and rest assured, this movie is bad. It’s at its worst when it attempts for some cheesy moral or thematic statement about the importance of family, but that doesn’t meant that it skimps on the car-on-car action, and that’s where the film delivers. So it’s a C, but not a bad C.
Now You See Me
Remember how earlier I talked about movies using twists for in-the-moment shock value without fitting them into the larger logic of the movie? Now You See Me is basically nothing but that. And yeah, they’re surprising. But they pull the rug out from under you so many times that you realize that there’s no floor underneath. The movie doesn’t actually have any story to speak of, beyond “magicians do magic things.” It’s barely a movie, in fact. There’s just nothing to it. No two moments in the film are thematically linked in any way, shape, or form. It’s just a sloppy, sloppy movie. Which is too bad, because the premise “magicians pull heists” is so good that it’s doubly sad to see this movie fail as hard as it does. The cast is game, but the script can’t back them up. I saw it for free, so I couldn’t get too mad at it. Still, for its incompetence, Now You See Me gets a D-.
Speaking of great premises ruined by poor execution, we next come to The Purge. It starts with an interesting premise: What if crime were legal for one night every year? And for a while, it actually follows through. We get a lot of ruminating on the morality of this idea from the perspective of the rich and privileged, and the idea that the Purge was created by the upper class to eliminate the lower class is an interesting one. Unfortunately, it fails to follow through in a major way. About 40 minutes in the film devolves into a rote home invasion thriller in which the central premise has no bearing. It isn’t scary or exciting, it’s dull and predictable. And a late-third-act twist seems like a desperate, grasping attempt to maintain audience interest. But those first 40 minutes are so intriguing that it’s hard to dismiss The Purge out of hand. Would this would have worked better as a novel? Maybe. More likely, it needed a different direction story-wise. What if instead of the killers breaking into the rich family’s home, the rich dad character was locked out on Purge Night and had to survive in a terrifying world that he previously enforced and supported? The fact that’s he’s confronted on his own turf takes away a lot of the stakes. It doesn’t work, but I wish it did, and I’d actually be interested to see more films set in this world. It’s an original concept that deserves better than this middling piece of horror tripe.
This is the End
This was the funniest movie I saw all summer. No, this was the funniest movie I saw all year. In several years. Of all time? Call me crazy, but it’s up there. It’s the perfect blend of immature and highbrow humor. Even late in the movie, when many high-concept comedies forget humor in favor of plot, I was laughing hysterically. The movie just refuses to let up, and there were times that I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe. The problem with comedies is that a lot of the time you can’t say anything but “It was funny.” Well, This is the End may not have any deep thematic truths to reveal, or beautiful images, or Oscar-worthy performances, but it is Funny with a capital F. And that F gets it an A.
That’s all I’ve got for this round. I really, really overestimated how many movies I’d seen this summer, so it’ll have to be split across 2 posts. I’ll start with Man of Steel next time around and work from there until the end. See you there!