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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I’ve seen a decent number of the 2016 summer season offerings, but I honestly have neither the interest nor the time to write a detailed review of everything I’ve seen. Hence, I’ve decided to compile a few mini-reviews as a site update and a way to express a few opinions. I typically have Wikipedia open during a movie review as a reference, but I’m not going to do that this time. So don’t be surprised to find minor errors throughout this post.
This movie, intended by Universal Pictures and videogame company Blizzard to be the first in a series, is terrible and famously bombed in American theaters (Chinese audiences saved it from being a total disaster). The acting is not the problem here. Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster, and Toby Kebbell are all pretty great in their roles. I really liked Kebbell’s performance as Durotan actually. Duncan Jones’ direction seems weirdly rushed. The whole movie seemed quickly paced, which limited character development and emotional investment from the audience. Outside of the acting, I also appreciated the production design and special effects. The movie looks great in theaters. The big problems, besides the directing, are in the film’s lackluster script and in its worldbuilding. It seems limited, restrained, held back. It should have been epic and it just was not. That being said, I still probably liked it more than most people. It is not typical of a summer movie, and I can appreciate that. It is still not good.
I’m not a fan of Pixar movies. This movie didn’t change my opinion of them for the better. Yes, it has grossed a metric ton of cash but then again most Pixar films that aren’t about dinosaurs do. I just don’t care for Pixar movies that much. Highlights include Ellen Degeneres’ and Ed O’Neill’s voice acting performances, beautiful computer animation, and a fairly strong script that doesn’t just rehash the first movie. It is still sappy and emotionally manipulative and it still straddles the line between “for kids” and “for adults,” so again it just isn’t for me. I just don’t think I’ll ever like a Pixar movie again and I’m ok with that.
Anyone who has read my writing on here from the beginning knows I’m a huge fan of “man vs. nature” movies. This is a special case as it is woman (Blake Lively) vs. nature, which hasn’t been done that much. I absolutely loved it! I seriously hope Lively gets some awards season attention for her role in this film as she is fantastic. The movie follows Lively as she is menaced by a shark in the Pacific ocean off the coast of Mexico. Too far from shore and with a gaping wound from a bite, Lively must survive against the elements and outwit Mother Nature herself. Well shot, well directed, well acted, well scripted… this low budget thriller has it all, including really decent special effects despite its limited budget. This is the best “(wo)man vs. nature” film since Liam Neeson’s The Grey from 2012.
Though it received overall pretty terrible reviews, I actually really liked this movie. It is gorgeously shot and although paced glacially at times, it never failed to keep my interest. It is colorful throughout, which is a change of pace from typical modern blockbusters. Stellen Skarsgard’s son (Peter I think?) is fine as Tarzan, but Samuel L. Jackson (who I’m usually not a big fan of) steals the show. He’s the most interesting character in the film and is a huge asset here. Christoph Waltz is also fine as the villain, though I would have liked to see him get even crazier. Special effects are excellent (they should be as this film cost 180 million dollars to produce) with special credit going to the gorillas, who look realistic and terrifying throughout. This movie was a huge summer surprise for me and I really enjoyed it.
The Purge: Election Year
I really enjoy The Purge series of films. The first started small, the second greatly expanded on the idea, and the third expands even further on the excellent sequel. Election Year is the best film in the franchise. It is topical without losing its violent, visceral appeal. Bringing Frank Grillo back as ex-cop Leo was an excellent idea, as was adding Elizabeth Mitchell as a Bernie Sanders-esque presidential candidate. These films get better and better with each installment and its nice to see them thrive at the box office as well. I really appreciate films that skimp on the budget but not on the thrills. It helps that The Purge series is built on a fantastic concept and that the filmmakers have expanded that concept so successfully. This may be my favorite film of the summer, give or take a Now You See Me 2.
I have the controversial opinion on the new Ghostbusters film: I thought it was just okay. It’s nowhere near as odious as militant fanboys on the internet would have you believe (Overzealous fanboys on the internet? Well, I never!), nor is it as great as obnoxious left-leaning bloggers would want you to think. It is decently funny in places and its characters are well worth spending the time with. I just think the movie could have been so much better. Unfortunately the villain is completely undercooked and I just couldn’t find him particularly interesting. Likewise, I’m about sick of the Hemsworth family and this film is no exception. I never found Chris Hemsworth funny as bumbling secretary Kevin. The good here are in the performances from the four main characters and the special effects. The script could have used a fine-tuning and the direction is lifeless at times, which is detrimental to a comedy. Again, it’s just an okay movie.
Star Trek Beyond
I did not like Star Trek Into Darkness but I loved the initial installment of this reboot series. Beyond thankfully is more of the first movie and less Into Darkness. I still love this new cast and I really like some of the ideas presented in this movie. It was entertaining and crowd pleasing, but just not that special. It’s a very solid summer movie but also very indicative of the 2016 summer season. It unfortunately doesn’t really stand out on its own. Highlights include the aforementioned cast (RIP, Anton Yelchin), the direction (Justin Lin fits in fine here), the production design, and the special effects. The script is ok, with some good ideas, but is mostly perfunctory. It’s a shame though that it just doesn’t feel as special as that first movie. It is a perfectly good summer movie and I certainly enjoyed it more than Into Darkness.