2015 SUMMER REVIEW ROUND-UP PART I

Two observations for you all: 1) it would appear that summer is, by most accounts, over, and 2) I have been very lazy. Doing things is hard and setting time aside to do things in a scheduled manner is even harder.

Since I’m apparently incapable of doing this lately, the next best thing is to get everything out there at once. Everything, in this case, is the movies I saw this summer and my thoughts on them (excluding the ones I’ve previously written about because duh).

There’s definitely some catching up to do, but with the magic of friendship and caffeine, I think we can succeed. Let’s begin.

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Pitch Perfect 2

The first Pitch Perfect was a mostly all right, uneven comedy that somehow became a pop culture hit. I’d be lying if I said its inexplicable, undeserved adoration didn’t sour me to the film at least a little bit, but that’s neither here nor there. What does seem to be the case is that the follow-up is surprisingly more tolerable and doesn’t inspire nearly as much contempt.

Pitch Perfect 2 is just that extra bit more approachable. The musical numbers are still slick and some of the jokes really land (Keegan-Michael Key’s bits as a music producer are gold) — aaaand some are teeth-gratingly bad (awful Latin stereotype humor).  Upon reflection, it probably also helps that the main character has mostly stopped being a snotty bitch this time around. Yes, I’ve heard tolerating, or even liking the protagonist can be a boon for any film (just wait until we get to another entry later in the summer).

Though unspectacular, the movie as a whole is much easier to accept and go along with. We know now that the songs will be the highlight, humor will be hit or miss, and the story itself is mostly irrelevant. It’s undemanding entertainment and gets the job done as just that.

5/10

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Tomorrowland

There’s a real sense of wonderment and optimism permeating Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland that never caught on with audiences, ironically making it the biggest bomb of the summer. In reality, bad marketing is certainly to blame for people missing out on this film, as opposed to some general demand for all of our movies to be grim and depressing, though that doesn’t excuse the fact that movie itself is still far from perfect.

As mentioned, Tomorrowland‘s real sticking point is its message of hope and looking at the bright side for a better future, which is bolstered by some crisp visual splendor throughout. Unfortunately, the story that carries that message is a big missed opportunity. The first half of the film concerns itself far too heavily in the mystery of what Tomorrowland actually is, for which the payoff is fairly standard. Points where the film actually takes off are often mired by slack pacing and a sometimes far-too-heavy touch when it comes to the themes.

If pressed, I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from seeing the latest from Bird (who still has The Incredibles and the best Mission: Impossible to his name), but will always preface it as a “I see what you were going for” movie, as opposed to a “I enjoy what you did there” one.

5/10 

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San Andreas

Some time in the past five years, the cosmos aligned, mountains trembled and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson became box office magic. We’re seriously at a point where the man showing up equals cash-register dings for studio execs.

Not to generalize it too much, but that’s sort of the point of San Andreas. The Rock shows up to do Rock stuff against the backdrop of a massive earthquake and then MONEY!!!! Funny enough, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a certain cheesy, B-movie thrill to watching horrifying, over-the-top disaster chaos go down and then The Rock shows up to crack jokes and play out some rote familial drama because the script is just the worst. The fun of the film only goes so far — again, due to the script being compost — but then I’m guessing nuanced drama was never high on the creative team’s priorities for a disaster flick.

Will it stand the test of time? Probably not. But as a fun one-off, it’ll pass the time.

5/10

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Spy

People seem to like the pairing of Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig. Movies like Bridesmaids and The Heat are what has been described as “popular”, which indicates audiences seem to find them “funny”. I can’t say I’ve ever been in that camp but you can mark me down as being on the positive side for the duo’s latest offering, Spy.

Spy continues in the Feig tradition of relying on lewd tirades of insults as its main comedic hook. Whereas this still becomes tiresome in some spots, Spy is a much heartier movie than previous ones by these two. The movie finds a lot of success in spoofing the spy genre in a way that is not only frequently amusing but also genuinely empowering for women. Susan Cooper is not only an able spy, she’s more talented than her male cohorts — which the film hilariously points out through the rivalry between Cooper and arrogant, yet incompetent superspy Rick Ford (Jason Statham). The film is never too in-your-face about its subversive nature, but utilizes it to a point where it’s appropriately satisfying and funny.

That, along with some decently staged action/comedy set pieces, makes Spy a cut above the rest and a satisfyingly forward thinking comedy.

7/10

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Inside Out

Pixar films are almost always entertaining but have a reputation as often being something deeper and more universal. Now, they haven’t exactly lived up to that reputation for the past five years, so going into Inside Out seemed like a crapshoot on whether we’d return to the glory days of the studio.

Inside Out is not only among the studio’s finest work, it’s quite often feels like a transcendent step in family entertainment. Besides having crisp and flashy animation, beautiful voice work, a bubbly score, an infectious sense of humor, thrilling adventure sections, and consequences that feel genuine, Inside Out tells an amazingly human story about learning about life’s many emotions. We all experience joy, sadness, fear, anger and disgust in our lives, some more than others, but this film reminds us that they are all natural and have their own place. We may not enjoy feeling sadness but the film never tries to make sadness an antagonistic force, instead showing how necessary all our emotions are and how they need to work together.

It’s this kind of humanistic storytelling that puts the film in the realm of not only being great fun, but also a heartwarming and introspective experience.

8/10

Stay tuned for July and August in Part II.

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