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Summing Up The Cinematic Summer Of 2017


Reportedly this summer was the lowest grossing at the box office in many years. The low turnout can be blamed on franchise fatigue (more ALIENS, APES, CARS, TRANSFORMERS, and PIRATES, anybody?), the abundance of big budget bombs (THE MUMMY, KING ARTHUR: THE LEGEND OF THE SWORD, DARK TOWER, VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS), and all the good TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, Twin Peaks: The Return, Game of Thrones, and Glow competing for people’s attention. But whatever the case, despite several gems, it’s been an abysmal season crowded with bland blockbuster wannabes.

It started off promising last May with James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, a solid sequel to the big Marvel hit from three summers ago. GOTGV2 had a juicy role for Kurt Russell as the father of Chris Pratt’s character, Peter Quill (or Star Lord, if you prefer), a bunch of amusing action sequences and gags, and a stellar soundtrack going for it, and audiences responded by making it the third top grossing movie of the year. Read my review.


The next few sequels that followed – Ridley Scott’s ALIEN: COVENANT, David Bower’s DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL, and Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg’s PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES came and went quickly, with only PIRATES turning a profit despite bad reviews (it’s at 30% on the Rottentomatometer). I only saw PIRATES of these three, and I’m pretty tired of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack schtick so I didn’t care for it (read my review: PIRATES 5: DEAD MEN TELL NO NEW TALES), but at least I enjoyed the Paul McCartney cameo.


I wanted to see the latest ALIEN sequel on the big screen, but didn’t get around to it. I’ll probably catch it someday on Blu ray or streaming, but I’m not really dying to.

Early June, the summer was shaken up by the major success of Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN, the first actually good movie of the new DC Extended Universe. 


The gorgeous Gal Gadot portrays the iconic superheroine in the WWI era adventure, and with the help of Chris Pine, and a supporting cast including Robin Wright, Danny Huston, and David Thewlis, she lassoed up a satisfying piece of entertainment (read my review). Now, I’m just waiting for Zack Snyder to get the franchise back off track with JUSTICE LEAGUE (also featuring Gadot) this November. 


Another superhero favorite, Spider-Man, returned the next month, and restored the character to his former glory after Marc Webb’s forgettable THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN movies with Andrew Garfield. Featuring a likable kid in the form of Tom Holland, who was introduced in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, the extremely fun (and funny) experience of John Watts
 SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING was embraced by moviegoers to the tune of over $300 million, and critics to the tune of a 92 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Read my review.

Another sequel that did well at the box office was Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin, and Eric Guillon
’s DESPICABLE ME 3 (though not great critically – 61% on Rotten Tomatoes), but not being a fan of the series or the whole Minions thing for that matter, I opted out.

Of the other summer sequels, I took a hard pass on CARS 3 as the CARS series is my least favorite Pixar franchise, but I took in Matt Reeves THE WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, and found it to be a good not great entry in the rebooted series. It contains some powerful visuals, the enjoyable comic relief of Steve Zahn voicing one of the few talking apes who calls himself “Bad Ape,” and Woody Harrelson as the villain, a sinister Colonel who wants to kill off Andy Serkis’ ape leader Caesar and his army, but it’s never been one of my favorite franchises, and I’m not really itching to see more APES movies after it. 


As for the fifth TRANSFORMERS movie, which made over $600 million yet is still considered to be an underperformer – I have never seen one of the TRANSFORMERS movies all the way through, and Im not considering changing that.

One of the worst, if not the worst, movies of the summer was Alex Kurtzman’s THE MUMMY, which was primed to kick off Universal’s Dark Universe series, but its commercial and critical failure (here
s my pan) may cause the powers that be to reconsider things. Tom Cruise is bound to do much better in the Doug Liman
’s upcoming AMERICAN MADE, which is getting some early buzz, so don’t worry about him – he’ll be just fine.

The comedy genre fared horribly during the summer months with flops such as Lucia Aniellos ROUGH NIGHT (saw it – lame waste of a talented cast headed by Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon), Jonathan Levines SNATCHED (didn’t see it, but it looked lame – sorry, Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn), Seth Gordons BAYWATCH (another I skipped for what should be an obvious reason), and Andrew Jay Cohens THE HOUSE (also didn’t see despite being a fan of both Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) which was savaged by critics and ignored by audiences.
However, in the world of independent film, there was a comedy this summer, a rom com no less, that did great business, and got critical acclaim to boot: Michael Showalters THE BIG SICK. The film, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan is the story of how Nanjiani met his later wife, and stuck with her while she was in a coma, while dealing with her worried parents played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. It’s a real witty charmer that has now played for over eight weeks at the Rialto Theater in Raleigh where I work part time. I haven’t seen a movie connect with audiences at our local indie arthouse like it has in a long time. My review.

A few other indies that didn’t connect as well: Trey Edward Shults’ IT CAME AT NIGHT and David Lowery’s A GHOST STORY. Of these, the former, starring Joel Edgerton as a man whose family is holed up in a house in the country while a plague ravages the land, had its edgy moments but was far from fully fleshed out, while the later, featuring Casey Affleck as a ghost – in a white sheet with eye holes, mind you – was just plain weird as I wrote in my review.

In the non franchise department, there’s Edgar Wright’s BABY DRIVER, a crackling crime thriller, with a great cast including Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx, and an even better soundtrack. It wowed crowds and critics, including me as I declared in my review that it was the best film of the summer.


Another non sequel that I enjoyed was David Leitch’s ATOMIC BLONDE, starring Charlize Theron as a kick ass MI6 field agent on a mission in West Berlin during the waning days of the cold war. It’s a bit uneven and wonky at times, but has some excellent set pieces including a stunning fight in a stairwell, a sharp lead performance by Theron, and a well chosen ‘80s soundtrack. Hmm, that’s three films this summer with great soundtracks – not bad.

Up there with BABY DRIVER in quality is Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK, an immersive war epic that I’m glad I saw in 70 mm. I had a few issues with its structure, which I discussed in my post, Notes on DUNKIRK, but was overall impressed by Nolan’s work, his best since INCEPTION. I bet we’re going to hear a lot more about it come Oscar season.

Lastly, I hate to say I was disappointed in Steven Soderbergh’s late summer entry, LOGAN LUCKY, which many critics have praised.


I loved its premise – a hillbilly heist centered around robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway in my homestate of N.C. – and its cast including Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and especially a bleach blond Daniel Craig – but the job is pulled off with very little conflict, the stakes don’t feel very high as folks can be broken out of and back into jail for the caper with ease, and none of these people are believably related to each other – Driver and Tatum sure don’t look or act like brothers, nor do Craig and the two hayseeds (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid) who are supposed to be his kin. Still, there were some amusing moments, and I appreciate the effort by Soderbergh to do a variation on his OCEAN’S ELEVEN movies, even if I’m not a fan of those either.

So that’s the summer of 2017 at the movies. One could argue that a season that boasts the likes of BABY DRIVER, DUNKIRK, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, WONDER WOMAN, and THE BIG SICK can’t be completely written off, but that’s only six films out of over 40, so sadly they weren’t enough to save the summer from sucking. The fall, where historically the films get better, can’t come soon enough.


More later…

Notes On DUNKIRK (Three Weeks Into Its Run)

It’s been three weeks since I first saw Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic DUNKIRK, but I wasn’t in a good headspace then. My wife and I were having some major work done on our house involving installing hardwood floors so I was exhausted from moving tons of books, CDs, DVDs, records, etc.

I had mixed feelings about the movie, but I recognized some greatness there so I decided to see it a second time. But this time was in the way Nolan intended it to be seen – in IMAX 70 mm. The visuals were indeed impressive and the story threads came together better than my previous viewing, but I still felt a disconnect.

The film, which Nolan wrote and co-produced in addition to directing, follows three narratives – “The Mole,” about the thousands of soldiers stranded on the beach of Dunkirk, France over the course of a week waiting for rescue boats over the course of a week; “The Sea,” concerning a civilian (Mark Rylance) sailing his boat with his son (Tom Glynn-Carney), and his friend (Barry Keoghan) to help with the rescue effort over the course of a day; and “The Air,” which involves three Spitfires piloted by members of the Royal Air Force engaged in dogfights over the course of an hour.

Nolan’s attention to detail in recreating the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940 is immaculate via the usage of restored boats and planes from the actual event, practical effects, and a minimum of CGI.

I’ve heard many folks complain that in the “The Mole” storyline the characters are hard to tell apart. Fionn Whitehead as a private named Tommy, who is pretty much the protagonist of the thread, and a fellow soldier played by pop singer Harry Styles do blend in with the masses on the docks, but perhaps that’s the point.

“The Air” narrative which has Tom Hardy, and Jack Lowden on a mission to take down German dive bombers over the infinite ocean may be the most exciting of the three intertwined scenarios, but several times Nolan cuts away right as the scenes are getting the most compelling. Lowden almost drowning because he can’t get his cockpit open after crash landing in the sea deserves to be seen in full, but Nolan can’t help but dive back into another thread, and the momentum gets lost.

The most emotionally grounded storyline is “The Sea” as a stoic Rylance holds steady to his goal to save as many men as possible, even when a shell-shocked soldier played by Cillian Murphy that his boat picks up violently tries to get him to turn his boat around. Murphy, a veteran of a few Nolan films (BATMAN BEGINS, INCEPTION), is only credited as “shivering soldier,” and that about sums up his role.

Kenneth Branagh, as a British Naval Commander, brings a touch of dignified gravitas to his part, but mainly just stands around on the pier watching what’s happening around him.

So basically, don’t go in expecting fully fleshed out characters. There may be precious little dialogue, but there’s plenty of genuine suspense, gripping action, and incredibly vivid cinematography (thanks to Hoyte van Hoytema’s 54-Pound IMAX Camera) to make up for it, and to make up for the failings of Nolan’s previous film, INTERSTELLAR.

DUNKIRK is engaging to a considerable degree, but not as immersive an experience as it could’ve been as its fractured narratives bog it down. Hans Zimmer’s intense score, which at times beautifully blends with the scary sound of attacking dive bombers, does a lot to tie together the three strands, but they still clash in ways that was at times frustrating.

I still would recommend Nolan’s work here because there is a lot of power in the imagery and the depiction of touching humanity, which, as I said before, is most present in Rylance’s storyline.


It may fall short of being a masterpiece, but it comes close – especially when seeing it a second time in IMAX 70 mm. Maybe the third time will be the charm?

More later…