Months in review: June & July

Jurassic World

There comes a time in everyone’s life where the sun, the beach, and enjoying the outdoors takes precedent whenever one feels they have an hour or two to spare. Such has been the case for me over the last few months, even if Chicago, and its often unmerciful weather, has attempted to hijack a weekend or two with its northerly wintry winds and stray summer showers. For these reasons, and maybe a couple of others I will not get into right now, I have abandoned my blog yet again.

This, of course, does not necessarily mean that the cinephile in me has died. Quite the contrary, I have seen my craving for film increase, even if it has been postponed by the beauty of nature and the warm embrace of the star at the center of our solar system.

In the past 2 months, I have watched a paltry total of 15 films, of which only 4 were seen in June, and 11 in the last month. Sadly, none of these have managed to crack even a 4/5 in my scale, which is usually about the number that a film needs from me if I am to consider it good enough to recommend. As expected, the average suffered but not completely, with a rather decent 2.9/5.

Below my brief thoughts on all 15 in order of viewing:

JURASSIC WORLD [3/5] (2015)

If Guardians of the Galaxy was Chris Pratt’s meteoric rise to Hollywood’s stardom, Jurassic World has cemented his reputation as the most widely appealing action/thriller star of the moment. In fact, were it not for Pratt’s undeniable charisma and comedic gifts, Jurassic World would be little more than a re-imagining of the original 1993 film but without the wonder that Spielberg was able to provoke in audiences around the world. This is a film that updates the look and the pace of the beloved franchise, but without much of the surprise and the magic that most of us remember.

SPY [3.5/5] (2015)

Though the film relies heavily on the comedic genius of Melissa McCarthy, there are a few surprises along this very entertaining adventure that make it one of best all-out comedy thrillers of the last decade. Though the competition in the genre is not great, Spy manages to excel because it tends to avoid the cheap or the easy joke, choosing instead to deliver comedy through surprise. What Spy does very well is that it misdirects audiences, getting a laugh by the unpredictability of every scene and the sometimes messy and erratic personality of its characters.

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG [2.5/5] (2013)

The Hobbit

Despite the auspicious first chapter to the second cinematic trilogy based on Tolkien’s famous universe, The Hobbit continues the long journey through Middle Earth without much of the excitement or the high stakes drama of the lauded Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, most of it is lost in a host of characters that lack the pzazz and the charm to truly make us care about their struggle. In the more than 2 hours of film very little happens and most of it is reserved unscrupulously for the third and final act. Most surprisingly, there is an ample usage of CGI that already looks outdated a mere two years after its release. Truly disappointing.

THE ZERO THEOREM [2.5/5] (2014)

Unlike the very influential Brazil, or the always bleak but purposeful Twelve Monkeys, The Zero Theorem is a misstep in the career of Terry Gilliam in that it does not quite know what it wants to say or how to do so. Is it a commentary on our fixation with mobile technology? Is it a criticism of our society’s lack of empathy? Or is it simply a tale of a man trapped in his own skin by psychological issues?

Part of the problem comes at the expense of Christoph Waltz, whose quirky and rather infuriating Qohen Leth is as far removed from reality and coherence as those around him. It does not help that there is no real payoff at the end and I could not help but wonder if the film had at all revealed or explained anything that was not known from the start.

CAKE [3.5/5] (2014)

Cake

A convincing dramatic turn by Jennifer Aniston is the highlight of a modest character study that managed to capture my attention due to its sincerity and simplicity. I am not exactly sure where Ms. Aniston’s career might go from here, but for the first time since she burst onto the film industry that I am excited to see where it goes. This is not to say I consider all of her previous work garbage, but it always felt like an extension of her Rachel character in the show Friends. In Cake we explore a side of her that is entirely different and new, and that feels much more real and genuine, even if she still brings some her unique brand of humor to the fore.

DANNY COLLINS [3/5] (2015)

I am glad to see Al Pacino in a role that is a bit more fitting of his stature as one of America’s greatest ever actors. Danny Collins, like the aforementioned Cake, is a modest little film that focuses on an singer/songwriter who tries to change the path of his life and career after receiving a posthumous letter from John Lennon himself. I, most of all, respect the choices the film makes in its last act, taking a much more realistic path than I would have expected. A decent effort if nothing special to write home about.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST [3/5] (2014)

X-Men

Yet another installment in a long list of X-Men films that fails to live up to my expectations. Perhaps I have outgrown these kinds of movies, but X-men navigates in a realm that is much more fitting for comics and animation and that does not translate quite as well in live-action features. There are, however, some cool moments, delivered in most occasions by Michael Fassbender (Magneto) and Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) even if the implausible and unconvincing love triangle between them and James McAvoy (Charles Xavier) threatens to derail the emotional core of the film. Decent enough, but not a must-see by any stretch of the imagination.

MINIONS [3.5/5] (2015)

What a hoot the Minions are!

After the first Despicable Me was released it was evident that these adorable, quirky and funny little yellow creatures would get their own film. After all, it was their insanity and silliness that probably made the Despicable Me franchise into the animated behemoth it ultimately became. As was true then, when left to their silly antics the Minions fill the screen with endless amusement and entertainment. The problem here is that no matter how good and engaging they are as characters, it was always going to be difficult to craft a story around them that could match their unpredictability. Even if the story fails to take full advantage of these precious animated creations, the Minions movie is easily one of the better and most entertaining animated films of the last couple of years.

RUNNER RUNNER [2/5] (2013)

Ben Affleck

After watching the Social Network and Justin Timberlake’s somewhat small yet important performance as Sean Parker; I thought the former boy band member’s career in the movies would take off without restrain. Instead, Timberlake has been a part of films that have interesting enough premises, but that fail to inspire and engage. Opposite Ben Affleck, both actors look completely out of their element in Runner Runner. The film flows a bit too hastily and easily, never quite running deeper than surface level with its characters. Whenever there seemed to be an opening to get to an emotional moment, as with Timberlake’s character troubled relationship with his father, the film seemed to only use these moments as mere plot devices to get to the climatic twist of an ending.

Generally, I have always been against films that are far more preoccupied with twists and delivering climatic endings than with telling a story that is consistent and character driven.

THE SWITCH [3/5] (2010)

Though Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston never quite seem to have the chemistry the film requires for their relationship to feel genuine, The Switch does have a plethora of awkward and funny moments than partly make up for it. If not for those laughs it manage to get from me, then I would consider it little more than your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy.

WELCOME TO ME [2.5/5] (2015)

Welcome to Me

I have never been the greatest fan of satire, unless it is done with a greater purpose than getting a few cheap laughs. Satire, I think, has a history of working better in a television format, whether it be in the form of social commentary (see Key & Peele) or political (see The Daily Show or The Colbert Report). When it comes to films, the punchline never seems to arrive and, in a few occasions, it can take the path of a dark and painfully awkward “dramedy” that does nothing in terms of entertainment. The problem with Welcome to Me is that it does not have the kind of nuance necessary to deliver something far more meaningful than simply taking a look at a troubled woman putting herself in a position to be taken advantage of. Kristen Wiig can and should do better than this.

TRAINWRECK [3/5] (2015)

If I were not familiar with the particular brand of comedy of Amy Schumer, I would have perhaps liked Trainwreck a lot more. In fact, there was more than one occasion in which Judd Apatow clearly gave the green light for the comedienne to play some of her most notorious stand-up bits on the big screen. Though a lot of it works, especially due to its very contemporary feel, Trainwreck is not nearly consistent enough to merit more than a decent rating from me.

WHILE WE’RE YOUNG [2.5/5] (2015)

WhileWereYoung

This film threw me off. First it starts as your typical married couple going through a mid-life crisis of sorts. Subconsciously they attempt to keep the flame and excitement alive by hanging out with a libertarian leaning younger couple. As one would expect they encounter some problems along the way, but slowly the film begins to focus more on the vicissitudes of a man played by Ben Stiller that has lost his drive for his work and who is too proud to admit it. Even more unexpected was the film’s fascination with the subject of documentaries and how they should be made. At times it felt like some sort of social commentary, while at others it was a bit more personal. All along I could not connect to the characters and the relationship between the leads never felt completely natural.

42 [3.5/5] (2013)

An engaging biopic on baseball’s most notable cultural figure: Jackie Robinson.

Focusing mostly on his first year as part of the Brooklyn Dodgers and his early steps as a player in an all-black baseball league, the story is moving and inspirational all on its own to merit a thoughtful cinematic treatment such as this. Moreover, I appreciated the quality of the acting, the nostalgic art direction and the cinematography, which managed to capture the glorious scale of a baseball stadium as seen from the inside of the diamond. Moreover, there were a lot of astute camera compositions that I enjoyed, some of which cleverly illustrated plays and the interactions between of all of those involved. Not only did it feel real, but you could almost sense the effort and the athleticism of the actors.

Despite all of its accomplishments, the story was a bit too safe. Though it had a couple of moments of poignant racism, there were far too few of these to really drive home the full breath of obstacles that Jackie Robinson had to overcome. Lastly, I was not too thrilled by the performance of Harrison Ford as the president of the team, who came off a bit too comical and caricaturesque to fit in with the mood of the rest of the film.

CHAPPIE [2/5] (2015)

Chappie

If there is anything of value I can take from Chappie is that Neill Blomkamp does not take its movies all too seriously. Whereas District 9 felt new, innovative and favored a nervous pace with a great emotional undertone; his following efforts have done away with some of the aspects that made his first worldwide feature film such a critical and commercial success. The fact is that Chappie is messy just because it was too rushed and unimaginative not to be. The behavior of the characters is not consistent, the sequencing is horrendous and the very idea that these characters can parade around a security-oriented company as if it’s their own home did not really make sense for me. Like those, there are a plethora of other problems that bothered me about Chappie. The saving grace was the humor, which was a bit silly and immature, but comical enough nevertheless to save the film from being a complete disaster.

Thanks for reading!

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One thought on “Months in review: June & July

  1. Some of these movies I skipped. I’ve seen X-Men First Class(because I saw the rest of the films), which I agree was ok but not great.
    While We’re Young I liked a little more than you, although most of the best scenes were in the first half of the film, s the second half was a bit underwhelming. It felt lke Ben Stiller was reprising his role from Greenberg. Naomi Watts character was the stand out for me.

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