September 3, 2016

Of the 2016 Summer Movie Season

            I have heard numerous complaints about how awful a summer season this was for film, and I honestly can’t find much evidence to disagree.  Obviously I have not seen as many films as I would have liked during the season (thanks to car problems and just wanting to spend the warm months of the season outside) although the nine films I did end up seeing seem like a group of films that are in line with what the summer movie season was as a whole.  The blockbusters didn’t really work as films like Jason Bourne and (especially) Suicide Squad failed creatively.  Even Captain America: Civil War, which was ultimately a fun experience, felt more bogged down by franchise restraints than the other Captain America films.  To make matters worse it seems like there wasn’t really any independent fare that broke through.  My one experience with this side of the filmmaking world was Woody Allen’s latest in Café Society.  Café Society unfortunately struggled way too much with being way too similar to ever other Woody Allen film.  Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg (and supporting cast standouts Ken Stott and Corey Stoll) sure do deliver strong performances, but that isn’t enough to distract you from the fact that this is something you have seen before.

            Ultimately, two of the better films of the summer ended up sharing settings.  If you take a glance at the summer box office leaderboards, you will find Finding Dory sitting at the top.  Fortunately, this was a summer season where audiences flocked to a film that was actually good.  Finding Dory is missing that extra something that makes Finding Nemo so memorable (maybe it’s the originality of the first one), but otherwise the filmmakers succeed in everything else they attempt.  This is certainly one of the better directed animated films I have ever seen as Andrew Statnton (who also directed Nemo and the critical favorite Wall-E) finds a way to draw so much emotion from his A-storyline of Dory trying to figure out her past while still making the film’s B-storyline (Marlin still trying to come to terms with being a single father) enjoyable enough to not be as forgettable as so many B-storylines are in films nowadays.  The film also deserves a lot of credit for somehow avoiding the massive iceberg they were heading for with making Dory, a gimmicky character that easily could have been extremely annoying with expanded screen time, even more likeable in her expanded role.  Additionally, I found this film to be funnier than its predecessor with side characters such as Idris Elba’s lazy but intimidating sea lion and the controversial Gerald character delivering the laughs.  Ultimately, Finding Dory isn’t good enough to carry the entire summer season on its back but it is a nice diversion from most of the crap that ended up bring released the summer.

            The Shallows could not be more tonally different from Finding Dory but it does end up taking place on the sea as well as being one of the better films of the summer.  The Shallows is the tale of a med student (Blake Lively) who ends up surfing on a remote beach alone and comes face to face with an angry and man-eating shark.  The film is really a two person show with Blake Lively and director Jaume Collet-Serra carrying most of the film (despite what some of the animal characters may think about this).  Collet-Serra has quietly racked up an impressive resume.  He first came onto the scene with the terribly reviewed House of Wax remake but since has followed that up with the underrated thriller Orphan and a trio of solid Liam Neeson action films (the Hickockian Unknown being the highlight).  This film just further cements his status as a director to look out for as he just draws just the right levels of inspiration from both Jaws and Deep Blue Sea.  What you get with this combination is an intense thriller that is able to get away with its sillier moments (and there are quite a few).
            While Blake Lively occasionally gets some human actors to work with she spends most of the film interacting with a CGI shark and a trained seagull.  So she definitely deserves a lot of credit for carrying this film even if it does feel like she is reaching the limits of her acting capabilities at many points.  Most actors of her age just wouldn’t have the courage to take on a role like this where she wouldn’t get many notices for her work despite the fact that she probably deserves them.  It also helps that Collet-Serra shoots her like a goddess throughout the course of the film.

            All in all, The Shallows ends up being something slightly more than dumb fun thanks to some strong direction and a creative performance, and that’s enough to be one of the highlights of this weak summer.

            With the summer gone, and the fall movie season (as well as awards season) on the way I should have some time to update this blog more often. So keep an eye open!

Finding Dory = 8/10
The Shallows = 8/10

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