2016 Summer Movie Preview: July

The Fourth of July is almost here (I have yet to see the new Independence Day sequel, despite the negative reception). Anyhow, I forgot to give my thoughts on two movies that came out last month–Genius, starring Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe and Colin Firth as his editor Max Perkins. I have heard some not-so-good reception. With them leading a great cast, however, it seems something I would like to see. The other is Hunting for the Wilderpeople, which premiered at this year’s Sundance with positive feedback. Nothing much too say but…it looks funny as hell.

July seems to be a month of reboots, sequels, and book adaptations. Unfortunately, there is not much to look forward to. Here are my thoughts on what has yet to come out.

July 1

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The BFG – I think I’m in for a treat right here! Steven Spielberg is back to direct a family film after 25 years. Reuniting with the writer and producer of E.T.—the recently deceased Melissa Matheson and Frank Marshall—they bring Roald Dahl’s beloved 1982 novel to pure life. It follows a girl carried away by a giant to a world unlike she has ever seen before. To her surprise, he happens to be a Big Friendly Giant (hence the title). Fresh from winning an Oscar for his brilliant turn in Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance plays the title character through motion capture. He is nothing short of perfect!

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The Legend of Tarzan – Everyone has heard of Tarzan; from the films starring Johnny Weissmuller to the 1999 Disney animated classic (which I’m a big fan of). Alexander Skarsgård is the first Tarzan to wear cargo shorts instead of his trademark “special underwear”. He leads a stellar cast including Margot Robbie as Jane, Samuel L. Jackson, and Christoph Waltz. Directed by David Yates (director of the final four Harry Potter films and the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), this seems to be more than just another origin story. Even though it hasn’t been getting good reception so far, it might be fun.

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The Purge: Election Year – Seriously!? Another one!? Of course, having avoided the previous two films (the first one starring Ethan Hawke), I’m going to avoid this film. Same goes with the future ones—if they are made.

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Our Kind of Traitor – A couple vacationing in Morocco soon go head-to-head between the Russian mafia and the British Secret Service when asked to give evidence about an MI6 agent. This sounds like your standard thriller. It’s hard not to appreciate the cast—Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris (Moneypenny!), Stellan Skarsgård, Damien Lewis. Then again, it relies on dialogue than action to carry through the thrills.

July 8

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The Secret Life of Pets – I guarantee this will make a lot of money, receive positive reception from critics and audiences alike, and become one of the most popular non-PIXAR animated movies of all-time. To me, I don’t care.

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Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates – Zac Efron cannot catch a break. Can he? After the catastrophic nightmare known as Dirty Grandpa, he reunites with co-star Aubrey Plaza to star in another seemingly unfunny comedy centering two immature brothers finding dates to their sister’s wedding in Hawaii. How about using the money to take an actual vacation in Hawaii? Also, what the hell was Anna Kendrick thinking while she signed up to do a movie like this? Every time I see the previews, the pain ensues.

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Cell – John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson are back for another Stephen King adaptation, nine years after the underrated psychological horror film 1408. This time, they are saving the world from zombies caused from the viruses on people’s phones. I have heard nothing but horrible reception. Given that Stephen King was dropped out of completing the screenplay, it shows how awful this looks.

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Captain Fantastic – Ah…this is more like it! Known for starring in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and two masterful films by David Cronenberg—A History of Violence and Eastern Promises—Viggo Mortensen stars as a father of six children about to learn the responsibilities of parenting in the seemingly eccentric yet delightful Captain Fantastic. Shown at both Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals with warm reception, this looks something to behold.

July 15

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The Infiltrator (opens July 13) – From a loving father to a meth lab creator to a controversial screenwriter, Bryan Cranston can do no wrong. It looks he’s going to continue his streak in The Infiltrator, following a narcotics officer dealing with a money laundering scheme involving Pablo Escobar. This looks like one tense crime story.

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Ghostbusters – After years of rumors of a Ghostbusters III, Hollywood decided to reboot one of the greatest films from the 1980s with an all-female cast. It consists of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. Along with Chris Hemsworth, they all appeared on Saturday Night Live. It looks nothing but a disgrace to the original film. This quote, said by Jones’ character Patty Tolan, sums up how I feel about this movie: “I don’t know if it was a race thing or a lady thing, but I’m mad as hell.”

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Tulip Fever – Alicia Vikander had a great year last year. Ex Machina, Testament of Youth, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and The Danish Girl—in which she a well-deserved Oscar for. She’s becoming one of my favorite actresses, not to mention going to star as Lara Croft, the upcoming The Light Between Oceans, and one upcoming summer release I’ll talk about later. I honestly don’t know how I feel about the latest costume drama Tulip Fever. I have to admit the cast is superb—Christoph Waltz, Judi Dench, Dane DeHaan, and Zach Galafianakis (pretty odd, if I say so myself). A part of me thinks this will be complete trash, while another part say this might turn out as fantastic.

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Café Society – Continuing his streak of making one movie every year, Woody Allen goes back in time once again. This time, this is the 1930s in Hollywood where dreams may come true during the Great Depression. After the disappointing Irrational Man, Café Society looks like a pure delight and a breath of fresh air for Allen. It brings back the nostalgia, beauty and charm that made me love Midnight in Paris so much. Not to mention the fantastic cast—Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively. It’s time for another great Woody Allen picture.

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Equals – A future where everyone is forbidden from using any emotions at all? It doesn’t sound like my kind of movie.

July 22

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Star Trek Beyond – I was introduced to the world of Star Trek with the 2009 film directed by J.J. Abrams. It blew me away, both from a narrative and a visual standpoint. I didn’t have to watch the original show in order to get what’s going on (I will, one of these days; don’t worry). Despite its flaws, Star Trek into Darkness is a worthy sequel. And that was where my admiration for Benedict Cumberbatch began. With Justin Lin now taking Abrams’ place as director, Captain Kirk and the Enterprise crew return to boldly go where no man has gone before. I’m ready.

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Ice Age: Collision Course – How many of these movies are there? The only great Ice Age movie is the first one. Do we really need another one?

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Lights Out – Mostly everyone is afraid of the dark. In the new horror film Lights Out, it’s about an entity only shows up when the lights go out which leads to a connection to a family. Originally a short film, writer/director David F. Sandberg and producer James Wan (who directed two of the best horror films of the decade—The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2) expand this genuinely creepy into a feature-length film. Be prepared to be leaving your lights on after the movie.

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Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie – This looks far from fabulous. I have no knowledge of the television show. What I’ve seen from the trailer made me cringe. Nothing else to say but just downright embarrassing.

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Don’t Think Twice – Keegan-Michael Key is one of the best comedians working today. Being in the sketch series Key and Peele and recently in one of the funniest movies of the year Keanu, this looks like a poignant and funny film set in NYC about pursuing one’s dreams. I’m looking forward to this one.

July 29

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Nerve (opens July 27) – I’m not a big fan of Emma Roberts or Dave Franco. The concept is intriguing enough; a reality video game of “truth or dare” takes a turn for the worst. Based on a book by Jeanne Ryan, Nerve looks like another standard thriller aimed towards teenagers. The attempts at humor and suspense feel a bit forced.

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Jason Bourne – He’s back! HE’S BACK! It has been almost ten years since Jason Bourne has disappeared without a trace. Now, he wakes up remembering everything from his past. Or does he? Paul Greengrass returns to the director’s chair and, of course, Matt Damon returns as the spy. Joining him are Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, and Julia Stiles reprising her role of Nicky Parsons. It’s rare for a summer blockbuster to feature more practical effects than CGI, which is what Greengrass is known for. As well as the handheld camera work.

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Bad Moms – Three solid actresses—Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Christina Applegate––cannot seem to save, what it looks like to be, an unfunny comedy. The trailer was one of the worst I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m skipping it for sure.

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Indignation – Logan Lerman has a long career ahead of him. Ever since his solid performance in Hoot, he has made a big name of himself in breakthrough roles such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Fury. In Indignation, another Sundance hit, Lerman plays a Jewish boy from New Jersey going to college in Ohio falling in love with his classmate in 1951. While clashing with the Dean, it puts him and his relationship to the test. I adore the old-fashioned feel of this movie. And the emotional tension seems unbearable. I cannot wait!

Recap:

Most Anticipated: The BFG, Café Society, Captain Fantastic, Indignation, Jason Bourne

Least Anticipated: Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, Bad Moms, Cell, Equals, Ghostbusters, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, The Purge: Election Year

I hope you all enjoyed what my thoughts on upcoming movies for July are. Please feel free to leave comments on what you are looking forward to this July. Stay tuned at the end of this month as I give my thoughts on what has yet to come in the month of August. Take care.

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2016 Summer Movie Review: Free State of Jones

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Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) heads into the swamps to change history in Free State of Jones

As a big history nut, I have always loved watching movies about America’s bloodiest war—the Civil War (Gone with the Wind, Glory, Lincoln, to name a few). I have never heard about the story behind Free State of Jones in any of my history classes until I saw a preview of it. There are plenty of beautiful shots in the movie, kudos to director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games). Besides the brutal depictions of the war, he offers too little while showing too much in this overlong, sluggish, preachy Civil War film. Matthew McConaughey gives a lot of charisma in his performance as Newton Knight, who the leads a rebellion (consisting of slaves and farmers) against the Confederate army. With a forgettable supporting cast and redundant plot threads, Free State of Jones had too much potential to be good. It would have been better as an American Experience documentary.

2/4

2016 Summer Movie Review: The Shallows

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Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) goes one-on-one with a great white shark in The Shallows

What a blast!

Jaws set a new standard in shark thrillers and summer blockbusters. Since its release in 1975, it scared generations of moviegoers of going back into the water. Nowadays, there are hardly any good shark movies anymore. Hollywood seems to use the shark as B-movie material, specifically on Syfy (Sharknado). Thankfully, director Jaume Collet-Sera (Orphan, Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night) brings back the much-needed thrills in The Shallows.

Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) has almost completed medical school before dropping out. After the loss of her mother, she goes to a secret beach in Mexico called “Paradise”. She goes surfing with her surfing buddies until a great white shark attacks them. An injured Nancy finds safety on a rock 200 yards from shore. She must get rid of the shark once and for all.

As straight-forward as survival movies get, Collet-Sera brings his skills to good use with The Shallows. With the right amount of white-knuckling tension juxtaposed with the beauty, there are plenty of exquisite overhead shots of the ocean and impressive underwater scenery, particularly in one scene where Nancy tries to swim to the buoy with jellyfish blocking her path. Even though it’s computer-generated, the shark is more realistic than most sharks in movies today. By the end, however, it looks a bit cartoonish during an otherwise thrilling climax.

For the majority of the film, it goes into 127 Hours-mode with the camera focusing on our shark bait. To quote Richard Roeper, “She’s not Blake Lively; she’s Blake DEADLY.” Inspired by her husband Ryan Reynolds, she pulls off the most physical performance of her entire career. Considering her Nancy was about to become a doctor, her skills do come in handy when she helps an injured seagull (one of the film’s most amusing moments). It’s hard to deny her charm and enthusiasm while having to endure so much pain. She’s that good!

Despite the inconsistent tone (Collet-Sera uses slow motion a little too much during the surfing in the first half), The Shallows is the best shark thriller since Jaws. If you’re looking for fun matinee entertainment this summer, this is it.

3/4

2016 Summer Movie Review: Finding Dory

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Dory (long time, no see) gets help from an octopus in Finding Dory

Finding Nemo is certainly one of PIXAR’s best. I will never forget the very first time seeing it in theaters back in 2003. Being blown away by the gorgeous underwater scenery, the loveable characters and their designs, I would go back to revisit it on my VCR (before putting the VHS tape away in the attic) or on television. And loving it more with each viewing. Everybody has been desperately waiting for a sequel featuring Dory. Thirteen years later, it finally swims to the silver screen.

Is it worth the wait? You betcha!

We follow our favorite Blue Tang fish (Ellen DeGeneres) with short-term memory loss who has remembered being separated from her parents—Jenny and Charlie—(Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) when she was very young. Along with the clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolance; replacing Alexander Gould), she sets out on an adventure to find them. Dory goes a little too far out in the open sea, which leads her to be captured and brought to the Marine Life Institute in California. While there, she makes companions with a camouflaged red octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill)—which ranks among PIXAR’s best sidekicks. Together, they try to swim closer to her family while encountering some other animals along the way including two sea lions (Idris Elba and Dominic West), a near-sighted whale shark (Kaitlin Olson), a beluga whale (Ty Burrell) and some of the cutest baby otters I’ve ever seen.

The means of having a disability is a tough subject to explore in the film world. When a movie gets it right, it gets it right! This is the case with both Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. Not only is it funny, it also has its heart in the right place (*ahem* The Good Dinosaur). There are some genuinely heart-wrenching moments, but it hardly comes as close as last year’s Inside Out or even its predecessor when it comes to the emotional appeal. Nevertheless, this is one beautifully animated and provides a message both kids and adults will appreciate. One question to ask is what would Dory do? Go see for yourself.

3.5/4

Movie Review: The Conjuring 2

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Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are back for another haunting in James Wan’s sequel to the successful horror film The Conjuring

2013’s The Conjuring is one of the biggest horror films of all-time. Seeing it in theaters on that warm albeit dreary day that July was a breath of fresh air. Not only did it have enough suspense, it had just enough wit and tender moments to keep the film going forward. Being based on the true story of the Warrens investigating a farmhouse in Rhode Island and having limited amount of CGI makes the movie all the more realistic. The Conjuring 2 brings Wan’s magic tricks back with a little extra special effects to the spotlight. This time, he’s going across the Atlantic Ocean.

In 1977, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) go to north London. There, they meet Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor), a single mother of four children—Margaret (Lauren Esposito), Janet (Madison Wolfe), Johnny (Patrick McAuley), and Billy (Benjamin Haigh). They begin to witness some bizarre behavior from the youngest daughter Janet. Her sleepwalking becomes more demonic each night. They help the family get rid of the entity. But, they soon begin to realize there is more to the investigation than there is.

It’s great to see the Warrens back for another investigation. Farmiga and Wilson still own the silver screen leading a solid cast. As before, the movie is more than just fighting the paranormal. It’s about the power of being a couple. Apart from the expected suspense and some of the year’s most terrifying images you will see, Patrick Wilson singing Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is worth the ticket price. It’s rare for a horror sequel to be as excellent as its predecessor. Kudos to Wan and Co. for crafting another creepy yet emotionally driven horror film that will be remembered for years to come.

4/4

Movie Review: The Conjuring

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Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) notices something going bump in the night in James Wan’s 2013 successful horror film The Conjuring.

Horror seems to be getting tiresome nowadays. They rely more on cheap scares and gore instead of an eerie atmosphere. Enter James Wan. Two years after directing the sleeper hit Insidious (made on a $1.5 million budget), he uses his tricks to tell the true story of a haunting in Harrisville, Rhode Island. Seeing The Conjuring two years ago in theaters (and again just recently on DVD), this is what horror movies are all about.

Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are two of the most well-known paranormal investigators in the world. In 1971, before tackling the horrors in Amityville and Southington, Connecticut, they hear about bizarre occurrences in Harrisville witnessed by Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lily Taylor) and their five daughters—Andrea (Shanley Caswell), April (Kyla Deaver), Christine (Joey King), Cindy (Mackenzie Foy), and Nancy (Hayley McFarland). The terror includes the clocks stopping exactly at 3:07 every morning, Carolyn waking up with bruises, and Christine feeling her legs being tugged. The Warrens agree to help the family to get rid of this entity. However, this investigation might require an exorcism.

It’s rare for the MPAA to give a horror movie an R-rating for being scary as hell. Yes, it does have the horror clichés such as a family moving into a house where evil lives and seeing things that nobody else sees. Wan knows how to conjure up each scene—pun intended—with just enough tension and atmosphere with his use of point-of-view shots, brief tracking shots, and little to no CGI whatsoever.

With a good cast, Farmiga and Wilson’s portrayal of the Warrens are the heart and soul of the movie. Lorraine has a gifted power to see what she can only see. In one scene, Carolyn is putting up one of her family photos. Lorraine gets her hand on the frame and sees an image of the family spending the day at the beach. “It’s an insight…it’s like a peek through the curtain into another person’s life,” she says to Carolyn as to wondering how she knew. It’s as if God brought the couple together for a reason, as Lorraine says to her husband.

As surprisingly touching as The Conjuring is, it also has a lot of creepy images. The movie opens up with the 1968 investigation of the Annabelle doll. Even though she’s a Raggedy Ann doll in real life, she’s a ventriloquist doll in the movie (one of James Wan’s horror trademarks since Dead Silence). Two young women keep seeing a message saying “Miss me?” written with a red crayon. It’s impossible not to get shivers sent down your spine. It’s a shame that the scary doll made an appearance in a disappointing spin-off. There’s also a dead body hanging herself on a tree, a maid with her wrists slit (“Look what she made me do.”), and Lorraine making her investigation in the basement. This movie is nothing but good old-fashioned horror; a breath of fresh air. This is a franchise to pay attention to for years.

4/4

2016 Summer Movie Review: The Lobster

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David (Colin Farrell) tries to find love within 45 days in The Lobster

One of the biggest hits from last year’s Cannes Film Festival, The Lobster is as bizarre as it sounds. Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos crafts something unlike your typical 21st century love story. It is a satire about the restrictions of falling in love in a modernized society.

Set in a dystopian near future, it is against the law to be single. David (Colin Farrell) checks into a gorgeous resort where he is asked a series of questions regards to his sexual preferences. While staying there with his brother (who is, in fact, a dog), he must find a mate in 45 days. What happens if he doesn’t make it? He turns into an animal of his choosing. He chooses to be a lobster because, as he puts it, “they live for over a hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives.”

He meets some colorful, off-beat characters including John (Ben Whishaw), who limps, and Robert (John C. Reilly), who has a lisp. It’s not long until David escapes into the woods where he comes across some Loners and their leader (Léa Seydoux). And eventually having an affection for a Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz).

I have never seen anything like The Lobster. Lanthimos allows the audience to think twice about whether love is worth it or not. Through its beautiful and unpleasant scenery, classical music ranging from Beethoven to Benjamin Britten, and character development, it’s almost damn near impossible not to appreciate it. Even though I have no idea how to feel about the film’s final moments, but The Lobster is a film to truly behold. It’s so funny it’s disturbing.

3.5/4