By: Daniel Reynolds
Allow me to beat this drum once again, but is it just me or does this summer feel like its host to a particularly dispiriting run of sequels? We’ve had another Captain America movie (good), and another X-Men movie (not so good), and now there’s another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie (what do you think?). I haven’t even mentioned whatever the hell that Huntsman sequel was supposed to be about.
But then, in this age of franchise sequels, what of attempts at something new? If you read Indiewire’s David Ehrlich on Warcraft (of which, more to come; yes, really), you can start to paint a picture at how difficult it is to launch anything — even something with a built in audience! — towards some target of quality. Now, Warcraft is hardly “new”, having been a computer game franchise for over 20 years, but at the very least it’s not a sequel. It is a failure, however. And will likely destroy a lot of careers. Taking risks is not without, well, risk.
So, yes, sequels. You can begin to realize why the summer movie season is, of course, always rife with them. I can’t write a monthly film picks column and just ignore all the noise these films make. I must address them head on. And so I do, and there you are.
Let’s go week by week now. Together.
Winner: Love & Friendship
Your mileage on Whit Stillman may vary. I enjoyed Metropolitan, but could never quite get a handle on The Last Days of Disco or Damsels in Distress. Now we’re looking at a period piece based on the work of Jane Austen starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny, old Whit hands. If you’re into Stillman’s particular brand of erudite word-smithing, this could be your thing. And if you’re into classic literature, this could be your thing. If you’re into Beckinsale movies — ones that don’t involve vampires or Ben Affleck, that is — this could be your thing.
Runner-Up: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Or you could be into Andy Samberg’s take on a Justin Bieber-like pop phenomenon. Life is a rich tapestry is my point.
Winner: Maggie’s Plan
One man’s horror is The Conjuring 2 (also out this week), while another’s is yet one more affected Greta Gerwig performance. Look, I can’t very well go on about Stillman up there and then ignore what may be a charming little romantic comedy film with Gerwig (of Damsels in Distress) and a host of others (Ethan Hawke! Julianne Moore with a weird accent! Bill Hader with weird hair!) You’ve got to pick your battles here. And this one, which spins on a plot of people falling in and out of love, sounds better than the alternative.
I’m.. I’m just kidding with this pick. Let’s talk about it for a second.
For years, it felt like Blizzard’s Warcraft universe, which was very important to me between the ages of 12-18 (along with Starcraft), would be the perfect setting for a movie. Sure, a lot of the main storyline borrows from some familiar tropes, and the names of a lot of its races and characters ring out as generic in a post-Lord of the Rings world, but if you had asked me in my youth about a Warcraft movie, I would have been all about it.
But it’s hard to shake the feeling that Duncan Jones, a talented director, just wasted a few years of his life chasing an impossible dream. Should have just gone with the Thrall storyline from WarCraft III, man!
Winner: Finding Dory
I’m decidedly not in favour of Pixar’s gradual decision to circle back on a bunch of their popular animated properties. Sure, Toy Story 2 and 3 are quite good, and the TS world has a special place in Pixar lore, but it doesn’t excuse the company from going to the sequel well one too many times. Did the world need Cars 2, Monsters University and now this, a sequel to Finding Nemo? Where did we go wrong here?
On the other hand, Pixar is the pinnacle of animation quality, so why not.
Unbeknownst to many, Greece, the country known mostly for myths, nice islands and economic instability, has quite the diligent little film industry going right now. By now you’ve heard about The Lobster — made by its brightest star Yorgos Lanthimos — but now here is another, on a similarly bizarre track. Chevalier, directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari, is about six men who get on a boat to compete against each other to find out who is the best in general. As you can imagine, things get… heated.
Winner: The Neon Demon
OK, let me explain. First, I still stand by Drive. Don’t @ me. Second, I think Nicolas Winding Refn is a compelling kind of weird. Yes, his film’s theses are probably not as brilliant as he thinks they are, his reliance on violence is probably unnecessary and gross, and the blankness of his films’ plots (still trying to figure out what Only God Forgives was supposed to be about) is, let’s say, trying. Third, this one looks different maybe? I’m ready to go.
Runner-Up: Independence Day: Resurgence
Consider this: In the 20 (!) years since Independence Day was released, both Robert Loggia and James Rebhorn have died, Randy Quaid’s sanity has completely imploded, Will Smith has gone on a weird career odyssey that may never be fully explained, and Jeff Goldblum has visited the idea of a role in television. A lot has changed, is my point. Fortunately Judd Hirsch and Vivica A. Fox do not appear to have aged a day. Also, aliens remain an effective — and patriotic — storytelling device for Roland Emmerich (who may also never die). See this if you’re feeling nostalgic, I guess. And brace for more sequels.
June’s Bonus Limited Screening Pick: The Waiting Room
If you spend your days wringing your hands over Canadian film, there are solutions. In this case, take a look at Igor Drljaca’s The Waiting Room. Set in Toronto, Drljaca’s second feature concerns a Sarajevo-born actor named Jasmin (Jasmin Geljo) who has immigrated to Canada to find a new life. Keep in mind, this is post-Yugoslavian civil war. So, while Jasmin would like nothing more than to resume his life as an actor, the horrors of war prove to be hard to repress. It may sound like a rough premise, but I say take a look.