James: So, the 2016 summer movie season is in the history books, but before we officially opt out and focus our attention to the would-be Oscar hopefuls (hello Sully), let’s dive into it the good, the bad and the ugly of Hollywood’s primetime real estate season. Elsewhere (as well as here) many have called summer 2016 pretty terrible as a whole from a tentpole perspective, but what do you think? Was it really that bad?
Rachel: I think it was definitely disappointing in the “summer movie” area – the tentpoles, the big sequels and other studio films that are expected out of summer. There were a few that I did enjoy, and the one that I actually liked the most, in terms of big summer movies, was surprisingly Suicide Squad despite all the flack and contention it received in the media. I thought that the criticism it received, while at times founded based on narrative holes and just general plot shakiness, was over the top. The film, on the whole, was unique, fun, and will define this summer for me in the blockbuster arena.
James: Oy, I still have PSTD on terms of Suicide Squad. The whole ugly production just kind of rubbed me the wrong way from the start. I kept wishing Viola Davis would hijack the movie away from these silly “worst heroes ever” and be done with it. On a blockbuster-y level, I think what surprised me most was just how many of the “big” spectacles I missed (X-Men: Apocalypse, Star Trek Beyond, Independence Day: Resurgence, Jason Bourne) that ordinarily I likely would have sought regardless of critical consensus and expectation. My take away from that is, I don’t really feel much of an urge to revisit any of these movies later on despite my fairly devout sense of cinematic completism. Did you experience this at all this summer?
Rachel: I actually saw all of these aside from Independence Day. You aren’t missing much here, though X-Men was jilted in its cheesy villain and the oversaturation of its new, younger characters. Star Trek Beyond was probably the best of these because it managed to stay true to the heart of the franchise and the legacy of the series. Its only downfall for me was that it felt a little too episodic, like I was watching a long filler episode of Star Trek. And as a Bourne fan, that film was an overall disappointment for me. The only other big film I saw was The Legend of Tarzan, and I thought David Yates actually did a pretty great job with it visually and conceptually. The story was a little bit lacking, but I appreciated his ability to capture the spirit of the character. As for movies like Captain America: Civil War, Now You See Me 2, The BFG, Ben-Hur, Warcraft, Ghostbusters and the like, I stayed home.
James: It says something that I completely forgot about both The Legend of Tarzan (which I missed) and Ghostbusters (which I saw). Of the former, that might be a nice diversion one day when I’m having trouble sleeping. On the latter, the “controversy” that surrounded the film was such a distraction (and a slightly disturbing one at that) that it completely overshadowed the movie’s shallow, minor pleasures (Kate McKinnon should be a movie star, that’s all). But, yeah for the most the part big Hollywood was terribly sleepy this year with, I would argue, two exceptions – one a surprisingly robust animated blockbuster (Finding Dory) and the second, an enchanting, beautifully drawn old-fashioned family film that few appeared to be all too interested in (Pete’s Dragon). Any thoughts on either?
Rachel: I thought Finding Dory was fantastic. I probably like it better than the original, even. It did a great job in balancing the need to pay homage to the first – those characters, storylines, and jokes – while adding so many different new elements, all while keeping with a similar formula. The new additions to the voice cast were incredible, and I particularly loved Kaitlin Olson’s Destiny and her friendly counterpart, Ty Burrell’s Bailey. As for Pete’s Dragon, I enjoyed it a lot, and surprisingly appreciated what the filmmakers did with the 3-D. Overall, it hit me like a reminiscent feel good movie. It’s not one that I will remember for a long time, but I appreciate it for what it is.
James: For me, Pete’s Dragon was the unexpected surprise of the summer. David Lowry (who previously made the very non-family friendly Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) proved a terrific choice for rebooting the strange story of an orphan and his dragon bestie. Expectations certainly play into my reaction here, but there felt such an organic and heartfelt sense of genuine goodness, if that makes sense, here. It’s corny stuff but it never really plays that way. I look at its $70 million domestic take so far and it kind of makes me said. Curiously, Lowry went full Spielberg with Pete’s Dragon and even out-did Spielberg – The BFG being one of his lesser films in many a moon. As for Dory, it’s grosses are amazing and it’s good, it’s really good, but for some reason, while I appreciate the film (and adore the “Sigourney Weaver recurring joke”), it never quite stuck with me. On terms of the the big stuff, is there anything we’re missing? Anything worth highlighting for better or worse?
Rachel: When thinking about summer movies, I kind of write off the comedies, but those played a big role this summer as well – Neighbors 2, Sausage Party, Bad Moms, Popstar. I did see Neighbors 2 and Bad Moms. With those in mind, and based on the fact that I am sure Sausage Party is not for me, I would say that Bad Moms won the comedy trophy this summer. It was a refreshing comedy, a formula we’ve seen before, but the concept and the all-female cast made it feel all the more new. For someone who is not necessarily a big fan of raunch, Bad Moms went there, but I thought it was perfectly written and executed, especially from Kathryn Hahn.
James: Kathryn Hahn is a rock star! You hit Bad Moms right on the money – on premise or innovation, there’s nothing particularly special here, but it’s an effective formula movie with performers who thankfully feel in on the joke from the start. I would argue that Neighbors 2 beats the film on terms of casual progressiveness, but Bad Moms might be funnier of the two when all is said and done. I did, unfortunately, see Sausage Party and can report it wasn’t for me – a one joke premise predicated on your fondness for the F-word – I don’t think I laughed once. However, now that’s pretty much handled the big studio offering of summer 2016, I want to segue onto the art house. I would argue that while the tentpoles were less than this year, the art house featured some truly incredible offerings. Agree or no?
Rachel: One-hundred percent agree. I actually have fond feelings toward this summer of film due to its indie offerings. There are actually so many good ones that I’m not sure where to start, but I suppose I’ll pick a few favorites. My standouts would have to be Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the WIlderpeople, Rebecca Miller’s Maggie’s Plan, and A Bigger Splash. Waititi hit it out of the park with humor and drama all in one creative mixed bag. The film is so simple, yet so genius to me, and it only took him about three weeks to shoot. In my review of Maggie’s Plan, I actually gave it a 3 out of 5, but I saw it again recently and couldn’t believe myself. It hits on the nose in terms of that Woody Allen style New York rom-comedy of manners. Miller along with a stellar cast (Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore, Ethan Hawke) make for a wholly satisfying experience. A Bigger Splash is a story that I could see some people having a hard time palating or getting into, but I loved it if not solely for its visual elements and expert direction from Luca Guadagnino. Another film worth mentioning is The Lobster, a film which I thought was one of the most unique scripts and concepts I have seen in awhile. Although the overall cynicism didn’t fully sit right with me in the end, I definitely count it as a major player this year, let alone this summer.
James: I co-sign on all of the above, though I still have to check out Maggie’s Plan – a fact I’m kind of ashamed of considering my adoration for Gerwig and Moore. Hunt for the Wilderpeople actually kind of makes me excited about an upcoming Marvel movie (Waititi is currently filming Thor: Ragnarok), so that alone is kind of a miracle. A Bigger Splash is one of the most beautiful and alive films I’ve seen in quite some time, as well as probably to sexiest to hit movie screens in years. Though, and I happy you brought it up, The Lobster (while requiring a lot from its audience) is the one 2016 movie I truly adore. It’s a little cynical for sure – and sad, satiric, a perhaps straight up bonkers – but director Yorgos Lanthimos digs into something so special and unique (and undeniably romantic) that gelled with me in such a specific and particular way that I haven’t quite been able to shake it. It felt like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on Prozac, of which I intend as a compliment. However, these films are just the tip of the iceberg considering the wealth of top-drawer indies that released in the last few months – Don’t Think Twice, Indignation, Love & Friendship, Hell or High Water, Captain Fantastic, Little Men, the middle hour of Swiss Army Man, Kristen Stewart in Café Society and The Neon Demon (if you take away the dialogue, plot and much of the acting). Any thoughts on any these films or is there any highlights I failed to include?
Rachel: I actually didn’t see most of these, and am pretty sad about it, but they are on the list. My biggest regret is that I haven’t gone to see Hell or High Water with all of the buzz it has been getting from both audiences and critics. Captain Fantastic is also something I think looked extremely rich in storytelling and character, and right up my alley. You’re pretty right about Stewart in Cafe Society, although I would personally also include Jesse Eisenberg, but I am biased, he is one of my favorite actors. The only other indie I feel a hankering to mention is Morris from America, a film that shook up Sundance, but has definitely fizzled out since. It is a quality coming of age film to add to the recent hits like Dope or Me and Earl and the Dying Girl in terms of tone and look/feel. Seeing the wealth of films just mentioned, and us nearly waxing poetic here, I think this is one of the best summers in recent history for art house and independent film. While that doesn’t translate to the box office necessarily, or at all, hopefully it means good things for where film is going. What do you think?
James: All summer long – actually for decades now – the idea that cinema is dying has been a subject often written about and explored. I’ve always maintained that’s silly hyperbole (and now, dithering clickbait), but while the landscape of cinema continues to evolve (or devolve or whatever), as long as there are filmmakers out there with a point of view or an idea or who come with an interesting place to rest their cameras, movie-making will be fine. Now that summer is over, is there one film you are most looking forward to this fall?
Rachel: I’m going with the obvious answer of the moment – La La Land. I seriously can’t wait for a classic Hollywood musical love story starring two incredible actors and directed by Damien Chazelle, who made Whiplash, my absolute favorite movie of 2014. It honestly sounds like a dream come true and I hope I don’t play it up too much in my mind by the time I actually do see it.
James: Not to be boring, but that’s my pick as well.