Furious 7 - Yeah, this wasn't technically a summer movie, but it might as well have been. It had a ton of hype and made a huge amount of money... more than many supposed summer blockbusters like Tomorrowland, Ted 2 and Fantastic Four. Part of the hype was, of course, that this was the late Paul Walker's final film and that the final version of Furious 7 had to be redone after his untimely death while shooting the movie. So the plot is sees the gang avenging the death of one of their own at the hands of the terrorist brother of the previous film's villain. (Big props, by the way, to Luke Evans for getting done up in lots of burn make-up only to appear comatose in the film for maybe ten seconds. That's a team player!)
Jason Statham plays the main baddie, a pretty high profile name for this franchise. He had one of the most bad ass pimp introduction. You see him vowing to his comatose brother to get revenge on his behalf, then tells a doctor and nurse hiding in the corner of the room to take good care of him. Then, Statham proceeds to nonchalantly leave the hospital, revealing the reversed trail of the numerous dead bodies of police and security as well as property damage that he caused getting to see his brother. I was also happy to see Tony Jaa on film again. Oh, and since Gina Carano had a fight sequence against Michelle Rodriguez, Ronda Rousey had to have one too I guess. And like against Carano, I don't think Rodriguez could take Rousey either. That said, Michelle Rodriguez is a bad ass that I'm sure could kick my ass.
Did you like the last installment of the Fast and the Furious franchise, or the one before that, or the one before that? Then you will probably like this one too. It's big, loud and dumb, but it is a lot of fun to watch, full of the usual stunts and action you come to expect from Dominic Toretto, Brian O'Conner and company. Just know that the ending will probably make you cry... seriously. It's a perfect send off to Paul Walker and you better bring tissues.
Ex Machina - Another movie that wasn't released in the summer, but this one at least gained a following for a few months which led to more theaters showing it and ultimately my seeing Ex Machina sometime in May. I already reviewed this movie here, so I won't ramble on too much about it. This was a great science fiction film and in today's world of over the top sci-fi films (Jurassic World, Prometheus, etc.) a bit of a rarity in that it was somewhat lower budget with a very small cast. Also, Ex Machina was a thriller that moved at a gradually accelerating pace, always keeping the viewer guessing at what was really going on from what tiny pieces of the puzzle you are given.
The story in a nutshell is a low level employee of a technological corporation gets the oppurtunity to test the CEO's secret project... to determine how human his android creation truly is. The main cast is great, three of Hollywood's fastest rising stars in Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander. The special effects were pretty amazing, creating realistic looking synthetic humans, blending artificial parts with human looking features. I highly recommend this film for any lovers of real science fiction, not just blockbusters or reboots or adaptations, but of unique, thought provoking films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Altered States and Metropolis (which Ex Machina, like much of sci-fi cinema, owes a huge debt).
Avengers: Age of Ultron - The first real installment for the summer movie season, I also already did a write up for the movie that you can see here. Therefore, I don't have much to add that I didn't already say, except that the longer that time has passed since I saw Avengers 2, the less I like it. It's not a bad movie, but it has a lot of flaws. I get the idea that Ultron was basically an extended personality of Tony Stark and therefore James Spader was more or less doing a Robert Downey Jr. impersonation. It's just that the Ultron I know and love from the comics was not an impression. It was a soulless, cruel killing machine. The Ultron in the movie dicked around too much, making weird decisions like wanting to be more human by, for some reason, designing Vision. His idea of wiping out humans was needlessly complicated and weird.
In the end, I feel the same way about Avengers 2 that I did about Iron Man 3. I didn't hate it, I will probably get it for Christmas, but I'm not excited. When the first Avengers came out, I bought it the day it was released, even though I was on vacation and had to drive an hour to some ghetto Wal-Mart in Delaware (not realizing Ocean City, Maryland has a Wal Mart just off the strip... Oops!). I wanted to show my wife the movie and see it again for myself. Avengers 2 I'm sort of ho-hum about. It also doesn't help that a friend summarized his thoughts on the movie in the most obvious and ruinous way: Tony Stark and Bruce Banner made a bad guy for the Avengers to fight. Yeah... kind of kills it when it's put into that perspective.
Mad Max: Fury Road - Possibly the best movie of the summer. It's the only one I saw twice and loved it just as much the second time as I did the first. The way I described the trailer to people is the same way I describe the movie itself... it's like if The Road Warrior was given a case of Red Bull. Fury Road was insane and just bursting with imagination and absurdly amazing ideas. Why did the War Boys spray their mouths silver before commanding their brethren to "Witness!" their glorious death in battle that will send them to Valhalla! It doesn't matter because it was awesome. The stunts were cool, the bad guys were twisted and amusing (Immortan Joe was epic), Tom Hardy makes for a great Max Rockatansky and Charlize Theron made for a bad ass female protagonist as Imperator Furiosa. Oh, and Holy shit, it was hard to believe that Nicolas Hoult was under that make-up as Nux.
It doesn't seem like Mad Max: Fury Road should have been as good as it was. I never would have thought I would see a highly rated and well reviewed Mad Max film, especially a reboot with a different lead thirty years after the last installment which... well... sucked. (Yes, the fight in the Thunderdome was awesome, but then the movie just kept going after that!) In fact, Jonny Prophet's one sentence review of Fury Road was that "it makes me hate Thunderdome so fucking much." Oh what a day, what a lovely day!
Spy - I did not originally want to see this movie. It didn't seem like something I would like. However, Spy had great reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and it was a slow movie week so, lo and behold, I found myself watching Melissa McCarthy, the world's least likely spy. Truth be told, it wasn't bad. It was a pretty funny movie, had a decent story and a great cast which also included Jude Law, Alison Janney, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannivale and Jason Statham.
Jason Statham, by the way, stole the show for me. He played this hard ass CIA operative that would boast about having done ridiculous and impossible feats such as reattaching his own arm. Of course he was more talk than anything else, but he worked well opposite McCarthy.
It's funny, this is the first movie starring Melissa McCarthy I have seen. I wasn't necessarily opposed to seeing her movies (except Tammy). In fact, I liked her on Gilmore Girls. I find it funny that at an age when most women in Hollywood find it hard to find work, her career is red hot.
So Spy was good, but I wouldn't call it great. It wasn't even the funniest spy movie I have seen this year (that goes to Kingsmen). There are times when it feels a little forced or has a level of contrived cheesiness, usually regarding making a middle aged overweight woman seem like a highly effective bad ass secret agent or how in the end everything works out so well for everyone despite the overwhelming odds against such a thing. That said, it was funny and entertaining, definitely worth the price of admission (matinee as it was).
Jurassic World - The biggest movie of the summer and possibly the year (we'll see what Star Wars has to say about that!) was exactly what I expected. It was a loud, fun, slightly stupid popcorn flick. It was also the best Jurassic Park since the original... though it didn't surpass that one. The magic just wasn't there, the thrill of seeing an island of dinosaurs... twenty years later it seems like old hat. I think the filmmakers knew that and implied such in the film, making a similar statement about patrons no longer being wowed by regular dinosaurs. Thus was the motivation for the creation of the plot device known as Indominus Rex.
Make no mistake, Jurassic World is a science fiction monster movie not unlike the original Alien, Predator or even some kaiju movie like Cloverfield or Godzilla. The film is spent trying to stop the Indominus Rex from slaughtering everyone and everything. Yes, the other Jurassic films had their share of monster movie moments, but in Jurassic World the other dinosaurs were not really threats (except the flying ones, which aren't technically dinosaurs, but I digress).
I have to question why they would even make the Indominus Rex. It's like in the movie Deep Blue Sea when they made the brain capacity of sharks bigger and where shocked when they became smarter and more efficient at killing. Scientists for Jurassic World decided it would be a good idea to combine the genes of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Velociraptor, a whole bunch of other dinosaurs as well as cuttlefish and some sort of tree frog. The end result is a huge intelligent carnivorous dinosaur with horns, functional arms with opposable thumbs, massive claws, the ability to camouflage itself and control it's body temperature. Yeah, nothing bad could possibly happen there.
I also have to question how Jurassic World would have even been funded. Surely everyone had found out about the massacre that occurred right before the original Jurassic Park was set to open. If not, I'm pretty damn sure they heard about a fucking Tyrannosaurus Rex wreaking havoc in San Francisco. I guess you could argue that "when there's money to be made..." of course they would find funding. The question then comes down to the tourists... which is more dominant, the desire to see an actual living dinosaur or the desire not to be eaten by an actual living dinosaur. Strangely, up until the scientists decided to play God, it seemed like Jurassic World actually did have decent control over the animals.
The special effects were good. I heard some grumblings about dinosaurs looking less real than in the original film... they didn't seem that fake looking to me. I really liked the design of the park itself, the interactive displays and rolling ball cars... it seemed appropriately high-tech and made it more plausible that they could actually raise and contain dinosaurs rather than in the original where all they had were fences.
So before I close this review, I want to point out a few tidbits from Jurassic World. Chris Pratt is now an official A-lister super star in Hollywood. Vincent D'Onofrio is absolutely wasted in this movie, but it's still fun seeing him. Finally, the end battle of the Indominus Rex versus the Tyrannosaurus and the Velociraptor was total fan service, like a dinosaur equivalent of The Avengers. Still, dinosaurs running amok make for big, loud, fun movies.
Inside Out - On Rotten Tomatoes I read on of their review snippets that said: "Welcome back Pixar. You've been sorely missed." Truer words were never spoken. To me, Pixar was always a cut above the rest, setting a bar that few could match and seemingly nobody could surpass. I had a feeling that Inside Out was going to be a return to form for Pixar, which as of late had strayed from their usual level of excellence with what I would consider 'Dreamworks level' movies like Brave and Monsters University... in other words decent but nothing special.
Before seeing Inside Out, the premise excited me. Past Pixar films had been able to make amazing stories from eccentric ideas, such as a virtually dialogue free movie about two small robots that fall in love or an elderly widower rediscovering his love of life and adventure after turning his house into makeshift air balloon. The idea of Inside Out exploring the beings representing our emotions that live in our heads seemed right up Pixar's alley.
Inside Out did not disappoint. It was funny, imaginative, touching (yes it made me cry and yes, I have already established before that I'm a sissy... moving on) and like the best Pixar films, it delved into ideas far deeper than what is on the surface. In this case, the film explores what it means to grow up and, much to TivoGirl's revelation, what use there is for sadness. I only hope that The Good Dinosaur is as good as Inside Out... because I don't have a lot of confidence in Finding Dory.
I should have Part 2 of this up soon. Until then, Stay Strange.