Booksmart” has a lot going for it. It’s the centerpiece high school comedy of 2019, and it represents modern times well despite fitting firmly into the genre. But perhaps we use the word “comedy” too automatically in stories about high school graduation and teenage romance, because “Booksmart” isn’t all that funny. Really, this film is about best friends – Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, who resembles Robin Tunney at that age) and Molly (Jonah Hill’s sister Beanie Feldstein) – and that part is fine. But director Olivia Wilde’s debut never connects on a big or gut-busting moment. It’s too low-key and casual, regardless of what genre label we put on it.
By accident, I’m the target audience for the theatrical re-release of “Midsommar.” It was one of the summer movies I was most looking forward to, but it was in and out of theaters in a tiny window, so I missed it. But I didn’t want to wait till Oct. 8 for the home video release. Probably the real impetus for the re-release, which is a director’s cut nearly as long as “Avengers: Endgame,” is to give horror nerds a chance to further soak up the latest artistic, moody masterpiece from writer-director Ari Aster (“Hereditary”).
Two of Peter’s classmates have a whirlwind romance on a school field trip. Nick Fury is grumpy about his calls going to voicemail. And to Peter’s consternation, Happy and Aunt Mae are flirting. “Spider-Man: Far From Home” flips the cliché of a blockbuster where we marvel at the action sequences and yawn at everything in between. My mind did wander at times during the film, but it was during the bravura special effects – because we live in an age where everything that makes it to theaters has bravura special effects.
You know what kind of movie “Always Be My Maybe” (Netflix) is, and the people who made it know what kind of movie it is, but that shared knowledge works in its favor. In this tale of two childhood besties who are soul mates but don’t realize it, Ali Wong and especially Randall Park give the types of performances where they know they’re in a movie but they let it all flow over them, from the clichés to the plentiful moments of at least mild inspiration.
Writer-director Jordan Peele’s “Us” reminds me of Alex Garland’s “Annihilation” (2018). Both are followups to a breakthrough piece of chilling sci-fi/horror that I and everybody else loved – “Get Out” (2017) in Peele’s case and “Ex Machina” (2015) in Garland’s. And in both cases, in my opinion, these followup efforts fall flat. Why? Well, it’s impossible to get into a filmmaker’s head. I’m tempted to say the filmmaker is aware of the expectation that he craft high art, and he tries too hard. That’s probably a case of me conflating my expectations with Peele’s – who is simply telling the stories he wants to tell — but I can’t deny that I found “Us” to be unengaging, overlong and even boring.
(For Summer’s positive and spoiler-light review of “Us,” click here.)
The Perfection” (Netflix) has one of those trailers that seems to give away the whole movie, so after making the mistake of watching the trailer, I let it fade from my mind a bit before watching the film. As it turns out, this horror thriller from director/co-writer Richard Shepard – who has a lot of credits but not many “wow” credits before this – is only partly like the trailer suggests. “The Perfection” so smoothly toys with and contradicts our narrative expectations that I wonder why more movies don’t use this tactic.
It’s accurate to call “Happy Death Day 2U” a dumb movie, and accurate to call it a smart movie. It seems as if Blumhouse studio asked writer-director Christopher Landon (who also directed the 2017 original, from Scott Lobdell’s screenplay) to go hog-wild building on the premise from the first entry, and Landon does just that. This sequel isn’t nearly as much of a straight rehash as the horrible trailers suggest.
The first two chapters of the “John Wick” saga — in addition to somehow making top-shelf entertainment out of a suit-wearing, dog-loving dude gun-fu-ing his way through baddies like he’s in a live-action video game — do some of the best world-building of any original franchise this decade. At the end of “Chapter 2,” John Wick (Keanu Reeves) breaks a cardinal rule of this oddly formal crime underworld by killing someone on the grounds of New York’s Continental hotel. Thus in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” every assassin who loves money (all of them, in other words) aims to kill Wick and collect the $14 million bounty. Continental boss Winston (Ian McShane) gives Wick 50-50 odds of surviving.
Writer-director Jordan Peele’s latest horror offering, “Us” – which hits digital June 4 and disc June 18 — opens on a seemingly endless wall of caged rabbits, a promise of future symbolism. The slow and agonizing zooming out and the screeching music, driven by a chorus from hell, invokes an anxiety I haven’t felt in a long time. I felt this fear in snippets throughout the movie, although the pinnacle of the horror is the beginning. Despite this — and the surprising mixing of genre signals — I thoroughly enjoyed Peele’s followup to the 2017 classic “Get Out.”
Fighting with My Family” doesn’t redefine the sports biopic genre, which in a way is too bad because professional wrestling is such an unusual thing, sitting on the border between athletics and entertainment. It might be fascinating to dig further into the mechanisms of how participants – and ultimately, champions — are chosen and how their narratives are written. As it stands, “Fighting” is a standard biopic in structure, but the story of Paige is so genuinely inspiring, and actress Florence Pugh (“The Little Drummer Girl”) is such a natural star, that the film is totally engaging.