The summer season is always hit and miss. There are a few gemstones, some fun entertainment, and some better suited for idle viewing.
I use a 5-finger rating system, with a high-five going to those rare films that are a true treat to watch. Films rated four fingers are excellent and well worth paying to see. Three is mediocre, two is not good, and a film that would rate one finger — a visual image too grim to mention — is instead awarded a zero, The Dreaded Fist of Badness.
Five this month score a high-five, with just one — a putrid film titled The Overnight — earning The Dreaded Fist of Badness.
Feel free to let me know if you have an opinion on any shared below. While half the fun of seeing a movie is disappearing within its story, the best part comes from swapping opinions. I am always happy to hear from your take — for better or worse, agree or disagree — on films you have happened to see.
Here we go:
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – 3 fingers. An awkward high school senior is badgered by his mother into keeping company with a classmate stricken with leukemia in this melancholy story of an uncontrollable sorrow that is boosted by a wonderful breakout performance by 21-year-old British actress Olivia Cooke.
The Overnight — 0 fingers, the Dreaded Fist of Badness. This alleged comedy about bored marriage bisexual curiosity with a butthole fixation is funny only to the writer/director who – for some Godforsaken reason unknown to man and woman – thought the world needed to suffer through what is truly a totally worthless film.
Inside Out – 5 fingers. This sensational Oscar-worthy family film from Pixar’s animation team is fresh, clever, smart, beautifully made, and fun for all ages.
Testament of Youth – 4 fingers. Alicia Vikander is absolutely outstanding in this British period drama about the devastating impact of suffering and loss for a headstrong young woman forced to mature quickly during the grim tragedy of World War I.
Amy – 5 fingers. This Oscar worthy documentary about British blues singer Amy Winehouse’s rise from an anonymous suburban London open-mike local to tragic world superstar unable to cope – dragged down into hell by the clutches of too many bloodsucking human leeches – is crafted from start to finish to be an interesting, revealing, chronologically smart, and professionally and respectfully homage that lays bare this wonderful chanteuses’ tragic demise at the age of 27.
Paper Towns – 2 fingers. This high school senior year coming-of-age relationship movie motors along in second gear from start to finish, never grabbing the audience the way good melancholy films tend to do.
Trainwreck – 4 fingers. Bill Hader and Amy Schumer work really well together in this role-reversal relationship send-up comedy that is wonderfully spiced by a series of fun cameos, including an entertaining supporting performance by basketball superstar LeBron James.
Ant-Man – 4 fingers. Paul Rudd headlines a fun cast that delivers the goods in this surprisingly well-written and thoroughly entertaining comic book adaptation about a fellow who can shrink down when he needs to in order to right the wrongs of evil.
Cartel Land – 4 fingers. This grim documentary about the war between Mexican cartel warlords and the innocent citizens living in Michoacán – the story’s Ground Zero – shoves a respectful but bitterly harsh dose of reality down the viewer’s throat as the hopes of doing the right thing collide head on with money, power, and drug-powered political influence.
Southpaw – 2 fingers. Despite lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal’s customary fine performance, this time as an uneducated and emotionally bankrupt boxer who loses it all, the film’s plot develops haphazardly; and, lacking anything new or giving us a reason to emotionally engage, fails to pull us in or make us care.
Vacation – 3 fingers. Ed Helms carries this surprisingly funny, albeit banal, sophomoric, and sometimes crass remake of the former Chevy Chase classic family comedy about a stumblebum father determined to foster family unity by driving them on a circuitous cross country trek from Chicago to Walley World, a southern California amusement park he is hell-bent they visit.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. 4 fingers. Tom Cruise showcases why he is by far the world’s best action picture star in this fun, entertaining, and very well made roller-coaster of excitement as Ethan Hunt, a determined special agent who travels the world to take down a secret crime syndicate in this guaranteed fun night out.
The Gift – 5 fingers. Thanks largely to the perfect pairing of male and female leads – Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall – this taught emotional head games thriller unfolds with a perfect pace that builds toward a perfect, poetic climax.
Shaun the Sheep – 5 fingers. This laugh out loud animated family comedy about a herd of sheep that sneak off the farm and into the big city to look for their farmer eschews dialogue but is beautifully crafted and fun for all ages.
Listen to Me Marlon – 4 fingers. This carefully crafted biopic takes full advantage of hundreds of hours of personally recorded musings to reveal the shrouded soul of one of America’s greatest actors – the late, iconic dramatist Marlon Brando.
Straight Outta Compton – 4 fingers. This visceral, hard-hitting drama about the rise of legendary rappers N.W.A. from the repressed Los Angeles ghetto Compton is an outstanding film highlighted by a terrific breakout performance from Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre.
The End of the Tour – 4 fingers. A great script and an Oscar-worthy lead actor performance by Jason Segel as a haunted writer who is shadowed on the last stop of his bestseller’s book tour (by Rolling Stone writer Jesse Eisenberg) carry this quiet film that will appeal more to thinkers and moviephiles than action-seeking filmgoers.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – 2 fingers. Only fine work from the always sensational Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki as the female protagonist and antagonist save director Guy Ritchie’s meandering and choppily edited remake of the 1960s TV series from complete disaster.
Mistress America – 3 fingers. A so-so effort in a film that just as easily could have been called “Frances Ha with A Younger Sister” wastes Greta Gerwig, who labors under a mediocre script she co-write with director/boyfriend Noah Baumbach, whose lazy cinematic camera angles and sophomoric editing are annoying to say the least.
The Diary of A Teenage Girl – 5 fingers. This grim coming-of-age story about the deflowering of a mixed up 15-year-old girl in 1976 San Francisco will make some uncomfortable but its terrific cast, strong writing, and clever filmmaking make it Diary of the best and brightest surprises of the summer film season.
Phoenix – 4 fingers. This gritty World War II period drama about a German woman terribly disfigured while in a concentration camp who, after release, goes unrecognized by her scheming husband and turns the tables on him is a fine film if you can suspend the belief that a husband would not recognize his wife by her voice, figure, or mannerisms.
A Walk in the Woods – 2 fingers. Nick Nolte saves Robert Redford in this blah-blah milquetoast effort about two old codgers who decide to walk the Appalachian Trail.
Ricki and the Flash – 3 fingers. The trailers for this film about a runaway mother who chased her dream of rock stardom with a butterfly net at the expense of her marriage and children are the highlights of this bar band ensemble story that stars Meryl Streep and showcases her daughter – Mamie Gummer – in a fun supporting role.
That’s it for now. Enjoy the rest of the summer and I hope to see you at the movies.
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