After the world being upside down for over a year, this past summer saw a slight return to normalcy. Instead of being hunkered down in our houses, we were able to venture outside and socialize (with a few restrictions here and there). One of the best social activities that was lost during the pandemic was seeing a movie in the cinema. It’s a communal experience that can’t be matched, even with the best technology available for in-home entertainment. But there were also several films on streaming platforms for those that didn’t venture out.
Some films even combined the best of both worlds by releasing simultaneously in theaters and online, a move illustrating the seismic effect the pandemic has had on how we consume entertainment. Listed below are my thoughts on the new films I was able to see over the summer break.
“Army of the Dead” (1/5)
With enough material to cover a quarter of its 148-minute runtime, “Army of the Dead” is a painful example of the subjectivity of filmmaking. Even with dialogue and entire sequences ripped straight from “Aliens,” Zack Snyder’s film can’t produce even an ounce of the gory thrills that Cameron delivered in 1986. The story is predictable and uninteresting with Snyder forgetting about it from time to time as he crams in a litany of poorly judged needle drops. How can a heist movie with a zombie tiger be so boring?!?!
And how can a movie with a $100 million budget look so ugly? Filmed with cameras he bought off eBay (true story), Snyder’s soft cinematography is an absolute eyesore as you constantly strain to make out what’s happening within the blurry shallowness that is the frame. I’ve seen clearer quality on a Fisher-Price camera.
“Black Widow” (2.5/5)
I would never label a Marvel film as “uninteresting” (except for the first two “Thor” installments) but this needless chapter gets close.
While the MCU has never revolutionized the wheel in terms of storytelling, there at least has always been a sense of discovery and progression. “Black Widow” only spins its wheels doling out the same tired formula that has continually plagued the solo installments of the ever-expanding universe.
Director Cate Shortland embraces the spy genre but doesn’t offer anything interesting with the unlimited budget and talent at her disposal, with her greatest sin being the absolute wasting of Ray Winstone as one of the most pathetic MCU villains (already a low bar to begin with).
Fortunately, the introduction of Florence Pugh as Yelena offers some semblance of hope in this new age of heroes.
“The Suicide Squad” (3/5)
Jumping ship from Marvel to DC, James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad” is a much more cohesive enjoyable film compared to David Ayer’s 2016 version. There’s a lot to respect here as Warner Brothers seem to slowly be learning their lesson and letting filmmakers do what they were hired to do. Apart from just adding the “the” in the title, Gunn takes a celebratory stance towards the craziness of this concept where supervillains are tasked with performing missions for the U.S. government in return for not having their heads blown off.
Gunn still shoots a low percentage with the jokes, many of which are retreaded several times to lesser effect. And the whole thing dissolves into a CGI mess in the third act. Still, this DC property was much more memorable than what Marvel was able to offer.
“In the Heights” (3/5)
The first fifteen minutes of “In the Heights” is right up there with “Another Day of Sun” from “La La Land” and the prologue from “West Side Story” as one of the all-time best openings to a musical. Jon M. Chu shows off major directing chops in the song-and-dance sequences, pairing his kinetic style with the colorful vibrancy of the setting and characters. He treats this film as a celebration, creating several moments of movie magic.
But even with the talent of Chu and his cast, “In the Heights” can’t reach the heights (sorry, the pun was too easy) of the musicals mentioned earlier. Much of that problem comes from the source material itself, which places too many characters within the narrative and doesn’t provide enough depth to create a genuine connection. The characters of Benny, Nina, and Sonny are those that come to mind, with Benny and Nina’s romance lacking the passion one would expect.
“The Green Knight” (3.5/5)
Combining the mythological deconstruction of “The Old Man & the Gun” and the meditative pacing of “A Ghost Story,” David Lowery’s “The Green Knight” is both a modern update and classical homage to the tale of Sir Gawain.
Lowery’s visual direction reaches new heights as he parades shot after shot of cinematic beauty. The slow pacing allows the visuals and narrative to unfold in their own time, producing a thick atmosphere of brutality and bravery. That pacing also makes for a strenuous viewing experience and a divide between the fantastical and grounded elements of the story. But in the moments those two elements come together, such as the astounding finale, the result is pure magic.