These Dog-Days of summer are a good time to hit the cineplexes. Milk Duds, Goobers, a tub of “buttery” popcorn, and a bottomless iced cold drink, a chaise lounge experience in posh [anti-bedbug] leather seats, and A/C. What more can you ask for? And, unlike most summer Augusts, there’s much to shout about at cineplexes.
The days are long, and some of the best films are short. The studios aren’t waiting for late October roll-out of prestige films. They’re putting them out weekend after weekend – often with three/four openings on a Friday. Some making a big impact at box offices are indies. There’s comedy, drama, romance, murder, Superhero thrills, war-zone chaos, one determined dude on a snowmobile, and a new action goddess.
Oscar-nominee Taylor Sheridan (Deputy Chief David Hale, TVs Sons of Anarchy; Danny Boyd, Veronica Mars) of Hell or High Water fame has sneaked in with the season’s sleeper, crime thriller Wind River, which he wrote. Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner is letter perfect as rough and tumble game tracker of mountain lions and coyotes who prey on livestock on a remote Utah Native American reservation. He’s also no slouch on snowmobiles! Already in the stark winter of their discontent, the poor natives are devastated by a second murder of a young woman, found viciously beaten and raped multiple times. This is not savory going — especially when Renner is called upon to assist urban (Las Vegas via Ft. Lauderdale) FBI Agent Elizabeth Olsen (Captain America: Civil War’s Scarlett Witch). We’ve seen directors handle flashbacks many ways, but Sheridan, no slack when it comes to inventiveness, introduces a new and seamless approach. The estimable Oscar nominee Graham Greene is featured as the girl’s father. In a brief but memorable seduction scene, HOHW’s Gil Birmingham – showing different sides of himself, will have a lot of audience members swooning.
In the U.S., a child goes missing every 40 seconds. You never think it’ll happen to you. Until it does. In Kidnap (Aviron/Di Bonaventura Pictures), when mom, Oscar winner Halle Berry, returning to the big screen after three years, catches a glimpse of the abductors speeding away, she begins a high-speed pursuit across Louisiana highways, byways, and bayous, overcoming obstacle after obstacle. The nappers messed with the wrong mom! TV veteran, 10-year-old Sage Correa delivers a masterful performance during the marathon chase that had to be shot with great care. Pay no attention to the red herons, as they don’t deliver pay dirt. The only delivering is done by indefatigable Halle Berry. The ending is powerful, but, on second thought, it would’ve been interesting to have another motive behind the kidnap other than the crackers out for ransom, that include long-time character actress Chris McGinn – move over (Misery’s) Kathy Bates!
There’s another Man in Black and, alas, he’s not Johnny Cash. The mind of Stephen King has no limits when it comes pulp fiction, but his works have proved to be a mixed bag when brought to the screen. Nikolaj Arcel’s brave attempt to adapt his seven novels and a short story published over 30 years [with homages to Robert Browning, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Sergio Leone] in Dark Tower (Columbia Pictures) falls into that category. It’s a box office champ, but no critics’ darling. However, who needs critics? Idris Elba is the last gunfighter in an alternate land out to keep the world from colliding; and Matthew McConaughey is evil incarnate as the Man in Black, with whom he’s locked in eternal battle.
Oscar winning director/and co-producer Kathryn Bigelow proved her mettle with Best Picture The Hurt Locker, and followed with a Best Picture nomination for Zero Dark Thirty. She and ZDT collaborator Mark Boal know a thing or two about war zones. This one is stateside, 1967 Detroit (Annapurna Pictures/M-G-M), where a police raid and a number of murders set off a literal African-American rebellion that set off a night of turbulence that segued into one of the nation’s largest race riots. The film is docudrama realistic, raw, disturbing, engrossing, brutal. A writer aptly summed it up: “The degree of terror and carnage is so strong that ‘based on a true story’ is too tame to do the film justice.” Not for the faint of heart, and in these Dog-Days of summer, certainly not a date movie. There are lessons that should have been learned and weren’t. John Boyega, John Krasinski, Jacob Latimore, Anthony Mackie, Will Poulter, and Algee Smith headline a huge cast.
Director Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (Warner Bros.), a sweeping 70-mm IMAX epic [with the help of CGI] restaging of the 1940 evacuation of more than 300,000 Allied troops [French, British, Belgian, Dutch] in fast retreat from the Western Front at Dunkerque, France. Penned in by the Germans, they’re stranded due to a lack of transport. Fionn Whitehead, in a near silent role, delivers a shattering performance. There’s also Sir Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and, in his acting debut, Harry Styles. Except for Branagh, you may find it hard to spot the others. Olivier, BAFTA, Oscar, and Tony winner Mark Rylance gives a solid performance helming his boat, which joins the civilian watercraft armada aiding the rescue. Though you never see blood, the gore as Germans strafe and use their U-boats in unconscionable torpedo attacks is harrowing– but something’s missing. At 1:45, they’re no humanizing back stories to motivate audiences to care instead of just being blown away. The Dunkirk headlines were instrumental in getting FDR to aid the U.K. to avoid a conditional surrender to Germany.
How does a sweet gal with the name Lorraine become a bad-ass spy? In Atomic Blonde (Focus Features), adapted by Kurt Johnstad from Anthony Johnston’s graphic novel series The Coldest City, illustrated by Sam Hart, Charlize Theron is an agent sent to walled Berlin to retrieve a list of spies destined to fall into the hands of Russia for Britain’s MI6 military intelligence group. It seems like a set-up because she’s a marked woman upon arrival; but like Berry in Kidnap, Lorraine isn’t to be messed with. With almost 90% of the 115 minutes so bloated with mortal combat, karate chops, all manner of guns, and objects for body blows, it begins to get monotonous, sometimes ridiculous, and lacks a core. The story gets muddled with the intro of a lesbian [it appears] French spy, played by Sofia Boutella – but it also gets rather steamy. Numerous flashbacks don’t help the film’s coherence. That said, Theron is, indeed atomic as a spy who doesn’t know when to come in from the cold. Kudos to director and veteran stunt coordinator David Leitch (John Wick), fight coordinator Jon Valera, and crew. Without their precision choreography, bloodied, bruised Theron and cast mates wouldn’t have come out of this alive. James McAvoy co-stars. John Goodman and Toby Jones are featured.
There’s nothing sanitized about the raucous, crass R-rated comedy about female friends bonding, nonetheless is non-stop hilarious [and probably would be just as hilarious with less F-bomb raunch and sexual innuendos and more creative expletives], Girls Trip (Universal), made for $20-mill, rolled in out of the blue and has swept up $86-mill. In addition to stellar performances by Regina Hall and tiny dynamo Jada Pinkett Smith, brilliant comic Tiffany “Shake it ‘til it brakes” Haddish, better known to TV audiences, has had the big-screen break-out role of the year; and the gals have found a new crush in former Off Broadway actor and now hunk Mike “The Arm” Colter (who’s been gym-pumping since his Good Wife Lemond Bishop days).
It’s been a good summer for superheroes. In Spider-Man: Homecoming (Columbia Pictures/Marvel Studios), director Jon Watts does a high dive, forgets the past, and begins anew. Tom Holland (Lost City of Z) soars to new heights in the third reboot of the webby franchise by not taking himself seriously and being adept at slapstick. He’s superbly abetted by Oscar winner Michael Keaton’s intense menace– some of the film’s best moments are when Fresh-faced kid v Grizzled villain, and guest star Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Peter Parker wasn’t alone waking up to the full potential of power. In Wonder Woman [Warner Bros.] Gal Gadot (a prime asset of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) spectacularly segues with gusto from princess of the Amazons to discover her true destiny as guardian of the world. With global grosses in the multimillions, it’s no wonder sequels are in the pipeline.
Ellis Nassour is an Ole Miss alum and noted arts journalist and author who recently donated an ever-growing exhibition of performing arts history to the University of Mississippi. He is the author of the best-selling Patsy Cline biography, Honky Tonk Angel, as well as the hit musical revue, Always, Patsy Cline. He can be reached at ENassour@aol.com.HERE!