Since we didn’t run a column last month, due to the extraordinary Orlando issue Drunk Monkeys put out (which you should go and read, like now, if you haven’t), we’re going to try and get caught up a little. 2016 has been a more or less unhappy season at the movies, so let’s finish up there, see what else we can talk about, if I run out of 2016 movies, and move on. As verbose as I can be, I’m going to try my best to run through ten movies for this edition, rather than the usual five.
We’ll try to move quickly.
Also: Keep in mind that I haven’t seen everything I wanted to see this summer. At some point, I’ll hopefully get around to films like Sausage Party, The Lobster, and Kubo and the Two Strings.
Ghostbusters (2016): C+
Ghostbusters apparently bombed hard at the global box office. That’s honestly a goddamned shame. It’s a better-than-average reboot. The story gets a little muddled, in desperation to tell a unique story, maintain the spirit of the original film, and cram in as many cameos as possible. The ghosts lack a little imagination, as well. Still, the first (and sadly, quite possibly, the last) chapter in this all-female revamp is way too much fun to simply dwell on the weak points. Leslie Jones establishes herself as the kind of comedic actress who makes a good thing even better. It also makes an awful lot of sense that so many people are now looking to Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann as crush material. Why not? She’s a badass. She’s brilliant. She is also just one element of the 2016 Ghostbusters greatest strength. In the same sense that the original film got away with a lot, simply because it boasted an amazing cast of comedic superstars, Ghostbusters offers its own take on that essential centerpiece. If nothing else, it is a chance to watch formidable comedic chemistry amongst some of the funniest people on the planet.
Suicide Squad (2016): F-
Once again, D.C. Comics and Warner Bros have managed to botch a sure thing. Suicide Squad has everything in its corner. David Ayer is a good director. It stands to reason that he is going to get even better. This is quite possibly the best period in recent history to tell an anti-hero story that a large sect of the movie-watching population can get behind. Then you have the cast, which includes Will Smith, Viola Davis, cameos from at least a couple of D.C.’s more famous properties, Margot Robbie, and Jared Leto (other people are pretty fond of him). How can you screw that up? Suicide Squad proves its do-able. The writing, editing, and most of the performances stroll merrily past being merely shitty, and settle miles deep into the territory of making you swear that someone is actually fucking with you. No one could make a movie so unhappy and incoherent.
But guess what? They did!
Star Trek Beyond (2016): B-
Hey, Trekkies/Trekkers/ghosts named Gene: Did you turn into a self-righteous, petulant child, when you saw that first trailer for Star Trek Beyond? I sure did. Thankfully, it seems like there might still be hope for me. I was wrong about Star Trek Beyond in every possible sense. I expected an even more depressing, hollow event than Star Trek into Darkness. What I got instead was the best script and story of the new films (co-written by Simon Pegg), a sense of fun that was seriously lacking in the previous chapter, and secondary characters/villains who actually seemed to contribute something worthwhile to the proceedings. Star Trek Beyond gives every character a chance to shine, across the surprisingly robust landscape of a story that really only falters slightly at the end.
Star Trek Beyond also offers a wonderful final performance from Anton Yelchin. His take on Pavel Chekov was one of the highlights of this reboot/alternative universe. His on-screen time here makes Beyond one of the best Star Trek movies in a long while. It’s also a bittersweet affair.
Everybody Wants Some!! (2016): B+
The latest from Richard Linklater doesn’t offer anything new. It doesn’t really aspire to either. Something of a spiritual sequel to Linklater’s 2014 award season darling (although each film features completely differing stories and characters), Everybody Wants Some!! is another nostalgia-steeped character study from the writer and director of Dazed and Confused, Bernie, and Slacker. It wanders around the story and characters a little more than usual, which is impressive for a man who has directed a trilogy of romantic films featuring two characters who generally do little more than walk and talk with one another. It isn’t a bad thing. Linklater has always had a knack for characters who are engaging. Blake Jenner as Jake Bradford isn’t exactly a masterwork in complexity, but the 1980 Texas college setting provides ample room for Bradford and the rest of Everybody Wants Some’ cast to charm us into sticking it out for the ride. Flawless casting, a simple, effective story, and good, varied performances further Linklater’s reputation for taking us back in the most sublime, pleasing fashion possible.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016): C-
To be honest, I don’t really get the lovelorn memories of the original run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even in the thick of a childhood that lived and breathed everything TMNT, I thought the movies were a little dumb. The recent round of Turtle power flicks from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes company is quite frankly just as dumb as the last five movies we’ve gotten from this franchise. I’m still willing to admit that I enjoyed the character designs, the voice acting, and even some of the action sequences. Director Dave Green has experience with derivative works that are nonetheless well-made (Earth to Echo). He sticks to the basics, and we get something that your kids are probably going to like. You might even get through the movie, as well.
If you are a diehard Turtles fan yourself, and you find yourself wishing the movies your kids like could be as good as the ones you enjoyed, stop it. They are. Calm down. Try to enjoy this ridiculous, largely mediocre film that’s smart enough to play it completely safe with the people who publicly, or perhaps secretly, pay to see this type of vapid cinema over and over again.
Keanu (2016): A-
I don’t care what kind of side eye you give me. For action and fits of laughter so intense, they actually constrict healthy blood flow, Keanu is going to be somewhere near the top of my list for the best movies of 2016. Being a Key & Peele fan pretty much ensures you’re going to love this story of two men (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) going on a quest to reclaim a kitten, adopted and named by Peele’s character. The plot exists for no other reason than to keep things moving along for one of the best comedy duos working today. Fine by me, when the comedic chemistry between the principles is so absolutely flawless, and particularly when the movie manages to maintain its absurd tone and energy from beginning to end.
Jason Bourne (2016): C-
As far as sequels no one really asked for are concerned, Jason Bourne really isn’t all that bad. While unremarkable in every imaginable sense of the word, it can still be a worthwhile trip for those who have been desperate to see what Matt Damon’s super soldier has been up to. Apparently, nothing worth getting really excited about. There is a plot, but it’s more or less an afterthought. Jason Bourne is the dullest entry in the franchise, but it’s ultimately still okay. A solid motorcycle chase sequence, good performances from reliable types like Tommy Lee Jones, and a satisfying-enough ending will provide you with some solid, forgettable filler. Sadly, with few exceptions, you could use that last sentence to describe 2016 summer movies in a nutshell.
The Brothers Grimsby (2016): D-
Desperation can be tragic, ugly, or just straightforward pathetic. The brand of desperation Sacha Baron Cohen subscribes to in The Brothers Grimsby is a wretched, magnificently unfunny combination of the last two of those three possibilities. I can’t even imagine heavyweight fans of Da Ali G Show, Borat, or Brüno enjoying this. Cohen, who has been exceptional in other people’s movies (Hugo and Sweeney Todd are good examples), should be barred from ever writing another film. The Brothers Grimsby is the comedy of a man who has completely overstayed his welcome. A long break probably wouldn’t do any good, but it’s worth a try.
Is there anything to be enjoyed in this story of long-separated brothers from wildly different backgrounds being reunited? Mark Strong and Rebel Wilson provide brief moments that might get a chuckle from your battered spirit. They deserve better than this dog-shit-wrapped-in-Christmas-lights spectacular. Same goes for Ian McShane, Penélope Cruz, and even Isla Fisher.
Yeah, even Sacha Baron Cohen, who co-wrote this unforgivable mess, is capable of more than a shock value festival that just leaves you feeling sorry for everyone.
The Secret Life of Pets (2016): D+
Your kids will probably dig Dreamworks’ The Secret Life of Pets. That’s fine. In the end, I don’t think a thirty-one-year-old childless man is a key figure in the demographics Dreamworks aspires to. Even so, if you’re like me, and you don’t let a little thing like the target audience stop you from enjoying something, prepare yourself to be disappointed. This ensemble comedy about what our pets apparently get up to, while we’re out enjoying momentary diversions from the grave, has a flat story, dull characters who occasionally rise to just being annoying, and long periods that are more likely to make you sleepy, than illicit something along the lines of a laugh or smile. Louis C.K., Jenny Slate, and Albert Brooks all deliver voice-acting performances that almost salvage things. Almost. As nice as it is to have Dana Carvey back in a major motion picture (his scenes as Pops, an old basset hound, are amongst the few shining moments), The Secret Life of Pets might be the most disappointing Dreamworks movie of all time. Fans of the studio deserve more than this.
The Secret Life of Pets isn’t for me. That’s cool, and I mean that. I was still hoping it wouldn’t suck.
Finding Dory (2016): B+
Hold on. Just wait a second. Before you put me in that obnoxious group of assholes who thinks the world of western animation features begins and ends with Pixar, let’s go over a couple of things. Mainly, let me state for the record that in my opinion, Pixar revisiting beloved characters has been a pretty mixed bag so far. The Toy Story sequels were great. Cars 2 left me wondering if I would ever again know joy. Monsters University wasn’t bad. I think I even put it on my top 10 movies for that year. It was still an inferior follow-up to one of my favorite animated films of all-time.
I also think comparing Pixar to Dreamworks is asinine. Why bother? It’s unfair to two studios that take two distinct approaches to animated feature filmmaking. Each studio has their share of good movies and bad ones.
Keeping all of that in mind, Finding Dory has completely restored my faith in Pixar’s ability to make follow-ups worthy of their predecessors. Beyond the fact that I’m pretty sure Ellen DeGeneres is infallible as Dory, the movie finds more than enough room for new characters (Ed O’Neil as a cantankerous octopus is quite frankly my favorite thing in the whole film), old favorites (Hey, Netflix, when are you going to give Albert Brooks a show?), and a story that maintains a nice, steady momentum. Nothing extraordinary here. Pixar simply offers a sequel that actually meets the expectations of people who have been waiting over a decade to return to these characters. When you get to the absolutely brutal shots the film takes at SeaWorld and its vile ilk, think of Finding Dory’s unapologetic depiction of these useless facilities as a perk. Finding Dory has a lot of appealing little moments like that. It doesn’t rely solely on the first film’s winning formula, which is always a pretty great achievement for a sequel.