TIFF has just announced some of their 2017 lineup so get excited. Still, there’s enough decent fare before then in commercial theatres to tide this fangirl over until then. Here’s my midsummer list of a surprisingly satisfying summer movie season.
A big yes.
Broadway producer Amanda Lipitz has a side hobby: making film shorts about girls education. She and her activist mother were involved in the founding of a charter school, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, and Lipitz was invited to film the school’s step team by one of the group’s young members. Jog ahead a few years and the result is Step, a energetic and moving documentary about adversity and fierce determination.
Lipitz began filming the girls and their “Lethal Ladies” step team in the ninth grade. By the time the students hit their grad year, she had 400 hours of film in the can, now a seamless eighty-three minute doc picked up by Fox Searchlight after the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Lipitz’s intimacy with her subject matter is obvious. You will leave wanting more as these stories, both heartbreaking and hopeful, are immediately compelling as visual narrative. Still, the focus she did settle on (education changes lives) fills the movie with utter joy. Here is a movie about mothers and daughters that never loses respect for either, a rare bloom among a field of weeds.
Do feel free to stand up and cheer by the end as we did in a special TIFF preview earlier this month. Do feel free to tell every educator you know to screen it in their schools.
Girl Trip is gathering steam, and if the theatre I saw it in is any indication, word of mouth from audiences in hysterics will carry it far. As outrageous as it is raunchy, the story here is all about the sisterhood, a weekend away, and a heap of comic energy delivered in just enough time to save any groans from clichés and souped-up sentiment. Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah are the quartet heading to New Orleans where hijinks and dramatic confrontations, including one that has changed my mind forever about grapefruit, have guaranteed these talents as summer’s boldest box office babes. I giggled and guffawed along with everyone else and want these ladies to shock the guests at my next dinner party. Anything that makes me laugh (and cringe) that hard wins a place on my list, even if the comedy is crass. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. It doesn’t move Bridesmaids off the top of my list but it’s a very close cousin, but for a few moments I just didn’t buy.
Don’t take your mother. Do take the posse you brought to STEP and cheer just as loudly here for kick-ass chemistry and guaranteed fun.
The Big Sick
If your film choices wander towards the romance frontier, please don’t skip The Big Sick. Starring and co-written by Kumail Nunjiani, this film centres on the star’s own love story with his offscreen wife, Emily V. Gordon, who co-wrote the script. (She is played in the film by Zoe Kazan). Knowing how this talented couple ends up in no way lessens the film’s plentiful charms, beginning with the script. Note the underscore on religion and culture and admire how deftly human relationships are weaved into a story about complicated love. Then sit back and marvel at a first-rate cast that pulls this together with seemingly no effort. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are terrific here (full disclosure: I love them both. I went into television because of Holly Hunter in Broadcast News) but nobody’s stealing scenes; this is tightly-woven material, surprisingly only in the gentle tone, given the executive producer is the King of Gross Jokes, Judd Apatow.
Don’t expect laugh-a-minute hilarity. Do expect the generosity of spirit onscreen to take you sailing out of the theatre when you leave.
I know, I know, hang me out to dry here but this buzzed-about flick about a getaway driver named Baby (isn’t that adorable? Not) is overly-stylized and trying way too hard to be the coolest cat in the multiplex. I was mildly entertained here and there; music videos are entertaining to watch after all, but that’s all this is, one hipster nod after another, but mostly it feels like a slick ride at Disney World. I need to care and I didn’t. Likely it won’t stop you from going, especially if you like wall-to-wall sound in your ears. For the buds-in-ears generation, this may be your movie.
Sigh. I feel old.
DO wait to watch this one on the couch.
War for Planet of the Apes
A big yes.
Everything I didn’t like about Baby Driver is here in the third instalment of the rebooted Apes trilogy in droves: do you end up caring about the characters? Yes, yes, and yes again, on an epic scale. The actors who play these apes lend tremendous depth to all their performances, and the film feels at once old-fashioned in its grandeur as it is progressive. Here is a film with all the things you need when you spend hard-earned dollars for a night out: heart, soul, smarts, and thrills. There are biblical nods, and shades of Shakespeare, Conrad, Coppola, Clint Eastwood, all here in a heady mix pitched to perfection. I loved the extreme close-ups and came away astonished.
Do expect beauty, rather than violence. Ignore the title. It is war but there is a reverence and sombre note to this film that will haunt you long after you leave the theatre. Don’t buy any drinks at the theatre…The suspense makes a dash to the washroom (the film clocks in almost 2.5 hours) unfortunate.
Dunkirk is full immersion. That’s what Christopher Nolan demands of his audiences. And his talent and crew. No one on his sets are allowed cellphones during his shoots. Nolan makes big movies for big theatres. He wants you to embrace the big cinematic experience and forget streaming stuff on Netflix. The guy’s ambition is legendary. His wife is his producer. Together, they promise “virtual reality without the goggles”. Does it deliver?
I LOVED THIS MOVIE, ironically for restraint. Yes, it’s big and bold storytelling in the finest form. But what it isn’t is another war movie. There is no glory here. Just moments of ordinary, and extraordinary, heroics. I loved it as a film student for the mind fuck of a score by Hans Zimmer and the virtuoso cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema. I loved it for editing this home movie hobbyist can only dream about. I loved it as a sad sack of a writer staring down Summer and finding it wanting. There are scenes in this movie I want to stop and study and most of them have Mark Rylance in them; at the helm of his boat with his flag waving…your heart will soar, I promise.
Do see Dunkirk because we need big visionary directors to keep film alive. Do see it to borrow some of that legendary Dunkirk spirit. I know I needed it. How about you? The film is playing in six different formats. DON’T see it in anything less than IMAX.