So many reviews, so little interest…Why not combine about 10 August movies into one super-review?
The Meg…A film designed to make “The Shallows” or “47 Meters Down” look like masterpieces. I actually enjoy a good shark movie during the Summertime (both of the aforementioned got positive reviews from this critic), but “The Meg” isn’t even remotely scary. At one point, you practically except Jason Statham to fatally punch it in the nose (can this guy star in a movie that is not a monument to how macho he is?), and the Chinese actors shoehorned in to get this film to play there are beyond wooden. Grade: C-
Crazy Rich Asians…One of the most deceptively regressive movies in recent memory. While everyone has been patting themselves on the back for enjoying a film with an exclusively Asian cast, they might’ve missed the film’s retrograde gender and even racial politics. The film virtually erases Singapore residents of non-Chinese ancestry and severely downplays the role of domestic workers in the lives of its richest characters—I’m not a sure a majority white movie could celebrate wealth porn in this way anymore without at least raising socio-economic concerns, and I know for a fact it wouldn’t be celebrated.
Plus, the film’s central message appears to be that it’s okay for rich men to marry non-rich women (perhaps even desirable), but you’re headed for a disaster if a rich woman is the breadwinner (the closest thing the movie has to an antagonist is an Asian male whose wife is worth more money than him). And if you questioned the central romance of the two leads in the novel, the movie spends even less time making them plausible (the man exists solely to make googly faces at the woman, and they kind-of do seem like two people that just met despite dating for a year). This plays into all the worst instincts of modern romantic-comedies. Grade: C
Operation Finale…Slow-moving but absorbing, it’s another Israeli drama (like “7 Days in Entebbe”) where you spend a lot of time waiting for something to happen. There might be a reason this film opened on the Wednesday before Labor Day (a clear vote of no confidence), but it’s handsomely photographed, well-crafted, and features a routinely excellent Ben Kingsley performance as a Nazi commander in hiding who may have a hidden taste for the limelight. The sections where he’s trying to get Oscar Isaac’s Mossad agent to understand his thinking are some of the strongest, and if the movie had dug a little deeper into that twisted psychology, you could’ve had the big-screen equivalent of Netflix’s “Mindhunter” series. As is, “Munich” is a much better examination of Israeli crime and punishment. Grade: B-
Equalizer 2…Denzel Washington has never made a sequel before this one, and I wish he’d stuck to that principal. The first three-quarters of the film are so slow, that by the time we get to the action (a showdown during a hurricane), you may find yourself a bit drowsy. [I had to watch the ending a second time because I had fallen asleep the first.] The meat of the film is less a high-octane action movie and closer to one of those serialized thrillers (starring Jack Reacher or some lone-hero in the rural West) with Denzel extolling the quiet virtues of friendship, taking care of others, and painting over defaced buildings. His character seems a little more interested in mentoring a younger black male–and the film is the strongest since “Moonlight” in exploring the bonds between African-American men–than any action scenes. That’s a nicer core story than the original “Equalizer,” but not necessarily lively summer viewing. Grade: C
Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again…You’re either a sucker for these cheesy films or you aren’t. I thought I was in the second-camp, but I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed this movie. Sometimes, you want to like a movie more than you wind up liking it (“Happytime Murders”) and sometimes you can’t stop smiling despite yourself. I can’t even remember the first film, but I don’t remember liking it this much. Whether that’s in spite of Meryl Streep’s disappearance (she’s only in the last few minutes) or because of it is anyone’s guess, but the songs do seem even catchier this time out. Grade: B+
Happytime Murders…I was all-in for an R-rated muppet movie, and/or a Melissa McCarthy movie not written and directed by her husband, but something just doesn’t fully come alive here. Too often, we’re watching ingenious set-ups that just aren’t as funny in practice as they might have been in theory. Still, I haven’t quite seen anything like “Happytime Murders” before and originality alone can go a looooong away in this era. Grade: B
Teen Titans Go to the Movies…Funny, quick, lively, self-aware, and wholly unworthy of a theaterical release. Kids will love this movie once it hits streaming or DVD, and you’ll be glad you didn’t spend a lot of money to watch it. Grade: B
Darkest Minds…As if we needed more proof Hollywood has no respect for interracial couples, along comes yet another lousy portrayal. Here, Amanda Stenberg has to fend off the advances of a super, psychically charged white rapist before saving the white guy she actually likes by erasing his memories of her completely. Great job Hollywood. Also, we needed another “Hunger Games” rip-off (weren’t three
“Maze Runner” and “Divergent” films enough?) like we needed a hole in the head. Grade: C-
McQueen…I didn’t know much about fashion designer Alexander McQueen, and this documentary will educate you on its subject–which is about all you can ask for. Whether or not you find that subject worth knowing about is another matter entirely. Grade: B-
Alpha…For some, this movie (a PG-13 “Revenant” set in caveman times) will cure insomnia with its slow-pacing, minimal plot, and subtitled dialogue. For others, it’ll be a quietly moving, beautifully filmed experience that serves as the origin story of how some wolves became dogs. For me, certain sequences were like watching paint dry while others were unforgettably stunning (a mammoth hunt, a saber tooth tiger attack, falling under frozen ice in gorgeous split screen, a night sky that is near psychedelic). Grade: B+