It’s unusual these days to go to your local cinema and see not one or two but a handful of quality movies that cater to a variety of tastes. This was common in the 80s and the 90s but after 2005 we just began seeing formulaic superhero franchises, lame remakes attempting to cash in on nostalgia, and low budget horror flicks . Too many times I’d peruse the offerings at my local cinema and sadly note there was nothing I wanted to see OR that I’d seen the only decent film showing there.
The only exception to this quality cinema void, is Oscar period each year – that 4 months from November to February when the studios and indies release all their ‘intelligent’ films to be in the running for the Academy Awards. Other than that period – most of the year is filled with the kind of films that had us groaning out loud or staying home and binging on Netflix.
But this past month at my local cinema has been replete with good quality well made films of a decent range of subjects and genres = Variety – that one magic word that had been missing for a while from my local cinema. And when I look around, I see the same promising content at other cinemas too.
If ever there was a time to go to a cinema in the hope of being pleasantly surprised, or thrilled even – this is it.
Look at the content that’s out at the moment : The Lost City of Z, Maudie, American Made, Logan Lucky, Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde, Dunkirk, Spiderman Homecoming, The Big Sick, The Trip to Spain, Wind River, Valerian And the City of a Thousand Planets, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.
Earlier this month we had : A Monster Calls, War for the Planet of the Apes, Ghost Story, Paris Can Wait, The Beguiled, , It Comes At Night, Wonder Woman [was still showing in some cinemas in the beginning of August].
If you’re still skeptical about the point I’m making – take a closer look at these films:
The Lost City of Z is something we don’t make anymore but should – a big scale humanistic exploration and adventure film that asks the big questions about imperialism, civilization, the search for wonder.
Maudie is a good biopic of folk artist painter Maud Lewis. It has Sally Hawkins who shone in Happy-Go-Lucky and soars in this. It also has my personal northstar – Ethan Hawke. He always picks interesting unconventional projects and makes great choices as an actor. I know if he’s in something – there’s a good chance it’s pretty darn fine. [Ethan Hawke and the concept of a northstar , will be the subject of another blog post soon].
American Made sees Tom Cruise shake off the dross was The Mummy and back in form with director Doug Liman in this gripping true story about the TWA pilot who ended up bring drug running for the CIA.
Even the most flawed of these movies – Valerian – is still fascinating and brave and does venture into new territory with resonant themes, spectacular unique imagery and a rocketing story, even if the leads are a let down. It doesn’t feel generic or dull in any way.
The superhero entries that played in the cinemas this August are probably the best ones we’ve seen in recent years. Wonder Woman did gangbuster business as the first positive portrayal of a female superhero coming from DC.
Spiderman: Homecoming is a superhero flick as a John Hughes film in disguise, and is a lot better than it has any right to be.
Dunkirk is another grand film from visionary Christopher Nolan tackling a rarely visited war story with an approach that feels like a visceral first person POV experiment. It’s the closest you’ll get to being there without actually being there.
Baby Driver is a fantastic car chase heist film that oozes style and panache, and a kickarse soundtrack. I absolutely adored this film, except for the ending which was unexpected but had me on the fence. See it as soon as you get a chance.
Atomic Blonde is a brilliant action-spy film of the same calibre of the best recent Bond or Bourne films. If you really want to know what a female bond looks like than watch Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton. As highly efficient, deadly and capable as Bond, Charlize Theron rocks a steely resolve and cool unruffled demeanour that exudes a world weariness that is very familiar. But unlike Bond, Charlize Theron is vulnerable – she takes a beating and every one of her wins are earned, and does have the odds stacked against her. Bloody eyed, bruised and battered but stolid and relentless – she’s a bona fide action star who deserves a whole franchise playing this character. She really is THAT good. Atomic Blonde has nail biting action sequences and unexpected twists, and the perfect lead performance is bolstered by a great supporting cast too. James McEvoy always delivers the goods as the devilish Brit agent connection in Berlin, Eddie Marsan, and Bill Skarsguard and John Goodman make welcome appearances in key roles.
And speaking of kickarse soundtracks – Atomic Blonde has that late 80s ultra cool pop-rock fusion that’ll have you digging out your old records. If Wonder Woman was aspirational feel-good girl power, than Atomic Blonde is the power of a steely eyed pragmatic woman.
The Big Sick is the rom-com for those who lost faith in rom-coms and thought that nothing good could be made in this genre anymore. It’s surprisingly good. Just ignore the title. The title is terrible, the film is not.
Logan Lucky is a comedy heist that sees Steven Soderburgh make a welcome return to the cinema. After he threatened retirement, it’s great to see him back making smart, funny, accessible movies. He was once the shining star of intelligent humanist accessible cinema. He made stylish relatable movies without obvious flashy ‘auteur’ touches that might otherwise put off non film buffs. Logan Lucky may not be on the super high level of ‘Out of Sight’ but it’s still really good.
And coming out this week we have well reviewed Australian horror, Killing Ground. A film that will make you think twice next time you decide to go camping. Get off your arse and see it before it gets swallowed by the next blockbuster in the cinema schedule !!
Look at that survey of cinema titles this month and what do you see ?
There’s a whole variety of genres in all those titles – horror, biopics, action thrillers, car-chase flicks, war movies, sci-fi, murder mystery, superhero flicks, rom-coms, comedies.
And they are all good quality films ! Well structured, visually striking, and well paced with stories and characters you could care about. Some titles may appeal to one crowd, some titles to another – but it felt like one of those rare months where there was something for everyone. I hadn’t felt that since the 1990s. A tentative flame of optimism has been lit in my soul.
[ The only major genre I see missing is kids movies. And that’s usually the only genre where something decent is on throughout the year, but this year, it’s where we had the one of the few major celluloid crappers on the screen – The Emoji film. The less said about this – the better].
But still – overall it’s been a great month at the movies !
Don’t believe me ? Compare August 2017 to last year – the major releases were Suicide Squad [all the proof Luc Besson needed to prove that Cara Delevingue can’t really act and he ignored it and gave her a lead role in Valerian. (Sigh)…], Ben Hur [a horrific unnecessary remake of an old era cinematic gem], Nine Lives [even cat lovers couldn’t save that flick], The Legend of Tarzan [even Alexander Skarsguard’s spectacular abs couldn’t elevate that flick], The Secret life of Pets [almost as banal as the Emoji movie]. And there was a boring Jason Bourne film. The only shining light that whole month was a little film called ‘Don’t Breathe’.
This August is a massive improvement and an answer to all those naysayers that say cinema is dead. There’s been a bunch of great original films [Dunkirk, Logan Lucky, Baby Driver etc], and good franchise entries, and great adaptations of fresh existing intellectual property that hadn’t been tackled before [Atomic Blonde is an adaptation of a graphic novel].
August 2017 should restore your faith in cinema. Good movies ARE still being made. You just need to go out and see them. And hopefully box office support means we might see a wide choice of good movies every month not just around Oscar time.