The summer of 2019 has largely been defined but its lack of hits. Frankly, many of the blockbusters that we were not excited lived up to the hype. Men in Black International stumbled. Godzilla: King of the Monsters tanked. The summer was marked by financial disappointment, but there were some interesting movies to come out of the first half of the year. So let’s journey back and celebrate some of those films that were underappreciated when they were released. Once again, all reviews are out of four stars.
A fun and quirky summer comedy, Booksmart hits most of the right buttons in terms of tone and humor. Following two senior girls about to go crazy for the first time in their life sets up an interesting premise. The comparisons to Superbad are undeniable, not only due to the subject matter, but because Beanie Feldstein is literally Jonah Hill’s little sister. Helming her own nightlong adventure of debauchery is exciting, and after a fun turn in Ladybird, Feldstein steps up to the plate. However, the real star of the film is Kaitlyn Deaver, who becomes the latest breakout from the Short Term 12 gang.
Deaver gets the most to do in the film, so this certainly adds to her appeal. The seemingly innocent girl looking for her first hookup is cliche. However, Deaver’s character has been out for more than a year, giving us a kind of character you rarely see in any kind of media. She’s confident in her sexuality, but that also happens to be the basis of most of her humor. It’s not always a bad thing, but the reason Deaver takes over the film comes from a lot of the more nuanced pieces of her character. Her innocence sets her up as the easy girl to like, so when bad things happen to her, your heart breaks for her. Feldstein gets plenty of standout moments, but none live up to Deaver.
Olivia Wilde directs, and boy does she show promise in her debut. While the actress has plenty of talent in front of the camera, it is hard to argue against her abilities behind one. She composes gorgeous shots and keeps the movie rolling with some good editing. She also knows when to unleash her wild cards, Billy Lourde and Skyler Gisondo to perfection. There’s plenty to love on screen in Booksmart. It may not be the second coming that the internet promised you it would be, but it’s certainly an excellent debut that will have a strong shelf-life.
The DC Universe has had a rocky few years, yet the skies seem to be clearing. Ever since Justice League (Snyder Cut fans aside), the universe has mostly gotten back on track. Aquaman may not have been a high watermark in terms of quality (or puns for that matter), but it was an undeniably good time. Wonder Woman was legitimately great. Now Shazam! finds its way into the discussion as DC‘s undeniable King of Comedy. The new superhero may not be the most famous hero in DC’s catalog, but it also represents the first surprise hit in their modern universe.
Shazam! comes from director David F. Sandberg, best known for horror hits Annabelle: Creation and Lights Out. You can where his origins lie at points in the film, with the creature design and setpieces sharing more in common with gothic horror than most comic books. Sandberg also benefits from the great comedic timing of Zachary Levi, who shines as the unusual superhero. Shazam! follows a young boy named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) as he searches for his mother in Philadelphia. He’s placed with a new foster family, including the physically handicapped Freddie Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). After fighting off bullies to help out Freddie, Billy stumbles into an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who gifts him the ability to turn into an adult superhero with Superman-like powers.
The triumph from the movies comes from the teen angle to the story. Shazam! shares more stylistic and comedy influence from Spider-Man than most DC comics. The teenage want to belong makes it easy to relate to Billy, and his journey is fun and heartwrenching all at once. The ensemble also gets a chance to shine, with his pseudo-family getting a chance to show off their comedic chops as well. While Grazer gets the best lines, Faith Herman and Grace Fulton also get plenty of great standout moments. It’s a fun little group, and there’s plenty of reason to be excited for the future of the DCEU if they keep rolling out movies like this one.
Director Alex Ross Perry might be one of the true indie filmmakers alive today. Consistently working with micro-budgets under a million dollars, Perry has found a way to attract stars with juicy parts into his orbit. One actress who has worked with him on more than one occasion is Elisabeth Moss, who turns in career-best work in her latest collaboration with the director. Starring as a punk rock singer over years in the spotlight, Perry dives us into the darkest days of the singer’s life and gives us the highlights of her fictional life. In doing so he creates a captivating character that allows Moss to play one of the most dynamic characters of her career, while still finding truths about toll fame can take on a person.
Perry brings these lessons to life through Becky Something (Moss), who struggles with drugs and sobriety from the word go. With the success of the band going to her head, she becomes every bad story you’ve ever heard about a rock star. Perry uses a floating camera to give the film a documentary feel, while also placing us as wallflowers to scenes of pure debauchery. At times it recalls Steve Jobs but with an even more egomaniacal character at the center of it all. As Moss dances across the screen with a very big and crushingly sad performance, Perry lets other characters take over for minutes at a time.
Perry showcases his strengths as a writer throughout the film, setting up emotional beats that pay off two to three acts later. He still keeps the dialogue focused in each scene, allowing him to pull double duty as exposition and character-building at the same time. He also recruited Alicia Bognanno, Anika Pyle, and more to write the songs for the band. Unsurprisingly, they wrote legitimately good songs, making you wonder if you could live in a world where Something She was really a band.
Laika Animation has earned its place as one of the great film studios of the past decade. While the output from the studio has not been massive, the stop-motion house has found a way to consistently reinvent what is possible within the subgenre of animation. The painstaking work they put into a single second of footage is unreal, visually repositioning puppets over and over again to ensure they creat realistic motion. However, what seperates Laika from other studios has always been their willingness to dream big. As a technical achievement, Missing Link shatters the ceiling for what is possible. As a story, the film hits some regular beats, but still contains the heart of a LAIKA film throughout.
Directed and written by Chris Butler, Missing Link follows Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) as he attempts to prove the existence of the Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis). When he discovers that Sasquatch creature (named Susan or Mr. Link depending on the time in the film) wants to find his cousins on the other side of the world, the two enter a globe traveling partnership. With the help of Frost’s old flame Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), the three must outrun the crazed lunatics (Stephen Fry, Timothy Olyphant, and Matt Lucas) who are determined to end their quest at all costs.
Placing the characters in dozens of settings and incorporating never before CGI techniques, the world of Missing Link comes to life. Each setpiece exudes brilliance. Traveling to the Pacific Northwest, across deserts, over an ocean and even through India before reaching the Himalayas showcases how far the technology has come. Even more impressive, the worlds are stuffed with items and do-dads that could lead to infinite sequels and adventures (should the filmmakers wish to go in that direction). The influence of Indiana Jones and Around the World in Eighty Days is apparent, and the steampunk world comes to life with vibrant colors. It’s a beauty to look at, and when you combine the brilliant vocals of Galifianakis and Jackman, the film grips you. It’s also very funny, making a perfect flick to watch with the family.