August 27, 2014

(7) Movies of Summer: Movies You May Have Missed

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All the critics tripped over each other trying to praise this film, but that doesn’t make it any less special. Boyhood is extraordinary because it takes the most boring, humdrum minutiae you remember from childhood and makes a resonant, moving portrait out of them. Unless you are Indiana Jones, your life was just about as exciting as that of Mason Jr., and if you are between the ages of 16 and 25, Richard Linklater’s intimate opus is the closest thing you will have to a time capsule of your adolescent years. Watching it is a romantic experience, heightened further if you bring a parent or two along with you, which offers the opportunity to see everyday life in a startling, deeply insightful way.

– Mark DiStefano


The movie that should have been the blockbuster of the summer was unfortunately relegated to a small simultaneous theatrical and video-on-demand release. Too bad. Snowpiercer, the first English language film from South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho, takes place aboard the Rattling Ark, a train that travels around a frozen, post-apocalyptic world, carrying the only human survivors of said apocalypse. The train is divided into rigid class lines, with the poor living in squalor in the back and the rich living in decadence in the front. A revolution by the back, with the goal of reaching the front car (the engine) is led by none other than Captain America himself, Chris Evans. The film contains action sequences so thrilling and innovative (and non-reliant on special effects), I sat there saying to myself, “how did they even think of that?” This movie has something on its mind too, with the final act philosophically complicating the film beyond its simple 99-percenter premise. While the movie’s plot is riddled with holes, it doesn’t matter because the viewer just has so much fun. Even my mom thought the gore was awesome.

– Jesse Weissman

Obvious Child

The cast list reads sort of like the softball team roster for the Island of Misfit Toys: Saturday Night Live’s discarded Jenny Slate, child-star-turned-Girls-weirdo Gaby Hoffmann and a post-Michael Scott cast member of The Office, Jake Lacy. Also David Cross. The premise sounds like a disaster: Upbeat abortion comedy about Valentine’s Day and abortion and Brooklyn twenty-somethings and independent bookstores and abortion. But Obvious Child is exactly the kind of disaster that demonstrates true, concerted effort to make something unique and special. After a one-night stand with a charming prep-star, hipster Brooklyn comedian Donna Stern finds herself pregnant. She remembers a condom…she just doesn’t remember “what it did, exactly.” Supported by her BFF (Hoffmann), a sleazy comedy club booker (Cross) and her brilliantly-acted neurotic New Jersey parents (Richard Kind and Polly Draper), Stern makes it to her February 14 abortion date with resolve — treating the situation as significant, but not impossible to laugh at, as self-altering, but not life-destroying. The dialogue is quick, laced with humor and delivered best by the stellar supporting cast of up-and-coming comedians (please, please watch out for Gabe Liedman). While the plot veered cliché towards the end, it’s still a movie that’s not afraid to be gross (Slate’s opening monologue is about crusty underwear) or unabashedly earnest (normal-faced actors, ugly Brooklyn, Paul Simon and oodles of charisma), setting it apart from any other romantic-comedy you saw this summer.

– Kaitlyn Tiffany

The Immigrant

There’s only one movie on this page that you can watch right now on Netflix Instant, and it may also just be the best movie of the year. Anything but a stuffy “costume drama,” The Immigrant is a painfully authentic look at a Polish woman’s trials after arriving penniless in 1920s New York. Played by Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard, Ewa struggles to retain her agency after a brutish yet oddly sympathetic pimp (Joaquin Phoenix) forces her into prostitution. It’s a story that could easily be exploitative or eye-rollingly sappy, but Cotillard and writer-director James Gray raise the premise to high art by consistently probing Ewa’s conflicted interiority. While far from a feel good movie, The Immigrant illuminates an often disparaged cliché (the working class prostitute) with formal control and overpowering feeling.

– Zachary Zahos

Guardians of the Galaxy

With the obscene amounts of money they are currently raking in, Marvel decided to bet big this summer. They dredged up one of their most off-kilter, unknown comic book teams: The Guardians of the Galaxy. But, as they say, you have to bet big to win big. And, oh boy Marvel, did you win big this time. Guardians of the Galaxy is a Marvel film the likes of which has not graced our cinema screens to date: It is dopey Andy from Parks and Rec as the sexy, cocky Star-Lord, a talking racoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and a walking tree with only three words in his entire vocabulary. I mean — there is a dance off to save the universe. The Guardians manage to meld the perfect blend of humor and heart as well as rib-splitting ‘70s and ‘80s references. Everything about the film hits the nail on the head: Casting, pacing, CGI, you name it. Most importantly, of course, the soundtrack. Incorporated into the film so that the characters are actually listening to the same music you are, Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 hit number one on the Billboard 200. I’m listening to it right now. Duh. The Guardians mix together everything that is still good in blockbuster film, making a movie with brain, heart and soul.

Three last words: Dancing. Baby. Groot.

– Marissa Tranquilli

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The second in the series of prequels to the classic 1968 movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a suspenseful and intense continuation of the well-crafted story of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). Post-apocalypse, a group of humans surviving in the ruins of San Francisco attempt to rebuild, while a group of highly evolved, genetically modified apes (guess whose fault that is?) are building their own civilization in a forest. The nearby presence of each species is unknown to the other until several humans stumble into the apes’ domain and a chain of events is set off that makes war between the two species inevitable. And, surprise, it was not the apes who fired the first shot. The film’s ape characters, including Maurice the wise orangutan, Caesar, the moral leader chimp and Koba, the angry and scarred bonobo seeking revenge, have more personality than the human ones. But despite the film’s focus on the apes, the story raises interesting questions about how exactly we think of human nature and what “progress” really means. One thing is clear — the planet only has room for one dominant species, and considering the series is called “Planet of the Apes,” anticipating the eventual outcome adds to the suspense rather than detracting from it. Overall it’s just a flat-out enjoyable and memorable movie and I’d recommend it to anyone in conjunction with the first.

– Katie O’Brien

Life Itself

Accomplished documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Stevie) tackles the life of America’s most famous film critic, Roger Ebert. And what a life. Ebert died in 2013, after battling cancer for eleven years and losing his ability to speak, but never his spirit or his voice. The film examines Ebert’s relentless courage as well as his less pleasant qualities, and it is particularly touching in its depiction of Ebert’s relationships with film critic Gene Siskel and his incomparably devoted wife, Chaz. Starting from Roger’s early days as a boy fascinated with journalism, the film builds to a staggering state as it approaches his final years. He died as the documentary was filming (most of his interviews take place in hospital), but he would have been more than proud. This is a testament to one of America’s greatest movie legends, and one that will move you to tears.

– Mark DiStefano