By Hanajun Chung
Summer 2016 was a dark time for movies. The big superhero films that audiences now expect featured heroes and characters fighting amongst themselves, destroying their legacy in addition to major landmarks. Fandom showed it’s ugly face during the “Ghostbusters” reboot controversy, flooding creators — especially the lead actors — and critics with remarks of racism, bigotry, misogyny and flat-out sexism. There were some clear-cut winners in terms of quality and box-office, with “Finding Dory” being the summer’s champion, but the overall take is currently 20% compared to last summer.
There were still some great releases in several different avenues in addition to those released to local multiplexes. As a result, the following selection highlights some great films that were released this season, specifically films that were released between May 15 - Aug. 15 (Chaffey’s calendar).
So unfortunately, no “Captain America: Civil War,” even though we all enjoyed that one quite a bit.
Best Blockbuster: Star Trek Beyond
(dir: Justin Lin)
The third new “Trek” film feels much like what this new, J.J. Abrams series should have been: a modern reworking of the colorful, adventurous original series. It does feel a bit over-directed in some areas, but Lin’s experience with the “Fast and Furious” films transfer quite well. The cast and their onscreen chemistry work to the film’s advantage, focusing more on the supporting characters whereas previous films paid more concern to one or two people. But what makes “Star Trek Beyond” truly excellent is that carries over the diverse, progressive nature that’s the essence of Roddenberry’s original series.
Best Family Film: Hunt for the Wilderpeople
(dir: Taika Waititi)
With “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople” and next year’s much anticipated “Thor: Ragnarok,” director Taika Waititi is New Zealand’s next big name in filmmaking. With “Wilderpeople,” Waititi crafted a heartfelt, loving little indie adventure in which two misfits find family in each other while traversing the New Zealand bush. Sam Neil is excellent as the cantankerous bushman Uncle, providing a strong, subtle and understated performance that works even during the film’s more manic moments.
Biggest Surprise: Swiss Army Man
(dir: Dan Kwan, Daniel Sheinert)
Who knew that one of the most beautiful and moving films came from a movie about a man and a farting corpse? This independent feature for over a year traveled the festival circuit, popping up in circles causing a minor stir with murmurs of the farting corpse movie starring Harry Potter himself. Upon viewing the film, “Swiss Army Man” is definitely weird. Period. But the filmmakers challenge their audience to suspend all the disbelief and embrace the weird, ugly and gross elements in “Swiss Army Man” during the character’s journey as it all becomes something quite beautiful and life-changing. This one is best gone in knowing nothing.
Essential Release: The Lobster
dir: Yorgos Lanthimos
Romance films — especially romantic comedies — show people behave in ways that hardly ever feels realistic, despite how most take place in an immediately familiar reality. The truly memorable ones either have to double down on that reality (such as the “Before” trilogy) or go a bit outside the box (“Her,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”). “The Lobster” follows latter with it’s premise: in this dystopian world, when single adults don’t find a mate/relationship by a certain age, they’re turned into an animal of their choice. Despite Lanthimos’s unique sensibilities, “The Lobster” is a fascinating look at the societal pressures and challenges regarding modern relationships. Much like “Swiss Army Man,” this is a film that asks a bit from it’s audience, but those who stick with this singular film will experience something unique and telling regarding today’s relationship culture.
Best Underseen: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
(dir: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone)
Responsible for some of SNL’s best digital comedy, The Lonely Island troupe returns to filmmaking with their second film: a mockumentary that skewers the modern pop music culture. This film essentially flopped in the box-office, which is a shame, since it was probably the funniest comedy that came out. Being a film about the mainstream music industry, “Popstar” also features a soundtrack of original, incredibly well-produced comedy tracks. It’s stuffed with several celebrity cameos who are also surprisingly funny. Sandberg, Schaffer and Taccone might not get another big release anytime soon, but that just gives this film enough time find the audience it deserves. Pray for “MacGruber 2.”
Best Non-movie: Stranger Things
(created by the Duffer Brothers)
Hollywood and popular culture have tried and mostly failed in selling audiences their nostalgia. “Stranger Things” is an eight-episode series released on Netflix that took social media by storm as nostalgia done right. An homage to 80s Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, “Stranger Things” takes three separate but related groups of characters on the same adventure, as they try to uncover a missing boy from the neighborhood. Showrunners the Duffer Brothers’s love letter to the 80s not only uses nostalgia sparingly, but mainly has it as a placeholder for this complex, but fun little story they wish to tell. They masterfully handle the many different characters and arcs, and deliver a satisfying finale.