Movies I saw in July

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Here are some movies that were either new in theatres or just new to me I saw in the month of July.

The BFG (2016): Steven Spielberg’s latest is a wonderful little fairy tale with no real big stakes, but what it is is a character driven children’s story that seemed to have slipped by the majority of the movie going public. This is a quiet, gentle, and patient film about a young girl who is kidnapped by a friendly giant, is then taken to giant country and learns he is a catcher of dreams. There is a little squabble with the bigger and meaner giants, but the real magic comes from the character of the BFG in a terrific motion capture performance by Mark Rylance and young Sophie played by newcomer Ruby Barnhill. Written by “E.T.” scribe Melissa Matheson, who recently passed away, the film retains the wittiness of Roald Dahl’s original book, I wish this film had the audience it deserved. 3.5 out of 4 stars

The Shallows (2016): I suppose if there was a sleeper hit of the summer, it would be this bare essential shark thriller. This is a great film that knows exactly what it is and knows how to accomplish it. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the man responsible for some of the best of the Liam Neeson action films like “Non-Stop”, and “Run all Night”, this stars Blake Lively as a young surfer attacked by a great white shark and is stranded in the ocean so very close to shore. The kind of movie that does what it does and does it effectively; plus  Lively is a compelling screen presence. This is the kind of movie that launches its star into bigger and better things. 3 stars out of 4

L’Avventurra (1960): One of the essential European films of the 1960s which along with “La Dolce Vita” and “Breathless” proved that Eurpean cinema owned the 60s. I had not seen “L’Avventurra” bofore which is about a mystery that is never solved; a young woman disappears off an island while her fiancee and friend search for her, all the while they start up an affair. The film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, deals with modern alienation in a world bereft of real emotion, which is the best I can sum up this fascinating, but also puzzling art house masterpiece. I’ve always felt Antonioni is a bit distant, but I’m hooked to his films as he creates a certain mood that is captivating, plus no one does sexy like 1960s Italy. 3.5 stars out of 4

Chi-Raq (2015): One of the must see films of last year I never got to see when it was first released. A wonderful satire on the state of gun violence in America told with maddening creativity by the controversy maestro Spike Lee. Lee, never taking the subtle approach to America’s sick obsession with guns creates a modern take of the ancient play “Lysistrata” where the women of rival gang members withhold sex until the men decide to come to a truce. This at times fierce, touching, and angry portrait focuses on so many social problems a lot of American films are afraid to confront head on. Spike Lee is still preaching the same advice he’s been giving for years, yet we still haven’t gotten the point. Lee plays it loose changing gears from sadness, to humour, to melodrama but never losing the importance of the story. Lead by a strong ensemble but the stand out is really Teyonah Parris as the titular heroine. 4 stars out of 4

Ghostbusters (2016): A reboot or whatever you call it these days about a band of misfits who study the paranormal and come together to form a business into busting ghosts, only this time they’re women. Directed by Paul Fieg and starring four of the funniest women working today, this film has some highly entertaining riffs from all four leads who work beautifully together, which sometimes makes up for this film’s lack of compelling story, and very sloppy editing. The film does not add up to many memorable moments, and the  looks flat and lifeless. However Fieg provides a great playground for Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and especially Kate McKinnon to play and have fun, I just wish they had something more to push against like a story worthy of their talent. 2.5 stars out of 4

Star Trek Beyond (2016): The third film about the rebooted crew of the Starship Enterprise is the lightest of the new films, and goes by breazy without giving much thought to it, which is, I guess my biggest problem with this film. The best “Star Trek” films or episodes were the ones that challenged audiences with big ideas using allegorical storytelling or metaphors for something else. This film relies solely on the charisma of the actors and the characters they play. It’s supposed to remind us of why we love “Star Trek” in the first place, and even though there is a genuine affection for these characters, it doesn’t strive for more than some mindless fun, which is fine, but with a title that has the word beyond in it, you’d think it would strive for something more than what we’ve seen before. 2.5 stars out of 4

On Purge Bebe (1931): A short film directed by Jean Renoir, famous for being the grandmaster of French cinema’s first sound film. Purely for experimental purposes, Renoir finished this off quick, yet it is a highly enjoyable little farce about a bickering couple and their constipated son. Trouble ensues when the man invites a financeer for a meeting only to be constantly interrupted by his wife who will not stop talking about their son’s constipation. Running a little less than an hour, “On Purge Bebe” is nowhere near a masterpiece but interesting for those interested in Renoir, and it’s just great to see a film on which the major concern is on a child’s bowel movement. 3 stars out of 4

Le Chienne (1931): Jean Renoir’s first proper sound film about a lowly clerk who falls for a prostitute who along with her pimp schemes to get his money. The film plays like a tragic comedy, although it was remade by Fritz Lang in 1948 as a classic film noir entitled “Scarlett Street”, it’s interesting to note the tone of both films where Lang focused on the psychological repercussions of the story, Renoir focuses more on the human frailty of both the clerk and the prostitute. It’s a lovely film which suffers a bit by its early sound, but it’s anchored by a terrific performance by Michel Simon who was one of the great French chameleon actors. 3.5 stars out of 4

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