CineScene

‘Rocketman,’ ‘Midsommar,’ ‘Hollywood’ Among Top Films of Summer

By BILL GEIGER | Sep 04, 2019

Long Beach Island — The final Section Two of the season brings with it the final CineScene, where I review two new releases and vote for the top three films of the summer and, conversely, the biggest box office stinker of the season.

Two films showed up in the last half-month and tried to plant their flags as entrants in the late-summer “extravaganza of cinemaship.” One had potential; the other was merely bogus.

As you will read soon enough, the saving grace for this summer was the “little film,” the indie that did not make it to most cineplexes but would be viewed at art houses or movie houses with enough screens. Most places, like Manahawkin’s Regal Cinema 10, would generally not devote even one of its 10 screens to a modest little film, for fear of not cashing in on the surefire summer-type films. And who can blame them, really?

So you’d have to drive far afield to see “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” But it almost would be worth it. This is a film about second chances, and despite what F. Scott Fitzgerald might have said about American lives, that there are no second acts within them, “Bernadette” shows what can happen when the creative impulse in one such life is stymied.

Continuing the tradition of odd film titles this summer, this title is a question. I’ve always doubted films that ask questions in the title, mainly because if the film is worth anything, it has to answer that question before it ends.

“Bernadette?” does answer that question. In fact, it fairly projects the answer within the first 10 minutes of the film. But beside all that is a bravura performance by Cate Blanchett, who is in almost every scene and fairly runs away with the movie.

By the time the film opens, award-winning architect Bernadette Fox (Blanchett) has been suppressing her creative side for almost 15 years, since a piece she designed, commissioned by a famous actor, was destroyed by said actor in a fit of pique from which Bernadette never recovered. And so, while her career came off the boil, her husband’s took off, and he, Elgie Branch (Billy Crudup) became a leading tech guy for an Apple-like company.

You might think this is one of those “A Star Is Born” type pictures, only this time the husband begins to outshine the wife, who had been the big star before. But, it’s possible, just possible, that the wife might have one last ace up her sleeve.

Even though Bernadette was well past the genius stage that won her the MacArthur Grant, she still had sparks of brilliance every now and again. It’s no fun when the man you love does not understand your mental state, nor seems particularly interested in helping you through the rough patches. She did find some solace from her architectural mentor, Paul Jellinek (Laurence Fishburne), whom she sought out and who gave her the sage advice she needed to get out of her blues – to go and create, because restless minds like hers need the constant buzz that creation gives, and it’s what all artists have to do.

Bernadette goes to the South Pole to find herself again, and it looks like the past is once again prologue to what will come. She has found the juice that will sustain her, and her family comes along for the ride. It must be said that the narrative arc of the film relies on YouTube videos of her that Bee constantly watches, and the Bernadette we see in the moment is one with some serious flaws.

With the talent in front of the camera and director Richard Linklater helming this film, I believe we should expect more from this film.

Where’d you go, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”

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No need to expect anything from the comedy “Good Boys.” Maybe nausea, or anger, at losing the $14 admission, or grief over the loss of 90 minutes of your life. “Good Boys” looks for the low rung on the ladder of success and climbs on it every time.

I began my movie-quest summer of 2019 with a teen film called “Booksmart,” a kind of coming of age film that had every high school cliché imaginable walking the screen, and I’ve ended it with “Good Boys,” a trio of sixth-graders looking to go to a party where there will be kissing. The protagonists are Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams). What was I thinking? Couldn’t I have found anything better than this?

Naturally, they want to learn how to kiss, so they decide to look up some “how to” videos on the internet, which goes south on them in a hurry.

Another quest of theirs is to spy on some high-school girls next door with a borrowed drone, hoping to catch them in the act with some boys. They don’t, but the girls break the drone. The one boy there was a frat brother who took some drugs over to the girls. Molly Gordon and Midori Francis play Hannah and Lily respectively, and when Max, Lucas and Thor steal their drugs, the girls go on an all-out manhunt to find them.

Slapstick and drug references, along with three of the foulest mouths you’ll ever hear, abound, and the film is basically one long f-bomb rant, coming out of the mouths of babes. It’s not really funny in the slapstick ha-ha kind of funny, but there may be a scene or two that will elicit a chuckle.

The only thing “Good Boys” had in common with “Booksmart” is Molly Gordon. She happened to be in both. That is not meant to be an endorsement for either film.

*   *   *

For a summer that had the “Avengers” finale, 2019 was certainly nothing more than ordinary. There were the usual sequels and the reboots, most of which are frankly getting worn out. Enough already. Did we need another “Men in Black”? How about a fourth “Toy Story”? Or even a second “Secret Life of Pets”?

There did seem to be a desire for another John Wick film, and perhaps the enigmatic character’s life cycle is one that wants to be explored a bit more. It’s the same reason I wanted to go see Gerard Butler kick some ass in “Angel has Fallen,” but alas, the summer’s statute of limitations had run out, and it was time for me to close the book on 2019.

I’d put “Avengers: Endgame” in that category. Even though it was following in the Marvel Universe’s orbit of films, it was ending a storyline, and, despite its length, it did finish the series, at least where Captain America and Iron Man were concerned. And it was a fun movie.

Likewise was “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” with the very charismatic Tom Holland as Spidey. “Spider-Man” has begun to hold its own as a stand-alone film in the Marvel universe.

“Phoenix” ended the X-Men series, at least in this iteration, and was pretty good in doing so, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a reboot of the X-Men were to emerge in the not-too-distant future. There’s more money to be made there.

If I may be humored here a bit, the making of money has always been the bottom line of the production companies. Hence all the sequels. But when a company such as Disney buys out all these franchises like Star Wars, and then decides to go through all of its animated films catalog and remake them all as live-action films, I find that a shameful and pandering attempt to make more money. You’ll notice I did not screen “Aladdin” or “The Lion King” this summer.

The one saving grace for me this summer, as it has been over countless other summers, is the indie film. These smaller films, like “All is True,” about Shakespeare’s later life, and “Tolkien,” about what motivated J.R.R. to write “The Lord of the Rings,” are truly intellectual marvels, and were very easy to watch and enjoy. If I didn’t have films like these, I think my mind might explode when faced with another “Fast and Furious” film.

And now, for the CineScene Summer Awards, to the worst and best of the summer, at least in this one flawed reviewer’s eyes.

We’ll look at the stinkers first, then pivot around to the ones that get a “yeah.” Two of them have already been mentioned, namely “Booksmart” and “Good Boys.” The other real stinker was “The Kitchen,” another Melissa McCarthy dud that I hope is not the direction her films are now going. As I said in my review the other week, McCarthy is good as a sidekick, but not the main character. And she is always better in a humorous role.

Let’s now get a great big hurray for the summer’s “good guys.” “Rocketman” was a pretty good biopic of Elton John’s rise to success. And of course, the music is sublime, as it was in “Yesterday,” Danny Boyle’s homage to the Beatles, and a love story with Lily James as one of the participants. Can it get better than that? And have Ed Sheeran in it, too? I think not.

Two of those “small films” I like so much have stayed with me since I screened them. One, “The Art of Self Defense,” with Jesse Eisenberg, is strange and violent, yet somehow profound in a way. At some point it should be on Netflix or on another streaming channel, so catch it then if you can. See if you like it.

The other, “Midsommar,” is a definite mind worm. That one will give you no rest, as images will be replaying themselves throughout your consciousness and unconsciousness. One hint – remember the film “The Wicker Man”? Not the Nicolas Cage version, but the one from 1973 with Edward Woodward? That’s a story far closer to this one. And still good.

Finally, for the top film of the summer, I’d have to give the nod to Quentin Tarantino and his “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” Everything about this, from Leo DiCaprio’s cowboy Rick Dalton to Brad Pitt’s stuntman Cliff Booth, and the Sharon Tate storyline, which veers ever so slightly from the way it was, rocks. This one was a high point of the summer for me.

And so, just like that, with Labor Day upon us, the summer of 2019 comes to a close. I hope you all had a nice Labor Day weekend. The weather was nice through Sunday, but there was some dangerous surf with rescues and no swimming allowed.  Here’s hoping for a nice off-season, and that all the hurricanes head away from our coast.

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