Summer Hangover: Best Films of 2018 (So Far)
It’s almost August, and traditionally a Tier B dumping ground for the post-blockbuster season. However, in the past there has been a few award hopefuls (Wind River, Sicario, Hell or High Water), but mainly mediocre to bad high-budget trash.
With the majority of this summer being dominated by the Avengers hype, dinosaurs or Deadpool 2 jokes, here’s a list of flicks that have come out this year that you might have missed:
“If You Haven’t Seen, You Must:”
Starring: Charlize Theron, Mark Duplass, and Mackenzie Davis
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Up In The Air, Reitman’s Academy Award-nominated 2009 film (starring George Clooney) was one of my favorite films of that decade. Hot off the heels of Juno, Reitman’s first collaboration with Diablo Cody, and the two would go on to direct/write Young Adult (2011). A film that has only gotten better with age, and the filmmakers first team up with Charlize Theron. When Tully was released earlier this year to relatively positive reviews, it seemed like they had recaptured the magic that worked for Reitman and Cody in earlier works. Despite the positivity, the film quickly disappeared from theatres.
Marlo is a New York suburbanite who’s about to give birth to her third child. Her husband, Ron, is loving and works hard, but remains clueless about the demands that motherhood puts on his wife. When the baby is born, Marlo’s wealthy brother hires a nighttime nanny named Tully to help his sister handle the workload. Hesitant at first, Marlo soon learns to appreciate all that Tully does — forming a special bond with her new, lifesaving friend.
Theron has put together a semblance of a Meryl Streep-ish career over the last decade. I’m not sure there’s another working actress in her forties that has the range of the ultra-talented Theron. She’s close to unrecognizable in this film, reportedly gaining 50 lbs in order to portray the prego, and then postnatal Marlo. Newcomer Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire, Blade Runner 2049) continues to be a revelation in the titular role, stealing scene after scene; not to mention seeing her and Theron face-to-face leaves one to wonder if we’re looking at the next generation of Charlize Theron.
Tully is a beautiful film, and a love letter to motherhood.
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green
Directed by: Leigh Whannell
Wow. This film is a refreshing catharsis to the big-budget Marvel films that have dominated both the box office and the public attention span this year. Upgrade slaps you in the face with a jolt of adrenaline, and doesn’t let up. Director Leigh Whannel is primed for a long run in mainstream cinema, but this will go down as his masterpiece long after the dust settles.
A brutal mugging leaves Grey Trace paralyzed in the hospital and his beloved wife dead. A billionaire inventor soon offers Trace a cure — an artificial intelligence implant called STEM that will enhance his body. Now able to walk, Grey finds that he also has superhuman strength and agility — skills he uses to seek revenge against the thugs who destroyed his life.
If there was a genre called “Fucking Cool,” Upgrade would be the poster child. Shot on a shoestring budget, this sci-fi action flick uses neat camera tricks, brutally cool action sequences, and another solid performance from Logan Marshall-Green (The Invitation, Quarry). The movie feels like an early John Carpenter film, down to its neo synth score.
Watch Upgrade; you’ll dig it.
Starring: Alex Wolff, Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, and Gabriel Byrne
Directed by: Ari Aster
This is one hell of a debut from Ari Aster. Hereditary has officially become the highest-grossing A24 film of all time. Divisive among viewers, the film has become a hot topic as far as what “horror” really means. Rooted in family structure, Aster is not afraid to tread into dark waters and flip your expectations on its head.
After the death of their grandmother, a family becomes increasingly divided by grief. Tragedy compounds itself and the family’s secrets begin to reveal themselves through the means of the supernatural. Grief drags Peter into the depths of hell as he attempts to navigate the grief that is placed upon him by his mother.
When the credits rolled, I could feel the collaborative sense of confusion sweep over the audience. The ending is one that solidifies Hereditary as a horror classic, but left many wondering what they just watched. The film is one that I could feel leaving the theatre and that emotional drag makes the film truly rememberable. Coupled with the A24 movement of independent horror films, the future is bright for Aster. Hereditary is leading the charge for the future of fear, making a point that horror comes from within. If you consider yourself a horror fan in any capacity, you need to see this film. Hail King Paimon!
Sorry to Bother You
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, and Steven Yeun
Directed by: Boots Riley
Don’t look now, but it looks like we have our next auteur filmmaker in Boots Riley. Dripping in stylistic design and social commentary, Riley’s debut film feels like a mixture of Spike Lee, Jordan Peele’s Get Out, and a bad acid trip. Surreal, yet grounded in relatable circumstance, Sorry to Bother You speaks both to the corporate world and one’s internal desire for success. Mark my words, you will be hearing Riley’s name again.
Cassius Green has not had a taste of success in his entire life. Living out of a garage, Green is recruited by a telemarketing agency, with the eventual goal of becoming a ‘power caller’. Consumed by Greed, Cassius traverses a surreal interpretation of Oakland, only to find out the hidden secret to success.
I cannot fully discuss the bizarre tone of this film without spoiling the reveal. However, let’s just say the film definitely earns its sci-fi label. Another film aiding in the indie movement, it really is an anomaly that this film was made at all, considering how surreal it becomes. If you are looking for a film that provides punching social commentary and isn’t afraid to “go there” in terms of making its audience uncomfortable, then check out Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You.
“You Might Have Seen it, but if You Haven’t, Watch it:”
A Quiet Place
Starring: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski
Directed by: John Krasinski
Earlier this year, AQP had its moment. Fans were thrilled to see Krasinski back in form as both the lead and director. The biggest problem with AQP isn’t even in the finished product; it’s in the way it was marketed as a straight horror film. It’s as much of a horror film as something like Aliens or Predator is. AQP is a strong sci-fi with a rush of action and dread that doesn’t let up.
A family survives on the brink of an apocalypse. Hunted by creatures that cannot see but can hear anything louder than a whisper. A father is faced with the task of not only protecting his two children and pregnant wife but figuring out how to kill an unkillable enemy.
Krasinski and Blunt are heartbreakingly good in this. It is a movie with little dialogue that manages to work with facial expressions, sign language, and a slightly overdose score.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Starring: Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin
Directed by: Stefano Solima
Sicario 2 is an interesting bag of a film. Despite the terrible marketing and an even worse title, Sicario 2 sticks the landing. It is a follow up to Dennis Villeneuve’s 2015 masterpiece that had no chance to live up to to the original. Despite problematic marketing and a terrible title, Italian director Stefano Solima (Gomorra) does an admirable job.
FBI agent Matt Graver calls on mysterious operative Alejandro Gillick when Mexican drug cartels start to smuggle terrorists across the U.S. border. The war escalates even further when Alejandro kidnaps a top kingpin’s daughter to deliberately increase the tensions. When the young girl is seen as collateral damage, the two men will determine her fate as they question everything that they are fighting for.
There are definitely problems with this movie. That being said, it’s an interesting take as a sequel that manages to harness Sam Peckinpah – Wild Bunch feels, which works really well with a compelling third act that causes you to lose your barrings momentarily (in a good way) until the final scene (in a bad way).
Both Del Toro and Brolin are experiencing a sort of career renaissance, and that burns right through any of the excess in Sicario 2.
“Who Cares if They’re Blockbusters, They’re Still Good!:”
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Starring: Donald Glover, Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, and Emilia Clarke
Directed by: Ron Howard
I’ll be the first to admit that Star Wars didn’t have quite the formative effect that most kids from my generation experienced, but Han Solo was my guy. The prospect of seeing an origin story of a character, played to perfection by Harrison Ford, didn’t sound very interesting to me. Then there was the very public firing of the film’s first directors (Lord and Miller), the hiring of a director that hasn’t made a compelling film in years (Ron Howard), and a rumored excessive reshoot of most of the film that left a lot to be desired from the hype side of my brain.
Young Han Solo finds adventure when he joins a gang of galactic smugglers, including a 196-year-old Wookie named Chewbacca. Indebted to the gangster Dryden Vos, the crew devises a daring plan to travel to the mining planet Kessel to steal a batch of valuable Coaxium. In need of a fast ship, Solo meets Lando Calrissian, the suave owner of the perfect vessel for the dangerous mission — the Millenium Falcon.
This is a very contained, extremely fun, heist in space film. Ehrenreich, who I’ve enjoyed in previous films, hits what seems to be an impossible role out of the park. He’s no Harrison Ford, but does a damn good job at doing what he does. Not to mention, strong showings from Glover and Harrelson in supporting roles. Star Wars proves, once again, that it’s a lot more fun outside the boundaries of the main franchise (I’m looking at you Rogue One). Though the film underperformed by Disney’s standards, it would be a shame not to see Ehrenreich and Glover reprise their roles in the future. This was easily the biggest surprise of the summer for me.
Mission Impossible: Fallout
Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, and Rebecca Ferguson
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
The MI series has been a pretty consistent franchise; Tom Cruise doing batshit crazy stunts, intense action, and almost guaranteed to be fun. Although, MI: Fallout isn’t “fun,” it’s flat out, jaw-dropping impressive. Somehow they figured out how to really make these movies work in this sixth sequel; go figure.
Ethan Hunt and the IMF team join forces with CIA assassin August Walker to prevent a disaster of epic proportions. Arms dealer John Lark and a group of terrorists known as the Apostles plan to use three plutonium cores for a simultaneous nuclear attack on the Vatican, Jerusalem, Mecca and Saudi Arabia. When the weapons go missing, Ethan and his crew find themselves in a desperate race against time to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.
Plotwise, no one is reinventing the wheel here, instead you get two hours and twenty-eight minutes of balls to the wall, breathtaking action sequences. Henry Cavill steals the show (I know, the same Henry Cavill that plays Superman), and this is the first movie that you can finally see the great Tom Cruise show his age (in a good way). MI: Fallout is the most fun I’ve had in an action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road, and it finally introduces an element to the franchise that’s been missing from its twenty-year tenure: a bit of style.
–Chris Shiherlis & Jacob Kline