Film Review: Top 10 Films of Summer 2018

Summertime is known for its long daylight hours, minimal responsibilities, sometimes unbearable heat, and above all, blockbusters. These seasonal movies range from the fantastic to the laughably unremarkable, but no matter their quality they all work toward the same end — to offer viewers a fun, air-conditioned escape from reality. Here, in no particular order, are The Guardian’s Arts and Entertainment staff picks for the best Summer 2018 films.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Author: Natalie Tran, Senior Staff Writer

I work at a movie theater, and by far the movie with the happiest, most energetic crowds is “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again,” which has left moviegoers literally dancing and singing. And my, my, how can anyone with two ears resist — when every mom’s favorite Swedish disco music is coupled with a never-ending summer on the islands of Greece? To top this ABBA-fest off, “Here We Go Again” features the sun-kissed, star-studded likes of Meryl Streep, Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, and, yes, even Cher. The Goddess of Pop’s unforgettable rendition of “Fernando” is bound to catch every heart in the audience and make them wonder if, indeed, there was something in the air that night.

Currently, 13 out of the 17 movies playing at my theater are sequels, but “Here We Go Again” succeeds where some others have blundered. It delivers a splashy installment that improves upon the original in all the best ways, from its celebrity appearances to its songs, dance choreography, and filming locations. Even its nonlinear narrative is a surprisingly welcome twist, as the movie intertwines the stories of a present-day Sophie Sheridan (Amanda Seyfried) and a 1979 version of her mother, Donna Sheridan (Lily James). These aspects of the movie, along with its various iterations of romantic, familial, and platonic love, make for something quite campy, magical, and endearing. This movie may be the summer’s perfect two-hour escape, but caution: its soundtrack will be stuck in your head for at least a week.

Ant Man and the Wasp
Author: Rachel Seo, Contributing Writer

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a frothy, fun summer action flick that brings welcome respite from the torrential tragedy of “Avengers: Infinity War.” Featuring Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, alias Ant-Man, and Evangeline Lilly as Hope Pym, alias the Wasp, the movie follows the two superheroes as they attempt to locate Pym’s mother, who was lost several decades ago in the subatomic quantum realm. Added to the mix is a mysterious figure called Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a phasing antagonist who seems intent on disrupting Lang’s and Pym’s plans. Rudd’s and Lilly’s chemistry as a crime-fighting duo that sometimes moonlights as a couple lends the film a humorous lightheartedness that harmonizes with the overall gravity of their mission. Excellent performances from the supporting cast, most notably a sequence involving Luis (Michael Peña), contribute to the movie’s overall charm. In stark contrast to “Infinity War,” which it succeeded, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is perhaps most significant in its emotional complexity: There are no power-hungry villains, just a cast of characters that fade in and out of shades of gray. The movie’s ending will leave viewers assured of the comforting contradiction of the human nature — that though we are all imperfect, we are worthy of redemption.

BlackkKlansman
Author: Ashley Chen, Senior Staff Writer

Based on a true story, director Spike Lee’s “BlackkKlansman” is about Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado officer who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s to expose and quell its local chapter. To accomplish this edgy sting operation, Stallworth (John David Washington) poses as a white supremacist via phone calls to garner Klan intel. He then sends in Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a white, Jewish detective, to physically interact with the Klansmen. The entire mission sounds bizarre and almost impossible, but the film takes advantage of the situation’s irony, giving the audience plenty of moments to laugh at the buddy-cop dynamic, racial stereotypes, and the portrayal of white nationalists’ downright asininity. “That ‘70s Show” star, Topher Grace, graces the screen in a ‘70s backdrop again, but this time playing the role of David Duke, the vile Grand Wizard of the KKK. In a twisted way, he and the other KKK members have such malicious and unacceptable dialogue that it almost seems funny or hyperbolic. However, this was intended to deride the ludicrous, uneducated mindsets of these insidious, so-called purists, treating them as the butt of a joke. Though the film taps into jovial and satirical scenes, there are solemn scenes that accentuate the malevolent yet true story on racism. Lee integrates real, present footage of white supremacists to say that virulent Klansmen still live on to disperse their odious and violent ideals.“BlackkKlansman” doesn’t mean to remind viewers of the ever-evident racism they are sorely familiar with — it reinforces that this battle and conversation for change isn’t over yet.

Ocean’s 8
Author: Chloe Esser, A&E Editor

After some controversy over whether we really needed another “Ocean’s” movie, “Ocean’s 8” easily answers that question with a resounding, “yes, this one.” Fresh out of prison, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister of the now-deceased protagonist of the original “Ocean’s” trilogy, Danny Ocean, is not interested in leading a quiet life on the outside. Out for money — and revenge on the person who put her behind bars — she teams up with an old partner, Lou (Cate Blanchett), to assemble an eclectic team of women, portrayed by actresses sporting big names from Helena Bonham Carter to Rhianna to Mindy Kaling. Together this team aims to pull off, in true “Ocean’s” spirit, a seemingly impossible heist.

The mark? A priceless diamond necklace to be stolen from the neck of glitzy movie star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) in the midst of the Met Gala. It’s one hell of a recipe for style and excitement. “Ocean’s 8” refuses to disappoint, tackling criminality with an undeniably feminine glamor. The sheer amount of talent serves the large cast well, and the plot never fails to provide just enough twist and turns to keep the audience on the edge of their seat. It may not be a movie filled with substance, but “Ocean’s 8” still easily sashays to the top of this summer’s best films with suspense, taste, and a cast so star-studded it’s nearly as shiny as the jewels they aim to steal.

Eighth Grade
Author: Ashley Chen, Senior Staff Writer

Most of us would rather forget age thirteen, when acne-ridden skin, new and weird body hair, erratic mood swings, and raging hormones were all that seemed to define and debilitate us. However, Bo Burnham’s debut movie, “Eighth Grade,” beautifully celebrates the visceral vulnerability and embarrassing insecurities of one taciturn and socially inept teenager named Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), who strives to find acceptance and meaningful companionship in a world that makes this increasingly difficult. Humorous and heartfelt, this coming-of-age film is set in present-day, when social media and internet influencers reign. Burnham acutely represents this modern generation’s adolescence, first with Kayla’s desire to display a picture-perfect lifestyle and confident facade through grainy YouTube vlogs and Snapchat filters. The social media aspect may not resonate with people who grew up in earlier eras, but this doesn’t overshadow the movie’s story. The film’s goal isn’t to single out Kayla as a byproduct of her own digital generation. Rather, she personifies any young person who has felt self-loathing, self-doubt, and irritability in attempt to find her individual identity and be validated by others. It is this that becomes the message and heart of the narrative. Fisher’s superb acting coupled with her real-life shyness make Kayla’s timidness, awkwardness, and anxiety all the more transparent and realistic. Her character taps into how overbearing and overwhelming everything, no matter how major or minor, had once felt to us when we had the mind of an eighth-grader. With a sense of verisimilitude, “Eighth Grade” is painfully relatable, making us relive nervous, scary, and euphoric experiences like we’re overcoming middle school all over again.

Sorry To Bother You
Author: Rachel Seo, Contributing Writer

A film that marks Raymond Lawrence (“Boots”) Riley’s directorial debut, “Sorry to Bother You” is a portrayal of American life that is both hauntingly familiar and refreshingly funky. Protagonist Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) resides in a fictional Oakland, one that proudly boasts bright colors and ridiculous ads. After years of being down on his luck, he lands a job at a telemarketing agency and learns how to rise in the ranks. It’s only when he reaches the top, however, that he realizes what price he’ll have to pay to keep “riding the golden elevator.” Glamorized slave labor, graffiti-fueled rebellions, and Armie Hammer as a ravaging, capitalism-driven extremist all play a role in this wild film throughout its two-hour-long running time. Underneath the vibrant colors and wacky characters, however, lies a satirical tale that likens today’s reality to a freaky fantasy. Riley parallels the idiosyncrasies of his film to the clear failures of today’s world; every twist of the plot feels like a twist of a knife that cuts deeper into the viewers and unearths the many layers that comprise the complexity of current culture. It’s a story that, for some, might hit a little too close to home — then again, of course, that’s the point.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Author: Daisy Scott, A&E Editor

It’s been 25 years since the release of the first “Jurassic Park” and eons since the actual demise of the dinosaurs, yet it seems that they are anything but extinct when it comes to the silver screen. Enter “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” the latest installment of the “Jurassic Park” franchise, as well as a part of rising trend in making even more sequels instead of new films. While this results in this film not being the most profound (or original) of the summer, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” does possess an undeniable element of fun and rationalized ridiculousness. After all, who doesn’t get some form of enjoyment from watching Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) sprinting away from CGI, prehistoric animals — whether it’s due to being legitimately entertained, or by making fun? However, where the past movies have focused on a plotline that hinged on humans versus dinosaur battles, with most of the “good guys” miraculously outrunning and outsmarting the dinos, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” takes a different approach. Excluding the moments when the dinosaurs are attacking people, most of the movie focuses on the protagonists’ attempts to save the cloned creatures. The film begins with the information that the island where the dinosaurs have lived since the destruction of the Jurassic World amusement park is threatened by an active volcano. Jeff Goldblum graces the screen with his presence at this point, returning as Dr. Ian Malcolm, to argue that the dinosaurs should be allowed to go extinct once more. Others disagree, though, including Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who contacts Grady in an attempt to rescue as many animals as possible before the volcano erupts. What follows is an abundance of the usual chase scenes, special effects, explosions, romantic tension, and of course, a multitude of dinosaurs. In the end, viewers will likely not find this film particularly memorable or noteworthy. Yet despite its shortcomings, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” offers a lot of fun and pure entertainment, making it an enjoyable summer blockbuster to see with friends.

Incredibles 2
Author: Promita Nandy, Senior Staff Writer

Picking up right where “The Incredibles” left off, “Incredibles 2” shifts the narrative’s focus to Elastigirl’s (Holly Hunter) superhero abilities and career. Meanwhile, Mr. Incredible, alias Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson), struggles with life at home, dealing with his son’s homework troubles, his daughter’s boyfriend troubles, and his baby’s developing plethora of superpowers. While the role reversal sets this movie apart from the original and allows viewers to see Elastigirl in action, all of the film’s events, starting with the first crime that Elastigirl stops, seem way too convenient. Problems arise right when the protagonists need them. What makes this even more suspicious is that there are only a few people who are aware of where and when Elastigirl is out fighting crime, which narrows down the potential villains significantly. Compared to “The Incredibles,” the plot of this movie is incredibly obvious, with no surprising plot twists or true danger. Rather, it’s the messages within this movie that set it apart from its predecessor.

“The Incredibles” sent a strong message about gender roles and stereotypes, and “Incredibles 2” builds on that narrative, with Edna Mode (Brad Bird) explaining that “done properly, parenting is a heroic act.” While the action and animation will keep the kids entertained, parents and adults can enjoy some of the interesting discussions on the societal impacts of technology and America’s justice system. Director Brad Bird does a great job of presenting multiple sides of every argument, and making this film deeply relevant to current events.

Although “Incredibles 2” doesn’t have the same sense of novelty that the “The Incredibles” did, it does remind us of why we fell in love with the characters in the first place. Overall, the movie rides on nostalgia and delivers on the anticipation built up over the last decade and a half, but it’s not nearly as iconic or memorable as the original.

For a more information on “Incredibles 2,” read the full article at http://ucsdguardian.org/2018/07/31/film-review-incredibles-2/

Christopher Robin
Author: Christopher (Robin) Robertson, Editor in Chief

Very rarely is a movie marketed for audiences of all ages anything more than a ploy to draw in big families and even bigger ticket sales, but director Marc Forster’s live-action “Christopher Robin,” a retelling of A.A. Milne’s classic tales of Winnie the Pooh, is the exception. Though its simplistic cinematography and melodramatic score keep it from the lofty heights of critical acclaim, the movie toys with a careful balance of childlike wonder and adult tension. A grown-up Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), the movie’s namesake, is an overworked efficiency manager at Winslow Luggage — a bleak contrast to the familiar, whimsical boy who played in the Hundred Acre Woods. Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings), in search of his friends, stumbles into the boring businessman’s path at a time when his professional and personal life teeter on a precipice. What ensues is the destruction of Christopher Robin’s home, a series of frenetic train rides, and a charming cast of nostalgic faces. Extricating Christopher Robin’s childhood friends from their carefree days and planting them among real-world woes proves to be an arduous yet worthwhile endeavor for Forster. At times, the emotion of a scene is a bit too assertive, the characters a bit too static, and the writing a bit too convenient. However, Forster seems to revel in these moments. All these scenes appeal to a childlike imagination that sometimes lacks subtlety but overflows with creativity. So, with a generous helping of the suspension of disbelief, “Christopher Robin” offers much more for families than a jar of honey. It offers a heaping dose of nostalgia.

Hereditary
Author: Justin Nguyen, Staff Writer

The year 2018 promises to be one of the greatest for innovative horror in recent memory, and even with such titles as “A Quiet Place” and “Annihilation,” there is no film quite like director Ari Aster’s debut feature “Hereditary.” With a stellar cast, carried by Toni Collette’s mesmerizing (and Oscar-worthy) lead performance, “Hereditary” locates familial tension and motherhood as sites of horror and is relentless in their persisting concomitant discomfort. Following the trend of slow-burner horror films that started with “It Follows” and “The VVitch,” “Hereditary” is a possession film that goes beyond the parameters of the genre, marrying demonology and a wildly unsettling look at a family struggling to cope in the face of tragedy. Collette’s gripping portrayal of Annie Graham, a grieving mother trying to prevent her family from falling apart, combined with the film’s slow build of anxiety, exemplify horror at its best.

“Hereditary” is a refreshing break from trite horror trends of recent years, turning away from cheap jump scares and overused, familiar plot devices in favor of an incredibly rewarding slow-burn. Interestingly, what makes “Hereditary” such an enriching experience is not that it’s scary by modern conventions of horror, but rather how it takes raw human reactions to loss and turns them into something truly horrifying and unnerving. “Hereditary” is a remarkable turn for American horror that marks a hopeful future for the genre with the reemergence of innovative tropes and leading women as producers of powerful horror.


Images courtesy of IMDb.com

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