With summer now in the books and the fall awards season/pilot season fast approaching, The Before The Cyborgs staff decided to get together to talk about their favorite pieces of pop culture from the summer as well as look ahead to what’s coming for the rest of the year.
1. What was your FAVORITE summer movie this year?
Michael: Summer 2017 wasn’t the greatest movie season, but I did still manage to see some good solid films this summer season. Amongst my favorites include Baby Driver and War For the Planet of the Apes, but I would most definitely place Wonder Woman at the top of my list for summer 2017. As I wrote in my review, Wonder Woman truly is a wonder of cinematic art. It works well as an action/superhero film, sports a great cast (especially Gal Gadot), and provides a refreshingly emotional and even philosophical storyline. This is a smart movie that satisfies both the mind and the eye and is a welcome entry into a cannon of superhero films that have had hits and misses.
Ethan: My favorite film of Summer 2017 was David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, an achingly sad and powerfully poignant masterpiece starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. Following the ghost of a dead man depicted as a sheet with eyeholes cut out, Lowery explores grief, existence, and the power and history that a specific place can hold. Turning what should be a silly and amusing trope into an eerie and heavy-hearted story of love and loss, the cinematography perfectly frames the white figure lingering at the sides of rooms, watching hopelessly, the editing evokes great sadness as we see the fractured passage of time jumping forward without a moments notice, and not to mention the beautiful and haunting score that contributes to the film’s off-kilter and reflective atmosphere.
Nate: Since A Ghost Story (which I wrote a glowing review for) has already been mentioned. I’d like to spotlight Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. Epitomizing what a summer movie should be, Baby Driver is a fast-paced thrill ride featuring Wright’s trademark comedic abilities and visual flair. Moreover, the film stands out as a fresh idea among the many franchise films that dominated the summer. Blending a classic nostalgia with catchy music and high octane action, Baby Driver should not be missed. Also cheating because it technically won’t be wide released until later but I really enjoyed Call Me By Your Name
Ken: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, marking Marvel’s 15th entry into their still ever-growing cinematic universe, was one of the first films to kick-off the summer movie season; and among the most bizarre, infectiously fun and provocatively emotional blockbusters to do it. Fun and unique action scenes, an excellent soundtrack, and first-rate character development and performances all around from its excellent cast, with particular praise, deserved for Michael Rooker as Yondu and an effectively evil turn from Kurt Russell as Ego (perhaps one of the very best Marvel villains put to screen).
However, while a fun work on its own, Vol. 2 also deserves merit for its approach to such subject matter as a subversion of action film tropes, portraying relatable familial relationships from dysfunctional to straight-out abuse, to characters exhibiting physically accurate portrayals of real-world social and mental conditions. Though setting the pace for more films to come, Vol. 2 still delivers in all the ways a good sequel should and even beyond, staying true to the very goal set by Marvel years ago in creating relatable characters, worlds and stories, and still setting the pace for far more.
JS: IT, Not entirely a shocker, given my penchant for horror cinema, but Andy Muschietti updates Stephen King’s classic tale of kindertrauma for the Stranger Things generation. While not a perfect film – some feel Beverly Marsh is less empowered than the original, still, no sewer orgy scene and Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise is too cartoonish, and not terrifying enough – I’d live inside It’s universe if I could. As a lifelong horror lover, I’m addicted to crumbling, decrepit haunted houses; silver screen bogies; and, of course, cinematic depictions of the darkness humans try to hide. That darkness runs like a river of blood beneath Derry, Maine, and the updated film style brings the terror and trauma to a whole new generation.
2. What were one/two things you saw that people may have missed this summer?
Nate: Possibly a little bit of a cheat here but with foreign cinema, release dates around the world are so varied that I think this applies. I want to spotlight a couple of international films deserving of your attention:
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki (Finland): Released by streaming service MUBI. This Finnish film currently sits at 100% on the Tomatometer. Shot in beautiful black and white 16mm, Olli Maki finds the titular character getting ready for the biggest fight of his life. Turned into a national celebrity – fame, glory, and fortune await but is that the true source of happiness or is there something more?
My Life as a Zucchini (France): A best animated feature nominee at this past Oscars; My Life as a Zucchini is the heartfelt story hiding somber themes beneath its colorful exterior.
Your Name (Japan): The highest grossing anime film of all time in Japan, Your Name is set to be adapted by JJ Abrams for American audiences. Before that comes to pass though, you should check out the original. Not quite to the level of peak Miyazaki/ Ghibli (but what is?) Your Name is nonetheless a beautifully animated film on love across time and space.
The Other Side Of Hope (Finland): Aki Kaurismaki is the Finnish version of Bergman. His resume alone should dictate that this is a must watch but for those unaware, The Other Side of Hope features Kaurismaki’s trademark deadpan humor teaching lessons of accepting cultural differences, learning from one another and finding friendship in places unexpected. Go see it and if you’re interested, read Ethan’s stellar review here and be on the lookout for my own coming shortly.
Ken:In a summer often filled with so many studio giants, it’s easy for many independent films to slip through the cracks. One of these worth looking out for is the dark comedy, Ingrid Goes West, a sly and uncomfortable look at the darker side of social media starring Aubrey Plaza in one of the best performances of her career. Marking the debut of director Matt Spicer, the film blends both comedy and tragedy in an examination of the effects that social networks have on society, proposing the questions of how one truly lives their own life through their phone…or how one simply insinuates their life into others through it. With a smart, witty but absolutely brutal script, and a supporting cast of greats including Elizabeth Olsen, Wyatt Russell and O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ingrid Goes West is not an easy sit, but enough laughs to be very much worth the price of admission.
Michael: Detroit is another film which I reviewed, but one that I certainly feel has been missed by many this summer. Reasons for attendance decline at the theatres during summer months are numerous, but I feel that Detroit has the distinction of being the least ‘escapist’ of usual summer flicks. It’s a film rooted in a harsh reality and it is dark and distressing (though that should not excuse viewers from wanting to miss it, for it is indeed an important film) and may not attract audiences tired of the political drama unfolding in the United States. The last thing they want to see is more upsetting material.
On the TV side of things, I believe that it is very easy to miss a number of shows currently on the air. That is simply because so many shows are not on the traditional networks as they once were and its difficult for people to be able to watch all the different specialty channels out there. I reviewed National Geographic Channel’s miniseries “Genius” (which profiled Albert Einstein) but I know that many have not seen the show just because they don’t have that network. While episodes can be found online for those who search for them, with the sheer amount of shows available, missing a few is inevitable. I would enthusiastically recommend “Genius”, both as an entertaining and educational show. There are definitely high hopes for the second season which will highlight the life of Pablo Picasso.
JS: A Ghost Story: Almost the antithetical opposite to a summer blockbuster, David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is a quiet, subtle, sad but deeply powerful reflection on love, mourning, and loss. Originally released in a limited theatrical run in January, I waited on pins and needles for six whole months before finally getting to see this bedsheeted indie, and I was not disappointed. The white-sheeted ghost seems like it could be a hokey gimmick, but it actually delivers in spades, serving as a simple-but-effective visual cue that while we can see him, no one else can. The first film I can think of told from the ghost’s point of view, A Ghost Story offers deep insights into the psychology of spirits and hauntings, acting as a metaphor for being unable to move on and let go. Visually stunning, as well, watch it for the cinematography alone!
Ethan: A movie that didn’t get nearly enough attention was Lady Macbeth, a dark, period thriller with a star turn from British newcomer Florence Pugh. Subverting both gender and narrative, this ruthless and violent drama presents a female lead unwilling to comply to traditional gender roles, and one who takes matters into her own hands regardless of the cost.
3. Who or What was the biggest winner of the summer?
Ethan: This Summer’s big winner was Mr. David Lynch, who brought back Twin Peaks in all its strange and groundbreaking glory. One of his best pieces of work to date, Lynch managed to change the game once again, and challenge the rules of narrative television. (Lynch also stars in this fall’s Lucky, alongside his good friend, the late Harry Dean Stanton).
JS: Wonder Woman: Surpassing lame-ass controversy over a couple of ‘Women’s Only’ screenings, Wonder Woman went from surpassing expectations for a female director (why is that a thing?) to blowing nearly every superhero movie out of the water, setting new Box Office records, immediately ordering up at least one sequel, and scoring a win for strong, interesting female characters, and the women that create them!
Michael: I think there were several different individual winners both from a critical perspective and box office returns. Wonder Woman, War for the Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man, and Dunkirk all were great successes. Though I was not impressed with Dunkirk’s narrative, it’s technical and visual effects were top notch and can certainly be considered a winner in that sense.
Even IT should be rightfully considered a winner; it broke box office records for a horror film and a September release and is surely one of the stronger Stephen King adaptations in a number of years. An undisputed winner is up for debate but there are great arguments to be made for each of these titles and a few others.
LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST WHERE WE GO INTO WHAT WORKED AND DIDN'T WORK IN DUNKIRK
Ken: The Planet of the Apes prequel series, a trilogy of films each progressively better than the last (the latest release War for the Planet of the Apes), has a place among the Summer’s biggest winners. Like its predecessor, admired for its thematic approach and technical influences, the prequel series followed in suit through their own similar execution. Utilizing innovative filmmaking techniques, advanced special-effects in motion-capture technology, but solidified with a compelling story, expertly directed, and supported throughout with excellent performances (specifically Andy Serkis’ Oscar-worthy turn as Caesar). Through these films, the franchise has successfully challenged preconceptions of what prequels, and even trilogies to a degree, can accomplish. Demonstrating in the end that, sometimes, a return to previous work isn’t always bereft of inspiration.
Nate: Twin Peaks is the best thing to come out this summer bar none but I think the biggest winners were diversity. Kumail Nanjiani gave us one of the best films of the summer in The Big Sick (outperforming its lesser counterpart Home Again in the rom-com department despite boasting less star power), Kogonada’s directorial debut Columbus (starring John Cho) is getting rave reviews and Girls Trip was a surprise hit (ahead of the similarly themed Scarlett Johansson film Rough Night)
4. What is your most anticipated television show either returning or premiering this fall?
Ken: A surprise hit last year, Stranger Things (2016-) amassed an enormous dedicated following with its striking homage to 1980s aesthetics, story elements straight out of the works of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and John Carpenter and presented with the flair of classic Spielberg/Amblin era productions.
The new season promises the return of series-favorite characters, the world’s history and roles expanded further alongside new additional cast, and brand new horrors to face (of which, not all are necessarily paranormal), in 8 episodes helmed respectively by the Duffers alongside producer Shawn Levy (Real Steel) and guest directors including Academy award-winning Pixar alumni, Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) and up-and-coming independent filmmaker Rebecca Thomas (Electrick Children). So this Halloween, if you’re in need of some good throwback science-fiction horror for your pleasure, this series has got you covered.
Ethan: In terms of television, Netflix continues to produce great shows, with the return of 80’s nostalgia trip Stranger Things, as well as season four of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian anthology series Black Mirror.
Nate: Mindhunter, David Fincher’s project once again sees him working with Netflix (previously directing episodes of House Of Cards). This time he is at the helm of a series that is right in his wheelhouse. Following two FBI detectives seeking to get into the psyches of criminals; Fincher has thrived here in the past with films like Se7en and Zodiac so Mindhunter should be no different.
Michael:On October 1st, after six long years the world’s greatest misanthrope returns! Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm is back with season 9, and this is absolutely my most anticipated TV return this fall. The brilliance of David’s scripts and the awesome improv abilities of the cast are highlights of this acclaimed comedy series, and Larry David’s constant indifference to societal expectations remain as sharp as they were when the show premiered back in 2000. Expectations are high but the reason for optimism is strong!
JS: New Girl – Go ahead, say what you want – point and laugh, I’ve heard it all. I became dangerously obsessed with New Girl somewhere along the line, for some odd reason. While people love to hate on New Girl, for some reason, I think it’s freaking hilarious, while still being real and relatable, and also delivering all the feels. Although truncated from a full season to an abridged mini, New Girl’s entire trajectory has hinged upon certain characters getting together, or wouldn’t they. They played that chemistry out for six whole seasons and finally, towards the end, everyone’s ending up with their perfect fit. Oh yeah, a new season of New Girl means one final Thanksgiving episode!
5. What is your most anticipated film for the rest of the year?
Ethan: My most anticipated film yet to come out this year is Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Ladybird, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age comedy-drama. Having built up lots of buzz from the festival circuit, it will be interesting to see how Gerwig operates behind the camera.
Nate: Having been a fan of Kogonada’s video essays for years, his debut feature Columbus is high on my radar. Already being compared to some of my favorite films like Lost in Translation in the way that it examines ennui between two lost souls; the slow wait for Columbus to be released nationwide is killing me. Also, I’ve already seen it but Call Me By Your Name is one of the best films of the year that is set to come out later this year and is sure to be a major awards contender.
Michael: I have a few titles that I am looking forward to including Darkest Hour (Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill is already receiving Oscar buzz), Murder on the Orient Express (Trailer Breakdown), Pixar’s Coco, The Shape of Water, The Disaster Artist (watch the trailer here), LBJ, and of course…. Star Wars! (Read our Last Jedi Teaser Breakdown Here)
JS: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women: Non-monogamy gets a bad rap. Either the world assumes someone is a player, a ‘loose woman’, or they’re being duplicitous, secretly angling back towards monogamy. There’s been a serious dearth of cinematic depictions of polyamory, despite the movement becoming increasingly mainstream with each year. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women stands to offer a realistic, sympathetic representation for poly folks everywhere. At least this way, polys have a film to point to for confused parents and partners.
Ken: Admittedly, it’s become difficult as to what I consider my most anticipated film out of the upcoming fall line-up would be. Mainly, because there’s honestly so much to choose from. As such, honorable mentions include Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, Last Flag Flying (Watch The Trailer Here), Coco, The Disaster Artist, Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water and (of course) Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But out of all of them, the film I’m perhaps most looking forward to would be the latest darkly-comic offering of playwright/filmmaker Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and what looks to be yet another Oscar-worthy performance by the ever great Frances McDormand (playing a character almost antithetical to her previous work in Fargo (1996)). With a supporting cast of other great character actors including the ever-entertaining Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, the film promises to be yet another staple in McDonagh’s respected filmography; delivering both tragedy and comedy with a sly wink and a boot to the head.