Summer Movies 2019

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John Wick walking through the desert with fellow assassin Sofia and her highly trained attack dogs. Photo// chicago.suntimes.com

If you’re like most students I know, chances are you take the summer off from school. People do this for various reasons: to save money, to plan for fall, because certain classes aren’t offered or because they need to mentally recover from the winter semester. It’s really that last reason that seems to be common amongst many. What better way to wind down than to catch movies over the summer, without the burden of homework, group projects or tests? Over the summer I managed to catch several movies, with varying degrees of enjoyment. Here is a quick rundown of some of those movies I saw:

John Wick 3

Release date: May 17, 2019

Should you watch it: Absolutely. Who doesn’t love Keanu Reeves? 

Watchability: 9/10 

Thanks to its popularity, this series hardly needs any introduction. John Wick has become synonymous with a higher standard of action movies. On the surface we’ve got another great entry to the franchise. The action is bigger, the lore is expanded and Keanu Reeve’s commitment to the character is unwavering. Lawrence Fishbourne returns, who is always great fun, and Halle Berry is added to the cast as an assassin with a pair of well-trained attack dogs. 

What stands out the most in this film however are the latest villains. Actor and martial artist Mark Dacascos shake things up as the villainous Zero, who equals John Wick in skill. Zero’s number two enforcers are played by Cecep Arif Rahman and Yayan Ruhian, both martial artists from the well-respected Raid films (directed by Gareth Evans). Arguably the most surprising addition is the Adjudicator, a powerful force in the world of assassins. The Adjudicator is a non-binary character, which is played by non-binary actress Asia Kate Dillon. Despite this series being so action heavy it still has time to be surprisingly inclusive. I can only imagine how the fourth entry in this series hopes to top this one.

Shaft (2019)

Release date: June 14, 2019

Should you watch it: Maybe. It depends on your taste.

  Watchability: 6/10  

All three generations of Shaft ready for action.
Photo// rogerebert.com

I was surprised to hear that another Shaft movie was being made, this time in a modern context. It’s essentially a loose continuation of the movie Shaft from year 2000, which itself was a loose continuation of the original Shaft trilogy and TV series from the 1970s. Despite this connection (and confusing redundant title), you really don’t need to watch any of the earlier films to enjoy this one. But all that aside, this film is an action comedy that stars Samuel L. Jackson as detective Shaft and Jessie T. Usher as his funny but less than capable son, who happens to be an FBI agent. On the surface this is an inoffensive film that homages past action films while making jokes at Millennial tropes. A common running gag is old school methods vs new school technology.

Your overall enjoyment of this film depends on how much you like Jackson as an actor. This film has some moments, but it feels a bit undercooked. For me, as a fan of the original trilogy, this film feels way too modern and way too unsure of what its identity is. Because the landscape of films has changed so much this movie was never going to be a return to form for this series- unless they did a full-blown period piece, which this film is not. The cameo from Richard Roundtree, who played the original Shaft, was a fun element added late into movie, but it wasn’t enough to elevate this film beyond a passive viewing. I have one personal gripe with this film I cannot forgive: they played up a cool villain (played by Isaach de Bankolé) and did absolutely nothing with him. Nothing is more lukewarm than wasted potential.

Toy Story 4

Release date: June 21, 2019

Should you watch it: Of course. Your childhood depends on it.

Watchability: 8/10 

I considered Toy Story 3’s ending to be epic and nearly perfect. So initially, I questioned if a fourth entry even needed to happen. But it managed to surprise me in a few ways.

Woody, the main character in the Toy Story franchise.
Photo//comingsoon.net

Instead of trying to go big like its predecessor, Toy Story 4 scales things back to tell a more personal story. While most fan favorite characters return, a batch of newcomers help keep this entry fresh, which is always fun. I know this entry’s existence is offensive to certain die-hard Toy Story fans, and I can understand why those select few have essentially committed to never seeing it. But I promise that this film’s intimate approach works well, and it doesn’t take anything away from Toy Story 3’s ending.

The biggest update is the evolution of Bo Peep, played brilliantly by Annie Potts, from small cameo to full blown supporting character, which works well in service to the narrative, and helps tie up some loose ends.  While I can’t say this entry is the best in the series- it’s very debatable- it is easily the most surprising. Admittingly, I got a bit emotional by the end, because one of the franchises’ most beloved characters got a well-earned ending to their narrative arc. I don’t know how the series will continue beyond this entry because there is only so much you can squeeze out of any series. But if we never see another Toy Story again, they left the franchise in a good place.  

Anna

Release date: June 21, 2019

Should you watch it: Don’t bother, trailers only set up unreasonable expectations.

Watchability: 3/10 

In short, Anna is a hot mess. Flashbacks in films can be important to relay relevant information. Usually, it’s an infrequent film making device. But in Anna, flashbacks are the rule and the only thing this accomplishes is bogging down the narrative with slow pacing and overloads of exposition. This film goes for a more European style of filmmaking, with sex and espionage at the forefront. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t always going for pure exploitation, rather than playing to its strengths. Even Cillian Murphy pulling off a convincing American accent is more of a distraction than an achievement.

The beautiful but deadly assassin, Anna.
Photo// theactionelite.com

The film does have some good action scenes, particularly one that takes place in a restaurant, which homages the John Wick style of action. But unlike John Wick, Anna doesn’t have any substance beyond its sex and violence. Director Luc Besson has covered this territory before with his 1990 film La Femme Nikita, which was later followed by a TV series of the same and an updated American remake TV series, simply titled Nikita. Either of these are much better than the slog that Anna turned out to be.

*Note: This is an opinion piece. All opinions stated here are those of the author.