One of the big stories this month reflects the failure of the 2017 summer movie season. By all accounts, it was dismal. Nobody made much money, one measure of success. Critically, Rotten Tomatoes records splat after splat after splat beginning in May and ending August 25. The Emoji Movie, which sounds like it shouldn’t have even been made, clocks in at 8% Fresh with critics. Only six movies were over 90%. Wonder Woman and Spider Man: Homecoming had 92%; four others, 93%: Dunkirk, Baby Driver, War for the Planet of the Apes, Logan Lucky. The figures I think most interesting are the viewers’ likes. Often, perhaps usually, there is a discrepancy. Critics liked the Captain Underpants movie at 87%; viewers didn’t at 63%. Even more dramatic: 78% vs 48% for An Inconvenient Sequel. Critics hated The Dark Tower at 16%. Viewers were kinder at 54%.
I liked Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy, and I didn’t think The Dark Tower was too bad. My favorite exchange was between Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) and Roland Deschain (Idris Elba). They’ve conquered evil and returned to Earth for a respite. On the streets of New York, Jake wants to introduce the Gunslinger to its wonders so treats him to a hot dog: “Savages! What breed?” comes the reply. It was funny in context. Sort of. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) says to Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), “I can save today. You can save the world.” Sigh. Sniffle. On we go.
So for your viewing pleasure, I have four movies to watch not associated with this summer. The first, Collateral Beauty, scored 13% on Rotten Tomatoes, but its audience rating was 64%. The plot, ah yes, the plot. Saying anything about it is problematic. The word that comes to mind is “coping,” which is what each member of the impressive cast—Will Smith, Naomie Harris , Helen Mirren, Michael Pena, Ed Norton, and Keira Knightly—does in his or her own way. Without talking about the plot, I can say perhaps that the story dismisses easy answers with feeling and shows a way past them. (On another note, please do not watch Will Smith’s Seven Pounds. One reviewer says it has the worst ending of the decade. It took me a week to get over it.)
Hacksaw Ridge, an insomnia-inspired exception to my no-R-rated rule, is based on the true story of Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) and his willingness to serve in a war, at the battlefront, without a weapon. A Seventh-day Adventist, he would not kill, so he became a medic. The story has its complexities, including his father who fought in World War I. The brutality of war results in the deserved R-rating. Hard to watch, but good to learn about the first conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The event that David Paterson, then governor of New York, called The Miracle on the Hudson seemed an unlikely topic for an entire film. Yet in Sully, Clint Eastwood manages to come up with a believable, moving story when we know, after all, that the pilots landed the plane safely. The administrative part of the story takes hierarchy and bureaucracy to a new level. An exception to my critics versus audience observance, this movie has identical marks for both sides. Luckily, I’m not afraid to fly.
To find a negative review for Hidden Figures, you have to go Hindustan Times or Cinegarage (in Spanish). Audiences also loved this movie. On one hand, there were a number of historical inaccuracies that made me uncomfortable. One scene I would have thought inaccurate wasn’t: John Glenn really did ask that Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) calculate his trajectory manually, although she had a few days instead of a few minutes to do it. On the other hand, the most understated moments involved the characters Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). John Glenn’s heat shield has problems, and he must return early. They are clearly seen praying for his safety. Tiny, but remarkable.
Having considered all these, I have to note that three of the four are based on true stories, not my usual sub-genre. All have to do with different kinds of heroism, three of the four involving work, not usually so interesting. One late night in Rome last November, one of my grandson’s couldn’t get to sleep and asked me for my favorite movies. I hadn’t seen these then. Three of the four I’d recommend even to a 10-year-old. War can wait. Of course, I have other favorites, but really, I’d rather you tell me yours.