It’s the height of summer, but theaters around the Bay Area are currently resplendent in a wide variety of amazing pictures, from tentpole superhero movies to quiet, meditative micro-budget films. If you’re looking for a movie to watch this week, Daily Cal Arts has got you covered. The following excerpts are highlights from the movie reviews we’ve released in the last few weeks (and two that are upcoming) — click the links for our full reviews!
Baby Driver — After opening with a car chase that would make George Miller jealous, we see the title character, Baby (Ansel Elgort) become entangled in a classic “one last job.” But his exit from crime is complicated as he falls for Debora (Lily James), whose taste in music makes him swoon. Much of the film is contingent on their romance, and Elgort and James deserve credit for an instantly believable connection.
“Baby Driver” is an infectious joyride because of its stellar performances and standout soundtrack, but ultimately, the film is a triumph for what it represents. This may be Wright’s sixth feature, but it feels fresh. For a filmmaker notorious for his style — crash zooms, quick cuts and wipe pans among them — Wright reigns in the directorial flourishes that put him on the map. While his unique style is present in “Baby Driver,” it has matured and evolved, allowing rich, complex characters to speak louder than any camera trick. Grade: 5.0 / 5.0
— Harrison Tunggal
Dunkirk — “Dunkirk” is a two-hour-long nail-biter of a tension-ratcheter a la “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The aerial scenes of dogfighting are gritty, visceral, point-of-view masterpieces that incorporate real, flying aircraft and accurate physics to absolutely stunning effect.
In the water too, Nolan excels, taking advice from fellow directors and even developing IMAX rigs to enter the water. This film has not an inkling of the CGI nightmare that has plagued big-budget films of late. Capturing the experience of that event — in which hundreds of thousands of trapped Allied soldiers were rescued on the strength of primarily civilian boats — presents both technical and creative challenges, and Nolan brings to this film both his passion and his inventive form of narrative filmmaking. Grade: 4.5 / 5.0
— Imad Pasha
Girls Trip — Director Malcolm D. Lee, best known for captaining the better-than-it-should-be “The Best Man” series, puts his extensive knowledge of finding comedy in complex relationships to excellent use in “Girls Trip.” (The film) refuses to utilize these women as pawns to further its own comedic or dramatic ends, never indulging in forced betrayals or broken friendships. Instead, the film relies on a type of casual, conversational comedy that seems almost impromptu and reveals to us how much these women actually love each other. Grade: 3.5 / 5.0
— Nils Jepson
Spider-Man: Homecoming — Leave it to “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the best iteration of the amazing neighborhood web-slinger to remind us all that superhero movies are at their best when the heroes they depict are shown to not be all that super.
It might not be the most original Marvel film — that still goes to the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” — but it does represent a new way of telling a blockbuster: focus on the little, yet authentic, characters rather than only the super ones. This definitely isn’t a small-scale film, but it is a human-scaled one. And, honestly, that makes it a blockbuster worth praising. Grade: 4.0 / 5.0
— Levi Hill
A Ghost Story — What makes David Lowery’s micro-budget film a masterpiece is the way in which it radically re-encodes the filmic construction of grief without breaking the fabric of the film itself. Instead, Lowery breaks us — repeatedly — by reminding us that loss can’t be written off with some tears and a breakdown before a prompt resumption of reality. Sorrow lingers. We hang on, and that attachment is actualized in the ghost of C (Casey Affleck), who stands sentinel, locked in place and adrift in time. We become his mirror, a second ghost in a story dominated by stillness and silence, by simple visuals and subversions of expectations. Grade: 5.0 / 5.0
— Imad Pasha
The Big Sick — Taking a story about family, serious illness and cultural expectations and imbuing it with humor is no easy task. Nevertheless, “The Big Sick” manages to overcome this challenge and keep its audience laughing as viewers are taken through a touching story, one in which the protagonist risks losing his girlfriend and being disowned by his family.
It’s a film about love, family, bonding with others and finding a career path; it’s touching and heartwarming, yet never too heavy. Having a whole theater laughing from beginning to end is not only a delightful experience for viewers, but a remarkable achievement for the film. “The Big Sick” manages to unite its audience through both its humor and tender depictions of navigating cultural differences and facing adversity. Grade: 4.5 / 5.0
— Lynn Zhou
War for the Planet of the Apes — “War” has every right to be confident — it is the best trilogy finale since “Toy Story 3,” maybe even since “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” Like both of these films, “War” is eminently Oscar-worthy, from Andy Serkis’ raw, emotional performance to Matt Reeves’ character-focused directing. This “Planet of the Apes” trilogy combines the technological marvels of modern blockbusters with stories that are guaranteed to resonate with audiences who revisit them years from now. “War” reminds us how strange it is to witness history, but also how wonderful it can be. Grade: 5.0 / 5.0
— Harrison Tunggal
Wonder Woman — There’s something incredibly powerful about watching a superheroine goddess be trained to save the world by a battalion of badass women. Wonder Woman’s unwavering confidence and expectation of equity demonstrates the power of all-women environments to influence girls’ self-perception and their perception of other women as they grow. If young girls see women who are recognized as not only capable, but extraordinary multidimensional leaders — the way Diana did with Antiope and her mother — their perception of other women and themselves will be positively impacted. “Wonder Woman” positions this as an obvious truth. Grade: 4.5 / 5.0
— Sophie-Marie Prime
Atomic Blonde — “Atomic Blonde,” which is set to release this Friday, promises to be an action-packed, female-led spy thriller. The titular character, played by Charlize Theron (Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road”) is a true 007, working for the British spy agency MI6. Look out for our review of the film later this week!
Detroit — directed by Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty”), “Detroit” tells the story of the Algiers Motel incident, which occurred in Detroit, Michigan on July 25, 1967, during the racially charged 12th Street riot. The film stars John Boyega (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) and is being released by Annapurna (“20th Century Women,” “Everybody Wants Some!!”). Look out for our review of the film later this week!