Summer Movies & TV: The Good, The Bad & The Still To Come

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
August is almost here, which means we must face the reality that summer, eventually, does come to an end. By now, studios have released most of their big movie bets, and networks are gearing up for their fall lineups. So, has this summer's entertainment really been all that entertaining?

Financially speaking, it’s been a good summer for movies. Jurassic World stomped over everything, becoming the third highest-grossing film of all time. Overall, this year’s box office may not be breaking records, but it’s still stronger than last year’s. “The box office is currently running ahead of last summer by 15% and now stands at $3.4 [billion],” Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations Co. told Refinery29 via email. “That's currently the second highest summer on record as we head down the final stretch. That said, August's slate of films doesn't look particularly strong, so topping 2013's $4.7 [billion] is probably a long shot.”

The on-screen offerings themselves have been a mixed bag. For every Trainwreck, there’s been a Pixels. For every UnREAL, there’s been a True Detective. Let’s evaluate where we stand.

What's Been Good
There have been some bright spots: The success of Trainwreck, which has already grossed more than $68 million worldwide, should be shouted from the mountaintops. Why, yes, of course a raunchy comedy with a female lead can be an actual hit. Mad Max: Fury Road gave us Imperator Furiosa, a majestic, badass heroine. Inside Out is not just a top-notch Pixar release, but one of the most emotionally stirring movies in years. Spy gave us hilarious performances from Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne, and a lovely illustration of female friendships. Bring on Ghostbusters, Paul Feig! Magic Mike XXL made us feel, um, things. Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, which opens tomorrow and features a kick-ass performance by newcomer Rebecca Ferguson, is a franchise installment done right. Outside of the realm of big blockbusters, Amy is a powerful documentary that has deservedly won an audience.

The most thrilling summer TV offering came from an unlikely source: Lifetime. The network debuted UnREAL, a biting satire about the behind-the-scenes machinations at a Bachelor-type reality series. Despite its brilliance, this is not light summer fare. The show has a seriously fucked up soul, but it's all the better for it. Elsewhere, Orange Is the New Black came back for a great third season, and USA got some critical love for Mr. Robot.

What's Been Mediocre
The success of Jurassic World, the summer’s biggest box-office draw, may be exciting news for Universal, but disheartening to anyone who thought the film — and its female problem — wasn’t worth all the dollars thrown its way. The movie isn’t the worst on this list, but it’s not anywhere near the level of quality of last year’s Chris Pratt blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. Speaking of Marvel, Ant-Man wasn’t a total flop, but nor was it one of Marvel’s home runs. While the film did well at the box office, it had a low debut for a Marvel movie, and a mild critical reception.

What's Been Bad
At least Jurassic World wasn’t Terminator Genisys, part of a franchise which probably shouldn’t have come back, even though it constantly insists that it will be. Nor was it this week’s reboot: Vacation, which Variety called, “miserably unfunny, mean-spirited, and just plain wrong.” And then there was Adam Sandler’s Pixels. The less said about that crapsterpiece, the better.

At least one was expecting Pixels to be good. The same cannot be said for one of the biggest disappointments of the TV season. Everyone was excited for True Detective, which had an engaging if flawed first season. I gave up on the dour, confusing, and pretentious second season after the first episode, and further reviews have only confirmed that I made the right decision. (For what it's worth, the majority of disappointing TV might have be more boring than bad this summer.)

What You Might Have Missed
The teen-driven indies Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Dope were big hits at Sundance, but, as The Hollywood Reporter noted, they just didn’t gain box office traction when they were released this summer. Though Me and Earl has been controversial among critics, both movies are inventive stories about young people and worth the watch. Documentary The Wolfpack is another exploration of youth, following brothers who lived in isolation in their Lower East Side apartment. Head to your local arthouse to see lauded German film Phoenix, and Tangerine, a movie which follows transgender sex workers and was filmed using iPhones.

On the small screen(s) side, get yourself to Amazon and devour the adorable and smart rom-com Catastrophe. If you want something a little more serious, check out AMC’s robot show Humans or the PBS costume drama Poldark.
What’s Still To Come
Good things are still on the horizon. This Friday, Netflix will release Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, a gift for devoted fans of the cult classic. (If you aren’t a fan, in the words of Amy Poehler’s Susie, “Leave your bullshit attitude and baggage at the door, 'cause we don't need it.”) The following week brings the new season of Playing House from the geniuses Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham, and Hulu’s new comedy Difficult People, starring the hilarious Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner as ornery New Yorkers.

While August does not look to be a very promising time for blockbusters, it brings some indies of note that had their debuts at Sundance earlier this year. The End of the Tour, about David Foster Wallace, comes out this weekend. The Diary of a Teenage Girl, a bold and exciting adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s novel about the sexual awakening of a young woman, arrives in theaters August 7. Mistress America, a new Noah Baumbach film featuring one of Greta Gerwig’s best performances and a totally exciting heroine, comes out August 14. The following week brings Lily Tomlin in Grandma. If you can wait until September, you’ll find Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis charming your pants off in Sleeping With Other People. Whether wannabe blockbusters like Fantastic Four and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. will be successful (or, well, watchable) is still up in the air.

At least there’s one consolation. Fall and the more highbrow offerings that come with it are quickly approaching.

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