Back to School Movie Watchlist

Story posted October 5, 2019 in Arts & Entertainment by CommRadio Arts & Entertainment Staff.

As the first full month of the fall semester comes to an end, CommRadio’s Arts & Entertainment department looks back at the best movies of the summer and early part of the school year.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

With such an incredible debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was difficult to believe that the sequel to the Spider-Man films, “Far From Home,” could surpass its predecessor. As always, though, Marvel did not disappoint.

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” is just as playful as the first film, “Homecoming,” but offers audiences something much more tangible and emotional. Viewers are able to see Peter Parker’s character unfold right before their eyes as he attempts to simply be a normal teenager. With the weight of Tony Stark’s death and legacy on his shoulders, Peter is forced to come to terms with the fact that he is anything but ordinary.

New and old fans alike were kept on the edge of their seats as the storyline between Spider-Man and Mysterio played out in the middle of Europe. The effects are stunning and force the audience to question the depths of reality. What brings the entire film together is the magnitude in which Holland becomes his character through all of his own struggles to find a new mentor in Mysterio and moving past Tony Stark’s death.

One of the most touching scenes in the movie is the moment when Peter builds his own suit, calling back to the original Iron Man films. It is done with humor and elegance, respecting the legacy of the MCU origins. However, the greatest scene in the movie comes at the end of the film when Peter finally finds reality through all of the haze created by Mysterio. It is symbolic of Peter’s adventure so far in discovering himself, and presents the emotional range of Holland as an actor.  -Jade Campos

Rocketman

Biopics have a tendency to achieve greatness or fall short by a long shot. In a genre that has arguably been overdone, audiences were right to feel unsure when the Elton John biopic, “Rocketman” was announced. However, the film exceeded expectations, and brought life back to the style of film.

Perhaps what made “Rocketman” so astounding was how much it was able to set itself apart from traditional biopics. The film didn’t aim to just show viewers Elton John’s life, but truly invite them in to become a part of it. Rather than playing the singer’s music chronologically through time, the film used each song in a very specific manner in order to symbolize different points in his life. It radiated the feeling of a musical with a big production to go with every track.

Taron Egerton played a stunning Elton John, capturing every hidden emotion of the renowned diva. It’s difficult to take on a role the entire world is familiar with, but Egerton makes it look so easy. Additionally, the actor did all of his own singing for the film, which authenticates his role even further. One of the most satisfying moments during the film actually came at the end when audiences were shown the comparison of Egerton’s role to the real life photos and footage of Elton John. Egerton’s “I’m Still Standing” playing alongside the original video from 1983 is absolutely breathtaking.  -Jade Campos

Booksmart

Every new summer deserves a fresh new comedy for audiences to see with their friends, and the summer of 2019 will forever thank “Booksmart” and director Olivia Wilde for giving audiences one of the funniest, most well-written comedic films seen in the last few years.

The film tells the story of two smart but seemingly uptight friends, brilliantly played by Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, on their last night before graduation. The two decide to leave the books at home and enter into the craziest night of their high school careers. The film is superbly written, filled with tasteful jokes and one-liners, relatable characters and events, and in general, adding a new pair of eyes to the traditional coming of age story. “Booksmart” manages to perfectly combine the classic high school buddy story with political correctness, inclusivity, and more, all while being one of the funniest films of recent years.  -Lilly Adams

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino's ninth film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” provides the audience with a psychedelic joyride through the glorious golden age of late 1960s Hollywood. Overflowing with memorable scenes and dynamic performances, Tarantino’s latest film is an absolute joy.

Telling a derailed version of the Manson Family murders, Tarantino confronts the tragic storyline of the horrific real-life events with a reparative hand. Attempting to rescue the late Sharron Tate with an uplifting depiction, Tarantino presents Tate within a beautiful characterization, provided by stellar actress Margot Robbie, in order to salvage the actress from being considered nothing but a victim.

The film arrives at an important moment in Tarantino’s career, because it marks the director’s struggles with his own onset into middle age. The film invokes themes which revolve around insecurities of one’s fleeting purpose and impact on their surroundings, Tarantino appears to be utilizing his latest film as a testament to his own fears of the relevance of his career.

Integrating a woven in storyline lifted by fictional Tarantino characters, the audience is brought along on a slightly re-written immersive history lesson through one of recent pop culture’s most influential periods.  –Scott Perdue

Read our full review of the movie here.

The Farewell

An intimate family affair that will be better appreciated by more mature audiences. Writer/director Lulu Wang's personal drama is a supremely touching piece about grief and Chinese culture and the way the two carefully dance around each other.

"The Farewell" features an awesome performance by Awkwafina as an American-raised woman who must learn to reintegrate for a short time into her family's Chinese traditions. On top of which she has to carry and conceal the horrible grief that racks her mind.

It's a simple film to conceptualize. There are no great action sequences or moustache-twirling villains. Instead, it pulls on the strengths of a very human situation that relates to a common shared experience. "The Farewell" is absolutely beautiful and deserves the affection it has received.  -Billy Jackson

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Simplicity is often seeked out in films, with audiences using them as an escape method for the ever-changing society and environment they’re surrounded by constantly. Movies help with escaping from the '9 to 5,' the assignments, etc., and “The Peanut Butter Falcon” holds simplicity, warmth, heart, and most certainly helps audiences escape.

The film is a heartwarming tale of a journey of two characters who are complete opposites. As the runtime continues, their friendship grows both beautifully and innocently; showing no signs of malice or deep conflict, a topic that movies often need to be prevalent.

Along with the emotionally uplifting story and characters, the acting in “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is nothing short of marvelous. Shia LaBeouf gives one of the best performances of his career as the troubled but tenderhearted Tyler, and newcomer Zack Gottsagen keeps up with that talent and experience at an incredible pace. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” should be on every movie-goers radar and “Best of 2019” list with excitement of what’s to come from directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwarts.  -Lilly Adams

Read our full review of the movie here.

Toy Story 4

On June 21, “Toy Story 4” was finally released. This has been said to be the last “Toy Story” out of the Toy Story franchise, which wasn’t the news Disney fans wanted to hear. However, it didn’t stop Disney from creating such a great film and reminding people why their love for the “Toy Story” series existed in the first place.

Bonnie, the child that Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the other toys lived with, discovered a new toy when she was lonely during her first day of school, Forky. Bonnie never wanted to be without Forky, similar to the same attachment she had to Woody at one time. Bonnie and her family go on vacation, but a lot of unexpected occurrences took place. Woody has to take matters into his own hands to fix any problems and overall, be the best toy to Bonnie.

It was more than just a movie; it was a movie with a message. For the final storyline, Woody was faced with the internal challenge of trying to exist as a person without an owner. It’s the story of him becoming independent and relying less on the happiness he brings to other people.  -Emily Mugno

Midsommar

Though it was one of the more thoughtful and evocative films of the summer, "Midsommar" did not land squarely with many audiences upon its initial release. The slow, painstaking pace at which it operates turned off as many moviegoers as its overt pagan imagery. However, critical acclaim and the support of horror devotees have created the basis for what will inevitably become a cult hit.

More interesting as an anthropological look at a distinct and foreign culture, "Midsommar" ambitiously combines this with horror and breakup movie elements to round out the experience.

Like in his previous film, "Hereditary," Ari Aster wears his influences on his sleeve for this project. A direct comparison can be made to 70s horror classic "The Wicker Man," but it also draws from Swedish Cinema like that of Ingmar Bergman. Italian horror filmmakers like Mario Bava and Dario Argento also spring to mind, particularly toward the end of the film.

For anyone who is interested in a slow-burn horror movie with occult elements, "Midsommar" is a perfect watch. With both its creative premise and lovely cinematography, this is certainly among the most stylistic and authorial pictures that will come out all year.  -Billy Jackson

Blinded by the Light

Based on the memoir “Greetings from Bury Park” by Sarfraz Manzoor, “Blinded by the Light” is everything a Bruce fan needs. With some “musical moments” that could have been done differently, the film is a perfect representation of the power of music.

Javeed is a teenager living in Luton, England. Taking place in 1987, he discovers the music of Springsteen. Javeed experiencing racial and economic turmoil discovers that the lyrics that Bruce writes about connect with his life. That propels him to continue with his passion of writing. Along the way he meets a girl, gains recognition for his writing, and learns that to go your own way while still respecting your parents interconnects with Springsteen’s music and his own life.

Heartwarming and thoughtful, “Blinded by the Light” uses the music of Springsteen the way it is supposed to. Approved by Springsteen himself, the audience cannot go wrong with a film that uses Springsteen classics as the soundtrack. Released in late August, it is the best way to end the summer of movies on a high note.  -William Roche

Yesterday

Music, love, and the inspiring music of the Beatles. Those are the topics surrounding the feel-good summer movie “Yesterday.”

When a struggling musician gets hit by a bus during a world-wide blackout, he wakes up to find himself in a world without the Beatles. Being a fan of the famous music group, he decides to take matters into his own hands and redistribute the Beatles music and take it as his own. It works.

He becomes famous and rich, but during the process he forgets the true meaning behind why he wanted the Beatles' music to be out in the world: to spread positivity.

Packed with Beatles hits, Himesh Patel (who plays Jack Malik) has a fantastic voice and provides a wonderful soundtrack. Being a perfect summer movie, it is a light and wonderful fiction film that provides audiences the ability to imagine life without not only the Beatles, but anything that has provided inspiration in the world.  -William Roche

 

Scott Perdue is a junior majoring in secondary education. To contact him, email rsp5246@psu.edu.

Lilly Adams is a junior majoring in Film/Video Studies. To contact her, email lillyadams11@gmail.com.

Billy Jackson is a senior in majoring in Film/Video production. To contact him, email wjj5064@psu.edu.

William Roche is a junior majoring in film/video. To contact him, email wtr5043@psu.edu.

Emily Mugno is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email esm6@psu.edu.

Jade Campos is a sophomore majoring in print/digital journalism. To contact her, email jmc7727@psu.edu.

About the Contributors

Lillian Adams's photo

Lillian Adams

Sophomore / Film/Video Studies

Lillian Adams is a writer and contributor for the Nittany Record Club, a department in CommRadio dedicated specifically to the analysis and reviews of current albums of the year, and the former albums of the past. as well as current films released. In addition to this, she hosts her own talk show on Commradio called “Reel Talk.” She is currently a member of the Student Film Organization as well as Commradio. She also is a regular PA on multiple student films on campus, and interns with the College of Arts and Architecture as a Videographer. She is always looking to expand her knowledge in the fields of cinema and music, and is excited to see what opportunities Penn State will bring her. To contact her, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Jade Campos's photo

Jade Campos

Sophomore / Journalism

Jade Campos is a sophomore from Caroline, Virginia. She is a Director of the Arts and Entertainment department of CommRadio and a co-host on the talk show “The Nittany Record Club.” Along with CommRadio, Jade has written for the Daily Collegian, College Magazine and The Virginia Connection. Currently, she is a social strategy intern with CommAgency. To contact her, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).