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Hidden Figures (2016)

hiddenDIRECTOR: Theodore Melfi

CAST: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali, Glen Powell

REVIEW:

Hidden Figures could be summed up as The Help in space; while it differs from the 2011 drama in telling the true story of three unsung minds behind the 1960s NASA space program, the two films are close cousins in telling a civil rights story through a PG, “feel good” tone that sometimes makes it feel watered down and lightweight (in fact, the two films share an actress, Octavia Spencer, in a main role).  Hidden Figures is enjoyable and occasionally moving and uplifting, but also sometimes feels like an “inspirational” Lifetime original movie bumped up with a bigger budget and a pedigreed cast. Continue reading

Passengers (2016)

passengersDIRECTOR: Morten Tyldum

CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL DISCUSS AN IMPORTANT PLOT POINT

Passengers is somewhat tricky to categorize; it’s firmly within the sci-fi genre, but without the action of Star Wars or Star Trek (at least until the third act), and it’s a love story but one steeped in moral ambiguity.  Some will find it too slow-paced, while others accuse it of romanticizing the unsavory circumstances under which its romance begins (which I do not, for the most part, agree with).  Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its controversial premise and somewhat indecisive tone, it’s already set to be an expensive flop, which is a bit of a shame.  The movie has flaws, but they’re not insurmountable, and the premise and themes are substantial enough to be compelling. Continue reading

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

rogueDIRECTOR: Gareth Edwards

CAST: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Riz Ahmed, Alan Tudyk (voice)

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN “SPOILERS”

Rogue One, the second entry in Disney’s revival of the Star Wars franchise after buying the rights from creator George Lucas, represents a risky departure and an attempt at doing something different with the iconic property.  Unlike last year’s The Force AwakensRogue One is not a continuation of the main series (as evidenced by being titled as a Star Wars “story” as opposed to an episode), but a mostly stand-alone entry that serves as a prequel/tie-in with the original 1977 A New Hope, chronicling the untold story of exactly how those stolen Death Star plans fell into the rebels’ hands in the first place.  The result comes with plenty of familiar Star Wars trappings (some more heavy-handed than others), but a markedly different tone and feel.  Rogue One bears more resemblance to a Dirty Dozen-style war/spy thriller than a conventional Star Wars movie.  To that end, it’s generally well-crafted, but doesn’t completely avoid feeling like a “take it or leave it” footnote to the original trilogy. Continue reading

Assassin’s Creed (2016)

creedDIRECTOR: Justin Kurzel

CAST: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael K. Williams, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling

REVIEW:

For whatever reason, Hollywood has had a hard time coming up with a successful video game-to-film adaptation, and unfortunately Assassin’s Creed does not buck the trend.  An obtuse, poorly-edited mishmash of generic action sequences, narrative incoherence, and pseudo-scientific/historical mumbo jumbo that sounds like it’s out of a second-rate Dan Brown novel, one senses the movie would be direct-to-video fare without the presence of a couple of top-flight actors and a hefty budget, and frankly that’s where the quality level lies. Continue reading

Allied (2016)

allied2DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis

CAST: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard

REVIEW:

Robert Zemeckis is no stranger to period films (Forrest Gump travels through decades of historical events), and now he’s turned his attention to crafting an old-fashioned wartime romance and potboiler of the like that Hollywood churned out in the 1940s.  Unsurprisingly for someone of his much-lauded technical craftsmanship, Zemeckis has succeeded on a superficial level, but while engaging enough to be worth a look for a fan of this sort of thing, Allied, a bit like Steven Soderbergh’s The Good Germanfocuses more on pretty pictures and capturing a certain style than on its pedestrian and undistinguished narrative.  It’s not a bad film, but while it pays homage to them, it’s not likely to become an enduring classic. Continue reading

Arrival (2016)

arrivalDIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve

CAST: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg

REVIEW:

Based on the short story “Story Of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, Arrival is the latest motion picture to dramatize an oft-theorized “first contact” scenario, and follows in the wake of Gravity, Interstellarand The Martian as the latest in Hollywood’s recent trend of “hard sci-fi” movies.  Among these kinds of movies, it’s a cinematic cousin to Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Robert Zemeckis’ Contact, and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, and on the polar end of the spectrum from the likes of Independence Day.  Those looking for an action flick should look elsewhere, lest they probably be bored senseless.  Arrival is a linguistics lesson with bonus existential questions wrapped up in a slow burn, low-key docudrama that makes considerable demands of commitment and attention from a patient and intelligent audience looking for something to pick their brain rather than rev up their adrenaline.  Unfortunately, while its aims are admirable in some ways, Arrival gets so wrapped up in its own dry, professorial theorizing that as a motion picture, it never quite “arrives”. Continue reading

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

fantasticDIRECTOR: David Yates

CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY REVEAL “SPOILERS”

With any franchise as enormously popular and financially lucrative as Harry Potter, it’s not surprising that Warner Bros. would return to the watering hole sooner or later even if the story of Harry and companions told over seven books and eight movies was concluded (though that didn’t stop author J.K. Rowling from tacking on a follow-up, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and now, with Rowling cutting out the middle man and directly penning the screenplay herself, we have returned to the wizarding world, not in a continuation or direct tie-in with the Harry Potter series, but in a stand-alone installment (albeit intended to serve as the start of a new film series) set in the same “universe”.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, taking its unwieldy title and basic concept from one of Harry’s schoolbooks briefly-mentioned in the original series, is an enjoyable stand-alone adventure, but its status as a franchise-launching starting pad is more uncertain. Continue reading

Loving (2016)

lovingDIRECTOR: Jeff Nichols

CAST: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Christopher Mann, Nick Kroll, Jon Bass, Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas, Bill Camp

REVIEW:

Loving, writer-director Jeff Nichols’ low-key, stately chronicle of actual events spanning 1957-1967 that led to the landmark 1967 Supreme Court ruling overturning state laws against interracial relationships, serves a similar purpose to films covering the same time period and similar subject matter such as 2011’s The Help in serving as a history lesson to those too young to remember a time when racism was still officially written into law.  Continue reading

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

hacksawDIRECTOR: Mel Gibson

CAST: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving

REVIEW:

The true story of Desmond Doss, the first Conscientious Objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving seventy-five men without firing a shot during the bloody Battle of Okinawa in WWII, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge (called the troubled actor-director’s “comeback project” in some circles) is a curious but overall effective blend of sappy cliches and graphic war violence, a film which initially threatens to come across like a generic “uplifting” story but—mostly when our pacifist protagonist finally goes to war around the halfway point—ultimately takes a turn to something far less sanitized but ultimately powerful and inspirational.   Continue reading

Doctor Strange (2016)

strangeDIRECTOR: Scott Derrickson

CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams

REVIEW:

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is now the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse.  Doctor Strange fans are likely rejoicing as, after many years of waiting while other superhero franchises flourished, their hero has finally made his way to the big screen.  For most Doctor Strange fans, the product will be worth the wait, even if it doesn’t scale its way to the top of the MCU.  Doctor Strange is entertaining and visually dazzling, but saddled with the obligatory tropes and limitations of “the origin story”. Continue reading

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