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Gifted (2017)

DIRECTOR: Marc Webb

CAST: Chris Evans, McKenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate

REVIEW:

Its trailers make it look like Lifetime Original Movie fodder served up with a cute precocious child and a dash of melodramatic courtroom drama, but that does Gifted a bit of a disservice.  The movie isn’t anything hugely ambitious or original, but the movie is more emotionally true and—apart from some third act contrived narrative contortions—the drama more subdued than the previews might suggest, and the result deserves a chance to be judged on its own merits. Continue reading

Life (2017)

DIRECTOR: Daniel Espinosa

CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanda, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS “SPOILERS”

Among the various sci-fi thrillers over the decades that owe greater or lesser degrees of inspiration to Ridley Scott’s 1979 AlienLife is one of the worthier indirect descendants/homages.  Daniel Espinosa is not terribly subtle about borrowing a page (or several pages) from Alien, but screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the same men behind 2016’s very different Deadpool) also come up with enough twists and turns on their own for it not to be unforgivably derivative.  But while fans of Alien may find Life worth a look, be warned: this is a dark, gruesome ride that is not for the faint of heart or for those who demand happy endings. Continue reading

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

DIRECTOR: Bill Condon

CAST: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald

REVIEW:

Following in the footsteps of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast is the latest (and arguably most ambitious yet) entry in Disney’s recent dubious fixation with throwing a lot of money around remaking its classic animated films as live-action versions.  For those who decry virtually shot-for-shot remakes of Disney classics that didn’t need to be remade (especially with “new” versions that are content to slavishly follow the source material rather than doing any different or innovative on their own), Beauty and the Beast is unlikely to convert them into the fold.  It’s technically well-made, handsomely-filmed, served up with a loving dose of nostalgia as a lavish love letter to the 1991 original, but despite sumptuous sets and flashy special effects, it lacks the heart and charm of the original.  There’s a sense of a by-the-numbers hollowness to the proceedings, like a competent but uninspired cover of a classic song.  Fans may enjoy themselves out of nostalgia, but it never escapes the shadow of its forefather (nor does it try). Continue reading

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

DIRECTOR: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

CAST: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, John Ortiz, Toby Kebbell, Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing

REVIEW:

As Marvel has done with the Avengers and assorted related characters, Legendary Pictures is now in the process of establishing an interconnected “cinematic universe” which began with 2014’s Godzilla reboot and continues here with Kong: Skull Island, leading up to 2020’s King Kong vs. Godzilla and possibly a resurrection of the Monster Island from the classic Godzilla series of the 1960s.  To that end, Skull Island is a fun monster movie romp that serves up healthy helpings of what audiences expect when they sit down in the theater for this sort of thing.  It’s not a great movie, or even a great monster movie, but those simply looking for a fun romp through the jungle shouldn’t be disappointed. Continue reading

Logan (2017)

DIRECTOR: James Mangold

CAST: Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle

REVIEW:

Even more so than Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Logan defies the labels of “comic book” or “superhero” movie.  Together with last year’s Deadpoolit’s a rare “comic book movie” to earn a well-deserved R rating, but their tones couldn’t be more different.  Profanity and graphic violence flow freely in both, but while Deadpool was a tongue-in-cheek romp, Logan (loosely taking some elements from the Old Man Logan comic miniseries) is a dead serious, rather bleak affair.  But while their tones are polar opposites, Deadpool and Logan both refuse to play by conventional superhero movie rules.  Logan also serves as the swan song for two of moviedom’s most iconic superheroes, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier (both of whom have reprised these characters off and on for the past seventeen years).  Small children should be left at home for this one, but for those to whom its grimness isn’t too jarring, Logan might be the most raw and uncompromising gut punch of any “comic book movie”.  Those who thought The Dark Knight was for grown-ups haven’t seen anything yet compared to where this movie dares to go. Continue reading

Collide (2017)

DIRECTOR: Eran Creevy

CAST: Nicholas Hoult, Felicity Jones, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Hopkins

REVIEW:

Filmed in 2014 for an October 2015 release, Collide was delayed by the bankruptcy of Relativity Media until being picked up by Open Road Films and eventually finding its way into a low-key February 2017 theatrical release.  In retrospect, it might as well have stayed on the shelf it had been gathering dust on.  Collide might be an adequately diverting action flick for the bored and undemanding, but it’s generic and disposable, and smacks of direct-to-video fare given a thin veneer of respectability with a slumming cast. Continue reading

The Great Wall (2017)

DIRECTOR: Zhang Yimou

CAST: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau

REVIEW:

The Great Wall was touted as a major collaboration between the Chinese film industry and Hollywood, with the biggest budget in the history of Chinese motion pictures, special effects by Industrial Light & Magic, and a collection of respectable talent including Matt Damon, acclaimed director Zhang Yimou, and writers Tony Gilroy and Edward Zwick, but the end result is lackluster.  The Great Wall might be entertaining for twelve-year-old boys demanding nothing more substantive than some action, special effects, and big battle scenes, but is a waste of time and money for anyone else, including the cast and crew. Continue reading

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

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