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Annihilation (2018)

DIRECTOR: Alex Garland

CAST: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong, David Gyasi

REVIEW:

While a sci-fi fan, I confess to a certain weariness of this kind of pretentiously obtuse existential variation on the genre that, like Arrival, seems to feel maddening ambiguity makes it look unfathomably complex and intelligent (both films had critics falling all over each other to praise them as exactly that).  Alex Garland’s first film since his directorial debut Ex Machina and an adaptation of the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation boasts some nice visuals and creepy moments, but mistakes ambiguity for its own sake with profundity, and strings the audience along for non-answers that are neither illuminating nor narratively satisfying enough to make the winding journey worth undertaking.  “I don’t know” is a line uttered repetitively throughout the film, and walking out of the theater, many audience members may say the same when asked what they just watched. Continue reading

Game Night (2018)

DIRECTOR: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

CAST: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons

REVIEW:

For those seeking a comedy of a little darker, more twisted variety than a fluffy rom com, Game Night might deliver the goods, or at least enough of them to justify its hour and forty minute existence.  Co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who previously wrote Horrible Bosses and the Vacation reboot, and screenwriter Mark Perez keep the twists and turns coming rapid-fire and have the good sense to not get bogged down by the thin dramatic/sentimental tissue.  Game Night might not be a “great” comedy, but it’s an entertaining dark screwball entry with an often witty, occasionally twisted sense of humor. Continue reading

Black Panther (2018)

DIRECTOR: Ryan Coogler

CAST: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown

REVIEW:

For those suffering from conventional superhero movie fatigue, Black Panther is different enough to feel a little fresher, even if it ultimately adheres to basic superhero movie expectations.  Before agreeing to co-write and direct, Ryan Coogler (a “serious” director who previously helmed Fruitvale Station and Creed) ensured that he would be granted a considerable level of freedom and independence, and this might account for Black Panther feeling more like a unique entity unto itself and less cookie cutter than the likes of Spider-Man: HomecomingThe movie is also not overly concerned with reminding us it’s a part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Apart from some thin connective tissue, Black Panther can stand on its own as one of the few recent Marvel outings that could be watched without much confusion by a casual viewer who hasn’t kept up with the entire interconnected MCU. Continue reading

The 15:17 to Paris (2018)

DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood

CAST: Spencer Stone, Alec Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler

REVIEW:

I’ll get the obligatory disclaimer out of the way right up front: it goes without saying to any reasonable person that of course what Spencer Stone, Alec Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler did on the 15:17 train to Paris in August 2015 is commendable.  That doesn’t mean it needed a movie.  Or at least definitely not this movie.  Veteran actor-director Clint Eastwood, whose right-wing propagandistic “rah rah” tendencies have increasingly permeated both his offscreen persona and his cinematic output in recent years, has churned out an amateurishly stilted, narratively meandering, and often frankly interminably boring misfired attempt at a tribute to the real-life heroes, counting not least among its various flaws the stunt casting of the (non-actor) heroes as themselves. Continue reading

Peter Rabbit (2018)

DIRECTOR: Will Gluck

CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, voices of James Corden, Colin Moody, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley, Elizabeth Debicki, David Wenham, Sia

REVIEW:

Devoted fans of Beatrix Potter’s gentle children’s stories will likely be appalled at how it’s been souped up with Home Alone-esque action, sometimes crude humor (though nothing that pushes the family friendly envelope very hard), and busy pop soundtrack, but Peter Rabbit keeps the action and comedy flying fast and furious enough that it will probably entertain small children while being at least passably enjoyable for the adults accompanying them.  It’s not the most high-brow family friendly entertainment to be found, but parents on the lookout for something to take their children to that’s not an endurance contest for themselves could do worse. Continue reading

12 Strong (2018)

DIRECTOR: Nicolai Fuglsig

CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, Trevante Rhodes, Navid Negahban, William Fichtner

REVIEW:

In some ways, 12 Strong is a bit of a throwback to war flicks of the ’50s and ’60s, rollicking adventures with more emphasis on creating a testosterone-fueled adrenaline rush than going into graphic details of the horrors of war (this slightly “old school” vibe is accentuated by the fact that our heroes spend much of the movie, including the climactic battle, on horseback).  To that end, it is strongly successful.  12 Strong doesn’t completely ignore or brush aside the grim realities of war, but it’s an action movie first and foremost and a substantially less downbeat experience than darker war films such as Platoon or Fury, and for fans of this kind of war flick, it represents an invigorating, solidly engaging couple of hours. Continue reading

The Post (2018)

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

CAST: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks

REVIEW:

The Post won’t appeal to everyone—it’s a predominantly dry, talky affair full of scenes of stressed-out people in smoky rooms and stacks of papers debating the course of action—-but for those who appreciate docudramas celebrating the triumph of investigative journalism over power, it’s a stirring spiritual brother to movies like All the President’s Men (to which it serves as a sort of direct prequel) and Spotlight.  In its portrayal of the free press versus an American President skirting the limits of his authority, The Post feels timely and relevant, and stresses the importance of an independent press.  The Supreme Court’s 1971 ruling that “the press exists to serve the governed, not the governors” is worth recalling today. Continue reading

Proud Mary (2018)

DIRECTOR: Babak Najafi

CAST: Taraji P. Henson, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Billy Brown, Danny Glover, Xander Berkeley, Neal McDonough, Rade Sherbedgia

REVIEW:

One strongly suspects Proud Mary would have been straight-to-video fare if not for the presence of multi-Emmy and Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson in the title role, and that’s where the quality level lies.  Proud Mary is an enjoyable enough diversion in the moment, but a generic and uninspired shoot-em-up that doesn’t offer anything memorable. Continue reading

Molly’s Game (2017)

DIRECTOR: Aaron Sorkin

CAST: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong

REVIEW:

Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin, the critically-acclaimed screenwriter of such films as The Social Network and Steve Jobs, tells the true story (with every name changed except the title character’s) of the so-called “Poker Princess” Molly Bloom (adapted from her own memoirs).  Those familiar with a Sorkin movie will recognize they’re in one straight from the get-go, with the restless pace and rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, but while with plenty of interesting scenes and solid performances, Mollys Game suffers from an overlong and overstuffed narrative structure and lacks the relentless taut intensity of Steve Jobs.  Sorkin fans may still find much to appreciate, but it’s not one of his strongest offerings. Continue reading

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

DIRECTOR: Jake Kasdan

CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Ser’Darius Blain

REVIEW:

While it’s remembered with a certain amount of nostalgic fondness, 1995’s Jumanji is not that great of a movie.  For that matter, neither is the long-belated indirect sequel (of sorts) Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, but considering both my lukewarm enthusiasm for the original, and the fact that I wouldn’t consider myself a particular fan of the cast members, it’s a more enjoyable romp than expected.  For lightweight action-comedy, it’s an adequately diverting entry that arguably provides marginally more entertainment than the original, courtesy of a certain degree of wit in its humor, a canny satire of 1990s video games, and some actors gamely poking fun at themselves. Continue reading

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