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Darkest Hour (2017)

DIRECTOR: Joe Wright

CAST: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup

REVIEW:

2017 has been a good year for the Dunkirk evacuation, a pivotal event in WWII but an incident which had previously received little Hollywood attention.  Combined with Christopher Nolan’s “you are there” docudrama Dunkirk, which took us to the beaches, onboard the ships, and into the sky, and Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest, about a British propaganda film made about the event, Darkest Hour takes us to the vantage point of 10 Downing Street and centers around Winston Churchill himself.  To this end, Darkest Hour features no real battle scenes—apart from fleeting glimpses—and its stodgy, talky tone will limit its primary audience to history buffs, especially those with a particular interest in Churchill, but for those who consider themselves in that category, Darkest Hour is an engaging docudrama about the first two weeks in office of perhaps Britain’s most famous Prime Minister, and how he almost lost the position no sooner than he’d been offered it. Continue reading

The Shape of Water (2017)

DIRECTOR: Guillermo Del Toro

CAST: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones

REVIEW:

The Shape of Water, offbeat writer-director Guillermo Del Toro’s latest offering, is essentially an adult romantic fairy tale wrapped up in an homage to 1950s-era monster movies.  It’s weird and artsy—two qualities that should be expected in a Del Toro film—but also earnest and heartfelt, and speaks to Del Toro being a romantic at heart. Continue reading

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

DIRECTOR: Taika Waititi

CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Karl Urban, Jeff Goldblum, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins

REVIEW:

For the third solo outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe starring Thor the God of Thunder, Marvel seems to have taken a page from The Guardians of the Galaxy with a more (sometimes excessively) flippant tone and more emphasis on Guardians/Star Wars-esque sci-fi elements.  To an extent, they succeed in mixing things up, and Thor: Ragnarok is a bright, colorful, breezy action-comedy/sci-fi fantasy adventure, but while it’s lively and entertaining, it lacks a sense of real stakes (even with its title referencing the apocalyptic war of Norse mythology) and aims too hard for laughs at the expense of drama. Continue reading

Breathe (2017)


DIRECTOR: Andy Serkis

 

CAST: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville

REVIEW:

For his directorial debut, Andy Serkis (best-known as Hollywood’s go-to guy for motion capture performances) has elected to eschew the CGI and special effects his career is so entwined with, and tell the true story of Robin Cavendish.  Cavendish, who passed away in 1994 at age 64, was one of the longest-surviving responauts (people who relied on a respirator to breathe) in the UK.  In its portrayal of a real-life quadriplegic, and its focus on his marriage, Breathe is a sort of cousin to The Theory of Everything (about Stephen and Jane Hawking), and might appeal to some of the same audience, although those seeking something fresher and more stimulating than the standard-issue “inspirational biopic” formula won’t find it here. Continue reading

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve

CAST: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Dave Bautista

REVIEW:

WARNING: WHILE THIS REVIEW ATTEMPTS TO AVOID MAJOR “SPOILERS”, IT WILL REVEAL ASPECTS OF THE FILM’S PLOT

Thirty-five years ago, Ridley Scott directed Blade Runner, which while receiving mostly negative critical reviews and failing to make back its budget at the box office (Harrison Ford fans likely expected something more action-oriented than what was on display), gained a cult following and is held up today as a visionary sci-fi classic.  In the intervening decades, Scott has occasionally returned to the Blade Runner universe with a 1992 director’s cut and a 2007 “final cut”, while speculation about a follow-up percolated, which has finally been brought to the screen by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners, Arrival), who took over directorial duties when Scott stepped down due to scheduling conflicts with Alien: Covenant (although he remains credited as producer).  While perhaps slightly less obtuse, Blade Runner 2049 maintains the tone and pacing of its forefather (which, depending on who you ask, might be a good or bad thing) and is a close cousin.  To those for whom the original Blade Runner is not their cup of tea, 2049 seems unlikely to convert them, but those with high regard for Scott’s 1982 film may find much to appreciate about this long-awaited return to its dark world. Continue reading

It (2017)

DIRECTOR: Andy Muschietti

CAST: Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Chosen Jacobs, Bill Skarsgard, Nicholas Hamilton

REVIEW:

The big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel was a long time coming.  A TV miniseries has existed since 1990, but the low budget, made-for-TV quality, and (apart from Tim Curry’s gleeful scenery-chewing) dubious acting level held it back and left plenty of room for a definitive rendition.  The movie which has finally ended up in theaters lingered in pre-production for six years (at one point set to be directed by Cary Fukunaga and starring Will Poulter as “It” before they eventually departed the project).  Now that It has finally arrived, fans of King’s work can be pleased to know his novel—-or at least part one of two—has largely been done justice. Continue reading

American Assassin (2017)

DIRECTOR: Michael Cuesta

CAST: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Taylor Kitsch, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar, David Suchet

REVIEW:

Based on Vince Flynn’s 2010 novel, one of a series of books following the titular “American Assassin” Mitch Rapp, American Assassin is diverting enough for undemanding fans of the action genre, but doesn’t do anything special to distinguish itself in a crowded genre.  The generic by-the-numbers plot could easily have been lifted from a Tom Clancy novel (in fact, with minor tweaks, it could have easily been a young Jack Ryan adventure), and the movie doesn’t feature any surprising twists or turns or anything we haven’t seen (and seen better) elsewhere. Continue reading

Baby Driver (2017)

DIRECTOR: Edgar Wright

CAST: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Bernthal

REVIEW:

After all the higher-profile, more anticipated movies that have all, to greater or lesser degrees, felt underwhelming and failed to meet their hype (for my $.02, at least), it’s a simple, straightforward action flick that completely succeeds at what it sets out to do.  While their two plots don’t have much in common besides featuring some street chases, Baby Driver might appeal to those who enjoy the likes of Premium Rush; it’s nothing deep or complicated, but it provides a couple hours of breezy, fast-paced escapism and is an eminently engaging and satisfying entry for those seeking some straight-up action with dashes of humor and romance (and a busy soundtrack) thrown into the mix. Continue reading

Atomic Blonde (2017)

DIRECTOR: David Leitch

CAST: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Til Schweiger, Bill Skarsgard, Roland Moller

REVIEW:

Atomic Blonde plays out like a blend of the convoluted, labyrinthine Cold War intrigue of a John Le Carre novel with the kinetic action of a Jason Bourne movie, but the level of style and panache director David Leitch brings to the material, and the entertainment value of Charlize Theron kicking ass and looking stylish while doing it can’t quite make up for a murky, muddled plotline that’s difficult to follow. Continue reading

Dunkirk (2017)

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

CAST: Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden, Tom Glynn-Carney, Barry Keoghan

REVIEW:

With Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan has switched gears into a genre he’s never explored before, the war film, with a docudrama depiction of the Dunkirk evacuation (named after the French town where it took place), where 300,000 British soldiers with their backs against the sea were rescued by an armada of civilian volunteers, including fishing boats and private yachts, in what became known as “the miracle of Dunkirk” (despite being a retreat, the mass rescue was so unlikely that Winston Churchill himself cautioned the celebratory mood by stating that “wars are not won by evacuations”).   Perhaps partly because it focuses on an Allied retreat, perhaps partly because no Americans were involved (Dunkirk took place over a year before the United States entered the war), the Dunkirk evacuation hasn’t gotten much Hollywood attention; the only high-profile film I can recall even touching on it is Atonement, and that only in one sequence.  For the venerable writer-director, Dunkirk showcases his often-cited greatest strengths and weaknesses perhaps more starkly than ever before; a technically virtuoso filmmaking accomplishment but emotionally cold.  Dunkirk may strongly appeal to WWII buffs, but its appeal to mainstream audiences is in doubt. Continue reading

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