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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

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson

CAST: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Kelly Marie Tran, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis

REVIEW:

SPOILER WARNING: I HAVE STRIVED TO NOT REVEAL EXPLICIT SPOILERS; HOWEVER IT IS DIFFICULT TO EXPRESS MY OPINION WITHOUT DISCUSSING SOME “SPOILER” PLOT ELEMENTS.

Picking up where J.J. Abrams left off with 2015’s The Force Awakens, writer-director Rian Johnson (Looper) has taken us back to a galaxy far, far away and chosen to subvert fan expectations and go in some unexpected directions, with mixed results.  Johnson doesn’t play it as safe as Abrams (who received some criticism for more-or-less remaking a tweaked version of A New Hope), but defying expectations in and of itself does not a satisfying narrative make.  The third act kicking into high gear does not entirely make up for a previous fragmented plot with flagging momentum.  The Last Jedi, while receiving general critical praise, is already proving divisive among fans.  It ultimately arrives at a (mostly) satisfying climax, but the path there is unwieldy and meandering. Continue reading

I, Tonya (2017)

DIRECTOR: Craig Gillespie

CAST: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Alison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, McKenna Grace

REVIEW:

I, Tonya is not a straightforward docudrama of the infamous 1994 assault on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan that implicated her rival Tonya Harding, Harding’s husband Jeff Gilooly, and other associates.  Rather, director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers have tackled the material as a dark comedy which in the third act has tinges of something the Coen brothers might have come up with (given the amount of criminal bumbling that takes place, that’s a not altogether inappropriate approach to take).  The movie takes its material from the sometimes completely contradictory interviews of Harding, Gilooly, and others, giving us multiple unreliable narrators, and also asks us to, if not necessarily condone or exonerate Harding, to come to at least some measure of understanding of what led up to the moment that, fairly or unfairly, would define her. Continue reading

The Greatest Showman (2017)

DIRECTOR: Michael Gracey

CAST: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson

REVIEW:

Big lavish musicals have been brought back into vogue by critically-acclaimed recent entries like Les Miserables and La La Land, and The Greatest Showman, more-or-less based on the life and career of P.T. Barnum (with a healthy helping of dramatic license) keeps the resurgent genre going strong.  Those who are not fans of musicals are unlikely to be converted, but for those who are, The Greatest Showman is lavish, lively, and joyous, filled with infectious, crowd-pleasing song-and-dance numbers, well-choreographed and elaborately-staged, with a timely (if historically questionable) theme of inclusivity and celebrating humanity in all forms.  If you’re a fan of this kind of big Hollywood musical, it represents a trip to the theater well worth taking. Continue reading

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

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