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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

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 level 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

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)


DIRECTOR: Jon Watts

CAST: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori

REVIEW:

When it comes to probably their most popular and best-known superhero, after the disappointment of 2007’s Spider-Man 3 and the 2012-2014 reboot misfire, Sony and Marvel are hoping the third time’s the charm.  The title refers both to the high school homecoming dance that takes place in the movie, and is also a bit of a sly in-joke referring to Marvel Studios finally gaining access to Spider-Man’s film rights via a deal with Sony, allowing Spider-Man to finally join the Marvel Cinematic Universe and interact with other superheroes.  Even while Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and others were enjoying the cinematic limelight, both individually and together, Marvel’s most iconic superhero was missing.  Getting Spider-Man back into the fold was a major ace in the hole, and now, after his debut with his glorified (and awkwardly shoehorned) cameo in last year’s Captain America: Civil Warthe latest onscreen incarnation of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is swinging into theaters in his own solo outing and the first of what Marvel hopes to be a successful new franchise with more longevity than Sony’s last attempt at a reboot.  Homecoming is already opening strong and receiving glowing critical reception, but while it’s entertaining and enjoyable, like too many of the MCU’s solo outings that feel like side pit stops apart from the larger Avengers continuing narrative (also including 2015’s Ant-Man and 2016’s Doctor Strange), there’s something a bit underwhelming about the whole affair.  Homecoming is a lot more watchable than Spider-Man 3, but feels lightweight and low stakes and lacks either the large-scale action or emotional depth of Spider-Man 2. Continue reading

Wonder Woman (2017)

DIRECTOR: Patty Jenkins

CAST: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Lucy Davis, Ewen Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock, Elena Anaya, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen

REVIEW: 

For the troubled “DC Expanded Universe”, Wonder Woman is a sign that all may not be lost after the near-trainwrecks of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, but I’m not prepared to join the chorus singing its praises, and while it’s not a bad movie, I can’t help but wonder if the excitement is subconsciously influenced by how good it looks in comparison to its immediate predecessors.  As far as “origin stories” go, this falls somewhere in the middle; it’s easily a more competently-crafted film than BvS or Suicide Squad, but isn’t as memorable or innovative as the best of what either DC or Marvel has offered in recent years. Continue reading

Alien: Covenant (2017)

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

CAST: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup

REVIEW:

In 2012, Ridley Scott returned to the universe of his 1979 sci-fi horror classic Alien with the ambitious, sporadically compelling, but in some ways unwieldy and half-formed Prometheus, but those who went to the theater expecting more traditional xenomorph action were disappointed.  Originally, Scott intended to follow up Prometheus with a follow-up tentatively titled Paradise which would have gone even further afield from Alien, but in the wake of Prometheus‘ lukewarm reception, Fox decided to play it safe and explored other options for getting back to the aliens as we know them, including with Neill Blomkamp’s proposed sequel to James Cameron’s 1986 Aliens which would have reunited Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn and potentially wiped all other sequels out in favor of an alternate storyline (which, given the declining quality level of Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrectionmany fans would have been okay with).  However, when the grandfather of the franchise Ridley Scott himself expressed willingness to make an Alien movie that was less like Prometheus and more like the traditional films, Fox gave him the green light and Blomkamp’s project became indefinitely dead in the water.  The result bears all the hallmarks of a movie stuck in some netherworld between being a follow-up to Prometheus and a more conventional Alien movie, but serves up enough of what fans liked about the series in the first place to be an engaging diversion, even if it doesn’t approach the franchise at its height. Continue reading

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

DIRECTOR: Guy Ritchie

CAST: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Aidan Gillen, Annabelle Wallis, Eric Bana

REVIEW:

As he previously did with Sherlock Holmes, Guy Ritchie has now set his sights on putting his distinctive spin on the legend of King Arthur.  More than most directors, Ritchie’s films are permeated with his own sensibilities and heavily stylized, which has its share of fans as well as its share of those whom it rubs the wrong way, and just as some Sherlock Holmes were less-than-impressed with what he did with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, many adherents of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table will not be impressed with this “retelling”.  Legend of the Sword piles on a healthy helping of Ritchie’s stylized action, but an epic fantasy adventure, this is not. Continue reading

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

DIRECTOR: James Gunn

CAST: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice), Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Kurt Russell, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki

REVIEW:

Back in 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy was considered a risky proposition for Marvel Studios, spending a lot of money making and promoting a movie featuring superheroes far lesser-known than the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and company who make up Marvel’s flagship The Avengers, but three years and $750 million later, the new film franchise is one of the flourishing studio’s most popular properties.  Now that the inevitable sequel has arrived, the wait will probably be worth it for most fans.  The simply titled Vol. 2 is an entertaining ride, even if it lacks a little of the freshness of its predecessor and at times feels a little weighed down by the burden on sequels to be “bigger”. Continue reading

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