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December 2018
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Movie Reviews

Robin Hood (2018)

DIRECTOR: Otto Bathurst

CAST: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan, Tim Minchin, Paul Anderson, F. Murray Abraham

REVIEW:

Much like Lex Luthor, who should not be as difficult to adapt to screen as he has often seemed to be, Hollywood has had a hard time coming up with a good rendition of what should be as simple and straightforward as the legend of Robin Hood.  1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves had its charms, but marred by a whiplashy tone and a miscast Kevin Costner.  Ridley Scott’s 2010 “reimagining” tried to turn it into a Braveheart-esque epic historical drama at the expense of jettisoning any sense of fun.  Unfortunately, Otto Bathurst’s latest rendition of the oft-told tale has gone to the opposite extreme, a generic action flick, watchable and moderately engaging in the moment but forgettable and disposable in the way a dime a dozen generic action flicks are.  Panned by critics and making only $51 million against a $100 million budget, the latest telling of “The Hood” is as destined for the dust bin as last year’s King Arthur.

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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

DIRECTOR: David Yates

CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz, Jude Law, Johnny Depp

REVIEW:

In my review of 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I said that it was an enjoyable stand-alone adventure, but that its status as a franchise-launcher was in doubt.  Unfortunately, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has no allayed those concerns.  An overstuffed mess as unwieldy as its title, this is as good an example of any as a “middle chapter” that suffers from obsessing over set-up and moving all the pieces into position on the chessboard to the detriment of actually telling much of a story.  There’s also unfortunately a little of “George Lucas Star Wars Prequel Syndrome” creeping into J.K. Rowling’s screenwriting, as well as falling prey to the overindulgent excesses of when Peter Jackson returned to the Middle Earth trough with his laboriously expanded and drawn-out Hobbit “trilogy”.  It’s possible that when all is said and done (there are supposedly still three more films to go in this Harry Potter spin-off series), The Crimes of Grindelwald may be perceived more favorably in hindsight, but as things stand now, the idea of three more movies of this feels more laborious than exciting. Continue reading

Widows (2018)

DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen

CAST: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry, Liam Neeson, Robert Duvall

REVIEW:

Widows could be considered a heist movie, but it’s not a testosterone-fueled action flick, and it’s even further away from a lighthearted lark in the vein of something like Ocean’s ElevenJust a cursory glance at the filmography of director and co-writer Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave) shows he’s a filmmaker of more serious intentions, and thematic subtext related to female empowerment, corruption in politics, race relations, and social injustice make Widows about more than “just” a heist movie.  One could argue McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) bite off more than they can chew—the narrative is prone to spending too much time on side tangents and could have benefited from a leaner, tighter edit—but there’s enough here to make Widows an engaging, if imperfect, slow burn crime drama/thriller achieving a little uniqueness by boasting an all-female lead cast. Continue reading

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

DIRECTOR: Fede Alvarez

CAST: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Sylvia Hoeks, LaKeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant, Vicky Krieps

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL REVEAL “SPOILERS”

“Generic” is not a word that should be used to describe Lisbeth Salander, but The Girl in the Spider’s Web brings her close.  An adaptation of the book, the latest installment in the so-called Millennium Series, continued by David Lagercrantz from where late crime journalist and author Stieg Larsson left off, and a soft reboot quasi-sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, adapted to film both in Sweden (by Niels Arden Oplev and starring Noomi Rapace and the late Michael Nyqvist) and in an English-language remake (by David Fincher and starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig), The Girl in the Spider’s Web continues the series transition in Lagercrantz’s hands from dark, serious, slow burn murder/crime mystery into more straightforward action/spy thriller territory, sacrificing some depth and character along the way.  The result is a watchable and engaging action/spy thriller but arguably a poor Lisbeth Salander story. Continue reading

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer

CAST: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Allen Leech, Tom Hollander, Aidan Gillen, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker

REVIEW:

Bohemian Rhapsody, obviously taking its title from possibly the most iconic song of the band it chronicles, doesn’t transcend the genre of a standard-issue band biopic, but it’s a breezy and rousing love letter to Queen that rises above some narrative cliches and historical fudging with a committed lead performance by Rami Malek and electric concert sequences.  Queen neophytes might not be engaged, but Queen fans should enjoy themselves. Continue reading

Halloween (2018)

DIRECTOR: David Gordon Green

CAST: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Haluk Bilginer, Jefferson Hall, Rhian Rees

REVIEW:

As thoroughly played-out and past its expiration date as the long-running Halloween franchise might have seemed, the simply-titled Halloween has righted the ship and delivered at least the second best, if not strongest installment the series has ever produced, and the first to truly feel like a worthy direct sequel to the original film.  In truth, while the original 1978 film is held up as a horror classic, I’ve never had an exalted opinion of it; John Carpenter’s direction shows a skillful understanding of building suspense, but it’s hindered by various dated elements, including a low acting level.  Of the sequels, only 1981’s Halloween 2 and 1998’s Halloween H2O had their moments, with the rest descending into the bottom of the barrel until the indestructible Michael Myers became a parody of himself.  Director David Gordon Green, with Carpenter returning to co-compose the score (which liberally sprinkles in his iconic original theme) with his son Cody Carpenter and series newcomer Daniel Davies and serving in an advisory capacity to the production, has taken Halloween back to the basics, hearkening back to and emulating the original and going so far as to disregard every other film in the franchise and serve as a direct sequel to the original and the original alone (also allowing it to avoid the various eye-rolly explanations of how Myers survived his various demises through the sequels).  Taken as a one-two punch, the two Halloweens bring the Laurie Strode vs. Michael Myers battle full circle in satisfying, even climactically rousing fashion, and if this series can finally be left well enough alone (an unlikely prospect), this serves as a solid note to go out on. Continue reading

First Man (2018)

DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle

CAST: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Ciaran Hinds, Lukas Haas, Shea Whigham, Cory Michael Smith, Patrick Fugit, Pablo Schreiber, Ethan Embry, Brian d’Arcy James

REVIEW:

First Man would make an excellent companion piece to other docudramas about the 1960s NASA space program, including 1995’s Apollo 13 (whose mission took place only nine months after the climax of this film) and 1983’s sprawling The Right Stuff, which some consider definitive (although it portrays an earlier phase of the space race than First Man and Apollo 13, meaning one could watch the three as a sort of loosely-connected trilogy).  The primary difference is that, while those films were ensemble casts giving a broader overview of the workings of NASA, both on Earth and in space, First Man is more tightly-focused on the professional and personal life of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, offering an intimate look at a man who sometimes seemed as remote as the bleak, barren lunar surface. Continue reading

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

DIRECTOR: Drew Goddard

CAST: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, Cailee Spaeny, Chris Hemsworth

REVIEW:

Bad Times at the El Royale has issues—sometimes overly self-indulgent in its own dark quirkiness and excessively Tarantino wannabe—but as an obvious homage to the kind of movie Quentin Tarantino might churn out, it serves up enough twists and turns combined with a dark sense of humor to keep the audience engaged and guessing through a slow burn pace.  Like Tarantino himself, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who enjoy this kind of movie, it’s an enjoyably dark and twisty ride. Continue reading

Venom (2018)

DIRECTOR: Ruben Fleischer

CAST: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate

REVIEW:

First things first: Venom is not an especially good movie.  Nor is it the mind-bogglingly horrendous epic trainwreck of “Plan 9 from Outer Space” proportions some have inflated its notoriety into.  What arrives onscreen doesn’t merit any such strong reactions, instead residing in that cluttered middle ground of “meh” occupied by other comic book movie titles like Green Lantern The concept was a questionable one to begin with: despite his origin story being inextricably linked to Spider-Man in the comics, Sony in its eternal infinite wisdom has decided to slap together a solo Venom movie which is not connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe—or at least no connection is ever explicitly drawn—therefore existing in some netherworld of its own (though there’s still a Stan Lee cameo).  With its short length, dodgy CGI, and jokey tone, it feels like some throwback to the ’90s or early 2000s (there’s even an Eminem song over the end credits), the kind of comic book movie that might have been adequate in the days when there wasn’t much competition but feels outdated nowadays.  And for the character of Eddie Brock/Venom, last seen on the big screen in 2007’s likewise misbegotten Spider-Man 3 (where he was played by Topher Grace), Sony’s second attempt at bringing him to the screen is no more successful than the first.  To the extent that Venom works, it’s in its dark comedy aspect, not its terminally pedestrian and generic superhero (or anti-hero) narrative. Continue reading

The Predator (2018)

DIRECTOR: Shane Black

CAST: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Augusto Aguilera, Alfie Allen, Yvonne Strahovski, Jake Busey

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL DISCUSS “SPOILERS”

Like the Alien franchise it has occasionally ill-advisedly crossed over with, Predator is one of those franchises that keeps limping along long past its expiration date.  One could argue that in fact Predator was never even much of a franchise to begin with.  1987’s original wasn’t any kind of great movie, and doesn’t hold up as a sci-fi thriller classic on the level of Alien or Aliens, but it featured Arnold Schwarzenegger at his most cigar-chomping and one-liner-spouting (“get to da choppa!”) front-and-center, surrounded by a merry band of macho men (with a cast including fellow future Governor Jesse Ventura, along with Carl “Apollo Creed” Weathers, Bill Duke, and Sonny Landham, it was sort of like a forerunner to The Expendables), and served up enough hardcore action with a sci-fi twist to be a popular “man’s movie” (the 1990 sequel, starring Danny Glover, wasn’t as good, although it had its moments).  After two crossovers dubbed Alien vs. Predator, the concept of which was dubious and the execution worse, Nimrod Antal and Robert Rodriguez tried to course correct by getting back to the basics with 2010’s Predators, which again had its moments but not enough to resurrect a “franchise” that arguably never warranted being stretched out into a film series in the first place.  And now, just when Predator seemed dead (again), along comes Shane Black (a cast member of the original movie but better-known as a screenwriter/director, including writing the Lethal Weapon series and directing such films as Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Nice Guys).  Alas, Black’s involvement with the original film does not signal a return to that quality level.  The Predator falls into the same category as the likes of Independence Day: Resurgence and Alien: Resurrection, a sloppy, uninspired, past-its-sell-date sequel that fails to breathe any fresh life into a series that has long since run dry. Continue reading

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