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Movie Reviews

Rampage (2018)

DIRECTOR: Brad Peyton

CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello

REVIEW:

Is it possible for a movie to embody the adage “go big or go home” and miss it at the same time?  Rampage (loosely based on a 1980s arcade game) takes too long to rampage.  Like many a “meh” disaster/monster movie, entirely too much time is spent on the “storylines” of one-dimensional human characters scurrying around underfoot and getting in the way on the monster-on-monster rumble that, let’s face it, everyone bought a ticket for.  Fans of pseudo-Godzilla/King Kong giant mutant monster action might find enough here to wet their appetite, but maybe not enough for a full course. Continue reading

A Quiet Place (2018)

DIRECTOR: John Krasinski

CAST: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe

REVIEW:

A Quiet Place, from writer/director/co-star John Krasinski (whose screenplay is a rewrite of a script by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck), is an experimental venture into understated terror that does most things adequately, a few things exceptionally, but ultimately doesn’t have enough distinguishing itself to ascend to horror classic.  The result is an interestingly offbeat diversion, but ultimately feels a little insubstantial and shallowly-developed when all is said and done. Continue reading

Ready Player One (2018)

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

CAST: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Philip Zao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen, Mark Rylance, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg

REVIEW:

Ready Player One might be the biggest special effects extravaganza since James Cameron’s Avatar nearly a decade ago, and while it won’t necessarily go down as a classic on the level of Steven Spielberg’s most beloved films, it resurrects some of the old Spielbergian magic that many thought flickered out a long time ago (his last attempt at hearkening back to the lighthearted sense of fun he once possessed before Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, felt low energy and tired and only flirted with recapturing it in fits and starts).  Many movies aspire to be referred to as “eye candy”, but it’s well-deserved here.  Ready Player One might not be the most consequential movie Spielberg has directed in a long time, but it’s easily the most fun. Continue reading

Tomb Raider (2018)

DIRECTOR: Roar Uthaug

CAST: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Derek Jacobi

REVIEW:

Hollywood has long had a hard time adapting video games to films in ways that make them equally engaging and cinematically satisfying, and while Tomb Raider (a reboot of the long-running video game series unconnected to the two past Angelina Jolie films) is more competent than Assassin’s Creed (no great high bar to hurdle), it only provides more ammunition for the argument that a video game is an inherently more interactive and engaging experience than a film based on it can be.  Tomb Raider might be the most faithful game-to-film adaptation yet, but reducing the interactivity of the game to the passivity of watching a preordained movie inherently removes a critical element.  Tomb Raider is an adequate diversion, but there’s something Point A to Point B about its generic and non-innovative narrative that dilutes the excitement. Continue reading

Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

DIRECTOR: Steven S. DeKnight

CAST: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Tian Jing, Rinko Kikuchi

REVIEW:

Among superfluous sequels slapped-together because the original was deemed to make sufficient profits (2013’s Pacific Rim did not do that well in the US, but was big in China, which persuaded Universal and Chinese-owned Legendary Pictures to cough up the money for a second installment), Pacific Rim: Uprising is at least a fresher and more enjoyable experience than the tired, low energy likes of Independence Day: Resurgence or London Has Fallen.  The first Pacific Rim was not a great movie, but Guillermo Del Toro crafted it as an obvious passion project and a love letter to both the anime and kaiju—Japanese monster movie—genres (probably why it was more popular in Asia than the United States), and served up a smorgasbord of geeky fun for those who simply delighted in the big-budget, splashy special effects-filled spectacle of giant monsters duking it out with giant robots.  Like many sequels, Uprising tries to serve up bigger—the climactic battle royale pits four Jaeger robots against a supersized kaiju—but serves up enough of more of the same to entertain fans of what the first had to offer.  If you’re the audience for this, you probably know who you are by now. Continue reading

Red Sparrow (2018)

DIRECTOR: Francis Lawrence

CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Ciaran Hinds, Joely Richardson, Mary-Louise Parker

REVIEW:

For those seeking something a little less action-oriented and a little more nitty gritty than James Bond without being as cerebral as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Red Sparrow (an adaptation of the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews) is an unflinchingly hard-R, unglamorous espionage thriller that serves up enough twists, turns, sex, and violence to hold the viewer’s attention for its 140-minute runtime. Continue reading

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

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