March 2017


Monthly Archives: March 2017

Life (2017)

DIRECTOR: Daniel Espinosa

CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanda, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya



Among the various sci-fi thrillers over the decades that owe greater or lesser degrees of inspiration to Ridley Scott’s 1979 AlienLife is one of the worthier indirect descendants/homages.  Daniel Espinosa is not terribly subtle about borrowing a page (or several pages) from Alien, but screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the same men behind 2016’s very different Deadpool) also come up with enough twists and turns on their own for it not to be unforgivably derivative.  But while fans of Alien may find Life worth a look, be warned: this is a dark, gruesome ride that is not for the faint of heart or for those who demand happy endings. Continue reading

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

DIRECTOR: Bill Condon

CAST: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald


Following in the footsteps of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast is the latest (and arguably most ambitious yet) entry in Disney’s recent dubious fixation with throwing a lot of money around remaking its classic animated films as live-action versions.  For those who decry virtually shot-for-shot remakes of Disney classics that didn’t need to be remade (especially with “new” versions that are content to slavishly follow the source material rather than doing any different or innovative on their own), Beauty and the Beast is unlikely to convert them into the fold.  It’s technically well-made, handsomely-filmed, served up with a loving dose of nostalgia as a lavish love letter to the 1991 original, but despite sumptuous sets and flashy special effects, it lacks the heart and charm of the original.  There’s a sense of a by-the-numbers hollowness to the proceedings, like a competent but uninspired cover of a classic song.  Fans may enjoy themselves out of nostalgia, but it never escapes the shadow of its forefather (nor does it try). Continue reading

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

DIRECTOR: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

CAST: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, John Ortiz, Toby Kebbell, Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing


As Marvel has done with The Avengers and assorted related characters, Legendary Pictures is now in the process of establishing an interconnected “cinematic universe” which began with 2014’s Godzilla reboot and continues here with Kong: Skull Island, leading up to 2020’s King Kong vs. Godzilla and possibly a resurrection of the Monster Island from the classic Godzilla series of the 1960s.  To that end, Skull Island is a fun monster movie romp that serves up healthy helpings of what audiences expect when they sit down in the theater for this sort of thing.  It’s not a great movie, or even a great monster movie, but those simply looking for a fun romp through the jungle shouldn’t be disappointed. Continue reading

Logan (2017)

DIRECTOR: James Mangold

CAST: Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle


Even more so than Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Logan defies the labels of “comic book” or “superhero” movie.  Together with last year’s Deadpoolit’s a rare “comic book movie” to earn a well-deserved R rating, but their tones couldn’t be more different.  Profanity and graphic violence flow freely in both, but while Deadpool was a tongue-in-cheek romp, Logan (loosely taking some elements from the Old Man Logan comic miniseries) is a dead serious, rather bleak affair.  But while their tones are polar opposites, Deadpool and Logan both refuse to play by conventional superhero movie rules.  Logan also serves as the swan song for two of moviedom’s most iconic superheroes, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier (both of whom have reprised these characters off and on for the past seventeen years).  Small children should be left at home for this one, but for those to whom its grimness isn’t too jarring, Logan might be the most raw and uncompromising gut punch of any “comic book movie”.  Those who thought The Dark Knight was for grown-ups haven’t seen anything yet compared to where this movie dares to go. Continue reading

The Shack (2017)

DIRECTOR: Stuart Hazeldine

CAST: Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Radha Mitchell, Tim McGraw, Avraham Aviv Alush, Sumire Matsubara, Graham Greene


If you’ve a hankering for a full-length, two hour plus version of a Touched By An Angel episode (or you’re a fan of William P. Young’s 2007 Christian-themed novel of the same name), The Shack might warm your cockles. Considering Young’s book sold upwards of ten million copies, it might make back its costs and then some—-how expensive can a movie this TV-ish really be?—but for anyone else, it’s a “Lifetime Original Movie” handing down wannabe profundities in facilely feel good ways, and not worth watching unless you’re a Sunday School teacher hard up for something to occupy your pupils for a couple hours.


As explained by Tim McGraw’s tritely folksy narration, Mackenzie “Mack” Phillips (Sam Worthington) overcame a rough childhood with an alcoholic and abusive father (Derek Hamilton) to forge a mostly happy family with his wife (Radha Mitchell) and three children (Megan Charpentier, Gage Munroe, Amelie Eve). But when tragedy strikes on a camping trip, Mack falls into a downward spiral (which the movie ever heavy-handedly dubs “The Great Sadness”). One day, mysterious events conspire to land him at a seemingly deserted shack in the middle of the winter woodlands which suddenly unveils a lush tropical environment and three mysterious strangers, a woman called “Papa” (Octavia Spencer), which oh-so-subtly also happens to be Mrs. Phillips’ nickname for God, a Middle Eastern carpenter (Avraham Aviv Alush)—no points for guessing his name—-and an Asian woman called Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara). In tritely heartwarming fashion of the kind you’d find in a Touched By An Angel episode, Mack will learn to open up and find closure with the gentle prodding of the trinity (oops, spoiler warning!).

That this is a Christian Movie® of the most treacly and heavy-handed sort is clear almost from the get-go, when Tim McGraw takes pains to tell us that Mack’s personal relationship with God isn’t as strong as the wifey’s (as McGraw drawls in one of the movie’s many wannabe profound lines, it’s “wide”, while hers is “deep”). It’s also not much of a spoiler that Mack spends a few days with God in a shack in the woods, because Sam Worthington helpfully tells us this in the opening moments. Once we get past the opening scenes of child abuse—Mack’s father is a hypocritical church elder who abuses his family behind closed doors—and the offscreen kidnapping/murder of a small child that seems a little jarringly gruesome (even if only implied and not shown) for this kind of movie, nothing much else happens besides a bunch of banal conversations at The Shack (speaking of weirdly inappropriate things for such an otherwise Sunday School-esque movie, the opening also implies young Mack poisoned his father, then never addresses this again, leaving this dangling plot point odd to say the least). While depicting God has always been a challenge for filmmakers, couldn’t they have found something better to put in His—-their?—mouth (mouths?) than a bunch of New Agey banalities the movie expects us—-and Mack—-to regard as eye-opening spiritual profundities? There was no reason for a movie this simplistic in which so little happens to run over two hours, but indeed it does. If you’re the right audience for this sort of thing, you might be enthralled. If not, you’ll be doing plenty of eye-rolling before the movie finally drags itself across the finish line. Lord have mercy, indeed.

It doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence in a movie’s quality level when its principal cast includes Sam Worthington (who was once the would-be Next Big Thing between Terminator: Salvation and Avatar, but has since fallen into direct-to-DVD dreck and stuff like this) and Tim McGraw (!). Worthington is what he’s been in virtually every other movie in which he has appeared: adequate. As the blandly earnest Mack, he’s neither particularly good nor bad, he’s just there saying lines and occupying space. McGraw doesn’t stretch any acting muscles by drawling the trite narration and also popping up in a small undemanding role as Mack’s buddy. Octavia Spencer, the one person in the cast whom you might think is a little above this sort of thing, exudes warmth and kindness as well as anyone, but gets nothing to besides delivering a lot of feel good banal spiritual/life lessons. No Oscar nomination incoming for this role, even if it is God.

If this kind of movie appeals to you, you probably know who you are. For anyone else, The Shack is an exercise in tedium, and even some Christians have hit it with backlash, both for its perceived questionable theocracy and for the facile and simplistic ways it hands it down (“religious movie” shouldn’t have to be synonymous with either “preachy” or “amateurish”, but too often it is). For most viewers though, The Shack is too trite and meaningless to warrant any controversy. Spending two hours in this shack isn’t a magical experience, it’s a chore.

* 1/2