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2017

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

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 easily better 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

Gifted (2017)

DIRECTOR: Marc Webb

CAST: Chris Evans, McKenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate

REVIEW:

Its trailers make it look like Lifetime Original Movie fodder served up with a cute precocious child and a dash of melodramatic courtroom drama, but that does Gifted a bit of a disservice.  The movie isn’t anything hugely ambitious or original, but the movie is more emotionally true and—apart from some third act contrived narrative contortions—the drama more subdued than the previews might suggest, and the result deserves a chance to be judged on its own merits. Continue reading

Life (2017)

DIRECTOR: Daniel Espinosa

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

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS “SPOILERS”

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

REVIEW:

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

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