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fantasy

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

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

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

rogueDIRECTOR: Gareth Edwards

CAST: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Riz Ahmed, Alan Tudyk (voice)

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN “SPOILERS”

Rogue One, the second entry in Disney’s revival of the Star Wars franchise after buying the rights from creator George Lucas, represents a risky departure and an attempt at doing something different with the iconic property.  Unlike last year’s The Force AwakensRogue One is not a continuation of the main series (as evidenced by being titled as a Star Wars “story” as opposed to an episode), but a mostly stand-alone entry that serves as a prequel/tie-in with the original 1977 A New Hope, chronicling the untold story of exactly how those stolen Death Star plans fell into the rebels’ hands in the first place.  The result comes with plenty of familiar Star Wars trappings (some more heavy-handed than others), but a markedly different tone and feel.  Rogue One bears more resemblance to a Dirty Dozen-style war/spy thriller than a conventional Star Wars movie.  To that end, it’s generally well-crafted, but doesn’t completely avoid feeling like a “take it or leave it” footnote to the original trilogy. Continue reading

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

fantasticDIRECTOR: David Yates

CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY REVEAL “SPOILERS”

With any franchise as enormously popular and financially lucrative as Harry Potter, it’s not surprising that Warner Bros. would return to the watering hole sooner or later even if the story of Harry and companions told over seven books and eight movies was concluded (though that didn’t stop author J.K. Rowling from tacking on a follow-up, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and now, with Rowling cutting out the middle man and directly penning the screenplay herself, we have returned to the wizarding world, not in a continuation or direct tie-in with the Harry Potter series, but in a stand-alone installment (albeit intended to serve as the start of a new film series) set in the same “universe”.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, taking its unwieldy title and basic concept from one of Harry’s schoolbooks briefly-mentioned in the original series, is an enjoyable stand-alone adventure, but its status as a franchise-launching starting pad is more uncertain. Continue reading

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

DIRECTOR: Tim Burton

CAST: Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Kim Dickens, Terence Stamp, Judi Dench

REVIEW:

If you’ve ever wondered what X-Men might be like filtered through the bizarre sensibilities of Tim Burton, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children might give some idea.  An adaptation of the novel by Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine is sufficiently off-kilter to represent a more fresh and engaging fantasy adventure than much of what populates the young adult genre, although it’s somewhat less than the sum of its parts. Continue reading

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

firefightDIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams

CAST: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Max von Sydow, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker

REVIEW:

With 1977’s Star Wars (at the time simply titled “Star Wars”, later as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), writer-director George Lucas launched a pop culture phenomenon that has arguably never seen its equal (Harry Potter mania might be the closest runner-up), and 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s The Return of the Jedi only solidified its status.  It’s hard to overestimate Star Wars‘ influence on the filmmaking industry, whether bringing sci-fi into the mainstream, hearkening back to the old-fashioned adventures of Flash Gordon and the like, bringing about a virtual visual effects revolution, spawning countless imitators and direct and indirect descendants, spawning a massive merchandising blitz and copious tie-ins with novelizations, animated series, highly collectible action figures, “Expanded Universe” fanfiction that took on a life of its own, and launching Industrial Light & Magic and Lucasfilm.  One doesn’t have to be a Star Wars nerd to know phrases like “may the Force be with you” or know who Darth Vader is.  The long-gestating prequel trilogy, beginning in 1999, was anticipated with astronomical expectations no films could possibly have lived up to, and that and various questionable choices on Lucas’ part tainted the franchise for many fans, sparking a sometimes over-the-top fan backlash.  By his own admission, the vitriol from some disappointed fans turned Lucas off to all things Star Wars, and he eventually sold the property to Disney.  And now, a decade after the last of the prequels, the first Star Wars movie to have no involvement from George Lucas has brought the iconic text crawl across theater screens again.  Director J.J. Abrams (whose reboot of the Star Trek film series could be said to be a warm-up for this) makes his fanboy levels of love for Star Wars obvious (sometimes too obvious), but while an entertaining space fantasy adventure in keeping with the spirit of what Lucas originated, The Force Awakens falls somewhat short.  It’s better-crafted than the prequels, but lacks a certain spark that keeps it from ascending to the original trilogy’s iconic status.  Fans with open minds may find much to appreciate, but tempered expectations may lead to a more positive reaction. Continue reading

Maleficent (2014)

maleficentDIRECTOR: Robert Stromberg

CAST: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple, Brenton Thwaites

REVIEW:

Maleficent does for its title character (the villain of Disney’s 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty) what Wicked did for The Wicked Witch of the West, providing a “re-imagining” in which Maleficent is not a one-dimensional cackling villainess reveling in her own evilness, but a tragic, mistreated anti-heroine.  Actually, Maleficent goes even further than Wicked (arguably too far), playing fast and loose with the Sleeping Beauty story and turning it on its head.  That’s not a problem, but Maleficent has a feel of watered-down, generic fantasy adventure that contains enough visual wonder to entertain children and be tolerable for parents, but like another recent re-imagining of a Disney classic, Snow White and the Huntsmandoesn’t live up to its own potential. Continue reading

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

thor2DIRECTOR: Alan Taylor

CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Jaimie Alexander, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Alice Krige, Adewale Akinnouoye-Agbaje

REVIEW:

Thor: The Dark World, following in the footsteps of the introductory outing for its title character, 2011’s Thorand the 2012 superhero all-star extravaganza The Avengersis a step down and feels like an obligatory episode.  It moves briskly and serves up serviceable fantasy action-adventure, but it lacks the epic feel of Thor and it’s hard to care much about what’s taking place onscreen despite a bunch of flashy special effects, dwelling in the middle ground of mediocrity also occupied by Captain America: The First Avenger and Iron Man 3.   Continue reading

Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific RimDIRECTOR: Guillermo del Toro

CAST: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Robert Kazinsky, Clifton Collins Jr.

REVIEW:

Guillermo del Toro’s (Mimic, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) love letter to the kaiju (Japanese monster movie) and anime genres, Pacific Rim serves up enough spectacular visual effects and kinetic action sequences to at least momentarily distract from its weaknesses in narrative and character development. It doesn’t leave the deepest lasting impression once it’s over, but when the effects extravaganza kicks in, it’s certainly not hard to get swept up in the thrill of the moment. Continue reading

Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013)

DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi

CAST: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bill Cobbs

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL REVEAL A PLOT “SPOILER”

Sam Raimi’s prequel to The Wizard of Oz is cut from the same cloth as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, a modern filmmaker’s homage to a timeless classic that boasts flashy updated visual effects but lacks the original’s magic. Continue reading

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