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fantasy

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

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

DIRECTOR: Ron Howard

CAST: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Joonas Suotamo, Erin Kellyman, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (voice), Jon Favreau (voice)

REVIEW:

And now for something completely superfluous…Solo, a movie no one was clamoring for, telling the backstory of Han Solo that we already got the gist of from his introduction in A New Hope over forty years ago, lends credence to fears that Lucasfilm is beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel in its quest to not only continue the “main” ongoing narrative but also expand into stand-alone “anthology” films.  Solo follows Rogue One in this subcategory, but unlike Rogue One, it fails to offer virtually any memorable moments or do anything fresh or interesting with its Point A to Point B telling of a backstory that didn’t need a whole movie to flesh it out in the first place, especially one as rote as this.  Equal parts a bland origin story and a generic heist flick, Solo is moderately entertaining but fails to justify its superfluous existence.  Unlike last year’s disappointing The Last Jedi, this stand-alone “take it or leave it” side entry doesn’t do anything to damage the overall narrative, but nor does it add anything. 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

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

The Shape of Water (2017)

DIRECTOR: Guillermo Del Toro

CAST: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones

REVIEW:

The Shape of Water, offbeat writer-director Guillermo Del Toro’s latest offering, is essentially an adult romantic fairy tale wrapped up in an homage to 1950s-era monster movies.  It’s weird and artsy—two qualities that should be expected in a Del Toro film—but also earnest and heartfelt, and speaks to Del Toro being a romantic at heart. 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

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

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