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December 2018
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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

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

DIRECTOR: Fede Alvarez

CAST: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Sylvia Hoeks, LaKeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant, Vicky Krieps

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL REVEAL “SPOILERS”

“Generic” is not a word that should be used to describe Lisbeth Salander, but The Girl in the Spider’s Web brings her close.  An adaptation of the book, the latest installment in the so-called Millennium Series, continued by David Lagercrantz from where late crime journalist and author Stieg Larsson left off, and a soft reboot quasi-sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, adapted to film both in Sweden (by Niels Arden Oplev and starring Noomi Rapace and the late Michael Nyqvist) and in an English-language remake (by David Fincher and starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig), The Girl in the Spider’s Web continues the series transition in Lagercrantz’s hands from dark, serious, slow burn murder/crime mystery into more straightforward action/spy thriller territory, sacrificing some depth and character along the way.  The result is a watchable and engaging action/spy thriller but arguably a poor Lisbeth Salander story. Continue reading

Halloween (2018)

DIRECTOR: David Gordon Green

CAST: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Haluk Bilginer, Jefferson Hall, Rhian Rees

REVIEW:

As thoroughly played-out and past its expiration date as the long-running Halloween franchise might have seemed, the simply-titled Halloween has righted the ship and delivered at least the second best, if not strongest installment the series has ever produced, and the first to truly feel like a worthy direct sequel to the original film.  In truth, while the original 1978 film is held up as a horror classic, I’ve never had an exalted opinion of it; John Carpenter’s direction shows a skillful understanding of building suspense, but it’s hindered by various dated elements, including a low acting level.  Of the sequels, only 1981’s Halloween 2 and 1998’s Halloween H2O had their moments, with the rest descending into the bottom of the barrel until the indestructible Michael Myers became a parody of himself.  Director David Gordon Green, with Carpenter returning to co-compose the score (which liberally sprinkles in his iconic original theme) with his son Cody Carpenter and series newcomer Daniel Davies and serving in an advisory capacity to the production, has taken Halloween back to the basics, hearkening back to and emulating the original and going so far as to disregard every other film in the franchise and serve as a direct sequel to the original and the original alone (also allowing it to avoid the various eye-rolly explanations of how Myers survived his various demises through the sequels).  Taken as a one-two punch, the two Halloweens bring the Laurie Strode vs. Michael Myers battle full circle in satisfying, even climactically rousing fashion, and if this series can finally be left well enough alone (an unlikely prospect), this serves as a solid note to go out on. Continue reading

The Predator (2018)

DIRECTOR: Shane Black

CAST: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Augusto Aguilera, Alfie Allen, Yvonne Strahovski, Jake Busey

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL DISCUSS “SPOILERS”

Like the Alien franchise it has occasionally ill-advisedly crossed over with, Predator is one of those franchises that keeps limping along long past its expiration date.  One could argue that in fact Predator was never even much of a franchise to begin with.  1987’s original wasn’t any kind of great movie, and doesn’t hold up as a sci-fi thriller classic on the level of Alien or Aliens, but it featured Arnold Schwarzenegger at his most cigar-chomping and one-liner-spouting (“get to da choppa!”) front-and-center, surrounded by a merry band of macho men (with a cast including fellow future Governor Jesse Ventura, along with Carl “Apollo Creed” Weathers, Bill Duke, and Sonny Landham, it was sort of like a forerunner to The Expendables), and served up enough hardcore action with a sci-fi twist to be a popular “man’s movie” (the 1990 sequel, starring Danny Glover, wasn’t as good, although it had its moments).  After two crossovers dubbed Alien vs. Predator, the concept of which was dubious and the execution worse, Nimrod Antal and Robert Rodriguez tried to course correct by getting back to the basics with 2010’s Predators, which again had its moments but not enough to resurrect a “franchise” that arguably never warranted being stretched out into a film series in the first place.  And now, just when Predator seemed dead (again), along comes Shane Black (a cast member of the original movie but better-known as a screenwriter/director, including writing the Lethal Weapon series and directing such films as Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Nice Guys).  Alas, Black’s involvement with the original film does not signal a return to that quality level.  The Predator falls into the same category as the likes of Independence Day: Resurgence and Alien: Resurrection, a sloppy, uninspired, past-its-sell-date sequel that fails to breathe any fresh life into a series that has long since run dry. Continue reading

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

DIRECTOR: J.A. Bayona

CAST: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Daniella Penada, Justice Smith, Isabella Sermon, Ted Levine, Toby Jones, B.D. Wong, James Cromwell, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum

REVIEW:

Fallen Kingdom, the second installment in the Jurassic Park “reboot” rebranded as Jurassic World (or fifth in the overall franchise) proves it’s still possible to inject a little rejuvenating freshness into a concept—people running around menaced by dinosaurs—that had seemed milked to the last drop.  While 2015’s Jurassic World (despite being a big enough box office smash to greenlight sequels) was overly bogged down in nostalgic callbacks and recycled material, Fallen Kingdom goes in some refreshingly different directions, including fulfilling my biggest wish list for a sequel: get off the damn island already. Continue reading

Ocean’s Eight (2018)

DIRECTOR: Gary Ross

CAST: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Awkwafina, Mindy Kaling, Richard Armitage, James Corden

REVIEW:

2001’s Ocean’s Eleven was a slight but breezy and enjoyable heist caper.  Its two superfluous sequels were aimless, self-indulgent add-ons that felt more like thin excuses for the star-studded cast to get back together and have some more fun.  And now, as if the “brand name” has not been milked to death, here comes a paper-thin indirect “sequel” of sorts.  Ocean’s Eight is a generic and uninspired heist caper that’s never more than mildly entertaining and doesn’t offer anything fresh besides its all-female cast. 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

The Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

DIRECTOR: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Josh Brolin, Sebastian Stan, Benedict Wong, Dave Bautista, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Pom Klementieff, Danai Gurira, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Winston Duke, Letitia Wright, Benicio Del Toro, Gwyneth Paltrow, William Hurt, Peter Dinklage, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice)

REVIEW:

After a decade’s worth of movies (starting with 2008’s Iron Man which kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe), we’re finally coming to the long-gestating endgame which will purportedly serve as the end of an era at least for some of the MCU’s crowded cast of characters, but while continuing Marvel’s pattern of trying to outdo itself with each consecutive all-star team-up offering by throwing the kitchen sink and an ever bigger cast of characters at the screen in ever more outsized ways, the long-hyped Infinity War feels like half a movie.  This might be an inevitability given this “endgame” will be concluded in the as-yet-untitled Avengers 4 still twelve months away, but it leaves a feeling that’s a little hollow, flashy spectacle, splashy special effects, and battles large and small everywhere you look, but lacking a certain impact. Continue reading

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

DIRECTOR: Jake Kasdan

CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Ser’Darius Blain

REVIEW:

While it’s remembered with a certain amount of nostalgic fondness, 1995’s Jumanji is not that great of a movie.  For that matter, neither is the long-belated indirect sequel (of sorts) Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, but considering both my lukewarm enthusiasm for the original, and the fact that I wouldn’t consider myself a particular fan of the cast members, it’s a more enjoyable romp than expected.  For lightweight action-comedy, it’s an adequately diverting entry that arguably provides marginally more entertainment than the original, courtesy of a certain degree of wit in its humor, a canny satire of 1990s video games, and some actors gamely poking fun at themselves. Continue reading

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson

CAST: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Kelly Marie Tran, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis

REVIEW:

SPOILER WARNING: I HAVE STRIVED TO NOT REVEAL EXPLICIT SPOILERS; HOWEVER IT IS DIFFICULT TO EXPRESS MY OPINION WITHOUT DISCUSSING SOME “SPOILER” PLOT ELEMENTS.

Picking up where J.J. Abrams left off with 2015’s The Force Awakens, writer-director Rian Johnson (Looper) has taken us back to a galaxy far, far away and chosen to subvert fan expectations and go in some unexpected directions, with mixed results.  Johnson doesn’t play it as safe as Abrams (who received some criticism for more-or-less remaking a tweaked version of A New Hope), but defying expectations in and of itself does not a satisfying narrative make.  The third act kicking into high gear does not entirely make up for a previous fragmented plot with flagging momentum.  The Last Jedi, while receiving general critical praise, is already proving divisive among fans.  It ultimately arrives at a (mostly) satisfying climax, but the path there is unwieldy and meandering. Continue reading

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