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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

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

DIRECTOR: Taika Waititi

CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Karl Urban, Jeff Goldblum, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins

REVIEW:

For the third solo outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe starring Thor the God of Thunder, Marvel seems to have taken a page from The Guardians of the Galaxy with a more (sometimes excessively) flippant tone and more emphasis on Guardians/Star Wars-esque sci-fi elements.  To an extent, they succeed in mixing things up, and Thor: Ragnarok is a bright, colorful, breezy action-comedy/sci-fi fantasy adventure, but while it’s lively and entertaining, it lacks a sense of real stakes (even with its title referencing the apocalyptic war of Norse mythology) and aims too hard for laughs at the expense of drama. 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

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

Logan (2017)

DIRECTOR: James Mangold

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

REVIEW:

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

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

Inferno (2016)

infernoDIRECTOR: Ron Howard

CAST: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy, Ben Foster, Ana Ularu

REVIEW:

If nothing else, Inferno might hammer the final nail in the coffin of Sony’s increasingly inexplicable determination to make Robert Langdon—the protagonist of Dan Brown’s pulpy book series—into a “franchise” headliner.  Dry, professorial Langdon isn’t exactly 007, and The Da Vinci Code was only a moderate box office success, while Angels & Demons didn’t do much business worth writing home about, but Sony insisted on forging ahead.  With Inferno already opening weak, it might be time to stop adapting Dan Brown books.  If you’re one of the seemingly relatively few people—including myself—who moderately enjoy these movies, Inferno offers up largely more of the same, but isn’t as good as the unevenly-paced but sporadically fascinating Da Vinci Code and doesn’t represent a compelling reason to rush to a theater near you. Continue reading

Jason Bourne (2016)

jasonDIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass

CAST: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL REVEAL “SPOILERS”

With the total box office gross for Universal’s Bourne trilogy reaching nearly $1 billion, it was inevitable that the studio would want more, even when director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon were uninterested in returning, but their misfired attempt at expanding the Bourne “universe”, 2012’s The Bourne Legacy (starring Jeremy Renner as someone not named Jason Bourne), was a superfluous side tangent to nowhere.  A Matt Damon-sized hole was left in the franchise, a hole that has finally been filled, nearly a decade after he last played the part, with he and Greengrass returning to the popular action series.  Was it worth the wait (and the undoubtedly hefty paychecks involved in drawing both men back into the fold)?  Questionable.  Among long-awaited sequels to popular franchises, the simply-titled Jason Bourne is better than this summer’s unneeded sequels London Has Fallen or Independence Day: Resurgence, but it feels like a “greatest hits” cover of the original series, reheated and served for leftovers.  It doesn’t break any new ground; in fact, it rehashes various plot elements, to the extent that it comes across as an adequately engaging but ultimately superfluous sequel whose existence is unessential. Continue reading

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

beyondDIRECTOR: Justin Lin

CAST: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Sofia Boutella, Idris Elba

REVIEW:

Star Trek: Beyond, the third installment in the “new” Star Trek reboot series, with Justin Lin of the Fast & Furious series taking over from J.J. Abrams (who stepped back to merely producing while busy rebooting another sci-fi franchise with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens), feels like a super-sized, feature-length episode of the original series (with a budget it could only have dreamed of, of course), but while there are more of Gene Rodenberry’s fingerprints on this one than its two immediate predecessors, the script by Doug Jung and Simon Pegg (the latter of whom, of course, also co-stars as Scotty) fails to go “beyond” as the title aspires toward.   Continue reading

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