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Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

DIRECTOR: Tim Miller

CAST: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna

REVIEW:

And now in the latest of far too many examples of Hollywood’s dearth of original ideas, the long-running—and long-suffering—Terminator franchise once again proves itself even harder to kill than its titular killer cyborgs, despite the fact that it passed its sell-by date quite a while ago (for my money, all the way back in 1991). While Dark Fate‘s promotion made much ta-do out of the “return” of James Cameron (who gets a producer and co-writer credit but did not retake the director’s chair, which is occupied by Deadpool‘s Tim Miller, leaving it questionable how much direct involvement Cameron really had) and Linda Hamilton (who hasn’t taken part in the franchise since 1991’s Judgment Day, turned down a chance to reprise her role in 2003’s Rise of the Machines, and should have turned this one down too), neither Cameron nor his ex-wife’s names in the credits signals a return to the quality of the first two installments, which slipped after Cameron moved on and has never been regained. Dark Fate ignores the existence of every entry since T2 and acts as a direct sequel to the first two and the first two alone—which many fans would likely have been okay with—but alas it doesn’t replace them with anything superior. It’s probably better than its immediate predecessor Genisys (no great accomplishment), but finds its own new ways of dumping on the series mythos.

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Angel Has Fallen (2019)

DIRECTOR: Ric Roman Waugh

CAST: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Nick Nolte, Danny Huston, Piper Perabo, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Tim Blake Nelson

REVIEW:

Despite ever-worsening critical reviews, the “[INSERT CODE NAME HERE] Has Fallen” franchise, like its generically stalwart hero Mike Banning, keeps chugging along. 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen wasn’t any kind of great movie, but it was a surprisingly enjoyable Die Hard knock-off. 2016’s London Has Fallen was a lazy, uninspired, low energy classic example of a sequel slapped together because the original did well at the box office, not because there was anywhere fresh or interesting to take the story. Angel Has Fallen is probably a little better, and at least a little more engaging, than London Has Fallen, but not as good as Olympus Has Fallen. It achieves more-or-less exactly what it promises—-a generic, moderately diverting but immediately forgettable action shoot-em-up—which given this franchise’s track record, is a low bar to hurdle.

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

DIRECTOR: Simon Kinberg

CAST: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Jennifer Lawrence, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain

REVIEW:

For his directorial debut, screenwriter Simon Kinberg has fulfilled a long-harbored wish to take a second stab at the Dark Phoenix storyline he previously tackled as co-writer of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, dissatisfied with the final product (which was directed by Brett Ratner). For fans of the X-Men comics, the Dark Phoenix storyline, written by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Dave Cockrum and running from the late 1970s into 1980, is regarded as one of the comics’ great narrative arcs (in addition to The Last Stand, it has also previously been adapted twice for animated television series). I’m not prepared to say a two hour movie has entirely done justice to a comic storyline which ran for years (reportedly Kinberg initially wanted to tell the storyline across two movies, but the studio declined), but comic book and film are different mediums. In its own right, Dark Phoenix has breathed a little more life into the loose reboot young X-Men series (began with 2011’s First Class and spun off into an alternate timeline by 2014’s Days of Future Past), more compelling than its immediate predecessor, the laborious Apocalypse and overall a better, if rushed and abridged, adaptation of the source material and the Dark Phoenix storyline than The Last Stand.

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The Avengers: Endgame (2019)

DIRECTOR: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Don Cheadle, Bradley Cooper (voice)

REVIEW:

This is it. After eleven years and twenty-two movies, the long-awaited “endgame” that came to a head in last year’s The Avengers: Infinity War comes to a conclusion, and with it so too does at least the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which began with 2008’s Iron Man and has since blown up into an interconnected universe more sprawling and ambitious than has ever been mounted before. It’s also no secret—and has not been for quite some time—that the appropriately-titled Endgame is the swan song for at least some of the MCU’s crowded cast of characters, including some of its biggest mainstays, a fact its fans have made their peace with long before setting foot in the theater. The MCU will go on, to be sure (this isn’t even the last MCU installment of the year), but it will not go on for everyone. Like the sign-off of the original cast of Star Trek, it’s the end of an era. Endgame fulfills its mission. The two-part climax of this first phase of the MCU is brought to a (mostly) satisfactory conclusion, but the movie’s real strength is serving as a well-crafted love letter both to the entire MCU up to this point and to the fans who’ve come along on every step of the journey.

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Captain Marvel (2019)

DIRECTOR: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

CAST: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Clark Gregg, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou

REVIEW:

Captain Marvel, the first but far from last Marvel installment of 2019, doesn’t ascend to MCU top-tier, but it escapes the purely perfunctory mediocrity that some may have expected from a superhero origin story that’s primarily being squeezed in before she serves as the deus ex machina she’s clearly being set up as for next month’s The Avengers: Endgame. A 1990s setting and sci-fi angle (shades of Guardians of the Galaxy, including a familiar character or two) lends a fresher feel that’s sorely needed in such an over-saturated comic book movie landscape.

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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

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