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period film

The Post (2018)

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

CAST: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks

REVIEW:

The Post won’t appeal to everyone—it’s a predominantly dry, talky affair full of scenes of stressed-out people in smoky rooms and stacks of papers debating the course of action—-but for those who appreciate docudramas celebrating the triumph of investigative journalism over power, it’s a stirring spiritual brother to movies like All the President’s Men (to which it serves as a sort of direct prequel) and Spotlight.  In its portrayal of the free press versus an American President skirting the limits of his authority, The Post feels timely and relevant, and stresses the importance of an independent press.  The Supreme Court’s 1971 ruling that “the press exists to serve the governed, not the governors” is worth recalling today. Continue reading

The Greatest Showman (2017)

DIRECTOR: Michael Gracey

CAST: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson

REVIEW:

Big lavish musicals have been brought back into vogue by critically-acclaimed recent entries like Les Miserables and La La Land, and The Greatest Showman, more-or-less based on the life and career of P.T. Barnum (with a healthy helping of dramatic license) keeps the resurgent genre going strong.  Those who are not fans of musicals are unlikely to be converted, but for those who are, The Greatest Showman is lavish, lively, and joyous, filled with infectious, crowd-pleasing song-and-dance numbers, well-choreographed and elaborately-staged, with a timely (if historically questionable) theme of inclusivity and celebrating humanity in all forms.  If you’re a fan of this kind of big Hollywood musical, it represents a trip to the theater well worth taking. Continue reading

Darkest Hour (2017)

DIRECTOR: Joe Wright

CAST: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup

REVIEW:

2017 has been a good year for the Dunkirk evacuation, a pivotal event in WWII but an incident which had previously received little Hollywood attention.  Combined with Christopher Nolan’s “you are there” docudrama Dunkirk, which took us to the beaches, onboard the ships, and into the sky, and Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest, about a British propaganda film made about the event, Darkest Hour takes us to the vantage point of 10 Downing Street and centers around Winston Churchill himself.  To this end, Darkest Hour features no real battle scenes—apart from fleeting glimpses—and its stodgy, talky tone will limit its primary audience to history buffs, especially those with a particular interest in Churchill, but for those who consider themselves in that category, Darkest Hour is an engaging docudrama about the first two weeks in office of perhaps Britain’s most famous Prime Minister, and how he almost lost the position no sooner than he’d been offered it. 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

Breathe (2017)


DIRECTOR: Andy Serkis

 

CAST: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville

REVIEW:

For his directorial debut, Andy Serkis (best-known as Hollywood’s go-to guy for motion capture performances) has elected to eschew the CGI and special effects his career is so entwined with, and tell the true story of Robin Cavendish.  Cavendish, who passed away in 1994 at age 64, was one of the longest-surviving responauts (people who relied on a respirator to breathe) in the UK.  In its portrayal of a real-life quadriplegic, and its focus on his marriage, Breathe is a sort of cousin to The Theory of Everything (about Stephen and Jane Hawking), and might appeal to some of the same audience, although those seeking something fresher and more stimulating than the standard-issue “inspirational biopic” formula won’t find it here. Continue reading

It (2017)

DIRECTOR: Andy Muschietti

CAST: Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Chosen Jacobs, Bill Skarsgard, Nicholas Hamilton

REVIEW:

The big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel was a long time coming.  A TV miniseries has existed since 1990, but the low budget, made-for-TV quality, and (apart from Tim Curry’s gleeful scenery-chewing) dubious acting level held it back and left plenty of room for a definitive rendition.  The movie which has finally ended up in theaters lingered in pre-production for six years (at one point set to be directed by Cary Fukunaga and starring Will Poulter as “It” before they eventually departed the project).  Now that It has finally arrived, fans of King’s work can be pleased to know his novel—-or at least part one of two—has largely been done justice. Continue reading

Atomic Blonde (2017)

DIRECTOR: David Leitch

CAST: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Til Schweiger, Bill Skarsgard, Roland Moller

REVIEW:

Atomic Blonde plays out like a blend of the convoluted, labyrinthine Cold War intrigue of a John Le Carre novel with the kinetic action of a Jason Bourne movie, but the level of style and panache director David Leitch brings to the material, and the entertainment value of Charlize Theron kicking ass and looking stylish while doing it can’t quite make up for a murky, muddled plotline that’s difficult to follow. Continue reading

Dunkirk (2017)

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

CAST: Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden, Tom Glynn-Carney, Barry Keoghan

REVIEW:

With Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan has switched gears into a genre he’s never explored before, the war film, with a docudrama depiction of the Dunkirk evacuation (named after the French town where it took place), where 300,000 British soldiers with their backs against the sea were rescued by an armada of civilian volunteers, including fishing boats and private yachts, in what became known as “the miracle of Dunkirk” (despite being a retreat, the mass rescue was so unlikely that Winston Churchill himself cautioned the celebratory mood by stating that “wars are not won by evacuations”).   Perhaps partly because it focuses on an Allied retreat, perhaps partly because no Americans were involved (Dunkirk took place over a year before the United States entered the war), the Dunkirk evacuation hasn’t gotten much Hollywood attention; the only high-profile film I can recall even touching on it is Atonement, and that only in one sequence.  For the venerable writer-director, Dunkirk showcases his often-cited greatest strengths and weaknesses perhaps more starkly than ever before; a technically virtuoso filmmaking accomplishment but emotionally cold.  Dunkirk may strongly appeal to WWII buffs, but its appeal to mainstream audiences is in doubt. Continue reading

Wonder Woman (2017)

DIRECTOR: Patty Jenkins

CAST: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Lucy Davis, Ewen Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock, Elena Anaya, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen

REVIEW: 

For the troubled “DC Expanded Universe”, Wonder Woman is a sign that all may not be lost after the near-trainwrecks of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, but I’m not prepared to join the chorus singing its praises, and while it’s not a bad movie, I can’t help but wonder if the excitement is subconsciously influenced by how good it looks in comparison to its immediate predecessors.  As far as “origin stories” go, this falls somewhere in the middle; it’s easily a more competently-crafted film than BvS or Suicide Squad, but isn’t as memorable or innovative as the best of what either DC or Marvel has offered in recent years. 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

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