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December 2018
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period film

Robin Hood (2018)

DIRECTOR: Otto Bathurst

CAST: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan, Tim Minchin, Paul Anderson, F. Murray Abraham

REVIEW:

Much like Lex Luthor, who should not be as difficult to adapt to screen as he has often seemed to be, Hollywood has had a hard time coming up with a good rendition of what should be as simple and straightforward as the legend of Robin Hood.  1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves had its charms, but marred by a whiplashy tone and a miscast Kevin Costner.  Ridley Scott’s 2010 “reimagining” tried to turn it into a Braveheart-esque epic historical drama at the expense of jettisoning any sense of fun.  Unfortunately, Otto Bathurst’s latest rendition of the oft-told tale has gone to the opposite extreme, a generic action flick, watchable and moderately engaging in the moment but forgettable and disposable in the way a dime a dozen generic action flicks are.  Panned by critics and making only $51 million against a $100 million budget, the latest telling of “The Hood” is as destined for the dust bin as last year’s King Arthur.

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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

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer

CAST: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Allen Leech, Tom Hollander, Aidan Gillen, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker

REVIEW:

Bohemian Rhapsody, obviously taking its title from possibly the most iconic song of the band it chronicles, doesn’t transcend the genre of a standard-issue band biopic, but it’s a breezy and rousing love letter to Queen that rises above some narrative cliches and historical fudging with a committed lead performance by Rami Malek and electric concert sequences.  Queen neophytes might not be engaged, but Queen fans should enjoy themselves. Continue reading

First Man (2018)

DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle

CAST: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Ciaran Hinds, Lukas Haas, Shea Whigham, Cory Michael Smith, Patrick Fugit, Pablo Schreiber, Ethan Embry, Brian d’Arcy James

REVIEW:

First Man would make an excellent companion piece to other docudramas about the 1960s NASA space program, including 1995’s Apollo 13 (whose mission took place only nine months after the climax of this film) and 1983’s sprawling The Right Stuff, which some consider definitive (although it portrays an earlier phase of the space race than First Man and Apollo 13, meaning one could watch the three as a sort of loosely-connected trilogy).  The primary difference is that, while those films were ensemble casts giving a broader overview of the workings of NASA, both on Earth and in space, First Man is more tightly-focused on the professional and personal life of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, offering an intimate look at a man who sometimes seemed as remote as the bleak, barren lunar surface. Continue reading

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

Hostiles (2017)

DIRECTOR: Scott Cooper

CAST: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Rory Cochrane

REVIEW:

Hostiles is a grim, downbeat, but ultimately hopeful morality play ruminating on themes of hatred, redemption, and bridging racial divides.  Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Black Mass) directs this elegiac “revisionist Western” with a slow, methodical pace that proves challenging to maintain viewers’ attention.  Those seeking serious drama that moves at its own deliberate pace and aren’t expecting something more conventional or action-oriented may appreciate what Cooper has wrought, but it will not be everyone’s cup of tea. 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

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