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Kong: Skull Island (2017)

DIRECTOR: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

CAST: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, John Ortiz, Toby Kebbell, Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing

REVIEW:

As Marvel has done with the Avengers and assorted related characters, Legendary Pictures is now in the process of establishing an interconnected “cinematic universe” which began with 2014’s Godzilla reboot and continues here with Kong: Skull Island, leading up to 2020’s King Kong vs. Godzilla and possibly a resurrection of the Monster Island from the classic Godzilla series of the 1960s.  To that end, Skull Island is a fun monster movie romp that serves up healthy helpings of what audiences expect when they sit down in the theater for this sort of thing.  It’s not a great movie, or even a great monster movie, but those simply looking for a fun romp through the jungle shouldn’t be disappointed. Continue reading

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

vehiclesDIRECTOR: George Miller

CAST: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Riley Keough, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton

REVIEW:

In 1979, an Australian doctor-turned-director named George Miller made a low-budget movie called Mad Max that went on to make a star out of a then-unknown Mel Gibson and virtually launch the post-apocalyptic film genre, as well as serve as inspiration for any number of post-apocalyptic and road chase movies in the decades since.  Miller followed up with 1981’s The Road Warrior and 1985’s Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.   In the interim, he directed such far more family-friendly fare as Babe and Happy Feet, but Mad Max was always his baby.  During the hiatus, Miller tried various times starting in 1998 to make the film which would eventually become Fury Road, but after several mis-starts, star Mel Gibson dropped out in 2003, feeling he was too old for the part but giving Miller his blessing to forge ahead without him.  In 2009, after several Australian actors (including the late Heath Ledger) unsuccessfully pursued or were considered for the title role, British actor Tom Hardy, at the time still a virtual unknown on this side of the Atlantic, officially stepped into Max’s boots.  Filming commenced in November 2011 but was forced to move from the Australian Outback (the filming location of every previous installment) when unexpected heavy rains transformed the desert into lush fields of wildflowers inappropriate for the look of the movie, relocating instead to Africa’s Namib Desert.  And now, after an arduous shoot and lengthy post-production, Fury Road has finally brought the long-dormant action franchise roaring back onto the big screen.  For many, the thirty-year gap between Beyond Thunderdome and Fury Road will be worth the wait.  By Miller’s own admission, this is the movie he would have made all along if he’d been able, and it is clear that this long-gestating project has been a labor of love.  Armed with a budget he could once only have dreamed of (reportedly approximately $150 million), Miller has given us a new adventure that is recognizably a Mad Max movie but also does its own thing.  Mad Max has returned with a bang. Continue reading

Godzilla (2014)

godzilla (1)DIRECTOR: Gareth Edwards

CAST: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche

REVIEW:

In 2010, a fledgling Welsh filmmaker named Gareth Edwards made his directorial debut with a monster movie simply-titled Monsters with a cast of unknowns and a budget of less than $20,000. Hindered by budget constraints from being heavy on monster action, Edwards instead focused on story and characters. The critical acclaim lavished on his low-key indie debut led to him coming rapidly up in the world when he was entrusted with helming the reboot of the King of the Monsters himself: Godzilla. Unlike Roland Emmerich’s deservedly much-maligned “Godzilla In Name Only” 1998 bastardization, Edwards has obviously tailor-made his Godzilla as a love letter to fans of the “classic” film series, but a few flaws make it an imperfect one. Continue reading

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

CD10002_JackRyan_ShadowRecruit.jpgDIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh

CAST: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh

REVIEW:

Has any film character, apart from the continually recast James Bond, been rebooted as many times as Jack Ryan?  Originating in Tom Clancy’s Cold War international espionage novels and then played onscreen first by Alec Baldwin, then Harrison Ford, the CIA operative was rebooted as a fledgling new recruit—and transported into the present day—with 2002’s The Sum of All Fears, where he was played by Ben Affleck, and now he’s been rebooted all over again, with Shadow Recruit doing what Casino Royale did for James Bond and starting the character completely fresh with no connection to the previous films.  Clearly Kenneth Branagh and the studio is hoping for Shadow Recruit to be more successful at kickstarting a new Jack Ryan franchise than the previous attempt at a reboot, The Sum of All Fears, which spawned no sequels, but only time will tell.  Clancy fans might grumble about Ryan being removed from his Cold War origins, but taken on its own terms, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a smoothly diverting action thriller that represents a worthy fresh start for the long-running character. Continue reading

Man of Steel (2013)

DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder

CAST: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne

REVIEW:

Man of Steel is to Superman as Batman Begins was to Batman; resurrect a popular comics character left floundering in the wake of poorly-received previous cinematic outings (the last attempt at a grand return, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, flopped) and bring him back to the big screen better than ever. Continue reading

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

DIRECTOR: Marc Webb

CAST:

Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field

REVIEW:

The road to this reboot was a twisty-turny one.  Originally, despite the general opinion of Spider-Man 3 as a disappointment, Sony intended to forge onward with a fourth installment with director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire still attached.  But due to reasons including Raimi’s clashes with the studio during the making of Spider-Man 3 (he did not want to include the villain Venom in the film, who was essentially forced on him by producer Avi Arad), Maguire’s hefty salary requests, and possibly other behind-the-scenes issues we’ll never know about, Sony eventually completely dropped Raimi, Maguire, and company and decided to start fresh with another Spider-Man movie that, like Batman Begins, had nothing to do with those that came before.  Many, including myself, were highly skeptical of the news of a reboot again showing us Spidey’s origin story, considering we’d seen it in theaters a mere decade ago, and I still haven’t 100% made up my mind whether the reboot has justified its existence, but viewed on its own, it’s an entertaining (if not quite “amazing”) addition to the masked webslinger’s onscreen adventues. Continue reading

Everything Old Is New Again, Or Is It? Spider-Man Rebooted

As anyone who cares is likely to know by now, Sony has announced that its highly-profitable Spider-Man film series is to be completely rebooted, with a completely new Spider-Man movie unrelated to the previous Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire trilogy sheduled for release in 2012.  Continue reading

Star Trek (2009)

DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams

CAST:

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, Chris Hemsworth, Faran Tahir, Leonard Nimoy

REVIEW:

Director J.J. Abrams (director of Cloverfield and creator of the Lost television series) and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (writers of 2007’s Transformers) have attempted to do much the same for Star Trek what Christopher Nolan did for Batman; mix things up and inject freshness in a way that the new film is not tied down to those that came before. While the simply-titled Star Trek is not quite as triumphant a success as The Dark Knight , in my opinion, Abrams and cast and crew have mostly succeeded at what they set out to do. Trekkies with open minds may find much to appreciate here, but be forewarned: this ain’t your Daddy’s Star Trek. Continue reading

Batman Begins (2005)

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

CAST:

Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe

REVIEW:

Batman is both one of DC Comics’ most recognizable and popular characters and one of the most cinematically ill-used. Originally conceived as a brooding figure on the line between hero and vigilante, the original seriousness was completely abandoned first by the campy 1960s television series starring Adam West, and then by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s series of feature films in the late ’80s and ’90s. These movies started out over-the-top and ended up downright cartoonish. The entire original conception of the character had virtually been abandoned, and as the films grew ever more patently ridiculous, even fans had had enough. Batman looked dead in the water. Then British director Christopher Nolan, coming off the thrillers Memento and Insomnia, and screenwriter David S. Goyer took on the task of resurrecting Batman, not as a continuation of the previous lackluster film series, but as a totally new narrative showing us something we’d never seen detailed onscreen before- the origins of the superhero. Continue reading

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