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Movie Reviews

The idea of a movie about criminals in a room growing steadily more paranoid and violent as they try to figure out who’s betrayed who, isn’t original. That’s Free Fire in a nutshell, although there’s one notable difference between this new film from Ben Wheatley (Kill List, High Rise) and the early work of Quentin Tarantino and his many imitators, it’s purposefully very funny. It’s gallows humour taken to absurdist levels! It’s a comedy of violent errors as our “heroes” never lose their cynical detachment as the drag themselves around the ground with many holes! Watching people slowly kill each other has never been this much fun. (more…)

A few decades back, an advert for a big-budget, superhero adaptation claimed moviegoers would “believe a man could fly.” Except, of course, he wasn’t a man. He was a Superman and the movie, Superman: The Movie officially kickstarted big-screen, comic-book superheroes (Superman and Batman, the only superheroes who really counted back then). Soon enough audiences took the whole flying thing for granted, wanted more and eventually, got more. It took almost four decades, though, before the whole superhero thing took over pop culture completely. Even a one-time illegal street racing flick, a Point Break knock-off no less, eventually mutated into the equivalent of superheroes with muscle cars. Forget believing a man could fly. Now moviegoers will not only believe a muscle car can jump over a submarine, they’ll willing applaud the utter and total ridiculousness of it all. And “ridiculous” is exactly the right word where the multi-billion dollar Fast & Furious series is concerned: It’s turned into a gravity- and logic-defying live-action cartoon, pure escapist, sensory-overloading fun. (more…)

There’s almost nothing Scarlett Johansson can’t do on the big screen (or the small screen, if she was wanted, but she doesn’t right now). She’s played a superhero multiple times (Black Widow, minus the superpowers). She’s played a superhuman (Lucy, the next step in evolution). She’s even played an alien (using her physical beauty to seduce unwitting men to their deaths). But what Johansson can’t do, though, is save her latest film, Ghost in the Shell, the live-action remake of Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 animated adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga series.  The remake – or reimagining or whatever you want to call it – never fails to impress on a visual level, even as it borrows its aesthetics from Ridley Scott’s seminal cyperpunk classic, Blade Runner, updating it with the best 21st-century CGI money can buy, but story and character wise, it goes where too many genre entries have gone before, into stale, rehashed ideas about identity, consciousness, artificial intelligence and what have you. (more…)

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was perfectly harmless. I mean, if you ignored the hysteria of some parents groups worried about their kids karate chopping their friends on the playground. But the series was about five clean-cut teens who were always working out, or community organizing when they weren’t fighting rubber monsters in spandex. Angel Grove was so clean cut even the bullies hanged out at the juice bar, but as with all reboots, you’re going to have to forget all that. In this Power Rangers, the heroes are a post-modern breakfast club fighting the creature from the black lagoon, and then things get weird. (more…)

Back in the mid-fifties, the American distributor of Godzilla (Gojira) attached “King of the Monsters” as a subtitle. A bold claim, sure, but more importantly, a slap in the face of the giant gorilla, Kong, crowned King two decades earlier. Kong might have been born and bred on fictional Skull Island, but he was for all intents and purposes, an American creation. A potent, if unintentional, riff on American slavery, racism, and lonely, misunderstood outsider, albeit an outsider with a thing for screaming blondes and deadly skyscrapers (they reminded him of home), King Kong hit the zeitgeist mother lode, entering pop culture where he’s remained for the better part of a century. A sequel followed, Son of Kong, a couple of low-rent, embarrassing appearances on the Japanese side of the Pacific Ocean, a lightly regarded remake (1976), a sequel, another remake directed by Peter Jackson 12 years ago and now, finally an all-new origin story, a Kong for the 21st century, but still a part of the late 20th century. (more…)

From the first, ultra-violent, gory confrontation between a drunk, alcoholic Wolverine/Logan/James Howlett (Hugh Jackman) and three of the unluckiest gangbangers ever put on film, Logan, Jackman’s second collaboration with writer-director James Mangold (The Wolverine, 3:10 to Yuma, Night & Day, Cop Land) and reportedly his last time out as the title character, announces itself as a new, different superhero movie and not just because it’s R-rated (we saw plenty of ultra-violence last February with Deadpool) but because Mangold, his screenwriting partner, Scott Frank (The Lookout, The Interpreter, Minority Report, Out of Sight, Get Shorty), and Jackman, every bit a co-equal partner, go where no superhero genre movie has gone before: Into exploring the long-term physical, mental, and emotional consequences of living above and beyond what we otherwise consider normal or natural with depth, nuance, and genuine emotion. All this achieved with stakes – saving a life, saving a handful of lives – would be considered marginal, tangential, or even irrelevant in the typically overblown, bombastic superhero entries from Marvel, DC, or the X-Men universe prior to Logan. (more…)

The first John Wick movie was a bit of a surprise. Outside of The Matrix Trilogy (and various kung-fu movies he filmed since then), Keanu Reeves has not had a huge action hit. Sure, the actor picks and chooses his parts wisely, but this is what we have been missing from him. The first John Wick had an almost embarrassingly simple plot: retired assassin’s girlfriend dies, she gets him a dog, a moron kills his dog and steals his car, he gets revenge on EVERYONE. That’s pretty much the plot for every B-Action movie.

However, John Wick is magical in its execution. Besides The Raid and its sequels, there hasn’t been a mainstream film that was just perfection when it comes to execution of highly stylized violence. The film was directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, both stunt coordinators by craft, and it really showed. It’s a no-brainer that a sequel would be greenlit. Enter: John Wick: Chapter 2.

NOTE: This review does contain some descriptive spoilers. 

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Some critic once said of the Resident Evil series, “Who are these movies made for?” I’m not sure if they were looking for specific names or just a vague description, but I think the Resident Evil movies are made for people that want to kill two hours with big action, gruesome visuals and a loose thread of a mythology that vaguely represents the video games they’re based on. In the case of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, it was made for movie fans that need closure. It appeals to those that assume the previous five movies were building towards something, but I doubt that this is where they thought it was going.  (more…)

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Here we go again… Every few years, we get another chapter of the Underworld franchise because, hey, why not. It’s not like the Underworld franchise has some overarching mythology like The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, it’s not like they’re building towards a cohesive universe featuring dozens of characters like Marvel or DC, and it’s not like the storytelling is so complex that screenwriters have to carefully walk over their footprints in the proverbial snow as to not cross any continuity fauxpas. But here we are again, more blue-tinted gunfire and bloodletting based around the idea that Kate Beckinsale is a gorgeous woman who looks great beating up people in skin-tight leather. (more…)

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A cynic might see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a spin-off/prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy, as just exercise in brand extension (i.e., cash grab), Disney’s latest effort to exploit or capitalize on the vast, worldwide popularity of the Star Wars franchise they purchased from George Lucas. A non-cynic eager to revisit the myth-drenched Star Wars universe on film again, especially after the unmitigated box-office success of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens just last year, will find much to like, maybe even love, in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As carefully, deliberated crafted as Star Wars: The Force Awakens (both as well-made commercial product and resonant commercial art), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story delivers practically everything Star Wars fans have come to expect from the long-running franchise, the heroism, likely and not, the archetypical characters thrust into seemingly impossible, galaxy-saving missions, against seemingly superior foes (David vs. Goliath on a galactic scale), and the pleasures found in relatively simple, archetypical stories pitting good vs. evil.

***MILD SPOILERS BELOW***

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