Movie Reviews

An unsurprising exercise in brand extension and hopeful franchise starter, Pokémon Detective Pikachu, the first, big-screen iteration of Pokémon, the made-in-Japan series of interconnected stories, videogames, trading cards, and animated films (TV and feature-length, including 21 of the latter, an unexpectedly mind-blowing number if there ever was one) centered on the titular, super-charged fantasy creatures who battle for supremacy with the guidance of their human trainers, partners, and friends, fails to fully or even partially embrace the inherent weirdness of its central premise in exchange for a slipshod, sloppy, slapdash neo-noir storyline involving a twenty-something searching for and reconnecting with his lost, presumably dead father (figuratively, if not literally). Repeatedly slowed down by logic lapses, coincidences, and contrivances that can be listed or described in a single review, Pokémon Detective Pikachu misses the mark by too much to be called anything except a middling misfire. (more…)

Five years ago, Keanu Reeves, pushing the half-century mark, but looking – and more importantly, performing like a super-fit, near-invulnerable 40-year-old – returned to the action genre he made his own more than two decades ago (e.g., Point Break, Speed, The Matrix Trilogy). As a result, he turned into one of the most unlikely movie stars of his generation (or any generation for that matter).  Little has changed since then. Rather than trying his hand at another big-budget, sci-fi-actioner doomed to failure amid outsized expectations, Reeves chose an entirely different, ultimately far more successful path. The first entry in the series, John Wick was a super-lean, super-efficient, minimalist action-thriller that placed a premium on physical stunts, many, if not most performed by Reeves himself, over logic- and physics-defying CG-enhanced effects. Then and now, John Wick was an anomaly, a glitch (so to speak) in the business matrix. While it didn’t become a mega-hit at the box office, the investment-to-return ratio was more than enough to get a sequel into production three years later, John Wick 2: Chapter 2, and a third entry, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, just two years later. (more…)

Note: Mild spoilers to follow. 

It seems like an eternity ago, but just a year ago, moviegoers around the globe emerged from multiplexes stunned, shocked, and otherwise shook by Avengers: Infinity War. Ten years and 20, interconnected, universe-expanding movies didn’t prepare them for the utter and complete defeat of the Avengers and Thanos’ overwhelming victory. In a snap felt around the universe, Thanos extinguished half of all life sentient life, including many (actually, most) of the superheroes who’ve made their home in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) over the previous decade. Even knowing that Avengers: Infinity War was just part one of a two-part, superhero epic did little to give moviegoers a sense of hope, however small, that the MCU would be restored to balance – not Thanos’ idea of genocidal balance – but where might and right stood together on one side of the wish-fulfillment equation against cosmic forces of evil and where individual and collective heroism, super or otherwise, clearly and simply mattered. (more…)

Over the last decade, the Portland, Oregon-based Laika Studios has not only revived old-school stop-motion animation, albeit with a CG gloss as needed, it’s produced a series of startlingly high-quality films, starting with Coraline and continuing with ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, Kubo & the Two Strings, and now their latest triumph, writer-director Chris Butler’s Missing Link, a Victorian-era set fantasy-adventure that gives Laika a perfect five-for-five record. Each film has stretched and expanded the limits of labor- and time-intensive stop-motion animation while also pushing the boundaries of family-oriented storytelling. Each film mixed humor, drama, characters, and, of course, stop-motion animation into a unique whole unlike anything in cinemas over the last decade. (more…)

Hellboy: The Reboot proves what so many fans of Mike Mignola’s long-running comic-book series or Guillermo del Toro’s unfinished trilogy suspected and/or feared: Just because you can reboot a series, doesn’t mean you should. Just because del Toro, a master filmmaker with a singular vision, isn’t available any more doesn’t mean you replace him with Neil Marshall (Centurion, Doomsday, Descent, Dog Soldiers), a competent, journeyman director who can’t deliver anything except a bland, colorless retread of a justly loved, if truncated, two-film series. Just because you can start all over again doesn’t mean you can or should revisit the title character’s origin story, via flashback or not. Killing Nazis is fine, of course, but killing Nazis while reminding everyone sitting in a darkened movie theater of del Toro’s far superior take on the same material isn’t. And just because you promise fans that you’ll deliver a hard R-rated film doesn’t mean you should go all out on the gratuitous blood and gore – and even if you do, for the love of all things unholy, stay away from blood and gore of the CGI kind. (more…)

In probably the most famous, well-known speech of his short-lived occupancy of the White House, President John F. Kennedy promised to put a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. He didn’t live to see Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – with an able assist from command module pilot Michael Collins – walk on the moon. His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, was also out of office, leaving Republican Richard M. Nixon to greet the astronauts when they safely returned to the Earth. And while the country, mired in a deeply unpopular war in Southeast Asia, the Civil Rights Movement and the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy the previous year for eight days, the Apollo 11 mission briefly united the United States. All of which has been well documented in books, TV, documentary, and feature-films (most recently, First Man), but director Todd Douglas Miller, working from hundreds of hours of unused, archived footage, sought to create the go-to, definitive, documentary testament to the Apollo 11 mission. Spoiler alert: Miller succeeds, sometimes spectacularly, in creating an immersive experience unlikely to be equaled in the near or distant future.  (more…)

If the plot of James Wan’s (The Conjuring series, the Insidious series, Saw) big-screen adaptation of DC’s Aquaman – a reluctant hero born of two worlds, one technologically advanced beyond all (or rather some) imagination, forced to set aside his selfishness, ego, and contempt and embrace his heritage, literally fighting for his birthright in trident-to-trident combat in an arena, followed by loss, redemption, and the rest – sounds more than vaguely familiar, it’s because it should. Though likely unintentional, Aquaman’s credited screenwriters, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall (Wan shares a story credit), followed the Black Panther template practically beat for reverse beat, turning a reluctant outsider into a reluctant hero and leader while turning his born-to-be-king brother into a hardcore, ideological warrior eager to bring a world of hurt and pain to those who’ve wronged his underwater-dwelling people (and all marine life too). Basically, it’s superhero template filmmaking, but like Black Panther, it’s the details, it’s what you do within and outside the confines of that template, that dictate whether the result will be genre-elevating commercial or political art like Black Panther or – in the case of Aquaman – purely commercial entertainment. (more…)

It took 11 years, five movies, and the departure of director Michael Bay, but Transformers fans – the fans who grew up on the 1980s animated TV series/Hasbro commercials – finally get the live-action Transformers film, Bumblebee, they’ve always wanted and maybe even needed to help justify their decades-long love of the series. With paired down, grounded visuals, an intimate sense of scale, and an emphasis on the unbreakable bond between a teenaged girl, Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), and a fugitive soldier-robot, B-127, from a dying, warring planet of self-aware, transforming machines, plus a nostalgia-heavy ‘80s setting, Bumblebee delivers the first, near great entry in a franchise that had all but dissipated the enormous goodwill of longtime fans with Transformers: The Last Knight two years ago. And it all took was a coherent, compelling script by Christina Hodson (Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Unforgettable) and deceptively competent direction from Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings), making his live-action debut after a career in stop-motion animation. (more…)

It took forty years, countless sequels, a reboot, and a sequel to that reboot, but fans of John Carpenter’s seasonal horror classic, Halloween, finally have a sequel worthy of the 1978 original that launched the slasher sub-genre. With his dirty mechanic’s overalls, frozen William Shatner death mask, and a toupee to match, Michael Myers and his knife embodied the boogeyman for generations of horror fans, but each sequel – not counting the in-name-only-sequel, Halloween III: Season of the Witch –tarnished and diminished the legacy of Carpenter’s one-of-a-kind original. But where there’s Jason Blum and his horror factory, Blumhouse Productions, there’s a way and the way pointed to an unlikely collaboration between indie auteur David Gordon Green (Stronger, Our Brand is Crisis, Joe, Prince Avalanche, George Washington), writer-comedian Danny McBride (Vice Principals, Eastbound & Down), and onetime “scream queen” Jamie Lee Curtis. The result will go down as a horror classic or near classic in its own right, the perfect, 40-years-in-the-making bookend to Carpenter’s film. (more…)

Spoiler alert: Contrary to Stanley Kubrick-obsessed conspiracy theorists, a lunar module (call-sign “Eagle”) carrying two Earth-born astronauts landed on the moon fifty years ago next July. The two Americans, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, took “one small step for [a] man and one giant leap for mankind.” They became instant heroes and icons in the process. They were both alone and not alone. The United States, then the wealthiest country in the world, devoted roughly 5% of the federal budget to the Cold War-era space program. We landed on the moon because we could, because we wanted to be first, but mostly to beat the Soviets (and, of course, communism), and Armstrong, the epitome of America’s founding myth (rugged individualism, pioneer spirit, self-made men and woman) would seem like a perfect or near perfect subject for a big-budget, Hollywood biopic. Or at least, that’s what director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) and writer Josh Singer thought when they decided to work together and bring Neil Armstrong to life in First Man. They were, at best, half-right. (more…)