Movie Reviews

After sitting through Dwayne “No Longer The Rock” Johnson’s third film in less than a year, Skyscraper, you won’t believe a man can fly – Christopher Reeve as Superman/Kal-El/Clark Kent got there first forty years ago and he was wearing spandex and a cape – but you’ll believe Johnson’s one-legged character, Will Sawyer, can leap tall buildings (not leap over, however) to save his family from a burning mega-skyscraper and the rando, vaguely European terrorists who started the fire to steal an ultra-high value MacGuffin. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before from one of the hardest working performers in Hollywood (three films in seven months, with another half-dozen on the way over the next two or three years), but for Johnson’s super-fans, it’ll be more than enough to overlook Skyscraper’s paper-thin, second-rate plot – a mash-up of Die Hard, The Towering Inferno and every action-film cliché in between – forgettable, throwaway villains, a plot and setting deliberately geared toward Asian-Pacific audiences, and mediocre action scenes lathered in CGI spectacle.

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Five years ago, a C- or even D-level superhero carrying his own standalone franchise seemed like a risky proposition, but where Marvel – and more specifically the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – goes, moviegoers have followed (10 years, 20 movies, and counting), with little or no signs of boredom. It’s helped that the MCU has Marvel’s 60-year (give or take a few years) history to pick and choose from, but it’s also helped that Marvel’s leadership, specifically uber-producer Kevin Feige, have pushed the boundaries of what the superhero genre can offer mainstream audiences, while giving an increasingly diverse group of filmmakers creative opportunities unusual for corporate-owned, billion-dollar franchises. For Edgar Wright and his long-in-the-making Ant-Man, that didn’t happen. He left the production months before shooting began over “creative differences,” but Marvel being Marvel, they pushed on with Peyton Reed taking over for Wright. Wright’s fans might have been disappointed, but the Reed-directed Ant-Man still managed to deliver quality superhero thrills. Spoiler alert: Ant-Man and the Wasp (the first MCU film to headline a female character) does Ant-Man better in just about every way (e.g., story, character, and visuals). (more…)

When Disney purchased LucasFilm – and with it, the Star Wars universe – from George Lucas, it was clear their plans didn’t just include a new trilogy (it did), but franchise building and expansion through spin-offs, prequels, TV shows (animated so far, live-action in the near future), novels, and comic books. It was, however briefly, an exciting time for longtime Star Wars fans, but Disney, guided by the corporate conservatism that puts a premium on low-risk, high-reward decision making over originality, creativity, and imagination, led first to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a wholly unnecessary, semi-satisfying prequel that explored the how, if not the why, a small group of rebels stole the Death Star’s plans from the fearsome Empire, and now, after the high-profile departure of co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The LEGO Movie) and their almost immediate replacement by Oscar winning, hit-hunting Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13), Solo: A Star Wars Story, the Han Solo post-Revenge of the Sith and pre-A New Hope origin story we didn’t know we wanted or needed. Spoiler alert: Need or want aside, Solo: A Star Wars Story delivers everything we’ve come to love about the Star Wars universe: action, character, humor, and spectacle. (more…)

Releasing a second- or third-tier superhero flick, especially an ultra-violent, superhero comedy over the Valentine’s Day weekend seemed like a joke in and of itself, a joke financed to the tune of $60 million (modest for superhero flicks, a significant chunk of change for anything else), but that’s exactly the gamble 20th-Century Fox decided to take two years ago with the R-rated, Ryan Reynolds-starring Deadpool. More than $780 million dollars later and Fox’s gamble didn’t look a gamble at all. It looked like a low-risk, high-reward perfectly rational, perfectly reasonable decision. A sequel – the first of many presumably – was inevitable (movie studios are for-profit corporations after all), but with Reynolds, here taking a co-writing credit in addition to slipping back into Deadpool’s red-and-black spandex outfit, and some smart, clever lifts from Deadpool’s extensive comic-book history, the result, Deadpool 2: When Deadpool Met Cable (And Fell into a Mutual Admiration Society), gives fans more of the same (as expected), but also gives the same fans far more (definitely unexpected). (more…)

After ten years, 18 movies, 30,000 visual effects (someone actually counted), and multi-billion-dollar grosses the envy of every Hollywood movie studio (except Disney, of course), the Marvel brand of superhero storytelling has never been stronger or more popular with mainstream moviegoers. The 19th – and far from last – entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the Anthony and Joe Russo-directed Avengers: Infinity War, delivers everything moviegoers have come to expect, sometimes even love about Marvel: layered superhero characters, screen-splitting, epic-scaled action, and a cannily calibrated mix of drama and comedy, usually with the fate of the world, the galaxy, and sometimes even the universe at stake. It’s practically impossible to get bigger, more meaningful stakes wise than the known universe (unless we bring the multiverse into the discussion, but that’s for another time and place). Be prepared: Avengers: Infinity War may be the darkest, most downbeat, least emotionally gratifying entry in the entire MCU canon. The stakes feel real, the threats to our favorite superheroes even realer.

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“No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful” That’s Wade’s second pass phrase to login to the OASIS, as he is free-falling into brooding teenage depression. That one line should resonate loud and proud in every fans heads as they leave Ready Player One.

Before taking a comparative deep dive into this, be WARNED, this take is SPOILER heavy and is very much intended for those who have seen the movie and have read/familiar with the book. (more…)

If Star Wars: The Force Awakens taught us anything, it’s that there’s no “happily every after” in the Star Wars universe. Empires fall, but they rise again. And like empires, republics rise and fall again. A cynic would add, “Especially not when there’s tens of billions of dollars to be made from Stars Wars fans, diehard or otherwise,” but cynicism has no place – or at least shouldn’t have a place – when it comes to writer-director Rian Johnson’s (Looper, The Brothers Bloom, Brick) follow-up, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the middle chapter in a third trilogy that will eventually span nine films. Temporarily borrowing the directing reins from J.J. Abrams (Abrams will direct the ninth and presumably final entry in the Skywalker Saga), Johnson has succeeded beyond even the highest expectations, delivering a Star Wars not for 2017, not for 2019, but for a soon-to-be-classic that will rightly take its place with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back as the best the Star Wars franchise has to offer.   (more…)

With Disney making major bank off the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the better part of a decade, it was inevitable other movie studios would try to do the same. Universal tried to kickstart their so-called “Dark Universe” with The Mummy just two months ago (they failed). Just as moviegoers have begun to lose interest, Paramount hopes to turn the Transformers series into a shared universe. (Get ready for Bumblebee to have his own standalone movie next year.) Warner Bros. looked like they were best situated to match Marvel superhero for superhero, but stumbled repeatedly over the last few years, finally righting the figurative ship earlier this summer with Wonder Woman. But what’s better than one cinematic universe? Two, of course. Which brings us to Annabelle: Creation, the prequel to the prequel/spin-off of what’s being called the “Conjuring Universe.” Here’s the thing: If Annabelle: Creation, a modestly budgeted, period-set, old-school supernatural flick directed by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out), is any indication, Warner Bros. just might succeed and at a fraction of the comic-book/superhero price.

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Over forty years and eight sprawling novels, the Man in Black fled across worlds and the gunslinger followed. They chased from comic books (a prequel series), an animated TV show (in an alternate universe), and now, finally, there’s a big-screen, big-budget adaptation of The Dark Tower that was more than a decade in the making. Less an adaptation proper of Stephen King‘s series than a continuation that begs, borrows, and lifts ideas, concepts, and characters into a hyper-condensed running time (all of 95 minutes, including credits), The Dark Tower won’t (and shouldn’t) win any converts to King’s self-described multiverse-spanning magnum opus (including a planned TV series) or thrill longtime fans who’ll rightly feel cheated by The Dark Tower’s failure to convey the wonder and awe, the scale and spectacle, of King’s work.

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If we, in fact, live in the darkest timeline, we’d be faced with not one, not two, but maybe three or four sequels to Tim Burton’s ill-conceived, poorly-received Planet of the Apes remake. But 20th Century Fox – or rather the executives who ran Fox 16 years ago – decided against continuing the series and went for a new, fresh start that took the better part of a decade to realize.  But when Rise of the Planet of the Apes arrived in multiplexes seven years ago, it was not just the exception to the Hollywood rule (all remakes are bad, all reboots are questionable, at best), but it was truly exceptional too. (more…)