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Movie Reviews

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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Ten billion dollars. No, that’s not a line from the inevitable Austin Powers remake/reboot. That’s the amount the Harry Potter franchise made for Warner Bros. during an extremely lucrative run over the better part of a decade. Even after the last two-part entry in the series came and went – and with it the heightened Potter mania that inevitably accompanied each release – it was abundantly clear that Warner Bros. wasn’t done with Harry Potter and neither was its core audience. With writer J.K. Rowling and director David Yates both back onboard, less cynical moviegoers could hope that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them wasn’t just another shameless cash grab, but a welcome return to the deeply imagined world- and universe-building that made the Harry Potter series so addictive in the first place. We won’t keep you in suspense any longer: Minus one or two minor issues, it’s the best we can and should hope for from a prequel/spin-off.

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There’s a scene in Independence Day: Resurgence where the human heroes awaken a new alien lifeform that some online wags euphemistically dubbed “the Siri Globe.” Within seconds it learns English and starts spitting out exposition because human language is “primitive” and really director Roland Emmerich wanted to get back to blowin’ stuff up real good. Most alien contact movies, even the smart ones, don’t like to get dogged down in process because showing scientists learning how to interact with aliens is not as interesting as the interactions themselves. But in The Arrival, director Denis Villeneuve comes along and says, “Yes it can.” (more…)

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Anyone who thinks – let alone imagines – that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Doctor Strange, the latest entry in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will revolutionize big-budget superhero-oriented blockbusters will be likely disappointed. Story wise, there’s nothing in Doctor Strange that can be described as revolutionary or even evolutionary, but that’s looking at Doctor Strange through one narrow lens, a lens that obviously ignores that film operates on a visual, cinematic level too and there, Doctor Strange succeeds beyond even the highest of expectations shared by comic-book fans and MCU fans (i.e., everyone else). Despite a sporadically intriguing, mid-level career as a genre filmmaker, Scott Derrickson (Deliver Us From Evil, Sinister, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) has delivered a superhero entry bursting with visual ingenuity, creativity, and imagination unparalleled in superhero-themed filmmaking, in or out of the MCU, expanding the MCU into a multiplicity, into a multiverse of possibilities that will repay a near infinity of repeat visits.

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