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Movie Reviews

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…)

To reboot or not to reboot. That was the question facing Sony Studios just three years ago. After The Amazing Spider-Man 2 left almost no one excited for a third go-round with Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield’s bumming brooder, Sony had little choice except to continue down the same road, with diminishing returns and eventually reboot the series with a new director and actor or reboot now (or rather then), teaming up, superhero style, with Marvel, bringing everyone’s favorite web slinger to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), where Spider-Man has belonged since Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created him more than five decades ago. There was a risk too, of course, of miscasting, of hiring the wrong director or writers, of playing up too much fan service, both to Spider-Man’s comic-book roots, or too story-dragging world building to connect the new, latest, and greatest Spider-Man to the ongoing MCU and its increasingly complex mythology. All those risks? More than worth taking, especially when the result, Spider-Man: Homecoming, doesn’t just succeed in making moviegoers forget about the last two, disappointing missteps, but delivers arguably the best, true-to-his-comic-book roots Spider-Man on film.  (more…)

Michael Bay (Armageddon, The Rock, Bad Boys) has spent the last decade spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $1b to bring Hasbro’s toy line to CGI life. Worldwide, moviegoers have embraced Bay’s emphasis on slo-mo, explosives-heavy action, robot-on-robot action, and crude, low-grade humor. Of course, those same moviegoers have proven time and time again that story, character, and dialogue mean next to nothing to them. Here’s the thing: They have a point. Mute the dialogue in Bay’s latest contribution to another “Summer of Sequels, Prequels, and Reboots,” Transformers: The Last Knight, and it’s almost a tolerable experience. Bay’s special set of skills put him in unique company. He can deliver massive, massively scaled controlled chaos like few other directors can. But he’s also a limited moviemaker, incapable of finding or developing scripts with recognizably human characters, believable dialogue, or humor above the second- or third-grade level.

SOME SPOILERS BELOW

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The DCEU (DC Extended Universe) has had it’s share of stumbles, stumbles, and faceplants over the last few years, the result of Warner Bros.’ rush to cash in on the whole shared superhero universe thing Marvel/Disney started almost a decade ago with Iron Man. Back then, Warner Bros.’ was content letting Christopher Nolan complete his critically and commercially acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy, but once The Dark Knight Rises came and went in 2012, it was back to square one cinematic universe wise, a universe that kicked off with the divisive, if unfairly maligned Man of Steel in 2013 and continued with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice just last year (the less said about Suicide Squad, the better). For all of its literal and figurative darkness, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice featured Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) long awaited big-screen debut. Any doubts about both Wonder Woman as a standalone character or Gadot’s performance disappeared almost immediately, making Wonder Woman’s solo film probably the most anticipated superhero film of 2017. (more…)

If the recent, already forgotten Internet meme of the rotting corpse of an unidentified giant sea creature came back miraculously to zombified half-life, it would like, sound, not to mention smell like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth overlong, over-directed, over-everything entry no one seems to want or care about with the exception of Disney (they have $.37 billion reasons) or Johnny Depp (in desperate need, once again, of a career revitalizer). To be fair, even as American moviegoers gave the last, underwhelming entry, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, close to a pass (relative to a typically bloated budget), international audiences fully embraced On Stranger Tides. In short, we have international audiences to blame for foisting one more, hopefully last entry in the theme-park-ride-turned-improbable movie-franchise and maybe one more after Disney counts international box-office returns from entry No. 5.

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King Arthur is one of about four or five characters from British literature and folklore that have been done so many times, that you can’t really do anything new or insightful with them. So already Guy Ritchie had an uphill battle with his King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, so he decided to do with it what he did with his version of another beloved and frequently used British character, Sherlock Holmes. Ritchie’s Arthur is rock and roll, a Once and Future King with swagger and attitude. Like a King Arthur flick made by high school film students with a $200 million budget. (more…)

At 79, Ridley Scott’s (The MartianThe Counselor, Gladiator, Blade Runner) talents as a visual stylist remain undiminished. For scale, scope, and spectacle, few filmmakers can match Scott’s eye for composition or world building, but give Scott a poor, middling, or underdeveloped script and the result looks a lot like Prometheus five years ago: A promising set-up, a shedload’s worth of ideas, and purposely obtuse, underwhelming execution that left most films of the Alien franchise ready to chuck Scott and his collaborators out of the nearest airlock. But in the “Age of the Franchise,” no studio, let alone Fox, would let a potentially lucrative property like Alien slip into suspended animation. In hindsight, they should have (a) given the franchise a break and maybe even start over (i.e., a full-on Alien reboot) and/or (b) politely asked Scott to serve as a producer in name only and give creative control of the franchise to someone, anyone with fresh, novel ideas.

***MILD SPOILERS BELOW***

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