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Movie Reviews

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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Families. They can really f— you up. Seriously. In the reel world, though, families can bring in massive amounts of box-office revenue, especially if the words “Fast” and/or “Furious” are part of the title. Contrary to popular belief, though, the Fast & the Furious franchise doesn’t have a monopoly on the word “family.” In only the second film – or first sequel – James Gunn’s (Super, SlitherGuardians of the Galaxy doesn’t just borrow the word “family” from the Fast & the Furious franchise, it makes the concept of “family,” biological and otherwise, central to the entire plot. The misfits, outcasts, and criminals who make up the Guardians of the Galaxy squabble like real families, except their squabbles often happen at the absolute worst times, like when they’re trying to escape a race of golden-skinned, genetically modified, tech-hoarding elitists with a bizarre attachment to super-batteries and a major grudge against anyone who tries to steal them. (more…)

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…)