reviews

Pushing 50, Mark Wahlberg wants to go where Tom Cruise and the 22-year-old Mission: Impossible series have gone before: Franchise Heaven. He won’t get there, at least not with Mile 22, his fourth – and by every indication, what should be his last – collaboration with director Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day, Lone Survivor). A mid-budget, Southeast Asian-set, sub-mediocre actioner, Mile 22 tries mightily to give Wahlberg a career-reinvigorating role as James Silva, a near superheroic CIA Special Branch field agent, team leader, and all-around hard-ass with major personality defects and/or undiagnosed neurological condition (shades of Ben Affleck’s title character in The Accountant), a spandex-free Captain America wannabe for our complicated, morally and ethically grey world (or something). Except Mile 22 drops the potentially intriguing Silva into a dull, formulaic, generic run-and-chase, protect-the-asset story we’ve seen countless times done better on the big and small screen (e.g., S.W.A.T., NCIS: Los Angeles, etc.). (more…)

A giant, prehistoric, man-eating shark and a perpetually unshaven, furrowed-brow Jason Statham: A premise-actor combo that practically writes itself. Except it doesn’t, unfortunately, or rather didn’t. Screenwriters were, in fact, needed.

Despite spending the better part of two decades in development, Steve Alten’s inexplicably best-selling dino-shark novel, “Meg,” probably needed another twenty years getting worked over and over by waves of screenwriting teams before it was ready for a big-screen adaptation. No such luck, though. Directed by Jon Turteltaub (Last Vegas, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, National Treasure, Cool Runnings) from a screenplay credited to Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber, The Meg, somehow manages the unlikely feat of taking itself too seriously and not seriously enough simultaneously, leaving a tonally messy, short-on-humor, long-on-passable-CGI disappointment in its wake.

Spoilers abound…

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There’s “derivative” with a small “d” and then there’s “derivative” with a capital “D.”

The Darkest Minds, the latest – and late by a half-decade – big-screen adaptation of a dystopian YA novel, falls into the second category. Look hard, look long, and you won’t find a single character, plot element, or theme you haven’t seen before.  Most of it shamelessly cribbed by screenwriter Chad Hodge, adapting the first book in Alexandra Bracken’s series, and director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, making her live-action debut after directing Kung Fu Panda 2 and 3, from five or six decades of X-Men stories (minus spandex, capes, and cowls), including the feature-film series credited with kick-starting the dormant superhero genre (shout out too, of course, to Blade).

Even a young, spirited cast, led by Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games), can’t lift The Darkest Minds from a story so lacking in originality, imagination, or invention that will leave the targeted teen demo bored, indifferent, or near comatose.

Spoilers abound!!!!

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It took more than two decades and a big-screen adaptation/semi-sequel/standalone feature for Nicolas Cage, the world’s biggest Superman fan (he named his firstborn Kal-El), he finally got the chance to slip into the Big Blue Boy Scout’s tights, albeit in cartoon form. Cage’s Superman only plays a minor, tangential role in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, but it’s the clearest example of co-directors Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail’s mega-meta-take on a superhero genre (DC Edition) in need of the occasional takedown or skewering. Nothing’s sacred to Horvath and Michail, not Superman, not Batman, not Wonder Woman (DC’s Holy Trinity), and definitely not the (Pre) Teen Titans who lend their name to Teen Titans Go! To the Movies and provide moviegoers, young and old alike, with an almost infinite supply of verbal jokes, physical gags, and everything in between (including periodic, self-aware musical numbers). (more…)

Hyperbole isn’t hyperbole if it’s true and calling Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the sixth entry in the seemingly never-ending spy-action films starring the ageless Tom Cruise, one of the best, if not the best, action film of the last decade isn’t hyperbole (because it’s true). Comparing Mission: Impossible – Fallout to The Dark Knight, rightly considered one of the best action films of the new millennium, isn’t out of bounds either. It’s not inaccurate to call Mission: Impossible – Fallout the equivalent of The Dark Knight in the Mission: Impossible series. It just took six films and two decades to accomplish what Christopher Nolan did in two films spread across three years. That’s not a knock on Mission: Impossible, Tom Cruise, the fittest 56-year-old in human history, or his manic, otherwise questionable willingness to risk life and limb to deliver CGI-free (mostly) physical stunts without equal in modern moviemaking, but simply a recognition that the Mission: Impossible series, for all of their commercial and critical success, have leaned too hard on Cruise’s charisma and risk-taking personality.

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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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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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