I’ve always loved the phrase “more than the sum of its parts,” particularly when it comes to film. Like any view on movies it’s an entirely subjective opinion, but it’s a phrase I’ve been known to use. I appreciate the fact that it so easily communicates a quality that can be unique to film, that sometimes a movie rises above the potentially mediocre pieces from which it is assembled to become something more. We all have movies that feel this way to us, that have poor acting, an uninspired story, or other faults, yet still manages to capture our hearts. However, there is of course another side to this coin. Some movies have wonderful individual moments, whether great acting, an engaging story, or beautiful production design, yet they leave you feeling disappointed, as though they’re wasting the enjoyable bits. So despite loving much of The Greatest Showman, including its performances, many of its musical numbers, and its message, I was left feeling like it was less than the sum of its parts.
I really enjoyed Baby Driver. Edgar Wright delivered a tightly crafted, exquisitely choreographed thrill ride of a movie, with a killer soundtrack and some of the best action sequences of the year. I loved the eccentric characters, the chemistry between Ansel Elgort’s Baby and Lily James’ Debora in particular, although at times it felt like it was trying a little too hard to be a Tarantino film, particularly with bits of the dialogue. I’m still amazed by the intricacy of the filming and post production work required to make each moment of the film move in rhythm with whatever song happens to be playing on Baby’s iPod. Baby Driver was a solid A film for me, and I look forward to seeing it again as I know I’ll pick up on many details I missed the first time.
However, I find myself still hung up on Baby Driver’s ending. (Spoilers below, obviously!) Continue reading
It’s been a long time since we had a good Spider-Man movie, 13 long years in fact. Since Spider-Man 2 back in 2004, a masterpiece of the superhero genre that still stands up as one of the best of all time, we’ve had several attempts to keep the web-slinger going. Spider-Man 3 was a complete mess, overloaded with villains and led by a far-too-old Tobey Maguire, not to mention the horrific emo dance sequence, while the Amazing Spider-Man pair of films tried too hard to update the series for “modern sensibilities” (whatever that means) and the results were uninspired and extremely dull. I’d come to believe that as long as Sony still held the rights to the wall-crawler, one of my favorite comic book heroes, we’d be doomed to mediocre reboot after mediocre reboot, never again having a Spider-Man movie worthy of the name.
So imagine my surprise when a deal was reached between Sony and Marvel/Disney and Spider-Man wound up being one of the best parts of Captain America: Civil War. And now here we are, with Tom Holland’s first full outing in the famous red and blue spider suit, and the results are pretty impressive. Spider-Man: Homecoming is naturally the best Spider-Man movie in 13 years, although that’s really not saying much. It’s a lot of fun, one of the funniest movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it gets a lot of things right. It’s not perhaps the home run one might be hoping for, but it’s solidly in the top half of MCU films, getting a lot about the character of Peter Parker right, while managing to tie in cleverly with the larger universe of films. Oh, and Tony Stark is in it, getting a little redemption after his last outing in Civil War.
I almost never root for a movie to fail with critics or at the box office. Hundreds of people work on movies, and regardless of my personal tastes or filmmaking trends I would like to see come to an end I wouldn’t wish failure on all of the artists involved in creating a film. On the other hand, I occasionally find myself rooting for a film to succeed, sometimes even in spite of my own feelings about the film itself, because that film’s success might have a positive impact on the film industry or the world as a whole. And so, I find myself absolutely thrilled with Wonder Woman’s reception, both its strong showing at the box office and it’s nearly universal praise among critics and audiences. The feminist in me knows what it means for a studio to release a big budget superhero film with a female director and have it be such a smash hit, and the film fan in me loves that the DC Universe has finally found some heart and joy after their recent misfires. Having said all of that, while I may be wholeheartedly cheering for Wonder Woman, and while I think it is an excellent film, it didn’t resonate with me as fully as I had hoped.
Some Mild Spoilers Below
Note: I’m changing the way I write movie reviews. Longtime readers have probably noticed that I haven’t written nearly as much here on the site as I used to. There are a host of reasons for that, not the least of which is the fact that my wife and I are expecting a baby later this month. I’d like to get back to writing more often, and one of the ways I want to do that is to be a little less structured in what I write. I’ve always felt a need to adhere to a certain formula with my movie reviews, but I’ve realized that I’ve grown a bit weary of the routine. I always have many thoughts about movies I see, but I’m more likely to share those thoughts if I allow myself to be freer. So in my reviews from now on I’m not going to feel the need to talk about aspects of the film that don’t interest me. I’m not going to go out of my way to recap the plot, point out all of the major cast members, or comment on aspects of the production that didn’t provoke a reaction. Also, since I’m a lot slower to write reviews than I used to be, I’m not going to shy away from some minor spoilers. Anything major I want to talk about will still go below a spoiler warning, but I’m going to assume that major spoilerphobes will have seen the film by the time I get around to writing about it. I may also post reviews in a wider variety of lengths, letting myself ramble on when I have more to say but not forcing myself to write more than I want. Hopefully this will all allow for more frequent updates and a more pleasant and interesting reading experience. As always, thanks for reading!
There’s no logical reason for Logan to be as good as it is. Wolverine’s two previous solo outings have varied from mediocre and disappointing to flat-out horrible, and the most recent X-Men movies haven’t been substantially better. It’s been 14 years since the last movie in this disjointed series which I wholeheartedly loved, X2, which still stands as one of my favorite superhero films. Honestly at this point I would be more than happy to see the series die, to give these characters a much needed rest. Logan marks the 9th film in the X-Franchise (not counting Deadpool), and at this point there should be very little left to say about these characters. I know that Hollywood is a business, and FOX will continue exploiting this familiar territory for the brand recognition alone, but they’ve retread the same ground over and over again with nothing new to contribute so often that I’ve grown weary of the entire endeavor. I didn’t even really want to see Logan, I was wary of being burned again after The Wolverine started with such promise and ended up so disappointing. So when I say that Logan is a genuinely good film, and it even has moments of greatness, understand that while this is coming from a place of low expectations I’m not judging merely judging this on a curve. Logan is a fitting companion to the original X-Men films, good enough to almost make it worth slogging through some of the more recent movies in order to reach this point, and far better than it has any right to be.
Harry Potter is back in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them! No, wait, this isn’t The Cursed Child, though it is filled all of your favorite Harry Potter characters! Ok, maybe not, but you might recognize a few names here or there. But it is set in the beloved world of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series! Well alright, it’s actually set in the 1920s in New York, filled with unfamiliar magical slang and completely foreign to both our protagonist and to viewers. Still, this is the Harry Potter spinoff that everyone has yearned for since the series concluded! No, it’s not? So why should anyone care about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, when it seemingly lacks everything that audiences grew to love about the Harry Potter saga? For starters, it’s an exciting, dark, fun, funny, emotional, and immensely creative film set in a rich and fascinating world that is strong enough to stand on its own. It deepens and broadens the Harry Potter universe, showing us previously unexplored aspects, locations, and eras of the wizarding world providing new insights and a greater context for the events that shaped the life of the Boy Who Lived. And it kicks off a five film series in a way that’s far more topical, political, relevant, and just more interesting than any of the Harry Potter films that came before (matching the tone of the later books much more closely than the movies). And most importantly to me at least, this is the story that J.K. Rowling wanted to tell, that she thought would be the most compelling way to expand and explore the universe she created. As far as I’m concerned she was right, and I can’t wait to see more.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps expanding, seemingly showing no signs of stopping. Each new film brings us new heroes to fight new villains, new locations or planets filled with people to save, and new clashes and conflicts to bring characters together or drive them apart. But while Doctor Strange certainly continues the trend, it broadens the universe in entirely new ways, pushing not only the boundaries of superhero storytelling but of visual craftsmanship. It’s a mind-bending head trip of a film, which attempts to introduce a spiritual aspect to an otherwise science fiction series, all while serving up some of the most creative and exhilarating action sequences in recent memory. Doctor Strange may stick to the tried and true Marvel origin story formula, but it’s a fun ride anchored by a strong cast and impressive effects, and it offers an intriguing glimpse into the potential future of this ever-expanding Universe.
The 1960 classic, The Magnificent Seven, has never been a film inconsideration for the title of “Greatest Western of All Time”. It isn’t as iconic and influential as Shane nor as intense or symbolic as High Noon. It lacks the epic expansiveness of The Searchers as well as the gritty, violent realism of The Wild Bunch. It failed to reinvent the genre or subvert expectations like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Unforgiven. Yet in spite of all that, I’ve long counted The Magnificent Seven among my favorite Western films, possibly my very favorite movie genre. The remake of Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai combined a talented cast, solid direction from John Sturges, and one of the most memorable film scores of all time to create a fun, exciting adventure with a surprising amount of depth. The new remake of the 1960 remake, therefore, has a lot to live up to, and when it adheres to its predecessor’s formula it largely succeeds, even in spite of a few missteps along the way.
I’ve been a hardcore Disney fan for a long time, but that doesn’t mean I automatically love everything the Mouse has produced. Specifically, I’ve never been a fan of the original Pete’s Dragon, the 1977 live-action/animation hybrid. While I appreciated the design and animation of Elliott, the film’s titular dragon, I found the whole affair too silly for my tastes topped off with forgettable songs. So of Disney’s recent spate of modern, live-action remakes (Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book so far, with Beauty and the Beast due next year), I was by far most enthusiastic about Pete’s Dragon, which I felt was most in need of an update. I’ve generally enjoyed all of the films in Disney’s latest trend so I’ve come to have high expectations, and Pete’s Dragon didn’t disappoint. But what I wasn’t prepared for was its beautiful simplicity, the stillness and subtlety with which it tells its story, or just what a breath of fresh air it is.
I never lived in a world without Ghostbusters. The original film was #1 at the box office the day I was born (although my parents decided to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that day), and it and its sequel have been movie viewing constants all my life. I yearned for a sequel for years and years, only to be disappointed when it finally became clear that that was never going to happen. Instead we were given a remake with an all-female cast, which unfortunately still brings out the worst in a certain segment of the population who can’t stand to see women in positions where they feel only men should reside. The result is both an important milestone for women in cinema, a big-budget, sci-fi, action comedy based on a beloved franchise resting solely on the backs of four talented women, and the internet firestorm that’s come to surround the film shouldn’t detract from the fact that it’s nevertheless shattered some glass ceilings. But the question of the film still remains, whether it can both hold up on its own and live up to the legacy that goes along with the name. Could it ever be as funny as the classic from 1984? Well, the answer to the second question is no, it’s frankly not as funny. But better than funny, it gives us deeper characters, more exciting action, and a more interesting world than we’ve ever seen under the Ghostbusters banner. It might not be the non-stop laugh riot we might have hoped, though it is still frequently hilarious, but it just might be a better all-around film.