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.
It’s impossible to watch Money Monster and not be reminded of Dog Day Afternoon. That 1975 masterpiece by Sidney Lumet starring Al Pacino, which told the story of a pair of hapless bank robbers turned into anti-establishment heroes must have been in the back of the minds of those behind Money Monster, which takes many of Dog Day Afternoon’s emotions and updates them for our modern age even while serving up a more exciting and altogether different story. Though Money Monster follows in strong cinematic footsteps, with an excellent cast and solid directing from Jodie Foster, it occasionally struggles to strike a consistent tone and is at times let down by its script, especially in its final act. Still, Money Monster is an energetic film that strikes at emotions shared by many, anchored by its charming and attractive stars and held up by its brisk pace. It may not be as biting, powerful, or moving as it potentially could have been, but it’s still a solid, entertaining experience.
Most films that aim to be as topical as Eye in the Sky tend to be boring slogs, more concerned with hitting each hot-button issue or pulling the right strings than with telling a compelling story. Eye in the Sky, however, manages to do both. It’s a white-knuckle suspenseful tale of a mission to apprehend potential terrorists in Kenya while also managing to bring depth and subtlety to the debate about drone-based warfare. In many ways the film is a cinematic version of the Trolley Problem, the famous thought experiment that is a favorite in Intro to Psychology classes and occasionally makes appearances onscreen, and where another film about the drone war might come down definitively on one or the other side of the debate, director Gavin Hood has instead crafted a story complex enough to not offer any simple answers yet simple enough to foster a healthy debate. And while Eye in the Sky does an excellent job of showing just how muddy the waters are when it comes to drone strikes, in the end the audience is likely to see in the film a reflection of their own beliefs, whatever they may be, but regardless of your feelings you should come out of the film with something more to think about.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie that no one saw coming. It’s been 8 years since Cloverfield was released, and while there might have been some clamoring for a sequel at the time it mostly died out a long time ago. Producer J.J. Abrams moved on to other things, including Super 8, the Star Trek reboot, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And while I mostly enjoyed Cloverfield, I liked it more for its boldness the scope it brought to the found footage genre (and it’s shocking trailer) than for the film itself, so the idea of another film in the series never held much interest to me. But despite all of that, here we are with 10 Cloverfield Lane, not exactly a sequel but a “blood relative” to the original monster movie, surprisingly announced only two months ago and which could not be more different both from its predecessor and the bulk of other offerings from Hollywood today. It’s a tight, intense little film that constantly keeps you guessing, both frightening and empowering, anchored by some fantastic performances, bringing a surprising amount of emotion to what is otherwise a thriller. It’s a memorable spinoff to a largely forgettable film which it manages to surpass in every way, and which may have already delivered one of 2016’s best cinematic experiences.
The Coen Brothers mainly make two distinctive types of films. On the one hand, many of their films fall into the category of quirky comedies, such as Raising Arizona or O Brother, Where Art Thou?. On the other hand, they’ve also dabbled in more serious, yet still unique, dramas like No Country for Old Men and True Grit. Hail, Caesar!, a farcical romp through a 1950s Hollywood studio, falls squarely into the first category, and as such is the funniest film the Coen Brothers have made in years, particularly for classic film fans. It’s a return to form for the writing/directing pair, combining an all-star cast with a distinct storytelling style and comedy that demands a fair amount from viewers in able to fully appreciate it. The end result is a film that feels different from anything we’ve seen onscreen lately and is bound to please any fans of the Coens or of the golden age of Hollywood.