Taika Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok” Again Shows Marvel is Best with an Artist at the Helm

The Thor franchise may be the most unbalanced in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), home to what is perhaps the worst film in the whole MCU (Thor: The Dark World) as well as one of the stronger and more distinctive origin stories. Counting those two films and the Avengers movies, Thor: Ragnarok would be the fifth appearance of the God of Lightning, at it was entirely possible that the character and the particular comedic tone surrounding him would start to feel a little stale. Fortunately, we have Taika Waititi – a visionary comedic filmmaker perfectly at home playing in the MCU’s ever-expanding sandbox.

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“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” Is the Worst Kind of Sequel – One that Knows it Doesn’t Have to Try

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the result of “getting the band back together” when the band broke up six months ago and everyone still hates each other so they just re-mix a few songs and release a “Greatest Hits” album. Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsmen: The Secret Service was a sleeper hit when it was released in February of 2015. The film struck the perfect tone, balancing irreverence and absurdity with the clichés of the action spy genre, all the while telling a legitimately interesting story. As a critical darling, once the film broke even financially it was all but assured that a sequel would be made. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the result – a film as derivative and unimaginative as its predecessor was refreshing.

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“War for the Planet of the Apes” Earns Another Victory for the Rebooted Franchise

Remember how Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a James Franco-laden disaster with John Lithgow wandering around forgetting everything and apes rampaged over the Golden Gate bridge being attacked by police helicopters? How far we’ve come. This Planet of the Apes reboot may be one of the most artistically successful reboots of a beloved franchise in the history of Hollywood, and it is almost entirely on the strength of the final two films – first with 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and now with War for the Planet of the Apes.

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“Spider-Man: Homecoming” Does Whatever a Spider Can to Be Unique and Fun

Though he has only a pair of independent films to his name, director Jon Watts (Clown, Cop Car) sure knows his way around a friendly neighborhood Spider-man.  The product of a team-up between Sony and Marvel Studios, Spider-man: Homecoming places the iconic webslinger in high school.  This choice dictates many aspects of the film, from the story and characters all the way down to the sense of humor and the overarching themes of growing into one’s responsibilities.  At the very least, it certainly establishes Watts’s version of Spider-man as different, which is absolutely crucial given that this is the third iteration of Peter Parker in the last 15 years.

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Music Breathes Beautiful Chaos into “Baby Driver”

Very early in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, as Doc (Kevin Spacey) sketches out the plans to a heist on a chalkboard, he explains to his crew that the driver “Baby” (Ansel Elgort) has tinnitus and chooses to drown out the constant hum by listening to music.  Once he’s done with the obvious exposition, he puts down the chalk and exclaims, “Wow, I drew this entire map while explaining that.  I’d say that’s pretty fucking impressive!”  Thus Wright places his tongue firmly in-cheek, and we immediately understand the tone of the film:  weird, energetic, and not taking itself too seriously.

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“The Mummy” Something Something Stupid “Wrapped” Pun

There’s an off-hand moment early on in The Mummy when Egyptologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) draws attention to the importance of the discovery that she and Nick Mortion (Tom Cruise) have made by referring to the age of the sarcophagus:  5,000 years.  Trouble is, Wallis clearly mouths “three”, not “five”.  Oh well, ADR happens.  Maybe there was a re-write where they realized that 3,000 years wasn’t enough for the Egyptian period they wanted.  So they fixed it.  That’s fine, if a bit distracting.  Later, Tom Cruise calls “the chick” 3,000 years old.  They left that one in.  Maybe Tom Cruise is too busy to do ADR.  Maybe no one caught it.  Maybe no one cares.

Ladies and gentleman, this is The Mummy in a nutshell:  falling over its own presumed intelligence, never paying enough attention to what it is doing for it to matter.

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The Heroism of “Wonder Woman” Is Worth Celebrating

It seems folly to discuss Wonder Woman outside of the greater context of the DC Extended Universe, but Patty Jenkins’s film begs to be discussed in isolation – it’s simply in another stratosphere.  So, that’s it; that’s all the comparison to the DCEU that will be contained in this review.  The rest of the time will be spent heralding Wonder Woman as a superhero film that knows precisely how to tell a refreshing origin story, establish stakes and pathos in a fantastic world, and champion a powerful theme of heroism, strength, and love.  With a stunning performance from Gal Gadot, a brilliant fish-out-of-water skeleton, and action sequences that contain spectacle and depth, Wonder Woman is potent storytelling.

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“Free Fire” Attempts Farce, Ends Up Boring and Haphazard

In a strange paradox, executing a proper farce demands preternatural planning.  Stray but a little from the knife’s edge, and the tone can spiral out of control as the conflicting elements of the film separate like a broken sauce.  Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire suffers such a fate, though it isn’t for lack of effort or a gripping central idea.  The film tries to position some idiosyncratic characters in a bottle, shake everything up, and let them shoot guns at each other for 75 minutes, but too many of these elements are just a bit off the mark.  The characters and the performances mostly hit, and the inciting event feels reasonable, but the organization and the length of the fight strains comprehension and ends up being to repetitive to hold the spectator’s interest.  Free Fire does a better job than most genre-bending farces, but ultimately it just feels too boring for a movie centered around a free-for-all firefight.

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Why “The Terminator” (1984) is the Greatest Terminator Film

The Terminator (1984) is a better film than Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991).  The three other movies in the franchise are utter garbage and will not be discussed further.  And, if you’ll lower your pitchforks for long enough, this piece will provide several arguments asserting the superiority of The Terminator.  I’ll compare three aspects of the films and explain how The Terminator bests Terminator 2 in each:  1.) The overall plot-theme of the story, 2.) The structure, pacing, and the effectiveness of the storytelling, and 3.) The characters and their respective arcs.  I will show that the first film showcases a stronger and more original plot, streamlined structure, and more interesting characters.  After remarking on the sequel’s deserved accolades, the stark verdict will follow:  Terminator 2 is exemplary, but The Terminator is the greater film.

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“John Wick: Chapter 2” Honors the Original and Extends Its Aesthetic to New Heights

The sequel to the wildly surprising gun-fu action flick John Wick picks up right where the original left off, both in terms of plot and aesthetic.  The signature stylistic elements of the original are all here:  extensive worldbuilding, lengthy camera shots, and heavily-choreographed fight scenes more reliant on stunt work than on CGI.  The sequel extends these elements, but also has some unique ideas as well.  The locations where John Wick fights are far more varied in the sequel, and which not only makes the background more colorful and interesting, but indicates John Wick’s own personal struggle in the film.  John Wick: Chapter 2 is a thoroughly successful continuation of the series, remaining true to the magic of the original, and expanding upon it in intelligent ways.

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Trailer Hype: “Free Fire” and “Baby Driver” Boast Peculiar Aesthetic Gimmicks

I’ve got a pair of sweet trailers here, and they both look like high-octane, shoot-em-up action flicks, though they have wildly different tones.  Free Fire is going to be the first to hit theaters, and features an insane collection of talent along with a humorous concept.  Baby Driver is similarly stocked, and an Edgar Wright film is always worth checking out – especially given the recent hype coming out of the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.  Fortunately, we’ve got some trailers to hype us up.

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“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” to This Parched Well

Can a well be dry after a single successful trip?  Because if Jack Reacher:  Never Go Back is the best this franchise has to offer after its surprising debut, then we might as well be drinking sand.  None of the new characters are likable, the acting is hollow, and the writers deprive Jack Reacher himself of any real interest.  The plot is derivative and full of generic bad guys that make Jai Courtney look like Anton Chigurh.  The screenplay is written by three people, none of whom are named “Christopher McQuarrie”, and is populated by wooden groaners and extreme plot conveniences.  The plot is generic, and its associated “twist” is lazy and telegraphed worse than the death of Han Solo.  This is a film that is completely bereft of technique, subtlety, and intrigue.

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