“The Last Jedi” – Rian Johnson’s Rebellious Spark

There’s an underlying kernel of irony at the center of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film is the freshest film in the Star Wars franchise since George Lucas decided to add to the original trilogy. For all its flaws, it pushes the boundaries of the universe in many different directions, intent on being something new. At the same time, it is the tenth film in the franchise (three originals, three prequels plus the Clone Wars animated film, and the two Disney films). The routine solution for the tension between old and new has always been to side with the established lore of the franchise, occasionally to ridiculous levels. To the chagrin of many fans of the franchise, writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) bucks this trend violently.

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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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“Cars 3” a By-The-Numbers Lap around the Same Track

Pixar is renowned for original storytelling in the realm of animation.  Often, the stories spun by these visionaries wonderfully meld style and substance together in a way that please both children and adults.  And while the Cars franchise started off in this same vein, the sequel was a clear sub-par cash-grab.  It’s easy to see why: merchandise from Cars was one of Disney’s biggest cash cows.  You got keep that cow fat, so Cars 3 is the product.  The plot, characters, and themes are familiar:  anthropomorphic cars trying to win races to prove that they can still win races, with themes of obsolescence, expectation, following dreams, and believing in people (or, in this case, cars).  Cars 3 is all of this and exactly nothing else, another lap around the track.

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“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” – a Chimera of Whimsy and Doldrums

Like many of the wondrous animals that inhabit its world, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an amalgamation.  Except, unlike the hippogriff, which capitalizes on the strengths of both the eagle and the horse, David Yates’s film compromises the adventures of Newt Scamander with a plodding police procedural.  The result is less like the streamlined elegance of the hippogriff, and more like whatever happened to Jeff Goldblum at the very end of The Fly.  Every time Newt and his compatriots are on screen, the film is an absolute delight that reminds us why we fell in love with the wizarding world in the first place.  And every time they’re not, we’re reminded that David Yates is responsible for two of the three worst Harry Potter films to date.  Fantastic Beasts ends up somewhere in the middle, with no time-turner available to right the wrong and spare the life of this innocent little hippogriff.

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