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  • Shark weak – ‘The Meg’
    Shark weak – ‘The Meg’

    After nearly a decade of reviewing movies, I’ve learned that some of the best cinematic experiences come from sitting down with simple expectations and having those expectations met. When you know what you want to get from a movie and then get exactly that, well – you’ve won.

    However, that also means that when those simple expectations AREN’T met, you’re even more disappointed than you might otherwise be in a less-than-stellar film.

    This brings us to “The Meg,” a movie that would seem to have it all: Jason Statham, a giant shark, a … well, that’s it, I suppose. Jason Statham and a giant shark. Those six words would almost seem like a guarantee of a goofy good time at the movies - ludicrous CGI and over-the-top action sequences and shark-pun-laden one-liners galore.

    But while all of those things are there, “The Meg” never quite rises up to become even the sum of its parts, instead wandering along in a disjointed and haphazard progression, unable to decide whether to take itself seriously or to throw the metaphorical elbow to our ribs and hence arriving in a weird tonal limbo where we’re not sure how we’re supposed to react. Are we laughing? Are we tense? We don’t know … and neither does the movie.

  • ‘Dog Days’ more bark than bite
    ‘Dog Days’ more bark than bite

    August is an interesting month when it comes to the movies. It’s a landing spot for films that maybe don’t quite fit the now-traditional IP blockbuster mode, but don’t make sense in the fall, but are also too good for the January-February wasteland.

    In many ways, “Dog Days” epitomizes a certain type of August movie. It’s an ensemble comedy that isn’t unceasingly raunchy or packed with big stars, one driven more by the uncynical central conceit that dogs make our lives better.

    Despite the subversive comedy bona fides of director Ken Marino (of “The State” fame), “Dog Days” seems content to coast on moments of sentimental cuteness and easy jokes. It’s basically one of those Garry Marshall holiday-themed movies, only with more dogs and a less famous cast.

  • The gentle nostalgia of ‘Christopher Robin’
    The gentle nostalgia of ‘Christopher Robin’

    Nostalgia is a powerful thing. To some extent, the entertainment landscape has always been sculpted by our fondness for memories of the past. But nostalgia’s power has grown exponentially in the internet age; today’s popular culture is powered by our love for what came before.

    So it makes sense that a movie like “Christopher Robin” would appear at this moment in time. And when you take into account the general air of cynicism that permeates our discourse, the idea of a gentle remembrance of something pure and beloved from our youth sounds pretty darned nice.

    And that’s what this latest Disney offering is – nice. It isn’t anything spectacular. It’s just nice. It’s a chance to visit with Winnie the Pooh and Piglet and Tigger and the rest of the A.A. Milne gang in a slightly different manner. Yes, it’s about what it means to grow up and put away childish things, but mostly, it’s about checking in with some old friends.

  • The dullest dystopia – ‘The Darkest Minds’
    The dullest dystopia – ‘The Darkest Minds’

    The past decade or so has seen a real glut of films based on young adult novels – particularly those of the dystopian sci-fi persuasion. It makes sense – when “The Hunger Games” blew up, every Hollywood studio out there wanted to get a piece of that bleakly futuristic pie.

    Only there was a problem – not all of those properties made for great movies … or even good ones. Hence, we got a downward spiral of diminishing returns. There were a couple of franchises marked by increasingly inane installments and a handful of attempts at series that were abandoned following major flopping at the box office.

    I can’t say for certain that we’ve reached the bottom of that spiral, but “The Darkest Minds” has to have brought us awfully close.

  • Cruise in control with ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’
    Cruise in control with ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’

    Come with me, won’t you? Come with me to a simpler time. To 1996, when sequels were considered mildly profitable punchlines and the idea of constructing massive cinematic franchises was largely contained to the Spielbergs and Lucases of the world.

    That was the year we got “Mission: Impossible,” an adaptation of the 1960s television show of the same name. It was a Tom Cruise action vehicle that did well both commercially and critically and that could have been that. A pair of sequels that caught top-tier directorial talents either after their prime (John Woo for MI2 in 2000) or before it (J.J. Abrams for MI3 in 2006) made it seem like maybe we should stop.

    Instead, the franchise has carried forward with three of the best action movies of the past decade. This unlikely wellspring has given us “Ghost Protocol,” “Rogue Nation” and the latest installment “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” … which might be the best one we’ve seen so far. It once again relies on coherent, well-executed action set pieces, a few moments of winking dialogue and – most importantly - Cruise’s complete willingness to hurl himself headlong into harm’s way if it might allow him to win our love.

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