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As the Hollywood landscape has evolved and shifted in recent years, moving toward a model built on a foundation of franchise, of sequels and prequels and cinematic universes, one finds oneself asking: when is enough enough? Where is the line that, when crossed, leaves a franchise bereft of quantity even as quantity marches on? When does the downward spiral begin in earnest?

It’s usually pretty tough to spot, but in the case of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” it’s pretty clear. This is one franchise that has officially jumped the shark. Or dinosaur. Whatever.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 12 June 2018 16:04

Checking into ‘Hotel Artemis’

World-building – particularly sci-fi world-building – isn’t easy. Creating a consistent, believable genre landscape is tricky business. And doing it in such a way as to allow for both exciting action and narrative engagement is trickier still.

Drew Pearce knows how tough that can be, having penned scripts for iconic franchises like the MCU (“Iron Man 3”) and “Mission: Impossible” (“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”). But creating something original presents its own set of unique challenges.

Pearce marks his directorial debut with one such original script in “Hotel Artemis,” a gritty bit of near-future sci-fi storytelling. The simplest way to describe it is if you wanted to focus on what happened to bad guys that John Wick injured but didn’t kill, only a decade or so in the future. It has that same sort of hinted-at rich and complex underworld, centered around a hospital where criminals can receive treatment for injuries suffered in the execution of their duties. It’s brutally violent and darkly funny with moments of surprising poignancy.

All that, plus Jodie Foster. What’s not to love?

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 29 May 2018 14:24

Taking flight with 'Solo'

Full disclosure: I love “Star Wars.” The original trilogy is near and dear to my heart – one of my earliest memories is seeing “Empire” at the drive-in when I was three. And while the prequels left a lot to be desired, Disney’s reinvigoration of the franchise in recent years has been welcome.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is the fourth film in this new wave and somehow manages to be both the biggest departure and the most conventional of the bunch. Turmoil seemed abundant behind the scenes – original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were replaced by Ron Howard; rumblings about reshoots and acting coaches and whatnot were plentiful – so one wondered what the final product was going to be.

It’s … fine. Pretty good, actually. Not as good as the other newer offerings, but with plenty to recommend it. There are moments where it feels stitched together and a bit inconsistent, but otherwise, the directorial drama doesn’t show up much on screen. The performances range from meh to solid to excellent. The story is a bit slight and there are certain narrative mysteries that might have been better left unsolved (along with some tonal inconsistency and a few not-insignificant timeline questions), but all in all, it’s a fun space opera/heist movie with a charming cast and some strong set pieces.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 04 April 2018 12:49

Game on! – ‘Ready Player One’

The potency of nostalgia is well-documented at this point. It seems as though much of the pop culture we consume these days is inspired by (or straight-up copied from) source material that we already know and love. Revisiting what we loved in the past has become a cottage industry across all entertainment platforms.

And so it’s no surprise that Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel “Ready Player One” would be adapted to the big screen. It’s a story ready-made for the wistful remembrances of the current cultural climate, packed with wave after wave of period-specific nerd references aimed at striking the winsome sweet spot of one particular generation. We do so love to love what we already love.

But when you hand the reigns over to a pop cultural icon like Steven Spielberg, well … that’s when you take things to a whole new level. A level, I might add, that is actually a bit higher than might have been expected for a film like this one. It’s precisely the sort of sci-fi-steeped young-person adventure story at which Spielberg excels. It’s throwbacks within throwbacks within throwbacks – a meta-nostalgic moviegoing experience that in many ways outshines the perfunctory nature of its inspiration.

Published in Movies

There are some movies that are clearly designed for sequels. They are structured specifically to allow for a continuation of the story going forward – sometimes to the detriment of the tale being told in the moment. They’re built to be built again.

And then you have a film like 2013’s “Pacific Rim.” Guillermo del Toro’s big-budget love letter to the giant monster movies of the past felt for all the world like a one-off; a stylish two-hour whirlwind of enormous robots fighting enormous monsters. It seemed to have told the story it meant to tell.

Enter “Pacific Rim Uprising,” a decent-enough sequel that nevertheless feels unnecessary and almost cursory. Without del Toro as the driving creative force – though he is credited as a producer – this new film simply fails to reach the heights of the first, lacking spirit to match the spectacle of the too-familiar action beats.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 07 February 2018 14:36

‘The Shape of Water’ beautiful and bizarre

It’s a rare thing for a filmmaker to be able to bring together diverse sensibilities in the service of furthering their own particular voice. Finding the balance between craftsmanship and commercialism is never an easy thing to do.

And when I say commercialism, I’m not necessarily referring to box office success (although that’s part of it). What I mean is the art of making commercial fare – a very different skill set than that used in the making of more indie-minded films.

Guillermo del Toro is as good at walking that line as any filmmaker in his generation. He’s probably the best we’ve seen since the heyday of Spielberg. And “The Shape of Water” is the culmination of that journey, precisely filling the Venn diagram overlap between those styles – equal parts “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy.”

Published in Movies

It seems as though Hollywood’s recent fascination with adapting dystopian young adult fiction for the big screen is finally petering out. Despite the monster success of “The Hunger Games,” most of the follow-ups have fallen apart along the way (a la “Divergent”) or never really gotten off the ground in the first place (“I Am Number Four;” “The 5th Wave;” “The Mortal Instruments;” etc.).

And in the middle, we find the “Maze Runner” trilogy.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 20 December 2017 13:54

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ far from least

There are few films as difficult to review as a “Star Wars” movie. There’s such a fine line that needs to be walked with regards to the narrative; no one wants to be responsible for spoiling any aspect of such an eagerly-anticipated cinematic experience. However, you also want to be able to convey your feelings about the movie in a manner that is both engaging and accurate.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 15 November 2017 12:20

Fly me to the moon – ‘Artemis’

Few debut novelists achieve the kind of success that Andy Weir did. “The Martian” was one of those books that captures the collective imagination. From Weir’s self-publishing of the novel in 2011 to Crown Publishing’s purchase and re-release of the book in 2014 to the commercially and critically triumphant 2015 film adaptation, “The Martian” has been wildly successful in every way.

But then the question becomes: What next?

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 25 October 2017 09:54

‘Geostorm’ rains on its own parade

Sci-fi action flick entertainingly terrible

Published in Movies
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