Grown-Up Kids with Life-Sized Hot Wheels
The Fast and the Furious franchise has been around since 2001, but it really came into its own with the fourth installment in 2009. For that movie, the filmmakers threw out any attempts to keep the movies grounded in reality and just went for it with ridiculous stunts that defied all physics. The action scenes are so extreme they feel like they were written in the minds of young kids while racing their hot wheels around the house. Each of the two movies released since then have gone out of their way to try and outdo their predecessors and the latest installment, Furious 7, tries to do the same… and in many ways it succeeds.
Bippidy Boppidy Boo
The latest trend in Disney movies is live-action remakes of their animated fairy tale classics. Last year, Sleeping Beauty was remade as Maleficent and next year Beauty and the Beast gets the live-action treatment. This year’s remake is Cinderella, the fairy tale that was originally animated by Disney in 1950. Whereas Maleficent was a major departure from the animated original, Cinderella remains extremely faithful to the original—maybe a little too faithful.
Johnny 22 is Alive!
Director Neill Blomcamp exploded onto the scene in 2009 with the Oscar-nominated hit District 9 and like J.J. Abrams, he has quickly become a key figure in the science fiction genre. His follow-up Elysium had a little more star power thanks to Matt Damon, but it did not quite have the same impact as his first film. The big news now is that Blomcamp will take over the reins of the Alien franchise in 2017, just like Abrams took over the Star Wars franchise. But first, the director presents us with the story of a sentient robot named Chappie.
The Big Con
The con-artist movie has been a popular sub-genre for movie stars to show up in and just be movie stars over the years. From Paul Newman and Robert Redford in 1973’s Oscar-winner The Sting to 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven—a con-artist movie disguised as a heist movie—these movies have been the perfect vehicle for popular and attractive stars to look cool, act cool, and be cool. In the history of movies, few stars have had cooler personas than Will Smith and so it seems inevitable that he should grace the genre in this year’s Focus.
This Ain't Golf
Disney has been successful with their inspirational sports dramas since 2000’s Remember the Titans, releasing one just about every year. They all feature good acting, well crafted stories, and happy endings. They are always based on a true story and all pretty much follow the same formula. As such, few of the individual movies stand out from any of the others to the public at large. If one of those movies happens to touch members of its audience on some kind of personal level, however, it can accelerate that particular film out of the pack and turn it into a champion. That is how it was for this writer with the latest Disney sports drama, McFarland, USA.
Spies, Gentleman Spies
There are those out there who feel that the James Bond franchise has gotten a little too serious; that 007 has forgotten himself in his pursuit to be more like Jason Bourne. Fortunately, for those who feel that way, director Matthew Vaughn is on your side. The director of hits like X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass now brings you Kingsman: The Secret Service, a clear tribute to the earlier Bond films; most notably those of the Roger Moore era. There are gentleman spies, maniacal villains, deadly henchman, and lots and lots of gadgets. The result is a movie that is crazy fun from start to finish.
The Wachowski siblings have had a very up-and-down directing career. After their modestly budged The Matrix became a popular hit in 1999, the directing pair was given carte blanche for its two sequels and the result was a couple of bloated and incoherent movies that were still financial hits. They were reined back in for the ambitious Cloud Atlas, which they co-directed with Tom Tykwer, and which turned out to be very good movie. The critical cred they earned with that movie, however, leads to their latest, Jupiter Ascending, an ambitious and lavish sci-fi spectacle, which unfortunately plays closer to the overblown Matrix sequels than the ground-breaking original.
First Person Shooter
American Sniper is a return to form of sorts for director Clint Eastwood, following a couple of underwhelming releases in J. Edgar and last year’s Jersey Boys. The new film is based on the 2012 book that came with the subtitle “The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.” The book and the movie tell the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, a trained sniper who served four tours in Iraq. During those four tours, Kyle would be credited with 160 confirmed kills, making him, as the subtitle to the book suggests, the most deadly sniper in American history.
Lebowski-Esque Detective Work
Having directed films like There Will Be Blood and The Master, director Paul Thomas Anderson is not really known for comedy. Even the film he cast Adam Sandler in, Punch-Drunk Love, is generally remembered as a drama. Anderson’s latest film, Inherent Vice, in which Joaquin Phoenix plays Larry “Doc” Sportello, a drug-fueled private investigator in 1970 Los Angeles, just might be the closest the director ever gets even though the film is still far from being a straight-forward comedy.
The Story of Dr. King’s March
It is difficult to believe that there has never been a theatrically released movie about Martin Luther King, Jr. There have been a few versions on television, but none that have debuted on the big screen. That changes this year with the release of Selma, an affecting drama about Dr. King’s fight to secure equal voting rights in the south. Director Ava DuVernay focuses on the events leading up to the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and she creates a powerful drama, somewhat amazingly, considering she did not even have the rights to use any of Dr. King’s famous speeches.
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