Stars Among the Stars
Movie stars do not carry as much weight these days in terms of a movie’s box office success as they did in the past, but if you were casting a vehicle for a pair of stars, you could not do much better these days than Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. Unfortunately, their star power is about all Passengers, an action romance spectacle set amongst the actual stars, has going for it. Perhaps it is time for the studio to start looking at less crowded release windows for their movie-star projects.
A Story of Love, Death, and Time
It is awards season in Hollywood with the Film Critics Society, the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, and others already announcing their nominations and, in some cases, their winners. It seems that every year around this time there is a movie that comes along which seems to be trying a little too hard to garner awards attention. This year, that role is being played by the Will Smith weepie Collateral Beauty. The December release date, holiday season setting, and plot similarities to both It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol suggest that it is also aiming to become another holiday favorite. But all that proves to be a little too much for the movie’s plate.
A Film for Dreamers
Writer/director Damien Chazelle was an unknown before he burst onto the scene two years ago with Whiplash, a tough, but thrilling drama about the challenges a young drummer must face to fulfill his dream of being the best. The movie was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. The movie also made quite a profit, earning 50 million dollars with a budget of only 3.3 million. The success of that movie afforded Chazelle the opportunity to bring his dream project to the screen with La La Land, a charming musical that pays homage to the classic Hollywood musical while at the same time reinventing the genre.
Eggnog, Improv, and Debauchery
Most people who work in an office environment know about office holiday parties. They are often fun, sometimes stressful, and every once in awhile they can be embarrassing. After all, people tend to let their inhibitions go a little when the alcohol starts flowing and they forget that they are partying with people whom they will have to see every single day after. The holiday office tradition is taken to the comedic extreme in the new movie Office Christmas Party, which hopefully won’t have too many people leaving the theater thinking “that reminded me so much of my office.”
A Magical Ocean Getaway
The new Disney animated film Moana may just be the movie that finally proves once and for all that Dwayne Johnson can do anything. The wrestler-turned-actor has done action well, he’s done comedy well, and now he has added singing a catchy tune in a Disney movie to his resume. Johnson’s performance as the demigod Maui is one of the highlights of this fun adventure of a movie. By hitting the open oceans and exploring Polynesia, Moana ventures where few other animated films have journeyed. The result is an entertaining adventure full of comedy, action, and magic.
A Whole New World
Like Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy before it, Doctor Strange expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond our own world, but it manages to do so without ever physically leaving Earth. The movie introduces the mystic arts to the ever-expanding Marvel franchise and allows its characters to explore different dimensions. The result is a special-effects heavy movie that feels somewhat disconnected from the rest of the MCU at this point, but still manages to entertain. There is a lot going on in Doctor Strange so it is admittedly difficult to take it all in after only one viewing, but it is entertaining enough that future viewings certainly won’t feel like a chore.
War Isn’t Always About Taking Lives
Mel Gibson’s career as a director reached a high point in 1996 when the director took home both the directing and producing Oscars for just his second film, Braveheart. He returned to the director’s chair in 2004 and had a controversial box-office hit with The Passion of the Christ. He followed that up two years later with the lackluster Apocalypto. It was around that time that the star’s off-screen behavior caused a serious fall from grace and he disappeared from the cinema, both in front of and behind the camera. He returned as an actor in 2010 and has been steadily working since. Now he is back in the director’s chair for an incredible true story with Hacksaw Ridge, his first English-language film as a director since Braveheart.
Affleck Cooks the Books
Affleck has proven to be a legitimate three-pronged threat in the movie industry as an actor, a director, and a screenwriter. He has already taken home an Academy Award for his screenwriting and directed another movie to the top prize at the Oscars. He is actor only in his new movie, The Accountant, and as long as people don’t go in with a mind to look for reasons to dislike the movie and its star, they are going to find that what they get is a suspenseful and entertaining action thriller.
Never Quite Reaches a Full Head of Steam
A thriller based on a best-selling novel with the word “girl” in the title, the new film The Girl on the Train is virtually impossible to think about without instantly comparing it to 2014’s Gone Girl. Certainly the filmmakers behind the new movie are hoping that the film finds similar success as its predecessor, which earned its star Rosamund Pike an Oscar nomination. And certainly each of the movie’s three lead female performances warrant consideration, especially Emily Blunt as the titular girl on the train. The rest of the film, however, leaves something to be desired.
An Epic Story of Revolt
Having already been much talked about on the film festival circuit and after taking home both the grand jury prize and the audience award at Sundance, Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation seems primed for an Oscar run. In the same vein as Oscar winners like Schindler’s List and 12 Years a Slave, its subject matter is often difficult to watch, but it is an important story that needs to be told and its director has done a terrific job of telling it.
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