Archive for the 'Features' Category
Not so Great
We all like to say that filmmaking is about art and expression, but the truth is that, for the most part, moviemaking is about making money. Lately, one of the easiest ways for the studios to make a lot of money is to make a movie that has mass appeal in China, a country with a large population that is ready to spend their money on big-budget blockbusters. The new action fantasy The Great Wall may just be the most blatant attempt to capitalize on that financial gold mine.
Gun Fu with Style
The original John Wick movie came out in 2014 with little fanfare, but very quickly became a word of mouth hit, especially on home video. It revitalized the career of Keanu Reeves, giving the actor his most talked about role since the Matrix trilogy. Following its surprise success, making a sequel was a no-brainer. John Wick: Chapter 2 is immediately poised to become a much bigger success than its predecessor and fortunately, that success will be justified. This is a film that will have the audience oohing, ahhing, and cringing in equal measure.
Not Very Shiny
In the middle of the last decade, Stephen Gaghan seemed to be a filmmaker on the rise. He won an Oscar for writing the script for Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic and then directed George Clooney to an Oscar in Syriana, a movie which earned him another screenwriting nomination. But after that he disappeared from features for a full decade before returning this year with Gold, the latest in what has been an ongoing parade of Matthew McConaughey award-season bait over the past few years. It is a very showy performance from the actor in what by all accounts should be a fascinating story, but unfortunately it is told in such a way that it is not at all interesting.
A Few Personalities Short
A tagline is purely a promotional tool and is not necessarily representative of the movie it is helping to promote, but when a tagline promises that a character has 23 distinct personalities and that the 24th is about to be unleashed, it is reasonable for the audience to expect to see 24 distinct personalities. Unfortunately in Split, the new thriller from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, we only get to see seven or eight of the promised personalities, with the rest reduced to file names on a computer screen. That is a shame, because James McAvoy does so well in distinguishing each personality from the others, it would have been interesting to see how he would portray more.
Too Many Crooks in the Kitchen
Live by Night is a new gangster drama from writer/director Ben Affleck. The movie is based on a book by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote the book that Affleck turned into his first directorial effort, 2007’s Gone Baby Gone. The novel Live by Night is not especially long, only 432 pages, but judging from the movie version it packs a lot into those pages. Unfortunately, that becomes the problem as the movie that feels like it tries too hard to fit every bit of the story into a 128-minute movie. This results in a movie that feels bloated and inconsistent, while never really settling into any kind of a rhythm.
The Crowd-Pleaser We Need Right Now
As I pound away at this review, Academy members have already begun filling out their ballots for the Oscar nominations which are to be announced on January 24th. As usual, the list of expected Best Picture nominees is chock full of heavy-hitting dramas. It is a good batch of films, to be sure, as it has been a fine year, but what the Academy really needs is a crowd-pleaser, a movie your average moviegoer will want to tune in to the awards show and root for on the night of the ceremony. There is La La Land, a movie that I love, but as a classic characters-break-into-song-and-dance musical, that movie has already lost a good chunk of the general public who simply aren’t a fan of the genre. Enter the wild card, Hidden Figures, a PG-rated true story that had the audience at the advance screening cheering and breaking into rousing applause at multiple times throughout the film’s runtime.
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.
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.
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