by Philip Price
For a film about an unforgettable romance the worst crime “Everything, Everything” commits is not exactly searing itself into the minds of viewers as such. “Everything, Everything” is a fine enough teen love story, but it is also a very slight love story-never allowing us to become invested in the characters or passionate enough about their plight as it seems we should. Moreover, the film does this to itself as it very well could have allowed more time and dedicated more of that time to developing why our two leads do indeed fall head over heels for another. Alas, at only 96 minutes “Everything, Everything” only has so much space to divulge the complexities of our greatest of virtues. That isn't to say the film doesn't make good use of the time it does spend on our star-crossed lovers, but only that we get to the inevitable rather abruptly (which might otherwise be admired) leaving the remainder of the film and the risks these characters take for one another seem all the more drastic and irresponsible which is the last thing you want when your movie positions the kids as the heroes who are smarter than the adults that surround them. The point being, as with everything, ones reaction to “Everything, Everything” will largely depend on the stage of life that viewer is currently experiencing when taking it in. Being a young parent, but someone who still feels at least slightly in touch with youth/popular culture “Everything, Everything” played with my sympathies toward the conundrum our characters face while at the same time appreciating that were this to actually occur in the real world the parents would be more rational and the stakes nowhere near as dire. Young love wants to feel a little dangerous though, a little forbidden, and slightly scary-it is what gives it that rush of excitement and uncertainty; it is what makes it all that more memorable in hindsight and it is in these details, in the minutiae of such times, that “Everything, Everything” actually finds its success. Director Stella Maghie and the screenplay from J. Mills Goodloe (“Age of Adaline”) that was of course adapted from the New York Times Bestseller by Nicola Yoon doesn't so much let her film stand on the shoulders of grand gestures or dramatic speeches, but more in the small, precise details of what makes love worth living for when you're young and want nothing more than to feel indestructible. This focus on precise over big moments allows much of the underdevelopment and lack of any real arc to (mostly) be forgiven come the end of the movie. Still, you won't remember much of it the next day.
Madeline "Maddy" Whittier suffers from a rare condition called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), meaning her antibodies are not able to properly fight off infection. She has spent the majority of her life and all that she can remember about that life inside the house her doctor of a mother (Anika Noni Rose) has made into a fortress of cleanliness. With all the latest technology and necessary adornments Maddy could essentially want for nothing and go on living a risk-free life, but of course-life happens. The only people allowed inside the house besides Maddy and her mother is Maddy's nurse, Carla (Ana de la Reguera), and her daughter Rosa (Danube R. Hermosillo). It is when new neighbors move in next door that hormones begin to rage and thus we witness Maddy rush into something as serious as her first serious relationship simply because she is desperate for something real, something palpable. Such a desire comes in the form of Olly (Nick Robinson), a self-proclaimed loser of sorts who likes to wear black (very much in contrast to Maddy's consistent all-white aesthetic) and appreciates a person with a few good vices. Things begin innocently enough as Olly is rightfully curious about the pretty girl next door who doesn't come outside and whose mom refuses Bundt cake because it didn't come from her immaculate kitchen. Olly begins by making distant meet-cute gestures from his bedroom window which is luckily just across from Maddy's. After a few days he writes his number on his window and the two begin texting. They learn what they can about one another and rather quickly decide they like one another. The flirting continues which only increases the need for each party to get more out of the other. Texting from each other's bedrooms gets old quickly; it's not good enough. Maddy guilt's Carla into allowing Olly to visit where they're still not allowed to touch, but will of course only increase that desire tenfold. Things escalate as one might expect, but despite knowing the relationship at the heart of the story will most certainly go the predictable way of a movie what we don't know is what way the fate of Maddy will go. Is Olly truly setting himself up for heartbreak or is there more to the narrative than meets the eye?
As these things go, “Everything, Everything” is right down the middle in terms of ambition and execution. Everything here is done in competent fashion, but in a pleasant twist there are certain aspects that highlight the continually evolving way in which texting and social media are presented on screen that are intriguing on their own. These spontaneous bursts of inspiration paired with both Robinson and Stenberg's dedication to the material and making it work give the film the fresh, lightweight feeling it incessantly possesses. It is in these inspired moments that “Everything, Everything” is made more endearing as they are unexpected, but undoubtedly appreciated. Maghie certainly has a vision for the material she's been given and isn't content to simply sit by and let what could have easily directed itself be done in such a manner. The first instance of this comes after Maddy and Olly begin texting one another. Rather than having her two actors stare longingly at one another through glass Maghie allows them to come together at an old fashioned diner, in a booth-not dissimilar from the model Maddy has been working on as part of her homeschool curriculum. Maghie then proceeds to shoot the remainder of the conversation in this environment as if the two are not only talking face to face, but also in a dream-like state. The set is very much a diner, but it is surreal. There are still phone tones going off in the background when each character begins to speak signaling this is still only a text conversation, but to remove that barrier and convey the state of minds these two individuals must feel like they're in when talking to one another despite the obvious hurdle is what makes a viewer sit up and smile. Further down the road, Maghie again uses a technique much like Marc Webb did in “(500) Days of Summer” in the expectation vs. reality scene where, the second time Maddy and Olly meet face to face, the subtext of the dialogue the two are speaking to one another shows up at the bottom of the screen as if interpretations of what is actually coming out of their mouths. It's nothing that is necessarily revolutionary, but it was pre-meditated and that is visible in the performances; lending what might have been an otherwise routine scene of dialogue that aforementioned fresh, lightweight feeling.
Adding to this tone the film carries throughout is the distinct sense of innocence it all possesses. For as old as Maddy is and as fast as things seemingly move this is still the first time Maddy is feeling many of these emotions, much less creating the opportunity for herself to experience them. Most importantly, while older audience members may condemn Maddy and Olly for being foolish in their young love, we like who these two are as people and despite what could easily be seen as faults or shortcomings-we want what is best for them. Maddy likes “The Little Prince” - it reminds her that, "Love is Everything. Everything." while Olly is more of a Lord of the Flies guy that needs no reminding that he can have a poor outlook on life. Given his home situation though, this is to be understood especially as Olly is in his most formative years. Maddy presents the aura of an angel whereas Olly plays to his belief in the bleak, but neither are as clean cut in their categorizations as they'd have you believe and in the romance that evolves between the two of them they seem to genuinely find the secret to love and life in one another-balance. As for the adults, none of them are fleshed out enough to matter much, but we spend the most time with Maddy's mom as Rose's Pauline is at one time written and played as a more complex character than would typically be written in such a role while at the tail end of the film resorted to such a plot device that it's hard for her to register as little more than as much. In our first real encounter with Pauline, Rose plays her as a surprisingly understanding figure than what we inherently anticipate to be a tyrannical, condescending parent. Ultimately though, she must uphold the law she has put in force and though her motivations are understandable and selfish to a degree that even teens in the audience might be able to fairly comprehend the perspective of living and actually being alive never comes across as valuable enough to justify consideration. All things considered, Pauline would have to have known the events depicted in “Everything, Everything” would happen eventually and that she would need to be prepared for as much. Such complications might seem slight prior to viewing the film, but afterwards such a detail is a sore thumb in the way of how the film chooses to resolve itself. The resolution isn't necessarily unexpected, but it certainly doesn't fall in line with the tone or romanticism that seemed so effortlessly expressed until it was forced to roll the credits; maybe if more time had been taken to flesh it out a more organic resolution might have presented itself. Maybe, maybe.
by Philip Price
If “Snatched” is what you expect it to be is that necessarily a good thing? Probably not, but if it's better than you expected does that make it a good movie or, just, not a terrible one? It's a tough line to walk and an even more difficult one to decipher, but at the end of the day it can't help but to feel as if Snatched, overall, is more of a missed opportunity than a success by the standards of its genre tropes. Missed opportunity due to the fact that not only was it written by a single screenwriter in Katie Dippold ( “Ghostbusters”) and directed by Jonathan Levine (“50/50”), but that it also stars one of the world's most popular stand-up comedians (like it or not) while being able to pull 71-year old Goldie Hawn out of a 15 year semi-retirement. If one is able to rope in a comedic legend like Hawn for your project one might imagine that individual or team would utilize her and her talents to their greatest effect, but in “Snatched” it seems Levine and everyone around him were afraid to ask Hawn to do anything too uncomfortable and instead kept her tasks in as safe and as easy a box as possible. This only stands to resort the movie to Hawn playing an overly-cautious mother figure while Amy Schumer is the irresponsible, narcissist of a daughter that exemplifies every negative stereotype one could come up with about millennials and then throws them into a hostage situation where balance in the two competing personalities is supposed to be found. Alas, that is what the movie goes for, but none of it ever feels natural or authentic, but rather very much like a movie. Everything about “Snatched” is very movie-like and while that isn't always a bad thing, especially when as much is intentional, this technique only bodes well for “Snatched” part of the time and most of that time is when the film is actually being funny. In short, when the film owns up to its promise and delivers on the capabilities of its talented cast and creative teams, but more often than not “Snatched” feels like a given of a movie where, after it was decided Schumer and Hawn would play a bickering mother/daughter pair, the rest was left up to that chemistry to make the ship sail successfully. Schumer and Hawn more anchor the film than anything though; holding the antics steady despite the fact the ship itself hasn't been that well-constructed.
Schumer, who is 35, plays Emily Middleton who, at the beginning of the film, is working at a trendy clothing department store, but finds more time for shopping for herself and telling customers her own troubles than assisting them in their own needs. She is quickly fired and then subsequently dumped by her boyfriend Michael (Randall Park) whose band is beginning to take off and who doesn't want Emily holding him back. The split is only made more painful by the fact Emily and Michael were supposed to be taking a non-refundable vacation to Ecuador together and now Emily must quickly find a replacement partner. In one of the few genuine and effortlessly funny moments in the film featuring the leads Emily solicits friends and acquaintances on social media to come on vacation with her, but finds no takers. In something of a slump she updates her relationship status which is seen by her mother, Hawn's Linda, at her picturesque suburbia home outside the city where she begins commenting on the change of status completely unaware that what she is saying is public and available for everyone the two of them are friends with to read. Linda begs her daughter to come see her in the wake of her sadness which Emily begrudgingly agrees to. Once back in the comfort of her childhood home, along with her agoraphobic brother Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), Emily finds a photo album of her mother in her younger days that stirs something in her giving her the idea to invite the reluctant Linda on the trip. As these things go, Linda agrees but only because it seems the only way she might actually spend time with her daughter. Once in Ecuador Emily goes her way of reckless abandon, of drinking with strange men, and sun bathing without sun block. Her mother warns her, as do fellow travelers Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and Barb (Joan Cusack), of the potential dangers, but Emily doesn't listen-even when a smooth talking, adventure-seeking charmer like James (Tom Bateman) comes on to her at the bar and suggests he take Emily and her mother for a drive to the most scenic spots in the area. Emily essentially forces her mother along for the ride where they are kidnapped by the likes of Morgado (Oscar Jaenada) whose objective isn't ever clear, but that we can surmise isn't overly pleasant which, of course, then forces Linda and Emily to put aside their differences and work together.
See, and while there is plenty to complain about “Snatched” isn't necessarily a bad movie as much as it is an average one-a generic one. It offers characters and character arcs that we've seen countless times before and sometimes executes them in ways that are humorous enough to sustain the film while other times making connections from scene to scene that have zero natural progression in them at all. What is somewhat awkward about reviewing “Snatched” is very much the same type of awkwardness that came up when discussing last summer's “Ghostbusters” as both films are intended to be these empowering pieces of female independence that demonstrate women are equal to men and can do and deserve the same type of recognition and reward as their male counterparts which is all well and good and I have no issue with except for the fact that Barinholtz and Bashir Salahuddin as a State Department official have 15 minutes worth of a subplot that is funnier than the entirety of the rest of the movie. This aligns with “Ghostbusters” in that, despite the fact Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are hilariously funny women, Chris Hemsworth clearly stole that show. The back and forth between Barinholtz and Salahuddin, who is very much the MVP of this movie, is laugh out loud stuff and it all comes back to the fact it feels effortless. Both of these supporting characters are very much defined by a single trait and that trait-no doubt ingrained in the screenplay-informs everything else about the character and the decisions they ultimately make. The movie is supposed to be about Schumer's Emily maturing and coming to certain realizations about how flawed her personality and outlook are on life, but whereas Schumer's character abruptly changes from one scene to the next (there are hints, sure, but it's still a fairly jolting tonal shift in the middle of the film) Barinholtz's Jeffrey actually progresses from a scared and rather naive adult who has been overly sheltered due to his mother's cautious ways (which were seemingly brought on by an unexpected divorce that the movie brings up once and then never mentions again) to someone who forced himself to face his fears and not only go outside, but to be resilient in his effort to save his mother and sister. It doesn't hurt that the main hurdle he has to deal with is Salahuddin's Morgan Russell who’s no nonsense, rule-following mentality gives way to killer line deliveries and a character we feel like we know the moment Salahuddin opens his mouth. Content and story matter just as much as natural chemistry for one needs a strong facility in which to build the other.
That last paragraph would seemingly mean to bring down a lot of the weaker aspects of “Snatched” down upon Dippold who, as the sole credited screenwriter, should and shouldn't bear the weight of the responsibility. Given the current climate of Hollywood where studios and producers find it necessary to stick a team of writers on any one given project it is something of a rarity to see a big(ger) budget summer offering (and a comedy at that) come from a single source. That Dippold isn't able to provide a more sound structure for her charismatic stars to stand on is disappointing in that there are certainly moments in “Snatched” that seem to aspire to be about something more, not to mention funnier. Still, the script is unable to follow through on either of these aspects makes many of the films shortcomings Dippold's cross to bear. For example, there is a scene in which Morgado threatens Linda and Emily and expresses his anger and disgust with Americans who can come to these large, extravagant resorts for vacation while just outside the gates people are living in poverty. Interesting motivation, right? Unfortunately, beyond this single line of dialogue nothing is made of his plan for vengeance other than being a typical foreign bad guy and clear threat to the white protagonists. Even Jeffrey and Morgan's whole previously discussed subplot somewhat hints at the expected privilege of Americans in that we want to be free to travel and see the world, but the moment anything goes sideways we expect the government to put forth all necessary resources to aid us. While such notions are touched upon and ever so slightly lampooned none of it ever goes anywhere or is utilized to make some bigger, more substantial statement. Not that all comedies have to be striving for satire or more cutting/darker forms of the art, but nonetheless comedy is meant to be funny and “Snatched” just isn't consistently funny enough to forgive all the opportunities it misses with such a cast and creative team behind it. Also, it probably doesn't help that besides Barinholtz and Salahuddin the next best performance is that of Christopher Meloni, who is the only person that actually seems to understand he's in a movie that is very much of the world of movies. Granted, he's playing a guy who is playing the role of an explorer as defined by what he's seen in the movies, but the point is it is a glimpse such as this-true cleverness-that make trying to be funny worth striving for because we all know being genuinely funny is genuinely hard. It is only after Meloni that we have Sykes being Sykes and Cusack turning in a non-speaking performance that garners a few laughs whenever she's given the opportunity to be on screen, but while Schumer and Hawn keep this thing afloat off the backs of their most basic charms it is almost criminal how much their talents are wasted here.
by Philip Price
I like Guy Ritchie, I like his style, and I enjoy his approach to storytelling. The writer/director understands the unique ways in which one can convey something as simple as a montage and how such interpretive change can alter the reception and/or investment of an audience in something as simple as a montage. If you've seen any of Ritchie's s previous films, such as “Snatch,” “RocknRolla” or either of the two Robert Downey Jr. ‘Sherlock Holmes’ adventures, then you'll certainly recognize the marks of the director in his latest film; another re-telling of the King Arthur story. It was inevitable the legend of Arthur and his knights of the roundtable would eventually get their own gritty re-boot, but when it was announced Ritchie would be the one bringing said gritty reboot to the big screen the trend all of a sudden didn't feel so tired. Too bad we spoke too soon for despite the fact Ritchie gets a director, co-writer, and producer credit on this $175 million flick-it reeks of studio intervention and countless pacing issues due to as much. Before we get too far into this though, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” isn't an outright train wreck and has some rather inspired and interesting moments whether that be in character and set design, some of the performances, or of course the notable editing and inventive storytelling. Still, at the end of the day, this is a film whose parts are greater than its (overlong) summation and unfortunately that leaves a rather forgettable taste. Bland. Bland is the word I'm looking for. And while one might have advised Ritchie and the gang against rebooting a brand name no one seemed to be particularly interested in (the last incarnation of King Arthur came just over a decade ago and only delivered $200 million worldwide) there was always that hope Ritchie might put enough of a directorial stamp on the material that this new version might come to be more than justified. There are hints of Ritchie's British blue collar mentality and sense of humor that pop up throughout that hint at what could have been, a medieval ‘Lock, Stock’ if you will, but more often than not “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” becomes a bloated, CGI-fest that is more hollow spectacle than engaging character drama.
Whether you're familiar with the tale of King Arthur or not Ritchie's version of the events are fairly simple to follow. Ritchie's screenplay, which he co-wrote with frequent collaborator Lionel Wigram as well as Joby Harold, begins by showing us the betrayal of King Uther (Eric Bana) by his younger brother Vortigern (Jude Law). Vortigern sacrifices his wife to an Ursula-like sea snake in order to manifest some supernatural power that allows him to best even Uther and his precious Excalibur. This confrontation naturally takes place as Uther is setting his wife and only son out to sea so that at least their lives might be spared, but even if one isn't familiar with the legend of Arthur I imagine they'll be able to derive how things play out from this point. Arthur survives, his mother-not so much. Arthur slips away as his father battles his uncle to the death washing ashore not too far down the line in a village where he is raised in a brothel and told he is the spawn of a prostitute. Ritchie speeds us through the adolescence of the young Arthur, displaying with his kinetic editing techniques how the young man becomes a well-versed player in the streets of Londinium (the settlement established on the current site of London via AD 43), a keeper of the finances at the brothel, and a sort of protector of the women that work there. Point being: Arthur (now played by Charlie Hunnam) grows into a wise and compassionate young man that cares deeply for his friends and associates and will do what need be to protect them. Meanwhile, ole Vortigern is ruling over Camelot as if it was his birthright and has been forced to seek out the surviving bloodline of his brother as Uther's son is the only one who might pull this mysterious sword from this mysterious stone that has appeared just outside his castle. Through a series of events Arthur is captured and forced to try his hand at removing the sword and I think it's safe to say we all know he's quite successful when it comes to this particular task. Is the movie itself as successful at doing what it sets out to do? Again, not so much. The remainder of “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” hits the beats of Arthur resisting his journey, being shown the miserable future he will give way to by resisting that journey, which then forces him to embrace his journey and ultimately his destiny as king. The predictability isn't what relegates this to mediocrity though as the hero's journey can still be compelling, interesting, and certainly entertaining if told with skill and vision, but what skill and vision Ritchie possesses has been reduced to CGI rubble here.
Much of what is detrimental to ‘Legend of the Sword’ are the easy targets one might have picked out when viewing the trailers for the film. Sure, there is a lot of overdone CGI. Yes, the tone is weird because at one point it's this seemingly grand blockbuster and other times it's a street-level gangster tale. Does the world in which this takes place openly accept magic? Absolutely. Does it ever reveal the face of Merlin and welcome such a facet so as to show such a desire to explore that facet further? Negative. There are highlights between these bleak conventions, but none of them are enough to rescue the film from the doldrums of mediocrity. For instance, I was hoping, given Ritchie's slightly tongue in cheek approach to his films, that his version of ‘King Arthur’ might embrace the mysticism that is now one with this time period in popular culture, but without fully leaning into it. That the supernatural elements would play a part, but that the main cast of characters would still be fully aware of how outlandish and weird it is that such capabilities actually exist. Rather than sticking with the attitudes Arthur and his friends appear to have early on in the film, like when they recount a story of their encounter with a group of Vikings to a high ranking Blackleg AKA Vortigern's army of minions, Arthur and his crew accept without question the existence of such magic at the appearance of a Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). Not to be accused of being dismissive, I can acknowledge that some attempts at humor are made when Hunnam's Arthur first comes face to face with the Mage, but this is different as he still has no trouble accepting the fact such an individual might exist. To bring out Arthur's resistance or at least his condescension towards what Vortigern has so willingly given himself over to might have been a more interesting arc than that of Arthur trying to resist the sword and Vortigern doing whatever it takes to remain in power despite the fact we have no real idea why he craves such power. Unfortunately, the screenplay cares little about making us feel anything for any of these characters with only the "wow" factor of how we got from point A to point B seeming to matter. There is hardly any kind of character development attempted in the film as it is depends on the charisma of the talent involved to relay the reasons we should feel any type of sympathy or hate towards these people. By the time the credits roll we know everything is in place for an actual ‘King Arthur’ movie, but that's only because the movie tells us so-we don't actually care and certainly aren't invested enough to come back for what this movie was supposed to be.
So what is left? What might breathe life into this stagnant summer blockbuster other than that of a unique directorial touch that was extinguished just as quickly by the studio that hired him? Well, I really enjoyed Daniel Pemberton's score and how it made up as much as it could for some of the more drastic lags in the narrative. It introduces a texture to the film that, without it, would almost give the film fully over to what anyone with a budget this size and talent this good could produce. Pemberton's score is especially effective when Ritchie is given free rein to do what he does best and it is in these sections of ultra-stylized storytelling that ‘Legend of the Sword’ is at its best because it stands apart. Throughout the entirety of the picture my thoughts couldn't help but to be distracted by the thought of Ritchie adapting the King Arthur story to a modern day English setting and finding something to say in the themes and ideas the story raises rather than simply rehashing the same old, same old with nothing new to add to the conversation. Hell, it would have cost a lot less too. Even if Ritchie really wanted to keep in line with the medieval setting he could have applied those aforementioned trademarks to an original story that takes place during the period without having to necessarily re-tell a story that has already been told countless times before. Whatever the drive might have been there were certainly other, more interesting avenues the director could have chosen to quench his major studio/medieval epic thirst. That said, Hunnam is a strong presence here and would make a fine protagonist in a Ritchie gangster drama with his cocky swagger no matter his social status. Law is dependable enough as the foil despite the fact we never really buy the guys actions due to a lack of any development at all, but the performance is serviceable and you can see Law is giving it what he can. The same is true of the supporting players in Djimon Hounsou, Aiden Gillen, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Neil Maskell, but they are given so little to work with that they don't stand to be very memorable. Worse, we aren't emotionally invested in their plights even when the movie tries to use them to such an advantage. Did there need to be another ‘King Arthur’ movie? No, and given what Ritchie has brought us we have what is maybe worse than having a truly terrible one-an indifferent one.
by Philip Price
As a human male who wasn't born until 1987, the year after James Cameron's seven-year-later sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece debuted, I was never overly inclined to invest much of my adolescence in Xenomophs or the lore of the talented Ms. Ripley. As someone who would unknowingly be lumped in with the millennial generation I didn't grow up with a fondness for those original films and thus they never became a critical part of the cultural landscape for me until much later in life. It might even be difficult for viewers with older tastes and dated perspectives to understand how such a film as restrained and measured as Alien might play for today's ADD audiences, but despite the fact I didn't end up seeing Scott's original film until a college scriptwriting class doesn't mean I didn't understand the how and why of its effectiveness. Still, because of the life experiences that shaped who I was up until the point when I saw “Prometheus” in the summer of 2012 I didn't mind that it felt completely different from what Scott had established as his “Alien” universe in the past. Like with music and most things in life if something works and people crave more of it the artist must find a way to strike a balance between what has come before while also reinventing themselves so as not to repeat the same old shtick repeatedly. While many complained about “Prometheus” for being too heady and not so reliant on thrills or action Scott, along with screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper, have seemingly course corrected for the sake of the fans with “Alien: Covenant” as the film meshes what “Prometheus” started and what fans seemingly wanted in a new “Alien” movie. That isn't to say it all melds seamlessly or that “Covenant” is all the better for attempting to strike such a balance, but rather that it wants to have its cake and eat it too. As an individual who has no vested interest in continuing the “Alien” franchise as it once was, but who dug the hell out of “Prometheus,” I was slightly disappointed the more philosophical aspects of the film were traded in for more formulaic action beats and scares, but while “Covenant” may be a safer movie than “Prometheus” as well as a less effective film than “Alien” it is still very much an entertaining one that does enough good to earn its place among the ranks of a series that seems to be more well regarded out of nostalgia and a couple strong entries than a consistent quality in the films overall.
‘Covenant’ begins by taking us back to before the events of Prometheus as Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) introduces himself, for the first time, to his own creation. We are of course talking about Michael Fassbender's humanoid robot, David. In “Prometheus,” David accompanied Weyland on the mission headed by Doctors Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) to find out the secret of mankind's creation in hopes of prolonging Mr. Weyland's life for as long as possible. Still, it seems that all the while Weyland spent looking for his creator David was rather disappointed in his. David, the robot, yearns for his own meaning in life and through the events of “Prometheus” and now ‘Covenant’ we come to find out that he's decided what his rightful place in the cosmos is and, well, it's a tad egotistical if we're being honest. But how do we come to meet David once again if the last we saw of him and Dr. Shaw in “Prometheus” was the two of them leaving the moon LV-223 in search of the engineer's home planet? That is where the Covenant vessel and its crew come into play. It is approximately 2104, a decade after the events of “Prometheus” and 18 years prior to the events of Alien, and the Covenant ship carries over two thousand life forms and frozen embryos who hope to establish a new colony on a distant planet-they're truly pioneers.
Among the ship's crew is the more recent and robot-like version of David known as Walter (also Fassbender) as well as Oram (Billy Crudup) a man of faith who must assume the mantle of captain after the catastrophic events that open the film start the ball rolling on detouring the Covenant. Biologist and Oram's wife Karine (Carmen Ejogo) is also among the crew. Second in command is Daniels (Katherine Waterston), then we have pilots Tennessee (an inspired Danny McBride) and his wife Faris (Amy Seimetz) as well as fellow pilots and lovers Upworth (Callie Hernandez) and Ricks (Jussie Smollett). Lope (Demian Bichir) and a handful of other individuals bring up the rear as the muscle, explorers, and fellow scientists, but they essentially exist to be picked off one by one in no certain order. It is after the Covenant is hit by a power surge of some sort and the crew are forced to be woken up during their journey (which still has seven years to go until they reach their destination) that they receive a transmission causing them to divert to a planet they previously had no knowledge of which, obviously, nothing good can come from.
One of the many reasons I'm a fan of the ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise is the fact they are so committed to their timeline and their continuity while building onto the mythology of the franchise with each new installment and with “Prometheus” and now ‘Covenant’ the “Alien” franchise is very much doing the same. On top of this, I'm generally a fan/fascinated by good science fiction, world-building, and interpretations/debates concerning where we came from and/or what our existence really means. In short, I'm a sucker for everything Scott and his screenwriters are putting together with this prequel trilogy. Some, and I'm going to go ahead and assume that most of the people that feel this way were born in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, might see Alien and it's sequels as nothing more than contained stories with a badass protagonist that view the Xenomorphs as nothing more than an alien life form who come from the depths of space and if you want/need to know nothing more than that-fine, don't watch these new movies, but for those who find such ponderings and big ideas fascinating enough to unpack-let us have this. Let Ridley Scott have it. He could very well be making Alien and Aliens knock-offs with replica Ripley's (which is kind of what the last act of ‘Covenant’ turns in to) all over the place that do nothing to push the story further or to more interesting places, with nothing to enhance the mythology of what we witnessed in Scott's first “Alien” film, but instead “Prometheus” and most ‘Covenant’ do just this. If ‘Covenant’ manages to have one thing over its predecessor it is that it handles the balance of such large ideas and entertainment value more efficiently while still failing to garner audience interest in many of the human characters sans the android as Fassbender's dual performance as both Walter and David is the heart of the film. Ironic, considering neither of them have a heart of their own.
Much like its predecessor though, “Alien: Covenant” is visually stunning as our troupe of scientists and colonists explore a new planet, a garden of Eden of sorts, that is at once breathtaking for its natural elements and lush greens while also revealing itself to be the home of what looks to have been (slight spoilers) an ancient civilization. This reveal is appropriately shocking as it adds a whole other layer to the mystery of what the crew of the Covenant have stumbled upon, while affirming for fans of “Prometheus” that this film has in fact taken into consideration many of the questions that film left unanswered. This aspect is also only revealed due to the intelligent inclusion of David who now serves as the most devious and horrific part of the “Alien” franchise. Logan and Harper's screenplay serves as something of a bridge between the conversation around Darwinism versus Creationism and more how the two might be able to coexist that “Prometheus” began and the event of Scott's 1979 film. Yes, the Xenomorphs make their first full on appearance in some time, but ‘Covenant’ is hardly about the face huggers and chest exploders, but rather how their existence is a byproduct of the need for power; a need that has come about out of disappointment in one's own creators. David must reign over something himself, something better than even he is and much more advanced than the humans who created him. “Alien: Covenant” outlines the consequences of such curiosity and inevitable disappointment. It's a smart film that fulfills Scott's craving to take on more weighty material while at the same time operating within the universe that allows him to make such big budget sci-if horror films currently. ‘Covenant’ may not be as much my cup of tea as “Prometheus” was, but with the events that unfold here and the direction the next prequel is seemingly set to take-I'm excited to see where we go next.
by Philip Price
With the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” I went (or at least wanted to go) into the film with little to no expectations. Of course, with ‘Vol. 2’ it would be next to impossible to do the same unless one had skipped the first which, of course, would then only mean it would be next to impossible to fully understand or better yet, appreciate, what this second film has to offer. And so, despite having some expectation for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” there wasn't much beyond suspecting that writer/director James Gunn might hand pick a new list of late ‘70s/early ‘80s hits to set something of a remixed version of the original's events to while pushing whatever story points the Marvel overlords needed pushed forward. If this sequel teaches us anything though (and it does try to teach if not at least say something significant) it's that sometimes expectations aren't detrimental to the overall effect a piece of art can have. That's right-I'm calling a Marvel movie, and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” specifically, a piece of art as well as stating that it surpasses all expectations. I'm saying this loud and clear because I feel like it would be easy to think otherwise about the rather unconventional super hero movie that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” actually is. It seems it might be easy to be disappointed in the sequel because it doesn't exactly fit into the conventions we've become conditioned to expect. How does ‘Guardians 2’ buck this trend that Marvel has so perfectly perfected as of late? Well, the first thing it changes is that of setting up a convenient villain in the form of another Thanos crony looking for world domination (Gunn literally thought bigger this time, going for galactic domination) while also giving our heroes a real and emotional investment in the plight of the antagonist. Sure, the film opens with the guardians on a for hire mission that sees them doing battle with a large CGI monster for the purposes of getting paid handsomely by a race of snobby and rather pretentious Goldfinger/Goldmember lookalikes, but this is essentially only a framing device and reason to usher Michael Rooker's Yondu back into the fray. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is instead mostly about the relationships between the members of the titular team and developing those dynamics in exchange for progressing the overall Marvel arc. Where Vol. 2 really exceeds though, is in balancing the exploration of these relationships with that of still telling an effective story, the guardians story, and there's just something special about a ginormous, big-budget, special-effects extravaganza that feels this personal. Also, Baby Groot.
So yeah, the film opens with a good ole fashioned CGI-fest that gives way to one of the better title sequences you'll likely see in theaters this year. From here, though, the film takes something of an unexpected turn when the reveal of Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) father comes in the first fifteen minutes rather than prolonging the inevitable and thus forcing the guardians to split up. With the arrival of Ego (Kurt Russell) and what is more or less his personal secretary in Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who desire to whisk Quill away Gunn makes the gutsy move of splitting up the winning chemistry of the fab five giving the necessary relationships breathing room while allowing what new relationships are set-up to be justified by the narrative. As was hinted at in the first film and teased in the trailers for ‘Vol. 2’ much of what makes up this sequel's runtime is the meeting, bonding, and discovering of the father/son relationship that Ego and Peter never had prior. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) accompany their fearless leader back to Ego's home planet while Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper with Sean Gunn providing the on-set acting) and baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) stay behind to repair their ship that has crash landed while also keeping an eye on their prisoner, Nebula (Karen Gillan), who still has it in her mind to kill her sister. Leave it up to Rocket to steal some of what they were supposed to be protecting from the race of golden-bodied perfectionists known as The Sovereign and their leader, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debecki), who in turn recruits none other than Yondu and his gang that includes Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and Taserface (Chris Sullivan) to chase down the guardians, kill them, and return to The Sovereign what rightfully belongs to them. With such pieces in place Gunn has allowed his film to be of the world in which it exists both in terms of the MCU as well as that of the universe established in the first film. The guardians are still very much a rag tag group of heroes who rely on their own strengths and quirks to guide them through the tough spots they face together, but while “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” could very much have been another series of scenes where the team chases down a MacGuffin it instead establishes each of its various scenarios in order to better get to know its characters while simultaneously using said scenarios to build to something that will profoundly affect the dynamic of that team moving forward.
Point blank: we grow to care a lot more about these characters due to the fact Gunn isn't afraid of breaking them out of their comfort zone. Like I said, this sequel could have very easily followed the mantra of "bigger is better" and more or less derived itself from its predecessor, but while “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” also opens with a flashback to the eighties, the rest of the film carries a very different tone. Whereas the first film delivered the obligatory origins of the team and how they each came to know one another, this second film in the series has each of the guardians not just fleshing out their relationships with one another, but more evaluating their own lives and how they came to be at this point in those respective lives. Right out of the gate we see that while Rocket and Groot are still very close Rocket is no longer able to depend on his companion in the same ways he was previously. Quill and Rocket are constantly at one another's throats; fighting to prove they're worthy of the titles they wish others would bestow upon them. Quill is also dealing with that "unspoken thing" between him and Gamora while mostly trying to digest the fact his father has finally found him and has some surprising news concerning his lineage. As far as Gamora is concerned, there is no "unspoken thing" between her and Star Lord, though we all know there is. Still, props to Gunn and his screenplay once more for not simply resorting to romance in order to keep Gamora's storyline active, but instead delving into her past with Nebula for slices of insight that cut to the core of the character and provide genuine understanding of how these two sisters came to despise one another to the point they can't help but to want to kill one another, but are never able to actually bring themselves to do so. Furthermore, it is through Ego and Yondu that the film offers its best cases of turning expectations on their head as neither operate on the wholly good or bad side of things, but more in a definite gray area on the morality scale leading the audience to not simply dismiss them as one thing or another, but be surprised by who they place first-themselves or the ones they love. This brings about the above referenced "something more" that Gunn was reaching for as one could easily deduce the director is making a plea for the quality of the time we have rather than the length of time we're given, but more it is that Gunn and his film take the time flesh out this point with its own relationships rather than state it without leading by example.
Without delving too much into spoiler territory this theme that is explored is largely due to the nature of the villain and the fact his quest for domination comes not only with eloquently stated justifications, but actions that are filled with tough choices we know this antagonist had to make. Still, that he makes/has made the ones he does we know where his priorities lie and how they differ from that of the guardians given what they learn about one another and discover about themselves in this installment. The entirety of the cast is all kinds of charismatic and none of that is lost in the transition to this sequel where we are treated to more introspective performances all around rather than just re-treads of what we saw in the initial film. Pratt's Star Lord is truly struggling with who to believe and which perspective to trust when it comes to his father and the camaraderie he has always yearned for while Gamora can't help but to feel something more nefarious is going on. Saldana and Gillan may very well come to be one of the more underappreciated aspects of the film due only to the fact it's the most familiar, but at the same time it is the revelations of how Nebula became more machine than woman and how Gamora treated her in order to escape such mental torture that give the audience pause to just how understandable Nebula's motivations are when it isn't she who must answer for a lack of mercy. Even Bautista's Drax, who along with Groot is largely enjoyable and liked for a single personality trait, is given the opportunity to develop a new friendship with Mantis that not only allows for organic plot momentum, but for Bautista to share different shades of his very literal alien life form that prove to be equally as funny as the aura he developed in the first. Bautista could have very easily resorted to making Drax little more than the guy who laughs at everything and makes the obvious joke here and there, but instead of taking that easy route Gunn gives Drax a new, innocent personality to play against and the combination is rather fantastic. It doesn't hurt that Klementieff is pretty great too. The real MVP though? Rooker's Yondu. Not only does this somewhat underdeveloped player from the original completely find redemption here, but he becomes the heart of the theme Gunn is exploring with what is easily the best and most memorable line in the film. Gunn's visual style and soundtrack picks are once again both interesting and more revealing than they might suggest on first glance. Of course, any movie that sets its opening credits to an ELO song is already a winner in my book, but that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” only continues to thrill, surprise, make us laugh, and make us think only reiterates what a wonderful, intimate treat of a summer blockbuster this really is.
by Philip Price
I was reading a piece last week by Jaime Weinman for Vox that talked about a shift in film criticism recently and how critics have become more socially conscious than ever. While the piece is an interesting assertion of how many movies of late have come to be judged as much for their ethics as their art there was one particular section that took me by surprise and stuck with me. In a section titled "The end of Kaelism" Weinman says, "A work of art — serious or popular — isn't supposed to be judged by how much you agree with it, but by how it makes you feel and whether it can convince you of its validity." The context of this quote is key as the writer was discussing the approach of critics such as legendary New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, the man who invented the auteur theory, as critics who ultimately sported an "art-for-art's-sake approach to culture." I was reminded of this approach, this train of thought, as I sat watching the latest from director Marc Webb. I was struck by the fact that despite recognizing the predictable tropes utilized in “Gifted” that I was really, really into the story and that despite the clichés of the courtroom drama Webb's techniques were overcoming them in a way that was delivering a film, a piece of art, that made me feel good; that made me appreciate movies for showing me what they can do. How they can move you. I went into “Gifted” expecting something along the lines of a sappy, Hallmark-style melodrama with better actors and production design, but within the first 15 minutes “Gifted” had convinced me of its validity — it had convinced me of its sincerity that was ingrained in its otherwise competent execution. Sure, many will dismiss “Gifted” for being the type of film that is emotionally manipulative because it wouldn't be mad if you shed a few tears and/or formulaic in the way that the premise is an old cliché that has been used before, but just because a movie might indeed be full of cliché or admittedly formulaic doesn't mean it's automatically bad. Webb tells this recognizable story in ways that allow it to pop. The director and screenwriter, Tom Flynn, prove certain tropes aren't always bad and that doing the opposite isn't always good by delivering all that is predictable and formulaic about “Gifted” with a warm and wholly wonderful sincerity that comes straight from the heart.
In “Gifted,” we first meet Frank Adler (Chris Evans) who is a single man simply trying to get the niece he is raising ready for her first day of school on time. Apparently, this can prove to be a difficult task even when that child is a math prodigy. The child prodigy in question is that of the spirited young Mary (McKenna Grace) who is not overly excited about her first day of first grade. After all, why would she be? She knows and understands that she is advanced and that she will undoubtedly be bored by the lessons her sweet and well-meaning, but completely unprepared teacher (Jenny Slate) will dole out daily. If the girl is such a genius why is she not attending a special academy? Why is she being kept in a normal school with a standard curriculum if her abilities are anything but? These are the questions we are meant to pose towards Frank as Slate's Bonnie and Mary's school principal (Elizabeth Marvel) are made aware very quickly that Mary is not normal and should in fact be attending a school for gifted youngsters. It is here that Frank stops her teacher and the school administration in their tracks. Frank contends that Mary knows she's different and that she doesn't need reinforcement, including being transferred to a school where she's the youngest person there by a decade, to remind her of such. Frank simply instructs Bonnie to do the opposite and dumb her down a little bit, make her into a decent human being, and that to trust him-they'll all be better off for it. Of course, there are too many people around Mary who, as she continues to display just how advanced her mind is becoming, that can only think in the vein of treating someone who is not normal as such as denying them their true potential. Frank knew this day would come and it is likely why he quit his job as a college professor in Boston and moved himself and Mary to a small, coastal town in Florida where Mary might stand the chance of making friends, being a girl scout, and loving her one-eyed cat with absolutely no concern for or pressure to solve one of the seven Millennium Prize Problems AKA seven (six as of 2003) of the toughest problems in mathematics that have yet to be solved. As these things go in the movies such plans are foiled when Frank's intense mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), intervenes and tries to gain custody of her granddaughter threatening to separate Frank and Mary.
Intriguing, right? It's a solid premise that is lent the sincerity first and foremost by the honesty that the chief performers bring to their roles. As the anchor of the film, Chris Evans is rather fantastic. The man who is known as Captain America is an empathetic and intelligent presence that, anytime he speaks, tells both the person he is addressing as well as the audience that he understands not only why we feel the way we do, but that he too has considered the emotional and logical factors of the given situation and believes with his whole being that he is doing the right thing. What is interesting about “Gifted” is that while Flynn has crafted his story from the perspective of Frank we are never ushered in a particular direction where we're told who to root for. Naturally, we'll root for Frank to retain custody of Mary as that seems only right given the time he's invested with her and the relationship they have developed, but there are a fair number of solid points raised by Evelyn and her lawyer that would understandably win them the case as it is presented in court. Even better is the fact it doesn't matter which side we come down on in terms of opinion, but more that Webb and his film don't make things as much about who wins as they do about the acknowledgement of pure human decency. “Gifted” is a vote for tenderness; a vote to not simply read the headline and rush to conclusions, but a plea to take in all factors, to get the entirety of the picture, and to come to one's verdict in a way that reflects the best facets of the human race. Evans' performance as Frank is very much this mentality incarnate. There is a scene late in the film where Frank makes Bonnie privy to a time in his life when he wasn't sure how to move forward. He tells Bonnie of the moments soon after gaining custody of Mary where he would consider taking her to child services, but that every day-when he was about to do so-she would do something cool. Something that would amaze him. It is a small insight that speaks volumes about the enormous love and reverence that can manifest in a parent as well as the greatest of devastation's when you feel you have let your child/children down. There is nothing more heartbreaking for Frank than feeling as if he's failed Mary and in scenes where as much comes to pass “Gifted” breaks the viewer of any cynicism they might have harbored and instead tangibly delivers profound, heartfelt moments that genuinely move you.
I hate math, but I loved “Gifted.” Of course, we all know it's not all the talk of the Navier-Stokes problem and the physics involved in that equation that make the film so fascinating, but rather the human drama behind the drive and need to resolve it that make it so compelling. Evelyn, who is given some rather unexpected layers by Duncan, was very clearly trying to live her life and see her aspirations achieved through her daughter, but when she couldn't deal with such pressure Evelyn then turned to doing the same through Mary. Not making Evelyn a wholly despicable person allows the film to practice what it preaches in the trope of not judging a book, or in this case decisions, by their initial appearance. Like everything in life, Mary's genius requires balance and Evelyn's point of view simply illustrates an extreme end of that balance. It could certainly be argued that Frank's ideas of how to raise Mary so that she may have some semblance of normalcy is the opposite end of the spectrum, but there at least seems the willingness to listen with Frank whereas Evelyn will hear nothing that opposes her view. That “Gifted” doesn't go into monologues about how to find such balance, but rather that it works through this high-wire act via the issues the characters have to navigate is what gives the film its levels of emotional resonance and a heavier weight than its sun drenched poster might indicate. At the core of all of this is little McKenna Grace who essentially steals the show despite being paired with a group of seasoned, professional actors. Grace's performance as Mary is so utterly genuine from that of her contemplating whether or not to pick a fight with a bully on the school bus to dancing and singing with her favorite neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer) that it's impossible to deny the spell she casts on you with her charm. And while Mary is an archetype in and of herself as the child genius who knows better than any of the adults around her, she doesn't even perfectly fit into that mold. Mary is advanced in terms of mathematics, but as a seven-year-old she still possesses the innocence of a child with grace never imposing a disposition that makes us think she understands the way in which the world works and adults think. Mary is a genius, that's a given, but she's still very much a child. Mary is in danger of feeling unwanted despite the fact everyone is fighting over her. These are the scales “Gifted” has to balance and while the third act is slightly clunkier than I would have hoped the heart of Webb's picture remains intact throughout. Ultimately relaying that it's important to use your head, but that we should never be afraid to believe in things either.
by Philip Price
"Everyone's from somewhere," says gun runner Vernon shortly after his introduction in director Ben Wheatley's “Free Fire.” Vernon, as played by Sharlto Copley, is observing the plethora of people who have ascended upon an abandoned warehouse in Boston in 1978 to buy some of his guns. These people come from all over; some from Ireland, others from America, and further there are those of different ethnicities to be considered. This melting pot of participants bring history, prejudice, and a laundry list of assumptions about one another to the table. These preconceptions inform the tone of where each individual might register in the likelihood of who they're going to snap at and could potentially inform us of how this particular scenario was going to play out even before it did, but instead such quirks are only relied on for humor. Each of these men, these proud, overcompensating men tell us the clichés of their ancestry and fire insults back and forth with one another that same heritage being the punchline of most of them. Given the odd amount of time devoted to jokes and jabs about it, we assume there might be a point to it all in that they come to see past the error of such ways and that despite what someone might have heard or been told about a culture that it doesn't necessarily apply to all or that, at the very least, the stereotype might be something of an embellished truth. But no, Wheatley along with co-writer and frequent collaborator Amy Jump have no time for depth, leaving such ideas on the table and only using those clichés and stereotypes for the comedic purposes. That isn't to say that a film can't have fun and be good while having no substance whatsoever, but it is saying that if this is the route your movie chooses to go it better be damn good at accomplishing what it sets out to accomplish and “Free Fire” just isn't. The idea is there, that is clear. The ambition is admirable, no doubt. Still, “Free Fire” never seems able to reach the heights of what Wheatley or Jump likely had in their heads when they were writing and storyboarding the project. Having only seen Wheatley’s “High-Rise” prior to this and not being a fan of that film there might be an inherent hesitance toward the director's work, but there seems an obvious disconnect between the idea that spawned such a movie and the execution that has delivered the disappointing final product we see play out on screen.
In “Free Fire” we first meet Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilente) as they drive a battered and beat-up RV to the scene in which everything will inevitably take place. Stevo and Bernie are made to clearly present the type of junkie losers who will do anything for a quick buck to score some more smack despite the fact they have families at home that could likely use the income. They are working for Frank (Michael Smiley) who is Stevo's brother-in-law who is clearly trying to help his sister out by giving Stevo some incentive to work. Frank is the right-hand man to Chris (Cillian Murphy) a man whose motives are shrouded in mystery, but is for one reason or another purchasing what are supposed to be M-16's from Copley's Vernon. Serving as the facilitators for the deal are Ord (Armie Hammer) and Justine (Brie Larson). Justine has worked closely with Chris in setting everything up and making sure all goes according to plan leading to a development of affection from Chris that is coincidentally met with some suspicion. On Vernon's side of things is his right-hand man Martin (Babou Creesay) as well as drivers Gordon (Noah Taylor) and Harry (Jack Reynor). Save for a minor hiccup when Vernon delivers the wrong type rifle the deal appears to be going smoothly. That is, until Gordon and Harry drive the truck in to begin unloading the product and Harry comes face to face with Stevo, the same man he beat up in a bar the night before for insulting his sister. The provocation that plays out is intense and erratic culminating in a filmmaking decision that takes such heights to a rather restrained and measured climax that works in terms of the effectiveness in conveying how this is the turning point for the remainder of the film. This is a moment, the moment that will change the course of everyone involved here's future and Wheatley makes sure we realize that. It's simply too bad the filmmaker couldn't continue this type of creativity through intuition throughout the centerpiece action bonanza that is the remainder of his movie.
There isn't a single overhead shot in “Free Fire”; a movie in which a shoot-out takes place in an abandoned warehouse and features upwards of ten people firing at one another. Throughout much of the picture Wheatley keeps his camera at ground level, swirling around on its track to give off the effect of looking cool without really providing the audience with anything visually stimulating. This is the issue I take with Wheatley's approach to his art-the fact he has all the tools and talented actors he could hope for to pull off the fun and inventive concept he's conceived and yet when it comes time to shoot the thing he does so in a standard, conventional fashion that shows little to no sign as to why this guy specifically was given the chair behind the monitors. The point being, if you're going to give yourself a scenario in which your film takes place in a single location where most of the film consists of people shooting at one another it is going to require a certain flair, a certain amount of innovation, a definitive style if you will, to not only make the concept work, but to make the film something worth investing in. Herein lies the issue with “Free Fire” overall though: it's sporadically entertaining, but we don't care about any of the characters even if we do find a handful of them appealing. We have no vested interest in their survival and oddly enough none of them seem to either.
Vernon, who we're told was misdiagnosed as a child genius and never fully recovered, is quickly labeled as an international asshole. While such an assertion may ultimately be correct it is Copley's Vern that proves to be the most entertaining aspect of this otherwise inconsequential trifle. Hammer and Smiley are also good with their characters trading quips and keeping up with one another. There is something of a running joke about Hammer's Ord never looking disheveled that works because Hammer pulls off the snooty, pedigreed air with ease. Murphy more or less gets the role of the straight man whereas Reynor may as well share the same sense of humor as a handful of the other participants in the room, but whose performance and justification make him stand out among the tattered and torn ensemble that begin to blend together the further along the movie goes. Seriously, there are certain shots and/or moments where I had no idea who was firing at one another and much of the time had no idea where one person or set of people were in relation to the rest of the characters. It's a rather poorly constructed action sequence which wouldn't be that big of an issue were it a small sequence in a bigger picture, but given it's the foundation of the film-that's not good.
Sounds like it could have been awesome though, right? It likely could have and might have been in the hands of a director who can make the connection between his or her ideas and their execution, but through the mind of Wheatley all we see is one long, extended action scene that provides some laughs, some fun, and a few moments of gnarly violence, but the instant the credits roll all thought of who these people were and what they were trying to accomplish leaves our mind because we don't care (this is especially true of Larson's Justine despite the fact her "girl of the moment" status has propelled her to the front of the marketing campaign). We're entertained in the moment, but we don't care. For those simply looking for a brief escape into the bowels of unhinged violence this may suffice, but it isn't just the lack of depth that makes “Free Fire” disappointing, but more that it can't do what it sets out to do very well.
by Philip Price
“The Lost City of Z” is a 20-year epic that essentially chronicles the fine line between ambition and irresponsibility. It's an illustration of how one must gauge the ramifications of their actions in the long run to better determine that present decision. In “The Lost City of Z,” we are told the story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) a man who became obsessed with finding what no one around him believed could be true. It wasn't always the driving force in his life, when we meet Fawcett he is simply looking to restore the respect of his name, but as his life evolves and opportunities arise he develops a need or more, the ambition, to discover the unknown that he knows is out there. Even as his wife (a wonderful Sienna Miller) waits at home for him raising what amounts to be their three children. Fawcett is gone for years at a time when on his expeditions and given those twenty years take place between 1905 and 1925 his younger children often forget who he is by the time he returns. The questions Fawcett eventually has to come to terms with are those of if the lost years with his children and wife were worth what was on the other side of the world? It would seem, as the movie tells it, that they were. That there was no letting go of this need to know the unknown and that even if he had done so in favor of remaining with his family for the rest of his days that those final days would have undoubtedly been tinged with regret. It's a difficult position to be in emotionally; knowing you should likely do one thing in favor of the other, but realizing that itch is never going to go way until you scratch it. As a film, this is the angle director James Gray takes in choosing to convey the story of Percy Fawcett. A true story of a man who displays fearlessness from the beginning, a selfishness necessary to leave a certain type of legacy, and a mentality that fully surrenders to the idea that death is the best sauce for life. This may all sound beyond enticing and rather mysterious, but “The Lost City of Z” is a rather straight-forward and old-fashioned adventure movie that delivers its ruminations in subtle enough fashion that an impression is left even if the adventures themselves aren't as grand as one might imagine if they know Fawcett's story before going into the film.
Gray, who has something of an eclectic filmography thus far, typically tends to work in the finer details of relationships; dealing in the dynamics of kin and lovers in ways that evoke a certain truth. From what I remember, I enjoyed “We Own the Night” well enough and thought “Two Lovers” was fine as well if not as great as it became made to be while I was not a fan of his most recent effort in “The Immigrant,” which was also a period piece. If anything, “The Immigrant” displayed the director could work within a different period rather than that of contemporary New York (though it was still set in New York), but because that movie didn't really work on any other level I was cautious about how much to expect out of this latest endeavor. With “The Lost City of Z,” Gray departs from that comfort zone entirely and makes what might arguably be his best film to date. But what is it specifically about this film that automatically elevates it to such a status? For starters it would seem it has to do with the inherently engaging premise and the fact it is indeed based on real life events. In today's world, where we can pull up a map on our smart phone and type in anywhere we want to go waiting a minimum of a few seconds for this device to give us the fastest route to that destination “The Lost City of Z” tells of real, genuine explorers or people we don't tend to think about or consider much anymore. Furthermore, Fawcett is a man who doesn't initially stand out as an individual whose soul quest in life is to do just that. Rather, it is when Fawcett expands his ambition past the self-serving and to goals that might broaden the minds of mankind and tear down their narrow-minded convictions while simultaneously quenching this fire that rages on inside of him that the film also takes on this larger scope and this more engaging element. The idea that there is always "more out there" is also always engaging and when paired with the elements of this having actually occurred as well as Fawcett's mentality as illustrated by a fine if not exceptional performance from Hunnam we get what is a fascinating film based on these factors alone. Add to this elements such as Miller's strong and noble female presence, the lush jungle cinematography from Darius Khondji, and the elegant yet understated score from Christopher Spelman and there should be no qualms with this being Gray's best work to date.
Like I said in the opening line of my review, “The Lost City of Z” is an epic of sorts, but it isn't necessarily the time that it covers or the multiple trips to the Amazonia that make it such (though those certainly don't hurt) as much as it is the minutia of why these men are doing what they're doing in their own minds. It's a difficult line of thinking to try and put into words, but it would seem the easiest way to explain is by example. “The Lost City of Z” covers a vast array of territory and is clearly a large production, but with the state of cinema as it is today audiences will likely take much of this for granted. What still sticks though, are certain lines and certain actions that jolt us out of the monotony of what becomes a pattern with Fawcett (we'll get to the pacing of the film shortly). On his second expedition to Bolivia and/or Brazil (his initial quest is to help determine where the border is between these two countries) he is accompanied and likely funded by James Murray (Angus Mcfadyen), a well-known biologist who is highly regarded for his travels and expeditions in Alaska. Murray ultimately can't keep up with Fawcett and his steadfast crew that includes Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) and Arthur Manley (Edward Ashley). Murray becomes weak and unwilling, cocky even to the point that when Fawcett successfully establishes peace and conversation with a tribe of cannibals that live alongside the river they must travel to reach their destination Murray is unwilling to participate in exchange for what could be valuable information. It is at one point, as tensions are rising that Murray slings an insult at their leader that is along the lines of Fawcett being more in love with his supposed "lost city" than that of his own family. Fawcett grabs Murray by the collar and proclaims, "I could be home with them and yet I am here with you to attempt great things." It is a quick exchange, but the tension somewhat deflates after Fawcett makes his position clear leaving Murray to do what he will regardless of what the others think. It is in this line of dialogue though that the implications of what grand accomplishments Fawcett believes are just out of his grasp. What accomplishments he believes are more valuable than that time he is losing with his family. That what is motivating Fawcett is essentially what might be left of him after he is gone hits hard. Of course, all of this will depend on what an individual believes truly makes a man: rank and achievements or the loved ones you're willing to die for? Gray doesn't give us his opinion on the subject either, but instead leaves it up to us to decide if Fawcett's fate was worth all he sacrificed.
As I was leaving the theater there were two older men walking in front of me and one naturally turned to the other to ask what he thought of the movie. "It was like having sex without the orgasm," the other man responded. If you can get past the frankness of the second guy he certainly has a point. At two hours and 20 minutes “The Lost City of Z” indeed lives up to the aforementioned description of being an "epic," but it also suffers due to many of those same qualifiers. The sequences that document Fawcett's expeditions are thrilling-especially when we initially find out the sorts of obstacles he and his men will be facing-and there is a constant sense of unease as neither we nor the characters are sure what might happen next, but the film so often retreats from the jungles of Bolivia back to early twentieth century England that we never become as ingrained in the cultures that might take our protagonist closer to what he hopes to find as it seems we should. We never fully understand what the concept of Z is in the mind of Fawcett other than that it establishes the existence of an ancient civilization that pre-dates our own. We're told it was supposedly made of gold, but Fawcett never finds anything to suggest any reason we should believe this claim by a native. We don't know if what Fawcett is actually searching for is something that is to be found in the incarnation he might have dreamt up and “The Lost City of Z” certainly isn't going to show you what that incarnation might have been. No, “The Lost City of Z,” much like Fawcett's actual life if we're to believe what history suggests, never quenches the blaze of revealing the glories the titular city might have held and there is no doubt audiences will expect it to do exactly that and be disappointed when it doesn't. The guy who didn't get his orgasm certainly was. Still, this wasn't as much a detriment to the film overall as was the measured and often indulgent pacing of the project. Might this have worked better as an HBO miniseries of some sort? Possibly, but while it's understandable this amount of time was necessary to tell this story it doesn't always feel as if Gray is using that time as effectively as he could have. That said, “The Lost City of Z” is in itself an effective piece of filmmaking that we don't see much of anymore and while it is rather notable it isn't something one might label as extraordinary. We'll never know if the fate Fawcett met was the destiny he imagined, but he will now certainly be known as a man whose reach exceeded his grasp-which might be more rewarding than the answers he received did he ever find his "lost city".
by Philip Price
Not everyone is going to like you. That is a lesson today's society could stand to appreciate a little more if not learn, but that doesn't mean that's going to stop people from trying. Wanting to be liked isn't inherently a bad thing, but when we depend on "Likes" to sustain our own sense of self-worth, when we're living off "Likes" there could certainly be one or two issues pop up. When we live through the persona we've created online and reach a point we can't identify our true selves then what people like isn't the individual anymore anyway, so where do we draw the line? How can this age of transparency be utilized in positive ways rather than resorting to fake or devious methods to again try and prove that some lives are more valuable or more special than others? In “The Circle,” Emma Watson plays a young, presumably middle glass girl in her early twenties who goes to work for a tech company a la Google called The Circle and essentially becomes their poster child for transparency. Submitting herself to the line of thinking that she can only be her best self when she knows people are watching her; that to leave her to her own devices would mean that she would develop and keep secrets and to harbor secrets is to have something to lie about to the world. Sound slightly cult-ish? It's supposed to, but while the tech company that is The Circle clearly has ulterior motives for their extreme invasions of privacy that they so lovingly convey as being concerns for the greater good of mankind “The Circle” the movie doesn't seem as clear on what its motives or meanings are supposed to be. On one hand, there is certainly an analogy at play for the world as presented in the film when compared to that of the social media-driven culture we're all currently a part of, but while Facebook can still plead connection and bringing people together as their main objective it is so blatantly obvious that The Circle seeks world domination that it's past the point of believable someone hasn't called them on their bluff already. Furthermore, the film builds in a fashion where the audience is led to believe there is going to be a major twist, a serious maneuver of innovation over intelligence, a battle of wits for the ages, but when such metaphoric beans come to be spilled there is hardly any cohesion to the point our protagonist makes. Watson's Mae Holland uses The Circle's tools against its nefarious leaders, but she has no point, no position, and all we're left with is a clouded message of a movie that goes nowhere.
In a strange way, it was clear from the opening three shots that “The Circle” was something of a mess. A lack of cohesion was immediately apparent. The editing simply didn't click and the composition of these first three, seemingly disparate images felt more like an act of desperation-a movie searching for where to begin rather than a piece of art that had been treated with meticulous care. These first three shots consist of plotting out a normal day in the life of Mae who is first seen kayaking then in a cubicle dealing with an upset customer at the water company she works for and finally driving home in her car that doesn't seem it has enough juice left in it to make it home. We understand the point of this quick montage of daily activities, but the immediate fact there is no energy to the way these scenes are cut together says more about the product as a whole than the content of those scenes. Mae's car does indeed break down on her way home forcing her to call longtime friend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane) who only makes things feel more amateurish with his wooden acting and stilted line delivery. Its clear Mercer has had a crush on Mae since before he can remember, but Mae only sees Mercer as another way she might settle into this life everyone around her has already accepted. Still living with her parents so as to help her mother (Glenne Headley) tend to her father (the late Bill Paxton) and his multiple sclerosis Mae dreams of bigger things. Though it never explains how they met or how her good friend Annie (Karen Gillan) rose to such high ranks before getting Mae an interview she does eventually get Mae an interview at The Circle. Things start looking up when Mae is hired to work for the large and powerful tech and social media company despite the fact she is starting out in what more or less sounds like a customer service role. It doesn't matter because this is the opportunity of a lifetime and Mae is excited. She's beyond excited; she's ecstatic. As Mae begins to rise through the ranks, she is encouraged by the company's founder, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), and his COO, Stenton (Patton Oswalt), to engage in a groundbreaking experiment that pushes the boundaries of privacy, ethics, and what is ultimately her personal freedom. It is through her participation in this experiment that she begins to see how allowing every facet of her life to be public can not only help others, but more how it affects the lives and futures of her friends and family never mind the rest of humanity.
There is no reason “The Circle” should be as bad as it is. Not a single reason. Based on a book by Dave Eggers with the author adapting his own novel for the screen alongside director James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”) who were able to coral a cast of rather incredible talents for what is ultimately a smaller scale film (though it's certainly the biggest thing Ponsoldt has made to date) there is no reason this should be as bad as it is. When you take into consideration these creative minds and the credits they have to their name along with the likes of Watson, Hanks, Gillan, and John Boyega set to convey these ideas to the world it seems it would be next to impossible to deliver a movie that isn't at least interesting if not necessarily great. And yet, here we are. Beyond the fact the film as a whole feels shoddily put together the narrative never makes sense in the way it wants to or should and thus never engages the audience in a way where we could ever believe what is happening even though we live in the world we live in. I haven't read Eggers novel though I'm curious now as to how this apparently received the type of praise it did (or maybe it didn't? Am I misguided?) and yet has produced a motion picture companion that is this incoherent and bland. Strangely enough, I can see how this might have worked better as a novel than it does on the big screen due to the fact some of the creepier elements might in fact come off as creepy and more sinister through the written word than they do when we hear people actually voice them aloud. The moment in the film concerning Mercer being chastised for killing deer and making chandeliers from their antlers is a prime example of something that could come off as genuinely frightening and legit when reading it, but comes off rather laughable in the film especially given it is delivered via Coltrane's limited acting chops.
To go one step further though, and what is the crux of many of the problems with “The Circle” is the fact the arc of our protagonist makes zero sense and it would seem Watson didn't even fully understand Mae's journey before taking on the role. After Mae's first week of work at The Circle she is bombarded by co-workers who encourage her to step-up her activity on their social media platforms and her involvement with weekend activities. She's weirded out by this and rightly so, but is hesitant to rub anyone the wrong way given how much she needs the job and the solid pay and benefits that come along with it. In attempting to mingle and participate Mae comes into contact with the rather reclusive Ty (Boyega) who is seemingly the only other person at the company not drinking the Kool-Aid. We don't know the extent of Ty's story initially, but it's easy to glean the character is a plot device only here to give the "guppy" that is Mae access and insight to places and information she otherwise wouldn't be granted for years if ever. I'm only thankful Boyega sports an earnest tone that allows his cryptic dialogue to sound as natural as it possibly could. While something happens that would justify Mae maybe taking a few sips her character has been established as a self-aware and insightful personality that can detect bullshit from a mile away and yet after this turning point Mae begins devouring the Kool-Aid by the gallon. Blindly drinking in everything Eamon is selling.
It was at this moment of confusion, this moment that Mae's character took this sharp left that I had to stop and consider if the character was getting sucked into this world The Circle purported or if she was simply afraid of losing her position and thus succumbed to the powers that be to the extent necessary so as to not raise any red flags. It would have seemed like as much given in the first act of the film that Mae was indeed just looking out for her best interests while wondering why things only seemed to be getting stranger and stranger. Why is her best friend literally always working and never getting any sleep? Why does no one who works at The Circle have kids? If the mysterious guy whose role in the company we aren't privy to at first isn't drinking the Kool-Aid why isn't he doing so? How critical is he to the continuation of the company? “The Circle” poses many of these questions simply out of the fact that, as a movie, it feels the need to hits the beats it thinks it's supposed to without thinking through how such tropes might need to eventually come together in some meaningful way that allows for each of them to make sense as a whole. Instead, we are never told what is going on with Annie or why, in the span of a few months, she goes from loving her job to hating it much less what any of it has to do with the meteoric rise of her best friend. We are repeatedly told by Boyega's Ty that what The Circle has become is never what he intended it to be, but the truth of what those intentions were are never revealed either. And while the lack of any semblance of symmetry between the narrative and its characters is near unforgivable the fact the film has Tom Hanks in a nasty little supporting role and doesn't utilize him but for more than a handful of scenes is almost as bad. The same is true of Boyega and even the late Paxton, but when you are somehow able to wrangle America's sweetheart into playing against type and in a role that is clearly meant to mirror a personality like Steve Jobs and don't give them more interesting and biting material than what we see here there is no other way to categorize as much as anything other than that of the biggest of missed opportunities. Alas, a missed opportunity is exactly what “The Circle” amounts to being. A movie of sermons made to make us feel guilty about ignoring the dangers of oversharing rather than a movie of action made to illustrate that memories will be what flash through our minds on our deathbed and not the number of "Likes" a post received.
by Philip Price
10. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”
I'm as surprised as anyone else who’s been paying attention to this series and Johnny Depp's career lately that the fifth installment in the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise is on this list. While I really liked each of the original trilogy entries, ‘On Stranger Tides’ might as well have been nails in the coffin. It was as bland and forgettable as anything the series or Disney had offered in some time and by this point it felt like Depp going back to the character of Jack Sparrow was more out of desperation than for any creative reasoning. Depp seemingly had nothing new to add to the character and by the time the credits rolled on the film it seemed that was the last we'd see of the once iconic Captain Jack. Of course, ‘On Stranger Tides’ still topped a billion dollars worldwide despite the fact it didn't even make back its $250 million budget domestically. So, is ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ an international play or an attempt to atone for the sins of the previous installment and send off these once adored characters into calm and respectable seas? It seems it will be a bit of both as directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon Tiki) were brought on board (though the budget apparently ballooned) and seem to have delivered a hugely entertaining piece of escapism. I say this because the full length for the trailer is one of the best I've seen for this summer's offerings; summing up all of what I hope to get out of big budget blockbusters should be and I can only hope this "final adventure" is everything it's now cracked up to be. (5/26)
We're coming off “The Fate of the Furious” debuting in theaters this past weekend and Dwayne Johnson reminding us all once again why we love him so much. It seems The Rock will only keep this train moving as he produces and leads the re-invention of “Baywatch,” a show I never watched, but can still understand why it is perfect for lampooning in today's cinematic climate. Sure, this is very much a result of “21 Jump Street” performing so well, but even without that precedent the idea of a Baywatch movie that teams up The Rock with Zac Efron is a golden idea. There will undoubtedly be several glorious cameo appearances from original cast members including David Hasselhoff, but more than the predictable I'm hoping “Baywatch” can deliver on the laughs as it is one of the few major studio comedies coming out this season. It is up to The Rock, Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddarrio and Kelly Rohrbach to kick the party off and I have no doubt they're capable of as much and can't wait to see the results. (5/26)
8. “All Eyez On Me”
As I say every year when these things come around, I'm a sucker for music biopics. We lacked a good one last year, but were spoiled the year before by the likes of both “Straight Outta Compton” and “Love & Mercy.” This summer, after already receiving a look inside the lives of N.W.A. and Biggie Smalls in “Notorious,” we will be treated to a film chronicling the life and times of none other than Tupac Shakur (with Jamal Woolard returning to the role of Christopher "Biggie" Wallace). It seems as if we've been seeing teases for “All Eyez On Me” for well over a year now, but the wait will finally pay off this summer when director Benny Boom's film finally hits cinemas. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't somewhat nervous about the ultimate quality of the picture as Boom doesn't exactly have a stellar resume and given the movie is based on a treatment from Jeremy Haft and Eddie Gonzalez whose biggest credits thus far are for episodes of “Empire” while third screenwriter Steven Bagatourian only has one other feature credit to his name. This combined with the fact the film will have wrapped shooting more than a year before it was to be released makes me wonder if there might have been some issues with a few of the edits. Given the timing of the trailer releases and the fact June 16th of this year would have been Shakur's 46th birthday though, the strategy makes sense. Here's hoping Boom does Shakur's legacy, his many fans, and his ever-growing fanbase justice as “All Eyez On Me” has certainly cast actors that look the part, but if they can deliver on the legacy is what all will be rushing to the theater to see. (6/16)
7. “Atomic Blonde”
Charlize Theron, who never had that solitary break-out role it seems she was always destined to have (an Oscar winning role is a different kind of thing), may have found her John Wick after coming the closest she's ever been two years ago in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” While Imperator Furiosa may yet lead to a series of films in which the actress becomes a definitive symbol of a single character the lady leading the war against Immortan Joe may now have some competition in the form of Lorraine Broughton. By no coincidence “Atomic Blonde” comes from stuntman and co-director of that Keanu Reeves rejuvenator as well as the upcoming “Deadpool 2,” David Leitch. Leitch, who along with Chad Stahelski, both directed and choreographed the fight scenes in “John Wick” and “John Wick: Chapter 2” have taken a screenplay from Kurt Johnstad who adapted the graphic novel and done very much what they did with the first “John Wick.” Granted, I have no idea the popularity, tone or story of the source material and thus can't interpret how close any of what we saw in the stellar first trailer hues to that material, but nonetheless this looks freakin' awesome and I couldn't be more excited for a fresh, original action flick this summer. “Atomic Blonde” has a prime end of summer release date and all the markings of a breakout original action hit that, if well-received and profitable, could end up serving as the first thing to come to people’s minds when they think of Theron. Time will tell. (7/28)
6. “A Ghost Story”
The film, which debuted to rave reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is director David Lowery's follow-up to his underseen re-make of Disney's “Pete's Dragon” last year and reunites him with his “Ain't Them Bodies Saints” stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. The set-up is simple in that it's about a recently deceased man who returns to his home as a spirit and watches what becomes of what was once his. The trailer that was released for the film seemingly spoils a little too much of the ground the film intends to cover, but this is a tough sell and I can understand why they're shooting for the stars right out of the gate. Still, A24 can get by on the credibility of the work it has produced and acquired in the past at this point so they have the full trust of a cinephile such as myself and while “A Ghost Story” might be my most anticipated film of A24 this summer I can't wait to see the full slate of what else they have to offer in 2017. (7/7)
5. Super Hero Flicks
And now, as we come to the mid-point of my most anticipated films of the summer it is time to talk about the three super hero films debuting in cinemas and how I'm equally excited to see each of them. Given the super hero genre is a behemoth unto itself these days I'm placing each of the respective films in this same spot. There is no reason for “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” “Wonder Woman” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” to take up three different spots on the list when I'm genuinely hoping for great things from each and if you don't already know each of these are premiering this summer you've likely been living under a rock. In short, no need to take up precious space with flicks you're going to see when I might highlight something you haven't yet heard of. Still, I can't help but to get excited and root for the best results from James Gunn's sophomore Marvel effort which will officially kick off the summer movie season here in a few weeks. I can't help but to root for and believe that Patty Jenkins will bring the kind of quality, scope, and fun to “Wonder Woman” and the DC Extended Universe that it so desperately needs in order to turn public opinion around. And while I was one of the few fans of Marc Webb's ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ movies I truly hope Jon Watts can integrate the webslinger into the Marvel Cinematic Universe by delivering audiences a Spider-Man we've yet to see on the big screen considering this will be the third iteration in 15 years. ‘Guardians’ (5/5), “Wonder Woman” (6/2), ‘Spider-Man’ (7/7)
4. “War for the Planet of the Apes”
Having been legitimately surprised by 2011's “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” I was more than excited for Matt Reeve's 2014 follow-up to Rupert Wyatt's film, but while “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” was far from terrible it more or less felt like the middle chapter in between two more interesting chapters. Whereas many a second installments in a series tend to be the best due to the fact they don't have to worry about establishing characters or wrapping up every single plot line Dawn more or less felt like it was treading the water of its mythology until we reached the trilogy capper where it could afford to throw everything it wanted at us. Thus, the reason I'm super excited for this final film in the trilogy. Of course, the release of ‘Dawn’ did prompt me to investigate that mythology further as all I'd seen prior was the original and the Tim Burton re-make, so there were more than a few positives to take away from the experience. When Reeves took over though, it was clear the direction the studio wanted to go in and see how we might eventually connect the dots from one movie to the next. And though I was somewhat underwhelmed by Reeves' film there was still much to admire about it including the lush visuals and attempts at addressing larger themes (albeit a theme that runs throughout the entire series). It seems the director has once again accomplished as much with this third installment and all he seemingly was capable of, but restricted on his first time around as “War for the Planet of the Apes” looks truly epic in both thought and visual scale. (7/14)
Besides A24 it is Annapurna Pictures that is one of the more interesting studios to emerge as of late. If you enjoyed any of director David O. Russell's recent run of films then you have Annapurna to thank for producing them. Not a Russell fan? How about Paul Thomas Anderson? Kathryn Bigelow? It's because of Annapurna and their founder, Megan Ellison, that filmmakers such as this can continue to make quality work, the work they want to do, rather than getting sucked into the studio system. The latest example of such is from “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmaker Bigelow who this time around, along with writing partner Mark Boal, have decided to take on the Detroit riots of 1967. The riots are historically known to have been initiated by a police raid of an unlicensed bar in the city’s Near West Side when confrontations turned violent, ultimately resulting in the deaths of thirty-nine people and leaving hundreds wounded. Bigelow and Boal have seemingly approached this event with the idea of telling several different accounts that occurred over the course of the five days the riots took place in order to paint a full picture of what happened, why it happened, and how those on either side of the law were forced to handle themselves. In typical Bigelow fashion the film seemingly holds several tense moments with the ensemble cast as led by ‘The Force Awakens’ star John Boyega seemingly giving top notch performances to only accentuate that suspense further. I'm anxious not only to see what a talented filmmaker like Bigelow does with such material, but also the kinds of conversations “Detroit” creates given the material couldn't be more relevant or a timelier reminder for the American conscience. (8/4)
2. “Baby Driver”
After dropping out of directing “Ant-Man” at the seeming behest of Marvel many were disappointed it would be even longer before we received a new film from director Edgar Wright AKA the guy who made the marvelous Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy as well as the phenomenal “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” While it's still been two years since what would have been Wright's last film the auteur has since written and directed “Baby Driver,” which follows a talented, young getaway driver who, in a very Wright touch, relies on his own personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. It is after this driver is coerced into working for a crime boss that he must face the music when a doomed heist threatens his life, love, and freedom. Featuring a cast led by Ansel Elgort that also includes Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Jon Bernthal, and Lily James, Wright certainly has set the tone for a different flavor of ice cream this time around, but with his singular style and vision it's always clear that what we're watching is very much a piece from an artist who keeps a coherent throughline with all of his work, but at the same time isn't afraid to try something new and daring. This became especially clear when he broke away from regular collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for ‘Scott Pilgrim’ (which may arguably be his best film), but with “Baby Driver” it seems Wright has pushed himself even further to both still operate in the cinematic world he has created while also coming up with something new. Of course, all I really needed to say here was that this is the new Edgar Wright film and that would be enough to justify my excitement. Only a few filmmakers can create an immediate interest in their new film simply by announcing they're working on something and Wright is certainly one of them, but this is also the reason his film is second on my most anticipated list... (6/28)
Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight Trilogy”) has a new film coming out this summer. Enough said, right? Well, if you'd like a little more info you'll be excited to hear that Nolan shot the film completely on IMAX 65mm film and 65mm large-format film. Nolan is working again with Interstellar cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema as they are clearly intent on creating a World War II film for the ages. Now, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have any concerns about “Dunkirk,” but they come more from the fact the market for WWII film is rather saturated than with Nolan or the story he wants to tell. There is simply a certain familiarity with these types of images that no longer allow them to feel as fresh no matter what scope one is shooting on. That said, what imagery we've seen is undoubtedly beautiful. The story concerns the real-life events of the evacuation of Dunkirk, known as Operation Dynamo, during the British military operation that saved 330,000 lives as Allied soldiers were surrounded by German forces. Nolan wrote the screenplay himself without usual collaborator, brother Jonathan, but the picture will reunite the director with longtime collaborator/composer Hans Zimmer. Of course, I'll see anything Nolan decides to put his time and effort into so all of this may not exactly be saying much, but nonetheless the idea we're getting a WWII film from the perspective of one of our great modern filmmakers is nothing to be dismissed. (7/21)