Watching the beginning of “A Wrinkle in Time” felt eerily similar to watching 2017’s film adaptation of “It,” in that the film was enjoyable but in a bubble, a product of its time. I was dragged kicking and screaming into the present the next day, when a high school classmate of mine expressed concern that the filmmakers were going to ruin the last two chapters of the book in order to make political statements.
There is a lot to unpack in “Black Panther.” Solid arguments are made on both sides of the topic of isolationism versus open borders. An outsider armed with a dark heart and fiery rhetoric assumes power, and literally burns sacred traditions to the ground. The governing body of the fictional country of Wakanda splinters, turning countrymen against each other. They’re not being subtle here: this is as Trumpian a movie as the Marvel Cinematic Universe will ever see (one hopes, anyway). On top of this, the movie is led by a group of strong women, who symbolically serve as the #MeToo component. “Black Panther” is so ridiculously of the moment that it’s tempting to believe that, between the perfect timing of “Zootopia” (race relations) and this film, Disney has “Minority Report”-style pre-cogs in its employ, scanning the future in order to read the room, as it were.
The official trailer for “Downsizing” does an impressive job of convincing the viewer that the film is a comedy. Let us make one thing clear: this is not a comedy. It’s occasionally amusing, and at some point in the script’s development, it may have been a biting social satire. And then the first act ends, at which point the movie doesn’t just lose its way: it falls off a cliff. Whatever point it was originally trying to make is long forgotten by the end of Act II, and Act III is completely rudderless. Alexander Payne is “credited” with directing the film, but it’s clear that he was bound, gagged, thrown in a locker and left for dead the moment Matt Damon’s character makes the jump to Smallville.
At the beginning of the decade, no one could blame Pixar staffers if they thought their offices were bugged. In 2008, Pixar announced that they were beginning work on a film called “Newt,” about a male and female blue-footed newt that were the last of their kind, paired up by scientists to save the species. Set for release in 2011, the film was scrapped in early 2010 once the studio discovered that 20th Century Fox’s Blue Sky Studios was about to release a film called “Rio,” about a male Spix’s macaw who’s taken from his home to mate with another Spix’s macaw. A few months after “Newt’s” cancellation, “Toy Story 3” director Lee Unkrich, on the heels of the film’s out-of-the-gate success, announced plans to make a film about Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration.
When word first started circulating that “Thor: Ragnarok” would have a much lighter tone than its predecessors, that seemed strange for about three seconds, and then one remembers “Thor: The Dark World,” and welcomes the new approach with open arms. The end result is indeed heavier on laughs, but it also sports one of the higher body counts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One wonders which came first in the story development; were the laughs added as a spoonful of sugar to help the (violent) medicine go down? It would not surprise us in the slightest if that were the case.
The beauty of films like “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is that once they’re seen, they can’t be unseen, and the world is forever different than it was before. Matthew Vaughn’s turbo-charged 2015 film completely rewrote the rules for spy films, depantsing its spy predecessors in the process. The best James Bond films look positively ancient by comparison, and even relative spy newbies like Jason Bourne and “Mission: Impossible” hero Ethan Hunt show the age of their source material when viewed through, ahem, “Kingsman” lenses.
Warner Bros. had to have been shaking in their boots a little bit when “The Dark Tower,” based on the much-beloved series of Stephen King novels, died a quiet death at the box office a mere four weeks ago ($47 million domestic gross, $60 million budget). The executives surely saw stink lines emanating from the cold, dead carcass of “The Dark Tower” like an alien life force searching for a new host, only to imagine it making a beeline for their own decades-old adaptation of a Stephen King property, “IT.” Panic ensues. “Is Stephen King over? My God, we even planned to make a second film from this book, from the viewpoint of the adults! What on earth were we thinking?”
Christopher Nolan decides to make a World War II film, so of course it’s one of the most impossibly English WWII films ever made. The Dunkirk evacuation – which took place 18 months before the United States entered the war – has all of the hallmarks of a traditional underdog story. Allied forces were surrounded on all sides, and outnumbered by a factor of two to one. The soldiers were pinned on the beach, making them easy targets. England had an extremely difficult decision to make; even with 400,000 soldiers’ lives at stake on the beach, they stood to lose even more in a rescue attempt.
Ah, “Cars” movies. They will never soar like Pixar’s finest work, but there is a modesty to them, a pureness of heart that is difficult to deny. “Cars 3” is in many ways a rehash of “Cars,” in which a humbled Lightning McQueen needs to learn a valuable life lesson in order to rise above the setback of the moment. There are a couple of things, though, that elevate “Cars 3” slightly above its predecessors, namely the stunning blend of what appears to be live action photography with cutting-edge CGI (you’ve literally never seen a Disney/Pixar film like this), and an ending, however predictable, that delivers multiple gut punches.
The idea of Tom Cruise being involved in “The Mummy” seems odd on a number of levels. It doesn’t fit his m.o. at all, which makes one wonder how they were able to lure him in. My theory, based mainly on that new Dark Universe title card, is that Universal wants to reboot their classic horror properties to launch their own MCU, the Monster Cinematic Universe, and they wanted a bona fide star, someone with a higher Q factor than Brendan Fraser had when Universal last rebooted the “Mummy” franchise in 1999, to serve as the anchor. Hmmm…