Movie Review: Dunkirk

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.

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Movie Review: Cars 3

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.

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Movie Review: The Mummy

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…

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Movie Review: Free Fire

“Free Fire” is the idea that hits someone 12 hours deep into a Quentin Tarantino/Guy Ritchie movie marathon. “You know what would be cool? It’s like paintball, but with real guns.” And to be fair, that is an interesting framing device, but when everything that follows has been done several times before, the device loses its charm rather quickly. This would explain why the film felt like the longest 85-minute film ever made. It’s interesting, but maddening, thanks in large part to a threadbare story structure, underwritten dialogue, and next to no character development.

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Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast

As sweet and lovely as Disney’s 1991 animated film “Beauty and the Beast” is, the story has some, um, inconsistencies. Belle somehow manages to get an injured, beaten Beast up on a horse to bring back to the castle. There is a painting of an adult Prince that could not possibly have been painted. How is it that the local village has no knowledge of an enchanted castle just a short ride away? All of these issues, thankfully, are addressed in the live-action remake of the film, and the emotional stakes are raised quite a bit in the finale (though not in the manner that you might think). The production design is gorgeous, Belle’s yellow dress is as stunning as Cinderella’s blue dress in the 2015 remake of that film, and Emma Watson is an inspired choice to play Belle, and is quite the singer as well.

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Movie Review: T2 Trainspotting

Let’s set aside, for the moment, the fact that “T2 Trainspotting” is one of the most unnecessary sequels the world has ever seen. Instead, let’s discuss my pitch for what that sequel would look like:

Sick Boy and Begbie find Renton, and spend the entire film beating him to death. Roll credits.

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Movie Review: Fist Fight

The first two-thirds of “Fist Fight” play like a Ben Stiller movie from the early 2000s. Our hero is kind but doesn’t assert himself, and is perceived to be a loser by everyone around him, including the ones he loves (and supposedly love him). This part of the movie is less fun, because from a filmmaking standpoint (and in life), picking on the 98-pound weakling doesn’t take any courage or risks. When our hero finally sticks up for himself, the movie feeds off of his adrenaline and begins to soar, culminating in a rather spectacular finish. The path to the ending is littered with dick jokes, but “Fist Fight” makes the early hardships worthwhile. Just barely, though.

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Movie Review: Iron Man 3

When it was announced that Jon Favreau would not return as director of the third “Iron Man” film, the producers surely fielded offers from every name director in town. So how did Shane Black land this gig, again? The guy hasn’t written or directed a feature film since 2005’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and yet here he is, doing that Shane Black thing once again, only this time with superheroes, while trying his best to streamline his R-rated ways for a PG-13 audience. As it turns out, “Iron Man 3” works, but just barely, and it’s more in spite of Black’s influence than because of it. At the beginning of the second act, Black begins to get in his own way, and for anyone familiar with his work, it’s not long before a strong case of deja vu sets in. He even set the movie during the holiday season, just like “Lethal Weapon.” And “The Long Kiss Goodnight.”

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Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World

The opening scene in “Thor: The Dark World” is very revealing, but not in the ways that the filmmakers intended. It tells an exposition-laden tale of a battle bought ages ago between Asgardians (Thor’s people) and the dark elves, who planned to use this mystical force called the Aether (pronounced ‘ether’) to distinguish all light. The scene is meant to shed some light on a plot that they must have deemed too difficult to follow, only it’s not. It’s a straightforward revenge story, and the audience would have figured out the rest in time. That they insisted on spoon feeding the audience shows a lack of confidence, and while “Thor: The Dark World” is not as consistent as its predecessor, the film has some truly great moments, including a spectacular climax. To see them acting so desperate is both unbecoming and unnecessary.

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Movie Review: Despicable Me

Universal has balls of steel for naming their first foray into the world of computer animation “Despicable Me.” In truth, it’s not the best title from a marketing perspective, since it doesn’t tell you anything about the movie, certainly not in comparison to, say, “Toy Story,” “The Princess and the Frog” or “Finding Nemo.” Yet “Despicable Me” is the perfect title for this delightfully silly movie, because it sends a clear message up front that this is not your typical animated adventure. Sure, it has the traditional, sweet moral (being there for your kids is more important than anything you’ll ever do at work), but it also derives laughs out of dream sequences where a grown man joyfully abandons three small children.

Gru (Steve Carell), a Russian criminal mastermind, has hit a bit of bad luck. He hasn’t pulled off a truly diabolical crime in a while, and the bank that funds his work is threatening to cut him off. He has a plan to steal the moon, but for it to work, he needs a top-secret shrink ray. When the ray is stolen by a younger villain named Vector (Jason Segel), Gru devises a plan to use three orphan girls selling Girl Scout cookies to enter Vector’s house and inadvertently assist him in procuring the device. But in order to use the girls, he needs to adopt them, even though he hasn’t the foggiest idea how to take care of or even talk to children. As he spends more time with them, he loses sight of his evil scheme, much to the dismay of both the bank and his staff scientist Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand).

In basic form, the movie is a bit like “Shrek,” in that the lead is an anti-social grouch who’s ultimately healed by love. The similarities end there, though, as “Despicable Me” draws inspiration from Tex Avery cartoons and the “Spy vs. Spy” series from “Mad Magazine,” right down to Gru’s long, pointy nose. And with “Spy vs. Spy” comes a healthy dose of mean, though the movie is smart to keep things mean but not mean-spirited. Perhaps the most impressive thing about “Despicable Me” is the decision to have the voice actors playing characters, rather than themselves. Brand’s Dr. Nefario has an English accent, yes, but it’s not Brand’s accent, and Vector sounds very little like Segel’s normal speaking voice. Carell, as we mentioned, is Russian, and Kristen Wiig, who plays the heartless director of the orphanage, uses a southern drawl. It’s a little thing, but it makes a big difference.

If there is one thing that disrupts the movie, it’s the way in which it rushes towards the inevitable conflict between Gru and the girls in Act III. It’s not at all natural, and one gets the sense that the directors – both of whom are French, which might explain the movie’s unconventional approach – would have preferred to flesh out the bonding stage of the story, but a studio-mandated run time (and a front end-loaded plot) forced them to make some unpleasant decisions in the storyboarding process. The movie is also one giant You Must Suspend Disbelief moment, as Gru and Vector do all sorts of things that should arouse the suspicion of the authorities, yet no one suspects them of any wrongdoing. And yet, it’s never an issue, and that’s the way it should be. When Gru gets even with a crooked carny at an amusement park, it’s hard to argue with his methods.

If “Despicable Me” is any indication of what’s to come from Universal and Illumination Entertainment, they could be in a position to challenge Pixar before too long. They are clearly not afraid to think big, and their willingness to throw caution to the wind actually gives them a leg up on Pixar in some regards. (Pixar is brilliant, yes, but not what one would call wacky.) Better yet, they’ve delivered the best 3D of any movie not named “Avatar” since this silly 3D trend began. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)
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