Saturday, April 4, 2015

FURIOUS 7 - The Flawed and the Miraculous

By all rights, we shouldn't be here at all. It would have been easy to either rest on laurels (or end things completely) after the phenomenally enjoyable Furious 6, but a post-credits tease (casting a long-promised dangling thread in a whole new light) had this series barreling toward all new levels of insanity. However, with the tragic mid-production passing of Paul Walker, who's blond racer Brian O'Connor had been a pillar of the series to this point, this movie could have been unsalvageable.

But the folks behind and in front of the camera pulled off a miracle. Because Furious 7 is flawed and uneven, but damn is it a beautiful - and genuinely emotional - joy.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

CINDERELLA - A Perfect Fit

For years now - certainly since Dreamworks threw down the "anti-fairy tale" gauntlet with the first Shrek and arguably since the Disney Renaissance of the 90's - the in thing has been the subversion, revision, or deconstruction of traditional fairy tales. Sequels, prequels, restructurings, stories from the villain's perspective, and other approaches have lead to some great movies (2013's Frozen, for example), some admirable-if-uneven ones (last year's Maleficent) and some truly terrible ones (2010's Alice in Wonderland).

But for this year's live-action Cinderella, Disney took a different approach. With Shakespeare alum Kenneth Branagh (who also directed the first Thor) at the helm, this is a straight retelling of the story, from the friendly mice to the glass slipper. And somehow, whether through the refreshingly upfront nature of the tale or the stylistic approach of the film-maker, the result is a beautifully-told story that manages to feel old-fashioned in all the best ways without feeling regressive.

Friday, February 13, 2015

KINGSMAN: HARRY POTTER AND THE SECRET SERVICE

For a few years in the late 80's and 90's, one of the hottest names in science fiction blockbusters was an eccentric Dutchman named Paul Verhoven (Robocop, Total Recall). Part of the director's appeal - apart from a contagious enthusiasm for splatterific violence - was the way the films balanced wild appeasement of the id while also being a lot smarter than they let on. The mix of genre-savvy idea-driven film-making and biting satire were sometimes so skillfully folded into his movies that some missed the joke entirely (see: the initial reactions to Starship Troopers).

The reason I bring this up in relation to a spy movie from a different director? Because, in short, Matthew Vaughn is playing the exact same sort of game. And doing a damn good job of it too.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Films That Salvaged 2014

This year was a pretty terrible. I mean that in general (lots of nasty stuff souring my favorite hobbies, like GamerGate and the death of some childhood movie icons, not to mention awful, toxic, racist stuff in our legal/law enforcement systems), as well as some personal stuff that hit me hard. But when asked, "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the theater?" I at least have a few answers.

Because 2014 was a really really good year for movies. The financial headlines will make hay about how box office was down significantly from the last couple of years, but across the board - from big studio films to smaller dramas and quirky genre movies - this was a great time at the cinema. Considering the total ****-show that this year was, I'll take what bright spots I can find.

So here are the Films That Salvaged 2014 for me - as well as what was awful, what was surprising, and what was just plain awesome.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF TOO MANY COOKS

Eleven years ago to the day, a minor miracle happened. With the release of The Return of the King, Peter Jackson not only finished an ambitious film trilogy (filmed as a single project over more than a year of shooting), but managed the double-tap of a worthy adaptation of fantasy literature AND a genuinely great cap to a film series. And as trilogies like The Godfather can attest, sticking the landing can be a hell of a thing.

I bring this up in relation to the third and final film based on the Lord of the Rings prelude The Hobbit because. . . well frankly, The Battle of the Five Armies relishes referencing its own bigger, better siblings at every opportunity.

As to whether Jackson managed to stick the landing again? Short answer: sort of.

Friday, November 7, 2014

BIG HERO 6 - How to Train Your Robot

The best superhero stories are, in actuality, about internal conflicts. In spite of the razzle-dazzle of super powers, strange creatures, other-worldly invasions, and science fiction marvels, the action in these tales is best used to mirror and drive the inner struggles of the protagonist. Whether it's Spider-man's struggle with responsibility and guilt, the X-men's bid for acceptance from society at large because they have trouble enough accepting themselves, or Mr. Incredible's mid-life crisis, that's what these movies are really about, even when it looks like a guy in a mask fighting a villain on a bridge.

Big Hero 6 understands this, and while its surface is a basic superhero team yarn celebrating science and the power of friendship, it's actually about a boy's struggle against grief and helpless rage.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

JOHN WICK - Stylish Minimalism

It can be easy to forget, in this modern age of clashing CGI armies, zooming spaceships and high-flying superheroes, that at one point in history, the biggest action thrill in cinema was watching a guy with a gun and a damn good reason to use it.

John Wick is a reminder of precisely why that simple premise used to be - and in fact still is - so viscerally compelling.