Tag Archives: movie review

FILM REVIEW: Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

REVIEW SUMMARY: A pretentious, self-indulgent, and ultimately silly first feature from director Panos Cosmatos that never captures the erratic grace or fitful elegance of early 1980s trash science fiction cinema.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: At the Arboria Institute in the early 1980s, scientist Barry Nyle performs experiments using odd metaphysical technologies on the mind of a captive young woman.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Michael Rogers, who looks precisely as a mad scientist should in a trash classic; unique attempts to give the visual and aural textures of a science fiction movie from the 1980s; odd, occasionally effective imagery, intriguing music from Jeremy Schmidt…
CONS: …all of which in the service of Cosmatos’s obtuse and uninvolving script and painfully redundant direction; set design and visual cues borrowed too heavily from other, better movies and directors; a finished product that never quite convinces it is of the period.
Continue reading

MOVIE REVIEW: Cloud Atlas (2012)

MY RATING:

SUMMARY: Audacious, daring, and never uninteresting, yet the execution falls far short of its visionary ambitions.

MY REVIEW:
PROS:
Visually absorbing and lush; interlocked narratives that run the gamut from historical journey to far-future adventure.
CONS:
Stories too jaggedly pieced together and never compelling on their own; intriguing cast playing things too broadly.

Tom Tykwer and the siblings Wachowski deserve a good deal of credit for attempting to bring David Mitchell’s sprawling novel Cloud Atlas to the screen.  Alas, they also must accept the blame for so much of what goes wrong with Cloud Atlas, which, like David Lynch’s completely wrongheaded adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, retains much of the structure and many of the characters but fails to understand the core theme.  Or perhaps they understood it, but felt they needed to change it to meet studio and audience needs.  The former seems more plausible; the creators of The Matrix Trilogy and the director of Run, Lola, Run and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer certainly have shown themselves willing to tackle bold projects, even when they demonstrate glib comprehension.

Continue reading

MOVIE REVIEW: Looper (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Ambitious and often clever, Rian Johnson’s first foray into science fiction never quite pieces its philosophical content together with its thriller elements.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Time travel hitman Joe begins to have doubts about his chosen vocation when his next target is…himself.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, as Joe and his older counterpoint, respectively; notable supporting cast, especially Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano; good blend of science fiction and noir in a well-rendered future; effective set pieces and intriguing use of time travel tropes.

CONS: Second act slows to a crawl to introduce philosophical elements that do not mesh well with its suspense narrative; important story details revealed late, giving the story uneven structure; unconvincing makeup to make Gordon-Levitt look like Willis; Emily Blunt’s bland Sara.

In the future, time travel exists but has been outlawed, so of course only outlaws have time travel.  The Rainmaker, a mob boss headquartered in Shanghai who, based what audiences see of the year 2072, studied the methods of Pol Pot as well as Al Capone, sends those he wants taken care of thirty years into the past—the past being 2044—and into the sights of the loopers, hit men contracted specifically to eliminate said undesirables.  (Though one wonders why the Rainmaker, who appears to wield enormous influence in this future overrun by gangs, would go to the trouble of using time travel to rid the world of his enemies, rather than simply eighty-sixing them in his own time period without consequence.  Perhaps with absolute power comes absolute deniability.)  The loopers obey only a few rules: when you’ve killed your mark and discover bars of gold on his body (based on the loopers’ Kansas City headquarters in 2044, women need not apply), it means your loop has been closed—you are, in essence, responsible for your own execution—and your contract is terminated.  (Loopers never see the faces of those they kill because their targets wear hoods.)  Another, and perhaps even more important condition, is that the looper must not let the target escape.

Continue reading

FILM REVIEW: Dredd (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Covering almost no new cinematic ground, director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland nonetheless concoct a tight, gritty, and resiliently dark picture featuring John Wagner’s and Carlos Ezquerra’s classic character.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: While investigating the deaths of three individuals in the 200-story Peach Trees tower, Judge Joe Dredd and rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson become the prey of drug lord Madeline Madrigal and her army.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Karl Urban, disappearing beneath the helmet to become Dredd; Olivia Thirlby’s nuanced Anderson; Lena Headey’s menacing turn as Ma-Ma; Alex Garland’s lean, spare script; Pete Travis’s tight direction; exceptional action sequences; good blend of gritty realism and fantastical ultraviolence, even when using slow-motion techniques.
CONS: Worldbuilding of Mega-City One sacrificed for speed and efficiency; unassuming score from Paul Leonard-Morgan; competent yet unnecessary use of 3D; perhaps not newbie-friendly.

Cinema history poses the most significant challenge in making a movie based writer John Wagner’s and Carlos Ezquerra’s Judge Joseph Dredd.  Forget that anybody who wants to bring him to life must contend with the iconic image of Peter Weller’s chrome-bodied cyborg in Paul Verhoven’s RoboCop; audiences inevitably will compare the vast urban landscapes of Mega-City One, regardless of how well rendered, to Bladerunner’s postmodern Gothic spires and Escape from New York’s decaying infrastructure.  When Dredd speaks in the panels of 2000 AD, fans hear Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan growling at yet another lawless punk ready to make his day.  Granted, the comic always borrowed heavily from others in crafting Dredd’s adventures; one followed the series for its audacious vision, not for its originality.
Continue reading

MOVIE REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Messy, way too long, and with far too many missteps and misguided elements, Nolan’s final chapter in the rebooted Batman franchise still remains watchable because of its outstanding cast and several breathtaking sequences.

MY REVIEW:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Batman is called back into service eight years after taking blame for the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent to save Gotham City from the psychotic Bane, and enlists the help of the mysterious jewel thief Selena Kyle.

 

MY REVIEW:
PROS:
  Visually stunning, with outstanding performances by the leads and supporting cast; incredible action sequences.
CONS:
Underdeveloped ideas and story; overlong; intrusion of science fiction elements breaks the tone of the series.

Despite the incredible high-tech gadgets, powerful souped-up vehicles, and near-magical ability of his utility belt to rescue him from any nefarious jam (much like Doctor Who twisting the knobs of his sonic screwdriver to turn any series of unfortunate events, ultimately, to his benefit), Batman is not, and never has been, part of the science fiction universe.  Large though his shadow looms over the ever-growing corner of genre populated by four-color heroes of a far more fantastic bent (from orphaned alien Superman to Amazon Wonder Woman, from laboratory success Captain America to super-science accidents Hulk and Spider-Man, incredible and amazing or not), Bob Kane’s seminal creation shares far more in common with the crime fighters of The Strand or Black Mask, a Sherlock Holmes in cape and cowl, a Continental Op who goes down the noir mean streets in operatic fashion.

Continue reading

MOVIE REVIEW: Prometheus (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Ridley Scott returns to science fiction with a lifeless, derivative prequel to one of his most famous movies.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After finding identical cave paintings throughout the world, a pair of scientists boards the starship Prometheus bound for an alien planet to uncover the origins of humanity, and uncover horrors they never anticipated.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong casting, especially of Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbinder; good looking visuals; strong incorporation of 3D technology.
CONS: Derivative screenplay and underwhelming direction; never engaging emotionally or intellectually; too familiar ground covered.

Like the prodigal son returning home, Ridley Scott comes back to science fiction after more than twenty-five years.  The count includes his beautiful but deeply flawed fantasy Legend; the last time he focused his camera on true quill science fiction was thirty years ago, with the now classic Bladerunner.  And if one judged Prometheus solely on the year-long anticipation and hype surrounding it, to say nothing of the viral future dispatches from Weyland Industries, its grosses would match Joss Whedon’s Marvel’s The Avengers within ten days and we would acknowledge it as an instant classic.  Hugo voters no doubt would bestow the 2012 Dramatic Presentation award early, sight unseen.
Continue reading

MOVIE REVIEW: Men in Black III

REVIEW SUMMARY: Occasionally clever touches and a strong turn by Josh Brolin as a young Agent K cannot hide the listlessness of the third entry in a series that should have ended two pictures ago.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: When the alien Boris escapes from Lunar Max prison, he plots to travel back to 1969 to kill Agent K in order to allow his species to invade Earth, leaving Agent J to go back in time to protect his partner.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Clever background touches, as usual, including a visit to a photo shoot with Andy Warhol; slick direction by Barry Sonnenfeld; fun to watch Josh Brolin ape Tommy Lee Jones’s Agent K…
CONS: …but it gets tiring after a while; dull, routine script; the frantic pace doesn’t hide the lack of drive or energy.

The third movie of a film series poses problems.  Ostensibly meant to bring a sense of unity and closure, often threequel also marks the point where ideas lose their freshness, familiarity saps vigor, causing actors tire, and energy starts to drain.  Exceptions exist, yes, but for every Goldfinger and Toy Story 3 that achieves greatness, a hundred Matrixes threaten revolution, Indiana Jones considers one last crusade, and The Godfather, just as he thought he was out, is drawn back in.  There are countless others.
Continue reading

MOVIE REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: The best entry of the film series, thanks in no small part to Brad Bird’s engaging direction, several outstanding set pieces, and a good deal of tongue-in-cheek humor.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After breaking out of a Russian prison, secret agent Ethan Hunt and the Impossible Mission Force team set out to stop a Swedish peace proponent from stealing codes to a nuclear arsenal and detonate a device.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: A refreshing ensemble cast led by Tom Cruise, with Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, and Jeremy Renner adding much life to every scene; two soon-to-be-famous set pieces; Brad Bird’s outstanding command of pace despite the movie’s length.

CONS: Inane nuclear weapons storyline; not enough time developed to either the principal or most of the secondary villains; tone at times too slight and diffident.

Continue reading

MOVIE REVIEW: Source Code (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Duncan Jones avoids a sophomore slump after Moon by making an engaging Dickian, even Malzbergian (yes, you read that right), thriller.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Soldier Colter Stevens wakes up in someone else’s body as part of a time travel operation to learn the identity of a bomber of a Chicago commuter train.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Strong, compelling script from Ben Ripley; engaging direction by Duncan Jones; good cast, with an especially strong performance from Jake Gyllenhaal; suspenseful execution reminiscent of Run, Lola, Run; good blend of action, character, existential angst.

CONS: One or two too many climaxes; lead character doesn’t so much solve the mystery as luck into it; drags somewhat as the movie approaches its conclusion; confusing title; clumsy and rather nonsensical discussion of its scientific bases; quantum handwaving.

Continue reading

MOVIE REVIEW: Drive Angry (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: A Cormanesque ripoff so laughably bad that it becomes enjoyable.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Milton breaks out of Hell to find a murderous cult responsible for murdering his daughter to stop them from sacrificing his infant granddaughter.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Over-the-top performance by Nicolas Cage; tongue in cheek direction by Patrick Lussier (who co-wrote the screenplay); fast paced, often silly action sequences that never stop being enjoyable; and (surprise) the 3D effects are actually pretty good; and how long has it been since we’ve seen gratuitous nudity on a movie screen?

CONS: For all of its fun, it’s just not very good, and never transcends being an ersatz grindhouse B-movie.

How much you enjoy Drive Angry will depend a great deal on how much you enjoy Roger Corman. Or maybe not. Granted, this high octane mélange of The Dunwich Horror, The Fast and the Furious and The Wild Angels never achieves the sublime B-movie pleasures of its obvious inspirations nor salvages the reputation of Nicolas Cage. Even when you realize how cheesy it is, you cannot help but realize that it’s the kind cheese that comes out of a can: highly processed, bright yellow, tasting of something grown in a vat rather than having ever seen the innards of a cow, and with absolutely no nutritional value. If the movie posed an original thought, I missed it. Say what you will of Corman’s ouvre, but they had a degree of vigor and sleazy charm that, even at its best Drive Angry only wishes it could manage.

Continue reading

FILM REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010)

REVIEW SUMMARY: The seventh installment of the Harry Potter installment is a better picture than the previous entry, though it feels too long and too derivative.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: As Voldemort gains control of the Ministry of Magic, Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione go into hiding in order to find the magic charms (Horcruxes) that will help them defeat Voldemort.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Very grim, often macabre elements not usually seen in the series; nearly seamless special effects; bittersweet realization that the series is finally drawing to a close.

CONS: Too long, with too many moments when the movie seems to come to a dead stop; often predictable; too many scenes reminiscent of other movies; and several of the leads look like they’ve stopped enjoying their roles two pictures ago.

Continue reading

MOVIE REVIEW: Kick-Ass (2010)

REVIEW SUMMARY: A good idea that starts with promise but reverts to formula far too quickly.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Unexceptional high-school student and comic book geek Dave Livewski decides, without powers or training but with surprising conviction, to become the superhero Kick-Ass.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Affecting performances by Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Chloë Grace Moretz; strong first half-hour with the consequences of attempting to become a superhero with only conviction; Nicolas Cage channeling Adam West; good stunt and fight scene choreography; and, in one sequence, good use of Ennio Morricone’s A Fistful of Dollars theme.

CONS: Retreats from its core idea and reverts to formula far too quickly; unpleasantness of the concept of Hit-Girl the more one thinks about it.

Continue reading