Expendables 3 hits on all the familiar notes with an over-the-top… MoreExpendables 3 hits on all the familiar notes with an over-the-top approach befitting of the franchise. It's loud, frantically kinetic, and mostly enjoyable, yet also derivative and a bit ho-hum considering what came before it. The cameos are non-stop, and the additions of Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson are more impressive on paper than in reality, feeling underutilized in a rather incoherent script, even for Expendables standards. To be sure, it doesn't pretend to be more than it is, a dumb B action movie, and there is plenty of that, yet nothing more.
Intensely emotional, visceral, compelling, and unnerving, Southpaw is… MoreIntensely emotional, visceral, compelling, and unnerving, Southpaw is a Rocky for a new generation. It's a boxing movie, a character study, and a drama. When the reckless but talented boxer Billy Hope finds everything around him falling apart, fueled by the loss of his wife, he is left to reinvent himself, finding a strength that had previously been masked.
Talented director Antoine Fuqua channels his knack for melodrama with Southpaw, which turns out to be one of the bleakest movies of the year. The loss of his wife, the taking of his kids, his loss of regard for his own life, all of this on the surface might seem like forced drama, and it easily could have been had it not been for Fuqua's mature direction and a pretty sharp script. Instead, these events carry an authenticity to them and, even more, and audacity to them. Hope, played brilliantly by Jake Gyllenhaal, is a very nuanced character, strongly resilient and yet frail with vulnerability. He transcends any hint of melodrama by completely enveloping his role, and commanding every scene he is in.
The film does perhaps falter towards the end, failing to really accentuate on its larger themes, yet we have to judge the film largely but its emotional resonance. It's huge with Southpaw. We feel every tragedy, cheer for his success, and otherwise empathize with him every step of the way. So, while the end journey isn't particularly unique, the path there is.
Dramatic, exciting, and yet undeniably commercialized, Draft Day is a… MoreDramatic, exciting, and yet undeniably commercialized, Draft Day is a sort of poor man's Moneyball. As the name would suggest, it revolves around the exploits of GM Sonny Weaver as his team prepares for the much-hyped Draft Day.
What I expected going in to Draft Day was something completely pandering to the NFL, a sort of 2 hour promo for the league and it's growing commercial power and branding. What I actually got was some of that, but also a rather interesting character drama, lead by the great Kevin Costner. His Weaver is a man of insecurity, uncertainty, and yet one of confidence and boldness. It's a perfect combination, and perhaps a rather accurate combination of modern-day NFL execs. Costner is, by far, the most capable actor on screen, and the most interesting. When the film stays with him, it succeeds, and fortunately director Ivan Reitman recognized that.
There are clichés to be had, and many of the side characters didn't work for me, especially Jennifer Garner (whom I quite like), but it manages to remain relevant by surprising the viewer. There's a real heart to be had in the story, and a lesson to be learned. It doesn't redefine the sports movie genre, but it keeps us entertained.
Scary as it is lively, Insidious Chapter 3 is the rare sequel… MoreScary as it is lively, Insidious Chapter 3 is the rare sequel (technically prequel) that does the nearly impossible, add a new chapter with a largely new cast, and still feel warranted. Set prior to the Lambert family haunting, Insidious 3 tells the story of a young girl who becomes tormented by a dangerous supernatural entity, getting the reluctant psychic Elise Rainier to come to her aid.
Like the previous installments, Insidious continues its stylized take on the horror genre, combing motifs and imagery from other countries to unveil its own unique sense of terror. This is accomplished by strong direction by Leigh Whannell which keeps the film moving at a pace which leads to a slow build, but effective thrills. The cast is well conceived, with an especially impressive performance by Stefanie Scott. It's a film that manages to keep it's scares fresh and unexpected, and isn't' afraid to push its own boundaries. It does all this with a mature polish all too uncommon for the genre.
Solid all around.
Alternatively frustrating and enthralling, yet ultimately satisfying,… MoreAlternatively frustrating and enthralling, yet ultimately satisfying, Terminator Genisys manages to repeat the same beats of the prior installments, essentially repeating formula, complicate the mythology more, and yet still come out as a pretty good movie. How it does this is perhaps as inexplicable as is its mess of a timeline.
What Terminator 3 and certainly Terminator Salvation lost is what Terminator Genisys found. Genuine thrills with characters we are, to varying degrees, invested with. It's what Judgement Day did so brilliantly, and Genesis manages to get a slice of that. The director, Alan Taylor, strikes a nice balance between exploring the growing mythology, and keeping us on our toes with some impressive action sequences. The performances are good, endearingly so with Arnold, and the plot takes a unique twist. It essentially negates all previous films which, at first is frustrating, but then becomes fun because the film is just that, enjoyable. There's some plot holes, absolutely, but Genesis respects what the original set out to do, and takes its own plot twists seriously. In other words, what at first seems like an excuse to have another film becomes a rather interesting exercise-what would it look like if everything was turned on its head?
Yes, there are clichés a plenty, and the last act is hopelessly predictable, but the spirit of the Terminator franchise feels enlivened by Genysis, making it, ultimately, a success.
Mature, thought provoking, and surprising, Ex Machina is yet another… MoreMature, thought provoking, and surprising, Ex Machina is yet another laudable film from writer/director Alex Garland. As the result of a lottery of sorts a young programmer is selected to engage in an experiment, testing the artificial intelligence of a cutting edge AI creation from an eccentric wealthy tech giant.
What I appreciated most about Ex Machina was the inherent intellectual dilemma at its heart. What defines intelligence? What's the nature of thought, and how do we know something is truly thinking? When do rights come in to play? It explores these questions in subtle ways, through a story full of intrigue, character study, and ultimately thrills. The cast is strong as a whole, though I contend that Domhall Gleeson was a bit uneven in his delivery, and the special effects fantastic. It's a film that puts plot first, and treats its audience with intelligence. There's no spoon-feeding or pandering, just an original story with first-class filmmaking.
In the end, it's more of an intellectual workout than a sensory overload, and that's all too rare in Hollywood.
Clever, well-acted, and entertainingly executed, Stonehearst Asylum is… MoreClever, well-acted, and entertainingly executed, Stonehearst Asylum is a nice under-the-radar psychological thriller piece. In it, we find a recent medical school grad taking up a position at a mental institution, turn of the century, only to find things are not as they seem. There are twists, turns, and horror, albeit with some raised eyebrows.
That Stonehearst is even remotely compelling is due mostly to its cast, a talented ensemble team. None more exciting to watch, however, than Ben Kingsley, whose embodiment of his character steals the attention in every scene. To be sure, the twists do start to get ahead of the film, and the third act almost falls apart. Yet, the originality in the beginning, and the slow unveil make it standout, along with the strong performances.
Exciting, well-acted, bursting with stunning CGI, and relentlessly… MoreExciting, well-acted, bursting with stunning CGI, and relentlessly engaging, Jurassic World proves itself to be the strongest of the franchise since its original. Unlike most sequels or reboots, Jurassic World actually manages to weave an interesting twist to the franchise, by introducing the concept of genetically modifying its creatures, creating not mere dinosaurs, but an actual monster.
Admittedly, Jurassic World does start a bit clunky and cliché. The over-concerned parents, the precocious know-it-all child, and the girl-crazed teen. But instead of wallowing in its clichés, and throwing action set pieces at us, we get a film that takes its drama much more seriously. Director Collin Trevorrow lets us relate to the characters organically, with a cast that works seamlessly together. The performances from all involved are terrific, with Chris Pratt being the most surprising.
By far, the greatest aspect of the film is the special effects. They are magnificently executed, a visual spectacle and grandeur worthy of the story-line. The action pieces are weaved with the characters and the story in a way that lets the story unfold coherently (basically the opposite of a Michael Bay film).
An excellent summer block-buster
Unoriginal, flatly executed, and overblown, Spy is the sort of comedy… MoreUnoriginal, flatly executed, and overblown, Spy is the sort of comedy that thinks it's hilarious and assumes you do as well, without earning it. The very set-up of a heavy-set and mild mannered Melissa McCarthy being put in a James-bond esque role sounds perhaps mildly amusing, and it is, but its novelty wears off quickly. The gags are heavily exaggerated and much too drawn out, the plot absurdly nonsensical, and the humor much too one-note. The movie thinks constant fat/ugly jokes about McCarthy is simply hysterical, and thinks it's even more hysterical when she turns the tables by having an "f bomb" tirade. It's not. The film feels like an SNL skit stretched way too far.
Inspiring, heartfelt, and resonate without being condescending… MoreSelma
Inspiring, heartfelt, and resonate without being condescending or pandering, Selma is the rare example of Hollywood taking the civil rights genre seriously. Essentially a chronicle of the events leading up to, and the aftermath of, the famed march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, Selma is a film that looks at the civil rights struggle from a mature perspective. We are not treated to villains or saints, but instead people in a real-life struggle. We see MLK not as a pure man, but a flawed man with astute political calculations. We finally get a depiction of LBJ which is at least somewhat unflattering, a man whose treatment in history is much to whitewash.
An overall even-handed and emotionally compelling film.