REVIEW: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

10 05 2017

Let’s have a little thought experiment, shall we? Think of an action movie in the last decade or so that you enjoyed. Say, “The Bourne Ultimatum” or “The Lord of the Rings” franchise. How would you like to see that movie … but medieval?!

That’s pretty much the gambit on which Guy Ritchie stakes his entire film “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” Observers of the director know to expect a certain cheekiness and self-awareness from the rebellious Brit. But here, Ritchie crosses a line. He’s self-aware to an almost Seth MacFarlane-esque self-referential point.

His “Game of Thrones” fan fiction film doubles down on all the worst qualities of his “Sherlock Holmes” films and discards most of the team chemistry that made them great. Ritchie has always been one to show the strings, making you aware of his stylistic baubles every time he brandishes them. Given his post-modern, ironic sensibilities, the aesthetic butts heads with anything set before the mid-20th century. The effect is always one of removal from the film itself, reminding us of the dissonance between the subject and its presentation.

His take on the Camelot myth, pitting a paranoid King Herod-like Vortigern (Jude Law) against a messianic sword-wielding Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), brings little to the round table other than zippy editing and flashy VFX. Hunnam does little to liven up “King Arthur” as well; he looks more likely to be headed to a rugged Scotland-themed GQ shoot than into serious battle. But I don’t mean to reduce the film to mere appearances in order to dismiss it. Let me put it simply: this is the same superhero origin story of dead parents and internal power struggles we’ve been forced to endure for about 15 years now. But medieval. C

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REVIEW: Star Trek

1 11 2016

Is there a 101 class in film schools yet on franchise filmmaking or reboots? Because if so, I sincerely hope that J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” is assigned viewing. With the exception of perhaps Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy, there is no movie that has better relaunched a dormant (or, at the very least, stagnant) series. In one fail swoop, Abrams as well as writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman find ample reason to excite long-time fans and create new acolytes, all while providing motivation for revival beyond just profit margins.

In the seven years since this new “Star Trek” hit theaters, there have been no shortage of brand extensions and series relaunches – most of which struggle to take off due to paying excessive fan service with nostalgic callbacks. Sure, Abrams gives plenty here. The trademark pings of the intergalactic communication, the strategic peripheral views of the starship and the reappearance of a favorite character played by the same beloved actor are all enough to sate the casual fans of the classic television or film series.

“Star Trek” takes flight, however, because Abrams uses the show’s legacy as a kickstart into a bold new future, not an albatross to keep trotting in previously grazed circles. Utilizing an ingenious narrative gambit that sidesteps the original show’s chronology without erasing or ignoring it, the series gained the ability to boldly go wherever themes could lead it. The standard passion-reason dialectic between Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock is introduced from the get-go, and they don’t waste a second exploring its consequences.

But it doesn’t take a mechanical analysis of how Abrams guides decades of mythology to work in his favor to show “Star Trek” works. The proof is in the pudding; the film succeeds because it is just plain well-made. The characters are fun and fully developed. The action is coherent and engaging. The story flows effortlessly while also requiring some of our brainpower. The stakes are high, giving appropriate weight to a topic like genocide. (That may seem like a no-brainer, but plenty of movies have made light of it.) And, perhaps most importantly, this “Star Trek” recreates that first introduction to this universe of diplomacy and conflict.  A4stars





REVIEW: The Finest Hours

18 07 2016

There’s something odd about Disney’s “The Finest Hours.”

This ’50s-set high-seas rescue does everything it can to recreate that era in the filmmaking. Director Craig Gillespie operates at a more methodical, easygoing pace in land-bound scenes. Period detail is all there, even down to the sound of the time as composer Carter Burwell provides a similarly moody post-war ambiance that he endowed to last year’s “Carol.” Heck, they even filled the role of Coast Guard crewman Bernie Webber with Chris Pine, the rare working actor today who can comfortably assume the style and mannerisms of a golden age Hollywood studio star.

And yet, “The Finest Hours” is the kind of disaster caper only possible to achieve at this level in the 21st century with computer graphics. The films of the 1950s – even the epics – were limited by the technology available at the time and bolstered by a grounded grandiosity. Seeing is believing here when technicians can show, in great detail, the destructive storm and waves that strand a vessel off the coast of Massachusetts. When the filmmakers try some of the more magical elements of a bygone period, such as suggesting a quasi-spiritual connection of Bernie’s sea navigation to his romantic interest’s journey on the open road, it falls completely flat.

“The Finest Hours” is a film caught between two styles of moviemaking and two schools of thinking. Gillespie and company can never quite figure out how to resolve this tension from the beginning, and as a result, the film sinks before it even has the chance to doggy-paddle.  C2stars





REVIEW: Hanna

1 10 2013

When the score is the best part of a movie, you know it’s going to be a doozy.  Although to be fair, the score for “Hanna” is composed by The Chemical Brothers – and it is wicked awesome.  If you are a big runner or just like really energetic music to motivate you for whatever life throws your way, then pick up the soundtrack immediately!

Chances are, that soundtrack will be the only lasting impression “Hanna” leaves on the world.  It’s an action-thriller with a tinge of conspiratorial intrigue that comes up just short of everything it hopes to achieve.  Sure, there’s some cool cinematography and neat editing, but everything feels a little more awesome when it’s set to The Chemical Brothers.

No coincidence the movie comes from director Joe Wright, whose career could be summed up in one word: almost.  “Pride and Prejudice” almost worked as a moving Austen adaptation.  “Atonement” almost worked as a sweeping epic of love and forgiveness.  “The Soloist” almost worked as a touching biopic and an exposé of the plight of the Los Angeles homeless.  Jumping ahead, “Anna Karenina” almost worked as an innovative approach to the oft-adapted Tolstoy novel.

In “Hanna,” Wright crafts an ultra-stylish film that’s fun to look at yet falters on an emotional level.  It’s a nuts-and-bolts construction, not a heart-and-soul one.  Pity, because with some care and attention towards the performances and actors, there could have been one heck of a turn from Saoirse Ronan as the titular character.  Ditto Cate Blanchett, the Oscar-winner who could knock any role out of the park.

But as such, “Hanna” is really just there for neat smoke-and-mirrors type of stuff and some nice selections from The Chemical Brothers.  Check out the amazing club sequence from “Black Swan” if you want to hear their beats put to a worthy and compelling scene that will truly haunt you.  C2stars





REVIEW: Funny People

31 07 2009

Funny People” is a solid effort by director/screenwriter Judd Apatow, but it falls just short of what it hopes to accomplish: a perfect blend of comedy and human drama that is both touching and amusing.  I walked out of the theater just thinking about all the potential it had, and I nailed the main factor as to why it paled in comparison to Apatow’s previous features, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and the uproarious “Knocked Up.”  It loses the sense of realism and relatability that Apatow nails so brilliantly.  The story concerns itself with comedians, one a superstar, one at the cusp of stardom, and several right underneath that cusp.  These people have a funny exterior, but when you peel back the layers, they are vulnerable, troubled, and quite dark.  It is harder to identify with these people because their problems are so detached from our own, as supposed to previous Apatow characters like the slacker, the virgin, the control freak, and many other “normal people.”

If you saw the first trailer for the movie, you know just about all there is to know about the plot.  George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a lonely comedian diagnosed with a terrible disease and prepares himself for death, mainly by trying to form a true human relationship with another comedian, Ira Wright (Seth Rogen).  But when he appears to be cured, he tries to reclaim what he has lost in his life, mainly Laura (Leslie Mann), an old girlfriend who he let slip away.  Sprinkle in a ripped Australian husband for Laura (Eric Bana), a few of Ira’s friends trying to make it big (Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman), a quirky love interest for Ira (Aubrey Plaza), and a few celebrity cameos, and you have “Funny People” in essence. Read the rest of this entry »