REVIEW: Creed

25 11 2015

For many people, the sounds of Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” or Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” can pump them up and spur them onto achievement. They can see Rocky Balboa jumping, fists raised, at Philadelphia’s City Hall and feel a surge of inspiration.

I, on the other hand, roll my eyes and laugh.

Sports movies clearly calibrated to trigger a feeling of uplift very rarely work on me, perhaps in some part because athletics were always an arena of disappointment and embarrassment in my personal life. (Give me a tortured artist or woebegone writer flick, though, and we’re in business.) Something about the way they contrive practically every move from a calculated playbook always bores me far more than it excites me. If something were really that moving, why not achieve it organically?

So Ryan Coogler’s “Creed,” as nicely mounted it might be, felt dead in the water for me the moment I started recognizing all the expected beats in this passing of the “Rocky” franchise torch. Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Johnson, the son of the great Apollo Creed, looks to become a professional boxer by training with the great Rocky Balboa. And to do so, he apparently has to go through all the same plot points as his mentor: the training montages, the preparatory fights, the tacked-on romance (with Tessa Thompson, a tremendous rising talent who deserves better).

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REVIEW: Fantastic Four

5 08 2015

Fantastic FourIn an world where comic book adaptations are becoming bigger and louder, “Fantastic Four” stands out.  Somehow, it manages to turn exciting material – which worked just fine a decade ago, I might add – into a dull movie that arrives stillborn and never gains a pulse.

Despite a cast of rising stars whose accomplishments and skills easily outweigh their counterparts in the 2005 iteration, writer/director Josh Trank never lets them achieve liftoff.  Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell are all better actors than “Fantastic Four” lets them be.  Every scene plays out like they were each slipped an Ambien right before the camera started rolling, inhibiting chemistry and numbing emotion.

Their energy would have served as a necessary component to make the film pass as even remotely serviceable.  Trank, working with frequent “X-Men” writer Simon Kinberg as well as Jeremy Slater, essentially stretches the plot of a typical Marvel first act to feature length.  What should take about 20-30 minutes plays out over 100 minutes in “Fantastic Four,” and the pace feels appropriately molasses-like.  Trank’s big climax would function as a precipitating event in a normal film.

Apparently no one at Fox paid attention to the cratering of fellow Marvel property “Spider-Man” when Sony rebooted it in 2012.  The diminishing returns of that franchise are largely attributable to the fact that audiences do not want to sit through a slightly altered retread of a story they liked just fine ten years ago.  “Fantastic Four,” like “The Amazing Spider-Man,” returns to the tale of heroic origins to issue a slight corrective that will eventually set the series on a different course.

There is simply too much vying for audiences’ attention, not only on the silver screen but also on televisions, tablets, and mobile devices.  If the creative minds that be want to do something new with familiar material, they had better go ahead and do it.  No one wants to wait around for them to get their act together as they rejuvenate it.  So, naturally, “Fantastic Four” inspires listlessness as it makes us consciously realize the drain on our time as it slips away from us.  D1star





REVIEW: Fruitvale Station

19 07 2013

Fruitvale StationCannes Film Festival – Un Certain Regard

Fruitvale Station” makes no attempts to hide its bleak ending; before anything else, writer/director Ryan Coogler shows us the real-life death of the protagonist, Oscar Grant, as caught by a grainy cell phone camera.  Then we rewind the clock a day, and Michael B. Jordan assumes the role of Grant, a man with nobility and flaws just like any of us.

For an hour, Coogler walks us through the last day in his life.  It’s a poignant and well observed slice-of-life punctuated by Jordan’s great moments of humanity.  Yet without the knowledge that we’re witnessing a series of last moments in Grant’s life, the drama is essentially inconsequential.

Essentially dependent on dramatic irony for propulsion, the majority of “Fruitvale Station” feels like an average movie able to get away with not aiming for much.  But then, the inevitable conclusion arrives, and we’re faced with an incident of horrifying police brutality that claims Grant’s life (it’s hardly a spoiler, so get over it).  The emotionally charged moment is gripping and tense, enough to feel twice as long as the rest of the film.

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REVIEW: Chronicle

13 12 2012

Oh, found footage movies, whatever are we going to do with you?  With every new movie, you seem to reinvent your own rules.  Everyone just has to be an iconoclast, I suppose.

In “Chronicle,” the story of three teenagers magically endowed with superpowers, the camera begins as a small handheld camera documenting the mundane happenings of life.  But then the perspective widens. By the climactic fight scene, we are taking it in from every lens possible, be it a police car or a building security camera.

In a way, it makes sense for the number of cameras to grow as the magnitude of these three high schoolers’ decisions with their powers begins to affect people beyond the personal scale.  In a movie like “Project X,” the action never really expands to such a wide scope, and it feels a little odd when the cameras begin to act as such.  Yet even with a relatively justifiable reason to switch up the shooting style, “Chronicle” widens its lens at the expense of some of the intimacy that the found footage subgenre is designed to provide.  And as such, it loses the punch of an “End of Watch” or “Paranormal Activity.”

But in terms of pushing the form beyond a single camera, I don’t think anyone has done it better than director Josh Trank.  His “Chronicle” doesn’t hide behind the format as a front for lazy filmmaking.  He uses the camera to provide a naturalistic portrait of high schoolers struggling with their issues, just on an extremely heightened scale.  With close-ups and tight framing, Trank is able to pierce the psyche.

Trank is also fortunate to not only have the camera as his only weapon.  “Chronicle” also features a thoughtful screenplay by Max Landis that resists mere surface-level discussions and childish gimmickry.  He manages to make the relationships feel authentic and the events feel real even when they delve into the realm of the fantastic.

Much of the success of the film can also be credited to the trio of young actors, Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, and Michael B. Jordan, who establish relationships that we feel extend far beyond what we see on the screen.  They make the film feel as if we just happened to stumble into their friendship on any ordinary day … and then it just happens to turn extraordinary.  B2halfstars