It’s hard to make “overwhelming odds” consistently feel convincing. Blockbusters have relied on those for so long that their villains and threats have to keep raising the stakes in order to be taken seriously. Rogue One takes a different approach–instead of making a “newer and bigger” Empire, it reminds us why the original was so credible, injecting significance even into small-scale events and questioning our heroes’ confidence in their own beliefs along the way. If the excellent but familiar The Force Awakens demonstrated an understanding of why Star Wars: A New Hope is an enduring classic, Rogue One understands why Star Wars is still a terrific series with powerful and gripping stories to tell.
Distracted driving is dangerous.
After a horrific accident threatens to cut short both Dr. Stephen Strange’s illustrious career and his life, the battered yet proud and determined surgeon’s journey through physical and emotional rehabilitation soon grants him not only the regained use of his finger dexterity but also the power to travel among dimensions and to manipulate space and time.
He’s a compelling character, with an ego that early on screams importance and the medical abilities to back it up, and a reliably standout performance from Benedict Cumberbatch makes him engrossing to watch, as do the visual splendor and the generally solid writing. This becomes a story that reminds us why origin stories are worth enjoying.
Doctor Strange doesn’t reinvent the genre wheel, but in a way it’s a better film for that.
Guillermo del Toro’s period romance turned horror tale turned stage drama is an interesting but odd film, whose mixture of genres results in a story that feels barebones but nonetheless offers incredible visuals and atmosphere thanks to its stunning architecture and disturbingly convincing special effects. The writing could use more confidence along the lines of del Toro’s own Pacific Rim or the engrossing genre-blend Pan’s Labyrinth, but this is still a gorgeous movie that would simply benefit from more character depth and quicker pacing to back up its amazing set pieces.
Edith Cushing saw a ghost when she was ten. It was her mother’s, who gave her only a vague warning: Beware of Crimson Peak. Years passed, and Edith seemed happy and doing well for herself, her dress suggesting prestige and grandeur. She’d spent her time constructing a manuscript, using a ghost not as the center of a plot but as a metaphor for the past. Her publisher, not particularly progressive toward women or their narrative tastes, insisted on a love story.
One like this would give him more than he bargained for.
When faced with evil, our response to it says more about us than any danger alone does. In 1630 New England, a man and his wife and children are banished from their plantation by a Christian court for crimes not fully specified. Exiled to a green yet bleak wilderness, the family rebuilds their life as best they can, looking to God when everything around and within them falls apart. The “VVitch” is–for the most part–a darkly believable and in some ways disturbingly familiar portrayal of what happens when an external threat is resisted by extremism, with few clear heroes and fewer solutions. As a story, and as a piece of entertainment, the film isn’t much to speak of; its subject matter, however, remains deeply unsettling and may stay memorable longer than the movie.
Before I’d ever heard of the Marvel comic event that would eventually beget this film, I had a vision of a superhero story where collateral damage is used as an excuse to discredit superheroes and to call for their arrest or cessation. Captain America: Civil War more or less is that story, and its often serious tone makes for a compelling if sometimes emotionally unforgiving story that strikes a healthy balance between being fun, without being irresponsible (usually), and being introspective, without being depressing.
As did the Avengers films, Captain America in many ways feels like a sequel to the Iron Man films and several other stories in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as a foretaste of what the franchise will hold in the years to come–but rather than simply being a series of movie-length advertisements and product placements, Civil War feels more like the unfolding of a diverse array of character beliefs and motivations that have become increasingly morally difficult to reconcile. Even though some aspects of the premise feel thinly constructed and halfhearted, the movie finds enough value in its action and its interpersonal stories to excuse the gaps in its foundation. If you’re a longtime Marvel follower seeking a realistic treatment of superheroes that isn’t as dark as DC’s Watchmen, this is that story.
Movies based on video games rarely receive warm welcomes, but Ratchet & Clank’s earnest treatment of a well-worn heroic journey is best described as forgettable but not awful: many of the jokes and action scenes feel like they’re working against their own film, but the whole production stays focused and makes too many acceptable design decisions to collapse entirely.
Director and co-writer Mamoru Hosoda delivers in Wolf Children a gem of an ode to the heartrending challenges and unimaginable joys of parenthood. Hana is a university student who falls in love with a kindhearted man who gives her a daughter and son–and also happens to be a wolf–but is taken from her all too soon. Enduring through her tears, Hana gathers every ounce of her strength and determines to make a life for her unusual family, and to raise her children into wonderful people who would make their father very proud, wherever they may go and whatever they may be.
Director J.J. Abrams once said that as a youth he enjoyed Star Wars more than the Star Trek franchise he’s dabbled in, and the high-energy antics he brought to the latter franchise find the warmest of welcomes in George Lucas’ time-honored saga.
The Force Awakens feels reverent of its venerable legacy even to an arguable fault, yet thanks to its wide variety of compelling characters, interesting themes, amazing art designs, and epic battles, beyond a shadow of a doubt Star Wars’ latest entry provides a suitable and stunning look at what the renowned original films might have been like if they had been made today.
(It feels so good to finally make time to finish a post I’d been too busy to work on for two months.)
After FBI agent Kate Macer gets drawn into a conflict south of the Tex-Mex border, she learns that the war on drugs is much more complicated, and much more tragic, than any one side could have planned for.
The Denis Villeneuve-directed Sicario—hitman–excels as a thriller, as a setting and atmosphere showcase, and most importantly as a message, whose predictable yet unpredictable narrative delivers endless questions but always works to invite empathy among all its horror.
There is more to be said about Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of the prestigious Studio Ghibli, than could ever be put into reviews of all of his movies, let alone of one, and never mind his last. The Wind Rises, a dramatized but elegant biography of aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi, is an artistically gorgeous send-off with some notable writing and pacing issues; despite feeling thematically divided and in some places unpolished, the film for the most part does prove itself worthy of Miyazaki’s name and of a place in his decades-spanning animated canon.