movie reviews

Unfortunately, the new Hellboy is noise and gore signifying nothing

There’s a scene about midway through Hellboy in which a giant sword goes through a monster’s head, virtually splitting it in half, unleashing a reservoir of blood, and showing some of the soft tissue underneath the skull. While taking in that moment, I thought to myself, “I think that’s what watching this movie feels like.”

I was rooting for the 2019 reboot of Hellboy. It was going to be too easy to dismiss this movie and say Guillermo Del Toro and Ron Perlman did it better — twice — without even seeing this new version. But the wave of early reviews seemed to confirm what so many feared when this project was announced. Was there really any point to reviving Hellboy if there wasn’t anything new to offer?

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t have a problem with remakes and reboots, even if they’re being made too often now. (Saying “Hollywood is out of ideas” is an opinion that’s run out of ideas.) Popular characters and franchises are always going to be mined for new movies and TV shows if a newer angle can be taken. And if new digital effects and moviemaking techniques can tell those stories better than their previous versions, it might just be worth doing.

Continue reading
movie reviews

Shazam! stands out by embracing what makes the superhero fun

With one magic word, Shazam! keeps the fun train rolling for the DC cinematic universe. DC was already on the right track with the success of Wonder Woman and Aquaman, but taking a chance with a B-list (maybe even C-list) character who had a chance to reach a younger audience might have derailed that momentum.

Some fans and critics might feel like DC’s big-screen product won’t be fully established until the big names like Batman and Superman have been restored, and the cinematic universe is on a path to getting the band together in another Justice League film. But Marvel seized the superhero movie pedestal with lesser characters and by creating a slow build that stoked anticipation for a big payoff.

Another reason that Marvel has succeeded while so many other studios and franchises have failed in trying to build a cinematic universe is its realization that many different types of stories and genres could be featured within a superhero universe. Movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man resonated with audiences because they were comedies as much as blockbuster spectacles. Humor has always been the honeypot for these movies.

Continue reading
movie reviews

Us will creep you out and is packed with ideas, but lacks satisfying scares

Whether or not you consider Us a scary movie depends on your personal preferences. If “scary” means making you jump in your seat, shielding yourself with the person sitting next to you, or screaming out loud, you might be disappointed with Jordan Peele’s latest film.

But Us is most certainly creepy, with imagery that might live inside your head for a while and revisit when you close your eyes. The broken mirror doubles that a family suddenly encounters are chilling, a credit to make-up and costuming as well some fantastic acting — both in a physical and psychological sense — from the cast.

Following Get Out, Peele has made another thinking person’s horror film. No, Us probably won’t resonate the way his first effort did. And the story’s resolution doesn’t feel as satisfying. That might compel some fans and critics to use terms like “sophomore slump” in critiquing this movie. But Peele deserves credit for not repeating himself here, something that surely would’ve been easy to do.

Continue reading
movie reviews

Captain Marvel takes a while to click, but eventually comes together for a payoff

Carol Danvers has been a C-list character in Marvel Comics for most of her 50-year history. Only within the past seven years has she held the mantle of Captain Marvel that sells her as a pretty big addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Danvers has a convoluted comic book history, one that surely made her difficult to distill into something simpler for a movie. Yet like Tony Stark before her, the lack of a signature storyline made Danvers a blank slate for Marvel Studios and the five writers (including Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Nicole Perlman and Inside Out‘s Meg LaFauve) who took a crack at Captain Marvel‘s story.

A comic book overhaul in 2012 by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (who appropriately has a quick cameo in the movie) made Danvers a tougher, more accessible character fueled by all of the doubts and obstacles encountered throughout her life. That perseverance is what pushed her into becoming an elite fighter pilot and gave her the edge to stand as an equal with Captain America, Iron Man, and the other Avengers.

Continue reading

movie reviews

Aquaman makes a splash with exotic visuals and Jason Momoa’s charm

aquaman_shoulder

If you grew up snickering at Aquaman while watching Super Friends, it might be difficult to imagine that the man talking to fish and riding sea horses would be the one to save the DC cinematic universe. (Personally, I was grateful to Aquaman for his safety tips warning against the hazards of seaweed wrapping around your legs or getting clothing snagged against pan handles. To my frustration, those clips don’t appear to be available on YouTube.)

OK, Aquaman isn’t a pop culture joke anymore. Not when Jason Momoa is cast as the King of the Seven Seas, portraying a charming lunk who could rip your arms off then enjoy a couple of pints afterwards. As Arthur Curry, he’s far more charismatic and compelling than Henry Cavill as Superman or Ben Affleck as Batman. Had Warner Brothers and DC Films tried to properly establish its core characters, rather than impatiently push its Justice League franchise, perhaps that superhero team-up wouldn’t have been such a flop.

Maybe there is no more DC cinematic universe, in terms of an interconnected series of films that all occupy the same storytelling space. But if DC were to call a mulligan and hide Batman v Superman and Justice League in the cupboard, Aquaman (along with last year’s Wonder Woman) is something that the studio could rebuild its superhero franchise around.

Yet Aquaman is perfectly capable of standing on its own, rather than be a piece of a convoluted puzzle. Director James Wan has built an impressive world around his superhero, creating a spectacle that aspires to the heights of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Avatar. However, while its influences are clear, this movie isn’t derivative. Arthur Curry’s journey from reluctant hero to champion might be familiar — a modern-day fable — but Aquaman feels new and exciting, providing visuals that we haven’t seen before.

Continue reading

movie reviews

Bohemian Rhapsody reminds us Queen was great, ignores too much about Freddie Mercury

freddie_rami

If you’re a fan of Queen and Freddie Mercury, you will very likely enjoy Bohemian Rhapsody. The movie is a celebration of the band and its music. You’ll be reminded of just how much you loved songs like “Fat-Bottomed Girls,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Will Rock You,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” and “Radio Ga Ga,” along with deeper cuts such as “Love of My Life.”

Whether or not the film is a fitting tribute to Mercury will depend on your view. Director Bryan Singer (who was fired from the production yet is still credited) and writer Anthony McCarten take a safe approach to the singer’s personal life, largely settling for allusions to Mercury’s homosexuality, drug use and partying. Much like Mercury did publicly, the movie keeps that away from the audience.

However, Bohemian Rhapsody does a fine job of portraying Freddie Mercury, the rock star. Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) has all of the legendary frontman’s stage moves and swagger down. Mercury commanded the stage, punching, gyrating, and thrusting with the beats from bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor. The rest of Queen effectively faded into the background because the eye was always drawn to Mercury’s energy and charisma.

Continue reading

movie reviews

Robert Redford’s charm carries The Old Man & The Gun, but only so far

redford_tucker

Robert Redford might regret saying that his starring role in The Old Man & the Gun may be his final on-screen performance. But if Redford is indeed going to retire from acting, he chose an excellent role to put a final bow on his acting career.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone else playing Forrest Tucker, a 70-year-old man who can’t give up robbing banks. He just loves it too much and doesn’t want to do anything else. And don’t tell him that he’s too old for this; he’ll just take that as a challenge and try to show you wrong.

Tucker is an absolute charmer, which plays perfectly to Redford’s strengths as an actor. (Even when Redford is playing a deadly serious character, he shows off a wit that can easily pull someone to his side.) The shock of a kind, extremely well-dressed old man suddenly declaring that he’s robbing the bank — usually by showing his holstered revolver — is enough to make tellers and bank managers all too willing to comply.

Policemen and federal agents are amused and flustered by a common statement among all of the people he encounters during his robberies: He was really polite. He was so nice.

It’s almost surprising that Tucker wasn’t given a nickname like “The Gentleman Bandit” (though that would probably be an implicit endorsement of his actions). The media dubs the trio “The Over-the-Hill Gang,” however.) We should probably be thankful that director David Lowery didn’t give this movie such a title either. “The Old Man and the Gun” is taken from the 2003 New Yorker article by David Grann that told Tucker’s improbable story.

Continue reading