Dec 182016
 

Rogue One is the first standalone movie set in the Star Wars universe and, despite some lazy character development, it’s a worthy addition to the canon. We follow Jyn Erso, a reluctant recruit to the Rebel Alliance, and a motley band of freedom fighters as they try to steal the plans for the first Death Star. The plot moves along at a brisk pace and it soon becomes apparent that we are watching a war movie that is much darker in tone than other entries in the series (with the possible exception of The Empire Strikes Back). The theme of war and its costs hasn’t been explored much in the previous movies, so I was a little surprised at how bleak Rogue One could be at times.

The movie also provides a wealth of visually arresting moments as well as carefully placed Easter eggs for the hardcore fan. I’ve already seen it twice and I’m sure I still didn’t completely absorb all of the details in each scene. I would have liked a little more depth in the main characters and fewer vaguely portentous lines about their backstories, but vaguely portentous statements are the bread and butter of Star Wars. Perhaps the next standalone movie (featuring a young Han Solo) will do better in that regard, but Rogue One is still hugely entertaining.

Jul 162016
 

No, the Ghostsbusters reboot did not ruin my childhood. It’s been a disappointing summer movie season replete with misfires, but Ghostbusters is a funny and charming evening at the cinema. The entire cast has great chemistry, which helps sell even some of the weaker jokes. Kate McKinnon, in particular, delivers a delightfully weird performance that sometimes borders on the truly absurd. It lacks some of the original’s freshness, but how could it be otherwise? The 1984 blended comedy and spectacle in a way that hadn’t really been done before and today’s audiences are much more difficult to impress. The reboot doesn’t try to impress; it just wants to show you a good time, an skill that many blockbusters have forgotten.

Be sure to stay for the final scene after the credits roll. It offers a hint at a possible sequel that should excite fans of the original. I hope we get to see it.

Sep 112015
 

Remember that time when I couldn’t stop gushing about Children of Men? It’s still one of my favorite movies and it’s still a favorite topic of discussion among fellow film nerds. Case in point: this excellent video that examines how Cuaron’s use of background imagery works in conjunction with the main story playing out in the foreground.

This movie has been on my mind as I’ve watched news stories about the refugees seeking better lives in Europe. The situation isn’t quite as bleak as what’s portrayed in the film, but the vile xenophobia on display in places like Hungary isn’t far removed from it, either.

May 162015
 

Mad Max: Fury Road is a movie whose engine never stops roaring until the credits roll. It’s a brilliantly executed return to the post-apocalyptic wastelands of The Road Warrior, but Fury Road makes that movie seem like a leisurely Sunday stroll in comparison. The plot is simple yet elegant: an extended chase sequence that ebbs and crescendoes in tightly choreographed displays of chaos. Max (Tom Hardy) is once again the tortured loner eking out a grim existence in the wastelands until he’s captured by Immortan Joe, a warlord with a death fixation. Meanwhile, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), launches a plan to liberate her master’s most favored sex slaves and take them to safety. As you might imagine, things don’t go according to plan.

Director George Miller makes sparing use of computer generated effects, which gives his scenes of automotive mayhem a more visceral feel. The chrome and sand flying across the screen is tangible in a way that the superpowers of the Avengers still aren’t. And while Max may be the titular hero, Furiosa is the movie’s true moral center and the character with the most depth. Theron joins the pantheon of female action stars (including Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton) whose presence elevates their movies from the generic to the compelling. Fury Road‘s feminist themes have managed to elicit growling and howls from the caves of the men’s rights advocates, which is another reason to love this movie.

Apr 172015
 

A few pop culture thoughts to end the week:

  • The new teaser for the upcoming Star Wars movie stands up well to repeated viewings. That shot of a Star Destroyer wreck in the desert (apparently not Tatooine, though) looks magnificent. But the teaser also raises many questions. What exactly is this new iteration of the Empire glimpsed in various scenes? Did the Rebels totally screw up their chance at governance? Are Han and Leia still a thing? These are the questions that will keep me awake between now and December.
  • I’ve only seen a couple episodes of the Daredevil series on Netflix, but what I have seen is excellent. The tone is dark but not oppressive, the dialogue is snappy, and the fight scenes are stunning. You should watch it.
Mar 122015
 

Rogue One, the first Star Wars spinoff movie announced today, has me intrigued. The title hints that it may focus on X-wing pilots, which presents all kinds of interesting storytelling possibilities. And it could have a woman as the lead character, which may demonstrate that Disney is trying to expand the franchise’s appeal to a wider audience. While we have yet to see whether any of these movies will actually be good, I’m impressed thus far with Disney’s handling of the property. They seem to be making real efforts to create a movie universe that could be just as interesting as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has worked out quite well for them.

Feb 202015
 

I’m excited to see what director Neil Blomkamp does with the Alien franchise. District 9 is one of my favorite science fiction films of the last few years and an Alien movie could be a great showcase for his gritty, shakycam-fuelled sensibility. And if his movie chooses to ignore the mess that came after Aliens, even better. Based on some of the concept art that Blomkamp previously shared on his Instagram feed, we could get to see the return of Ripley and a grizzled Corporal Hicks. I’m also taking bets on what role Sharlto Copley will play and whether his character will survive until the end of the movie.

Dec 312014
 

A few brief thoughts on my year at the cinema:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy was the best popcorn movie of 2014. Like a lot of people, I had my doubts about whether Marvel could make a decent movie based on a third-tier comic book title, but they demonstrated that a strong script, stunning visuals, and charismatic actors can elevate the most obscure source material into a blockbuster. It still seems odd to me that we now live in a world where Chris Pratt is an action hero, but odd in a good way.
  • I liked Birdman, but it didn’t leave me enthralled. I could appreciate its technical prowess and it has some genuinely funny moments, mostly thanks to Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. I’m just not sure that’s enough to justify the raves it has received.
  • I still need to see Boyhood. Don’t tell anyone.
  • I wish I could have liked Interstellar more than I did.
  • Best movie that came out of nowhere: The Babadook.
  • My favorite time at the movies this year was seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson’s fussy movies usually leave me cold, but this story within a story about the final glory days of an Eastern European hotel is probably his best work. Ralph Fiennes is perfectly cast as the hotel’s solicitous manager and the plot concerning a stolen painting is zany while maintaining a dark and melancholy undertone. It’s a movie that rewards repeated viewings because of Anderson’s careful attention to detail and because of the many hilarious moments delivered by the cast. It makes me want to spray myself liberally with some L’air de Panache and take a holiday.
Dec 162014
 

Horror films work best when they reflect the mundane through a looking glass darkly. The Babadook, a finely honed and nerve-wracking movie from Australian director, focuses its looking glass on a hallowed fixture of domestic life: the relationship between mother and child. We meet Amelia (Essie Davis), a young widow who is still grieving the death of her husband several years past. Her grief is made even more excruciating by the circumstances of his death, which I won’t detail here because it’s a crucial plot element. She does her best to care for Samuel (Noah Wiseman), her young and rather high-strung son, but a toxic combination of resentment and loss have placed her on the knife’s edge of a nervous breakdown.

One night, Samuel asks his mother to read to him from a mysterious storybook that he found on his shelf. The book depicts, through a series of pop-up images, a menacing character named Mr. Babadook. Babadook’s likes include top hats, hanging from the ceiling, and driving people to commit murder and suicide.

Amelia quickly decides that this is not appropriate reading material for a 7-year-old, but the damage is already done. Samuel soon begins hearing voices and, in one particularly harrowing scene, has a full-blown meltdown brought on by visions of the Babadook. And then Amelia begins seeing a cloaked figure creep into her bedroom at night. Before long, they are both trapped in their dimly lit home by their own fear and insomnia as the Babadook lurks in the shadows.

For a debut feature, The Babadook is remarkably self-assured. Kent doesn’t introduce any extraneous details or waste time establishing the story. She has created a sleek cinematic engine emitting a disquieting thrum that grows steadily louder. It’s one of the best movies of the year and I’m expecting great things to come from Ms. Kent. The movie is playing in only a handful of theaters, but is readily available on iTunes and Amazon.

Dec 022014
 

Stephen Hawking wants to play a villain in a future Bond movie. Of course, you know what this means. This means that I’m kicking off my Official Campaign to Be Stephen Hawking’s Henchman in As-Yet Undetermined James Bond Movie. I would be perfect as the guy who sits behind Hawking and glares menacingly at a bound and gagged Bond while Hawking provides a detailed explanation of his plans to destroy the Earth in a re-creation of the Big Bang. I would be willing to work for scale and call Hawking “Boss” if the script calls for it. I could even provide comic relief after Bond inevitably escapes and a furious Hawking instructs his pet cybernetically-enhanced gorilla to dispatch me.

It’s unlikely that anyone will make a (pretty good) movie about my life, so this may be my best shot at getting my name in IMDB. Anybody know a good agent?