Category Archives: Film Review

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

One of the previews that screened before last night’s Boston premiere of Blade Runner 2049 was for next year’s monsters vs. robots actioner Pacific Rim Uprising, an inevitable if somewhat tardy sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 original. Based solely on this trailer, it’s evident that Uprising centers on the son of the first film’s protagonist, alludes heavily to that first film, and possibly just revamps the plot with slightly louder explosions. I was reminded, regrettably, of Independence Day: Resurgence, which gave off a similar reek of franchise desperation.

And of course this was the general fear heading into 2049. It’s been 35 years since Blade Runner established a visual and tonal format for scores of futuristic noirs to come (Dark City, Gattaca, Strange DaysAutomata, more), and this is apparently long enough to give up on counterfeiting and make it explicit: time for another Blade Runner. In 2049 we have K (Ryan Gosling), our new replicant-hunting LAPD hero-hunk, leading us through the same streets Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) traversed back in 1982. There is a new mystery at hand, yes, but there is also heavy allusion to the beloved original disseminated through visual cues, recycled dialogue, occasional cameos and, as is par for the course these days, a victory lap for Ford.

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Free Fire (2016)

This article first appeared as a part of the Brattle Film Notes commentary series, presented by the Brattle Theatre in Boston, MA, for a special screening of Free Fire. Slight edits have been made from the original posting.

free fire posterProlific director Ben Wheatley followed up 2015’s High-Rise with Free Fire, another film about the disintegration of a boxed-in mini-society. Both efforts are similar in this sense, observing a group of strangers forced into close quarters, casting us as the voyeuristic witnesses on a direct descent away from normalcy. Both films begin methodically, High-Rise introducing a futuristic all-inclusive living complex and Free Fire peeping in on an arms deal in an abandoned warehouse. And both can only ever end one way: in chaos, loud and bloody.

But it’s still remarkable how different these two films are, despite the apparent similarities and the fact that both were crafted by Wheatley (with co-writer Amy Jump) in the span of a single year. Free Fire justifies itself in the approach, heavily drawing on Reservoir Dogs-era Tarantino to convey vital information through seemingly innocuous dialogue as much as visual staging. Words do all the work here, with snippets of conversation managing to develop characters and propel the narrative at the same time. The arms deal brings buyers, sellers, intermediaries, muscle-for-hire and assassins-for-hire into a confined space, but before the guns come out it’s dialogue that each party attempts to weaponize.

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Baby Driver (2017)

baby2I recently watched Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz for the zillionth time. This was partly to assuage my excitement for Baby Driver, Wright’s latest, and partly because the discovery of a commentary track by Wright and his buddy Quentin Tarantino was too good to pass up. Usually commentary tracks feel slight, strained, straight-up unnecessary; Wright and Tarantino have a casual chat that’s nearly as bonkers as Hot Fuzz itself. The pair share a vast encyclopedic knowledge of film and music, and throughout the course of the commentary they discuss nearly 200 films — basically everything besides Hot Fuzz — and if you’re thinking someone should write out that list, well, yeah: reddit.

Their knowledge is enviable, yes, but it’s not nearly as enviable as the fact that both writer/directors manage to make movies that are unlike any other movie you’ve ever seen. Baby Driver, it should be stated at the outset, is unlike any other movie you’ve ever seen. Wright, like Tarantino, has fresh ideas that swing for the narrative fences, and like Tarantino he also has the prowess to actually achieve his vision. This time around the vision is something people are calling a “car chase musical”, which seems only half-accurate because it doesn’t quite do Baby Driver justice.

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The Nice Guys (2016)

The Nice Guys (2016)With The Nice Guys, Shane Black returns to what he knows best: two dudes (Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe), a babe (Margaret Qualley), and some henchmen all tossed into a cauldron of bubbling absurdity.

Fortunately, my theater was fairly empty, because I laughed obnoxiously more or less throughout the entire runtime of this film. The humor is incredibly clever at times (Gosling takes cover behind a oscillating vehicle on display only to jump up and lay down a round of cover fire in the completely wrong direction after having been turned around) and at other times,  hilariously moronic (continuous series of Gosling falling down/high-pitched screaming).  Gosling performed at the top of his game, flaunting his remarkable comedic chops throughout, perhaps outshining the great Mr. Crowe.  As described, he hits every mark and even adds his own flair to the script (classically referring the male reproductive organ as a “schphitz” or a “schphonz”).

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Ant-Man (2015)

Ant-ManA guy becomes ant-sized and communicates with ants to…save the world? Kind of sounds like a bad Raid commercial to me. And yet, Ant-Man, one of Marvel’s most overlooked additions to the MCU, was actually pretty enjoyable — not that this should be too surprising, I suppose, since the most likable man in the world plays the movie’s lead. If you’re thinking of anyone other than Paul Rudd, you’re just wrong.

Ant-Man is the story of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his legendary invention of “Pym particles” — a type of particle that can increase or decrease the distance between atoms in order to shrink or enlarge a person or object. Pym incorporates these particles into a suit that allows the wearer to shrink to the size of an ant, while maintaining the strength of a full-sized person. This invention, however, brings danger and risk, as being able to shrink oneself is a threat to national security — if a person is too small to detect, then they can infiltrate any security system in the world. Pym decides that the risks of his suit are too big and leaves Pym Industries with his secret formula in hand. Little does he know, his young protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), is intent on recreating the particles and using them for the exact purpose for which Hank Pym has shut down the program altogether.

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Eddie the Eagle (2016)

Eddie the Eagle (2016)There are two kinds of sports movies: underdog stories and everything else. The former category is vastly larger than the latter, likely because that’s sort of the archetypal narrative in any genre. The very first shot of Star Wars is a tiny Rebel ship fleeing a massive Imperial cruiser, and yet we know instantly which one we’re going to root for. In terms of sports movies this translates to Remember the Titans, The Longest Yard (not the remake), Rudy, Miracle, The Bad News Bears (not the remake), Chariots of Fire, The Hustler, A League of Their Own, Major League, Breaking Away, Slap Shot, Rocky, Hoosiers, Moneyball, and so on and so on.

One might easily claim that Jerry Maguire, Eight Men Out, The Natural, Field of Dreams, Raging Bull, and other sports movies that don’t fit comfortably into the underdog narrative are more admirable for finding a way to avoid it, but really all of the movies listed above are pretty great (but not the remakes). The question is not “in which category does Eddie the Eagle belong?” because Eddie very definitely belongs with the Underdogs; the question is whether Eddie’s story cuts it to the degree that the old hat storyline takes a backseat to the overall journey.

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The Gift (2015)

The Gift (2015)Oftentimes, we yearn for simplicity in movies. There should be good guys, bad guys, and a happy ending. Maybe it was all those fairy tales we heard growing up. Unfortunately, for those looking for the next great American fairy tale, Joel Edgerton’s The Gift is not it.

The first part of the movie plays out like any stalker-thriller movie does. Strange man comes along, takes an unusual interest in a woman or a couple, drops by often for unexpected visits, and is generally creepy (even when trying to help out). In this case, it is Gordo or “Gordo the Weirdo” (Joel Edgerton) an old classmate of Simon (Jason Bateman) who just can’t stay away from him and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) after they move back to California.

It all starts out harmless enough, despite Simon’s constant insisting that Gordo is, in fact, a “weirdo” and they should tell him off. When Simon finally does tell Gordo to leave him and Robyn alone, the situation, not surprisingly, turns from creepy to dangerous.

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The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book (2016)Today is May 11th, 2016, the 132nd day of the year. In those just-over-100 days a small little company called Disney — heard of it? — has made more money than any single company has any earthly right to make. Not since the Dutch East India Trading Company has a multinational firm held such widespread influence. Disney’s always been a successful company, sure, and even if they had fiscal years of lesser oomph they always had sheer name recognition to fall back on. In a bygone era every kid knew about Disney; today, though, we’re headed toward the era where every kid knows only Disney.

If that post-apocalyptic fever dream of a world seems far-fetched, consider how many of the blockbusters busting the block this year were preceded by that little star making an arc over the Magic Kingdom. Zootopia, for example, which is an animated film about talking animals, is currently hovering above the $930 million mark at the global box office. It is already the highest-grossing animated Disney film ever in China, surpassing even the likes of Frozen and The Lion King, and is in general doing work at the box office as few animated films have done before. Ever.

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Paper Towns (2015)

Paper Towns (2015)When the film adaption of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars went from thickly bound pages to the glowing awe of the big screen in 2014, teenage girls everywhere swooned and sighed as, “Okay,” took on a whole new meaning. Green’s other novel-adapted movie Paper Towns didn’t receive quite as much anticipatory swooning, but also doesn’t require quite as much emotional investment — and that’s okay.

Paper Towns stars Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne as a boy in love, and the girl who steals his heart, respectively. However, this is not so much a love story as it is the story of being young, of being innocent, of making the most of the moments of youth you have left before you stumble your way into noncommittal adulthood. And it’s good, it really is.

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Frantic (1988)

Frantic (1988)Frantic is such the quintessential Roman Polanski movie that you’ll swear you’ve seen it before. As with Repulsion, Cul-De-Sac, Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant and What? before it, Frantic subsists entirely on a sense of dread that grows steadily following an initial oddity. The tagline is “Danger. Desire. Desperation”, which could easily be the tagline for a sizable cross-section of Polanski’s filmography. That said, only one of those three words — “Desperation” — actually feels accurate within the context of the movie, and even the title Frantic is a bit misleading. This isn’t the only kind of film Polanski is capable of, but the series that do fit the mold are less frantic and more foreboding, less manic and more pulsating, less overtly dangerous and more subtly sinister.

And a lot of them concern an American Abroad, a topic which for some reason seems to lend itself particularly well to the horror genre. Films like Jeopardy, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Hysteria derive a palpable sense of dread from the American Abroad in much the same way; the films based on Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley books and tense thrillers like Straw Dogs and Sorcerer benefit from the same fish-out-of-water vibe, too, while others like The Yakuza use the trope even more explicitly. Of course the whole American Abroad thing is also a hallmark of shitty potboilers like Deception or the slightly-better Lizzie McGuire Movie. Did you know there’s a movie called Shaft in Africa? There’s a movie called Shaft in Africa.

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