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Tag Archive: Opening weekend movie review


Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s the performances of the leading actors that stand out in this weekend’s theatrical release, Colette.  Colette is a biographical story of an avant-garde couple in turn-of-the-twentieth-century France, famed authors who wrote under the pen names Colette (nee Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) and Willy (nee Henry Gauthier-Villars), and the writing of four popular books by Colette that were published under her husband’s name:  Claudine à l’école (1900), Claudine à Paris (1901), Claudine en ménage (1902), and Claudine s’en va (1903).  In the film, directed by Wash Westmoreland, genre favorites Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Imitation Game, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Never Let Me Go, Domino) portrays the younger spouse Colette and Dominic West (Les Miserábles, Tomb Raider, The Hour, The Wire, 300) her very showy and ostentatious libertine husband Willy.  As a tangent for Star Wars fans it’s a Naboo reunion–Knightley was one of Queen Amidala’s handmaidens and her decoy in several scenes, and West one of her royal guards nearly 20 years ago in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

In Colette Knightley and West have great rapport.  It’s a mix of love and conflict that rises to the level of hatred, but along the way their chemistry is quite strong with a carousel of humorous moments throughout their relationship.  It would elevate the writing too much to equate Colette and Willy with Beatrice and Benedick of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, but their back-and-forth repartee is quick and sharp.  They are portrayed to have been a successful (at least financially) if not unorthodox pair.  When Willy courts the much younger Colette in the opening of the movie he has already established fame as a writer (as an early James Patterson-type who took credit for the actual writings of a few employed ghost writers).  But after gambling, over-spending, and other debts catch up to him he turns to Colette to pen the stories she has told him of her youth in pastoral France.  Her work proves to be much more popular than anything he had ever written.  Although he does pout a bit, he spends the large advance for the second book on a country house for Colette.  Not quite Dangerous Liaisons (but close), their equal opportunity games and his spiraling debts ultimately bring their marriage to the breaking point.

Along the way their lifestyle begins to dip even beyond the hedonism and joie de vivre the Belle Epoque, Bohemian, and Decadent movements France was known for, as their marriage branches out to include others: two women (one for both, one for him), played by Eleanor Tomlinson (The Illusionist, Jack the Giant Slayer) and Shannon Tarbet (Inspector Lewis), and ultimately Colette leaves Willy for a third, acting partner Missy, played by Denise Gough (’71, Star Wars: Battlefront, Mass Effect: Andromeda).  Some brief sex scenes and nudity account for the R rating.  Although the film ends with the split of Colette and Willy, Colette would go on to be an early feminist icon, writing many more novels and stories, her best known would be Gigi, the 1944 novel that would become the famous Audrey Hepburn film (Colette specifically selected Hepburn for the role).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For a movie that had some pretty rough previews, including Tom Hardy as a journalist with some indecipherable dialogue and a scientist who mispronounced a key word in the story, the end result may come as a surprise: Venom is actually a pretty good movie.  Do we credit a great post-production and re-shoots, including a complete redo of the strange “symbiote” explanatory scene, or does Sony need to simply work on improving its movie trailers?  Frankly all that matters is what made it to the screen.  Fans of the comic book anti-hero and villain, of alien invasion movies, of that unique character design from co-creator artist Todd McFarlane, of Tom Hardy, and non-traditional superhero movies, you’ll have to work to find anything wrong with this movie.  It’s a good Halloween month monster movie and you don’t need to know anything about the character or Marvel Comics to jump right in.  But you just might want to check out the comics after you see it.  Like Frank Miller caused Daredevil to become popular, McFarlane made Venom big in the 1980s.  Unlike McFarlane’s movie Spawn, an R-rated film that was too dark for mainstream audiences, the PG-13 rating for Venom makes this movie accessible to everyone.

A mix of the classic alien invasion flick, the horrifying McFarlane character look, with the grimy city vibe like the Detroit of Robocop, Venom has elements that make it feel like it belongs in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, regardless of its origin as a Sony film.  As for quality and delivery, it falls somewhere above Blade, Iron Man 2 and 3, The Fantastic Four, the Hulk movies, and Spawn, X-Men 3 and X-Men: Apocalypse, and somewhere below Hellboy and Deadpool.  For most fans of adaptations of comic books on the big screen, that will be enough.  Full of good humor moments, the film doesn’t take itself seriously.  We meet the archetype from 80 years of superhero comics with Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock, an Everyman, a down-and-out guy who can never get a break who gets caught making a few mistakes.  Usually this archetype ends up captured by Batman (or insert other superhero here) and thrown into the slammer, but this time he encounters a body shifting alien presence that merges with him, blending the best and worst of both beings.  Beginning with a crash landing as a SpaceX-inspired ship returns with some specimens from outer space, we eventually meet four alien beings, the lowliest of rank who calls himself Venom.  Merged with Eddie, Venom needs to eat living lifeforms to continue on and he doesn’t grasp the subtleties of only killing bad guys just yet.  Audiences will get to watch these aliens, the symbiotes, body-shift through several random characters (like Denzel Washington’s character in the movie Fallen), including the key cast and an animal or two–and it’s mostly great fun.

Venom is probably a rare time audiences will see Michelle Williams in a stock role.  Usually every part she takes on results in an Oscar-worthy performance, but it’s nice seeing her do something less dramatic.  And she gets some great scenes directly with Venom (including an Easter Egg scene that points straight back to the origin of the character originally discussed between Marvel Comics editor Jim Salicrup and writer/co-creator David Michelinie).  This may be Tom Hardy’s best role since Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (where he was the only good thing in the movie), as he at last gets to play a spectrum of emotions and demonstrate a broad acting range.  Despite what we heard in the movie trailers, his regional American accent is spot on in the final cut and his dialogue is delivered clearly–none of that crazy speech we saw him bring as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises Not hiding behind make-up or masks as in Mad Max: Fury Road, Dunkirk, or Star Trek: Nemesis, Hardy again proves he’s one of the best actors around.  The sound department gets it just right–Hardy’s voice is also the voice transformed into the monstrous, demonic sounding Venom, and it’s unique and effective.  No doubt some elaborate work went on behind the scenes for Hardy-as-Eddie to be arguing with Hardy-as-Venom.  Some of the best lines, and laugh-out-loud moments come from Venom, reminiscent of Gollum and Sméagol.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Amazing?  Definitely.  Spectacular?  Absolutely.  Tom Holland, who stole the show in the key battle of last year’s Captain America: Civil War, has provided the definitive, and yes, the ultimate Spider-man performance in this weekend’s latest Marvel masterwork, Spider-man: Homecoming.  And Holland is equally good, if not better, without the suit as angst-ridden, overburdened teenager and Spider-man alter ego, Peter Parker.  Kids of all ages who ever envisioned the ultimate battle between Spider-man and Batman get their satisfaction here, too: Michael Keaton, in one of his best performances in decades, creates out of an obscure character one of the best supervillain performances to hit the big screen, complete with high-tech bat wings and the classic Keaton we all love to watch.

Moviegoers have seen good efforts from Marvel creating the comic book empire’s flagship, web-slinging superhero before, with Tobey Maguire in three Spider-man solo films and Andrew Garfield in two follow-up Amazing Spider-man films, but this latest story supplies what was missing from the other five: an authentic, likeable, smart, voice-breaking do-gooder and a classic coming of age story with heart.  But it doesn’t skimp on the action, and thanks to some well-filmed 3D and magical IMAX cinematography, one key scene that takes place high atop the Washington Monument made this viewer practically step backward out of his seat into the back row.  Just breathtaking filmmaking.

If you keep a list of superhero movie requirements in the back of your mind, you’ll find that Spider-man: Homecoming fulfills or surpasses them all.  A story with a solid character arc for its lead and antagonist.  A big relief for filmgoers who go to every new superhero movie: writer/director Jon Watts and five other writers (a fact that alone would normally spell certain doom for a film, but not here) knew enough to steer clear of another superhero origin story and instead delved right in.  They flesh out Parker’s relationship with his like-minded, knowledge bowl peers at school and provide more than one jawdropper along the way.  In Keaton’s villain they provide an exceptional, compelling villain, something lacking in the past several years of superhero movies.  Holland sports an update to the Spidey supersuit, and Louise Frogley’s latest costume design is superb, complete with believable, readily available tech supplied in-story by mentor Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark aka Iron Man in his latest perfect adaptation of the role from the comics.  And Michael Giacchino’s powerful and emotional score is among his best, complete with plenty of clever and unexpected themes that amplify the story at the right time.  If you think Peter Parker is a throwaway character, prepare for some emotional work by Holland, especially at his character’s lowest point in the story.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s almost more useful to critique the critics than the new movie The Magnificent Seven, released in theaters this weekend.  You’ll find the whole lot so predictable.  The Magnificent Seven is a reboot or a remake (call it what you want) and so the best that critics are willing to do is provide the phoned-in, knee-jerk dismissal of it being something less than the original and therefore not worth the time it takes them to write a thoughtful review.  Or they will compare it to the best Westerns of all time, and tell you why it falls short.  The better reviews will point out that it’s a remake of the 1960 classic Western starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen.  The smarter ones will remind you that even that version was based on the original Japanese version, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.  Paycheck earned.  Existence justified.  But that’s all too easy.

Yes, the original 1960 John Sturges version is both a great Western and quite fun (it’s on my top ten list).  The darker original Japanese film is more dramatic, brilliant in its simplicity, and not so much a rousing popcorn movie.  Is the 2016 remake among the best Westerns of all time?  Maybe not.  But is it a good Western?  Absolutely.  Do we always want to see the best picture nominee when we go to the theater?  I don’t.  I want to have fun.  And The Magnificent Seven is a blast.  In fact, critics are looking at it wrong.  It’s actually the year’s best superhero movie.

I understand the modern film critic’s dilemma, especially when Hollywood seems to have lost its imagination, churning out remake after remake.  It’s the same old song:  If you were a fan of–or better yet–love the original, you’re more likely than not to brush off the remake altogether, or at least not give it the attention it deserves.  Those who never saw the original or those who can view a remake as its own incarnation–those who can tell themselves their feelings for the remake will not “ruin” their feelings about the original–probably enjoyed the Star Trek reboot from 2009, or Always, or Assault on Precinct 13, or The Flight of the Phoenix, The Fog, The Jackal, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Money Pit, Ocean’s Eleven, RoboCop, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, or Walking Tall.  Each of these, viewed on their own merits is a great film.  They may even be good remakes.  Those who avoid The Magnificent Seven are missing out on a fun outing.  And a good remake.

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Today’s ensemble movie is mostly found in the superhero genre.  Stack up The Magnificent Seven against The Avengers, The Avengers 2, or Captain America: Civil War, or any DC Comics superhero film of the past 20 years, and it leaves them all in its dust in its success in introducing a team, getting them to work together, and MacGyver the situation into some giant climactic battles.  Each of the titular seven stars of the movie have their own extraordinary abilities, they just don’t wear capes.  It’s an ensemble piece.  A superhero team-up.  So why don’t we have a casting Oscar?  The three casting directors knew what they were doing–they created the teams for Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman, No Country for Old Men, True Grit, Sin City, and Star Wars Episode VIII.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The 23rd James Bond film has a lot it must accomplish compared to other franchise movies.  On the 50th anniversary of Bond on film, director Sam Mendes had to deliver something special, more than just the latest entry in the Bond canon.  And despite Mendes’s influences, Skyfall had to be more than another Christopher Nolan action romp like the recent Batman films.  After 50 years, Bond is a British tradition, an international icon, the star of every diehard action film fan’s awaited pilgrimage every few years.  Mendes had to blend the classic with the new as each of his predecessors had, and make sure that even that was done in a new way, without copying other action film franchises like the Jason Bourne movies, as the last movie, Quantum of Solace, has been accused of.  Messing with the Bond formula is like messing with the formula for Coca-Cola.  A director of a Bond film has a delicate trapeze act to maneuver to create a successful Bond picture connecting all the elements of the Bond formula.

So how did Skyfall fair?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In the top 10 of superhero films, the original Sam Raimi Spider-man movies likely would not make the cut.  The first in 2002 was too preachy with it’s in-your-face “with great power comes great responsibility” mantra.  Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker seemed to have fun in the role, but the story was light compared to other superhero films.  The best feature was Willem Dafoe as a superb villain playing the Green Goblin.  I know many oohed and ahhed over the original cinematic web swinging across the city, but in hindsight it doesn’t really compare to Christopher Reeve’s Superman simply flying, Chris Evans’ flame-on as the Human Torch, or Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man test driving his armor.

The second Spider-man was flat with solid character actor Alfred Molina doing his best as the bizarre villain Doc Ock.  The complete lack of chemistry between Tobey Maguire’s Peter and Kirstin Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson caused me to pass on Spidey 3.  Ultimately the original Spider-man efforts lacked heart and a triumphant spirit.  Supposedly the only reason for a fourth Spider-man film was Sony’s obligation to churn out a film in the franchise or lose the opportunity and money.  Switching away from Raimi and Maguire was also supposedly about money.

So is there any reason to see a reboot origin story in The Amazing Spider-man only ten years after the first origin story in Spider-man?  It probably depends on whether you have anything better to do on the Fourth of July.  It would be easy to pass on this one except for the fact that there were a lot worse movies this past year, and this Spider-man definitely has fun moments and not even one groaner that makes you wish you stayed home.  It’s maybe not “amazing,” but it’s good fun.  The new Amazing Spider-man took some real thought to create, learned from mistakes of past superhero movies, and thereby nudges out the original.  Leaning in favor of this film first and foremost is the supporting cast.

The standout performance of The Amazing Spider-man is Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy.  Stone showed her potential for a lead role in Superbad and here she plays a very real, believable character as Parker’s friend and target of his affection.  Stone and young Brit actor Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker have a spark.  Their conversations are slightly silly (in a good way) when they are not talking serious science or in the process of saving New York City.  Stone’s career is ready to take off.

As Dr. Curt Connors, Welsh actor Rhys Ifans plays what would normally be a supervillain, in a typical superhero movie.  But here, Dr. Connors genuinely has a valid scientific goal.  He genuinely supports the work in his lab, which includes Gwen Stacy, and seems to really feel remorse for never contacting Peter after Connors’ partner (and Parker’s dad) died (or went missing).  His own act that turns him into a giant lizard menace is an attempt to prevent lab owner Osborn’s goon from using veterans as test subjects.  As a sort of Mr. Hyde (as in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) Connors is not in control of his actions, and therefore is more sympathetic than the average superhero flick antagonist.  Rhys Ifans played Luna Lovegood’s desperate dad in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, and Hugh Grant’s hilarious roommate in Notting Hill.  Here he has established a great voice and presence, someone who could take over the parts once given to David Warner or Alan Rickman and is an actor to keep a watch for.

Instead of being a one-note “girlfriend’s dad” Denis Leary plays police chief and Gwen’s dad as protective and savvy but also smart enough to know when a crazy story he’s being told may actually be true.  How many movies have taken this role into a routine “daddy doesn’t know best” place?  Parker’s own dad is solidly played, albeit for little screen time, by Campbell Scott (Royal Pains, Dead Again), who seems to only get better over the years with each new role.  Martin Sheen and Sally Field lend a bit of classic Hollywood nostalgia and authenticity to the picture as Parker’s aunt and uncle.  A surprise, slightly bigger than a cameo role, was C. Thomas Howell (Ponyboy Curtis from The Outsiders) as a crane worker who helps save the day for Parker.  The only missing classic Spidey element was Parker as newspaper photographer and more specifically JK Simmons’ feisty performance as his editor, J. Jonah Jameson.  And Spidey creator Stan Lee has his own Marvel cameo as you’d expect.

We all know that Peter Parker is a nerdy kid who gets bullied.  He is physically always a weaker kid, then after he gets bitten by a spider and possesses amazing spider senses he gets to have the scene where he confronts the bully.  In Superman 2,Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent doesn’t make the bully bleed so much as make him regret his bullying of Kent earlier in the story.  Garfield’s Parker is even less vindictive, choosing instead to poke fun of basketball star Flash in front of Flash’s friends.  A nice move that helps establish this Parker’s good guy character.  Andrew Garfield is more bumbling, a little more modern dark hero like Anakin Skywalker as compared to the 1960s clean-cut boy-next-door Peter Parker.

At times Garfield’s Parker seems a little too real–a struggling teen who in real life probably needs someone to tell him to “get with it.”  He’s not a typical actor for a part like this, and yet, Peter Parker is not the typical superhero.  His performance doesn’t dazzle, but he fills the shoes very well.  Do we care whether the web comes from his hands or techno-gadgetry?  Probably not.  Are the best action scenes someone else in costume with Garfield voiceovers?  Probably.  Had this been the first Spider-man film, we all might be more excited about this Peter Parker.  Because of the many stunts and CGI, you wonder how much screentime Garfield gets in the supersuit.  The end credits state that the suit was “manufactured by” Cirque de Soleil, which makes you think maybe there is more stunt trapeze-type swinging than CGI.  Either way, the Spidey swinging takes the roller coaster ride of Spidey’s movements to a fun, new level.  And a focus more on spider abilities and creative web use surpasses the use of this key Spidey element as compared to the earlier movies.

The original Spider-man story is known by everyone.  Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, then he gets these powers.  The Amazing Spider-man now has a combination of  classic sci-fi story elements not found in the source material, with warnings of playing with science as a bit of The Fly meeting Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Jurassic Park.  There is, or may one day be, a downside for Parker’s newfound powers, for playing with and expanding the realm of science, which may be fleshed out in later films.  And Parker doesn’t try to get rid of his powers as other superheroes in their origins.  He uses them for fun until he becomes wise enough to use them for good purposes.  An odd mid-end credit snippet shows a cloaked Osborn speaking with an imprisoned Dr. Connors, suggesting a return of Green Goblin in a fifth Spider-man film.  Based on this week’s box office, no doubt that sequel will be coming along in the next few years and we’ll soon enough be comparing it to Spider-man 2.

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