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Tag Archive: opening weekend 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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magnificent-seven-banner-2016

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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prideprejudiceszombies

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a classic story in possession of fans must be in want of retelling.  Likewise, that if that story is a novel, it should also thence be made into a film.  And if you can find a way to put zombies in, wins all around.

Thus, writer/director Burr Steers’ new Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, based on the eponymous 2005 novel “co-written” by Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) and Jane Austen.  Cleverly packaged to release in time for Valentine’s Day, the film is a sure winner for date night: costumes; romance; actors in various states of fetching undress; violence; girls with swords; shambling, oozing undead in fetching period costumes; and powerful women with estates and eyepatches.  And Matt Smith.  Need I say more, really?

As a version of Pride and Prejudice, PPZ is probably below average, and relies on the viewer’s familiarity with the story, since much of the film’s 108-minute runtime must be given over to worldbuilding and action sequences (although fans of the 1995 A&E adaptation will be rewarded with plenty of homages, especially with respect to Mr. Darcy).  Prideful Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James, Cinderella) and disdainful Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) have even less onscreen chemistry than Austen’s off-again, off-again lovers normally display–but they more than make up for it with their zombie-fighting prowess.  Lizzie’s intolerable-yet-lovable family is neither interesting enough nor loathsome enough to inspire much response from the viewer; thank goodness for the zombies to give us something to care about.

PPZ zombie

As a zombie film, it’s probably also less than what the average zombie flick fan is looking for.  There are the requisite scenes of shambling hordes, rotting flesh, and brain-eating, but it’s somewhat tame thanks to the PG-13 rating, and in comparison to so many other recent zombie properties.  In fact, it’s actually a credit to the filmmakers that they didn’t try to outdo the competition with their zombie horde, and instead showed a certain 19th century refinement and restraint in the presentation.

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THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s almost a shame this weekend’s big screen release The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a retelling of the 1960s television series.  It’s an adaptation in that it takes the framework of the show—an American and a Russian working together as Cold War era spies—yet director Guy Ritchie makes this work stand completely by itself.  The fact that it’s based on a classic series may turn away viewers who may be tired of other remakes of 1960s shows like Get Smart and The Avengers (both of which were good standalone films).  But that would be a great loss, as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is not only as stylish as advertised in our favorite trailer of the year, it’s a classy and smart story and a superb re-creation of the early 1960s.

It’s no surprise that this film relishes its Bond influences–Henry Cavill’s character Napoleon Solo was created by Ian Fleming, the same Ian Fleming that created Bond.  Yet the movie is fresh and new.  The story and Cavill’s performance evoke Matt Bomer’s role of stylish and cocky ex-art thief-turned government man on TV’s White Collar.  In fact Cavill is a dead ringer for Bomer.  Likely it’s just a coincidence but if you loved White Collar you’ll love this film.  And any doubts you may have as to Cavill’s acting because of the poorly written part he was stuck with in Man of Steel will be wiped away with his confident and suave Solo.  Even better is Armie Hammer’s performance as Illya Kuryakin.  Any doubts you may have as to Hammer’s acting from his lead role in The Lone Ranger will also be wiped away.  Hammer’s performance as a KGB agent in need of some anger management is nuanced and layered.  The idea of putting some Ennio Morricone musical queues behind Hammer and adding a Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry twitch are simply inspired.  This is a great team and a film that sets itself up for an exciting sequel.

Cavill Debicki Man from UNCLE

As commanding a presence as Cavill and Hammer have, they are almost upstaged by the equally important roles played by Alicia Vikander as the German daughter of a rocket scientist and Elizabeth Debicki as the ultimate Bond villain.  The villainy in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is surprisingly as powerful, seething, and fun as any 1960s Bond film.  All of this is a credit to Ritchie’s bankable directorial and writing prowess.  A fan of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Ritchie knows how to get the best out of partnerships here, just as he did with his Sherlock Holmes movie series.

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