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Showing posts from March, 2018

Isle of Dogs

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Isle of Dogs is a stop-motion cartoon from Wes Anderson about how dogs are man's best friend.  The film nearly reviews itself from the mere description - the eccentric hipster's witty writing, outsider characters, detailed dollhouse-like worlds, and undercurrents of gentle warmth and shocking violence either charm your pants off or immediately repulse you. The addition of stop-motion animation and subject of dogs, similarly, are things that you probably know either work for you or don't. Isle of Dogs is one of Anderson's wittiest, most detailed, warmest, and most charming films yet, and you want to just hug the movie and scratch it behind the ears - unless you're not on the Wes Anderson-stop motion-dog wavelength, in which case you may as well be a cat person with a dog allergy stuck in a dog kennel. While this isn't Anderson's first foray into stop-motion - following Fantastic Mr. Fox nearly a decade ago - I believe it is his first science fictio

Tomb Raider [2018]

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Say what you will about the previous Tomb Raider films, but they made a brilliant casting choice in Angelina Jolie. Already a great, Academy Award-winning actress, Jolie committed absolutely to the role, throwing herself into it physically and emotionally. Best of all, her commanding, megawatt star presence went a long way in carrying the films when they otherwise faltered. (which was often) So the reboot had its work cut out for it in the casting department. Thankfully, Alicia Vikander turned out to be an excellent choice. While she may lack the sheer overwhelming star power and presence of Jolie at this point, she's just as great an actress, similarly an Oscar winner at a young age and a star on top of it. And she's similarly committed -- practically the first thing Tomb Raider shows off is how ripped she got for the role, gaining 12 pounds of muscle on a tiny frame. Her athletic physicality throughout is impressive. And she's quite good in general; her Lara is mor

Pacific Rim: Uprising

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MILD SPOILERS About five years ago, Guillermo del Toro delivered Pacific Rim - a giant monsters (Kaiju) vs. giant robots (Jaeger) movie with a gargantuan budget. It was... fine. Del Toro's geeky love for the genre and skill with set-pieces elevated it, and the result was fun, but uninvolving, due mostly to structural issues. The first act was a mess, with far too much voice-over exposition and a wandering focus that didn't get us really invested; the second act was essentially just one incredibly long (and awesome) fight scene; and the third act promised a desperate final action, but the rousing second act ultimately felt so victorious that the stakes didn't quite resonate right. There's an interesting emotional core to the film, focused on the heroes dealing with loss and survivor's guilt, but it never really clicks. Most strangely, the one character who seemed to be the perfect audience POV character, with a relatable arc and engaging personality, Rinko

Black Panther

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[SPOILERS, but come on, you've seen this one already, right?] You are a good man with a good heart. It is hard for a good man to be king. The slums of Oakland, 1992. A group of black boys play basketball with a makeshift hoop of a milk crate attached to a slab of wood when an impossible sight appears -- a hoverjet floats above the dilapidated buildings where they live, landing on one. Inside the building, it is soon revealed the hoverjet carried King T'Chaka of Wakanda, here to confront his brother on a betrayal... A quarter of a century later - hidden away in the depths of Africa, the city of Wakanda appears to outsiders to be just another third world country. But this is a front - it's actually the most advanced nation on earth, which protects its' people by being ruthlessly isolationist. In the wake of T'Chaka's death, his son, T'Challa, takes up the mantle of king -- and Black Panther, a warrior powered by both the natural powers of a my

Red Sparrow

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Jennifer Lawrence is perhaps the most American actress alive - which is to say, entirely intuitive, impassioned, and non-theatrical. It's as though she less memorizes and recites lines of dialogue than she absorbs it from the surrounding atmosphere. When a director and script know how to utilize her talents, she's absolutely sensational - capable of everything from entirely controlled to painfully raw. Unfortunately, it also means that when she doesn't have a script and director plugged into her character, she can seem simply lost. Across three X-Men movies, she's given exactly one good performance, and even Days of Future Past would have done just as well if not better with Rebecca Romijn.  But Francis Lawrence knows exactly how to use Jennifer Lawrence. (hereafter referred to as FL and JL, respectively) After three Hunger Games movies, these two are in perfect sync. FL focuses on JL's emotional journey, giving her room to explore every layer of Dominika

A Quiet Place

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Who are we if we can't protect them? We have to protect them. A Quiet Place is that rarest kind of horror film - legit scary and dramatically cathartic. It stakes out the kind of horror film it is early. In setup, simple and stripped-down -- a family is beset by monsters with can't see but have extraordinary hearing. Thus, any sound could set them after you. You can't ever talk, or even wear shoes for fear of the sounds of footsteps. Just in itself, this is an ingenious gimmick for a thriller, given how much suspense comes from the careful manipulation of silence and too-loud sounds. Yet its opening scenes make it clear this isn't just a gimmick, but a thoughtful, intelligent film, carefully developing its world and characters with a minimum of words. No character speaks aloud until well into the second act, and even then, only a handful of lines are spoken. The characters do speak in American Sign Language, but even this is restrained. We don't lea

Ready Player One

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The following review contains mild spoilers. None of the major set-pieces or sight gags after the first act are detailed, but character arcs and themes are discussed in some detail. During his introduction at the premiere at SXSW, Steven Spielberg said Ready Player One was not a film, but a movie -- by which he means a return to the crowd-pleasing blockbusters he’s best known and loved for. And it’s certainly that; it may be a minor shame that it isn’t more than that, or even the finest example of it, but it’s still the world’s greatest living filmmaker indulging in silly fun. Ready Player One gleefully barrels through every kind of special effect, action sequence, and pop culture reference it can jam into 2 1/2 hours -- a car race where a DeLorean tries to dodge a T-Rex and outrun King Kong, Freddy Krueger getting incinerated by a futuristic cyborg, and numerous others. The margins are filled with references both obvious and obscure, while surface-level references are indu