Avengers: Infinity War Review


There has never been more wind-up leading up to a movie release than the 10 years that have built to Avengers: Infinity War. Even if Marvel’s track record isn’t spotless, they’ve managed to maintain an absolutely ludicrous level of quality over 18 films. These iconic characters have made an indelible emotional mark on millions of people, making the prospect of a deadly battle against an unbeatable foe feel akin to losing real life friends. That’s a lot of pressure resting on the shoulders of directors Joe and Anthony Russo, who previously delivered the absolutely stellar Capitan America: The Winter Soldier and the plodding tonal mess that was Civil War (sorry, still haven’t moved on that one). Their approach: deliver a nearly 3 hour montage that goes between three different storylines, their results: decidedly mixed.

Thanos (Josh Brolin) has been a looming shadow over the MCU ever since the original Avengers. The obvious choice for this roided up and pissed off god would be to play him loud and aggressive but Brolin takes a decidedly more subtle approach. He’s quiet, confident and commanding. From the second he lumbers on screen, we feel as though he can take out any Avenger with ease. That said, Thanos’ stoic nature does start to become a little boring after a while. His MO to balance the universe by whipping out half the population is intriguing but is brought to us more by exposition than anything else. We understand him but we never feel the weight of his burden.


Since Thanos has really only been thematically set up in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, it comes as no surprise that strongest material is the stuff with them that crosses over with hilarious results with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and some rock solid dramatic beats with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Peter Parker (Tom Holland). Their quirky humor and seasoned camaraderie adds a freshness that is missing among the older characters.

Speaking of which, the earthbound moments with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and to a shockingly minimal degree, the world of Wakanda, is surprisingly flat. None of them are given even a hint of a character arc, many of them only having only a few lines. Through no fault of Evans, Rogers is particularly flat. His transformation from Capitan America to Nomad is giving little dramatic heft, largely feeling like a more dour version of the exact same man. Where the other plot line is injected with a typically strong streak of humor, this one feels utterly soulless.


While the narrative does have several strong emotional beats, there are an equal number of cliche and annoying plot tropes. To get into those would be spoiling things but I found myself rolling my eyes much more than I expected to. However, none of the missteps compare to the tragically miscalculated gut punch of an ending. This final beat feels unbelievably cheep, going for a devastating cliffhanger when it is clear that a great deal of it won’t stick. It’ll undoubtedly work for some but it gave the proceedings a level of triteness that severely brings things down.

The film does come alive during the countless action beats. The characters’ abilities are so well refined at this point and it’s a joy to watch them bounce off each other. The Russo Brothers have a terrific command on capturing inventive choreography but do lack invention in the way the action is shot. A lot of it is captured through flat, static angles or mind numbing shaky cam. There are also so many action sequences with the characters facing off against Thanos’ minions they they start to lose their impact after a while. By the time we hit the final battle with an army of aliens and the people of Wakanda, I felt myself hoping that it would go by as quickly as possible.


Even with how mixed a bag it is, Avengers: Infinity War is certainly an entertaining watch. It’s such a bombastic fireworks display that it’s hard not to get caught up in the spectacle of it all. It just deeply falls short as a narrative, making the promise of another large chunk of this story feel more like a threat. Where the recent solo movies have finally started to feel fresh once again, Infinity War ends up being a black hole that brings all that progress to a halt.

Rating: C+ 


Dunkirk Review


Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is the war movie equivalent of a wind-up toy. With each turn, the knob gets tighter and tighter, with the small contraption taking one step closer to the edge of the table. It’s a visceral powerhouse, throwing us right in the middle of one of World War 2’s most dire battles and expecting us to keep up with each frantic breath of its desperate soldiers. This isn’t about politics, egos, or deliberation. For better or worse, this is kill or be killed cinema.

Nolan places us smack in the middle of battlefronts on land, air and sea. These vignettes non linearly intertwine as Nolan’s subjects frantically fight for their lives. Each segment has a unique brand of personal and visceral intensity. When we’re spending time with British infantry soldiers (Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, and Aneurin Barnard), every corner of the frame could be another german soldier or bomber plane. These guys are gasping for air even on dry land and no moment of peace can be trusted. An intimate boat trip lead by Mark Rylance’s Mr. Dawson is a lot more confined, as he and his two sons have an increasingly tense interaction with Cillian Murphy’s rescued pilot. Rylance has the meatiest role by far, giving his stubbornly heroic Dawson a quiet kindness that keeps us concerned for him. Meanwhile, the dogfight sequences with Tom Hardy’s Farrier feel straight out of a thrill ride, with Nolan’s fantastic cinematography placing us right in the cockpit.


Do not be thrown off by the PG-13 rating. Dunkirk is an extremely tense and violent film. It just doesn’t resort to the pornagarphic brutality of a film like Hacksaw Ridge. It doesn’t need to. Nolan shows us the precise amount of brutality that we need to see, with much of it being left to the mind’s eye. He’s essentially placing us in the role of one of the soldiers, who wouldn’t see their comrades blown to bits in slow motion. It would all be a bit of a blur and Nolan keeps us disoriented while still showcasing some masterful cinematography. In keeping with this, Nolan never shows us the opposing German forces. They appear in the form of machines. Planes, U-Boats, Tanks. We’re seeing them strictly in the mechanical and non-human way that the British forces are.

Hans Zimmer’s exemplary score guides this tension along, acting like a second director. The entire film is mapped to a ticking clock and while it doesn’t quite proceed in meeter a la Baby Driver, it sometimes feels pretty close. This music gives even the moments of slight relief an air of uneasiness, as if a thread is about to snap and it could happen at any moment.


This is an undeniably masterfully crafted film, as per usual for Nolan. That said, his Achilles heal as a storyteller has always been really keying into the emotional plights of his characters and unfortunately, that’s especially true here. With the exception of the Rylance story, these characters are so clearly audience avatars that they’re never really given much personality. This is partially because of Nolan’s admirable decision to tell much of the story without dialogue. However, what dialogue is there often feels a little static, particularly when it comes to our soldiers on the ground. They feel more like props than people, which makes some of the tension that starts to arise among them in the third act fall a little flat.

Dunkirk is Nolan’s most finely crafted film since Inception. It’s lean and mean, trimming out all the fat and giving the audience a high-intensity IMAX thrill ride that will have people ducking from bomber planes in the isles. There’s an admirable restraint in his depiction of violence, without losing a spec of the intensity one would expect out of a war film. It does fall a little short when it has to deliver an emotional punch though, opting for an approach more in keeping with older war montage films like The Battle of Algiers than something like Saving Private Ryan. Hopefully, this will be the film that launches Nolan out of fan favorite status into being a true prestige (pun intended) filmmaker in the eyes of the industry.

Rating: A-

Baby Driver Review


Edgar Wright (Sean of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) is a director with a capital D, perhaps the heavyweight champion of current genre filmmaking. All of his films thus far, even the somewhat lacking The World’s End, masterfully balance subverting traditional tropes while still embracing them to the nth degree. Enter Baby Driver, a high-velocity heist flick that puts its foot on the gas and its radio to eleven from the opening seconds. We’ve got a smoldering getaway driver with a heart of gold, a group of colorful crooks and a sweet as pie waitress. In many ways, it’s Wright’s most traditional film, which is both a blessing and a curse.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a far more subdued protagonist than the Simon Pegg and Michael Cera characters of yore. Afflicted with a nasty case of tinnitus, he mostly keeps to himself unless he’s got something to prove. As we watch the other characters react to his odd behavior, he almost turns into an otherworldly screen presence. Fortunately, Elgort does a terrific job of humanizing Baby while keeping his mystique intact. He’s quiet and reserved around his team of posturing criminals him but smooth as silk behind the wheel. His relationship with Debora (Lilly James) is surprisingly sweet, albeit a little generic, keeping him even closer to the ground when the shit really hits the fan.


There certainly isn’t a short supply of crazy in the supporting cast. Kevin Spacey oozes venom as Doc, the ringleader of our band of outlaws. While not purely a mustache-twirling villain, he spends most of the movie shooting people down in prime Spacey fashion. Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm are both delightfully warped as Baby’s main cohorts, with Foxx, in particular, getting to cut loose far more than he has in years. These characters are practically ripped right out of Grand Theft Auto, with Wright capturing the over the top flavor of video game characters better than any actual adaptation has. Not all of the characters are smash hits though. Jon Bernthal makes a brief and mostly silent appearance that feels like one supporting character too many, while Eliza González is given little to do besides grind on Jon Hamm (although that’s certainly not a bad gig).

The lyrical dialogue here is borderline poetic, often sounding like it was written in meter. It’s all deliciously over the top while still giving each character their own unique voice. Wright also lacks the masturbatory obsession with his dialogue that Quentin Tarantino and his ilk have come to lean on. Even though things get a bit slow middle of the film, each individual scene is perfectly paced. The best lines get in, out, and we’re on to the next thing.


The real centerpiece here is Wright’s use of music to propel almost every second of the narrative. His style is a bit more reserved than his previous work, lacking the borderline manic inserts, cut aways and zooms that have become his trademark. Even so, he still uses every corner of the frame to tell a little bit of the story. Baby’s fixation on music is all encompassing. Crashing cars and flying bullets often sync perfectly with whatever’s on his playlist, with each of the action sequences meticulously edited as if they were music videos.

However, this musical heartbeat isn’t exactly the religious experience that some have propped it up to be. Wright’s playlist, while a lot of fun, ends up being a little constrained to classic rock tunes. You’d expect this gimmick to expand to a few other genres but it really doesn’t. The car chases, while impressively captured, also start to get a little generic after a while. They’re certainly not bad, they just lack some of the personality that the rest of the film has in spades. It could have used just a hair more quirkiness to seem as muscular as it clearly wants to be. That said, everything heats up in the third act, with Wright delivering a glorious onslaught of violence that would make Sam Peckinpah blush. 

While Baby Driver sometimes falls victim to Wright’s desire to tell a more palatable story, there’s still plenty of cool to go around. It’s teaming with wicked humor, bangin’ tunes and even a little heart to keep it from getting too cartoonish (looking at you Fate of the Furious). Hopefully, this will allow Wright to return to the studio system after the disastrous fallout from Ant-Man so that he can continue to spice up dismal summers for years to come.

Drive safe on the way home, folks.

Rating: B+

The Mummy Review


It appears that Universal can’t just settle for a good thing. Although they’ve created a multi-billion dollar franchise in The Fast and The Furious films, they’ve become anxious for a more expansive saga to call their own. Hence, the Dark Universe, a star-studded attempt to bring their classic monster movies roaring back to life. You’d think that they would wait for at least one success before rolling out the welcome wagon, especially after the failure of Dracula: Untold but here we are. Rebooting a reliably successful property like The Mummy seems like a good place to start, especially with the clout that Tom Cruise brings to the table. However, this film seems awfully confused about what it wants to be. Are we watching a lighthearted adventure movie or a trailer for what’s in store next.

The first hour of The Mummy is an affectionate and highly enjoyable tribute to the classic adventure movies of yore. In fact, it very much feels like an adaptation of the popular Uncharted video game series, the best modern revival of the genre in any medium. The Iraq-set opening action sequence is terrific, full of the humor and lighthearted thrills that one might expect. Cruise’s Nick Morton perfectly anchors the proceedings. He’s a quippy scoundrel who never follows orders and is more interested in stealing ancient artifacts than salvaging them. Certainly nothing original, but Cruise’s affable charisma keeps it fun, especially since Nick is not nearly as stoic and fearless as the likes of Ethan Hunt or Jack Reacher. The pacing is also lightning fast as director Alex Kurtzman manages to escalate the insanity with the next two set-pieces.


Everything then grinds to a screeching fault when we’re forced to spend a great deal of time inside Prodigium, Dr. Henry Jekyll’s (Russell Crowe) monster hunting organization. Here, we’re given a massive exposition dump about the overly convoluted backstory of our scorned Mummy (Sofia Boutella) along with tidbits about the universe that we’re going to see unfold in future films. The problem is, we don’t truly care about what’s going on in this single movie, let alone ones that are coming after. There’s also an awful lot of time dedicated to Nick spending time with Annabelle Wallis’ astonishingly bland Jenny, who seems to have intentionally been endowed with zero personality traits. Meanwhile, Crowe does what he can with a one note character, ironic for a man with multiple personalities.

There’s so much jumbled nonsense that one might forget that The Mummy is even there. Boutella remains a fascinating performer, once again relying on physicality to sell the character. Unfortunately, she’s given little to do beyond making scary noises, rubbing herself suggestively and raising her arms to send mummies after our main characters. She only really gets involved in the action during the film’s climax and by then it’s really hard to care.


The film relies too much on milking the formula that made the previous Mummy series such a big success. It would’ve been wise to take this in a different, perhaps more horror based, direction. Kurtzman reluctantly includes a couple of creepy sequences but they’re often little more than lead-ups to an unsatisfying jump scare. There was a major opportunity here to play with the haunting imagery of ancient Egypt. This could’ve had an otherworldly tone that disoriented us, making us fear what we don’t understand. Instead, we’re spoon-fed absolutely everything we need to know several times and eventually it all completely buckles under its lack of anything unique.

That said, The Mummy still remains a very watchable film. The first half establishes such a strong momentum that it takes a while for the good will to run thin, leading to a summer movie that does often deliver on the thrills that it promises. It’s little more than that, though. If Universal really wants to craft a years-long franchise here, then they’re going to have to do something that makes it unlike anything else on the market. For now, we’re left with what is essentially just another superhero universe, even if our new founding characters have a few more scars and warts than normal.

Rating: C+

Wonder Woman Review


It ain’t easy being the princess of Themyscira. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) has to both stop humanity from tearing itself apart in the war to end all wars and save the DC Extended Universe from completely caving in on itself. In her corner is director Patty Jenkins (Monster), who aims to pipe down the machismo-fueled brooding of Zack Snyder and David Ayer in favor of a more optimistic, old-fashioned feel. Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is a wartime Saturday afternoon serial heroine whose story often mirrors that of Captain America: The First Avenger’s Steve Rogers. However, Steve had to adapt both physically and mentally to the war he had to fight. However, World War One isn’t ready for Diana.

Astoundingly, it has been twelve years since a superhero movie has had a woman in the driver’s seat. That puts a great deal of pressure on Gadot, who had virtually no acting experience upon taking the role. However, from the moment she comes on screen, it becomes clear that her Diana is well worth the wait. Her transition from the woman-only warrior island of Themyscira to the urban jungles of London and Germany leads to some expected fish out of water moments. However, Diana’s fumbles come from genuine admiration and curiosity, as opposed to the arrogant buffoonery of say, Thor. That said, she is never afraid to put somebody on the money or run into battle, and when she does, she’s fighting to win. Gadot is absolutely magnetic, basking in the earnestness that may have made a lesser actresses’ performance come off as cheesy. In an age where cynical anti-heroes like Tony Stark and Wade Wilson reign supreme, Diana’s un-ironic heroism and love for the world around her is genuinely refreshing.


Chris Pine also does a wonderful job as Steve Trevor, an American spy who befriends Diana and helps her venture into Europe. His typically sardonic demeanor perfectly underscores Gadot’s unfiltered kindness. However, he’s not just a walking quip dispensary. This is a man who’s become a bit detached from the life and death stakes of war. Naturally, this creates some friction when he’s paired with somebody fueled by pure empathy, making for some extremely dynamic conversations. Gadot and Pine have palpable chemistry and Jenkins knows it. She dedicates a great deal of time to watching these two play off each other, with Allan Heinberg’s screenplay giving them some fantastic dialogue to work with. Whenever we’re hovering around these two characters, this movie is firing on all cylinders. 

We find ourselves so in love with Diana and Steve, that by the time the actual superhero business comes into play, it’s a bit of a bore. Jenkins is clearly far more interested in the human elements of this story, making the spectacle more of a side show than anything. The action sequences here feel like they’re on autopilot, with the notable exception of a spectacular first battle in which a small army of Amazonians takes on a battalion of German soldiers. While Gadot certainly throws herself into the fight scenes, she’s let down by an extreme reliance on gimmicky ‘slow down/speed up’ editing and jarring CGI touch ups meant to bolster her superpowers. It doesn’t look like a warrior crushing her enemies, it looks like somebody playing a video game. The film does such a fantastic job of humanizing Diana that it becomes rather jarring when she just turns into another special effect.


We’re given absolutely nothing from our two villains, General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya). They’re just mustache-twirling evil folks who want to make mustard gas because it will win the war. Whenever the film remembers to come back to them, they’re still just maniacally killing people or talking about how deadly their weapons are. There aren’t even any subtle attempts to give these guys any depth, as they really only serve to keep the plot moving forward.

This becomes especially frustrating in the third act when the movie decides that it absolutely has to end in fireworks. After coming very close to using the underdeveloped villains to push a profound message about humanity, the film then throws that message out the window so we can have a proper action sequence. As a result, we’re treated to a solid twenty minutes of Diana and the film’s true baddie throwing down in a Dragonball Z esque smackdown that starts to get old very fast. Since the climax is so overblown, a few of the emotional payoffs don’t land like they should, which leaves the film on somewhat awkward ground as it ends. There’s also some pretty outright mimicry of other superhero films, with one key moment that is flat-out stolen from another movie.


When Wonder Woman is embracing the humanity of its title character and those around her, it really works. It feels like a vintage wartime action/romance film from a bygone era whenever Jenkins is allowed to spend time with Diana, Steve, and their friends. However, this is almost begrudgingly a superhero movie. Whenever the action enters the driver’s seat, things start to feel very empty, especially when it completely takes over in the third act. However, it will very likely sweep most people in through sheer charm alone and will make for many sold-out movie theaters full of empowered young girls. Sign me up for that.

Rating: B+ 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review


With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, writer/director James Gunn seemingly enters a no-win scenario. His 2014 original wasn’t just a surprise smash hit, but a pop culture cornerstone. By both embracing and thumbing its nose at the sci-fi/fantasy tropes that have burned many potential blockbusters, a la John Carter or Green Lantern, to the ground, it managed to capture a special kind of magic that has essentially turned it into this generation’s true heir to Star Wars. How do you follow that up? Most returning directors might have simply opted to just dial up the bells and whistles and coast on the same formula from before, but James Gunn isn’t most directors. He genuinely cares about these characters and refuses to let empty spectacle overwhelm them.

Gunn seems to think that the Guardians need a little time to work on themselves. Instead of relying on the infectious chemistry that made the first movie sing, he opts to splinter the ensemble into smaller groups in order to give them each more intimate arcs. We have Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finally meeting Ego (Kurt Russell), his long lost father who just so happens to be a celestial being with his very own planet. Lucky break. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) finds herself forced to confront her bitter relationship with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) are kidnapped by a group of Ravagers and find themselves having to work with Yondu (Michael Rooker) to escape.


This more loose structure could have easily turned this film into a hot mess. However, Gunn has done a fantastic job of keeping all of these stories grounded in the same theme. These are all broken, temperamental people looking for a greater sense of purpose. While we saw them find friends in the first one, we get to see them find themselves here. All of the characters, except for the sidelined Drax (Dave Bautista), are given really rich arcs here. While some of them land better than others, it still makes for a story with a lot more meat on its bones.

We get to see Peter’s goofy bravado start to untangle when he’s faced with the man he’s been searching for his whole life. His dynamic with Ego is surprisingly tender, with Pratt and Russell nicely navigating some moments that could’ve easily been sappy. While Pratt does find himself struggling later on with some of the heavier moments, his pure movie star charisma ends up pulling him through. However, the highlight is easily the Rocket/Groot/Yondu story. Rocket is still by far the most compelling member of the group, and his ferocious bitterness is put under the microscope here. Watching that volatility play off of Yondu’s even shorter temper makes for some of the film’s best moments. Drax and Groot do end up suffering a little, though. While Bautista gets a lot of fantastic one-liners, he’s mostly just waiting around for the third act to start with the also fairly under developed Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Baby Groot is certainly cute but ultimately feels like a bit more of a marketing scheme than anything else. He’s never given anything especially funny to do, the running gag of him having to have everything explained to him wearing thin very quickly.


Even though all of this character work is fantastic, it’s occasionally undercut by Gunn’s on the nose writing. He has a tendency to tell instead of show, which really starts to hold things up whenever we focus on Gamora and Nebula. A great deal of what we learn about these two is through long diatribes that would have been a lot more powerful if we could actually see what they’re talking about. Instead, the two of them mostly just shout lines at one another, making what ultimately happens between them fall flat. This wonkiness spreads into all of the stories at some point or another, which does undercut them a bit. Fortunately, the quirky humor that everybody fell in love with is still here in full force. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to make fun of itself, which makes some of the flat emotional moments go down smoother.

While Gunn was dipping his toe into directing a blockbuster last time, he cannonballs into the pool here. He has an incredible eye for action sequences, masterfully using every part of the frame for maximum chaos.As the Awesome Mix of 70s/80s pop hits blares in the background, we get to know these people through how they fight. There’s a genuine sense of madcap joy that makes it all incredibly dynamic. The vibrant colors and compositions feel ripped directly out of a particularly psychedelic comic book, with a couple moments that are hallucinogenic enough to make Dr. Strange blush.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t nearly as tight a package as the first film but in many ways, it’s far more ambitious. It manages to shuffle a massive cast, giving most of them something significant to work with. The irreverent tone and humor is all still there, even if our characters are slowly starting to mature. It’s the kind of movie that Marvel Studios would do well to focus more on. A singular story completely unconcerned with building to future movies that instead focusses on evolving what we already have. Only time will tell how these A-Holes will interact with Avengers, but for now, their cosmic space opera is by far the most entertaining wormhole to enter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rating: A-

Free Fire Review


We’re all familiar with the typical climax of a crime film. After a long period of build up, with animosity slowly growing between two or three criminal rings, everything combusts into the entire cast riddling each other with gunfire. If we’ve had a good time along the way, this brutality is incredibly satisfying. Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire poses a fascinating question. Can this climatic blowout carry an entire film on its own?

The story takes place in 1970s Boston, observing a arms deal go down in an abandoned warehouse. The buyers are a group of Irish Mobsters lead by Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) and the sellers are a guild of collected businessmen headed up by Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer). In the middle of everything is Justine (Brie Larson), the intermediary who is being leered at by both sides. Eventually, the tension and toxic machismo bubbles to the point of violence and thus begins an extended firefight that takes up the majority of the run time. 


Ironically enough, the proceedings are at their most compelling before the bullets start flying. The screenplay, written by Wheatley and Amy Jump, does a fantastic job of economically establishing who these people are. We learn so much by simply watching how each one handles the tension and anxiety around them. Some of them lead with volatility and anger, others with common sense and a few with flat out insanity. It’s a fantastic first act that plays like a fusion between the ticking time bomb sequences of Quentin Tarantino and the harsh dialogue of Martin Mcdonagh (In Bruges).

It certainly helps to have a stacked cast of charismatic actors to keep things moving along. While everybody in the ensemble pulls their weight, the stand-outs are easily Copley and Hammer. Copley is always at his best playing unhinged loons that could explode at any moment and here he’s given a chance to take that to a borderline cartoonish extreme. That could easily come off as over the top in the hands of a lesser actor but Copley makes that hysteria feel utterly natural. Meanwhile, Hammer thrives as the disturbingly caustic Ord. He’s astonishingly collected as if this is just another day on the job to him. The only one who does get a little bit lost in the shuffle is Larson. The objectification that Justine is forced to deal with is a delightfully skeevy element that isn’t played with as much as it could’ve been. As such, she spends most of her screen time simply telling everybody to calm down, with only a couple moments to really stand out on her own.


Wheatley intentionally disorients both his characters and audience through the sheer chaos of it all. As the skirmish rages on and our combatants sustain more critical injuries, we start to loose track of where everybody is and even who’s side certain people are on, which is even acknowledged at one point. Every bullet impact feels painful. We practically get infected ourselves watching the wounded crawl on the ground. While this makes for an extremely visceral experience, it ultimately becomes a little numbing as it goes on. There’s only so long that the novelty of these guys take pot shots at each other lasts before it starts to get repetitive.

Free Fire is essentially an ultra-violent stage play, a powder keg that revels more in the explosion then the burning fuse. It gleefully gathers a group of dynamic performers and challenges them to develop their characters through action and reaction. However, it ultimately feels like the second half of a great movie. If we had been able to spend more time with these characters before they enter the warehouse, the lengthy battle between them would have served as one massive payoff. As it stands, this is a b-movie with a-level talent, craftsmanship in search of a stronger story. That said, it’s certainly an ambitious piece of filmmaking that is well worth locking and loading for.

Rating: B

Ghost in the Shell Review


Rupert Sanders’ adaptation of Ghost in the Shell raises a rather puzzling question. Should we allow criticism of egregious Hollywood whitewashing to completely overpower a genuinely good movie? Sure, it’s easy to dog pile onto trash like Exodus: Gods and Kings or Prince of Persia when they bring absolutely nothing else to the table, but that’s not the case here. While certainly uneven, Sanders’ film makes an admirable effort to be more story driven and intellectual than most modern blockbusters while still delivering some deeply immersive eye candy.

The story is set in a future where cybernetic enhancements are a part of everyday life. The line between human and machine is starting to get a little blurry, with most people being a bit of both. The brain of Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), has been put inside something called a “shell” after her body was destroyed in a terror attack. Remembering only fragments of her past, Killian is placed into an experimental counter-terrorism unit called Section 9. She and her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk)find themselves facing off against a mysterious hacker named Kuze (Michael Pitt) who has begun to stage assassination attempts on several of Section 9’s key players.


There’s a surprising amount of reflective moments spent with Mira as she tries to get a grip on her humanity. The characters take the time to have conversations about the nature of the world they are in and even though the screenplay occasionally falls into some pretty clunky expositional dialogue, we’re still given a lot to chew on. The mystery itself is fairly compelling as well, with Pitt’s Kuze proving to be a sympathetic foil for Mira.

Johansson anchors everything rather nicely with her subdued performance. Mira is a literal killing machine who’s humanity is a glitch, something that certain forces hope will be completely wiped away one day. There really isn’t a place in the world for her, and Johansson nicely rides the line between robotic stoicism and internal pathos. Since the city we find ourselves in is so far beyond something we can fathom, we feel as displaced as she does. The supporting cast, which actually features more Asian actors than the marketing indicates, is largely solid as well. Only Juliette Binoche, playing the doctor who put Mira together again, is a little weak. Her character is supposed to have a major emotional impact on Mira, but Binoche’s performance is so tuned out that it doesn’t really register.


The creative team here may have created what may be the most fully realized cinematic cyberpunk world since the original Blade Runner. Most films of this type will shell out some cash for the sweeping shots of the futuristic city but get lazy once we’re on the ground. Here, even the most minute details of any environment are given a new spin. This world may have the skeleton of ours but the way that it’s inhabitants carry out mundane tasks feels entirely alien. There’s so much going on the background of each shot that one may not even notice on a first viewing. It demands to be seen on the big screen in order to soak in as much of it as possible. Even when the story starts to have its shortcomings, the film is so wonderful to look at that it keeps up the momentum.

Saunders’ direction seems to take heavy influence from the early work of Zack Snyder, particularly in the action sequences. Meticulous attention is paid to framing to ensure that each shot looks like it was ripped out of the manga. He even uses slow motion to very similar effect, highlighting the most brutal blows which typically involve folks being thrown through the air. However, he doesn’t quite have the same flair that Snyder showed in 300 or Watchmen. All of the strongest battles are at the beginning of the film, while the ones in the second and third act fall a little flat. The final battle, in particular, is a colorless mess that feels like watching glasses free-3D with a blindfold on.

Unfortunately, Saunders seriously undercuts a great deal of this solid work with an absolutely catastrophic reveal in the third act. Without giving anything away, the film attempts to address the white-washing and it utterly backfires. In fact, what we learn ends up literally embodying what people in minority groups feel Hollywood does to them. It’s an astonishingly tone-deaf revelation that turns a film that was overcoming the controversy it created into a startling case for why studios still need to be held accountable for these casting decisions.

Ghost in the Shell comes agonizingly close to being good enough to wipe away the controversy it has perpetuated. Up until it swerves out of control in the third act, it’s one of the more ambitious and enjoyable Hollywood blockbusters in some time. It brings us into a different world in a way that few films bother to do, which is certainly reason to check it out regardless of its flaws. However, I suspect that when Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 opens later this year, this film may have to slink back into its shell.

Rating: B

Beauty and the Beast Review


Even as somebody who has still yet to see the original 1991 Beauty and the Beast, something seems fishy to me about Bill Condon’s brand new flesh and blood version. From the very first scene where our arrogant prince (Dan Stevens) rejects the wrong witch and gets transformed into a beast something rings inauthentic. It is as if this movie murdered the original and is now wearing its skin, parading out in public as it tries to convince everybody that it’s still the person they remember. It’s all a bit scummy, really.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Belle (Emma Watson) is the black sheep bookworm of a small French village dreaming of bigger things. When her father (Kevin Kline) goes missing, she discovers they he’s been captured by the aforementioned beast and sacrifices herself so that he can return home. Under the care of the beast and his group of enchanted household applian – –

wait…you have heard this one? Ok, I’ll stop.


The lifeblood of Beauty and the Beast ultimately lies in whether or not the romance between Belle and her hairy liege ends up working. It’s a relationship that’s been so normalized by pop culture but on paper, it’s pretty strange stuff. That’s exactly how it comes across in this version, strange. The beast’s transition from rabid rage machine to kindly bookkeep feels entirely too rapid. We never see why Belle could think of him as any more than a friend and a reluctant one at that, considering that he, you know, kidnapped her. It certainly doesn’t help that Watson is as dull as dishwater here. While she’s certainly proven herself a more than capable actress in her post-Harry Potter career, she seems terrified to inject her Belle with any personality that isn’t written on the page. As such, she has little to no chemistry with Stevens, who only fares a little bit better. While he certainly has the screen presence and the deep, resonant voice that the beast requires, his performance gets buried under an atrocious CGI design that never feels the least bit intimidating. He looks like he’d be more at home in Land of the Lost than $160 million dollar movie.

Fortunately, the supporting cast is much stronger. Luke Evans is having the time of his life as the bravado fueled Gaston, who is only bolstered by genuinely hilarious interplay with Josh Gad’s LeFou. When these two are on screen, we see hints of the boisterous musical extravaganza this movie could have been if it wasn’t so concerned with being somber whenever Belle and the Beast are on screen. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen are also quite a bit of fun as Cogsworth and Lumiere, even if McGregor is constantly fighting against an atrocious French accent. Although, it’s hard to fault him for trying, which is more than I can say for the rest of the cast. Seriously, if French actors are on the Hollywood blacklist, can we just set the next “French” musical in England?


Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) certainly knows his way around a musical. The numbers here are elaborately choreographed and well sung for the most part.  Each song establishes its own unique aesthetic, from Gaston’s bouncy barroom to Be Our Guest’s Bollywood esque light-show. Condon’s camera captures most of the action in wide takes, even if some of the editing is a little fast. However, the pacing of the musical numbers is thrown off with the addition of four new songs, all of which are rather melancholy and bland.

Unfortunately for Condon, this may be the ugliest looking big budget movie on the market. The character design, in particular, is borderline terrifying at times. They possess none of the vibrance and charm of the original animated versions, proving that some characters just don’t translate to live action. Watching a real life candlestick with a face bounce around the screen is consistently off-putting, establishing a constant sense of disconnection from the characters even when the writing occasionally brings some charm out of them.

While Beauty and the Beast is slavishly devoted to the film it is trying to emulate, it still feels like a tonally confused mess. It bounces back and forth from a dour romance to an enjoyable romp and ultimately undercuts both. While there is certainly potential for these Disney live action remakes to be worthwhile, they’re going to need to veer more in the direction of Jon Favreau’s adaption of The Jungle Book. That film was bold enough to create its own version of the story while still recapturing the essence of the original. Meanwhile, Condon’s film is limply crafted and terrified of taking risks. Sure, Belle and the Beast go through the motions and dance in the ballroom at the end but if you’re looking for a reason to get them there, you’re out of luck. It’s a tale as trite as time.

Rating: D+