Rick Famuyiwa’s high school comedy about avoiding gang trouble while finding one’s voice hits its stride early and doesn’t let up until the final credits roll. Shameik Moore as Malcolm gives a performance strong enough to keep us concerned with his high school trials: can he get his Harvard entrance essay completed and unload a few kilos of molly he’s found in his backpack?
As a children’s film, Kenneth Branaugh’s live action Cinderella is probably worth a visit for the high production values, lush sets, gorgeous costumes, and magical CGI. For adults, however, the movie offers nothing more than Disney’s take on the story from 1950 with no noteworthy changes that might offer a new perspective on the same old story.
Matthew Vaughn returns to familiar territory with Kingsman. With violence and a sexual reference guaranteed to earn an R-rating, but a story clearly aimed a teens, one wonders if the whole project was worth the effort.
True to the storied bear’s origin, funny and cinematically sophisticated, Paul King’s Paddington is a children’s film that actually works. Great care obviously went into the production, with effects placed into a children’s live action film at levels of quality I have not seen since Hugo. What is “real” and what is the effects team’s imagination blend almost seamlessly.
If one could enjoy a movie for mood and setting alone, Inherent Vice may be the masterpiece of the year. It is America of of 1970 that director P.T. Anderson is laying out, that time of hazy drugs and confused meanings when the entire country seemed to have completely lost the post-war plot. That the rootlessness of the times overwhelms the characters is understandable, but at 2 1/2 hours, viewers may become restless at the meandering developments that always seem to be leading somewhere, but which never reach any specific conclusion.
The Imitation Game is framed as a story relayed by Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) to a detective (Rory Kinnear) to prove that he is human. I guess that would explain why the events presented in the bio-pic stray so far from actual events. Thinking machines can do many things, but deception, self-aggrandizement, and distortion aren’t among them just yet. When machines can take facts and think to themselves, “you know it would make a better story if we reordered them and maybe introduced a tragic flaw” then we will know that our days are numbered. Based on that standard, we’re safe or a few more decades. We want machines to solve problems that are too complex for us to solve, not machines that can do things we’re perfectly efficient performing. We can take comfort in the fact that we can still beat machines when it comes to story telling. But I am not so smug in my comfort as to let screenwriter Graham Moore and director Morten Tyldum off the hook for this parody of the life of Alan Turing.
There was a time when inserting an army into a film meant hiring and outfitting a large cast. CGI has made raising one no more costly than shooting any other scene, so our fantasy worlds have been filled with siege engines, legions, giant trolly things and whatnot for quite some time. Simple magic is no longer enough, and its existence in film has become tied to armies and epic saga, even in the fairy tales. Sure, we would like to update and recast these stories for modern times, but that hasn’t meant making them more psychologically challenging or complex. Instead that has meant Tolkienizing everything. Jack the Giant Slayer, Maleficent, Oz the Great and Powerful all have their pitched battle scenes. It’s not enough for Jack to get one giant mad at him any longer. We need thousands of giants wearing armor trying to take over the earth. I bring this up because I was very nervous after watching the trailer for Into the Woods, with its crumbling castle, that somehow, someone would think that in moving Sondheim’s musical modernization of Grimm to the screen, it would be a good idea to add a battery of trebuchets because they are cheap.
The setting for much of Tim Burton’s Big Eyes is late 1950’s early 1960s San Francisco. Bruno Delbonnel and supporting crew have done an excellent job capturing the city. I don’t think that period has been captured on film so splendidly since Vertigo. It is bright, incredibly hip, vibrant and cool at the same time and there are constant reminders that on a sunny day, there is probably no more gorgeous city on earth for a view of the world. I often found myself wondering where they found or created such pristine examples of 1950s storefronts and neighborhoods. I know a little of how the magic works, but I was impressed by the exterior vistas and the mid-century interiors of the movie. If Margaret and Walter Keane (Amy Adams and Christoph Walz) weren’t such a tense couple going through marital troubles, I probably would have wanted to move right in with them. Unfortunately, I seldom am willing to recommend a film based on technical production quality alone. I found the picture as a whole to be just so-so. There just isn’t enough of a story here to be interesting.
As a series, the Night at the Museum films have been mostly premise without much payoff for adults. However, I think the first one was among the best zany, live action kids films released by Hollywood in the past decade (that’s not saying much). The second one had lost its purpose and the final installment has suffered from that derailment. If we ignore the special effects, at its heart, Night at the Museum had been about a father an son overcoming divorce and a loss of respect. A bumbling father made good, so to speak. The parenting issues were dropped from the second installment, and that film simply became a special effects comedy at the Smithsonian instead of the American Museum of Natural History. The father and son were simply best friends. Secret of the Tomb attempts to bring the family drama back into the picture, but awkwardly in a way that makes the picture pure juvenile fantasy.
“Top Five” is Chris Rock’s third pass in the director’s chair and first attempt at a more serious movie. It is a comedy, but relatively low key one for Saturday Night Live alums. It tells intertwined stories, both of which are well-worn. One is a straightforward romantic comedy about man having second thoughts about a pending wedding after meeting a much better match. The second is of an actor, Dre Allen (Rock), whose star is starting to fade a little, who is trying to stretch his career in a new direction, framed as an interview with a reporter. That the reporter (Rosario Dawson) happens to be the new potential love interest for Dre makes for a rather choppy narrative, but nonetheless one with many comedic highlights.