The Circle stars Emma Watson as Mae, the newest employee of a massive tech company with roots in every form of innovation from basic tech to the most advanced social media. Tom Hanks is the Steve Jobs-esque company founder wtih Patton Oswalt as his second in command. As Mae rises through the ranks she comes to find that there is more to the company and it's commitment to radical honesty than what appears on the surface. Here's my review of "The Circle."
Free Fire stars Academy Award winner Brie Larson as a woman caught in the middle of an arms deal gone wrong. Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, and Cillian Murphy co-star as the fellow arms dealers who instead of making deal for guns end up firing guns at each other for well over an hour. Who makes it out alive? Who is firing at who? That's the oddball plot of Free Fire. Here's my review of Free Fire.
If your lead character is an unchallenged champion from the beginning to the end of your story there isn’t much of an arc for an audience to grab onto. I wish someone might have explained this concept to the makers of the movie “Tommy’s Honour” which stars Jack Lowden as Scottish golfing legend Tommy Morris Jr. In “Tommy’s Honour” Morris is portrayed as such an incredible champion and all around angelic hero that the stories of his many triumphs and tragedies are rendered dull and listless.
Tommy Morris Jr’s life was planned before he was born. By the strict societal codes of the time, the early 1800’s, Morris Jr was expected follow in the footsteps of his father (Peter Mullan) and become a caddy but Tommy wanted more. When fully grown, Tommy Jr. begins competing in the Caddy Open and then the Open Championship and before we’ve even come to know him as a character, we watch him triumph as champion, off screen, at the famed St. Andrew golf course three times.
Soon Tommy is challenging societal norms by demanding that he and a fellow golfer and friend be properly compensated by the clubhouse elite who profit off their play through gambling and exhibitions. For a moment, you begin to think this will bring conflict to the story but no, the elite, led by a snobbish Sam Neill, roll over immediately and pay Tommy fairly.
Then Tommy meets a lovely scullery maid named Meg with a dark past played by Ophelia Lovibond. With the Scottish class system, as it is, Meg’s past should provide conflict and indeed, Tommy’s mother objects to the relationship. However, in less than 15 minutes’ screen time, I was bored enough to keep count, Mom rolls over and another potential source of drama is dismissed with mom even leaving the church to stand up for her son and new daughter in-law, after one brief conversation with her husband and a single entreaty about how their son loves this woman despite what society says.
It isn’t until the final act that anything happens to Tommy. Tommy suffers a serious tragedy and his life falls to pieces but somehow “Tommy’s Honour” never communicates that tragedy, preferring the dull safety of the golf course where Tommy once again tops an opponent we never meet and thus have zero investment in. If the movie doesn’t care about these opponents, then why should we care? They are there to lose to Tommy, to further the legend building that is the film’s true aim. The final match should feel big and important but as portrayed, it’s a contest of egos that leads to an ending that feels more like stubborn inflexibility than the tragedy the true story was.
“Tommy’s Honour” is yet another in a long line of bad biopics. The film has no life, no courage. The aim of the filmmakers is to deify a Scottish legend and that might work for someone who is desperately invested in the story of Tommy Morris Jr. but as drama it fails completely. Drama needs tension, it needs stakes, it needs something for the audience to connect to, some relatable experience. If your story revolves around a character who is perfect and whose life constantly works out well for most of the story there is no drama. Sure, Tommy’s life ended tragically but even that tragedy is pushed aside in favor of showing what a golf legend he was and that renders an interesting life rather incredibly boring.
The Fate of the Furious stars Vin Diesel once again as Dominic Torretto, street racer turned thief turned secret agent kind of(?) who, along with his 'family,' including Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese and the aptly named Ludicris, battle a cyber-terrorist played by Charlize Theron. The twist however, has Dom playing for the other team and his family have to battle him to get to the big bad. Here's my review of The Fate of the Furious.
Nothing against the wonderfully talented Neil Patrick Harris, but I was very happy not to see him in the latest iteration of The Smurfs franchise. For all his immense talent, Harris never belonged in a Smurfs movie, nor did anything else from real world New York for that matter. Taking The Smurfs out of Smurf Village to the non-animated New York City was a terribly unnecessary gimmick that drowned the first cinematic outings of our beloved blue heroes.
Back in the animated world of the forest and Smurfs Village, the new animated adventure “Smurfs: The Lost Village” is not all that much better than the previous two Smurfs outings but better enough to warrant taking note.
Smurfette (Demi Lovato) is struggling with her identity. For those not familiar with the background of the only female Smurf, Smurfette was created by Gargamel as a honeytrap intended to lead him to the Smurf Village where he hoped to capture Smurfs and steal their magic. Fortunately, the Smurfs won Smurfette over and instead of helping Gargamel, here voiced by Rain Wilson, she became a member of their family.
Still, despite the love and support of all of the Smurfs, the guidance from Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin), the friendship of Hefty (Joe Manganiello), Brainy (Danny Pudi) and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) and the acceptance of the rest of the Smurfs, Smurfette can’t shake the sense that there is something missing from her story. When she gets lost in the forest while playing with her friends she encounters for the first time a Smurf unlike her brothers and a new adventure is begun.
The Lost Village of the title is a village filled with female Smurfs including Smurf’s voiced by Julia Roberts, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper and popstar Meghan Trainor. Naturally, there are around 100 of these female Smurfs because there are around 100 of the boy Smurfs and reinforcing gender norms is kind of part of the package for this film. I will leave it to you to decide if you want to take offense to that or not, I merely took note of it.
As I mentioned earlier, this version of The Smurfs is only a minor improvement over the first two live action/animated hybrids. I’m very happy they ditched the live action but I wish they could have added a few more laughs to the mix. Smurfs: The Lost Village is not very with laughs coming a distant second to the visual razzle dazzle and a couple of modestly rousing action set pieces, the best involving a magical river and a very small raft.
It’s just unfortunate that the film lacks laughter. I could count on one hand, not using all the fingers on that hand, the number of laugh out loud moments in Smurfs: The Lost Village. The film comes from director Kelly Asbury who garnered a great deal more laughter from his work on Shrek 2 and more action from his Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Here, Asbury never seems to find the right tone for The Smurfs, the action is fine but the Smurfs isn’t an adventure series, it’s a children’s comedy and this isn’t very funny.
And when I say Smurfs: The Lost Village isn’t funny; I am being very serious. The movie takes a turn in the 3rd act that I will say is quite bold and unexpected but may have the child core of the Smurfs audience very upset. Parents will want to be prepared, the dramatic turn of the third act of The Lost Village will be one that young children may be deeply affected by.
So, do I recommend Smurfs The Lost Village? I didn’t hate the movie but I don’t think it’s very good. It needs more laughs, the last act is borderline disturbing for young audiences but, for the most part the film is inoffensive and may be quite funny to a child, if rather tedious to an adult. The last act could be a little scary for the youngest moviegoers, but this is a Smurfs movie so you can trust that the scarring is minor and well healed by the ending.
Going in Style stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as old friends who, after their pensions get liquidated and their local bank gets in on helping move the movie, decide to rob the bank to get their pension back. Directed by Zach Braff (Garden State), Going in Style also stars Joey King, Christopher Lloyd and Ann Margaret. Here's my review of Going in Style.
Is “Ghost in the Shell” offensive? It’s certainly tone deaf and in poor taste but offensive? That depends on your perspective. I wasn’t offended by “Ghost in the Shell” per se, though I oppose the white washing of the casting, I am also practical and cynical enough to understand it from the perspective of a profit driven business. That the film is the subject of such controversy only shines harsher light on the film’s artistic failures, even if better art would not negate the controversy.
“Ghost in the Shell” stars Scarlett Johannsson as Major, a secret agent with a not so secret super power. Major is mostly robot but with a human brain. She is relatively invincible, impervious to most things but with human intellect and instincts. Major was the subject of an experimental surgery undertaken by a secretive organization for which Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) serves as the public face and the seemingly benevolent doctor who saved Major’s mind, if not her body.
Major is tasked with tracking down Kuze (Michael Pitt), a hacker/terrorist who is targeting the scientists and doctors who created the Major. Kuze claims to have a secret about Major that is being repressed in her mind through drugs the company claims she must take in order for her mind not to reject her cybernetic shell. It’s a secret that the filmmakers hope will cure them of white washing allegations, even as it only serves to make things worse in the eyes of many.
“Snow White and the Huntsman” director Rupert Sanders helmed “Ghost in the Shell” and he has certainly created a feast for the eyes. The futuristic Asian setting is rich with glittery, bright colors and tech similar to other sci-fi visions of the future such as “Minority Report,” minus that films’ visual wit. “Ghost in the Shell” is quite pretty with star Scarlett Johansson only adding to the visual delights.
That said, the spectacular visuals do serve to underline the emptiness at the core of the story. While the original anime “Ghost in the Shell” was about identity and what made someone human, the live action “Ghost in the Shell” has been sheered of the subtext in favor of more of a revenge movie in which the Major eventually begins to seek vengeance against those who kept secrets from her related to how she ended up a cyborg.
The change dumbs the movie down into a more mainstream action movie because hey, audiences don’t like to ponder existence when there are simple thrills to be had. This is not the fault of Johansson who seems to want something deeper in her performance but it’s just not there onscreen. This could also be the function of multiple screenwriters culling the deeper themes through series after series of rewrites, the film has three credited screenwriters including the subtext challenged Ehren Kruger.
I don’t hate “Ghost in the shell.” It’s not poorly acted and the visual splendor is undeniably fun. I must admit, I am knocking “Ghost in the Shell” for the most part, for not being the movie I wanted it to be and not for the movie that it is. The movie that “Ghost in the Shell” is is a shallow yet dazzling action movie that will satisfy the base action movie audience with their brains turned off.
I’m also reviewing the film’s politics which isn’t really fair either. From a business standpoint casting Scarlett Johnansson makes more sense than casting a more appropriate Asian actress with less name value. From that very base, cold, cynical perspective I can’t fault “Ghost in the Shell,” I can only ask why it had to be “Ghost in the Shell?” Why go for the full Asian aesthetic and then cast white people, the setting has no impact on the story and could be transported anywhere.
Why not rip off the concept, move it to New York and abandon the burden of white washing accusations in favor of the much easier to deflect cries of ‘rip off?’ The controversy only harmed the film which otherwise could have skated to success as a standard, simpleminded action movie instead of being pilloried on its way to underperforming.