REVIEW: Isle of Dogs

Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Chris Luckett

There are three cinematic masters in today’s reigning generation of directors, who each rarely ever fail to produce masterpiece after masterpiece. Along with Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson is one of those elite few who seem to just churn out brilliance without having to even try.

When the idiosyncratic director of Rushmore tackled stop-motion animation with 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, he found his truest calling. In the wake of his Oscar-nominated Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson has now returned to the same arena of animation and it’s a masterpiece even when stacked against his best.

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REVIEW: Captain America: Civil War

Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Chris Luckett

When The Avengers came out in 2012, it seemed like the ultimate climax of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of course, it was simply the climax to the first act of what would ultimately be three (or four) phases, each with their own Avengers capper.

The worry that came with that, particularly after the behemoth scale of The Avengers, was… How could Marvel hope to top (or even just equal) a supergroup movie with more standalone pictures hinged on individual superheroes, without just creating the impression of the franchise just spinning its wheels?

Marvel being the Pixar it currently is, they pulled it off. Not only that, but despite the fact The Avengers: Age of Ultron proved to be even better than The Avengers, it was outdone by Captain America: The Winter Soldier — the best movie Marvel had yet made, despite it being a sequel to the worst they’d made.

And that was before a superhero war broke out. Continue reading

REVIEW: The Jungle Book

Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Chris Luckett

Less than a decade ago, “live-action Disney” meant The Game Plan, College Road Trip, and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Then the success of 2010’s Alice in Wonderland taught the studio they could dust off an animated classic, give it the live-action treatment modern CGI afforded, and rake it the big bucks. The six years since have brought about live-action adaptations of Fantasia, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and now, 1967’s The Jungle Book.

Of course, long before The Jungle Book was Disney’s nineteenth “Animated Classic,” it was a cherished collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling. To its credit, Jon Favreau’s take on Kipling’s tales mostly goes the latter as its source whenever a choice is called for, resulting in a tale with a more suitably dark tone. Unfortunately, rather than be allowed to become its own creation, The Jungle Book too often gets needlessly muffled by paying tribute to its animated forebear. Continue reading

REVIEW: Hail, Caesar!

Photo: Universal Pictures

Photo: Universal Pictures

Chris Luckett

The Coen Brothers are an odd breed. They’re brilliant filmmakers, as their combined 28 Oscar nominations stand as testament to. But like Quentin Tarantino and the Wachowskis, they can be their own worst enemies sometimes.

So long as they treat the script and characters as the most important pieces of the picture, they invariably spin gold. (See: Blood Simple, Fargo, The Big Lebowski.) Whenever their visual eye and compulsion for cinematic homage take precedence, though, their movies end up misfires at best and forgettable at worst. (See: The Hudsucker Proxy, The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Ladykillers.)

Hail, Caesar!, the brothers’ first mainstream movie since 2010’s True Grit and their first “goofy” comedy since 2008’s Burn After Reading, has all the pieces to have been one of their greats. Unfortunately, they’re lost in a sea of half-sketched scenarios and overlong set pieces. Continue reading

REVIEW: The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Chris Luckett

Cinema has a long, storied history of computers running amok. From 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner to the Terminator and Matrix series, intelligent machines have become the new evolution of Frankenstein’s Monster.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron appears on the surface to be yet another superhero juggernaut, but what separates it from its Marvel brethren — and what elevates it above most of them — is that the villain isn’t a malevolent alien or a possessed scientist, but an artificially intelligent monster of our heroes’ own creation. Even Earth’s mightiest heroes aren’t invulnerable to hubris.

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REVIEW: Lucy

Photo: Universal Pictures

Photo: Universal Pictures

Chris Luckett

The first ten minutes of Lucy are kind of lame. Director Luc Besson inserts blunt imagery of animals hunting prey, while the narrative very obviously tells a parallel. The symbolism is so heavy-handed, it borders on insulting and almost derails the movie before it begins. But then, the movie blasts off.

It’s rare for a movie to bottle that feeling of a rush, to create a visual experience that makes you feel like you’re inside adrenaline. Occasionally, a movie like Run, Lola, Run does manage to capture it. The breakneck Lucy joins such rare company. Continue reading

REVIEW: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Chris Luckett

The first Captain America movie, with its ridiculous villain, rushed CGI, saccharine optimism, and pervasive Americanism, is the worst movie Marvel Studios has made in the six years since launching with 2008’s Iron Man. (The character was given some chance to grow in The Avengers, having to grapple with losing everyone he cared about, being a man out of time, and going from being one government’s pawn to another’s.) In contrast, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the movie the superhuman character deserves.  Continue reading