Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Bridge of Spies (2015)
Tense, Fresh, Even-Handed Perspective on Cold War Negotiations
Hanks and Spielberg tackle a Cold War spy-exchange against the backdrop of a freshly-constructed Berlin Wall. As one might expect from these old masters, it's expertly-crafted and loaded with gravitas; a warm, motivated take on a surprisingly under-explored chapter of recent history. It does a great job of delicately re-evaluating popular sentiment and the bullish nature of post-war international relations, too, painting heroes and victims on both sides of the dispute. The plot is very linear, though, moving on a predictable set of rails from start to finish, and that can make it feel preachy when a few of the more heavy-handed themes briefly overstay their welcome. A foundationally-strong, workmanlike offering, it's 50% desperately-uphill legal drama and 50% high stakes poker with a set of captive American souls as the ante.
The Gingerdead Man (2005)
Powdered Sugar This Ain't
Sometimes you've just gotta watch a stinker, and this undoubtedly fits that bill. It's the brief (but not quite brief enough) saga of a cold-blooded killer who's put to death, then somehow returns to life as a stabbin', laughin', wise-crackin', foot-tall slab of holiday confectionery. As if that premise needed a little extra kick, this monstrous devil-cookie also happens to be voiced by Gary Busey. The concept itself is hilarious for all of ten minutes, but burns out quickly as the plot tries, courageously but hopelessly, to make us care about his victims. It's atrociously acted of course, the equivalent of D-grade porn stars who keep their clothes on, so those misguided storytelling efforts don't even have a fighting chance. A moment rarely passes without some manner of absurd stupidity. If it isn't a particularly bad pun, a wickedly awful special effect or a pathetic dash of vacant dialog, surely there's a glaringly obvious editing mistake in view. We're talking night-becomes-day-becomes-night, several times in the same scene. Removing a baking pan from the oven with bare hands, commenting on how its contents are freshly scorched, then casually setting it aside. Firing seventeen times from a six-shooter. Though it runs for just an hour and ten minutes, that seems about twice as long as it should've. I had almost as much fun glancing at the cover art as I did watching the entire thing.
Steve Jobs (2015)
Sharp, Smart and Stinging, This Film Pulls No Punches
Aaron Sorkin gives the Apple co-founder some close scrutiny in this unflattering portrait, cleverly framed around three key product launches. Caught at his most over-stressed, Jobs often comes off as both the smartest man in the room and the most heartless, a difficult mix that's expertly managed by Michael Fassbender in the leading role. Fassbender doesn't even remotely look the part, but his ruthless conviction and forceful, melting gaze make the act easy to swallow despite that. It's also true of Seth Rogen, actually, who seems a bizarre choice to play celebrated engineer Steve Wozniak, but pulls it off against all odds in several tastefully limited appearances. This isn't the typical biopic, spanning a figure's entire life and weaving it all into one grand, epic journey with a happy ending. Instead, it's a concise, efficient peek through the window at three turning points in the man's history: his biggest gamble (Macintosh), his greatest spin (NeXT) and his ultimate redemption (iMac). The products get their moments to shine, as does Jobs's infamous penchant for micro-management, but the real story focuses on his relationship with an unwanted, unaccepted daughter and the betrayal of an adoptive pseudo-father. There's warmth in the script, and in its focal figure, but also a terrible, heartbreaking coldness on both fronts that seems painfully real. It may not be the whole story (several heavy moments are fabricated in the name of plot) but it's enough to convey a better understanding of its subject as a human being, warts and all. A terrific effort, moving and entertaining the whole way through, that merits watching whether you love the ubiquitous brand or loathe it.
Meandering and Over-Long, This Tug on Superman's Cape Needs More Focus
The infamous bomb to end all bombs, a doomed effort to relaunch the Superman franchise in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophic Batman and Robin, never made it to principal photography. Ever since it was unceremoniously dumped back in 1998, the film's been a secretive slab of buried pop trivia and this documentary, through interviews with virtually every guilty party, attempts to uncover what might have been. Facepalm-worthy mistakes abound, from overzealous producers with absurd requests to tripped-out directors with no affinity for the character to one of the single worst casting decisions in recent memory. There's no two ways about it: this was going to be a launchpad disaster, even worse than the slim shreds of leaked information may have led us to believe. The story of its abortion is fascinating, too, in the same way a slow-motion replay of a fatal F-1 crash might be. The documentary belabors many points, though, needlessly bloating its runtime, and the director/moderator is incessantly forced into most shots, which I found grating. As a slideshow of concept art and talking heads recollecting (often, stunningly, with fondness) the mistakes they were never given the chance to make, it provides a short-lived interest. The full duration is something of a chore to push through, however, and it really could've done with some critical editing before release.
The Martian (2015)
More Familiar Than I Expected, It's Still an Excellent Nail-Biter
Matt Damon is left for dead during the rushed evacuation of a small-scale Martian expedition. It's like Apollo 13 on steroids, mixed with short dashes of 127 Hours, MacGyver and Survivorman. Much less of a one-man show than I was expecting, which gives the film a little more spirit but also a more conventional structure. I think it would've been a far more interesting, daring picture if we'd seen more personal video journals from space and less debate around a round table at NASA, if just because we've seen the latter film several times already. Damon is excellent, bringing a blend of hopeless desperation and punchy good humor that gives him credence as both a technical expert and a likable, relatable everyday guy. The supporting cast is scattered with some strange choices, though - Kristen Wiig in a dead-serious role and Sean Bean as a kind-hearted supervisor are particularly out of place - which left me enjoying the scenes with Damon alone in the red landscape much more than the rescue effort. Still, the epic moments far outweigh the sub-standard ones, there's a strong sense of humor beneath all the suspense, and the visuals are really pretty incredible. Bonus points for getting so much of the science right, too. I'm conditioned to expect a lot of flaws when I dig deeper into sci-fi like this, but apart from one notable exception (the weather on Mars), the experts looked at this one and said "Yeah, that could actually work." Cool stuff.
The Good Dinosaur (2015)
Valiant Effort That Often Seems At-Odds with Itself
A lesser Pixar effort that's still meaningful and effective, swapping the roles of man and beast in a creative, interesting turn. Its tone is a bit conflicted, though, with a plot that's clearly aimed at younger audiences but several distressing scares and a harsh edge that might make it difficult for children to swallow. Thankfully, it's got a big heart, and an unexpectedly sharp sense of humor that often left me chuckling alongside my two young sons, so those frights were almost always immediately diffused. I didn't care for the overly-simplistic character designs, which call back to the stop-motion history of dinosaurs on film, but the landscapes are appropriately stunning and the big effects work is top-of-the-line. These guys know how to press their audience's buttons and provoke a visceral reaction, even in the midst a disastrous production with major seismic shifts behind the scenes. It's a good adventure flick, deep and expansive, with a nice message and a strong character arc, but there's still something missing. Again, I'd place it among Pixar's weaker films, but in that cellar it keeps fairly good company.
Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007)
A Halfhearted Farewell to the Beloved Bean, it's Merely Okay
Rowan Atkinson's curtain call as Mr. Bean seems like it should've happened ten years ago. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with this movie, really, but it does often feel empty and spacious, like we're all just going through the motions one last time. There's a requisite number of repackaged old skits from the character's long history, interspersed within a lightly curvy, family-friendly plot. Bean's awkward natural charisma is still in attendance, despite his curmudgeonly exterior, and he plays well alongside his two costars: a nearly-mute foreign boy and a stunning French beauty. The language barrier plays well into both relationships, as many of the masthead characters' best adventures play like a silent film. It's fine, I guess, and it certainly entertained my two young boys (we've watched it dozens of times since it went up for streaming on Netflix) but there's nothing remotely essential in here and I doubt I'll remember any of it in a few weeks' time.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
A Genuine Holiday Mainstay That Deserves its Reputation
It takes a lot for me to fall for a sentimental Christmas movie, but this one has excellent balance, charming actors and an original angle that still remains pertinent seventy years after the fact. It all thrives on Edmund Gwenn's definitive performance as Kris Kringle, of course, the man who professes to be the true St. Nick despite the protests of his bosses and coworkers at a busy New York Macy's. His warmth is enveloping and genuine, from the twinkle in his eye to the snug connection he shares with the children. The film's cornerstone moment is an unexpectedly touching little interaction between Gwenn's Santa and a freshly-adopted little Dutch girl who blossoms when he speaks her native tongue. It's stuffed with such surprising bits of whimsy, even as the drama ratchets and we find ourselves in the midst of a courtroom drama, which keeps things from feeling excessively heavy. In short, a heartwarming bit of holiday cheer that nails the spirit of the season without feeling too cheesy, preachy or religious. Well worth its reputation as a classic.
Vibrant Spiritual Successor That Falls on the Shallow Side of the Force
Disney and JJ Abrams swing hard in their effort to repair the damage done by Episodes I-III, with mixed results. Spiritually it's dead-on, a loving tribute to the original trilogy that's a stylistic and thematic clone (with several not-so-subtly borrowed plot points) that makes for great fan service. Few cinematic properties have the rich, sprawling mythos of the Star Wars universe, and Episode VII is wise to draw from that at every turn. Those shared past experiences with familiar characters, settings and devices go a long way; without six films' worth of enhancement to help prop it up, this is just an average sci-fi picture. Wonderfully produced, with long, regular opportunities to appreciate the efforts of its all-world concept artists, somewhere the steep sense of scale was lost. It's a rather thin movie, all told, one that feels decidedly less sweeping and grandiose than its precursors. Less of a space opera than an interplanetary sonnet. The new cast members seem deep and interesting, so there's plenty of hope for future installments, but it's a little unsettling that Harrison Ford so thoroughly outshines them all. It's nice to see the rest of the old gang again, even if Carrie Fisher completely phones her performance in, but Ford is the film's heart and soul. Somewhere in the next installment, those new characters are going to need to step out of his shadow and carry things on their own. A promising step forward, teasing some intriguing potential directions for the rest of the new trilogy, but lacking a lot of the invariables that made A New Hope and Empire the timeless classics they remain today. Much better than the prequels, in any case.
Ansatsu kyôshitsu (2015)
An Out-of-This-World Concept That Settles for All-Too-Familiar Spoils
A sufficiently absurd live-action adaptation of a long-running manga / anime series, in which a giant, yellow, tentacled, smiley-visaged alien spends a term as visiting professor at a Japanese middle school. Having already annihilated a majority of the moon, he's promised to do the same to Earth if he survives the class, though a core subject is his various weaknesses and how to exploit them. So basically, pop culture in Japan at its usual level of overly-specific weirdness. It's actually a great recipe for fresh stories - downtrodden kids from a discarded class learning the ins and outs of the assassination game at a very young age - but often gets tripped up by its own rules and a desire to be more than just a silly dash of action nonsense. The CG can be interesting, too, but there's so much exposition that, as a non-native speaker, I was always too focused on the subtitles to properly appreciate it. Several desperate attempts to make an emotional connection near the end seem misguided and ineffective, merely distracting from the main attraction. Too much fake heart and not enough real heat.