Big Hero 6 (B). I finally saw this Disney film the other night, and I thought it was good. The Borg Queen took me to task for not giving it an A grade of some kind, but there’s no way it compares with Disney’s greatest films. (A few examples: The Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Zootopia, and even Moana, which has risen considerably in my estimation since I reviewed it in these pages.) Also, I suspect Big Hero 6 would play better on the big screen; its futuristic setting was pretty but not immersive on the TV. Anyhoo, this is basically a superhero origin story. Teenaged Hiro is a genius at robots but really comes into his own only after his older brother dies in a mysterious fire and a shadowy villain starts stalking the streets of San Fransokyo. Hiro teams up with his brother’s nerdy science friends and with Baymax, a big balloony robot that Hiro’s brother had been working on when he died. With a few modifications, Baymax goes from cuddly nurse robot to high-flying action hero, and eventually it’s time for a showdown with the big bad. I was entertained. If you like superhero movies, Big Hero 6 is worth your time.
As at least one critic has observed, in Episode IX director J.J. Abrams does his level best to ignore or undo everything that happened in Episode VIII. Although the Resistance seemed to be whittled down to about 5 or 6 people by the end of Episode VIII, Episode IX kicks off with General Leia (Carrie Fisher, When Harry Met Sally…) back in charge of a typical, seemingly well-manned rebel base. Villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Frances Ha) destroyed his Vaderesque mask in the last movie, but he solders it back together for this one. The painful love story between Finn (John Boyega, Pacific Rim: Uprising) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran, XOXO) is mercifully dropped. That stuff about Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express) being the orphaned child of a couple of nobodies? Mm, not exactly. And so on.
But there is some continuity: Episode IX continues the recent tradition of strip-mining the original trilogy for material. Remember how Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, The Return of the Jedi) got killed when Darth Vader hurled him down a bottomless air shaft? Well, you can’t keep a good Sith Lord down, and fifty years on he is rested up and ready for action. But before we get to the inevitable showdown with Palpatine, our heroes have to go on a tedious quest looking for the Magic Crystal of BlizzBlazz that will reveal Palpatine’s secret hiding place. None of the main characters is very interesting. I think Adam Driver is a terrible villain. Poe (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina) and Finn are just dull. Rey is cute and kind of fun to watch if only because her Force powers far outstrip anything we ever thought even a trained Jedi could do, but she spends pretty much the whole movie scowling. C-3PO is actually kind of entertaining in this outing, and I loved the little muppet guy who has to crack 3PO’s droid head open to get at some secret Sith data. Billy Dee Williams (The Empire Strikes Back) pops up for a couple scenes, looking genuinely amused at being in the film. None of it makes much sense, but I thought the climactic battle between Rey and Palpatine was kind of cool. And the final scene, when Rey goes to Luke Skywalker’s boyhood home on Tatooine, warmed the heart of this old original-trilogy-loving geezer.
Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (B). I saw this 1983 sci-fi B-movie in its theatrical release, and it left such a big impression on my teenaged self that I could still vividly remember certain scenes and lines today. So you can imagine my glee when I was killing some time at a Fry’s Electronics and found the Blu-ray for around $9. I watched it last night, and it was just as cheesy as I expected it would be—but I still enjoyed it. A spaceship blows up out in deep space (an accident caused by something it really seems like they should have anticipated), and three passengers (attractive women all) escape in a lifeboat and crash on a desolate world where a plague decimated a human colony and turned the whole place into a Mad-Max-ish sort of environment. (I think they filmed the crash scene in Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park, if I’m not mistaken.) A scuzzy Han-Solo-ish space jockey named Wolff (Peter Strauss, XXX: State of the Union) is in the neighborhood and could use the reward money, so he lands his ship and starts rolling across the desert in his Mad-Max-ish SUV. He picks up an orphaned scavenger named Niki (Molly Ringwald, one year before Sixteen Candles came out and two years before The Breakfast Club) and discovers that an old acquaintance named Washington (Ernie Hudson, Ghostbusters) is also on the planet searching for the lost ladies. After some encounters with hostile but not especially competent local mutants, Wolff, Niki, and Washington end up at the Thunderdome-like enclave of the villainous cyborg Overdog (Michael Ironside, Starship Troopers), who has captured the lost ladies, and a climactic showdown ensues. Strauss and Hudson don’t seem to be taking the movie all that seriously, but Ringwald really commits to her role, spewing amusing space slang a mile a minute and generally acting like a petulant American teenager the whole time. And did I mention it’s only 90 minutes long?
So that’s what you’re in for if you can find this lost gem! You’ve been warned!
Aquaman (D). Nicole Kidman (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) stars in a beautiful romance about two star-crossed lovers. She’s royalty from the undersea kingdom of Atlantis; he’s a humble lighthouse keeper in Maine. One stormy night in 1985 he finds her on the shore, badly wounded in the course of escaping from an arranged marriage to some king or other. He nurses her back to health, she eats one of his goldfish, they fall in love, and a baby boy is born. But alas! The Atlanteans catch up with her, and to protect her husband and her son she must return to the ocean and become a fugitive. But, she tells her husband, if she ever finds a way to return to him, she will appear at the end of their dock at sunrise. She swims away. The end.
Ha! If only! Unfortunately the director spends only about ten minutes on the Kidman love story and then assaults us with over two hours of sublimely ridiculous blather about the superhero Aquaman (Jason Momoa, TV’s Baywatch: Hawaii) and his quest to recover the super-duper magic trident of Old King Blizz Blazz, take his rightful place as king of Atlantis (which involves one-on-one combat strongly reminiscent of Black Panther), and stop an all-out war between the Atlanteans and the human race. On the plus side, Aquaman does have a gorgeous sidekick in the person of Princess Mera (Amber Heard, The Rum Diary). On the minus side, there is everything else. And, by the way, Princess Mera seems every bit as competent as fishboy. Why can’t she grab the golden trident and take care of everything? Is it just because she’s a girl? For all their awesome technology, the Atlanteans sure aren’t very woke.
P.S. If this movie means that Nicole Kidman is going to start appearing at comic cons, I take it all back.
Bumblebee (B+). After the original Transformers movie (2007), this would easily be the next best movie in the bunch. Directed by Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings), this movie takes place in the late 80s as Bumblebee first makes his way to Earth. The movie has nostalgia, humor, heart, a little drama, and just the right amount of action. Hailee Steinfeld (The Edge of Seventeen) does a great job carrying this film. Even my mom liked this movie. Check it out.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (C-). I saw the original Star Wars when I was about 10 years old, so I should be the perfect audience for an origin story about the coolest dude in a galaxy far, far away: the one and only Han Solo. Sadly, I was bored. I think Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) is probably a good actor, but his Han is unfortunately bland. Emilia Clarke (TV’s Game of Thrones) is pretty but otherwise makes no impression as Solo’s love interest. Donald Glover (The Martian) does a little better as a suave Lando Calrissian, but I could never forget I was watching Donald Glover, who was so funny on TV’s Community. Woody Harrelson adds another major franchise to his collection (Hunger Games, Planet of the Apes), but he doesn’t really give the story any juice either. In sum, Solo is a forgettable movie. My favorite pop culture podcast, The Weekly Substandard, has devoted two whole episodes to Solo, and I’m looking forward to hearing what those critics have to say about it.
Annihilation (B-). This new sci-fi movie starring Natalie Portman (Thor) is loosely based on a novel from just a few years ago. I think I liked the book better (see my review here). As in the novel, a weird phenomenon kind of like a dome has descended on some remote, swampy area (Florida maybe?), and weird stuff is going on inside. The government occasionally sends a team into the mysterious area to investigate. (Almost) no one ever comes back. Portman plays a soldier–biologist named Lena who joins the latest mission, a five-woman expedition led by psychologist Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Margot at the Wedding). Once they venture into Area X, it turns into sort of a horror movie, so don’t go if you’re squeamish! Anyhoo, I didn’t like it as well as director Alex Garland’s previous effort, Ex Machina, but Annihilation still held my attention.
I saw Annihilation at a new Alamo Drafthouse here in Dallas, and I caught most of the pre-show. It included a couple of old music videos of a children’s rock band that featured . . . a nine-year-old Natalie Portman! It was pretty entertaining.
Black Panther (C). I don’t know, maybe it’s just comic-book-movie fatigue, but this flick left me feeling like I’d just watched a 135-minute-long video game. Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War) stars as King T’Challa of the poor African nation of Wakanda. Only it’s not really poor; it’s sitting on a mountain of an alien metal called vibranium and has mastered all sorts of advanced technology, including some sort of cloaking device to conceal it all from the outside world. But bad guys in the outside world are trying to get a hold of some vibranium, so T’Challa (who is also superhero Black Panther) and a few sidekicks leave Wakanda to stop them. And then they have to deal with another bad guy after the first bad guys. It all felt so weightless that I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of it. Also stars Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and features Angela Bassett (How Stella Got Her Groove Back), Forest Whitaker (Rogue One), and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug).
The Movie Snob finally makes it back to the megaplex.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (C). Ugh! I’m on Day 10 of a cold. So I looked for some cinematic comfort food, and I settled on this sleeper hit that’s still hanging on from the Christmas season. According to IMDB, it has grossed about $370 million domestically on a $90 million budget, so not bad. I didn’t see the 1995 Robin Williams version, so I had no expectations (except that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would be likable, which he of course was). It was a mediocre experience—utterly predictable, but with a few amusing scenes here and there. Four high schoolers get sucked into a video game, where they are given new bodies reflecting their in-game avatars. It’s somewhat entertaining that they are cast against type: the nerd becomes beefy Johnson (Moana), the jock becomes diminutive Kevin Hart (The Five-Year Engagement), the awkward loner girl becomes Lara-Croft-esque Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy), and in the oddest twist the beautiful social-media queen becomes . . . Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels). They have to complete a quest to “win the game” and escape back into the real world. The suspense is less than minimal, but as I mentioned there are a few laughs here and there. And Gillan is very attractive, so there’s that. Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content, and some language (most of the latter two arising, I believe, from the situation of a high-school girl’s consciousness getting stuck inside a middle-aged guy’s body).
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (B-). Okay, Episode VIII in the ongoing space/soap opera about the Skywalker family is here, and the critics are generally loving it. Put me down with the small band of dissenting critics. On the plus side, it is better than the last installment, The Force Awakens, if only because it is not a slavish remake of an earlier movie. On the down side, it is still somewhat derivative of its predecessor The Empire Strikes Back, with an evil empire on the march, a rebellion on the run, and a would-be Jedi seeking training from a wise mentor. Worse still, it is a solid two-and-a-half hours long, with as many false endings as The Return of the King from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Still, I appreciated that writer–director Rian Johnson did try to throw some new wrinkles at us. Mark Hamill (Star Wars: A New Hope) is a surprisingly crotchety Luke Skywalker. The late Carrie Fisher (When Harry Met Sally) presents a stoic Rebel leader but doesn’t really have that much to do. And our quartet of new main characters (Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, and Poe Dameron) gets split up for most of the movie, which means a lot of jumping back and forth. I think the movie would have been much better if the first half had been trimmed a bunch, and the exciting stuff at the end stretched out a bit. But it’s already made almost a billion dollars worldwide, so what do I know?
Justice League (C). Yep, even the presence of the beauteous Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) couldn’t save this piece of cinematic bombast from dull mediocrity. As we recall from the last movie, Superman is dead. This makes everybody sad, which somehow summons up yet another cosmic CGI super-villain bent on global domination. Although said villain has the unlikely name of Steppenwolf, this movie is neither Born to be Wild nor a Magic Carpet Ride. Instead it’s mostly about Batman (Ben Affleck, Gone Girl) looking for new super-recruits like Aquaman (Jason Momoa, TV’s Baywatch) and The Flash (Ezra Miller, City Island) to help him and Wonder Woman beat the bad guy. Lois Lane (Amy Adams, Nocturnal Animals) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane, Six Pack) drop in for a few seconds. And the gorgeous ex-Mrs. Johnny Depp, Amber Heard (3 Days to Kill), has maybe a minute of screen time, as some relative of Aquaman I think. Ultimately, of course, there’s a humongous battle that’s about as exciting as watching your little brother play a video game for forty-five minutes. This is a yawner.
Thor: Ragnarok (B-). Of the making of comic-book movies, there is no end. But, if you’ve got a couple of hours to kill, you could do worse than seeing the third movie focused on second-tier Marvel hero Thor of Asgard (Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman). The story is the usual fare—a rising supervillain threatens massive destruction unless the heroic guy and his sidekicks can somehow save the day. And the fight scenes, spaceships, and explosions are also the usual dull, video-game-looking affairs.
So what’s to like? In a nutshell, it’s the comedy. I laughed out loud more times during this movie than in any number of straight-up “comedies” I could name. Fanboys may not appreciate the meta-jokes that poke fun at the silliness of the whole enterprise (like an offhanded joke about Loki’s goofy headgear), but I laughed every time. Weaselly Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Kong: Skull Island) is back and always fun to watch. Jeff Goldblum (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) is a hoot as the flamboyant impresario of a planet that looks like a giant garbage dump. As the villainous Hela, Cate Blanchett—a two-time Oscar®-winning actress for Blue Jasmine and The Aviator, don’t you know—chews the CGI with a vengeance and sprouts some mighty impressive antlers whenever she gets ready to kill a bunch of people. Plus there are fun cameos to watch for, and some other Avengers put in small or not-so-small appearances. This movie was directed by Taika Waititi, a New Zealander who also directed and starred in the vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows. This movie was even funnier.
Atomic Blonde (D). So I was shooting the breeze with a couple of guys at work, and we were talking about movies. Expecting no contradiction, I offered the opinion that Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot is probably the most beautiful movie star working today. To my amazement, one of my colleagues demurred. “Have you seen Atomic Blonde?” he asked. Recalling that this was a poorly performing spy movie starring the admittedly gorgeous Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), I resolved to check it out.
Theron is gorgeous, but the movie is a mess. During the last few days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, a British super-spy-assassin (Theron) is sent to Berlin to find and recover a list of a bunch of spies from a KGB guy gone rogue. Her connection there, the local British spy chief, is a squirrelly guy played by James McAvoy (Atonement). A cute French spy played by Sophia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond) engages in some inappropriate spygames with Theron. Oh, and the whole thing is told by Theron’s character in flashback, so we’re constantly getting yanked back into a boring room in London where she swaps supposedly hard-boiled dialogue with John Goodman (Kong: Skull Island) and Toby Jones (Morgan). The highlights are the exquisitely choreographed fight scenes, and I must admit they are better filmed and more entertaining than the incomprehensibly cut gibberish you see in most action movies these days. But I had problems even with the fight scenes. I could suspend disbelief long enough to accept that Charlize Theron is such a supernaturally fast and agile fighter that she can defeat thugs two or three times her size simply because they can’t land a punch on her. But I can’t accept that she can actually absorb full-on body-blows from the same thugs and still keep up the fight. She may be a ninja, but come on, a supermodel-skinny woman is not going to get up after some of the punches she takes in this movie, no matter how much of a ninja she is.
My favorite was the first one, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in which we see how a medical experiment gone wrong makes apes superintelligent and kills most of humanity. The middle installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, was a solid if grim movie in which the apes and the surviving humans try to co-exist, with middling-at-best results.
The finale turns the grimness up to 11 as a human military band led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson, The Edge of Seventeen) seems to be intent on wiping out the apes. Ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis, Inkheart) decides to send most of his “people” on a quest for a safe haven while he and few trusted lieutenants set out to find and distract the Colonel. Along the way they pick up a sweet mute human girl, whom they dub Nova (Amiah Miller, Lights Out), and then another talking ape, a not entirely sane chimpanzee who calls himself “Bad Ape” because that’s what his human captors called him before the plague. As voiced by Steve Zahn (Sunshine Cleaning), Bad Ape provides some much-needed comic relief, because this War is dark dark dark. But it’s well-made, on the whole. (I did roll my eyes a little in the middle part when the Colonel momentarily turns into a James Bond villain and gives Caesar a massive lecture/monologue to explain why he’s doing what he’s doing and what’s going to happen for the rest of the movie.)
Dunkirk (B+). Having recently read a newish history of WWII, I definitely wanted to see Christopher Nolan’s movie about the 1940 evacuation of 338,000 Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, France. It’s a pretty effective ground-and-ocean-eye view (except for a few scenes involving a heroic RAF fighter pilot played by Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road) of those events. Much of the movie follows a nameless British soldier who is desperate to escape back to England and is not entirely scrupulous about how to do it. 860 civilian vessels took part in the evacuation, and so we also get to follow one of them, a smallish boat called Moonstone captained by an older gent named Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies). Things get tense fast when Dawson picks up a lone soldier from a wrecked ship, and the shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy, The Dark Knight) freaks out when he realizes the boat is heading towards Dunkirk instead of England. Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn) pops up in a few scenes as a high-ranking British guy stuck on the beach with his army. I enjoyed it. For another view, calling it an “astonishing filmmaking achievement and an epic narrative failure,” you can click here.
Baby Driver (B-). Hm, I didn’t know until just now that this highly rated movie (Metacritic score 86) was directed by the same fellow (Edgar Wright) who directed Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End. It’s a crazy little movie about a getaway driver savant called Baby (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars) who works for a criminal mastermind called Doc (Kevin Spacey, L.A. Confidential). There’s a very good and elaborate car chase at the beginning, and the climactic pursuit at the end seems to go on forever, and in between there’s not too much of note. Lily James (Cinderella) plays the sweet li’l waitress who steals Baby’s heart, and Jamie Foxx (Dreamgirls) plays a crazy gangster named Bats. Jon Hamm (TV’s Mad Men) has a lot of screen time as another gangster, but I’m afraid I will always see Don Draper whenever he’s on screen. Eiza González (Jem and the Holograms) makes an impression as a gangster called Darling. On the whole, an okay and disposable summer movie.
Wonder Woman (B). This movie has been riding high at the box office, so everyone who’s going to see it has probably already done so. Anyhoo, I finally got around to seeing it, and I liked it just fine. The plot struck me as kind of wacky–the Greek god of war Ares is supposedly a real being (god?) and he is out there on the loose stoking mankind’s warlike passions. The Amazons are hiding out on some paradisiacal Mediterranean island, but when American WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, Into the Woods) crash lands just off shore and brings tidings of the carnage of total warfare, beautiful Amazon princess Diana (Gal Gadot, Batman v. Superman) decides she must leave the island with him so she can track down and kill Ares. There is some amusing fish-out-of-water stuff as Diana makes her way through old-fashioned WWI-era London. Then there are some mean Germans that Steve and Diana have to confront (at the front) in the final reel. All in all, this is a perfectly competent and enjoyable superhero movie, and it didn’t even feel long at 2 hours and 21 minutes. And I must say that Gal Gadot is, like, supernaturally beautiful in the role of Wonder Woman. I certainly noticed her in her small role in Batman v. Superman, but here she just owns the screen. If I were caught up in her magic lasso, I might even have to say she’s more beautiful than Nicole Kidman.
Alien: Covenant (C-). Looking back, I see that I liked Prometheus quite bit and had high hopes for the next Alien prequel. Alas, those hopes are far from fulfilled in the latest flick about the almost-indestructible critters with a taste for human flesh. The Covenant is a large spaceship carrying a huge load of people in cryogenic sleep for a 7+ year voyage to a planet they hope will be hospitable enough for them to colonize. An accident damages the ship and leads to the waking of its small human crew. They receive a communications signal that lures them off course to a much closer, and previously unknown, habitable planet. Who could possibly be way out here? The survivors of the Prometheus expedition, perhaps? Once they arrive, it’s only a matter of time (a very short time) before the humans start getting turned into alien chow, and we don’t know or like them enough to really care that much. I was annoyed that some of the biological “facts” I thought we knew about the aliens from the earlier films seem to be disregarded in this one. The humans do all sorts of stupid things to earn their gruesome ends, and despite all the mayhem only one scene struck me as really, memorably horrifying. Billy Crudup (Big Fish) plays the ineffectual captain of the Covenant, but the real stars are Katherine Waterston (Sleeping with Other People) as the Sigourney Weaveresque heroine and Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) playing both android David from Prometheus and android Walter from the Covenant. I’d say this movie is for diehard Alien fans only.
P.S. The movie has lots of ponderous philosophical window-dressing too; for more on that you can read Steven Greydanus’s review here.
Logan (A-). Yes, this is an awfully high grade to give a rated-R comic-book movie with all sorts of severed heads and spurting arteries and such. But what can I say? I thought this movie was excellent. Hugh Jackman (Scoop) returns for his millionth turn as Wolverine, the irascible, indestructible mutant with the retractable claws. Only now he’s not feeling so indestructible. The year is 2029, and he is old and sick and not regenerating like he used to. He’s lying low somewhere near the U.S.-Mexico border taking care of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, Excalibur), who is not only old and sick but also having seizures that cause all sorts of mayhem for everyone around him because of his uncontrolled psychic powers. All the other mutants we’ve come to know and love in the other X-Men movies are apparently dead, and no new mutants have been born in many years. Wolverine is just trying to scrape together enough money in his job as a limo driver so he can buy a boat and sail out to sea with Professor Xavier (thereby saving mankind from the effects of Xavier’s seizures, I think). Then everything goes sideways when a desperate woman finds Wolverine and begs him to transport a young girl to Canada—a girl with mutantly powers awfully reminiscent of Wolverine’s. Of course, there are bad guys hot on her trail, and the movie quickly turns into a quasi-remake of Children of Men (which is not a bad movie to borrow from, if you’re going to borrow). Despite all the crazy, bloody fight scenes, the movie really worked for me as a meditation on mortality and the meaning of family. And newcomer Dafne Keen does a nice job as the mysterious little girl with anger-management issues.
P.S. I forgot to mention this when I initially posted this review–I think this is the first time I have ever seen a movie in the United States that features Spanish subtitles. Some of the movie was in Spanish, and those parts had no subtitles. I wonder if those parts were subtitled in English in other showings?
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (D). The first Guardians movie was a surprisingly fun, comic space opera. The second, unfortunately, is neither fun nor funny. The relentless special effects and earsplitting soundtrack add up to, as another critic put it, a “visual and aural assault”—and one that lasts over two hours, for good measure. There’s a lot going on here, but the main plot involves the encounter between affable space scoundrel Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, The Five-Year Engagement) and his long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell, Big Trouble in Little China). It’s always great to see Russell doing his amiable big-lug routine, but even he can’t save this bloated trainwreck. Almost lost in the clutter are nice supporting performances by Michael Rooker (Tombstone) as the blue outlaw who raised Peter and Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) as a beautiful gold alien whose genetically perfect species is remarkably inept at tracking down and blowing up the Guardians. Skip it.
Kong: Skull Island (C). If my records are correct, this is the 1,600th movie I have ever seen, so I wanted to celebrate the milestone with something big. This incarnation of Kong is plenty big, but overall the movie was disappointing. The year is 1973, and an eccentric guy (John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane) somehow persuades a senator (Richard Jenkins, The Cabin in the Woods) to authorize military assistance for an expedition to an uncharted South Pacific island that looks kind of like a skull. Goodman borrows a tough-as-nails colonel (Samuel L. Jackson, Unbreakable, at his Samuel L. Jacksonest) and a few more good men from the winding-down Vietnam War. There are several other members in the expedition, but only Tom Hiddleston (Thor) and cute Brie Larson (Short Term 12) make any impression, as a British ex-special-ops guy and an anti-war photographer respectively. The assembly of the team and the initial foray into the island are the best parts of the movie; once the monsters started to show up, I lost interest in a hurry. It’s a long two hours. Stay through the interminable end credits for a bonus scene.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (C). I saw this movie almost a week ago, but I have yet to muster up any enthusiasm for writing a review. All I can really say is that I liked it better than The Force Awakens, but I still didn’t particularly like it. Considering the critical and fan love Rogue One has gotten, I wonder if Star Wars and I are just finished as a couple. I was a kid when the first one came out in 1977, and I loved the first trilogy, but it’s been downhill ever since. Anyway, everyone knows what this movie is about–how a ragtag rebel band stole the plans to the original Death Star and got them into Princess Leia’s hands just before the events seen in the original Star Wars. To me, the movie felt like a long, elaborate scavenger hunt, as our gritty heroes Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, Brideshead Revisited) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, Casa de mi Padre) skip from world to world, grittily doing the gritty things that need to be done to steal the plans to the original Death Star and get them into the hands of Princess Leia. My favorite character: a reprogrammed Imperial droid voiced by Alan Tudyk (Serenity). Otherwise, I thought this was a pretty forgettable movie.
Moana (B). First we have a short–a cute little story that dramatizes the battle between an office drudge’s fearful brain on the one hand and his excitable heart and stomach on the other. It’s kind of like a radically shortened and simplified Inside Out. The main feature is set in a Polynesian South Seas-type milieu. Moana is the high-spirited daughter of an island chief, and she thrills to her grandmother’s ancient stories of Maui, a trickster demigod who stole a gemstone from an island goddess, only to lose it in a battle with a lava demon. Could the tales be true? Lo! The Ocean itself brings the gemstone to Moana, and she must go on a quest to find Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson, San Andreas) and force him to return the gemstone to its rightful place, lest a looming wave of darkness overwhelm her people. I give Moana high marks for beautiful visuals, enjoyable musical numbers in the early going, and an appealing heroine. The adventure plot is a little pedestrian, so I wouldn’t put this movie in the same category as first-tier Disney like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, or Zootopia. Nevertheless, it’s a solid, family-friendly effort.
The Movie Snob goes to the movies. And regrets it.
The Legend of Tarzan (F). If you see only one critically panned action movie starring Margot Robbie this summer . . . see Suicide Squad. I haven’t seen it myself, but it has to be better than this stinkbomb.
As our story begins, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård, Zoolander) has long been civilized into Lord Greystoke and lives in some Downton Abbey looking manor with his wife Jane (Robbie, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot). He is persuaded to return to his old ‘hood in the Congo by an American fellow (Samuel L. Jackson, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) who thinks that the colonizing Belgians might be enslaving the locals. But the American is unwittingly part of a trap being set by Belgian King Leopold’s nefarious agent Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz, Spectre), who needs to lure Tarzan to the jungle for reasons of his own. So most of the movie consists of Tarzan’s attempts to rescue the hapless Jane (who spends most of the movie in Rom’s clutches, chained to the rail of a Congolese steamboat), some okay flashbacks to Tarzan’s humble origins as an adopted gorilla, and some ridiculous action sequences. I probably would have given this charmless film a D if the director (David Yates, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I) hadn’t thrown in a couple of anti-Catholic bits. The villainous Rom uses a rosary as a murder weapon, and Robbie’s character insinuates that he was abused as a child by a Catholic priest. Wholly unnecessary, and offensive enough to drag this otherwise lame movie completely off the rails into the abyss.
Star Trek Beyond (D). Well, I liked the last two Star Trek films (although the last one was a guilty pleasure, with its shameless plundering of Trek history and resurrection of Khan Noonian Singh). But I have no love for this one. There were a few okay moments of camaraderie involving the Kirk–Spock–McCoy trinity, and I liked the spunky new character Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, (Kingsmen: The Secret Service). But it was mostly loud special effects and incomprehensible plot, both flying past at breakneck speed. I had no idea what was going on at several points during the mayhem, and I still have no idea how all these characters knew with pinpoint precision where they needed to run/fly/transport in order to do whatever urgent thing they were trying to do right that second. And is it really believable that Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, Z for Zachariah) would find himself bored just three years into the Enterprise‘s historic five-year mission? Bored?? Come on. Get real.