The Boss Baby
Director: Tom McGrath
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Miles Bakshi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Conrad Vernon, James McGrath, David Soren
Somewhere an assembly line is churning out babies which are either sent to families or to work in management. 7-year-old Tim Templeton gets a bossy baby brother who perhaps should have become a bureaucrat at Baby Corp. Like Storks, this painfully exhausting animation provides its own wacky theory of where babies come from. It is unclear whether it is all just an extended dream sequence fueled by Tim’s fears, but in any case the story doesn’t make any sense to me at any point on any level. For me to appreciate the jokes and references, I must be at least partially onboard. The premise may be original, but clever or funny it isn’t. Based on Marla Frazee’s picture book.
The Shape of Water
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer, Nick Searcy, David Hewlett, Nigel Bennett, Stewart Arnott, Martin Roach
Elisa is a mute cleaner who forms a close bond with an amphibious creature held captive in a secret government facility in Baltimore in 1962. After the forgettable Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak, Guillermo del Toro returns to form. Like Pan’s Labyrinth, his best work to date, this is a gripping and visually stunning story that mixes fantasy and historical drama. And like that film, it is partly ruined by a ridiculously one-dimensional villain. I must admit that I wasn’t totally won over by the central romance either. However, the performances are great and the film looks spectacular. An Academy Award winner for best picture, director, score, and production design.
Johnny English Strikes Again
Director: David Kerr
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Jake Lacy, Emma Thompson, Adam James, Vicki Pepperdine, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Miramnda Hennessy
When somebody hacks into the MI7 computer system and exposes all active field agents. Johnny English must return to action to find the culprit. Following Johnny English and Johnny English Reborn, nothing much has changed. As before, the hero alternates between being incompetent and unstoppable. The script is skeletal, but there a few enjoyable gags in the 90 minutes.
Director: Great Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lois Smith
Greta Gerwig’s full directorial debut is a deeply personal coming of age story about a 17-year-old Sacramento girl who is in her last year of high school. Christine, who would like to be known as Lady Bird, dreams of going to college on the East Coast, but can she pull it off academically and financially? Gerwig’s snappy script doesn’t offer anything terribly original, but she has created believable and wonderfully nuanced characters and found a terrific cast to play them. At the centre of it all are Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, and their moving portrayal of a complicated mother-daughter relationship.
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Cast: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy, Winston Chao, Jessica McNamee, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Robert taylor, Sophia Cai, Masi Oka
Five years after he lost part of his crew under mysterious circumstances, rescue diver Jonas Taylor aims to save a submersible crew who are trapped in the deeper reaches of the Mariana Trench with a megalodon, a gigantic shark believed to have gone extinct millions of years ago. This suspenseful and entertaining but utterly stupid action adventure offers a little bit of science and a whole lot of fiction. The end result lands somewhere between Jaws, Deep Blue Sea, and Sharknado. The locations and the cast list announce that this is a Chinese-American co-production. The performances vary between decent and awful, the dialogue is just awful throughout. Based on Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten.
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Melora Walters
Investigative journalist Eddie Brock loses his job and girlfriend trying to prove that Carlton Drake and his Life Foundation are evil. Six months later he breaks into their research facility, where an alien symbiote takes over his body. Venom featured in Spider-Man 3, and now this Marvel character gets a reboot with the likeable Tom Hardy in the starring role. This origin story takes forever to get going, but the second half transforms it into a nicely weird, darkly funny, and enjoyable superhero action movie. The climactic fight between Venom and Riot is a bit of a CGI mess, though. The post-credits scene from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse left me baffled.
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan
After a botched hostage rescue mission left him crippled, Will Sawyer quit the team and set up his own security consultancy firm. While he is in Hong Kong to approve the safety systems of The Pearl, the world’s tallest skyscraper, a group of criminals set the 96th floor on fire, with Will’s family above it. Rawson Marshall Thurber, best know for his comedies, has written and directed an entertaining but extremely derivative action movie in which Die Hard meets Towering Inferno. The script is as formulaic as they come, but the action set pieces are gripping and Dwayne Johnson gives another likeable performance in the lead.
Director: James Ward Byrkit
Cast: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon, Lorene Scafaria, Hugo Armstrong, Elizabeth Gracen, Alex Manugian, Lauren Maher
Four couples are having a dinner party just when a comet is passing the Earth in close proximity. Their evening takes an odd turn with a series of unusual events. James Ward Byrkit’s directorial debut is a tightly scripted and mindbending drama which was shot on a shoestring budget. This is science fiction about ideas, not about special effects. It all starts like a Woody Allen film, but as the neighbourhood is paralysed by a blackout, Byrkit squeezes wonderful tension from minimal action.
Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann (The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared)
Director: Felix Herngren
Cast: Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander, David Wiberg, Mia Skäringer, Jens Hultén, Bianca Cruzeiro, Alan Ford, Sven Lönn, David Shackleton, Georg Nikoloff, Kerry Shale, Algirdas Paulavicius, Koldo Losada
On his 100th birthday, Allan Karlsson walks away from the retirement home. On his eventful journey, he stumbles on a suitcase full of dirty money and draws a group of misfits around him. He also recounts his earlier life as an explosives expert who had encounters with Franco, Truman, and Stalin, among others. This darkly comic and insanely popular Swedish farce is all over the place. The present day story is built around broad characterisation and a series of preposterous coincidences. The Forrest Gump-flavoured flashbacks feel forced and don’t seem to add anything but length. Even if the film is a disappointment, Robert Gustafsson plays Allan convincingly from age 20 to 100. Based on a 2009 novel by Jonas Jonasson.
Miekkailija (The Fencer)
Director: Klaus Härö
Cast: Märt Avandi, Ursula Ratasepp, Hendrik Toompere, Liisa Koppel, Joonas Koff, Lembit Ulfsak, Piret Kalda, Egert Kadastu, Ann-Lisett Rebane, Elbe Reiter, Jaak Prints, Kirill Käro
In the early 1950s, Endel Nelis escapes the clutches of the KGB and arrives in the small town of Haapsalu in Estonia. He takes a job as a teacher and ends up running a fencing club for the children, but how long will he be able to remain incognito? Although Anna Heinämaa’s script is based on a real person, her version of Endel’s story loses impact by relying on too many formulaic tropes. However, the performances are good and Tuomo Hutri’s cinematography is wonderfully atmospheric.
Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Samuel West
In May 1940, when the British troops are forced to retreat to Dunkirk, Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister. His first job is to decide whether the country should go to war against Nazi Germany. We all know what happened next. When the predictable story goes through the motions (with a few blatantly fictional embellishments) and Joe Wright has shot it almost entirely on a sound stage, the only possible excitement comes from the performances, and they are indeed good. In his Academy Award winning turn, Gary Oldman plays Churchill as a fragile man filled with doubts. His makeup also won an Oscar.
Hymyilevä mies (The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki)
Director: Juho Kuosmanen
Cast: Jarkko Lahti, Oona Airola, Eero Milonoff, John Bosco Jr., Joanna Haartti
In the summer of 1962, Olli Mäki is about to fight for the Featherweight World Championship title in front of 20,000 Finnish fans in Helsinki. His manager would like his protégé to concentrate on training and entertaining his wealthy sponsors, but Olli struggles to focus as he is falling in love. Juho Kuosmanen’s feature debut, which is based on real events, is a lovely black and white biopic that steers clear of clichés. This fresh and confidently directed film concentrates on a few weeks in the character’s life, and it’s all the better for it. The three main actors give wonderful performances.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, J. B. Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, Marisa Tomei, Jake Gyllenhaal
Still processing the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker and his friends go on a study trip to Europe, where he plans to reveal his feelings to MJ. The trip doesn’t go to plan when Nick Fury needs Peter’s help to fight the destructive Elementals alongside Mysterio, an enigmatic superhero from a multiverse. Spider-Man: Homecoming was one of the most purely entertaining movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The sequel doesn’t quite reach the same heights, but it offers a very solid combination of drama, humour, action, and sentiment. This is the final release in the Infinity Saga.
The Secret Life of Pets 2
Director: Chris Renaud
Cast: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddis, Lake Bell, Nick Kroll, Harrison Ford
The Secret Life of Pets was a run-of-the-mill animation which consistently ripped off the Toy Story franchise. The only thing consistent with this sequel is that it’s all over the place. The characters and their relationships to other pets and people seem to have no rules, and the script juggles three separate story strands which come together for one contrived moment. While Max spends a stressful weekend at a farm, Gidget must retrieve an item from a house full of cats, and Snowball is recruited to rescue a white tiger.
Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe
John Wick is an ex-hitman. When the reckless son of a Russian mobster steals his car and kills his dog, the last gift from his dead wife, John must come out of retirement and wipe out the entire crime family. Chad Stahelski is a former stunt man. His monotonous directorial debut follows in the footsteps of Taken and other similar revenge fantasies. This is an old school action movie without a single properly drawn character. The bad guys are stupid and evil, and the hero is an emotionless badass. They have one thing in common: they are all unpleasant and charmless. Inventive action scenes would help, but there is nothing new at display. As far as I can tell, John’s special skill is shooting from point blank range. Followed by two sequels.
A Monster Calls
Director: J.A. Bayona
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Lewis MacDougall, Liam Neeson
One night a massive tree-like monster appears to 13-year-old Conor. The monster promises to tell three separate stories which Conor hopes can help him explain his recurring nightmare about his mother’s serious illness. J.A. Bayona’s second feature in English is based on a 2011 novel by Patrick Ness. This is a wonderfully acted fantasy flavoured drama about grief and anguish. Although the film is consistently captivating, it cannot deliver the required emotional payoff.
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen
In 2029, the weakened and disillusioned Logan takes care of the elderly Professor Xavier, who is having dangerous seizures. It is believed that no new mutants have been born in years, but could the young Laura be Logan’s offspring? This grim drama was inspired by Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, which depicted an alternative X-Men future. This one is definitely not for the same target audience as the rest of the franchise. I admire James Mangold’s ambition, but after several entertaining and engrossing X-Men movies, I could not fully engage with this bleak, slow-paced and needlessly violent denouement. Hugh Jackman is impressive in his final performance as Wolverine.
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Caitlin Carver, Bojana Novakovic, Paul Walter Hauser
Tonya Harding was a talented figure skater whose successful career ended in a scandal. Before the 1994 Winter Olympics, her ex-husband orchestrated an attack on Nancy Kerrigan, her biggest domestic rival. This darkly comic biopic plays hard and loose with facts. It depicts Tonya as a poor little white trash girl who is abused physically by her husband and mentally by her mother. In the end, nobody seems to be guilty of the attack, it just sort of happens. Tonya’s story is probably worth telling, but fictionalising her life and playing her as a victim didn’t work for me. Margot Robbie is excellent in the title role, and her scenes on ice are wonderfully created. Allison Janney is disappointingly one-note in her Academy Award winning performance as the mother.
The Dark Tower
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Katheryn Winnick, Jackie Earle Haley
The mythical dark tower protects all life in the universe. 11-year-old Jake has visions of Gunslinger named Roland Deschain who protects the tower from the Man in Black. This 90-minute movie attempts to distill the essence of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, which spanned over eight books and one short story. Needless to say, this plan cannot end well. This feels like middle of the road science fiction without any fresh ideas or compelling characters. Elba and McConaughey are wasted in their underwritten roles. On the plus side, the rushed story is over soon and I don’t expect this to start a franchise.
You Were Never Really Here
Director: Lynne Ramsey
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts
Joe is a traumatised war veteran who is specialised in tracking down sex trafficked teenagers and punishing their captors. A state senator hires him to find his daughter, but Joe is about to discover that there are bigger things at play. Lynne Ramsey’s fourth feature was scripted by Jonathan Ames from his own novel. The set-up sounds like a classic paranoia thriller, but in practice this is an introspective study of an unhinged person. Joaquin Phoenix gives a very compelling performance, but Joe’s story is never as gripping as you would hope and often difficult to watch, but not for the right reason.
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till
Following the events in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Mystique has become a globetrotting mutant heroine and Magneto lives a quiet life in Poland with a wife and child. Things return to normal when the reawakened En Sabah Nur, one of the world’s first mutants, plans to destroy and rebuild the world. The final part of the prequel trilogy is tired and awfully familiar. Magneto kills a bunch of people again but he is ultimately a good guy. How many times have we seen this storyline by now? Days of Future Past was confusing at times, and Simon Kinberg’s script takes more liberties with the internal logic of the X-Men universe. En Sabah Nur, with his rigid costume and long-winded monologues, is an incredibly boring villain, and the numbing CGI-heavy action set pieces never concern themselves with the heavy death toll taking place in the background. The series concludes in Dark Phoenix.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Director: J.A. Bayona
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, BD Wong, Isabella Sermon, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum
The sequel to Jurassic World picks up the story a few years later when a massive volcanic eruption is threatening to destroy the abandoned Isla Nublar. Claire and Owen are recruited to travel to the island and rescue a selected few of the dinosaurs, but they soon realise that they are only pawns in a bigger game. The fifth movie in the series takes elements from all the previous releases and then wraps it up with a surprising but nonsensical ending which takes the franchise into Planet of the Apes territory for the upcoming 2021 sequel. J. A. Bayona stages some exciting individual set pieces, but this is yet another frustratingly formulaic episode in this series. Children and good guys are put in jeopardy again, but the outcome is a foregone conclusion, as always. It doesn’t help that the plot doesn’t make much sense on its own and even less in the context of the entire franchise.
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee, Trace Adkins, Brad Leland
Peter Berg’s tense drama depicts the events of April 20th, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico when an explosion and fire on Deepwater Horizon, a semi-submersible oil rig, caused the largest oil spill in history. Mike Williams is an electronics technician, husband, and father who starts his three-week shift on the platform just when things come to a head. This captivating disaster movie is based mostly on fact, although the script cannot resist setting up a traditional clash between the moneygrubbing corporate thugs and the honest hardworking bluecollar workers. Based on Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours by David Barstow, David Rohde, and Stephanie Saul.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, Sebastian Arcelus, Neal Huff, M. Night Shyamalan
Kevin Wendell Crumb, who has 23 different personalities, kidnaps three teenage girls as offerings to the Beast, the emerging 24th personality who is a psychopathic monster. After his breakthrough with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan has made a number of incredibly stupid and predictably twisty horror films. The good news is that this one reveals its secrets early on and gets silly only when the Beast arrives. The bad news is that the film is mind-numbingly boring from start to finish. It starts like any low budget exploitation flick, with the three girls imprisoned in an underground hideout and taking turns in shedding their clothes, but the story drags from one boring conversation to the next. As impressive as James McAvoy is in his multiple roles, the repetitive personality switches eventually wore me down. The very last scene links the whole thing to Shyamalan’s back catalogue. Followed by Glass (2019).
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart
In 2023, robots knows as Sentinels are wiping out the entire mutant population. Using her powers, Kitty Pryde sends Wolverine’s consciousness back in time to 1973 to halt the development of the Sentinels. The follow-up to X-Men: First Class brings together the casts of the original X-Men series and the prequels. Before I could figure out how Professor X is alive in the future and how Magneto has restored his powers, my head went spinning from the alternate timeline which wipes out most of what I have seen in the original trilogy and The Wolverine. Taken as a standalone movie, this is an entertaining time travel adventure, even if the plot rips off Terminator. However, as part of the X-Men franchise, this is a confusing bundle of contradictions. Followed by X-Men: Apocalypse.
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Director: Dean DeBlois
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plassem, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Djimon Honsou, Kit Harington
In Berk, humans and dragons now live happily side by side. In the outside world, however, Hiccup and Toothless discover a mysterious dragon sanctuary, which they must attempt to protect from Drago Bludvist who is about to build an army. How to Train Your Dragon was a fresh and inventive animation with a nice set of characters. The sequel is perfectly enjoyable but somewhat mechanical. Hiccup enjoys deeply personal high and lows, but the story delivers very few surprises otherwise. Almost everyone rides a dragon now and the last third introduces us to another big one, very much like the first movie. Followed by How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019).
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin, Gwyneth Paltrow
After the tragic climax of Avengers: Infinity War, the Avengers have split up and moved on with their lives. When Ant-Man returns from the Quantum Realm, there is suddenly hope that this magical dimension could hold the key to reverting the past events. Iron Man launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe back in 2008. Now 11 years and 22 releases later, the Infinity Saga gets an epic finale. There is the inevitable final showdown with Thanos, but also a clever and unsentimental trip through some of the past movies in the saga. The three hours feature some of the most moving and funniest scenes in the studio’s output. The movie is not perfect, but with this much to wrap up, it is probably as great as it can be.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Željko Ivanek, Caleb Landry Jones, Samara Weaving, Kerry Condon
Mildred Hayes is an embittered mother who rents three billboards outside the town of Ebbing to bring attention to the unsolved rape and murder of her 17-year-old daughter. This brings her at loggerheads with Jason Dixon, a heavy-drinking and short-tempered redneck cop. Martin McDonagh’s entertaining and foul-mouthed dark comedy offers a lovely slice of small town americana. The film features a terrific collection of characters, most of whom are capable of both good and evil. Although many of these characters are based on stereotypes, they are wonderfully drawn and played, apart from Abbie Cornish, who is just miscast (the script doesn’t explain how a small town sheriff ended up marrying a beautiful foreign woman 20 years his junior). Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell both won Academy Awards for their stellar performances.
Director: David F. Sandberg
Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Faithe Herman, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, Adam Brody
Billy Batson is a troubled 14-year-old orphan who is desperate to find his mother. Just as he is moving into another foster home, Billy is swooped to the Rock of Eternity where an ancient wizard gives him powers that allow Billy to turn into a grown-up superhero every time he speaks out the name Shazam. So far, DC Extended Universe has failed to win me over. Apart from the OK Wonder World, the output has been drab. With this origin story, DC takes a leaf out of Marvel’s book and attempts to create something that is actually entertaining. The early parts with the newly discovered superpowers are enjoyable, even if we’ve seen these types of scenes several times in the recent years. The latter parts are not equally successful. The climactic battle is long and forgettable, and the villain never amounts to much.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Camilla Rutherford, Gina McKee, George Glasgow, Brian Gleeson, Harriet Sansom Harris
Reynolds Woodcock is an esteemed fashion designer with a highly controlling personality. He meets young Alma Elson, a young woman who becomes his assistant, muse, and lover. Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest period film is set in London in the 1950s. It is a beautifully staged and subtly acted Hitchcockian drama about an unusual and intense relationship between two obsessive people. Daniel Day-Lewis is wonderful in (possibly) his last screen performance. Mark Bridges won an Academy Award winner for his costume design.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
Director: Mike Mitchell
Cast: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Maya Rudolph
The Lego Movie took the world by surprise. This sequel must not only try and match or top the fresh and inventive original, but make amends for the mediocre The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie, which badly diluted the franchise. Five years have passed and Bricksburg has become a post-apocalyptic ghost town. When Lucy, Batman, and his other friends are kidnapped and taken to the Systar System in the Duplo universe, Emmet must find the hero inside him. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who co-wrote and co-directed the first movie, are back with a script which offers a natural if somewhat predictable extension to the story. The good news is that the characters maintain their likeability and the soundtrack features another guaranteed earworm (titled Catchy Song). The bad news is that the franchise hasn’t come up with anything new, and the old shtick has become way too familiar by now.
La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Finn Wittrock, Jessica Rothe, Snoya Mizuno, Callie Hernandez, J.K. Simmons, Tom Everett Scott
Mia is an aspiring actress and Sebastian is an idealistic jazz pianist. The two fall in love while they pursue their dreams in Los Angeles. Like New York, New York (thankfully without the verbal and mental abuse Martin Scorsese made us sit through), this is a story about two ambitious creative people who have trouble finding time for each other and about the city in which they live. Damien Chazelle kicks off his romantic musical with an in-your-face music and dance number set in a freeway traffic jam. However, after this bold and somewhat alienating opening, I was totally swept along by the central characters, the beautifully woven story, and the catchy tunes. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are excellent in the leading roles, and Chazelle stages a few unforgettable set pieces, such as the what if? scene towards the end. The film won Academy awards for directing, acting (Stone), cinematography, production design, score, and best original song (City of Stars).
Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Åkerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Marley Shelton
A primatologist and geneticist attempt to avert disaster when a wolf, crocodile, and albino gorilla are exposed to a secretly developed pathogen which turns the animals into massive aggressive beasts. This silly and formulaic but surprisingly enjoyable action movie is loosely based on a video game series. Apart from great casting and the bombastic actions scenes, there’s not much to write home about. The clunky dialogue is mostly used to provide exposition, the villain is laughably one-dimensional, and some of the visual effects are not top quality.
Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law
After a botched mission, an amnesiac Kree soldier named Vers crashlands on Earth in 1995. While she attempts to restore her suppressed memories and steer clear of the shapeshifting Skrulls on her tail, she teams up with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury. Marvel Cinematic Universe introduces another superhero, possibly the most powerful one in its roster. Captain Marvel gets an entertaining origin story, even if the movie is not quite as memorable as some of Marvel’s other recent output (Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Black Panther, to mention a few). What seems like a straightforward plot, offers a lovely surprise, and there is plenty of wonderful banter between Larson and Jackson, whose computer-aided deaging is incredibly believable. The heroine returns in Avengers: Endgame.
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons
Following the death of Superman, Bruce Wayne assembles a team of superheroes which includes Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. They take on Steppenwolf, who plans to unite the powers of the three Mother Boxes which were once divided between the Amazons, Atlantaen, and humans. After the entertaining anomaly of Wonder Woman, the DC Extended Universe is back to its underwhelming self. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were artistic and commercial flops, but for some reason Zack Snyder is still at the helm. To his credit, this boring mess was partly reshot by Joss Whedon, the man behind The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, possibly two of the clunkiest spectacles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The superhero team and their respective abilities are poorly defined, the villain lacks any personality, the dialogue is mostly a collection of big rousing speeches, and Ben Affleck’s performance is distractingly wooden (Batman is so permanently depressed that even his mask has frown lines). Wonder Woman and Flash provide the few enjoyable moments during the two hours. Like he has demonstrated before, Snyder’s idea of an action set piece is to create a murky and artificial CG world, and then smash things up for what seems an eternity. It’s more than ten years since he made his name with 300, but he still overuses the speed up and and slow down trick as though it was invented yesterday.