21st Century Treasure Quest #1
As many regular readers know, I very rarely see contemporary films. The reasons for this are two-fold. First, it's a preference for a generally less conceptualized style of cinematic storytelling in today's environment dominated by sequels, re-makes, self-important subject matter and other perceived derivations. Secondly, it's an admittedly personal bias or prejudice that seems to be growing as this old critic gets older. I find myself judging contemporary fare with increased severity than films of the past, where perhaps more sins are forgiven. I fight this, and have taken some old classics to task, like Casablanca, but I've noticed with more than a few golden age films my criticisms get a little "fogged up" by nostalgic admiration.
We have a new contributor, Renard N. Bansale! He'll see many of these newer films I've built up a resistance to. What's more, he brings a younger, more welcoming approach to contemporary cinema, that's next to impossible to summon for this skeptical, but still passionate movie lover. These will be brief, "bite-size" reviews (giving more time for Renard to see more films) with a rating system I've devised primarily to give those who are trying to decide which films to see, a fun and easy way of (hopefully) choosing a more pleasurable movie-going experience. (A.G.)
1 chest: Definitely worth missing
2 chests: Okay to kill some time
3 chests: Not a complete success, but rewarding
4 chests: Well crafted, creative and memorable
5 chests: A real treasure, deep, profound and original
Bridge of Spies (2015— Director: Steven Spielberg)
While the craftsmanship is evident, the passion isn’t as much, rendering this Cold War thriller a lower-tier effort for Spielberg. Much of the dour and slow-paced attention on Tom Hanks as he waits in Berlin for German and Soviet higher-ups to find a reason to thwart a trade-off of spies, ought to have been diverted to the courtroom segment. Mark Rylance shines among the cast as the calm and collected Soviet spy whose detainment sets the plot running.
Creed (2015 — Director: Ryan Coogler)
A remarkable sophomore effort by Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler that works well as a spin-off to the iconic Rocky franchise while injecting its own impressive cinematic flourish. Jordan manages to rebound following his forgettable stint in Fantastic 4, but it is Stallone who, by tapping into a character arc that now spans four decades, gives one of the most astounding performances of his career.
The Good Dinosaur (2015 — Director: Peter Sohn)
Inside Out may be the better film, but this second Pixar offering of 2015 compensates for its subject matter's lack of complexity with utterly gorgeous, photo-realistic animation resulting in some breathtaking landscapes. That, combined with a raw, Western-influenced take on the elemental story of a young dinosaur struggling to become an adult, makes for one of the more poetic cinematic experiences of 2015.
Goosebumps (2015 — Director: Rob Letterman)
A fun, if mostly harmless, family-horror adventure with ample scares for the non-hardcore horror cinephiles. Filling the story with a “greatest hits" package of villains from the popular eponymous book series was a smart move, not to mention the choice casting of central villain Jack Black, an entertainingly-possessed, fictionalized version of the series’ author. His character traits elicit considerable audience emotion, even though the plot is mostly confined to a single night.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015 — Director: Francis Lawrence)
It amazes me how this young adult franchise fell so tremendously via the unfortunate decision to split its final installment into two films after a solid first entry and an even-better sequel. The source material’s narrative flaws find their way into this slow, tiring final entry that, despite having some nail-biting action sequences, tries too desperately to convince us that its central character, Katniss Everdeen, remains vital to the narrative.
In the Heart of the Sea (2015 — Director: Ron Howard)
Director Ron Howard realizes an intriguing premise in the most ephemeral, haphazardly-shot manner possible. His editors further disappoint by framing the inspiration for Herman Melville’s epic 'Moby Dick' with awkward conversations between the author and the least interesting member of his ship’s crew.
The Letters (2014 — Director: William Riead)
The gentle and charismatic Juliet Stevenson anchors a largely dull and sentimental take
on Mother Theresa. The film over-emphasizes its timeline with an excessive use of titles that removes any emotional involvement the filmmakers try and present to the audience. William Riead’s passion project fourteen years in the making, continues to perpetuate an incompetent grasp of cinematic language sadly prevalent in current "Christian" cinema.
Love the Coopers (2015 — Director: Jessie Nelson)
In theory, one could appreciate director Jessie Nelson’s patch-up of unique paths
undertaken by members of the Cooper family. The execution, however, stretches each
family member’s dilemma far too thin for any singular character to make much of an impact. What's more, the film’s desperation to hammer its lessons of family and the Christmas spirit home, further renders it less than the sum of its parts.
The Martian (2015 — Director: Ridley Scott)
Ridley Scott impressively balances both the dire circumstances of a charismatic and
stranded Matt Damon with the assorted efforts of scientists and engineers on Earth to
bring him home from Mars. While the film’s excessive use of titles to distinguish
different locations and space agency personnel might disappoint those expecting a more sophisticated exposition in modern mainstream cinema, the unique inclusion of disco tunes should bring some compensating enjoyment.
For more of Renard's contemporary film reviews please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #2.