21st Century Treasure Quest #7
Our contributor Renard N. Bansale has completed 10 more contemporary film reviews for your consideration. The rating system he'll use is 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. For a further introduction to this series please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #1. (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
Batman: The Killing Joke (2016—Director: Sam Liu)
Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy reprise their signature voice roles from Batman: The Animated Series as the Joker and Batman, respectively, in this faithful adaptation, and special theatrical release, of the acclaimed 1988 DC Comics one-shot graphic novel. Even with the television-grade animation, the last 45 minutes of the film faithfully recreate and enliven the comic, originally written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Holland, almost panel-by-panel. This admirably meticulous adaptation is, however, preceded by a half-hour prelude in which the sexualized portrayal of Batgirl (voiced by Tara Strong) is disturbingly out of place and thus crudely connects with the film's story proper.
Ghostbusters (2016—Director: Paul Feig)
All gender and remake controversies aside, this female-led reboot of the classic 1984 supernatural comedy falls short in nearly every way the original film delivered. Despite competent and updated special effects, the humor feels forced, never organic. Furthermore, the quartet lacks chemistry: The subordinate team members, played by Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, outshine their dull leads, Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. Neil Casey’s "in name only" antagonist sadly amounts to a non-presence, while Chris Hemsworth—playing against type as the quartet’s dim-witted assistant—seems ill at ease, despite eliciting an occasional chuckle.
The Infiltrator (2016—Director: Brad Furman)
Instead of painting a stirring portrait of a humble, real-life undercover U.S. customs agent who dared to take on a criminal money-laundering empire, Brad Furman’s film executes derivative storytelling in a fashion less polished and realistic than David O. Russell’s American Hustle from 2013. Despite their talents, the performances of Bryan Cranston and the rest of the cast are wasted on their wafer-thin roles in what ultimately amounts to actors playing dress-up in an uninspiring game of “Feds vs. Drug Dealers”.
Jason Bourne (2016—Director: Paul Greengrass)
The return of star Matt Damon and writer-director Paul Greengrass should have been a belated continuation of the well-received trilogy from the previous decade. Instead, this latest entry in the Bourne franchise—loosely adapted from Robert Ludlum’s spy thriller fiction novels—is more akin to the 2012 Jeremy Renner-starring misfire: The Bourne Legacy. Like 'Legacy', this story barely furthers the character growth of the tormented and amnesic former black ops agent. Characters played by franchise newcomers Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Riz Ahmed, and Vincent Cassel contribute little value or are underutilized, while director Greengrass vigorously shakes his signature “shaky camera” to an even dizzier degree of visual chaos.
Lights Out (2016—Director: David F. Sandberg)
Teresa Palmer as the resourceful lead character and Maria Bello as the drug-addicted mother inject some dimension to their otherwise underwritten parts and the minor but effective use of genuine scares is welcome in an age saturated with CGI effects. These few strengths aside, this feature-length adaptation of David F. Sandberg’s 2013 (better-off) short film of the same name is as dull, generic, and predictable as most contemporary horror fare making it hardly worth the bother.
Matt and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016—Director: Jake Szymanski)
This bewildering "slice of life" enactment is also an obnoxious, vulgar, and pre-juvenile attempted comedy. Adam Devine revels in his routine man-child schtick, while Aubrey Plaza continues to be typecast as a moody, sarcastic cliche. Zac Efron and Anna Kendrick, on the other hand, could probably make some use of their talents and move on to better careers by obliterating this film from their resumes and if they could, its entire exsistence.
The Purge: Election Year (2016—Director: James DeMonaco)
Capitalizing on the upcoming U.S. presidential election, this underachieving third installment in what may be the only sustainable dystopian-horror franchise of its kind, nevertheless contributes with intermittent thrills and relevant themes. These few dramatic high points are, however, peppered throughout a feeble script, nondescript action-grade acting, and far too close-to-the-action camerawork.
The Secret Life of Pets (2016—Director: Chris Renaud)
This latest animated offering from Illumination Entertainment would have been more effective if it had pared down its story to the two main dogs—Max (voiced by Louis C.K. on autopilot) and Duke (voiced more enthusiastically by Eric Stonestreet)—making their way back home after getting stranded in New York City. Apparently, the filmmakers have succumbed to the perceived demands of contemporary family audiences and overwhelmed their otherwise charmingly simple tale with hit-or-mostly-miss narrative fluff and too many supporting characters. Amidst the excess, Kevin Hart’s turn as Snowball the white rabbit provides some refreshing laughs—his adorable design cleverly skewered by his crazed and ruthless attitude.
The Shallows (2016—Director: Jaume Collet-Serra)
B-movie storylines offer fertile soil for gripping films with modest budgets, especially in an era where high-budget tentpole blockbusters fuel—or, in the case of 2016’s summer season, handicap—the industry. Director Jaume Collet-Serra’s latest work offers just that, tackling a Jaws-like storyline, featuring a lively Blake Lively as a sea-stranded surfer, stalked by a bloodthirsty shark. This proficient and tension-sustaining film will, without a doubt, become one of 2016’s most memorable hidden gems.
Star Trek Beyond (2016—Director: Justin Lin)
An overdue narrative twist is one of this film's few noteworthy traits. The third entry in the updated Star Trek franchise stops short of energy and passion, much less going "beyond" anything meaningful, handcuffing the franchise to formulaic plotting... so much for going “where no man has gone before.” Still, the film deserves some credit for taking The Empire Strikes Back-inspired path of splintering the main ensemble on an uncharted planet and providing a fairly engrossing and tragic prelude. In the end, the familiarity of a formulaic approach is preferable to the sparse, random diversion offered by 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness.
For more of Renard's contemporary film reviews please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #8.