21st Century Treasure Quest #8
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
Bad Moms (2016—Director: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore)
This comedy is fairly diverting especially when Kathryn Hahn takes center-stage. Creating a relevant satire on the subject of modern-day motherhood, however, is far beyond its reach. The narrative leans heavily toward an obvious disregard for any parental responsibility whatsoever and along with its harsh depiction of father characters, disrupts the delicate balance of irreverence and sensitivity required for approaching this kind of subject.
Ben-Hur (2016—Director: Timur Bekmambetov)
This third adaptation of Lew Wallace’s novel of a Jewish prince-turned-slave-turned-chariot racer replaces the grandeur and spectacle of physical realism offered in the 1959 film with cheap looking CGI effects and disorienting action camerawork, leaving the proceedings starving for an effective gaffer. Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell give dependable performances as Judah Ben-Hur and Messala, respectively, and the choice to make them adoptive brothers (similar to how The Prince of Egypt animated film updated The Ten Commandments) are among the few attributes in this otherwise dreary and forgettable remake.
Don’t Breathe (2016—Director: Fede Alvarez)
Writer-director Fede Alvarez steps back from the blood and gore of his 2013 Evil Dead remake to craft this enjoyable fusion of horror and thriller that keeps audiences' eyes wide open. Pedro Luque’s distinctive cinematography shines while Stephen Lang makes for one of 2016’s most engaging antagonists—a man whose blindness has forced him to take drastic measures against a neglectful society and more specifically, three naive delinquents who were unlucky enough to try and steal from him.
Florence Foster Jenkins (2016—Director: Stephen Frears)
This latest offering from director Stephen Frears, while not as intimately tied to its movie-production setting as Hail, Caesar! from earlier this year, remains a quirky and poignant examination of how a mediocre singer becomes famous for her musical ineptitude. Meryl Streep—who recently showcased her vocal prowess in 2014’s Into The Woods—proves she can successfully shift to the opposite end of the spectrum by transforming into a naturally bad singer. Simon Helberg and Hugh Grant provide a bittersweet touch as Streep's confidants who put aside their own artistic ambitions to protect the titular bad singer from the harsh reality of the music world's true response.
Kubo & the Two Strings (2016—Director: Travis Knight)
The folks at Laika Entertainment once again demonstrate their mastery of stop-motion animation with this Asian-influenced action-adventure. At the same time, the exemplary technical achievements cannot completely compensate for a half-baked storyline—one that hungers for deeper characters at nearly each and every turn. Such a wide gap in quality between technical craft and narrative ingenuity makes this film somewhat of a disappointment.
Nerve (2016—Director: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman)
A strong premise helps sustain this glossy thriller that taps into the growing world of augmented reality entertainment. Emma Roberts and Dave Franco make a charming couple, while Emily Meade—who earlier this year stole the show with her ranting scene from Money Monster—delivers yet another impressive supporting performance as Roberts’ vapid, yet emotionally fragile, best friend. Taken as a whole, the film amplifies the fun factor while delivering some teen-friendly smarts, making repeat viewings most worthwhile.
Nine Lives (2016—Director: Barry Sonnenfeld)
Along with director Barry Sonnenfeld’s bewilderingly over-conceptualized recent output of silly animal comedies, stories of body-switching, and back-room business scheming, this effort carries the audience on a scenic route to nowhere, despite the contribution of five different screenwriters. Sparing the dignified presence of Kevin Spacey and Christopher Walken (both in paycheck mode), those unfortunate enough to have witnessed this film have now experienced the cinematic equivalant of staring into a black hole.
Pete’s Dragon (2016—Director: David Lowery)
The director of 2013's indie romantic crime gem Ain’t Them Bodies Saints helms this serious update of the whimsical but badly-dated 1977 Disney musical of the same name, depicting the friendship between a boy and his docile green dragon. The results here are rather lightweight: An adventure too grounded and tame to soar or inspire the imagination, much less linger in one's memory. Weta Digital’s take on 'Elliot the Dragon', despite a few well-crafted details, e.g. hair texture, feels disappointingly segregated from the human characters.
Sausage Party (2016—Director: Conrad Vernon & Greg Tierman)
This animated "comedy" is what appears to be simply a cash cow, industry stunt: Greenlit because of Seth Rogen and his close collaborators' involvement. The filmmakers' only interest is to shockingly oppose, debauch and vulgarly insult family-friendly animation, both domestic and abroad, in order to set apart their film from the same, and they sure have succeeded. This dreadful "party" consists of uncreative racial stereotypes, mean-spirited religious attacks, toilet humor, obvious food puns, and profanity in every other sentence, all conspiring to put the audience through the device it takes to make their title's product.
Suicide Squad (2016—Director: David Ayer)
David Ayer’s comic book offering, following his impressive 2014 war drama Fury, may hold one's viewing attention, but later reveals itself as a dour, muddled mess—both in tone and filming technique, i.e. lighting and camerawork. Instead of fleshing out and developing each ensemble member, the filmmakers opt for condensing as much DC Comics source material as they can into a one-night action slog, preceded by rather cursory character introductions. Combining a poor imitation of the joyous compilation soundtrack from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, a supernatural villainess better suited to a Ghostbusters sequel, and the superfluous inclusion of Jared Leto’s Joker, what we're left with is a mere baby step by Warner Bros. to catch up to Disney’s typically more engaging Marvel Cinematic Universe.
For more of Renard's contemporary film reviews please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #9.