21st Century Treasure Quest #4
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 v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016—Director: Zack Snyder)
This much anticipated comic book superhero film is a super-slog of sensory assault, misguided character arcs, premature and heavy-handed introductions to the DC universe, and visually opaque, chaotic action sequences. Ben Affleck manages to overcome his underwritten part to breathe some life into The Dark Knight as well as alter ego Bruce Wayne and Gal Gadot brings distinction to Wonder Woman with a sultry, femme fatale-like persona. On the other hand, Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel exhibits emotions as lively as his character’s element. Worse still is Jesse Eisenberg, whose hackneyed portrayal of Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor will hopefully be considered notoriously bad enough to coax Gene Hackman out of retirement.
Eye in the Sky (2015—Director: Gavin Hood)
After a decade of disappointing output from the director of 2005’s Oscar-winning Tsotsi, Gavin Hood finally redeems himself with this incisive and engrossing film. Hood’s confident guidance anchors Helen Mirren and a stellar supporting cast including Alan Rickman (in his final live-action film performance). This intelligent war/thriller presents a gripping moral dilemma guaranteed to keep its audience fastened to their seats.
Hardcore Henry (2015—Director: Ilya Naishuller)
A nauseously disorienting experiment in first-person cinematic storytelling severely handicaps an otherwise exciting action narrative and visually textured worldview. Director Ilya Naishuller and company do occasionally season their captured imagery from a brilliantly fascinating perspective. Another plus is the versatile performance of Sharlto Copley who captivatingly plays, in Peter Sellers fashion, a number of distinctive characters.
Hello, My Name is Doris (2015—Director: Michael Showalter)
Sally Field skillfully commands this endearing, if somewhat bizarre, indie romantic dramedy, which answers the question: “What if Sixteen Candles was about a woman nearing retirement instead of a teenager?” What makes this down-to-earth character study work are the well-rounded personalities appearing throughout—especially a feisty Tyne Daly as Field’s best friend, Stephen Root as her brother, and Max Greenfield as a young employee for whom Field becomes smitten.
London Has Fallen (2016—Director: Babak Najafi)
A generally gratifying sequel to Olympus Has Fallen that trades the “rough and ready” look of the first film for a more polished, less-gory action thriller. The disturbing revenge and overbearing patriotic theme may be off-putting to some, but there are enough big-city, eye-catching incidents of mayhem and easily distinguishable good from bad guys around to keep most thrill-seekers pleasantly satisfied. Keep an eye out for a spectacular one-take action sequence toward the story’s conclusion.
Meet the Blacks (2016—Director: Deon Taylor)
This Mike Epps starring vehicle is a misbegotten, bargain-bin excuse for tasteful and safe boundary worshipping “entertainment.” It does not spoof but hijacks the concept of 2013's The Purge to use as a platform for unfunny jokes and hopelessly sophomoric, unidentifiable characters. Even if the cameos from Mike Tyson and Charlie Murphy offer some temporary relief from this torture, it won't be enough to merit renting this travesty, even for free.
0 treasure chests!
The Mermaid (Mei ren yu) (2016—Director: Stephen Chow)
There are vivid but disappointingly unconvincing special effects. Some of the ensemble performances are cringe-worthy. Even the concept of a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ style romance between an egotistically wealthy man-child and a naive but kind-hearted mermaid seems trite and dramatically thin. Despite these drawbacks, the creators of this fantasy-romance—the latest from the director of 2001’s outrageously enjoyable Shaolin Soccer—manages a plethora of humorous anecdotes to miraculously solicit practically non-stop laughter from his audience. One must see it to believe it.
Triple 9 (2016—Director: John Hillcoat)
This competent ensemble crime thriller has a few exceptional action set-pieces. For some unfathomable reason, however, the filmmakers too often confusingly jump to and from various point of view shots, hindering our ability to identify and engage with their story’s characters. Besides, the plot doesn’t become clear until roughly a third of the way through, all of which sadly keep this film from being a hidden gem of 2016.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016—Director: Glenn Ficarra)
This biographical war dramedy has given 2016 one of its most pronounced and dramatic narrative shifts. For the first half-hour, Tina Fey and the supporting actors uneventfully meander through Afghanistan— until a certain moment arises involving some village women and a well. After this, the film soars. The character dynamics and cinematic storytelling techniques become riveting, while the chemistry between Fey and Martin Freeman sizzles. The result is one of the most astonishing film surprises this year, even though viewers will have to endure a monotonous first half-hour to discover it.
Zootopia (2016—Director: Byron Howard and Rich Moore)
The 55th entry from Walt Disney Animation Studios stands out due to an imaginative display of ideas, fusing inquisitiveness with hopeful perseverance. It also explores themes of prejudice and stereotyping amongst its vibrant and diversified characters in a creatively presented anthropomorphic world. This results in a rich and rewarding family entertainment.
For more of Renard's contemporary film reviews please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #5.