21st Century Treasure Quest #6
Our contributor Renard N. Bansale has completed 11 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
Central Intelligence (2016—Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber)
This action comedy has nonexistent stakes, supporting characters of little consequential value, and a bloated anti-bullying message that feels out of place in this genre. Dwayne Johnson's broadly chipper cover demeanor undermines his credibility as a skilled government agent; worst of all, he smothers Kevin Hart’s subdued and well-mannered persona, resulting in an imbalanced and mostly ineffective comedic duo.
Finding Dory (2016—Director: Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane)
A follow-up to 2003’s Finding Nemo, this animated comedy manages to overcome its “needless sequel" preconception by wisely addressing some of the earlier film's loose ends involving Dory the royal blue tang fish (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres in both films) with sophistication and care. Flashbacks to her nostalgic childhood offset her somewhat disagreeable present-day attitude. While not as breathtaking as the preceding film's Great Barrier Reef location, this story’s SeaWorld-like setting provides a subtle but admirable anti-captivity message, not to mention a host of fun supporting characters particularly Hank the octopus (voiced by Ed O’Neill). Lastly, the film leaves audiences with one of the most subtle and poignant endings, not only in Pixar film history but in all of past animated family entertainment.
Free State of Jones (2016—Director: Gary Ross)
Matthew McConaughey portrays with utmost conviction the neglected historical figure Newton Knight. The supporting cast, including a sturdy Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the slave woman Newton falls in love with, interact well with McConaughey making many individual scenes highly impactful. In the greater narrative, however, these dramatically isolated moments—combined with some abrupt flash-forwards to a 1940s subplot involving Knight’s mistreated great-great-great-grandson—fall short in capturing the true significance of, and passion behind, this leader's efforts at racial unity. Consequently, the film comes across as being the cinematic equivalent of a history textbook: Important but uninspired.
Independence Day: Resurgence (2016—Director: Roland Emmerich)
Belated as it is, this popcorn spectacle remains a true and proper sequel to the rather frivolous but noteworthy ‘90s blockbuster, still the template for many modern-day disaster films. Actors from the first installment, namely Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, and Brent Spiner, return confidently to their roles unlike many of the newer actors whose collective charisma fail to measure up to that of an in absentia Will Smith. The inclusion of a properly-formulated backstory regarding the invading aliens adds a welcome complexity and, perhaps fortuitously, looks forward to a killer third installment.
The Legend Of Tarzan (2016—Director: David Yates)
Sandwiched between the last 'Harry Potter' film and what promises to be an equally magical Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, director David Yates has fashioned The Legend of Tarzan: A classy and thrilling Hollywood action-adventure experience. This rather familiar cinematic tale stumbles a bit in its execution due to a heavy visual effects environment and superficial characterizations. Samuel L. Jackson's portrayal of an American diplomat accompanying the "Lord of the Apes" is effectively engaging, albeit projecting a somewhat too modern-day facade. Christoph Waltz as the fiendish villain proves that his character-enhancing talents often dwarf those of his fellow thespians even outside of a Tarantino film.
The Lobster (2015—Director: Yorgos Lanthimos)
The director of 2009’s Dogtooth has crafted a bizarre, sparse and deliberately emotionless romantic comedy that starts off strong but sadly looses momentum from the narrative's midpoint onward. One can only imagine the film winning a more prestigious prize at 2015’s Cannes Film Festival if the filmmakers had infused the storytelling with greater creative energy in keeping with its bold premise of humans transforming into animals.
Love & Friendship (2016—Director: Whit Stillman)
Writer-director Whit Stillman, known for authenticating his story's settings through more than mere costume and production design, tackles Victorian Britain and romantic entanglements in an assured but stiff adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella. Kate Beckinsale’s star performance as Lady Susan Vernon shines to the extent of making apparent the story’s staleness whenever she is absent. Additionally, Stillman's overly literate character introductions help demonstrate little cinematic creativity in what is best described as a filmed play.
Now You See Me 2 (2016—Director: Jon M. Chu)
The first Now You See Me packaged impressive wizardry along with some rather egregious plot holes in slick fashion. This follow-up amounts to a more convoluted retread of the same with Lizzy Caplan's clumsy casting and a bizarre dual performance by Woody Harrelson. These flaws aside, this cinematic magic trick of a sequel excites, entertains, and distracts just enough to warrant screen space.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016—Director: Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone)
Despite emphasizing comedic quantity over quality and having excessive adult content, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping makes a robustly glorious case for being the current generation’s This is Spinal Tap. Lead star Andy Samberg captures the notorious egoism of modern pop singers such as Justin Bieber to hilarious effect. Andy's co-writers Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, (who along with Samberg form the group's 'Lonely Island' comedy trio), provide dependable supporting roles and prevent any failed jokes from overstaying their welcome. Furthermore, the filmmakers' composed a variety of propulsive but downright ludicrous songs that are sure to leave audience members howling with laughter.
Warcraft (2016—Director: Duncan Jones)
Of the many films this reviewer has seen in 2016, this adaptation of the popular real-time strategy game is the most pitiful. The overall narrative is adventurous, tragic, and rises above many contemporary franchises by "killing off" several principal characters in what is clearly intended to be the first installment of an enthralling extended story. The passionate direction of Duncan Jones—who brought us such concise and potent sci-fi works as Moon and Source Code—cannot overcome dated visual effects and uneven pacing, two factors that diminish many of its scenes' dramatic weight. Hopefully, a planned sequel will improve on this film’s failures.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016—Director: Bryan Singer)
Advanced speculation had director Bryan Singer’s latest outing in the X-Men franchise providing disappointing results, establishing an almighty villain whose powers would become underutilized by the story's final battle, and by incorporating some contrived plot shifts designed primarily to introduce more mutant participants. Such suspicions can be mostly set aside, however, by witnessing the immensely thrilling final product. This is especially true when focusing on the continuing tragic arc of Michael Fassbender’s Magneto and experiencing an amazingly rhythmical, music accompanied sequence with Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, both of which are alone worth the price of admission.
For more of Renard's contemporary film reviews please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #7.