21st Century Treasure Quest #9
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
The BFG (2016—Director: Steven Spielberg)
Steven Spielberg’s more family-friendly films are characterized by sentimental, lightweight whimsy. His adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s book (with illustrations by Quentin Blake) fits comfortably into that mold. Additionally, the film offers many imaginative, dreamlike settings (courtesy of Weta Digital) and is elevated by the earnest and committed performance of Academy Award-winner Mark Rylance as the titular character.
Blair Witch (2016—Director: Adam Wingard)
Director Adam Wingard, energized the cinematic horror landscape of the past decade with You’re Next and The Guest. With Blair Witch, however, he undoes his artistic progress with this needless sequel to the gimmicky, but nevertheless horror milestone, 1999's The Blair Witch Project. This is a droning and insufferable cacophony, bereft of the original film release's clever marketing campaign, employing several of the genre's most generic and tiresome traits: Inane characters and jump scares.
The Dressmaker (2016—Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse)
The acting caliber and the notable costume design by Marion Boyce in this adaptation of Rosalie Ham’s 2000 novel, compensate for its uneven tone suggesting a tug-of-war between a quirky ensemble showcase and subdued revenge fantasy. Kate Winslet anchors the film, uniting her character’s mature sense of style with a quaint, backwoods childhood persona. Among the remainder of the mostly Australian cast, is a stand-out Judy Davis as Winslet’s mother, unwinding the trajectory of her wizened character from senile old recluse to tender sage with masterful poise.
Hell or High Water (2016—Director: David Mackenzie)
The filmmakers deserve great credit for their vivid depiction of a current post-recession period that provides the integral backdrop to this enthralling neo-western crime thriller. There is a sturdy quartet of male performances, notably Ben Foster’s volatile firecracker and Jeff Bridges' gruff Texas Ranger. The gorgeous Texan landscapes contrast brilliantly with the derelict small town settings, subtly highlighting themes of generational friction and parental sacrifice that command the frame from Hell or High Water's opening to closing shot.
The Magnificent Seven (2016—Director: Antoine Fuqua)
Well-choreographed and photographed action sequences aside, director Antoine Fuqua’s genre contrivance is a rather joyless retread of director John Sturges’ 1960 western classic (itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai). For instance, the ensemble's character development is spread far too thin throughout its running-time. Fortunately, Denzel Washington’s trademark resolve and Chris Pratt’s charismatic cockiness help make this film's viewing experience worthwhile.
Morgan (2016—Director: Luke Scott)
The directorial debut of veteran director Ridley Scott's son, tackles a forward-thinking concept in the form of bioengineered humans. Unfortunately, Morgan resorts to standard sci-fi action formulae once the film loses interest in its own design, weakening the input of a seasoned cast. Among the casualties are Michelle Yeoh, Toby Jones, Paul Giamatti, and Kate Mara. Anya Taylor-Joy’s steady turn as the titular enhanced human, however, should assist her rise to more compelling projects that began with her breakout role in The Witch from earlier 2016.
Sully (2016—Director: Clint Eastwood)
Actor-director Clint Eastwood has, of late, settled into becoming a working man’s director. Releasing one safe but solid film after another, he fails to inject much life into these rather passionless affairs. And so it goes with his character study of the eponymous airline pilot behind the “Miracle on the Hudson” River landing of January 2009. Outside of the perilous water splashdown—whose near real-time pacing results in one of 2016’s more memorable action sequences—one cannot expect much dramatic exposition other than Tom Hanks' familiar rendition of vague inner conflicts, this time concerning sudden heroism, accompanied by standard but proficient filmmaking.
A Tale of Love & Darkness (2015—Director: Natalie Portman)
Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman digs (however shallowly) into this subject's Israeli roots in her curious, but altogether middling directorial debut and adaptation of author Amos Oz’s 2002 autobiography of the same name. Lead star Amir Tessler, who portrays the young Oz, impressively holds the period-drama together for a child actor even though the developmental perspective does not leave much of a lasting impression due to Portman’s still-budding point-of-view.
When the Bough Breaks (2016—Director: Jon Cassar)
Lead star Morris Chestnut deserves a better career than the one that includes this African-American Fatal Attraction knock-off. Worse yet, When the Bough Breaks exclusively relies on the physical attractiveness of its actors to exploit the more lurid elements of its sensational albeit overly familiar premise. This unoriginal concept is supposed to compensate for the sub-genre’s worst cliches, including the practically motiveless psychotic, sex-crazed antagonist who's right at home with Jaz Sinclair’s hyperbolic performance.
The Wild Life (2016—Director: Vincent Kesteloot & Ben Stassen)
A pair of 3D computer graphic artists from Belgium have created this retelling of the Robinson Crusoe story into a charming and at times rousing animated diversion. Although The Wild Life doesn't have the wow factor of other top animated hits such as Zootopia, it manages to inoffensively stay clear of modern pop culture references, despite being clearly marketed to the little ones.
For more of Renard's contemporary film reviews please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #10.