21st Century Treasure Quest #16
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
CHiPS (2017—Director: Dax Shepard)
Writer-director Dax Shepard (NBC's Parenthood) cobbles together a vulgar and unfunny buddy cop action comedy masquerading as an adaptation of the late '70s NBC series of the same name. Despite a few decent motorcycle sequences, little drama or comedy fails to materialize. Furthermore, Shepard tries too hard for unearned attention in his performance, while co-star Michael Peña receives little to no sympathy for his character's unsettling sexual addiction.
The Circle (2017—Director: James Ponsoldt)
Emma Watson (Harry Potter) does her best to carry writer-director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now, The End of the Tour) and co-writer Dave Egger's disappointing adaptation of Egger's 2013 novel. The story's focus on society's growing influence of privacy and security never develops into the complex and gripping thriller it sets out to become. Thus, a disjointed and slack narrative that neglects the talents of Ms. Watson's co-stars (among them Tom Hanks, John Boyega, and the late Bill Paxton in his final role) also flounders toward an ambiguous and anticlimactic finish.
The Last Word (2017—Director: Mark Pellington)
Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried match each other's tenacity and desire for joie de vivre in the cinematic realization of Stuart Ross Fink's quietly poignant script. Even with child actor AnnJewel Lee Dixon's short but charismatic supporting turn, it is clear that the Mark Pellington directed film would not contain nearly the lifeblood without the presence of its two aforementioned female stars.
Life (2017—Director: Daniel Espinosa)
Director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44) and Deadpool screenwriters Rhett Reece and Paul Wernick admirably attempt to fuse their story from borrowed elements of Alien, Sunshine, and Gravity. The series of poor decisions made by the mildly engaging ensemble are more characteristic of a low-brow slasher flick than a thought-provoking sci-fi thriller, causing the film's momentum to slow to a crawl, all the way to the film's cut-rate twist ending.
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (2017—Director: Dash Shaw)
Comic book writer and animator Dash Shaw employs the limited but effective tools of Photoshop to piece together this visually imaginative take on an earthquake interrupting the unhinged adolescent antics at a seaside high school. Shaw was wise to keep to a 75 minute runtime which paces the story at a rate that prevents its more generic elements from overstaying their welcome.
Personal Shopper (2017—Director: Olivier Assayas)
Writer-director Olivier Assayas (Carlos, Clouds of Sils Maria) has locked onto a great muse in former Twilight lead Kristen Stewart who stars in this unconventional and captivating ghost story. Assayas deserved the 2016 Cannes Film Festival's Best Director award especially for the sequences involving the most tense exchange of text messages yet captured on film. These help to offset the overuse of fade-to-black transitions.
Song to Song (2017—Director: Terrence Malick)
The illustrious Terrence Malick continues to tap into his affinity with nature treating the relationship as a sort of spatial enigma in this love triangle travelogue. Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki's gorgeous cinematography compensates for the plot line's lack of urgency. While certainly a lesser Malick work, Song to Song manages to hypnotize and enthrall committed viewers all the same.
T2 Trainspotting (2017—Director: Danny Boyle)
Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Steve Jobs) and writer John Hodge craft a belated but most worthy sequel to the 1996 British classic that put them and the cast—led by Ewan McGregor (Star Wars prequels)—on the map. The story foregoes the original's slice-of-life approach for a more straightforward plot that emphasizes the melancholic nostalgia of its unforgettable main quartet of characters portrayed by McGregor, along with Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, and Robert Carlyle. In addition, the skillful efforts throughout resurrect and update the original's frenetic, MTV-inspired visuals with sheer joy and love.
Their Finest (2017—Director: Lone Scherfig)
Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education, The Riot Club) and writer Gaby Chiappe (BBC's EastEnders) brings Britain's domestic World War II environment delightfully to life in this adaptation of Lissa Evans' 2009 novel. Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, The Girl with All the Gifts) and Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games franchise, My Cousin Rachel) possess charm and chemistry together playing screenwriters for pro war films. Alongside them, Bill Nighy (Love Actually, Pirates of the Caribbean) steals scenes as the seasoned thespian who learns to accept and welcome the acting opportunities befitting of his advancing age.
The Zookeeper's Wife (2017—Director: Niki Caro)
Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider, North Country) and writer Angela Workman adapt Diane Ackerman's 2007 non-fiction book to contribute to the list of worthwhile but mostly unremarkable Holocaust films (relative to Schindler's List, The Pianist, and Son of Saul, for example). The zookeeper is deftly played by Johan Heldenbergh (The Broken Circle Breakdown) and his efforts to spirit away Jews from the Warsaw ghetto through the zoo is grippingly portrayed. Far less dramatically effective is the flirtatious act his wife, played by Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, A Most Violent Year), puts on for the nefarious Nazi officer played by Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds, Rush) watching their every move.
For more of Renard's contemporary film reviews please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #17.