21st Century Treasure Quest #12
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
Collide (2017—Director: Eran Creevy)
Salvaged from its production company Relativity Media's mid-2015 bankruptcy, this rather tepid heist-thriller by once promising British writer-director Earn Creevy, boasts little cinematic value. Stock European villains are portrayed by Ben Kingsley and Anthony Hopkins. Both actors clearly have fun with, while poking fun at, their superficial supercilious parts, yet still manage to be far more engaging than the underwritten lead romantic couple barely enacted by Nicholas Hoult and Felicity Jones. The aforementioned lightweight characters together with the dubiously motivated heist and chase sequences, all collide together in fundamental irrelevancy.
Cook Up a Storm (2017—Director: Raymond Yip)
2017's batch of imported Chinese New Year films would not be complete without some sort of competitive theatrics—the culinary arts, in this case—that delivers stimulating editing and camerawork but with nary a thought of narrative risk. Manfred Wong's (Young & Dangerous franchise) screenplay initially establishes a past-versus-future rivalry between a French-trained, Michelin-starred chef (South Korean musician Jung Yong-Hwa) and a skilled Cantonese street cook (Hong Kong actor Nicholas Tse), before switching gears halfway through to the street cook trying to impress his estranged "God of Cookery" father (Anthony Wong). Fortunately, director Raymond Yip (Phantom of the Theatre) creatively employs a compelling social commentary concerning the fancy chef's modern restaurant encroaching upon the street cook's modest eatery.
A Cure for Wellness (2017—Director: Gore Verbinski)
Oscar-winning director Gore Verbinski (Rango, Pirates of the Caribbean) deserves credit for creating this visually-captivating psychological thriller that pits modern ambition and desensitization against a centuries-old tradition of depravity, a conflict that overshadows a peaceful but cryptic Swiss Alps wellness center. It's unfortunate, then, that the film suffers from tired pacing and the unsympathetic portrayal of its unassuming lead protagonist (Dane DeHaan).
Duckweed (2017—Director: Han Han)
Chinese director Han Han (working from a script by Yu Meng) delivers a relaxed and poignant fantasy about a successful race car driver (Deng Chao) who, after a severe accident, suddenly finds himself transported back in time to become friends with his younger, more rambunctious, estranged father (Eddie Peng), while getting to know his mother (Zanilla Zhao) who died during his birth. Amusing and clever dialogue exchanges, typical of stories involving time travel, complement the relevant theme of learning and appreciating how the past shapes one's present self.
Fist Fight (2017—Director: Richie Keen)
The concept of a disgruntled teacher challenging his meek, pushover colleague to a fist fight on the last day of high school so that he can send him a message regarding a rebellious student body, may have provided at least some bottled humor or excitement. Instead, the script fails to capitalize on Ice Cube's tough charisma and Charlie Day's convincing haplessness by relying on juvenile jokes that seem awkwardly out-of-place in such a contained setting. Speaking from experience, the film not only unrealistically portrays what might occur on the last day of school, but sorrily misses the bigger picture by employing an apathetic attitude toward improving the American public school system.
Get Out (2017—Director: Jordan Peele)
Comedian Jordan Peele (Comedy Central's Key & Peele, Keanu) in his directorial debut, delivers a refreshing sigh of relief from the recent deluge of mediocre cinematic horror by effectively combining terror and satire with his subject of racism. The accomplished director additionally brings out enjoyable, intriguing performances from his actors (especially Lil Rel Howery as a graceless but determined airport security employee), while exhibiting superb technical craft, i.e. sound, cinematography, and editing design. These elements greatly enhance this genre exercise, even when a few too politically-charged moments and a somewhat rushed third act, threaten to sideline the excitement.
The Great Wall (2017—Director: Zhang Yimou)
This monster action epic directed by the celebrated Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, House of Flying Daggers) appears to be the next big step in an ever-tightening marketing relationship between China and the United States. It's as mighty, action-packed, and steeped in traditional legend as it is predictable by-the-numbers storytelling. Matt Damon and Jing Tian (Police Story 2013, Kong: Skull Island) portray an enlivened fighting team that puts aside their cultural differences to defend the lives of those less fortunate, while the quips from Pedro Pascal (TV's Game of Thrones, Narcos) as Damon's Spanish comrade add a degree of levity to the otherwise serious ordeal. Mayes C. Rubeo (Avatar, Warcraft, Thor: Ragnarok) deserves praise for her exquisite costume designs, particularly the bold color coordination of the various "Nameless Order" infantry units.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017—Director: Chad Stahelski)
The first chapter from 2014 was a daring, if morally-empty, revenge action thriller about the titular former hitman (Keanu Reeves) hunting down the reckless gangsters who not only stole his car, but killed the cute dog his late wife left him to care for. In this direct continuation, no such emotional grounding exists, save perhaps a brewing shade of cynicism toward the secretive hitman institution that caused a lifetime of both renown and pain. Instead, a near-irrelevant plot establishes a figure from the past in need of the hitman's services in order to climb the international crime ladder. This provides a bare excuse for the film's gun and fight coordination teams to choreograph combat sequences in beautiful and moody sets, however managing to surpass in thrilling sensation those seen in the previous instalment.
The Lego Batman Movie (2017—Director: Chris McKay)
This Dark Knight-centered spinoff of the 2014 breakout animated film The Lego Movie is pure, manic, and unfunny energy directed toward tedious, soap opera-quality dramatics, demonstrating that writer-director Chris McKay's former adult comedy of the Robot Chicken animated TV series translates ineffectively to the big screen. That some audiences and critics have responded positively to this film's sloppy piling of Batman references, absent of The Lego Movie's playful reality versus fantasy boundary skipping, speaks volumes on the sad state of uncreative modern cinematic comedy.
A United Kingdom (2017—Director: Amma Asante)
Director Amma Asante (Belle) and screenwriter Guy Hibbert (Eye in the Sky) succeed in bringing to the screen the true-life romance of Bechuanaland (present-day Botswana) prince and heir-apparent Sir Seretse Khama and British native Ruth Williams, both of whom are genuinely enlivened by David Oyelowo (Selma) and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl). The filmmakers' textbook execution results in the political ramifications being handled in a refined manner, without relying on situational familiarity or an overabundance of music to manipulate the emotions. The passionate on-screen chemistry of Oyelowo and Pike helps to ignite our feelings of solidarity for the couple whenever the British government or even the Bechuanaland people threaten to separate them. An honorable mention should be given to actor Tom Felton who, despite his small part, is beginning to shed his heretofore recognizable image as Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter franchise.