21st Century Treasure Quest #15
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
Beauty and the Beast (2017—Director: Bill Condon)
The lasting magic of the 1991 animated Disney classic barely arises in this tired, overstuffed live-action retread directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls). The serviceable performances of Emma Watson (Harry Potter) as Belle and Dan Stevens (The Guest, FX's Legion) as the Beast are engulfed by the updated technical craft that, between them, vie for screen time rather than forming a cohesive, integrated vision.
Before I Fall (2017—Director: Ry Russo-Young)
Director Ry Russo-Young's time-looping drama (based on Lauren Oliver's 2010 novel), wants to be a Groundhog Day for contemporary teens yet falls short of capturing the gratifying and mystical structure of the 1993 fantasy-comedy. By limiting the number of time loops for protagonist Sam, portrayed by Zoey Deutch (Everybody Wants Some!!), the film greatly reduces the creative engagement offered by most time travel stories. Instead, it proceeds to Sam befriending an ostracized, suicide-prone classmate, a dreary narrative development that leads to an abrupt, uneventful conclusion.
The Belko Experiment (2017—Director: Greg McLean)
Director Greg McLean's (Wolf Creek) horror/thriller revels in blood and gore while rapidly sliding from frantic to mind-numbing excess. The script, penned by the originally planned director James Gunn (Super, Guardians of the Galaxy), produces little commentary on the social dynamics of the "experiment" other than what would be expected: Caged humans behaving like caged animals. An opportunity to give the film's ensemble led by John Gallagher, Jr. (Short Term 12, 10 Cloverfield Lane) a gripping project to showcase their talents, amounts to more like leaving them with sickly seconds. Like last year's Sausage Party, this film disappoints and repulses to an equally high degree.
Jindua (2017—Director: Navaniat Singh)
This Punjabi film set in Canada showcases all the technical and narrative traits of foreign film industries trying to emulate the worst in mainstream American films. Squeaky-clean (hence artificial) sets, improperly levelled and synced dubbing, a cheesy heavy-handed score and inaccurate subtitles, all conspire against this tired romantic comedy involving a confused love triangle and the use of marriage as a dramatically embellished solution to immigration troubles.
Kong: Skull Island (2017—Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts)
In his sophomore effort, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) unleashes everything desired in a modern monster blockbuster: crisp editing, wide and wondrously composed cinematography, thunderous sound design, and peerless special effects. Large-scale monster bouts compensate for deeper human characterizations (excepting John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson). This and 2014's Godzilla, promise as much potential for a future, monster-based cinematic universe as the comic book film Iron Man did for Marvel back in 2008.
My Ex and Whys (2017—Director: Cathy Garcia-Molina)
Shoddy dubbing, an overuse of split-screen editing, overly melodramatic performances, and soap-opera aesthetics are abundant throughout writer-director Cathy Garcia-Molina's romantic comedy. Furthermore, the script panders in its glorified fixation on social media and exaggerates men as frequent philanderers by nature. If the film has one respite it's the, albeit still too sweet, chemistry between stars Lisa Soberano and Enrique Gil.
My Life as a Zucchini (Mi Vie de Courgette) (2016—Director: Claude Barras)
Swiss director Claude Barras and screenwriter Céline Sciamma, adapting Gilles Paris' 2002 novel, piece together this recent Best Animated Feature Oscar nominee about a young boy's orphanhood in a basic but lovingly-textured claymation world. Watching how the boy and his fellow residents arrive at the orphanage, encounter first crushes, and even engage in their naïve but comical understanding of adult intimacy, feels so heartwarming and true, one cannot help but wish the film stretched beyond its mere 66-minute runtime.
The Ottoman Lieutenant (2017—Director: Joseph Ruben)
Director Joseph Ruben (The Good Son, Penthouse North) and writer Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terebithia) deliver a romantic World War I drama filled with lush Turkish landscapes and a soaring score by Geoff Zanelli (The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) that cover for a trite and dull love triangle and uninspired historical revisionism regarding the Armenian Genocide. Only some decent action set pieces and our conception of what could have been a thoughtful war epic (e.g. Lawrence of Arabia), can barely rouse and engage us throughout this lifeless, forgettable attempt at cinematic grandeur.
The Sense of an Ending (2017—Director: Ritesh Batra)
English playwright Nick Payne struggles to bring Julian Barnes' 2011 novel of the same name to life on the big screen. Fortunately, Indian director Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox) in his English-language feature-film debut, succeeds in unifying the story's fractured and nostalgic atmosphere by utilizing effective editing techniques, creative shot composition, and interweaving the past and present by alternating the actors from each timeframe. Prolific character actor Jim Broadbent (Oscar winner for Iris) gives a wonderfully spry lead performance along with screen-popping supporting turns by Harriet Walter (Atonement, Denial) and Charlotte Rampling (Georgy Girl, 45 Years).
You're Killing Me, Susana (Me Estás Matando, Susana) (2017—Director: Roberto Sneider)
Gael García Bernal's (Amores Perros, The Motorcycle Diaries, Amazon Studios' Mozart in the Jungle) performance as a struggling Mexican actor whose wife leaves without notice, comprises one of the few worthwhile components in writer-director Robert Sneider's (Tear This Heart Out) romantic comedy co-written with Luis Cámara based on José Agustín's 1982 novel Deserted Cities. The story flirts with, but never commits to, exploring issues of spousal compatibility, the couple's responsible behaviour toward one another, and the clash of cultures, which leads to an unearned, spurious resolution.
For more of Renard's contemporary film reviews please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #16.