21st Century Treasure Quest #17
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
Can't Help Falling in Love (2017—Director: Mae Cruz-Alviar)
After 2015’s Crazy Beautiful You, director Mae Cruz-Alviar teams up once again with star couple Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo for another tired and cloying romantic comedy from the Philippines. This assembly line product, titled after Elvis Presley's widely covered 1961 pop ballad, may not commit the many technical transgressions of My Ex & Whys, but it does perpetuate an embarrassing cinematic cultural fixation with social media, wedding ceremonies and a naive "infatuation conquers all" outlook on relationships.
Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary (2017—Director: John Scheinfeld)
Prolific documentarian John Scheinfeld delivers the definitive nonfictional take on the esteemed jazz musician of the 1950s and ‘60s (voiced by Denzel Washington). Eye-popping visual mosaics, lively interviews with both musical contemporaries and modern-day admirers (including former president/sax player Bill Clinton), even a short sequence on a Japanese superfan, make Scheinfeld's film more involved and therefore engaging, than many documentaries of this type.
Colossal (2017—Director: Nacho Vigalondo)
Spanish writer-director Nacho Vigalondo's English-language debut is a wild, brilliant and yet grounded fusion of indie drama rivalry with kaiju sci-fi glory. Stars Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis' performances match the genius of the film's concept, even though equating a longstanding rivalry to building-size monsters threatening to level a populated metropolis can take some "suspension of disbelief" adjustment on the viewer’s part.
David Lynch: The Art Life (2017—Director: Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, & Olivia Neergaard-Holm)
This meditative documentary captivates in focusing on the first thirty years of filmmaker David Lynch’s life, from his idyllic, post-WW2 childhood to the start of production on his 1977 feature-length debut Eraserhead. One should hope for a follow-up, centering on the next thirty years of this renowned creator of provocative art that both stimulates and disturbs one's imagination.
Free Fire (2017—Director: Ben Wheatley)
In an age of overcomplicated action blockbusters, writer-director Ben Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump take a different route. Their resulting ensemble action comedy, despite its admirable confined setting, starves for character elaboration and narrative investment, two traits for which Emma Fryer’s eye-catching '70s-era costumes cannot adequately compensate.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017—Director: James Gunn)
Writer-director James Gunn returns with this narrative continuation of the 2014 Marvel Cinematic Universe entry that surprised many with its unorthodox roster of heroes and impressive visuals. While initially settling audiences back into the celebrative mood of the first 'Guardians', the middle section of Vol. 2’s runtime stumbles, pumping all the excitement and fuel into Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Yondu’s (Michael Rooker) subplot, leaving insufficient drops to the father-son reunion between Ego (Kurt Russell) and Peter (Chris Pratt), and fumes for everyone else. The climax, as a result, arrives with disappointing haste and relegates the antagonist to yet another typical one-off franchise villain.
Love Off the Cuff (2017—Director: Pang Ho-Cheung)
Writer-director Pang Ho-Cheung caps off Hong Kong’s answer to Richard Linklater's 'Before' trilogy with this enjoyable, if at times silly, romantic comedy. The combination of awkward and cliched moments does not, however, sufficiently detract from the undeniable chemistry between stars Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue.
Phoenix Forgotten (2017—Director: Justin Barber)
The "found-footage" horror subgenre has encouraged lazy uninspired filmmaking to frequent the scene. Still, that leaves other examples of this category with their innate ability to tap into the fascinating, naturally occurring phenomena as it's happening. With writer-director Justin Barber, we get both: His directorial debut constructs a fairly intriguing "faux documentary" for its first two-thirds, which in the last half-hour, sadly succumbs to tedious schlock.
Sleight (2017—Director: J.D. Dillard)
Writer-director J.D. Dillard surprisingly pulls off injecting a sophisticated 'magician' component into a familiar "getting out of selling drugs" premise, the results of which border on superhero wonder. Sleight is bolstered by sturdy turns from budding lead star Jacob Latimore, supporting player Dulé Hill as the drug kingpin, a moody electronic score by Charles Scott IV, and piercing camerawork by Ed Wu. Furthermore, Dillard succeeds in providing sensational thrills with a modest $250 thousand budget compared to what some Hollywood blockbusters fail at with $250 million.
Unforgettable (2017—Director: Denise Di Novi)
Longtime producer Denise Di Novi, known for working with Tim Burton in the '90s as well as adaptations of Nicholas Sparks' romantic novels, steps into the director's chair (unsurprisingly) for the first time. Co-leads Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl give the overly conceptualized project their best efforts, but in the end, this leftover bowl of Fatal Attraction neither snaps, crackles or pops.
For more of Renard's contemporary film reviews please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #18.