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The Saga Continues, by Barnabas Protnicki

19 Jun

Having ended on such a perfect note, I was wary of the Toy Story saga continuing with a fourth installment. After all, I grew up watching these toys, and was in college myself when Andy said goodbye to Woody and his friends as he left home. I still quote the original Toy Story all the time, mostly around my family. But rather than quoting something popular like “To Infinity and Beyond”, I instead think about Mr. Potato Head losing to Hamm in battleship, handing Hamm his nose and bartering, “How about three out of five?” Or Sid’s little sister looking desperately for her precious doll, until she steps on an intriguing Buzz Lightyear toy, playfully saying, “Nevermind.”

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All Good Things, by Reed Lackey

24 Apr

What Marvel Studios has done in cinema is unprecedented: 10 years, 22 films, and a shared universe that spans multiple franchises, each and all cross-linked and overlapped. This grand enterprise sees its culmination (for now) in Avengers: Endgame, a film which is a direct continuation of the events in Avengers: Infinity War, but also presumes to be the grand finale of the first movement of this expansive storytelling landscape. The sheer anticipation surrounding this film is staggering, and the expectations would be monumental for any film to meet in any context.

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Just For Fun, by Bob Connally

7 Apr

It seems almost impossible to remember that there was a time – relatively recently – when superheroes were considered by the public at large to be for children. While there were always people who took issue with that assertion and there were movies that proved adults enjoyed a good superhero story too- the Superman films of the ‘70s and ’80s and the Batman movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s, which were outliers in their respective eras- the idea of superhero movies truly being geared towards adults is still a fairly recent one. From the darker DC films to even the more lighthearted Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings which have all earned their PG-13 ratings, and of course the R-rated Deadpool movies and Logan, superhero movies of the past two decades have become increasingly adult oriented. This makes the environment that Shazam is being released in an interesting one. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a true kids’ movie, it feels like a step in that direction. This is especially surprising when considering that it’s the latest entry in a cinematic universe that opened with Zack Snyder’s dour, miserable nightmare, Man of Steel.

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Death Punch, by Bob Connally

1 Apr

Usually when discussing what makes a good film work the focus is on what the filmmaker does that makes it work so well. But sometimes, it’s just as much- if not more- what a filmmaker doesn’t do that can make a movie great. Due to its very basic setup, Paddleton is a movie that could go in a lot of directions tonally and much of what makes it so wonderful is how it doesn’t go in any of the directions we might have expected.

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Just as Rehearsed, by Reed Lackey

28 Mar

The recent emergence of classic Disney animated features remade into live action films has yielded varied, but mostly positive, results. One of the biggest hurdles the respective filmmakers face is how to retain what made the classic animated feature so beloved while still justifying the existence of a renewed feature. Perhaps of all the possible choices, the biggest opportunity for reimagining and refreshing was the 1941 classic, Dumbo, which finally sees a new vision come to life.

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Prove Yourself, by Tyler Smith

6 Mar

There is a moment late in Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s Captain Marvel in which the main character defiantly proclaims that she doesn’t need to prove herself to anybody. It’s a powerful moment, but one that is ultimately undercut by the film itself. The first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to feature a female hero as its lead, Captain Marvel is under heavy scrutiny, both from those that looking to champion the film’s nod toward equal representation and those that are suspicious of it. It is more of a burden than any one popcorn film should have to bear, but it’s not necessarily impossible. The best way to do this is to focus squarely on character and story and let the cultural chips fall where they may. This is what made DC’s Wonder Woman such a satisfying filmgoing experience. Unfortunately, despite its claims to the contrary, Captain Marvel throws back its shoulders, juts out its chin, and challenges its critics to take a swing at it, out to prove that it is every bit as legitimate as Iron Man or Captain America, losing much of its narrative – and, even worse, its character – thread in the process.

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One Giant Leap, by Bob Connally

4 Mar

The televised image of Neil Armstrong taking his first steps upon the surface of the moon has been burned into the collective consciousness of the human race since that moment on July 20, 1969. Despite not being born until more than a decade later, I can’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t recognize that image and Armstrong’s accompanying words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Sending people to the moon and returning them safely to earth is almost unquestionably humanity’s greatest achievement and while we may have thought it was well documented, it turns out we had no idea just how well documented it was.

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Joe Dante’s Inferno, by Bob Connally

20 Feb

Last summer in my look at Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, I expressed my unabashed love of Looney Tunes. Robert Zemeckis’ 1988 masterpiece featured essentially every Looney Tunes star in a cameo role and while there is a lot of wacky humor in the film it has the story and structure of a detective movie. In 1996, the Looney Tunes stars were given bigger roles in Space Jam, a film that holds a strange nostalgic power for many Millennials that escapes me. A few moments aside, the comedy is weak and it’s a visual nightmare. The moment Daffy Duck and Bill Murray share a frame is however a great contribution to American cinema. 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action is now largely forgotten, even by me and I saw it. Thirteen years before however, that film’s director, Joe Dante, unleashed a film that truly captured the off the wall spirit of Looney Tunes in a way that neither Space Jam nor Back in Action came close to doing. He did it, in of all things, a sequel to one of the biggest commercial hits of the 1980s.

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Over Pressure, by Reed Lackey

14 Jan

In the realm of faith-based films, perhaps the least likely of sub-genres to encounter (second only to out-right horror) is the suspense thriller. The challenges in developing a compelling narrative while still making the film accessible to families are numerous. Tackling those challenges in his most recent film, Thy Neighbor, is director George A. Johnson, who has managed to craft a compelling and provocative suspense film, even if it does still succumb to some of the usual difficulties of both the suspense and faith-based genres.

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The Uncurious Case of Adam McKay, by Tyler Smith

18 Dec

It may have helped his career and general pedigree, but it would seem that the worst thing for director Adam McKay’s artistic sensibilities was winning that Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2016 for The Big Short. In rewarding his comedically-anarchic approach to would-be dramatic material, the Academy essentially communicated to McKay that his throw-everything-at-the-wall instincts were much more of an asset than a liability. And while it can be refreshing to portray harrowing real life events in a humorous fashion – see Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin as a recent example – it can lead to an unevenness of tone and execution that amounts to a sort of thematic wheel-spinning; making a lot of noise, but ultimately going nowhere. This is most certainly true of McKay’s new film, Vice, which purports to portray what lay behind the actions of former Vice President Dick Cheney. The instincts that may have served McKay well with the event-centered Big Short fail him here, as his attempts to make an illuminating character study are undercut by his own incredulity. The final product is a film that is self satisfied, condescending, and – perhaps worst of all – exceedingly uncurious. 

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