Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens never had a chance to be a great movie. It’s not controversial, it’s just a fact. J.J. Abrams and his creative team had too big a task, with too many moving parts, too many things to accomplish, for this movie to ever be great.
This is a movie that had to introduce a new generation of characters, reintroduce and reconnect audiences with 30-year-old characters, that had to re-establish credibility with Star Wars fans who felt burnt by the sins of the prequels, that had to remind audiences why they love Star Wars in the first place. Plus, it had to compete with people’s nostalgia, and a long-forgotten childhood is hard to compete with. And people expected this movie to be great, too? The fact that it even holds together as well as it does is really an achievement!
Sure, The Force Awakens plays things safe. There’s a lot of tread-upon territories returned to here, not a lot of risktaking. But ultimately, for a film to lay as much groundwork it does as competently as it is is something to be recognized even if the movie isn’t a great cinematic achievement.
I liken it to making a series of a TV show – and after all, what is the Star Wars saga if not a TV show, set against the most epic of scales, told in hundred-million-dollar mega-length episodes?
Not every episode of a great TV show can be great, simply by virtue of how a TV series is structured. Sometimes, you have to just connect the dots, lay a foundation, and know that it’s the hard work that will never be recognized. I’m honestly glad that Disney is rewarding J.J. Abrams’ hard work by letting him direct Episode 9 – it’s a chance for him to show what he can do when he’s not forced to check quite as many boxes.
The Shape of Water (2017)
When talking about genres due for a revival, the musical and western genres tend to draw all of the attention, when there’s one genre that has been long underserved in this regard: The classic film genre of hot-merman-sex.
2017 Movie #130: Justice League (2017)
Justice League is cynical.
Don’t get me wrong, the Marvel films are cynical too. It’s all cynical. Hollywood is a cynical industry.
It strikes me, however, that Justice League is an example of the cynicism of Hollywood gone horribly awry.
That’s not to say that it’s terrible, or even that bad. It’s certainly far better than Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad. But for all their faults, those films at least presented a consistent worldview. Justice League feels tonally consistent, at odds with itself, in unnatural ways.
2017 Movie #129: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
I’m on the record as being among the rare cinephiles who find Wes Anderson’s style too twee, his films too ineffectual, to really hit as intended. So, it speaks to just how excellent The Royal Tenenbaums is that I not only can abide by Wes Anderson’s sensibility for the length of it but actually enjoy it.
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2017 Movie #128: Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Johnny Mnemonic is bad. Almost incoherently bad. Keanu Reeves, for one thing, does not have the range to pull this particular role off. Reeves, at his best, is capable of being an action star, but this film demands more from him and he’s unable to deliver.
There’s a kernel of a good idea at the core of this film, which is unsurprising given its origins as a William Gibson short story. But this film is almost impossibly bad; perhaps the only redeeming quality of Johnny Mnemonic is a small appearance by Henry Rollins, who appears as a semi-skeezy doctor specializing in implants; it’s a memorable appearance.
Not much of this film has aged well, but nothing has aged worse than its almost comically ridiculous depiction of the internet.
It’s hard to imagine this being remade, but I’d be curious to see this concept re-imagined within a modern context and put in the hands of a capable creative team.
2017 Movie #127: Lady Bird (2017)
There’s an alternate universe where CBS picked up the “How I Met Your Mother” spinoff starring Greta Gerwig, which has been on the air for 3 years now, and as a result, we never got Lady Bird. I’m convinced that that is the darker timeline – though, on the other hand, 3 seasons of a TV show starring Greta Gerwig might be worth it.
I’ve been a big fan of Greta Gerwig ever since I saw her in the gloriously delightful Frances Ha, which she co-wrote. It was clear from that film that this is a woman with a really specific and unique vision, even beyond any creative spark that was imbued upon the film by co-writer and director Noah Baumbach. So it’s safe to say that I’ve been looking forward to Lady Bird ever since it was first announced.
2017 Movie #126: The 400 Blows (1959)
If I’m being completely honest, while I admired the realism and commitment of The 400 Blows, I found it kind of boring. This is, to put it lightly, a film that doesn’t have much to it for a modern audience. I fully confess that both because of its age as well as the fact that it’s a French film, this is a film that I had very little to tether myself to, which leaves me with very little to say about it. I wish I could share some effusive praise about a film which is, by all accounts, a stone-cold classic, but I can’t.
2017 Movie #125: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Valerian from here on out) is a hallucinogenic science fiction epic that, despite its many flaws, manages to be a fun excursion into outer space.
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2017 Movie #124: Roman Holiday (1953)
To be sure, Roman Holiday is a well-made movie, based on a clever, but simple, premise by legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, directed to great effect by the legendary William Wyler, with striking visual style (most notably on display in the scooter sequence) following an exciting romp through the city of Rome, and featuring a charming performance by the debonair Gregory Peck. However, without question, Roman Holiday succeeds largely on the back of the breathtakingly, achingly endearing Audrey Hepburn.