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Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer Not-Busters: Hot Pursuit (2015)

Director: Anne Fletcher
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara
Domestic Box Office: $34,580,201

It seems appropriate to end the summer movie season with this summer's first high profile flop, the Reese Witherspoon/Sofia Vergara comedy Hot Pursuit. I would like to think that even if the summer of 2015 hadn't produced what feels like an inordinate number of films featuring interesting and complex female characters, Hot Pursuit would still seem like a bizarre throwback to another era. In truth, it feels less like a theatrical feature from 2015 than a bad TV movie from the 1990s, full of the kind of outdated race/sex/gender/sexuality based humor that would be offensive if it weren't so lazy and entirely out of touch with where our culture currently resides. I don't know what amazes me more: that any studio would bother making something like this (even at its relatively modest production budget), or that even with a female director and three female producers (including Witherspoon), this project couldn't have been reworked into something at least marginally less sexist.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: Mr. Holmes (2015)

* * *

Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney

Sherlock Holmes has existed in popular culture for 128 years now, his name now synonymous with crime solving. Using his sharp observational skills and his wits, there isn't a case he isn't capable of solving, a foe he isn't capable of taking down. But no one is indestructible and time takes its toll on everyone, and in Bill Condon's Mr. Holmes the great detective is a shadow of himself, reduced physically and mentally by the effects of aging. As played by Ian McKellen, he remains a thoroughly compelling character and is perhaps even more so than usual in this compassionate, character-driven drama. While it doesn't have the big action thrills of the Robert Downey, Jr. franchise, Mr. Holmes is a solid and absorbing drama.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

21st Century Essentials: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover
Country: United States

At one point in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums the family, less the man whose name provides the film with its title, sit around the table debating whether or not to let the errant patriarch back into the family fold and the younger of the two sons states, “I think he’s very lonely. Lonelier than he lets on. Lonelier than he even realizes.” It’s an accurate description of Royal Tenenbaum, but then it’s an accurate description of all the Tenenbaums, a family of deeply repressed and isolated individuals. All of Anderson’s films have a layer of melancholy to them, but Tenenbaums is the one which best demonstrates his ability to push through that sense of sadness, as well as past the distance created by affectation, with genuine warmth and humanity. Tenenbaums isn’t just one of the funniest and most quotable movies to come out so far this century, it’s also a moving story of a family learning to become a family.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday's Top 5... My Favorite Movies of Summer 2015

#5: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

It was a close call between Rogue Nation and Jurassic World as I whittled the long list down to the final list, but ultimately I've got to give Tom Cruise's big summer hit the slightest of edges over Chris Pratt's. Jurassic may have had dinosaurs, but it also had one of the dumbest endings I've ever seen in a movie I otherwise really liked, whereas Rogue Nation is a film I thought was consistently awesome from beginning to end, and I sincerely hope that Rebecca Ferguson returns for the next M:I installment.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Review: Ex Machina (2015)

* * * 1/2

Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac

Word of advice: if an eccentric (and possibly insane) billionaire invites you to spend a week at his isolated, Bond villain style lair, even under the guise of it being the prize in a contest, don't go. Just don't. Nothing good will happen there. Especially if there are robots involved. Someone is going to die, there's no way around it. Best case scenario, you spend a week on an estate so vast that it takes over two hours to travel the length of it by helicopter, yet feels as claustrophobic as a prison cell. It makes for a bad vacation - but a pretty solid science fiction psychological thriller in the hands of writer/director Alex Garland.