Holiday Movie Guide Part II
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The holiday season is prime time for Hollywood to dump a seemingly infinite amount of movies into our local theaters. These include everything from hopeful awards contenders, comedies, and family films but with all the choices, which ones are worth your hard earned dollar? Here’s part two of a break-down of several new movies hitting the Charlotte area!
The less said about this ugly fantasy action film from Netflix the better. The streaming giant has been making major moves to generate original films that compete with the multiplexes, with “Bright” marking their first foray into blockbuster territory. Set in an world where humans live alongside magical creatures such as elves, orcs and fairies, the movie stars Will Smith as an LA police officer struggling to get along with his new partner (Joel Edgerton), the cities first orc cop. The racial discrimination allegory is there, as humans look down on the largely lower-class orc species, but it’s played off in a way that feels clunky and shallow. Anyway, the mismatched pair get into trouble when they discover an elf with a magic wand in her possession. Yes, that’s right, a magic wand. Pretty soon there are evil elves, gangsters, crooked cops, and generally everyone else in the city, that want to take control of the wand, potentially leading to deadly repercussions. In this world, a magic wand is essentially the equivalent of an atomic bomb. If that summary isn’t enough to turn you off the movie, it might be worth mentioning the presence of David Ayer as director. Ayer made a name for himself with gritty action pictures like “End of Watch” or “Fury”; however, “Bright” bears more of a resemblance to his last picture, the epic train-wreck “Suicide Squad”. Like that film, many of the action set-pieces in “Bright” are shrouded in so much darkness that it’s almost impossible to tell what is going on. There’s a mismatch in tone with a movie that’s trying to mix slightly silly elements with dark, grisly violence to make an allegory about race in America.
Rating: ★ 1/2
‘The Shape of Water’
It’s safe to say few filmmakers today have a visual imagination quite like Guillermo del Toro. The Mexican born writer/director has become synonymous with visually stunning fantasy pictures such as “Crimson Peak”, “The Devil’s Backbone”, “Pacific Rim”, and the “Hellboy” franchise. Despite having admired many of his previous pictures, the only one that I’ve truly loved is 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”; an intricately detailed fairy-tale set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. It’s a movie that shows off the director’s best skills of world-building and allegorical construction. His newest picture, “The Shape of Water”, brings that same beauty and level of detail but adds something more; emotion. Set in the early 60s, the film stars Sally Hawkins as a mute maid working at a top secret government laboratory. It’s during one of her routine cleanings that she comes across one of the labs most precious assets; an amphibian-like merman. A loving bond forms between Hawkins’ character the man with gills, leading her to hatch a scheme to break him out before a nasty government agent, Michael Shannon, dissects him for experiments. Like all of del Toro’s films, “The Shape of Water” is a visual feast, enveloping every scene in a variety of water-colored greens. Even when you’re on land, you get the felling like you are surrounded by water. There’s also excellent performances all around, not just from Hawkins, who places herself as a likely Best Actress contender but also Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Stuhlbarg. It’s a fantasy picture where every character feels like a three dimensional person. However, what’s maybe most impressive is the way del Toro weaves together so many different genres; from 50s monsters movie, cold war thriller, and even sweeping romance. Yet, despite acting as a chance to del Toro to create an ode to films of old, the movie remarkably winds-up feeling like something that is uniquely his own.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
‘All the Money In the World’
Most audiences already know this 70s-set crime thriller as the film actor Kevin Spacey was removed from following a string of sexual harassment allegations. The move, orchestrated by director Ridley Scott, was unprecedented. One month from release, Scott recast the role Spacey originally played, giving it instead to Christopher Plummer, and charged forward as though nothing had happened. The result couldn’t be anything from a disaster, right? Surely, there was no way all the moving peaces could align perfectly or that the movie would be able to remove itself from the shadow of Spacey’s controversy. Miraculously, Scott’s movie manages to toss all those worries to the side. It may not be an exceptional film but it is one that proves just how efficient and skilled the 80-year-old director is in the craft of film-making. What may be more impressive is the way Scott has brushed off this last minute stunt as just a walk in the park. For those unfamiliar with the plot of the movie; it tells the story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, grandson to billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. What resulted were months of ransom demands from kidnappers with Getty III’s mother (Michelle Williams) desperately trying to convince her miser of a father-in-law to pay the money. Seeing as Getty is possibly the richest man to have ever have lived, paying a few million dollars for the safety of his grandson should be a no-brainer but Getty’s a penny-pincher; the immense wealth he’s accumulated over the years is too precious to give away. Plummer plays Getty without so much as menace as carefree negligence. He doesn’t seem bothered by the fact his grandson is being held hostage and tortured. When the situation is brought up, his mind is largely concerned with other matters. The only sliver of hope Getty does give his daughter-in-law is putting his chief negotiator (Mark Wahlberg) in charge of striking a deal. As almost all Ridley Scott movies are, the film is exquisitely shot, well paced and featuring at least two really strong performances from both Plummer and Williams. It’s a decently good crime movie but one that’s probably more interesting considering the circumstances that went into making it.
Rating: ★ ★ ★
Jessica Chastain stars in this fast talking and energetic biopic about Molly Bloom; an Olympic level skier who made millions running high stakes poker games that attracted everyone from movie-stars to Russian mobsters. Written and directed by legendary screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, this is a movie that is all about it’s dialogue and boy is there a lot of it. Sorkin’s way of generating hyper-real, mile-a-minute words has helped elevate TV series such as “The West Wing” and “The Newsroom”, as well as a whole slew of films such as “The Social Network” and “A Few Good Men”. However, this marks the first time he’s directed one of his own screenplays, meaning both the best and worst of his tendencies as a writer are on display. When the movie’s interested in diving into the strategy of poker play or fast paced legal talk between Bloom and her lawyer (Idris Elba), it flies. However, when Sorkin tries to contextualize Bloom’s story within the relationship between her and her estranged father (Kevin Costner), things begin to fall apart. As extravagant as the highs of this movie are, I found myself wondering how much other directors acted as editor of Sorkin’s own material in the past. You get the feeling the movie could have been tightened in some way, maybe one less anecdotal speech, or perhaps had some of the rougher edges rounded out. However, few screenwriters make dialogue sing quite like Sorkin. As long as he keeps things moving at a million miles an hour, you won’t notice the flaws.
Rating: ★ ★ ★