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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ten Years Later... Superman Returns (2006)

Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth

What a difference a decade can make. Since shortly after its release in 2006, Superman Returns has seemed like a strange hybrid of success and failure. Overall, it was critically well-received with a 72 Metacritic score that puts it well ahead of Man of Steel's 52 score and Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice's 44, and it managed to take in $200 million at the domestic box office (albeit on a production budget of $270 million). Yet it is less than fondly remembered, having left little to no cultural mark, and plans for a sequel petered out fairly quickly, with Warner Bros. deciding in 2008 to simply reboot the character rather than try to carry on the series that had started in 1978, with the late Christopher Reeve in the title role. It's interesting to think how this film, which does the exact opposite of so many of the things that the DC comic book movies have been criticized for doing in the past few years, might have been received were it released in 2016 instead of 2006. Its an effort that would still pale in comparison to the complex work that the Marvel films have been consistently doing, but I wonder if the gap between Marvel and DC would seem less pronounced if this had been the film to set the shared universe's tone, rather than Man of Steel. Superman Returns is merely an okay movie, but it's a fascinating "what if?"

Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer Not-Busters: Aloha (2015)

Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams
Domestic Box Office: $21,067,116

No matter what happens, Cameron Crowe will always be the person who gave the world Almost Famous. No matter how many Vanilla Skies, Elizabethtowns, We Bought a Zoos, and Alohas he tosses out, he'll always be the man behind Almost Famous and he'll always be the man behind Say Anything..., and he'll always be the writer of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Nothing can take that away from him, not even a movie as pointless, plotless, culturally insensitive, and generally misguided as Aloha. Rarely has such a talented cast of actors been so wildly misused, and yet, had Aloha been released even just a year or two earlier, it probably could have amassed a decent box office take on the strength of its cast alone (with a budget of only $37 million, it wouldn't have had to make that much to be considered a modest success, which makes its $21 million take an all the more egregious failure). Alas, it instead came out at a point in time when the social pendulum had finally swung far enough to make Aloha, and movies like it, a flashpoint for Hollywood's diversity problem, sinking it so deep in controversy that whatever virtues it may possess (and I found basically none) became obscured, while it's many other flaws became only more prominent.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Review: Mississippi Grind (2015)

* * * 1/2

Director: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Starring: Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds

One turns everything he touches to gold and couldn't seem to care less, the other just can't stop losing. Even when he's winning, he can't help but start losing, pushing and pushing his luck until he's lost it all over again. Together, they're a pretty bad combination, but left to their own devices they aren't exactly doing great, either. Helmed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and starring Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds as the mismatched pair, Mississippi Grind is part buddy movie, part road movie, and part addiction drama, and though it relies on some of the well-worn tropes of each, it's well-realized and compelling enough to transcend cliches.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review: Now You See Me 2 (2016)

* * 1/2

Director: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan

The world probably didn't need a sequel to the 2013 heist by way of magic film Now You See Me, but it made $117 million at the domestic box office so we get one anyway. Never mind that part of the reason the original made as much as it did was surely that it was something new and different, which could go a ways to explaining why the follow-up is finding considerably less success, dismissed by audiences as just another drop in this summer's ocean of sequels. Whether the sequel is actually more worthy of success than the original is difficult for me to say, because as I was watching this one, which continues the story set up by the first and is always referring back to it, I became increasingly aware of how little I remembered the first one. To me, this movie might as well have been called Now You See Me: Or Do You?, as I suspect that it will have more or less the same lasting impact on me that the first one did.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer Not-Busters: King Arthur (2004)

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Clive Owen, Keira Knightley
Domestic Box Office: $51,882,244

It probably says it all that I remember having seen King Arthur when it was in theaters, but virtually nothing about it stuck with me. All I remembered about it is that it presented itself as a "historically accurate" version of the King Arthur story, that it featured a battle scene on ice, and that at one point Keira Knightley is made up with warpaint and what looks like fetish gear. Rewatching the film in 2016, everything else struck me as completely new, with no sense of deja vu at all. So what we have here is a completely forgettable take on one of the most widely known legends ever passed down from generation to generation, a tale that brims with magic and has a stature that's larger than life reduced here to something unremarkable and not particularly distinguishable from any other historical epic. Sounds like $120 million well spent.