Cinema Blurbs with Kevin J. Johnson
A closer look at the top films in theaters and rentals with Kevin, The Engaged Gaze's resident film critic!
War for the Planet of the Apes
A triumph of a threequel, the third film in the reboot series finds Caesar and his tribe of intelligent apes under siege by an evil Colonel, assisted by turncoat simians. The digital effects are so stunning, you will forget that it’s Andy Serkis under those pixels. This war shows how the Planet of the Apes actually comes to be, with some of the best digital performances in visual effects history.
Finally freed from the shackles of half-hearted bloat, Spider-Man swings into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a fresh-faced teenager struggling to juggle his new superpowers and his life as a high schooler. Tom Holland and company do an excellent job filling the movie with heart, charm and lots of humor, with Michael Keaton providing the best comic-book villain since The Avengers’ Loki.
Dripping with style, panache and sheer dynamism, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver was borne out of the ashes of an attempted production of Ant-Man. Going back to basics, Wright assembles not only a game cast featuring Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Kevin Spacey, but also the best soundtrack in recent years. A shame that the young leads Ansel Elgort and Lily James don’t quite measure up to the rest of the pedigree on display.
The Big Sick
Kumali Nanjiani and Emily Gordon co-wrote this romantic comedy/medical drama based on their actual relationship which was put to the test by a sudden illness. Director Michael Showalter (of the famed sketch group The State) and Nanjiani use their extensive comedic knowledge to get to the honesty and truth of a relationship where truth and honesty can often be deflected in the name of jokes. Admirably, there are no easy outs but there are one too many easy jokes. Still, as a whole, the film is a triumph.
After 75 years of being a comic book icon, Princess Diana of Themyscira finally gets her motion picture debut. Gal Gadot, Chris Pine and director Patty Jenkins are up to the task of creating a thrilling adventure with a massive dose of girl power, along with sincerity and heart. It’s a modern classic hampered only by its clichéd sturm-und-drang ending, but manages to still provide a fresh direction for the DC Extended Universe.
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista return as the incorrigible Guardians alongside the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. Writer-director James Gunn has infused a massive space opera with intimacy and emotional acuity, delivering another home run for Marvel Studios. Blessed with yet another soundtrack of golden oldies, Vol. 2 will stand the time as blockbuster action entertainment.
Director Jordan Peele branched out from comedy to bring audiences an incisive, high-anxiety masterpiece of societal terror. Daniel Kaluuya is brilliant as Chris who upon visiting his girlfriend’s (Alison Williams) parents realizes that he desperately needs to escape or face a horrible fate. You will be uttering the movie’s title to yourself every single minute.
John Wick: Chapter 2
Keanu Reeves returns as the laconic hitman who cannot be stopped. Director Chad Stahelski and his 87eleven Action team up the ante and plunge Mr. Wick even deeper into the criminal underworld. The fight scenes are more brutal, more inventive and give action fans what they’ve been craving since the Matrix trilogy wrapped up. This film deserves a gold coin, though the well may be dry for Chapter 3.
I Am Not Your Negro
Samuel L. Jackson narrates this eye-opening account from author and poet James Baldwin, whose writings and musings were essential to the Civil Rights Movement. Built from the structure of Baldwin’s unfinished novel “Remember This House,” director Raoul Peck uses interviews, film clips and news broadcasts to paint a picture of a nation that sadly has not progressed as far as we would like. A must-see, especially for today.
The Lego Batman Movie
Will Arnett reprises his role as the Caped Crusdaer from The Lego Movie in a zany, inventive, non-stop comedic tour de force. Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson and Zach Galifianakis are also game in quippy fashion. It’s a celebration of Batman in all his forms, and of his fans. It’s also probably the best Batman film since The Dark Knight.