It's only March 9 and already a movie has arrived in theaters that you must like or support or else risk being branded as a terrible human being. The social media onslaught for A WRINKLE IN TIME has been borderline intolerable. Actually, we take that back -- it's been off the charts intolerable. The talent involved here -- director Ava DuVernay, Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling -- all have far-reaching social media presences, and many are proclaiming this to be a monumental piece of diverse entertainment. Sadly, the facts get in the way of that narrative as this is certain to be one of the worst movies of the year. The problems begin with the source material, a fantasy novel which is way more niche than its target fan base would have you believe, and presents all sorts of problems when being adapted to the screen. Fantasy is always a risky proposition, of course, but this movie is just downright silly. Oprah no longer has a screen presence, Reese Witherspoon is at an age problematic except for the finest of actresses, and the rest of the cast lacks any sort of rooting interest. With a massive budget and aggressive marketing campaign, it's tough to see this dud recouping its costs and appears to already be one of the most significant mistakes of 2018.
A tone-deaf remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson "classic", DEATH WISH is already the leader in the clubhouse to win the award for most pointless remake of 2018. This movie would be deemed terrible in any era, but to make this movie during a time when the U.S. is dealing with all of these hotly contested gun control debates? What were these filmmakers and distributors thinking? MGM has already tried to spin this movie's poor performance on its ill-timed proximity to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, but if it were released at any other point on the calendar in the last several hours it would have been following in the wake of a similar tragedy. This was just a massive miscalculation by all involved for a movie that had no business being made or released in the first place.
Adapted from a bestselling book that quite frankly isn't any good, RED SPARROW the film version isn't any better. It mostly just feels like a re-heated meal from the Cold War days, and despite the current geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and Russia, there's nothing in this story that feels current or of the moment at all. The most interesting observation to make here is the fading popularity of actress Jennifer Lawrence, evidenced by this movie's poor box office debut despite its expensive marketing campaign. Lawrence has been over-exposed (and overrated?) for this entire decade, and it's starting to show. Lawrence's reps somehow need to regain some control over their client, as her brutal interviews are alienating audiences, and also show a reckless disregard for her obligations to the studios financing her movies – Lawrence piping off on a variety of subjects would be fine if she weren't getting paid $15M to be the hood ornament of a very expensive movie. Look for her career to take a swift downward spiral if some of these issues aren't smoothed out over the next year. Because it's pretty obvious at this point that she's not a "star" when it comes to box office appeal.
At this point, little needs to be said about BLACK PANTHER as a movie. The best reviewed movie in the Marvel universe, and already a massive hit. Followers of this site know that we don't enjoy the Marvel movies, but we agree it's a good movie and we enjoyed it. We just don't attach any added meaning to it. BLACK PANTHER is being celebrated, for good reason, as the first all-black comic book adaptation, but that only tells part of the story. The movie's leads – Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong'o – are all fine actors, among the best of their generation. But despite this movie's success, it's not as if audiences are seeking out their non-blockbuster fare, and the film industry is still limiting them to roles in their pre-branded universes in which underlying intellectual property, not the actors, are the star. Consider Boseman's career: audiences have seen him as part of an ensemble in the Avengers movies, and now as the lead of BLACK PANTHER. But nobody saw his passion project MARSHALL (which was admittedly mediocre), and few viewers paid to see his other biopics 42 and GET ON UP. This is not to say he won't eventually find an audience, but for now, he is limited to Marvel – hardly empowering for an actor capable of much more. The same goes for Michael B. Jordan, whose popularity is based on pre-branded fare such as CREED – how many of those "celebrating" BLACK PANTHER saw the far superior FRUITVALE STATION? Lupita Nyong'o may have won an Oscar for TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE, but since then she has been a supporting player in the pre-branded universe – THE JUNGLE BOOK, STAR WARS and now Marvel. These are of course still great opportunities that may not have been available to black actors even 10-15 years ago, but are minority voices really being heard? Or are studios simply plugging more variety into standard blockbuster fare while they ignore the more substantive contributions these artists can make? We'll see.
Clint Eastwood is 87-years-old and still making movies, so how can you not salute this man? We certainly do, but his recent work is just not worthy of praise. His latest movie was really an odd choice. THE 15:17 TO PARIS dramatizes the real life of heroics of the American passengers on board said train in 2015. It was a compelling news story for good reason, but that's all it is – there simply isn't enough material for a feature length movie. Even at 94 minutes, the running time feels padded, and watching the movie you honestly wonder if you need more than 10-15 minutes to tell the full story. As seemingly other every critic has mentioned, though, the movie's biggest flaw is its decision to cast the real-life heroes as themselves. If this would have worked, it would have been a brilliant move by Eastwood and his collaborators, but sadly, it's a gambit that doesn't even come close to paying off. This is simply a movie that didn't need to be made, that's all there is to it.
Liam Neeson once again puts his particular set of skills to use in THE COMMUTER, a perfect piece of January entertainment that serves up fast-paced thrills for genre enthusiasts. This is not a good movie, of course, but somehow when Liam Neeson is involved that's not really a point of criticism. Sure, Neeson is capable of far more than what he's demonstrated since TAKEN was released back in 2008 (has it really been that long?), and it's frustrating to see him take on essentially the same role over and over and over again. But… in an era seemingly devoid of masculine actors under the age of 40, there is something reassuring about watching Neeson ply his trade.