An adventurer catches wind of a secret Thai island.
Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tilda Swinton
Review by Jon Kissel
There are movies tethered to their time, and then there’s Danny Boyle’s The Beach. Philosophically, this film is the essence of pre-dot-com-bubble, pre-9/11 America, a frivolous place with a flat culture that must be abandoned to find whatever life really is. A person can only view a work for the first time once. I don’t know what it would have been like to watch The Beach in 2000, but watching it nineteen years after its release is an eye-rolling experience.
This is our first review of 2019, so what better way to start it off than to talk about how 2018 went for the movie business? Disney’s many properties grossed 63% of the total grosses of the top ten, and 47% of the top 20, with the top three earners of the year all sending money back to the House of Mouse. Add in the properties from Fox, which will be brought under the Disney umbrella at the end of the month, and those numbers bump up to 71% and 57%. This is a monopoly concern, but for Ralph Breaks the Internet, it’s an opportunity to stuff all these properties in one film. The original Wreck-It Ralph did the same with video game characters, but the difference is between characters whose moments have passed (Zangief, Q-Bert) and characters that show up on theater screens every year. It makes me queasy from a commercial standpoint, and as far as the film that contains billions of dollars worth of intellectual property, it makes it lazy. The silence that engulfed the theater during long stretches Ralph Breaks the Internet is a sign that complacency has overtaken a property that started strong. Why write a strong joke when Iron Man can be in the background?
I’ve never been a fan of Harry Potter, as it’s readily apparent that the movies are too small for the books and are therefore reduced to multi-million dollar games of Spot the Reference. Save for an Alan Rickman performance or an Alfonso Cuaron direction here or there, they’re joyless and perfunctory. The non-reader can sense that any emotional power derived from the movies is built atop a more in-depth depiction on the page, and without that foundation, there’s little there. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them should be free from this shackling. It has to ultimately sync up with Potter, but that’s decades away. Building the world beyond an English boarding school expands the scope and potentially makes it easier to digest for viewers who have no interest in thousands of pages of mythology. However, David Yates has learned all the wrong lessons from a career spent almost entirely in the Wizarding World, and here, he makes a film somehow more impenetrable than a filmed adaptation of a 600 page tome.
Carolco Pictures went from producing the Rambo series, Basic Instinct, and Terminator 2 to losing the 2017 equivalent of $147 million on Cutthroat Island, incidentally the last film they released before declaring bankruptcy. Of course, there’s often a wide distance between commercial and critical success. A film can be a masterpiece and a complete flop, or make a lot of money while being a piece of shit. The failure on one side does not guarantee failure on the other. This is not the case with Cutthroat Island. Though it’s surprising that it was such a flop, as it at least looks like it could fool enough people with a decent poster or a trailer that cuts out most of the dialogue, Renny Harlin’s swashbuckling disaster is disgraceful and amateurish. It is good and right that people lost their jobs after putting their seal of approval on Cutthroat Island.
A Monster Calls should be commended for taking on a difficult subject with a more whimsical approach than we normally see, but confusing underlying decisions ultimately undermine what could have been one of the great movies of 2016. The story starts with a strong enough foundation. Conor is a young boy with a life no one wants: his mother is sick and presumably dying, he has no other significant support system to look to, and he is constantly bullied by another boy who may or may not actually be in love with him, but I digress. His life is almost comically terrible – why not just give him a physical deformity while we’re at it? Conor finds respite in his drawing, and these fantasies manifest themselves in the form of a tree monster who visits Conor with the promise of telling him three stories, after which Conor will reveal “his truth.” The structure is reminiscent of the 2006 modern classic Pan’s Labyrinth, but the similarities begin and end there.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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