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When it comes to a popular story, be it one revolving around pop culture, politics, murder, or entertainment, I either know close to everything about it or I know nothing at all. Until I learned that a biopic on former figure skater Tonya Harding was in production, I thought Harding was a singer of some sort all this time. I had no idea of her and her incendiary personality, and absolutely no inkling as to what transpired in Detroit in 1994 when Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by associates of Harding and her husband.
David Ayer’s Bright has been marketed as Netflix’s first foray into blockbusters or big-budget films that could’ve realistically went to theaters. Simply put, Bright fits right in with a year that’s given us The Mummy, Justice League, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Power Rangers, and other terrible and expensive misfires as Hollywood fumbles like an inept football player trying to get the next big franchise off the ground.
One could make the argument The Shape of Water is this year’s La La Land. Like last year’s endlessly lovable musical, the film crafts a world not too dissimilar from our own, filling it with fantastical elements and intoxicating aspects of romance that subdue most chances for cynicism to surface. The Shape of Water does manage to break away from parallels to Damien Chazelle’s picture with its political subtext and heavy focus on the marginalized. Its primary theme is one that isn’t so much controversial but as American as it gets: the cleaners and the underestimated are the unsung heroes of the country.
Alexander Payne is second only to Woody Allen for an American director remarkably consistent in making dramas with human interest and quality evident even in their weakest works. Payne’s filmography is significantly smaller, but in his three decade-long film career, he has madeSideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska, the latter two among this decade’s best dramas, consecutively. This especially makes his latest, Downsizing, feel much weaker given how it throws a wrench in what was an admirable streak of quality films.
Kyle and Peter Reynolds (Owen Wilson and Ed Helms, respectively) are fraternal twin brothers on opposite trajectories. Kyle lives with his beautiful Hawaiian wife with a child on the way and lofty royalties from his likeness on a brand of barbecue sauce. Peter is recently divorced with a son who hates him. Peter feels significantly more displaced when his mother, Helen Baxter (Glenn Close), informs him and Kyle at her wedding that she is unsure of the identity of their biological father. She admits the 1970s were a wild time, and her frequent hookups at Studio 54 and other clubs could’ve resulted in anyone being their father. The first potential candidate that comes to her mind is former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
The now commonplace tragedy of a once fresh film concept is, with every sequel, quality has likely dipped so profoundly that only visible are the vague remnants of what was once was so original. When Pitch Perfect was released in 2012, it surprised many with the longevity of its release combined with the quality of its writing and character dynamics. It wasn’t the childishly written, Disney-fare that was populating cinemas in the form of films like Prom. It was a genuinely enjoyable film with personality to compliment its bold characters. Its inevitable sequel showed ware on the concept and hit some rather off-color notes, but still captured the spirit of its characters and maintained the level of energy that exploded whenever there was a musical number.
The fact that the 1996 fantasy-comedy Jumanji now has a sequel is proof-positive that Hollywood and studio conglomerates will leave no stone unturned and no franchise untouched when it comes to rebooting old properties and catering to contemporary hallmarks. Just the idea of a postmodern take on a board-game that transports you into a dangerous jungle starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black sounds like the depths of cinematic drudgery, and with that compliments the low-stakes that plague Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. We already have brand-recognition in regards to the titular property, and we have three of the easiest targets to point and laugh at when they are surrounded by vicious wildlife — not to mention for 90 long minutes, we must watch them act as hopelessly contrived stereotypes of high school teenagers.
Tommy Wiseau’s famous disasterpiece The Room came to my attention about seven years ago. A kid in my high school television class would constantly quote it and try to suppress (or intensify) occasionally awkward situations he himself would routinely inspire by reciting the famous lines, “Oh hi, Mark” and “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” from the film. When I finally watched a short-time later, I wasn’t very amused. It was inept filmmaking at its finest, but it became inescapable to the point where I would hear it being spoken about in many conversations about film I had with people.
Where J. J. Abrams’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens compellingly assembled a cast of likable characters while laying the foundation for a new Star Wars trilogy to commence, Rian Johnson’s Last Jedi takes a few steps forward to cover creative new ground. The Force Awakens felt like it was constructed by a plethora of producers and studio-heads carefully piecing together a Star Wars film easy for the masses to digest, right down to the fact it was built in the same structural and narrative molds used for A New Hope. The Last Jedi finds itself commanded by a visionary filmmaker with a plan in place to lift the new installments off into new heights — at the risk of succumbing to ridicule and hate from fans.