A Ghost Story (2017)
Director: David Lowery
Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara
Box Office: $1.9 million
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is the most ambitious project of 2017 thus far. The film follows C (Casey Affleck), who dies in a car accident early on in the film and spends the rest of it’s runtime covered in a white sheet roaming the house where he and his wife, M (Rooney Mara), reside in. A meditative film, the film touches upon the passage of time, the fickleness of life, grief and loneliness, death, and love.
A hard film to recommend, there are long stretches of time where little to nothing happens (there’s a nine-minute long scene involving Rooney Mara just eating pie). Multiple scenes in the film, particularly early on, focus on one very specific moment for a long period of time, which could cause many viewers to lose interest quickly. Despite being initially taken out of the film due to the longevity of a certain scene, it’s these moments in the film that I constantly go back to. David Lowery manages to capture the mundaneness of life in a beautiful, thought-provoking way. The film skips over large swathes of time while lingering on small and seemingly insignificant moments because THOSE small moments are what build the characters, and what those characters will carry with them for the rest of their lives. C remains a side character throughout the film, serving as a projection of the audience as both watch M carry out the rest of her life.
The film feels like a poem. Truly moving, David Lowery manages to create a profound and beautiful meditation on life and death.
Final Grade: A+
Director: Susan Lacy
Starring: Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, John Williams, George Lucas, Tom Hanks
Box Office: N/A
Run Time: 2 hours 28 minutes
Going into this film, I had high expectations. I admire Steven Spielberg’s work, and I consider him one of my favorite directors of all time. My interest was piqued when I heard that a new documentary about Spielberg was in the works, and even more so when I heard it was happening at HBO, meaning I’d have it available the day it came out. Sweet.
After watching the film, I couldn’t help but come out of the other side disappointed. The film felt like a sandwich with tomatoes and lettuce – but no meat. The film feels as if someone perused Speilberg’s Wikipedia page and picked out random paragraphs to compile the script. Director Susan Lacy goes into detail on some of his most famous works such as Jaws, E.T., and Saving Private Ryan but nothing substantial comes out of these segments, just information on how Spielberg’s personal life at the time affected the production of his most famous works. I expected the documentary to go into some criticisms of his films and how he uses those criticisms to make his future films better, but besides a short five-minute segment regarding those issues, it is never addressed.
The documentary does have its high points, such as how Close Encounters of the Third Kind was so influenced by his younger years and how Schindler’s List was so personal and helped rekindle his connection with Judaism, but those points are few and far between. The documentary is not poorly made and is in fact quite entertaining for anyone with an interest in Spielberg or his films, but comes across as a love-letter to the man himself rather than a look into his more personal side.
Final Grade: C
Despicable Me 3 (2017)
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Starring: Steve Carrell, Trey Parker, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove
Budget: $80 million
Box Office: $1.023 billion
Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
I’m always surprised every time a new Despicable Me film or spin-off is made, and then I remember just how much money these films actually make. The fourth film in the Despicable Me franchise (Minions is the third, for those who have hopefully forgotten) the story follows Gru (Steve Carrell) as he meets his twin brother Dru (also Steve Carrell). Together, they must work together to take down villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) and learn to love each other and work past their differing goals.
The franchise has just about run it’s course creatively. A step up from Minions (which isn’t too difficult to do) DM3 can’t quite live up to the oldest brother. Falling alongside Despicable Me 2, this film is entirely forgettable. Lazy writing and lack of story structure hurt the film, which feels like a series of slides detailing how Gru and family make it from place to place just because the plot says they have to. Sub-plots like Lucy Wilde’s (Kristen Wiig) don’t work because they’re underdeveloped or entirely not needed for the plot (why does Agnus need to find this unicorn again? Oh, cause it’s cute I guess).
The whacky character designs that Illumination brings to their films is boring and tiring. No real connections are forged between the audience and the characters unless you’re big fans of the original films. Balthazar Bratt remains the most entertaining part of the film, but even then was underdeveloped and felt “evil cause we need a bad guy.”
Completely skippable and forgettable, the film is good for kids and those who liked the original Despicable Me films. The franchise has about run its course creatively, but after grossing $1 billion, it’s likely we’ll see more.
Final Grade: D
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken
Distributor: DreamWorks Pictures
Budget: $54 million
Box Office: $352.1 million
Run Time: 2 hours 21 minutes
Perhaps Steven Spielberg’s most underrated film, Catch Me If You Can seems to never come up in conversation regarding Spielberg’s filmography. You’ll usually find the typical Jurrasic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, Schindler’s List, E.T or Saving Private Ryan, and while all those are masterpieces, Catch Me If You Can might not be too far behind.
While clearly not Spielberg’s best work, it’s not a stretch to say that this film would rank among the top 3 in the filmographies of most mainstream directors in Hollywood today. The film follows 17-year-old con-man Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he scams and manipulates banks and people through faulty checks on his way to becoming a millionaire. In hopes of helping his divorced parents (played by Christopher Walken and Nathalie Baye) through tough times, Frank finds himself in the cross-hairs of FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) who follows Frank on a game of cat-and-mouse throughout the United States.
The film would be a disaster in the wrong hands. Suffering from broken marriages himself, Speilberg has been caught in the middle of two divorces, which has bled onto his films and has become a repeated theme throughout much of his filmography. This film is no different, as the plot revolves around three main characters damaged by broken marriages. Speilberg manages to balance loneliness and excess, resulting in the natural and organic transformation you see in main characters Frank and Carl towards the end of the film. Perfectly paced with a fun cast and fun premise, Catch Me If You Can remains an excellent ride of a film 15 years later.
Final Grade: A-
Blade Runner (Final Cut) (1982)
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Budget: $28 million
Box Office: $33.8 million
Run Time: 1 hour 57 minutes
In preparation for Blade Runner 2049, I decided it was about time I sat down and gave the original Blade Runner a long overdue viewing. Embedded into popular culture, I was aware of the general plot of the film but not much else. I knew of its influences on the rest of the sci-fi genre and had heard some of the score by Vangelis, but I was in the dark on just about everything else regarding the film.
Visually stunning with a fittingly haunting score, there is no question as to why Blade Runner is one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time. A stunning portrayal of humanity and what it means to be human, director Ridley Scott paints vivid a picture of a not-so-distant future. The visuals, ahead of its time back in 1982, still hold up today. The film is filled with solid performances all around, particularly Harrison Ford as Agent Deckard and Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty, one of the greatest movie villains in sci-fi history.
Final Grade: A+