Forget all the hyperbole about an all-female cast and man-hating: Is this Ghostbusters reboot any good simply based on merit? Yes and no. The movie retreads familiar ground and tries too hard to emulate its predecessor but has fantastic special effects. Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones are a group of paranormal hunters. McCarthy and Wiig play longtime pals once estranged from each other, reunited when Wiig is fired from her position at Columbia University due to McCarthy’s publishing of a book they wrote years earlier expounding on the existence of ghosts.
Two decades after Independence Day, the bug-like aliens that threatened humanity are back with their queen in Independence Day: Resurgence, bigger and badder than ever. Earth has been preparing for the return of the aliens, and humanity has come together to cooperate in unprecedented fashion, using the aliens’ own technology to build up planetary defenses. No one anticipated the aliens would return more advanced, with a mothership 3,000 miles in diameter with impenetrable force fields and a swarm of hive-like fighter jets. Central command must devise a plan with the help of recovered friendly alien technology to take out the enemy aliens’ queen.
In Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (military code for, umm, WTF), Tina Fey plays real-life reporter Kim Baker who, tired of her stagnant career, accepts a three-month assignment embedded with the U.S. Marines covering the war in Afghanistan, much to the dismay of her boyfriend. As three months turns into four years, Baker meets a collection of colorful war correspondents, marines, and corrupt government officials, including a Scottish playboy (Martin Freeman) who becomes her love interest and a gorgeous rival reporter (Margot Robbie). But as she endures the almost surreal dangers and day-to-day activities of Afghanistan, she begins to realize that the place is having a negative effect on her perception of reality.
It’s difficult to fathom that Alex Proyas, the director who gave us Dark City and The Crow, is the same director responsible for I, Robot and Gods of Egypt, but sure enough, he is. If the first two films were dark and foreboding, and I, Robot was a perfect visual effects popcorn movie, then Gods of Egypt is…what, exactly? Well, let’s say it’s a big special-effects movie, and that’s it. It certainly has Proyas’s style all over it, but it’s hollow inside.
Director Wilson Yip returns to helm the third and ostensibly final installment in the Ip Man saga with Ip Man 3. As with the previous films, international star Donnie Yen returns to the role as wing chun legend Ip Man, and the film also, questionably, brings Mike Tyson on board as a ruthless and violent American real estate developer.
With Creed, director Ryan Coogler (Frutivale Station) reboots the long-running Rocky franchise for a new generation of fans. Like The Force Awakens, Creed, from a screenplay by Aaron Covington and Coogler, plays it safe, never deviating far from the fundamentals that made the original film such a success.
Based on Michael Lewis’ non-fiction book, The Big Short brings together the ensemble cast of Steve Carell (who plays Mark Baum, a character based on the real-life Steve Eisman), Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, and Ryan Gosling as a number of Wall Street moneymen who discover the fraud underpinning the mortgage lending practices of the big banks and independently make moves to profit from the impending collapse of the system. Additionally, the film makes comical use of celebrities, playing themselves, to explain some of the technical financial jargon in layman’s terms. Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining subprime mortgage-backed securities is my personal favorite.
After he and his film Seven Years in Tibet (1997) were banned from China, director Jean-Jacques Annaud returns to the country for his visually stunning Wolf Totem, an adaptation of Jiang Rong’s semi-autobiographical novel.
Set during China’s Cultural Revolution of 1969, Wolf Totem is an environmentalist tale that follows Beijing student Chen Zhen (Shaofeng Feng), who is assigned to China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to teach its nomadic shepherd population. Instead, Zhen becomes attached to the land, its people, and the balance between them and their most feared enemy, the wolves.
Older anime fans in North America will likely remember Gatchaman, the classic 1972 series created by Tatsuo Yoshida, as Battle of the Planets (1978). Battle of the Planets was a tamed-down version of Gatchaman that removed elements of graphic violence and profanity and changed plot points related to the transgenderisim of the villain in order to avoid controversy with parents. It also rode the wave of Star Wars’ success by adding in scenes reminiscent of the space opera to mask deficiencies introduced by the changes and eliminations (only 85 of 105 episodes were used). Slightly younger audiences may be even more familiar with a subsequent mid-’80s adaptation, G-Force: Guardians of Space, which more closely followed the original series.
The post-apocalyptic dystopian film is a staple of science-fiction filmmaking, but most of the films inhabit a similar space. Director Craig Zobel’s Z for Zachariah is one of the rare ones that change the formula. Z for Zachariah, based upon Robert C. O’Brien’s novel, still relies on some unknown radioactive, presumably nuclear event as the catalyst that brings down society, but the story is not focused on this. Instead, it is a character study about three people in one idyllic valley in the Southeastern United States spared by the disaster.