Welcome to your movie-geek roundup of what’s new and worth your attention on the big screen and streaming at home. Let us know in the comments what you’re going to be watching!
Ghost in the Shell (Now Playing)
Director Rupert Sanders approaches the American remake of Mamoru Oshii’s animated masterpiece with all visual tribute and little intelligent writing. Scarlett Johansson plays (the) Major, who has been placed in the first completely synthetic cyborg body and is searching for clues about her past while working with the government organization Section 9. Despite being a more character-focused story than the original movie, which was drowning in philosophy and concepts of technology, it’s an all-too-familiar story that’s been done much better before. Still, I can’t deny Sanders has a visual eye for respecting Ghost in the Shell—he nails the design of the characters and recreates scenes from the animated movie almost shot for shot. If nothing else, it’s pleasing to see “Beat” Takeshi Kitano in another bad-ass role in which he can shoot up criminals with that classic look of intimidation.
The Smurfs: The Lost Village (April 7)
Finally: a Smurfs movie that not only does away with live action but also favors the original style of the cartoon. It’s the first faithful CGI Smurfs movie ever made, adhering closely to its Saturday-morning-cartoon origins. Sadly, it’s still a bit of a snoozer. The movie does deserve a little bit of credit for focusing on Smurfette coming to terms with who she is and discovering an entire village of female Smurfs . . . it’s just too bad that such a plot comes with the baggage of average slapstick chases, magic without much in the way of rules, a Gargamel voiced by a surprisingly ineffective Rainn Wilson, and a feminist angle that’s a little too direct without much depth. At least they don’t overblow the joke of every verb being Smurf—one less Smurfing headache for the parents.
The Boss Baby (Now Playing)
In The Boss Baby, Alec Baldwin voices a baby in a business suit with the mind of an executive. That’s a funny bit for an animated short, but a movie does not bode well for this short children’s novel turned DreamWorks animated feature. With an overly intricate plot about a secret baby organization trying to prevent puppies from stealing their cuteness, all the movie amounts to is a series of absurd baby jokes with unearned sentimentality. And for how much time the movie wastes trying to explain the idea of a baby organization in the sky, it still leaves many holes in its internal logic. It’s never directly addressed whether seven-year-old Tim is really hearing Boss Baby talk or if it’s all in his head, as implied by several confusing scenes. The ultimate goal of the evil puppy organization is to create an immortal puppy that will never grow up, thus taking away the cuteness of babies, but wouldn’t the puppy market stagnate if puppies never died and generate saturation of the same cuteness? Are these questions a grown man should be asking in a movie with cute jokes about babies and puppies? The answer to that last question is no, and the fact that The Boss Baby is simultaneously so convoluted and so vanilla with its comedy leads me down these depressing alleys. I pray for all parents suckered into this CGI equivalent of jingling keys.
Power Rangers (Now Playing)
The Power Rangers return to the big screen without the Mighty, the Morphin, or most of the humor. Striving to be a little darker, per the formula of reviving Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this new cast of rangers appears colorful and chipper with more personality than expected from this franchise. They bond together so well that the movie seems to forget at times that it’s a Power Rangers movie. The plot continues to delay the inevitable moment when the five rangers slip into their costumes and hop into their giant robots so much that by the time we reach the action-packed climax, it’s too little too late with cluttered designs of the Rangers’ Zords and the putrid mess of melting gold that is Goldar. The only actor who seems to be playing up the camp factor is Elizabeth Banks as the villain Rita Repulsa. She’s smart enough to know that you can’t play a serious antagonist in a movie where you have to eat Krispy Kreme donuts in a close-up shot.
Kubo and the Two Strings (April 8)
The Laika studio has made some of the finest stop-motion pictures of the 21st century, but Kubo and the Two Strings is by far their grand masterpiece, having been nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Visual Effects. The one-eyed Kubo hides out in the mountains with his ill mother, using his magical abilities with paper to hold shows and earn money. Targeted by his evil-witch aunts, he must soon set off on a quest to retrieve a mystical sword and armor to defeat his grandfather, the evil Moon King. Aiding him on this adventure are a snarky snow monkey (Charlize Theron) and a forgetful samurai beetle (Matthew McConaughey). With sword fights, magic guitar playing, an emotionally fulfilling theme of family, and some of the most breathtaking stop-motion animation ever put to film, Kubo is sure to become an animation cult classic.
Everybody Wants Some (Now Streaming)
Dubbed Richard Linklater’s spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused, this offbeat college comedy follows the partying lifestyle of a baseball fraternity three days before the new semester starts. Using a fresh young cast of unknowns, Linklater takes an easy approach to the material, focusing more on tone and character than any solid story. We see these boys make weird bets, challenge each other to games of table tennis, smoke weed while questioning society, try to score at a party, try to pick up chicks at discos, and practice baseball before the season starts. Everybody Wants Some stays true to the atmosphere of Dazed and Confused, in which young men try to find some fun and get into a bit of trouble before quietly sliding back into the grind of education. It’s a hangout movie, and a pretty fun one at that.
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (Now Streaming)
If the recent revival of Samurai Jack has you itching for bad-ass samurai action in between new episodes, why not take in one of the biggest inspirations of the series? Based on the manga of the same name, Lone Wolf and Cub is one of the most violent and awesome of samurai film series ever produced in Japan. Filmstruck now carries all six of the films, but if you have to choose one, I’d recommend you make it Baby Cart at the River Styx. In this second film of the series, the starring duo of Ogami (Lone Wolf) and Daigoro (Cub) are hired by a clan to protect their secret of indigo dye from being revealed to the shogun. Not a very interesting job, but the only way to complete it is to hack and slash through dozens of warriors, including female ninja spies and the ruthless Hidari brothers. It’s a bloodbath of a macho samurai picture that remains my favorite of the Lone Wolf bunch.
What will you be watching?