A Friendly Reminder

by Sonny Bunch on May 27, 2013

I have been lax about updating this here blog (obviously) because I wanted to convince you folks to swing by the Free Beacon’s Editor’s Blog all on your own (a strategy that appears to have worked, judging by traffic stats). But it’s been a few months so I figured I’d throw up a few links for any stragglers. Here’s the homepage and here’s my archive. A few pieces of note over the last couple of weeks:

  • I’d describe my review of Fast and Furious 6 as “sneeringly positive.” Though most people have (wrongly!) chosen to focus on the sneering, I enjoyed it just fine. And, in the end, isn’t that all that matters? (The Editor’s Blog is also host to a more enthusiastic two-part defense.)
  • Do I think Star Trek Into Darkness‘ writers/director intentionally made a case for the morality of drone strikes? Well, no. More likely, it was just sloppily plotted. But they certainly did a good job of accidentally making the case.
  • I am, as you know, a leading apologist for Zack Snyder. Here are 700 words or so on the weirdly optimistic outlook of his films.
  • You’re often wrong. Deal with it.

Anyway, make sure to keep reading the Beacon. We can use all the eyeballs we can grab.


Bullet to the Head review

by Sonny Bunch on February 1, 2013

It’s over at the Free Beacon. Short version: I liked it!

It is a fun film, one that doesn’t strain the cranium—indeed, it might aggravate the brainpan if one gives it too much thought—while also providing plenty of eye candy. It is also the first feature that Walter Hill, best known for hardboiled features like Last Man Standing and Red Heat, as well as the premiere episode of HBO’s Deadwood, has directed in a decade. …

Bullet to the Head is an adrenaline-fueled, rip-roaring good time that asks little of audiences while still managing to fill their most basic filmgoing needs.


Look, it’s easy to hate Sucker PunchEasy, but wrong, for reasons I lay out here. Here’s another (NSFW for language) revisionist take on the film, this time in video form. For the record: I don’t agree with every argument made in this piece (I think the whole argument about the various waves of feminism is a reach), but it gets at an important aspect of Zack Snyder’s most underrated work, namely the way he’s playing with formal conventions of perspective on film. Critics didn’t get Sucker Punch the first time around, dismissing it as brainless titillation. They will come around. In time.

(If you’d prefer to read the transcript, Slash Film has it here.)


Django Unchained: Mini-review (Spoilers)

by Sonny Bunch on January 28, 2013

The sequence in Django Unchained that jumped out at me the second time around is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most frenetic sequence in the film. (Spoilers after the jump.)

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Review: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

by Sonny Bunch on January 26, 2013

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is not the worst movie I’ve ever seen. But it is an assault on the senses, an overly loud blast of static that at times—I am not making this up—left me seeing double. Viewing the film in IMAX 3D was less an experience than an endurance test. Even at a scant 88 minutes, one would be excused for leaving the auditorium feeling nauseous and close to exhaustion.

The plot asks a question never asked before: What happened to Hansel and Gretel—the brother-sister duo abandoned by their father in the woods who burned to death the witch that tried to eat them—after “happily ever after”? The movie’s answer is that the pair decided to put their experience to work exterminating the world’s apparently endless supply of witches.

Working as bounty hunters and traveling from village to village to eradicate the broomstick brigade, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have stumbled on to a mystery. Why are the witches they are hunting this time around taking children so brazenly? And how will Hansel and Gretel stop the head witch (Famke Janssen), a powerful crone who is able to appear fully human?

The picture is not without charm, and gives off an occasional flash of ingenuity, such as when Hansel complains that being force-fed candy led to his needing shots every few hours lest he become lightheaded. It makes sense that Hansel would grow up to be diabetic. The repartee between brother and sister is also occasionally amusing. Arterton and Renner are well suited for their respective roles.

What few flashes of joy there are, however, are badly bludgeoned by the film’s bellowing score, shoddily created 3D effect, and chopped-together editing.

Perhaps my nausea was a function of the multiplex IMAX in which I sawHansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, but the sound was nevertheless overwhelming, and almost earsplitting.

A vibrating cranium may also explain why the visuals often seemed so poorly done. The 3D effect, which was achieved in post-production so the studio could cash in on 3D surcharges, frequently went in and out of focus. And it was occasionally blurry, which combined with the fast-paced nature of the frequent action sequences led to double vision and headache. If one is tempted to see this film, avoid 3D at all costs.

Adding to the picture’s woes is a plot that seems like it was cobbled together at the last minute. Subplots are briefly touched-upon and then abandoned with haste.

Basic incongruities stack up. One example: For some unexplained reason the magic of dark witches fails to work against light witches and their offspring until the final sequence when, for some, unexplained reason, it suddenly does work.

While Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters never falls into the trap of taking itself too seriously (a major problem with the similarly titled, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), the movie fails to live up to its admittedly meager promise. Substituting commotion for cleverness, this is one better suited for cable than the theater.

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On being a generous critic

by Sonny Bunch on January 24, 2013

I’ve been flipping through* Nell Minow’s 101 Must-See Movie Moments, an entertaining ebook that highlights, well, must-see moments in films that you might not have caught (or lesser-talked-about moments in films that everyone has caught). At $1.99 (and free for Amazon Prime members), it’s a steal, especially considering all of the work that must have gone into it. I just want to comment on one quick thought by Nell in the introduction:

The single most important attribute for a career in reviewing each week’s big studio releases is an infinite capacity for awful movies. We become critics because we love to watch great movies and then we end up sitting through an endless series of buddy cops, gross-out comedies, second-rate superheroes, chases, explosions, and remakes of television shows that some studio executive loved as a kid. And yet, almost always I can find some moment—some performance, line of dialog, production design, or insight—that makes me glad I saw it.

The most important attribute in the modern day movie reviewer** is the capacity of generosity. In order to be helpful to your readers, you must accept a film on its own terms. Which is to say: One shouldn’t complain that an Arnold Schwarzenegger film isn’t a Kubrickian contemplation on the nature of man. It’s easy to slam your standard Hollywood offering—easy, and oftentimes warranted—but it can get awfully boring recounting the ways in which our entertainment lets us down. Trying to find an element of excellence in everything you see is harder but, ultimately, more rewarding in the long run. This, of course, doesn’t mean pretending to like everything or cutting bad films an infinite amount of slack.

On an entirely unrelated note: I’m going to a preview of Hansel and Gretel this evening. I really hope they screen it for us in 3D!

*Can one really “flip through” an ebook? Hard to say.

**There’s an important yet blurry distinction to be made between “movie reviewer” and “film critic.” I break it down something like this: The former connotes an element of service for your readers—”Will you like this movie?”—whereas the latter deals with slightly headier concerns—”Should anyone like this movie and what does it tell us about the medium in which it exists?” But your mileage may vary.


Review: ‘The Last Stand’

January 18, 2013

Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to the big screen in a starring role for the first time since 2003’sTerminator 3 in The Last Stand, an aggressively non-cerebral throwback to the action genre he so thoroughly dominated during the 1980s and 1990s. It’s nice to have him back. Schwarzenegger stars as Ray Owens, a one-time Los Angeles cop who has […]

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‘Zero Dark Thirty’ review

January 11, 2013

The screen is black. Voices shout at us as we stare into the void. They are radio recordings from 9/11: The sounds of confused air traffic controllers overlap with the words of a frightened woman stranded at the top of one of the towers, choking on smoke while an emergency operator struggles to keep her […]

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Kubrick at LACMA

January 7, 2013

I’ve got a piece on the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art over at the Free Beacon. The exhibit’s definitely worth checking out if you are in the city and have two or three hours to kill. I want to expand on one point I made early on about Kubrick’s legacy, […]

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Review: Jack Reacher

December 21, 2012

Christopher McQuarrie, the writer-director of Jack Reacher, is an oddly underused Hollywood asset. After winning an Oscar for The Usual Suspects (1995), McQuarrie did not reemerge on the big screen until his directorial debut in the wildly underrated The Way of the Gun (2000). He was then silent for another eight years before reteaming with The Usual Suspects’ Bryan Singer to […]

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