‘Fant4stic’ isn’t Fantastic, ‘The Gift’ Shines, and ‘Compton’ is Moving

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been seeing movies. Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you. Since I’m on vacation from work, I’ve been spending my time watching movies, catching up on some sleep, and spending time with my family. So instead of spending hours writing individual reviews for the films I’ve seen, I’ve decided to talk about them all in one article, which will serve as a kind of recap of what’s good (and bad) in theaters right now.

Shaun the Sheep the MovieFirst up, a movie that hit theaters in the U.S. a few weeks ago, and that is Shaun the Sheep Movie, which is a gleeful and surprising hit from Aardman Animation. The film unfolds much like some of the great silent films, with no dialogue to be heard except the occasional “bahahaha” from our leading sheep friends. It’s a risky move, having a ninety minute feature with no dialogue whatsoever, but it’s quite startling just how brisk and fast paced it moves along, allowing the sheep, led by Shaun, to use their bodies as communication devices. I had a load of fun with this one, and if your theater has it, it’s well worth the time and it’s one the kids will love.

fant4sticOn the contrary, there’s another movie that hit theaters a couple weeks ago and it goes by the name of Fantastic Four, a small little film with humble beginnings and disastrous finalization. It’s unclear whether Chronicle-director Josh Trank is to blame for the mess that is the final product or if Fox is responsible for wrecking things, but what is clear is that this is among the most ill-constructed superhero movies ever made. It’s bad, and even that is an understatement. The entire running time left my jaw hanging open, wondering just how something this atrocious could be made in the modern age. And to those saying that all the negative reviews are because people are influenced by Chris Stuckmann, I say that you’re flat out wrong. If you think this is a good movie, you haven’t seen a good movie.

giftHowever, that same weekend saw the release of a movie smaller in budget and lacking in CGI action sequences and that movie is The Gift, the writing/directing debut from Joel Edgerton. In the film, Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall play a couple who are being stalked by one of Bateman’s character’s former high school classmates, named Gordo (played here by Edgerton). As the movie escalates, it transcends its could-be-typical-stalker-movie-tropes and becomes something so much more meaningful, laying on twist after twist until it reaches a flawless crescendo. It’s the year’s best thriller so far.

vacationI also got around to seeing Vacation, the new entry into the National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise. This time around, Ed Helms and Christina Applegate take over the roles of the Griswolds, a dysfunctional family that goes on a roap trip after Dad decides to take them all to Wally World, rehashing the same plot from the earliest film with Chevy Chase (who also makes an appearance here). There’s one bit in which Rusty (Helms) is discussing how this vacation will stand on its own after his son says, “I haven’t even heard of the first vacation.” This is a painfully awkward moment in which the writers seem to think they’re being clever in referring to the movie itself, and it falls flat. It’s troublesome to know that these are the guys working on the upcoming Spider-Man movie for Marvel.

man fromAnd then we arrive at this past weekend’s releases, one of which is a dud and one which is really worth your time, despite being convoluted and messy. We’ll knock the dud out of the park first, and that is Guy Ritchie’s latest film The Man from U.N.C.L.E. In it, Henry Cavill plays an American spy and Armie Hammer plays a Russian spy, and the two are put in a position in which they have to help other take down a common enemy. They work good together, and it’s fun seeing Superman and the Lone Ranger battling back and forth on screen, but the movie is so unbelievably average that it almost hurts. It’s better than Ritchie’s early work (Snatch and Lock Stock), but it isn’t as good as his Sherlock Holmes movies.

SOCLastly, there’s Straight Outta Compton, the movie bound to make a load of money at the box office this weekend, solidifying Universal’s dominance in 2015 to the point where it’s almost frightening. This movie, a biopic depicting the formation of NWA (the rap group consisting of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Easy E), is opened with a great first hour, and then it stumbles to find its footing as it descends into dramatic territory that doesn’t always work. But it does hit you emotionally, and it’s a moving piece of work, if flawed. But at two hours and thirty minutes, it doesn’t drag, and even though it falls a bit flat in the second and third acts, it doesn’t fall apart. It remains fairly consistent, and I thought it was a satisfying biopic sure to please fans of early hip hop.

I’m sure I’m going to get back into the groove, but I figured this was better than leaving you all without anything. I didn’t get in depth with any of those films, but hey. It is what it is. Make sure you go out and see The Gift if you haven’t already. It’s my pick.

benBen Lane is a freelance writer, film critic, Editor-in-Chief of Fortress of Film, and guest contributor for other movie sites.

Twitter: @benlanesreviews

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