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Allen Adams

Allen Adams

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I love being surprised at the movies. In this day of franchise fodder and omnipresent trailers, it can sometimes be tough to go into a film with little in the way of preconception. So when the opportunity arises, it can be really rewarding.

Writer-director David Lowery’s new film “The Green Knight” was just such a rewarding experience for me. It’s based on the 14th century chivalric romance “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” but beyond that and the knowledge that the wonderful Dev Patel stars, all I knew was what I half-remembered from having read the original text some 30 years ago. So I didn’t really know what was coming.

What I got was a sumptuous visual feast, an aesthetic wonder; it’s truly beautiful to look at. The central performance is exquisite, which is key – anything less than excellence from your lead and this film simply collapses under its own weight. That’s mostly because it is also one of the most actively weird mainstream releases I’ve seen in some time – and that’s a good thing.

It is a fantastic and strange tale of a man set upon a journey he doesn’t fully understand, victimized by his own hubris even as he ventures through a world that is steadily shifting around him. It is a story of the difference between responsibility and obligation, between honor and shame, all playing out through the eyes of a lone knight on a quest whose seeming purpose slowly crumbles with each step forward.

There are a lot of people – directors and writers and actors and designers – who need to succeed in order to make a good movie. But that success is relative – it is possible for the work of one or a few to have an outsized impact on a movie, to be great even if their surroundings don’t quite measure up.

This is a long-winded and overly verbose way of saying that the new movie “Stillwater” – directed by Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote the script alongside Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bregdain and Noe Debre, and starring Matt Damon – is a so-so film that is nevertheless home to some outstanding individual work.

This story of an Oklahoma man who devotes himself to proving the innocence of his young daughter, jailed in France for a crime she claims not to have committed, drew inspiration from the real-life story of Amanda Knox, whose own salacious case of murder and wrongful conviction played out over the course of years back in the ‘00s. It’s a deep and often moving portrait of one man’s efforts to do what’s right, only to continually and thoroughly misstep … not to mention one of Matt Damon’s best performances in years.

(It should be noted that there’s an ongoing discourse surrounding “Stillwater” with regard to Knox and her feelings about having her ordeal used as fodder for the film; the parallels are fairly clear. The degree of control a person has over their own personal story becomes lessened when they move into the public eye, whether by choice or against their will. It might not be right, but it’s how it is, at least right now.)

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away … “

With those words, on an opening crawl that crept its way up from the bottom of movie screens all over the world, the “Star Wars” phenomenon was born. From those beginnings, an entertainment dynasty was born, one consisting of films, books, television shows, comic books, action figures, video games and literally any other creative content that one might be able to imagine.

But how much do you really know about how this phenomenon came to be?

In “Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars” (St. Martin’s Press, $29.99), authors Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman have attempted to provide a clearinghouse of sorts, an assemblage of interviews and other ephemera that covers the breadth of the Star Wars experience. Pulling from a variety of sources from across more than four decades, the book attempts to tell the entire story.

As to how successful it is? Well … that depends on your perspective.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021 11:59

Celebrity Slam - Beyond beef

The pleasure we take in digging into some nice juicy beef is well-documented in this space. There’s a lot of fun to be had in deconstructing the various petty conflicts that spring up between famous people. Some of them are fleeting, shooting stars that flash across our sightline to disappear into memory. Others linger on, feeding upon themselves in a self-involved ourobouros of ego and entitlement. Both have their merits, as far as Celebrity Slam is concerned.

However, there is one aspect of celebrity beef that we rarely address. In fact, it’s very possible that we have NEVER addressed it. What if the two parties make up?

It’s possible that we’ve dealt with squashed beef in the past, but nothing immediately springs to mind. The joy is in the conflict, to scorn and mock the oft-idiotic reasons that famous people decide to bitch at one another, whether it be face-to-face or via social media. How does one make fun of reconciliation? It’s tough to talk trash about people who have done the mature thing and come to an understanding like adults.

However, we should probably talk about this one. It seems that the long-lingering feud between Jay-Z and Kanye West has come to its end. Now, it was clear that the issues between them were fading, but the fact that Jay-Z offers up a guest verse on Kanye’s new album certainly would seem to indicate that most if not all bad feeling has been set aside.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021 11:57

Weird National Briefs (07/28/2021)

Wheels down

GORHAM (AP) — An airplane’s landing gear fell from the sky onto a golf course in Maine but no one was hurt, police said.

The strut with tire and wheel crashed onto the seventh hole fairway Tuesday evening at the Gorham Country Club, said Sgt. Ted Hatch of the Gorham Police Department.

The assembly left an indentation on the fairway.

The pilot was planning to land at Portland International Jetport but returned to New York upon learning part of the landing gear was missing, Hatch said.

The twin-engine Piper Navajo returned safely, conducting a belly landing at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, New York, he said.

TME – We assume he took a mulligan.

I dig M. Night Shyamalan movies.

Not all of them – he’s definitely got a couple of real stinkers in there – but for the most part, I’ve liked the films that he’s made. Frankly, there’s something refreshing about the dude and his work; he is clearly someone who makes movies that he likes and doesn’t really worry all that much about anything else. And thanks to the ongoing cultural impact of “The Sixth Sense,” he has enough creative capital to keep doing what he does.

Plus, he’s kind of on a pretty good run.

Since his sort-of-comeback with 2015’s “The Visit,” Shyamalan has reinvigorated his career, putting the previous decade or so – in which he became something of a punchline – in the rearview. That film, plus the double dip of 2016’s excellent “Split” and 2019’s I-liked-it-more-than-many “Glass” along with his work on TV shows like “Wayward Pines” and “Servant,” have him back in the conversation, albeit not quite at his turn-of-the-century heights.

His latest is “Old.” It’s a bit of an outlier for him; he directed and wrote the screenplay, as per usual, but this time, it’s an adaptation – a French graphic novel titled “Sandcastle.” But it’s the sort of supernaturally-tinged story we’ve learned to expect from him, with the same brand of ludicrous/intriguing elevator pitch description.

To wit: What if people went to a beach that made them age their entire lives in just a few hours?

I know, I know – it sounds goofy. And I suppose it is. But it is also precisely the sort of premise with which a filmmaker like Shyamalan can have some fun. It’s not perfect – things get clunky here and there and there’s one particular plot development that is actively icky – but the things that Shyamalan does well, he does REALLY well … and they’re on display here.

As someone who was a child in the mid-1980s, I am VERY familiar with G.I. Joe. I collected the action figures and other toys. I watched the cartoons (which were essentially half-hour ads for the action figures and toys) and read the comic books (ditto). Was it a thinly-veiled celebration of American imperialism and military superiority? Absolutely! They were still cool.

That connection means that I am 100 percent the target audience for Hollywood’s ongoing efforts to craft a G.I. Joe Cinematic Universe (GIJCU). Previous efforts like “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” (2009) and its 2013 sequel “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” weren’t what any right-minded moviegoer would call good, but even in their badness, my younger self felt validated.

The latest effort to get the GIJCU up and running is “Snake Eyes.” Previously titled “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe: Origins,” because of course it was, it serves as an origin story for one of the most beloved of all G.I. Joe characters, as well as introducing us to a handful of other character stalwarts. Directed by Robert Schwentke from a screenplay written by the trio of Evan Spiliotopoulos, Anna Waterhouse and the so-perfectly-named-I’m-not-positive-he’s-real Joe Shrapnel, the film serves as a reboot and reintroduction into the franchise.

And it’s actually … OK? Maybe even pretty good, if you tilt your head and squint?

It’s nothing spectacular, but compared to the low-rent cartoonishness of the previous efforts, it’s decent. The performances are surprisingly compelling, and while the action sequences are a bit uneven, the truth is that if you’re going to reboot this sort of franchise, you could do a lot worse than what they’ve done with “Snake Eyes.”

Another week, another Netflix romance tossed out into the universe.

Now, we’ve discussed at length the variance in quality that comes with Netflix’s steady churn of content. Some of those movies are very good, some are very bad and the rest – the majority – land somewhere in-between.

“The Last Letter from Your Lover” is one of those tweeners, though I’d say that it definitely falls closer to the “good” end of the spectrum. Based on the 2012 novel of the same name by JoJo Moyes, the film is directed by Augustine Frizell from a screenplay penned by Nick Payne and Esta Spaulding.

It’s a split story, the tale of a present-day journalist uncovering a cache of love letters alluding to a mysterious affair that took place some 50 years prior. With a pair of compelling female leads in Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley, it’s a charming, albeit somewhat predictable story – one that allows us to watch as two women separated by decades each come to terms with the realities of their romantic lives, even as they struggle to decide how to proceed.

One can never have too many recommendations when it comes to books. It’s always nice to have a few recommendations to work from when you’re picking out your next beach read. However, there are plenty of books out there that may never catch your attention because you think you already know the story.

You saw the movie, you see.

But sometimes, seeing the movie is no indication of the quality of the book. Sometimes, the story gets altered or rewritten or occasionally outright ignored. Occasionally, the only resemblance between the two will be a title.

Here are some books that will likely reward your attention this summer, along with the movie versions of said books that are inferior – often FAR inferior – to their source material. This is not to say that these films are all bad – though the majority of them certainly are that - so much as that the books that inspired them are so very much better.

(Note: I have one honorable mention on here that is an outlier in several respects. It is a TV show rather than a film and it is far and away the most engaging and entertaining of anything on the list. I’ve included it as an example of an adaptation that, while excellent, still fails to achieve the heights reached by its written predecessor.)

Here’s the list, in reverse chronological order (by movie – the books are all over the map). You could watch these movies to confirm what you already know in your heart to be true, but I would definitely advise against it.

Seriously, though – do yourselves a favor and just read the book instead.

I’m a sucker for sports history. It doesn’t even really matter the sport – I generally lean toward the Big Four, but honestly, any discussion of the athletic past will work. I have my sporting foci – baseball and football foremost among them – but as a general fan, I can derive joy from coverage of just about any athletic endeavor.

The moral to the story is simple: With the right pairing of subject matter and author, a work of sports nonfiction can really sing.

Longtime Boston sports journalist Leigh Montville is one of the best to ever do the gig, with a decades-long body of work covering some of the most iconic moments in American sports. His latest book is “Tall Men, Short Shorts – The 1969 NBA Finals: Wilt, Russ, Lakers, Celtics, and a Very Young Sports Reporter” (Doubleday, $29), a look back at the series that would ultimately mark the ending of the lengthy Celtics NBA dynasty of the 1950s and 1960s. A series that saw a certain bright young man – just 24 years of age and setting out on what would become an iconic career as an ink-stained wretch – crisscrossing the country as part of the now-legendary NBA Finals matchup between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers in 1969.

It’s also a wonderful bit of autobiographical writing, a reflection on the beginnings of a storied career. Those moments of memory and memoir are what elevate this book from what would be a perfectly adequate work of sports history into something more, a wry look back from someone who understands that the person he once was had a lot to learn.

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