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  • ‘Firestarter’ a lukewarm remake
    ‘Firestarter’ a lukewarm remake

    Stephen King is having a … well, what exactly? It’s hard to call it a moment when it feels like we’ve been watching a steady stream of adaptations of his work for years now. And you can’t really call it a Renaissance or a comeback, if only because his popularity never really waned in any real way.

    Anyway – whatever it is, he sure is having it.

    The latest adaptation (or re-adaptation) is “Firestarter,” based on King’s 1980 novel. This new film – directed by Keith Thomas from a screenplay by Scott Teems – is the second cinematic adaptation of the work, following the 1984 version that, among other things, helped catapult young Drew Barrymore into superstardom. With Jason Blum’s Blumhouse productions on board, you might expect a leap forward in quality; they do have a knack for solid horror offerings.

    Unfortunately, this new version instead fails to capture the spirit of the source material, leaving the viewer with a film that – ironically – lacks heat. There’s a flatness to the proceedings that undercuts the possibilities inherent to King’s work; parts of the film feel rushed and/or unfinished, with those cohesion-lacking moments impacting the rest of the film.

    It’s not a BAD film – I’d argue that it’s better than the 1984 version, though that might be damning it with faint praise – but neither is it a particularly good one. Instead, we get something that feels disposable and unnecessary; if you’re not going to try and do anything new, why bother with a remake at all?

    Correction: if you’re not going to try and do anything AT ALL, why bother?

  • Back to school – ‘Senior Year’
    Back to school – ‘Senior Year’

    For some, the time they spent in high school is a highlight of their lives. They look back on those days with fondness and nostalgia, rose-colored memories of what it meant to be young with the whole world in front of them.

    Now imagine if that person had the last few weeks of that experience snatched away from them by circumstance, only to be given the opportunity to make up for lost time many years later.

    That’s more or less the premise of “Senior Year,” the new Rebel Wilson-starring Netflix comedy. Directed by Alex Hardcastle and featuring three credited screenwriters, the film is the story of a young woman who winds up in a 20-year coma after an accident, only to wake up and want nothing more than to finish the triumphant high school career she was mere weeks from completing two decades earlier.

    So yeah – adult woman with teenager brain goes back to high school. Honestly, seems like an idea with potential, but alas, said potential is never realized. Instead, we’re left with a film that consistently and constantly plucks the lowest-hanging fruit; the whole thing is packed with lazy jokes and more than a few inherent ethical questions that no one involved seems all that interested in acknowledging, instead choosing to ignore anything but the path of least resistance.

    There are a few flashes here and there, where you can see the good movie that might have been made. However, they are VERY few, resulting in a film that never quite manages to live up to its central conceit.

  • ‘Sneakerella’ puts heart and sole into a classic tale
    ‘Sneakerella’ puts heart and sole into a classic tale

    Look, I’m with you – we 100% did not need yet another cinematic riff on “Cinderella.” There are plenty of those, whether we’re talking direct or indirect, and after the abysmal jukebox musical version that Amazon Studios gave us last year, one would have hoped we’d get a bit of a reprieve.

    We did not.

    So as you might imagine, I was not particularly excited to check out the new Disney+ film “Sneakerella.” The notion of a gender-swapped sneaker-culture-based adaptation sounded frankly exhausting, but I sat down and fired it up anyway.

    As it turns out, it’s better than I expected. Not a great movie, mind you, but not bad. Not bad at all. And when it comes to adaptations of this classic fairy tale, not bad is actually pretty darned good. Driven by a charming young cast and some decent musical numbers, “Sneakerella” manages to put a genuinely interesting spin on the beloved story.

    It’s not all good, of course – the film has its share of issues – but as far as efforts toward inclusive storytelling go, director Elizabeth Rosenbaum and company make something that feels reasonably progressive in its outlook. The standard clichés still very much apply, but all in all, there’s more good than bad here.

  • The mystical mayhem of ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’
    The mystical mayhem of ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’

    What if the biggest franchise in the history of cinema was given carte blanche to do (and undo) whatever they wanted in the name of storytelling?

    That’s essentially what happened with the Marvel Cinematic Universe once the concept of the multiverse was introduced. Basically, the MCU can now do anything and everything it chooses to any character, all with the knowledge that, should they so choose, they can simply handwave it away with one sentence about another universe.

    The latest entry in the series (number 28, but who’s counting?) is “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” directed by the legendary Sam Raimi from a script by Michael Waldron. It’s an effort to go deeper into the implications of the aforementioned multiverse and the impact that can be had on it by those who possess both the willingness and the capability to cross from universe to universe.

    It’s a sequel to 2016’s “Doctor Strange,” of course, but it also connects directly with an assortment of other MCU properties from both the film and television realms. The film features more horror and horror-adjacent action than other MCU films while also embracing moments of genuine slapstick, both of which are Raimi hallmarks.

    However, this is a movie that lost its original writer/director Scott Derrickson midstream … and there are spots where you can definitely see the seams, particularly in the film’s front half. It is busy and a bit confusing at times. And while it’s always advisable to be caught up with previous offerings when you go in, you almost have to have seen a couple of things – “Wandavision” most prominently – to fully understand what’s going on.

    Still, the pros outweigh the cons. Benedict Cumberbatch has the snarky charm cranked up, there are a ton of cameos and Easter eggs and Sam Raimi gets to show off the uniquely skewed style and aesthetic that made him famous. It’s a Marvel movie infused with cosmic (and comic) horrors, a combination that results in an engaging, albeit uneven superhero adventure.

  • ‘Along for the Ride’ a sweet, inoffensive teen romance
    ‘Along for the Ride’ a sweet, inoffensive teen romance

    Few times are as turbulent in a young person’s life as the transition from adolescence to adulthood. At least, that’s what the lion’s share of pop culture from the past few decades would have us believe.

    As such, we’ve come to expect certain specific beats when those stories unfold onscreen. We have seen minor variations on the same themes so many times that they’re essentially baked into the way we process these types of films. Even when we don’t know what’s coming, we know what’s coming.

    Writer/director Sofia Alvarez doesn’t reinvent the wheel in her new film “Along for the Ride,” adapted from the 2009 Sarah Dessen novel of the same name. There’s a lot that will ring familiar, particularly at the center of the film; you’ve seen this movie before. However, Alvarez finds enough differences on the periphery to give the film a pleasant charm and keep you from experiencing too much teen romance déjà vu.

    It's not a complex movie or a challenging one, but there’s some entertainment value here. The obstacles are mild and the triumphs are mundane, but the overall effect is a soothing 100-or-so minutes of low-stakes high school romance. Not much happens, but that’s OK – there’s value in just hanging out.

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