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  • Ride together, die together - ‘Bad Boys for Life’ surprisingly good
    Ride together, die together - ‘Bad Boys for Life’ surprisingly good

    Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come … back … for you?

    That’s the question some might have been asking themselves upon hearing that there would be a third installment in the Will Smith-Martin Lawrence buddy cop action comedy “Bad Boys” series. With 17 years having elapsed since the last entry, would this latest offering work? Would the high-octane rapid-fire profane chemistry of the two leads hold up? What about the new directing team of Adil and Bilall? Would they be able to fill the explosion-and-bikini-filled shoes of action auteur Michael Bay?

    Do we need another “Bad Boys” movie?

    Ultimately, the answer is “no” – and that’s OK. We don’t need another “Fast & Furious” movie. We don’t need another Marvel/DC movie. We don’t need another cartoon musical. But they’re still fun, and that’s what “BBFL” is. It’s fun. A lot more fun than it has any right to be, in fact.

    This film is a throwback to a different era of action movie, one anchored and elevated by the still-strong comedic dynamic between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. It somehow manages to simultaneously acknowledge and ignore the passage of time, a look at two guys coming to terms with the realities of aging while ALSO still clearly being far and away the coolest dudes in the room. It’s ridiculous and sublime and unexpectedly honest, close to the best-case scenario for a story that’s been gathering dust for nearly two decades.

  • ‘Dolittle’ does even less
    ‘Dolittle’ does even less

    When a once-hyped big-budget movie sees its release time moved from prime real estate to the January tundra, it’s probably safe to assume that things haven’t worked out the way anyone anticipated. It’s not hard to tell when a studio has made the grim decision to cut its losses.

    “Dolittle” was obviously intended to be a tentpole, a spring/summer release meant to kick off a franchise. And with no-longer-Tony-Stark Robert Downey Jr. on board, it probably felt like an easy win, a no-brainer.

    Instead, it’s a meandering and pointless exercise in formulaic filmmaking. It is utterly lacking in any sort of spark, a flat and listless story told without any real excitement or urgency. There’s zero in the way of originality and even less in the way of engagement despite an absolutely all-star cast. Younger viewers might get some giggles, but even they will likely sense that something doesn’t sit right.

    Basically, “Dolittle” is a dumb movie that doesn’t really care how dumb it is.

  • War is hell – ‘1917’
    War is hell – ‘1917’

    I’m always a little suspicious when I hear a movie being lauded as a “technical achievement.” Not because I don’t value the technical aspects of filmmaking – quite the opposite, actually. It’s more that I worry that a film relies on technique over narrative, rather than letting each elevate the other. It doesn’t matter how beautifully a film is made if we don’t care about the tale being told.

    “1917,” directed by Sam Mendes from a script he co-wrote alongside Krysty Wilson-Cairns, was that movie. I’d been hearing for months about the film’s aesthetic and cinematographic ambition, the fact that the entire thing was constructed to look like a single unbroken take. Impressive, sure, but if we aren’t engaged by the story and the characters … who cares?

    Turns out I needn’t have worried, because while yes, it is an incredible technical achievement that elicits legitimate awe in spots, it is also a compelling story, as we follow along on a seemingly impossible mission laid at the feet of young men who can’t possibly be prepared for such demands, yet ultimately venture forth in an effort to do what’s right.

  • Depth charge - ‘Underwater’
    Depth charge - ‘Underwater’

    The ocean can be scary.

    Specifically, the deep ocean. We’re talking Mariana Trench deep. Challenger Deep deep. Miles down where the pressure is so intense that only particular brands of strange and strong life can exist. In many ways, the ocean floor is as alien to mankind as the moon. Perhaps more so.

    As such, it makes sense that such a place would inspire some sci-fi/horror storytelling. The latest offering in that vein is “Underwater,” directed by William Eubank and starring Kristen Stewart. One might suspect that it’s your usual mid-January fare, but don’t be fooled by the release date – it isn’t a great movie, but there’s enough here to warrant a look from sci-fi fans.

    There are shades of other, better films here – classics like “The Abyss” and the very obvious influence of the first two “Alien” movies – and “Underwater” occasionally wanders into the realm of the derivative. Still, the film is stylistically interesting, and Stewart is surprisingly engaging in a role that’s a bit of a departure for her. Again, not great, but not terrible either.

  • Sandler sparkles in ‘Uncut Gems’
    Sandler sparkles in ‘Uncut Gems’

    It’s easy to poke fun at Adam Sandler. His output in recent years has been largely of the “working vacation with my friends” variety, comedies that are basic and kind of lazy. Oh, and not particularly funny. Sandler has found a formula that works for him; the dude works only as hard as he has to, contenting himself with good enough.

    Of course, it’s ALSO easy to forget that when Sandler is given the right material and given a proper push, he can be brilliant. It’s been a while, but we’ve finally got another great performance to add to the list.

    “Uncut Gems,” directed by filmmaking brothers Josh and Bennie Safdie from a script written by the Safdies and Ronald Brownstein, is a visceral and gritty drama, a moment-in-time period piece set all the way back in the bygone time of 2012. It is a character study of a man with little character, a self-absorbed degenerate who can’t help but succumb to his own baser impulses. It is a brutal, ugly story, driven by a collection of terrible people, few of whom possess any kind of truly redeeming qualities.

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