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  • Contradictory complexity and exquisite isolation – ‘The Power of the Dog’
    Contradictory complexity and exquisite isolation – ‘The Power of the Dog’

    Few film genres lend themselves as well to binary ideas as the western. There’s a fundamental divide at the heart of most movies like this – black hats/white hats, urban/rural – that allows a lot of room for different sorts of storytelling exploration. And when filmmakers find ways to subvert that shorthand, the possibilities for interesting, dynamic filmmaking expand exponentially.

    “The Power of the Dog” is the latest film from writer/director Jane Campion. Based on the 1967 Thomas Savage novel of the same name, the movie delves deep into the internalized toxicity that can spring from tough-guy isolationism. It’s a look at how damage done early on can fester and scar, fracturing our capability to forge genuine human connection and leaving behind little more than a misshapen and often malevolent masculinity.

    It is also a beautifully-crafted work, one that evokes the stark beauty that springs from nature’s emptiness. It’s a story of the many forms that love can take, and how not all of those forms are healthy … as well as the consequences that can arise when those incompatible loves come crashing together. And it’s a story of discovery – both internal and external – and what can happen if and when we’re unprepared for the realities therein.

  • Holiday rom-com ‘Single All the Way’ offers feel-good formula
    Holiday rom-com ‘Single All the Way’ offers feel-good formula

    My feelings about Netflix’s cornering of the romantic comedy market are fairly well-documented at this point. The algorithmically-driven quantity-over-quality vibe to their productions aren’t the most encouraging, even to those who have predetermined affinities for rom-coms.

    Look, Netflix throws a lot of stuff against the wall to see what sticks. It’s part of their model and pretty obviously a successful one, even if it means that a lot of not-great works get made. However, by definition this also means that sometimes, something does stick, resulting in a genuinely good movie.

    “Single All the Way,” unfortunate title aside, sticks.

    The rom-com – directed by Michael Mayer from a script by Chad Hodge – tells the tale of a man living in California returning to his hometown in New Hampshire for the holiday, capturing both the spirit of the season and the charm of romance in a way that is engaging and beautifully inclusive. It’s a story of what it means to search for love and how that search can become entangled with every other aspect of our lives, for better and worse.

    It is adorable and funny, the kind of film that manages to be heartwarming without feeling saccharine and/or cheesy (though there are admittedly moments of both, though not to the movie’s detriment). Christmas is in the air, to be sure … but so is love.

  • Nothin’ but a G thing – ‘Listening to Kenny G’
    Nothin’ but a G thing – ‘Listening to Kenny G’

    What does it mean to be a pop culture punchline? Specifically, how does an artist deal with the idea that their creative output is sneered at and viewed as somehow lesser by those “in the know” while also being consumed and enjoyed by a significant fandom?

    Let’s hear it from a primary source – Kenny G.

    “Listening to Kenny G,” a documentary from filmmaker Penny Lane, is the latest installment of HBO’s ongoing “Music Box” series of music-related docs. It’s a surprisingly compelling dive into what it means to be Kenny G, the best-selling instrumental artist of all time and the bane of many a jazzhead’s overwrought aesthetic.

    Over the course of 97 minutes, we’re given insight from both sides of the Kenny G debate – a debate that remains surprisingly polarizing considering how long the saxophonist has been part of the pop culture firmament.

  • ‘House of Gucci’ a campy, chaotic cyclone
    ‘House of Gucci’ a campy, chaotic cyclone

    I love it when a filmmaker takes a big swing. It’s immensely satisfying to watch and realize in real time that what is happening on the screen is the result of multiple wild decisions, all made with the intent of making the movie in question as much … itself … as possible.

    And when you get to see a filmmaker take TWO such swings in the span of just a couple of months, well – I’m here for it.

    So it is with Ridley Scott, whose latest is “House of Gucci,” the frankly bonkers dramatization of the somehow-even-MORE-bonkers true story behind the battle for control of the Gucci fashion dynasty. Based on the 2001 book “The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed” by Sarah Gay Forden, it goes deep into the bizarre machinations that led to the dissolution of familial command of the company.

    (This follows Scott’s equally ambitious and (almost) equally weird, yet tonally and thematically distinct “The Last Duel,” which came out mere weeks ago following a lengthy COVID delay.)

    But where “The Last Duel” was self-serious, “House of Gucci” is high camp, a telenovela run through Google Translate multiple times and ultimately landing in some sort of feverish linguistic no-man’s-land, ostensibly Italian but lacking any sort of consistency from character to character. It is over the top in a bizarre but incredibly watchable way – it’s as though different actors are performing in different movies, only to have the whole thing thrown together.

    It is, to be frank, a train wreck. A delightful and oft-mesmerizing train wreck, yes, but very much off the rails.

  • ‘Encanto’ offers magical family fun
    ‘Encanto’ offers magical family fun

    Sixty films.

    That’s the number reached by Disney Animation Studios with the release of their latest film “Encanto.” It’s a staggering figure, even when you take into consideration how long they’ve been in the business of making movies. From 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” until now, Disney has been creating animated wonder.

    It’s literally generational – for over eight decades, families have been coming together to experience the magic of Disney animation. Kids who grew up on these movies have in turn shared them with their kids, who in turn would grow up to share them with their kids.

    And so it’s appropriate that this latest entry would focus so thoroughly on those notions. Magic and family and the magic of family. That’s “Encanto.”

    The film – directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard from a screenplay co-written by Bush and Charise Castro Smith, with original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda – is a captivating exploration of what it means to be a family and the importance of maintaining those connections no matter what obstacles might arise, all refracted through a lens of magical realism.

    It is charming and sweet; warm, feel-good family fun of the sort that we’ve come to expect from Disney. And while it might be on the slighter side, there’s no denying that viewers young and old will be swept up into this wondrous world – there will be plenty of laughs and yes, perhaps a few tears as well.

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