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  • ‘Strange World’ visually stunning, narratively so-so
    ‘Strange World’ visually stunning, narratively so-so

    *climbs on soapboax*

    One of the trends we’ve seen in recent years is a tendency for certain populations to condemn films – often without even seeing them – for perceived messaging issues. These people are ridiculous and deserve whatever scorn or mockery you would like to send their way.

    *climbs down from soapbox*

    Everyone has a right to their opinion, even if that opinion comes from a place of ignorance. I’ll admit that it sometimes makes me want to overcompensate in the other direction, simply to balance the scales. I resist, but the temptation is there.

    Take “Strange World,” the latest animated offering from Disney. There are a lot of people out there on the internet who take great umbrage at a few specific aspects of the film (you can probably guess what they are right now, but even if you can’t, read on and I bet you’ll figure it out). Those criticisms are misplaced.

    This is a BEAUTIFUL movie, one whose animation allows for vivid and non-representational artistry. This film looks fantastic, bringing to life an unconventional landscape with bright color and vivid imagination. It has a wonderful central theme, digging into the notion of what it means to be a father and a son and how that can impact the way a life is lived moving forward. It is progressive in its messaging and features a wealth of quality vocal performances.

    However – and it’s a BIG however – “Strange World” never fully comes together. The narrative is thin at best and threadbare at worst, with a few rather gaping plot holes stirred into the mix. The characterizations are charming in their way, but somewhat lacking in depth. That lack of story cohesion makes the film, well … a little bit dull in spots, to be honest. Stunning to behold, to be sure, but still - dull.

  • ‘Spirited’ just Dickens around with a holiday classic
    ‘Spirited’ just Dickens around with a holiday classic

    “Oh great,” you say. “Another adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Just what we all need.”

    I get it. I do. Now, I’m not one to bemoan the ongoing efforts to tell and retell the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge – I love “A Christmas Carol” in just about all of its forms – but I understand if you’re over it. And admittedly, there have been A LOT of different takes on the tale.

    But even if you’re a bit of a … well … a bit of a Scrooge about this sort of thing, I urge you to give “Spirited” a chance.

    The new film – directed by Sean Anders from a script he co-wrote with John Morris – is a different take on the classic narrative, one that focuses on the mechanisms behind the scenes of the story we all know and love. With a top-tier central pairing, a delightful supporting cast and a frankly astonishing amount of high-energy production numbers (that’s right folks – it’s a musical, and a lavish one at that), it’s a very different take on “A Christmas Carol.”

    Different – and delightful.

  • ‘A Christmas Story Christmas’ worth celebrating
    ‘A Christmas Story Christmas’ worth celebrating

    Full disclosure: I was VERY apprehensive about this movie.

    As someone who bears a deep and abiding affection for the 1983 holiday classic “A Christmas Story,” I’ve always been leery about any efforts to recapture that movie’s particular quirky magic. The combination of sepia-tinged nostalgia and the verisimilitude of a certain flavor of childhood has always appealed to me.

    Let’s put it this way: people like me are the reason that the film gets those 24-hour marathons on basic cable.

    Bringing a grown-up Ralphie back into the fold seemed risky. Sure, it was kind of cool that they brought back as many people from that first film’s cast as possible, but even that felt a little stuntish. Why risk the associations so many of us have with the original on a decades-later sequel?

    Happily, I worried for nothing, because while this new film doesn’t fully measure up to its predecessor – and really, how could it? – “A Christmas Story Christmas” (currently streaming on HBO Max) manages to strike the balance between the old and the new, creating a different, yet still familiar holiday cinematic experience.

  • ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ a reverent work marrying past and present
    ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ a reverent work marrying past and present

    One of the longstanding truths about the realm of comic books is that death isn’t really death. With vanishingly few exceptions, the death of a Marvel or DC character tends to be more of a temporary setback than any kind of permanent loss.

    Of course, that isn’t how the real world works.

    When Chadwick Boseman passed away, we lost a truly gifted artist. We lost someone whose immense talents were evident in everything he did, from Jackie Robinson to James Brown to Thurgood Marshall to, yes, T’Challa, the Black Panther. An irreplaceable star in the cinematic firmament was extinguished too soon.

    And yet … the show must go on.

    The massive critical, commercial and cultural success of 2018’s “Black Panther” – as well as its prominent placement in the mythology of the Marvel Cinematic Universe write large – meant that there was always going to a sequel, but what shape could that now take? Was it possible to make a film that both respected the memory of its fallen star and carried forward the singular and general narratives? Could even a filmmaker as talented as Ryan Coogler pull this off?

    The answer to those final two questions … is yes.

    “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a fascinating work of popular culture. Somehow, the parties involved have crafted a superhero film that is good in all the ways that these films need to be good – big action set pieces, memorable characters, some decent laugh lines, a story that works in micro and macro contexts – yet still maintains the more sophisticated effort to explore thornier societal ideas. All that, while also being immensely respectful and reverent of Chadwick Boseman’s memory. Threading that needle would seem nigh-impossible – but Coogler does it.

  • Dare to be stupid – ‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’
    Dare to be stupid – ‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’

    I’ve never made a secret of the breadth of my entertainment tastes. I take great joy in the fact that I can derive pleasure from creative works highbrow and lowbrow and everything in between. Sophisticated, sophomoric … doesn’t matter. There are many ways to engage.

    What this means is that, when something devastatingly and deliberately dumb comes along, I can meet it where it lives and delight in it on its own terms.

    Say, something like a biopic of a famed parody musician that turns out itself to be a parody of biopics? A film that fully embraces strangeness and stupidity in equal measure, producing something that becomes a transcendent (yet still utterly ridiculous) piece of pop culture?

    Something like “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.”

    The film – currently available on the Roku Channel – is directed by Eric Appel, who co-wrote the screenplay alongside the man himself, Weird Al Yankovic (Note: I acknowledge that it is customary to put “Weird” in quotes, but I won’t be doing that, because as far as I’m concerned, it is his first name). It purports to be a biopic, one that relates the rise to fame of the renowned pop parodist.

    And it is – sort of.

    You see, what “Weird” does is give the standard biopic the full-on Weird Al treatment. Every trope, every cliché, every bit of over-the-top nonsense you’ve ever seen in a rock and roll biopic? They’re here, but they’ve been run through the same cracked prism that has given us decades of parody songs. This movie is packed with the non sequiturs and random references that serve as the foundation of his music. It is outlandish and ridiculous and utterly bizarre.

    In short, “Weird” is, well … weird.

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