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  • The many ages of man – ‘Cry Macho’
    The many ages of man – ‘Cry Macho’

    For the most part, filmmaking is a young person’s game. The amount of energy required – creative, physical and otherwise – is staggering; it’s no surprise that most directors fade into film history in their later years.

    Clint Eastwood is not most directors.

    Say what you will about his late career output – let’s just call it “uneven” – but this is a guy who set the record for oldest director to win an Oscar 17 YEARS AGO and is still very much at it at age 91. Hell, he’s more prolific than the vast majority of his peers, producing more work than filmmakers less than half his age; dude’s made 14 films since that 2004 Oscar win, with eight of them just in the last decade.

    His latest is “Cry Macho,” currently in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. Eastwood also stars in this story – adapted by Nick Schenk from N. Richard Nash’s novel of the same name – of an aging horse trainer and former rodeo rider who winds up enlisted to retrieve his boss’s son from Mexico and bring him back to the States, only to find himself slowly drawn to the possibilities presented by this journey.

    It’s a surprisingly sentimental period piece, a movie that has more to say about the intersection of masculinity and emotion than you might expect from a filmmaker like Eastwood. The film does a good job of taking advantage of the bleak beauty of the setting, but some of that impact is sapped by the combination of some weak writing and a well-intentioned but stiff lead turn from Eastwood.

  • ‘Copshop’ a violent and entertaining action throwback
    ‘Copshop’ a violent and entertaining action throwback

    We all have our pop cultural comfort foods, the movies and music and books in which we delight even as we tacitly understand that they are not necessarily what others would deem great art. There’s a lot of stuff out there that might not capture the imagination of the majority, yet has an indelibly major impact on a select population.

    Of course, “great” is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?

    For instance, I’m not going to sit here and try and convince anyone that “Copshop,” the new film from grimy, crime-y writer/director Joe Carnahan, is great cinema. But I also can’t deny that I had a great time. It is a pulpy throwback of a movie, built on a foundation of ‘70s exploitation that will ring familiar to those who haunted certain aisles in their local video stores once upon a time.

    And it is a hoot.

    There’s something admirable about creative projects that are unabashedly themselves, and that’s the vibe you get from “Copshop.” The premise is ludicrous, the violence is over the top and characters are hard-boiled cartoons. But with everyone in on the joke, it stops being a joke – the people involved engage with just the right amount of seriousness, giving us a movie that is low-rent and ludicrous and legitimately entertaining.

  • ‘Nightbooks’ offers kid-friendly scares
    ‘Nightbooks’ offers kid-friendly scares

    I’ve always been a fan of movies aimed at kids. I loved them when I was young, sure, but even as I’ve grown older, I’ve maintained an affection for them. Granted, there’s a LOT of variance with regard to quality (and a bad movie is a bad movie, no matter its target audience), but unless they’re REALLY bad, I usually find something engaging about them.

    Still, one could argue that kid-oriented cinema has moved in the direction of more safe offerings in recent years. Looking back at the live-action children’s fare of my youth, I see a degree of intensity that is largely lacking today. Now, that isn’t to say all those movies were good – there were plenty of clunkers back then as well – but they seemed a bit more willing to push the audience.

    “Nightbooks,” the new Netflix film, is a bit of a throwback in that way. Adapted from J.A. White’s YA novel of the same name and directed by David Yarovesky, it’s the story of a boy who is captured by a witch and forced to tell her scary stories each night or else be killed. The “Hansel & Gretel” parallels are overt, and there’s more than a little Scheherazade thrown into the mix. It’s definitely on the darker side for a kids’ movie, for sure. And when you throw in the fact that horror legend Sam Raimi is a producer, well … you know you’re in for something different.

    Different … and pretty good.

  • Coupon clipping caper ‘Queenpins’ conveys clever comedy
    Coupon clipping caper ‘Queenpins’ conveys clever comedy

    We’re all familiar with the notion of coupons. Whether they’re bits of paper clipped from the weekend newspaper or codes procured from some website or another, coupons are a significant part of our consumer culture. Everyone recognizes that tiny thrill that comes with paying less.

    But when couponing is pushed to its extremes, things can get a bit … strange. Shoppers developing methods to maximize savings, winding up with rooms filled with groceries and other goods, all in pursuit of that thrill.

    And some people are willing to go even farther.

    “Queenpins,” the new film by writer/director team Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, draws its inspiration from a real story of coupons run amok, an international scheme that made its masterminds millions of dollars, all from exploiting those seemingly innocuous slips of paper.

    It’s a heist story, a caper story, yes – but it’s also a story about the lengths to which we will go in order to feel empowered, to feel as though we have some agency in the direction our lives take. It’s a charming and occasionally goofy story about female friendship wrapped in a pink-collar criminal enterprise, led by a dynamic and talented cast.

  • ‘Malignant’ bloody, bizarre and bloody bizarre
    ‘Malignant’ bloody, bizarre and bloody bizarre

    There are few directors who have had as thorough an impact on 21st century genre filmmaking as James Wan. While I personally run a bit hot-and-cold with Mr. Wan’s oeuvre, there’s no denying that he has played a big role in defining genre over the past couple of decades.

    Horror’s the big one, obviously – this is the dude who directed the first “Saw” movie and helped shepherd the first couple of installments of both the “Insidious” and “Conjuring” film series. That trio alone would place him as one of the creative movers and shakers in the industry.

    But then you take into account that he ALSO helmed “Aquaman” for the DCEU (and is also leading the sequel) and directed the seventh “Fast & Furious” movie and you’re looking at a guy with serious influence.

    Wan’s latest film is “Malignant,” currently in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. It’s a return to his roots of sorts, the kind of visceral and gnarly blood-and-guts horror that isn’t overly concerned with laying the groundwork for future films or continuing the stories of past ones. Instead, we get a gory and weird horror tale that delights in its own strangeness, the kind of movie that engages in gleefully in-the-moment deconstruction of its influences.

    That strangeness is amplified exponentially with an absolutely nutso third-act reveal that pushes us fully into the realm of Cronenbergian body horror, resulting in a movie that, while perhaps not traditionally scary, manages to evoke some emotional churn in its own gross, bizarre, kind of absurd way. All in all, this movie is bonkers.

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