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Tuesday, 16 July 2019 19:34

See you later, alligator – ‘Crawl’

Written by Allen Adams

Appearances can be deceiving.

A lot of the time, you can watch a trailer or two and just KNOW that particular movie is going to be good or bad. A handful of seconds of footage and a basic idea of plot and provenance and you feel confident of your opinion. This movie will be great, that movie will be terrible, etc.

But sometimes – not often, but sometimes – your seemingly solid take is dead wrong.

I was pretty sure “Crawl” was going to be a bad movie. The overwrought scenes in the trailers, the fundamental silliness of the central plot – all of it spelled mediocre-at-best genre fare. It was the sort of movie that I almost didn’t bother to see, so sure was I of what I would get. Seriously – if we’d had three wide releases this week, this would almost certainly have been the unseen bronze medalist.

I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong.

Now, I’m not saying that “Crawl” is a GOOD movie, because it is not. It is shlock. But it is beautifully sincere, well-crafted shlock. It is shlock that is gleefully and unapologetically itself. It is fully committed to the bit to such a degree that it quickly becomes extremely hard not to lean into it yourself.

Basically, you never forget how ridiculous it all is, but neither does the movie, and so everyone just embraces it and has a fantastic time.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019 19:31

‘Stuber’ far from five stars

Written by Allen Adams

Who among us doesn’t love a good buddy comedy? A movie with a dynamic central pairing that has good chemistry and good comedic timing – the sort of movie that can coast on the charisma of the foundational duo – can really be a great time. The right casting can cover for a lot of issues in terms of story and style.

“Stuber” is ALMOST such a movie.

The buddies in question are Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista – and honestly, it’s a really good match. They’re a wonderful set of contrasts, in terms of both sensibility and physicality. There’s an ease between them that makes for an engaging relationship.

Unfortunately, it isn’t enough. There’s a stylistic inconsistency on the part of director Michael Dowse – the film can’t seem to choose a tone, leading to some shifts in energy that are pretty jarring. Add to that a muddy script from Tripper Clancy and you’re left with a film that, while entertaining at points, fails to fully utilize the considerable abilities of the two performers at its center.

Tuesday, 09 July 2019 20:17

Sunshine and shadows – ‘Midsommar’

Written by Allen Adams

Movies rarely surprise us anymore.

Part of it springs from the sorts of movies that get made – while blockbuster franchise films are usually fun, they’re rarely surprising. Biopics tend to be about people we already kind of know. And even Oscar bait offerings have a certain predictability.

Part of it comes from the deluge of trailers and press junkets and preview articles – it’s tough to feel surprised by anything that happens in a film that you’ve been hearing about for months.

But then you have a movie like “Midsommar,” written and directed by Ari Aster, who surprised us all with his debut feature “Hereditary” and apparently decided he would go ahead and do it again. While the content machine certainly churned around this latest film, it never lost the air of mystery that surrounded it. The potential was there for surprise.

And boy oh boy, did it ever deliver.

“Midsommar” is one of the weirder wide releases that we’ve gotten in quite some time, a bizarre and occasionally gruesome puzzle box of a movie rendered all the darker by the fact that it never actually gets dark. You wouldn’t think placing most of the action in bright sunshine would somehow make things more unsettling, but Aster takes advantage of an unexpected truth – the brightest lights cast the deepest shadows.

It’s tough to argue that the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t one of the most monumental achievements in the history of the medium. Regardless of how you feel about the content of the movies – some people just don’t dig superhero flicks – you cannot deny that the unspooling of the MCU saga over more than 20 films is an incredible achievement.

The culmination of that arc was “Avengers: Endgame,” but despite what you might think, that film was not the end of Marvel’s so-called Phase 3.

That honor goes to “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” a film that puts Tom Holland’s excellent Spider-Man front and center once again while also serving to both cleanse the palate and pick up the pieces after the paradigm-shifting events of the previous film. It’s a chance to view the aftermath of what has come before while also laying the groundwork for what comes next.

It’s also a delightful standalone adventure in its own right, a quippy, flippy movie packed with web-slinging action and some first-rate comic beats. In addition, we get our first look at a world still working its way through the everyday logistical chaos left by the Snap – or the Blip, as the kids apparently call it. A first look at a world without Tony Stark.

There’s something to be said for a story whose narrative can be explained with elevator-pitch brevity. While intricate plotting can be an engaging, thrilling part of a book or film, it can also be nice to enjoy the simplicity of getting the essence of the thing in a single sentence.

“Yesterday” – directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis – is a magnificent example of the latter. “Singer-songwriter wakes up as the only person who remembers The Beatles.” That’s it. That’s what this movie is about. Simple.

Of course, that simplicity is deceptive. It’s a great hook, but what next? How do you take your admittedly-fascinating idea and build it into a story? It’s a dilemma that Boyle and Curtis struggle with a little more than one might have hoped, but the film still hangs together well thanks to Boyle’s strong-as-ever visual stylings, a top-notch lead performance and – of course – the music.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019 17:00

‘Toy Story 4’ plays well with others

Written by Allen Adams

I didn’t want “Toy Story 4.”

Yes, I understand that sequels are valuable currency in the cinematic realm these days. And no, it’s nothing against Pixar – my admiration for their work is significant and well-documented. I just remember being so innately, fundamentally satisfied with how the trilogy wrapped up that the idea of another movie felt somehow … wrong.

So it was with some trepidation that I stepped into “Toy Story 4,” trying to give the studio the benefit of the doubt while still expecting to be vaguely disappointed.

Instead, what I got was a shockingly worthwhile addition to the series, a film that moves the saga forward in a way that is both respectful of what has come before and enthusiastic about exploring new directions. It is consistently hilarious, of course, with performers old and new delivering big-time. And while it is undeniably heartfelt – prepare for things to get dusty a couple of times; you know, standard operating procedure with Pixar – it also pulls its punches just a bit, largely avoiding the grown-up-targeted emotional haymaker.

Honestly, it’s just about the best possible follow-up to a movie that seemingly needed no follow-up.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019 16:58

Dies and dolls – ‘Child’s Play’

Written by Allen Adams

One of the unexpected side effects of Hollywood’s current remake/reboot culture is the reflection of how the world has changed in the time between iterations of a story.

This societal shift is often most clearly reflected in horror movies; perhaps more than any other genre of film, they are of-the-moment representations of the culture at a certain time and place. Seriously – if you want an accurate notion of what sorts of issues, large and small, that are troubling the general public at a given point in time, you could do worse than checking out a horror flick.

You can learn a lot about people by what scares them.

And in the case of the new “Child’s Play,” we get a story that, almost by accident, is able to speak to those current fears in a way that its 1988 predecessor never could have dreamed.

Don’t get me wrong – this latest film has plenty of the ridiculous camp and over-the-top schlock that made its inspiration into a cult classic and basis for a shockingly deep franchise; did you know there were SIX (!) sequels to that film? It’s also surprisingly funny, albeit in a winkingly gruesome way – the filmmakers are gleeful with their distribution of spurting, squirting viscera. And the performances are strong as well, with the stars striking just the right balance of taking the work seriously while also being fully aware of the inherent ridiculousness.

It’s an unexpectedly good movie – one that has its shares of hiccups and bumps, but is a reasonably enjoyable time at the cinema all the same.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019 19:31

Don’t sleep on ‘Late Night’

Written by Allen Adams

As a rule, small movies struggle in the summertime. There’s only so much oxygen in the room during Hollywood’s Memorial Day-to-Labor Day promotional blitz, so it’s easy for a low-budget, non-franchise movie to get lost in the shuffle.

Most of the time, that would be the fate of a movie like “Late Night,” the Mindy Kaling-penned comedy directed by Nisha Ganatra and starring Kaling along with Emma Thompson. But this isn’t most of the time, thanks to Amazon purchasing the distribution rights at Sundance; with the power of Bezos behind it, the movie was able to elbow its way to a place at the table.

And it’s a good thing, too, because this movie is one of the funnier offerings we’ve seen thus far in 2019, a smart and sharp workplace comedy with something to say. It’s a film with bite, one willing to tell its story from a perspective we don’t often see. Toss in a killer cast and a legitimately funny script and you’ve got something special.

As Hollywood studios continue to clamor for viable franchises to turn into nine-figure blockbusters, there are going to be … let’s call them miscalculations. For every successful series that breeds summer hits, a half-dozen very expensive failures will land on screens with a thud before quietly (and quickly) disappearing.

Unfortunately, the latest effort in that vein “Men in Black: International” – the fourth movie in the “MIB” series and the first without stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones – falls into the latter category; the new film has its moments but is largely lacking the spirit of its predecessors.

It’s not an outright failure (well, creatively speaking – the initial box office estimates do not speak well of its commercial viability), but director F. Gary Gray never quite figures out how best to utilize the clear and present chemistry of his two leads; Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are dynamite together – the MCU has proven that a couple of times – but while their dynamics are a major highlight, the relationship isn’t enough to elevate the film beyond its myriad narrative shortcomings.

I was really looking forward to “Shaft.”

I have a genuine affection for the OG trilogy – 1971’s “Shaft,” 1972’s “Shaft’s Big Score!” and 1973’s “Shaft in Africa.” Between the of-the-moment aesthetic, the street-noir sensibility and the exquisite soundtracks, they are a delight to watch, ironically or otherwise. Likewise, I’m a fan of the decades-later, Samuel L. Jackson-starring 2000 sequel, also called “Shaft.”

So, the idea of returning us to the Shaft Cinematic Universe in the present day held obvious appeal for me, even though I understood that reconciling what I loved about the films with some of the more obviously dated and unenlightened aspects. All of those films are products of their times, for better or worse.

This new “Shaft” needed to do the same thing – be a product of its time. And by embracing the multi-generational aspect of the world that had been built with senses of both homage and humor, this new film – directed by Tim Story from a screenplay by Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow – is able to integrate the old with the new in some ways.

Unfortunately, there are some aspects that simply have not aged well, and the world has shifted far too much for them to be rejuvenated. There was a chance to say something about how certain societal attitudes have evolved in the past half-century. Instead, we get something whose regressive aspects are far too present. The stars are game and there are a few compelling stretches, but really, this movie feels like nothing so much as a missed opportunity.

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