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Wednesday, 14 November 2018 12:44

‘The Grinch’ a ho-hum holiday hater

Written by Allen Adams

Let’s be honest – we probably didn’t need another movie about the Grinch.

There’s no disputing that the chartreuse Christmas-hater is one of the most memorable characters of the many created by Dr. Seuss. The book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” was instantly beloved upon its 1957 publication, of course. And the 1966 animated special of the same name – featuring the vocal talents of horror legend Boris Karloff as both the narrator and the Grinch – has been an iconic part of the holiday season for half a century. Even the inferior live-action version from 2000, directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey, has developed an inexplicably affectionate following.

And yet, with all of that, we’ve still gotten another one.

“The Grinch” is different in that it features 3D animation, embracing the house style of producing studio Illumination (home to the “Despicable Me” franchise, among others); it’s Illumination’s second Seussian go-round after 2012’s “The Lorax.” But that’s more or less ALL that’s different; the film treads familiar territory, following in the footsteps of the films that came before. It’s all pleasant enough – and will undoubtedly crush at the holiday box office – but it doesn’t bring anything to the table that justifies revisiting an already-cherished tale.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018 12:42

The horrors of war – ‘Overlord’

Written by Allen Adams

Genre mash-ups are a tricky business. To be truly successful, they must stay true to the genres being addressed while also avoiding getting bogged down in tropes and clichés. Making something that is cohesive and entertaining requires a specific touch.

And when the genres you’re mashing up are horror and war, well … you’re swinging big.

“Overlord” takes just such a big swing. The J.J. Abrams-produced film – directed by Julius Avery from a screenplay by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith – is a stoned dorm room bull session come to fruition, a preposterous elevator pitch brought to life. It’s a joking dare taken seriously.

And it is a gory, absurd delight.

You’ve probably never said to yourself “I sure do want to see a World War II movie where a group of soldiers on a mission behind enemy lines wind up encountering an experimental Nazi lab that makes zombies.” I know I never have. That doesn’t make it untrue. Because that’s the thing – you ABSOLUTELY want to see that movie. And now you can.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018 12:37

‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ a tangled mess

Written by Allen Adams

Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy” of crime novels – “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” – are among the most popular books of the 21st century, selling tens of millions of copies.

The books were made into films by the Swedish production company Yellow Bird; with Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander (the titular Girl), they proved wildly popular. So popular that an American adaptation of the first book was made in 2011, directed by David Fincher and starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig.

However, plans for adaptations of the second and third books fell through. Instead, what we get it “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” based on the fourth book in the series, the first written by David Lagercrantz. This installment – directed by Fede Alvarez and starring Claire Foy as Salander – is an effort to continue the story set forth so brilliantly by Larsson.

Said effort is futile.

While there are moments where we’re reminded of the visceral power of Larsson’s story and Lisbeth’s character, too much nuance has been lost. Where once Salander was a relatable, complex person, this new narrative has rendered her largely inert, a collection of traumas dressed like a Hot Topic bargain bin and possessed of computer acumen indistinguishable from wizardry. There’s no reason to emotionally connect with her – even when the filmmakers unabashedly demand it.

Wednesday, 07 November 2018 13:40

‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ uninspired

Written by Allen Adams

As someone who spends a lot of time in movie theaters, I’ve seen a LOT of trailers. I don’t have a problem with that – I’ve always been a fan of previews. These days, my affinity is even greater because I know that odds are good that I’ll be seeing these movies, so it’s nice to know what’s coming.

However, every once in a while, I’ll see a trailer that simply mystifies me. It’s not that I think the movie will be good or bad (though it tends toward the latter) so much as I wonder how the film in question ever came to exist at all.

I got that feeling the first time I saw the trailer for Disney’s “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.” Like – was this a gritty reboot of the classic holiday ballet? What’s the deal with the four realms? Why is Morgan Freeman here? SO MANY QUESTIONS.

Alas, the answers I got were less than satisfying – superficially attractive, yes, but ultimately empty. It’s a beautifully wrapped gift with nothing inside, its connections to the supposed source material tenuous at best (you have to love a good “suggested by” caveat).

Wednesday, 07 November 2018 13:33

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ will rock you

Written by Allen Adams

You never know what you’re going to get with a biopic. Telling the stories of real-life people in a manner that is both narratively engaging and at least moderately truthful involves a lot of delicate decision-making … and results vary.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is one such biopic, relating the story of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. It doesn’t reach the heights of the genre’s best, but nor does it wallow in hagiography. It’s a bit too pat in some spots, a bit too muddy in others and there are some rather glaring omissions. But for all its relative fast-and-looseness with the truth, it serves as a lovely look back at one of popular music’s most compelling figures – a paean to a rock god.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018 12:08

Skate or die – ‘Mid90s’

Written by Allen Adams

There are a lot of pitfalls that come when an actor makes the transition to behind the camera. While there’s an undeniable understanding of film mechanics that comes from being on sets, there are no guarantees when making the leap from one role to the other.

And while you might not think it upon first glance, someone like Jonah Hill is actually well-suited for making that transition. Sure, a lot of people will never not see the foul-mouthed fat kid from “Superbad,” but the truth is that Hill has worked across genres in some great movies with some great filmmakers. He’s been in the room with a LOT of talents.

And he’s got a story he wants to tell.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018 12:05

‘Hunter Killer’ a suboptimal submarine movie

Written by Allen Adams

As the end of the year approaches, moviegoers can look forward to a deluge of quality films gracing screens as studios jockey for position in the coming awards season. There are a spate of great films looming just over the horizon.

But as the new submarine action thriller “Hunter Killer” aptly illustrates – we’re not quite there yet.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018 17:09

‘Halloween’ horrifies once again

Written by Allen Adams

When it comes to scary movies, you can conjure up all manner of ghouls and supernatural forces. Ghosts and monsters and gibbering creatures from beyond the dimensional veil – all of that stuff can make for solid scares.

But sometimes, all you need for good horror is a guy in a mask wielding a knife. He doesn’t have any special powers or superhuman abilities. He’s just a strong psychopath with an affinity and aptitude for stabbing.

That’s what made John Carpenter’s 1978 horror film “Halloween” such a classic. Just a dude killing people on Halloween. In a lot of ways, it was the Platonic ideal of the slasher movie. Of course, the film’s success led to sequels and reboots galore, with seven installments following the original and then a pair of Rob Zombie-helmed reimaginings.

So what was writer/director David Gordon Green going to do to set his own take on the tale apart? Well, plenty, but here are the two big ones: he got Carpenter’s blessing and then basically threw away all the convoluted canon. He flushed the ridiculous lore and made a straight-up 40-years-later sequel. That’s Green’s “Halloween.”

And you know what? We’re all the better for it.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018 17:45

Small steps and giant leaps – ‘First Man’

Written by Allen Adams

There are some stories that should be told over and over again. These are the stories that are a part of the fabric of who we are as a society, stories that represent the pinnacle of human capability in a tangible, visceral way.

The story of the moon landing is one such story. No matter how often the story is told and retold, no matter how many times it is referenced directly or obliquely in popular culture, it isn’t enough. It will never be enough. It’s a story we should keep telling with every increase in our capability to tell it.

“First Man” – directed by Damien Chazelle and adapted by Josh Singer from James R. Hansen’s “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong” – stars Ryan Gosling as that titular astronaut and relates his story as he walks the path that inexorably draws him toward space. It’s a portrait of the quiet aptitude and stoic readiness that made Neil Armstrong an ideal candidate for this leap into the unknown; it also examines the impacts of this journey (positive and negative alike) on those around him – particularly his family and his NASA compatriots.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018 17:42

Good times with ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’

Written by Allen Adams

As someone who considers himself a reasonably savvy moviegoer, I like to think that I’m not bad at discerning what the deal is going to be with a movie before I see it. That’s not to say that I think I have every plot point or aesthetic choice nailed down; I just mean that I’m good at predicting some general qualities from limited information.

Good, but far from perfect.

For instance, I was pretty sure I knew what I was going to get from “Bad Times at the El Royale” despite the fact that the publicity run-up wasn’t particularly thorough. The thing is written and directed by Drew Goddard, after all – he’s a prolific writer and producer, but the last time we got the writer/director double-dip, he gave us the exceptional meta-horror “The Cabin in the Woods.” I figured I was going to get something similar to that movie, a noir/neo-noir deconstruction-cum-parody.

But rather than a comment on a genre, Goddard – along with a fantastic ensemble cast – gives us a particularly well-executed example of that genre, one tinged with Goddard’s weirdo sensibilities and unique aesthetic sense. It twists and turns with abandon and is utterly remorseless in the sacrifices it makes in order to advance the narrative. It’s brutal and visceral and darkly funny – not quite what I expected, but a hell of a time nonetheless.

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