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It sure does feel like the romantic comedy is back.

For a stretch, it seemed as though the rom-com was fading away. However, recent years have shown an upswing in these sorts of films, powered largely by the relentless content churn of Netflix. And in Hollywood, success begets success (or at least imitations of success). So we get more.

(Please note: this is NOT a complaint. I love romantic comedies and am thrilled that they seem to be bouncing back to an extent, though I highly doubt we’ll ever see a return to the glory days. Still, I’ll take what I can get, even if what I get isn’t always particularly original or exciting or … good.)

Next up in the parade of fun, forgettable, semi-disposable rom-coms is “Shotgun Wedding,” coming to us courtesy of Amazon Studios. The film – currently streaming on Amazon Prime – stars Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel and is directed by Jason Moore. It’s a throwback of sorts, a goofy action-packed romp that makes a lot of noise even though the ultimate outcome is never in doubt. You’ve seen this movie before, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a nice enough time seeing it again.

A good comedy will make you laugh. A GREAT comedy will make you laugh and think. Unfortunately, too often, when a film aspires to the latter, they wind up not just failing in that regard, but whiffing on the former as well. Laughs have a tendency to evaporate when people try too hard.

And let me tell you – “You People” tries WAY too hard.

On paper, this Netflix movie should have been a slam dunk. The people involved have legitimate comedic bona fides, with Kenya Barris behind the camera directing from a script he co-wrote with Jonah Hill. Hill also stars, alongside some pretty heavy hitters – Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Duchovny, Nia Long and Eddie F---ing Murphy, among others. Plus, you’re looking at a film intended to mine humor from the culture clashes and social dynamics of the current day. All in all, looking pretty good.

Right up until you, y’know, watch the thing.

“You People” is one of those movies that can’t get out of its own way, trying to be all things to all audiences and instead failing to please anyone. There are some cringe-y comic moments and some feints at social awareness, but the film never manages to find anything resembling balance. The wild variances in tone make it difficult to settle in and wind up undermining whatever moments of humor might be found. It seems like a good faith effort, but one sorely wanting in terms of execution.

It used to be that if a film was going to get a sequel, that sequel would happen soon after the original. No matter how successful the movie, if a follow-up hadn’t at least gone into production within a couple of years, it probably wasn’t going to happen.

Obviously, that is no longer the case. We’re seeing more and more of these legacy-quels, sequels landing a decade or more after the original. As the mainstream movie landscape shifted, the value of IP increased dramatically.

All that said, it’s tough to know exactly how to categorize “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the new film from director James Cameron. This new film comes out some 13 years after its predecessor (a film that, in case you’ve forgotten, remains the highest-grossing film of all time), but Cameron was TALKING about the sequel(s) even before the first film made well over $2 billion worldwide.

Still, “Avatar” was kind of old news, a movie that never really made a lasting pop cultural impact despite its massive commercial success, so it feels a little weird that we’re getting a sequel now, so long after the fact. Of course, this is James Cameron we’re talking about, who has demonstrated not just a mastery of blockbuster filmmaking, but of blockbuster sequel filmmaking – this is the dude who made “Aliens” and “Terminator 2,” after all. Bet against him at your peril.

And all things considered? “Avatar: The Way of Water” has the makings of yet another winning bet.

*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.

“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.

Monday, 21 November 2022 16:21

‘A Christmas Story Christmas’ worth celebrating

Written by Allen Adams

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.

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.

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.

Monday, 24 October 2022 14:41

The Rock of Eternity – ‘Black Adam’

Written by Allen Adams

Passion is a funny thing. Sometimes, the ideas that consume us will seem strange to the outside observer. No matter – when the muse strikes, we must follow it.

And when the muse strikes The Rock, well … he winds up starring in a massive blockbuster revolving around a relatively obscure comic book character who vacillates between hero and villain depending on who happens to be writing him at the time.

“Black Adam” is the latest installment in the DC Extended Universe. Directed by Jaume Collet-Sera and starring the aforementioned Dwayne Johnson, this film places Black Adam – a Shazam-adjacent villain who has in recent years evolved into more of an antihero type – at the center of the frame.

While certainly not in the top-tier of well-known DC properties, Black Adam has a couple of things going for him as a character. He’s got a power set that matches well with the DCEU’s heaviest hitters, which helps. And he’s the type of guy who maybe isn’t so worried about how alive his foes are when he’s done with them.

Oh, and the Rock has apparently been obsessed with him since childhood, so that certainly doesn’t hurt when it comes to getting a movie made.

“Black Adam” isn’t the best DCEU movie we’ve gotten, but neither is it the worst. It is firmly in the middle. There’s a ton of pretty good action and superheroic violence. The narrative – such as it is – is rather lacking. And there’s a bit of “ends justify the means” moralizing that gets a bit complicated, along with some ham-fisted attempts to address things like colonialism and complex geopolitics – problems that can’t be solved by punching them. Still, there’s some fun to be had here. And let’s be real – it was long past time we got to see The Rock do the superhero thing.

A lot of ink has been spilled bemoaning the death of the rom-com. For years now, we’ve been watching as studios have largely eschewed venturing into the once-well-worn territory, ceding that particular ground to the likes of Netflix and other streaming services.

But while this new breed of rom-com has proven extremely successful – particularly among younger viewers – the reality is that there’s still no substitute for a good old-fashioned star-powered romantic comedy, preferably set in some sort of tropical paradise. It’s a classic formula – grab a couple of A-listers, give them some sort of conflict and set them loose against a beautiful backdrop. Complain about formulaic filmmaking all you want – there’s a reason there’s a formula in the first place.

“Ticket to Paradise” hits all those notes. A-listers? Hell, you’ve got Julia Roberts and George Clooney at the top of the call sheet. That’s a big check. Beautiful backdrop? How’s Bali sound? Another check. Conflict? Divorced couple must come together to put a top to daughter’s ill-advised wedding – check. It’s all here, a throwback to the golden age of the modern rom-com some two or three decades past.

None of this is to anoint this movie an all-timer, by the way. It’s shaggy and a little repetitive, rife with the cliches that tend to mark the genre. There’s not a lot in the way of character development and there are plenty of holes in the narrative. Roberts and Clooney are largely cruising on their charisma and screen presence.

Then again, they’ve got a TON of that. For me, that’s enough.

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