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Monday, 19 September 2022 14:16

Whodunits all the way down – ‘See How They Run’

Written by Allen Adams

It’s hard to make a good movie about the theatre.

You would think that it would be relatively easy, considering the considerable overlap between the two worlds. It’s all about people coming together to tell a story, right? And yet, films that revolve around the theatrical world rarely seem to fully click. Sure, making the stage-to-screen transition with a script is a long-honored and successful tradition, but successful movies set in the theatre? Those come along much more rarely.

But rarely is not never.

Take “See How They Run,” the new film from Tom George. Written by Mark Chappell, it’s a screwball deconstruction of the time-tested murder mystery genre, bringing together layers and metalayers to mine laughs from one of the theatre’s most beloved traditions – the whodunit.

Packed with winks and nods to those of a theatrical persuasion, “See How They Run” offers a shaggy combination of affection for and skewering of the conventions of the theatre. All of it refracted through a foundational lens of the Grand Dame of mystery herself, Agatha Christie. It’s a murder mystery within a murder mystery within a murder mystery – whodunits all the way down.

Monday, 19 September 2022 13:16

‘Do Revenge’ a smart, satiric dark comedy

Written by Allen Adams

I’ve long been a proponent of films set in high schools. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories, so there is that, but I’ve also found that there’s a lot of malleability inherent to high school movies. They can exist on their own merits, yes, but they can also serve as wonderful palettes upon which to explore other genres, tropes and ideas.

Think of it as the “X, but in high school” categorization.

The new Netflix film “Do Revenge,” directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson from a script she co-wrote with Celeste Ballard, is a great example of this kind of movie. It’s almost a pastiche of its influences, pulling from classic dark teen comedy and elevated cinematic and genre fare alike. Imagine “Strangers on a Train” getting the same sort of treatment that “Cruel Intentions” gave “Dangerous Liaisons” – it’s kind of like that.

This story of wronged teenagers joining forces to exact revenge on those who wronged them is a blackly comic joy, bringing together standard teen fare with a shadowy sense of humor. The combination isn’t always a perfect fit, but thanks to some sharp writing and a pair of strong lead performances, it works far more often than it doesn’t. It’s tough to make a movie that feels both like a throwback and of its moment, but “Do Revenge” manages the feat.

Among the odder developments of the last decade or so of big-budget moviemaking is the Disney trend of making live-action versions of their beloved animated classics. The powers that be at Big Mouse saw the opportunity to commodify nostalgia to an even greater extent than they already had, resulting in a spate of films that turned cartoons into the third dimension (though in some respects, “live-action” is a bit of a misnomer – there’s still LOADS of computer animation at work in these films).

Of course, the ongoing success of these films – not always critically, but definitely commercially – meant that we would keep seeing largely unnecessary remakes being trotted out to be eagerly consumed by those looking for new ways to engage with old memories.

Which brings us to “Pinocchio,” the latest effort to reengage with a beloved classic. This one – directed by Robert Zemeckis, who also co-wrote the adapted screenplay alongside Chris Weitz – offers audiences a new look at the beloved tale of a marionette granted sentience and his quest to figure out how to become a real boy, with plenty of adventures along the way.

Unfortunately, this film suffers from the same big issue that many of its live-action remake brethren do – it simply feels unneeded. That isn’t to say that it’s terrible – it’s generally inoffensive, with a few interesting moments. It’s just that it’s hard to feel that strongly about a film that we have, in essence, seen before.

Monday, 12 September 2022 13:30

‘End of the Road’ a bumpy ride

Written by Allen Adams

Every so often, a movie comes along that answers a question that you didn’t even know you wanted to ask. Many times, that movie arrives courtesy of Netflix, because with the sheer volume of content they push out, there’s more than a little “infinite monkeys/infinite typewriters” energy there.

For example, take “End of the Road,” the new thriller from the streamer. Directed by Millicent Shelton from a script by Christopher J. Moore and David Loughery and starring Queen Latifah, it’s ostensibly an action thriller that follows a road-tripping family as they get pulled into a murderous web of criminals and ill-gotten cash. I say “ostensibly” because, while that is certainly technically correct, the film manages to raise one of those unanticipated questions.

To wit: just how many over-the-top tropes clichés can one film family endure before we move from the realm of the thriller into the theater of the absurd? The answer? Significantly fewer than get thrown at Queen Latifah and company in these 90 minutes of escalating nonsense.

Monday, 29 August 2022 14:18

A not-so-good ‘Samaritan’

Written by Allen Adams

Superheroes continue to rule the cinematic roost. Whether we’re talking about the megablockbusters put forth by the Big Two or smaller fare, capes have become a constant.

Of course, when you’re talking about this sort of sheer volume of production, the level of quality is going to vary significantly. Sure, there’s a pretty high floor when it comes to stuff like the MCU and DCEU (although perhaps not as high as it once was), but still – even a superhero homer like myself has to acknowledge that some of these offerings are … not great.

The latest in that line of not-great super fare is “Samaritan,” currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video. It’s an odd bit of IP maneuvering, actually – the story began as a spec script, but actually became a graphic novel in 2014 before the film was ultimately made. Unfortunately, that might be the most unique aspect of the entire experience, considering the tossed-off and generally derivative nature of the final film product.

With a meandering narrative, cut-rate effects work and a lead performance from Sylvester Stallone that would kindly be referred to as disinterested, “Samaritan” seems content to simply toss a bunch of cliches and other formulaic nonsense into the hopper to be churned and blended into a bland and uninspired mess.

Monday, 29 August 2022 14:15

‘Me Time’ a meh time

Written by Allen Adams

It should come as no surprise that when a company adopts a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach to moviemaking, the results are going to be mixed.

So it is at Netflix, where the streamer continues to churn out films at a blistering rate. Whether they’re outside purchases or in-house productions, these movies are constantly arriving. Some of them have been great, some of them have been bad and the rest exist in a massive, mushy middle.

“Me Time” is very much in the mush.

The new film, written and directed by John Hamburg and starring Kevin Hart and Mark Wahlberg, is a buddy comedy of sorts, one more than happy to spend 100 minutes or so randomly plucking low-hanging fruit. It’s the sort of movie that seems content to merely exist, counting on the name recognition of its stars to do the heavy lifting.

As you might imagine, this attitude doesn’t result in a good movie. Yes, there are a few laughs sprinkled throughout – however you feel about the leads, they are not without their charms – but for the most part, we spend our time laboring from point A to point B until, eventually, we land on whatever poorly-defined lesson we’re supposed to learn about the importance of family or whatever.

There’s something fascinating about watching a new generation make its way onto film. Time’s march is inevitable, so it stands to reason that new cohorts will become focal points of the movies being made. And each of those cohorts will bring a new and different energy to the stories being told, both in terms of style and of substance.

One could argue that we’re currently witnessing a transitional period wherein the Gen-Z crowd is beginning to see itself on the big screen. This is a generation that was shaped more fully by the internet than any that came before, people whose lives have been lived online as much as off – reductive, I know, but as shorthand, it’ll do.

“Bodies Bodies Bodies,” the English-language directorial debut of acclaimed Dutch actor Halina Reijn, is a horror/comedy that places the young people of Generation Z in the center of the frame, skewering the social mores – or lack thereof – of that group with pitch black humor and razor-sharp satire, powering it all with a collection of strong performances.

The screenplay, as adapted by Sarah DeLappe from a short story by Kristen Roupenian, is a dense collection of rapid-fire banter, equal parts clever and cutting, all flying forth from the mouths of a group of self-obsessed and deeply unlikeable characters. It’s a movie unafraid to plumb the shadows, both literally and figuratively, as it deconstructs the disconnect cultivated by those whose existences are defined not by who they are, but how they are seen.

Monday, 22 August 2022 14:22

Survival thriller ‘Beast’ a bit of a burden

Written by Allen Adams

Man versus nature is one of our most fundamental stories. There’s a primality to the notion of people, removed from the comfort of their so-called civilization, forced to survive against a natural world that, for whatever reason, seeks to do them harm.

“Beast,” the new film from Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur, is just such a story. It pits a man and his family against an animal – in this case, a lion – that has been driven to do them harm. With little understanding of the world into which they have been dropped, they must figure out a way to survive a battle against a foe that has lived its entire life in that same world.

They must do battle with a beast.

Unfortunately, while the underpinnings of the narrative offer that sort of primality, the execution ultimately proves more nonsensical, at times bordering on the cartoonish. When a story relies entirely on the questionable, irrational choices being made by its characters, you’re left with something that never quite works. There are moments of intensity and well-crafted tension, but they are almost entirely undermined by the at-time laughable decision-making to which we are witness.

But hey – Idris Elba punching a lion makes for a pretty high floor.

Monday, 22 August 2022 11:40

Lightweight ‘Look Both Ways’ worth a look

Written by Allen Adams

I’ve always had a soft spot for sliding doors. Maybe it’s because I’m the sort of person predisposed to wondering “what if?” and fascinated by the notion of one point of divergence altering a life – a world – moving forward. It doesn’t always work (although in truth, what does?), but it almost always holds my attention.

“Look Both Ways,” currently streaming on Netflix, is a recent addition to the sliding doors canon. It’s a relatively light and breezy take on the trope, even as its divergence point – pregnant/not pregnant – is perhaps a bit more charged than you might expect, though the film itself isn’t all that interested in addressing that charged nature.

With a charming, albeit somewhat bland, cast and a more or less constant levity, this film is well-made, with some solid visual representations of the split timelines, and it’s got some laughs. Put it all together and you wind up with a perfectly pleasant way to while away a couple of hours.

Sometimes, you just know that you’re going to like a movie. You hear the basic concept, you learn who’s involved, maybe you catch a trailer or two and boom – you’re in.

That’s how I felt when I first learned about “Day Shift,” the new film currently streaming on Netflix. Jamie Foxx and Dave Franco are hunting vampires? And Snoop Dogg is in it? Directed by stunt legend J.J. Perry in his directorial debut, it’s a high-octane genre mashup, bringing together action, horror and comedy to create a fast-paced, funny entertainment experience.

For me, it’s an easy call. You’ve got elaborate action sequences. You’ve got over the top gore. You’ve got banter and jokes. And you’ve got a trailer that prominently features one of my favorite actresses (and human beings) tearing s—t up as a vampire. Of COURSE I liked it. What’s not to like?

This movie is big and broad in the ways that we want movies to be big and broad. This is pedal-to-the-metal entertainment, pure and simple – and it is one hell of a good time.

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