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*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.

I love Shakespeare, both on the page and on the stage. I love the immense power and depth of the Bard’s myriad works. I love the passion and the joy. I love the tragedy and the comedy alike.

I also love adaptations of Shakespeare’s works. I love it when these great works are reimagined, allowing for different kinds of accessibility and exploration. I love it when creative minds use the fundamental themes and concepts to tell stories that are both indebted to their inspiration and free to walk their own path.

Now, are these adaptations always good? Not at all. In fact, some are actively … not. That said, even with the tougher hangs, the effort being made is admirable, no matter if the result is less than stellar. But if an interesting take hits? I am a thousand percent hooked.

And Hulu’s “Rosaline” hooked me.

The film – directed by Karen Maine and adapted to the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber from Rebecca Serle’s 2012 YA novel “When You Were Mine” – is a retelling of/riff on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Specifically, it’s an exploration of that story from the perspective of Rosaline – Romeo’s lady before his star-cross’s meeting with Juliet.

We never meet Rosaline in “R&J” – she’s little more than a plot device, an illustration of Romeo’s tendency toward passionate impulsivity. She is the victim of the play’s love at first sight conceit, mentioned briefly in passing and then promptly forgotten about. It does leave one wondering – what did she think about all this?

“Rosaline” attempts to answer that question with a funny and emotionally engaging romp, a movie that clearly adores its source material while also being unafraid to wallow in absurdity and anachronism. Far from “never was a story of more woe,” this is a tale of sharp-tongued wit that digs into the differences between infatuation and true love … and how surprising those differences can be.

It can be difficult to remember, living as we do in the age of franchises and cinematic universes, but there was a time not so long ago when the notion of ongoing sequels was viewed with indifference or even outright disdain.

For a long time, the sequel was largely considered the realm of shlock, an effort to cash in on low-rent continuations of genre series. It used to be a joke; now, it’s a mainstream business model (and a massively successful one at that).

Take “Halloween,” for instance. John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher was an instant horror classic, its murderous villain as relentless as he was inscrutable. But that film’s success led to a spate of sequels, creating a tangled and often incomprehensible web of expansive and self-contradictory lore. Ironic, considering that the initial film’s success was built upon the idea that we didn’t know anything about the why of the killer.

We got half-a-dozen films from that franchise, followed by two films that retconned away all but the first two entries, followed by a pair of hybrid remake/reimagining offerings courtesy of Rob Zombie, followed by a sequel trilogy that retcons the entire continuity and throws out everything but the first film.

That’s where we’re at now, at the end of that sequel trilogy. They say that all good things must end, but if “Halloween Ends” is any indicator, bad things end too.

David Gordon Green is the man calling the shots in the trilogy – he directed this film, as well as previous installments “Halloween” (2018) and “Halloween Kills” (2021), while also co-writing the script with Danny McBride and others – and the returns have most certainly been diminishing, with the first film being quite good, the second film being OK and this third film being … something.

What is clearly intended to be a closing of the book is instead a haphazard and messy collection of illogical leaps and twists, with very little of the perceived closure being the least bit earned. “Halloween” was never about the “why” – or at least, it was never supposed to be – but Green and company get lost in that why, resulting in plot developments that at times border on the nonsensical. In all the ways that matter, it’s a sad and ultimately unsatisfying conclusion.

Monday, 10 October 2022 15:02

More like ‘Heckraiser’ – ‘Hellraiser’

Written by Allen Adams

Everything old is new again.

That adage is as true in Hollywood as it is anywhere, with studios and streamers clamoring for content that is reflective – directly or indirectly – of that which has come before. Franchises rule the box office and it seems that you can’t turn around without seeing another reboot/remake/reinvention of this, that or the other thing.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that we’ve gotten a new “Hellraiser.” After all, the recent “Halloween” sequel trilogy has been wildly successful, we’ve gotten new versions of just about every slasher movie under the sun … honestly, the only real shock is that it took this long for us to get another “Hellraiser.”

The Hulu offering takes us back to the source material, adapting the 1986 Clive Barker novella “The Hellbound Heart” that served as the basis for 1987’s Barker-helmed “Hellraiser.” This new version is directed by David Bruckner, with the screenplay adaptation courtesy of Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski.

And it’s … meh.

The primary reason that the first “Hellraiser” was such a success, going on to inspire nine sequels before this new entry, is the fundamentally transgressive nature of the thing. That film was unsettling and challenging in ways to which audiences were not accustomed; however, envelope pushing is a LOT different nearly four decades later. We’ve seen it all before, and unfortunately, this new “Hellraiser” doesn’t seem to have anything to add to the conversation.

Oh, sure, there are some moments of well-executed gore and a couple of solid fan service moments, but the truth is that the whole thing is well … a bit dull, actually, which is the last thing anyone should want to hear about a horror movie – particularly one that remakes a classic. It all feels rote and vaguely sanitized, failing to clear the admittedly high bar.

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