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It is a longstanding tradition in the film distribution world that January serves as a bit of a dumping ground for those movies that, for whatever reason, haven’t lived up to expectations. They’re finished products in which no one really has much faith.

There’s a reason they call it Dumpuary.

Of course, given the current ever-shifting circumstances of the pandemic, the box office situation is all the more tenuous. Throw in the carryover of recent hits and the expanded release of award contenders and you’ve got a landscape where new theatrical offerings are of … questionable quality.

Offerings like “The King’s Daughter.”

This staggering oddball comes to us courtesy of journeyman director Sean McNamara; the script was written by Barry Berman and James Schmaus, adapted from Vonda N. McIntyre’s 1997 novel “The Moon and the Sun.” It is ostensibly a fantasy adventure, though there’s fairly little adventure and the true fantasy is imagining a world in which you didn’t go see this movie.

There’s a jarring unevenness to this movie, with shots of real-life locations awkwardly juxtaposed with badly-rendered backdrops and iffy CGI. There are some good performers here, but there’s a weird vibe – it’s as though everyone involved could tell that they were participating in a disaster-in-the-making.

Seriously – this thing finished filming back in 2014 and is only just now seeing release. That tells you everything you need to know about how the people involved felt about it.

When one hears the term “World War II movie,” there tend to have certain expectations, preconceived notions with regard to the sort of story they’re about to see and the events that are going to be represented. So it’s always interesting when we get something that’s a little different.

That’s the case with “Munich: The Edge of War,” a Netflix original film directed by Christian Schwochow and written by Ben Power, who adapted the script from the 2017 Robert Harris novel “Munich.” Set in the days immediately preceding Hitler’s 1938 invasion of Czechoslovakia, it’s a fictionalized exploration of some of what may have happened in the leadup to WWII’s beginnings as people worked behind the scenes to stave off war.

As always, separating fact from fiction is a little tough – there are a lot of real-life figures in the mix here and the events writ large are more or less accurate, but the granular details are fictionalized and/or dramatized. Still, while there’s a baseline predictability here – we all know how this will ultimately turn out – there’s still room for some intrigue, aided by a collection of solid performances.

I’ve had my share of fun at the expense of Netflix’s original movie offerings over the years. Sure, they’ve developed some truly excellent films – hell, they might even have this year’s Best Picture winner thanks to “The Power of the Dog” – but they’ve never shied away from stressing quantity over quality with regard to the majority of their films.

And so it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch “The Royal Treatment,” currently streaming on the service.

Directed by Rick Jacobson from a script by Holly Hester, the film tells the story of a hairdresser from Queens who, through various and sundry circumstances, winds up traveling to a foreign country to work at a prince’s wedding. Fish out of water hijinks ensue, even as a number of people learn lessons about each other … and about themselves.

This premise might feel familiar because you’ve seen literally dozens of movies that follow the exact same template. And honestly, you’re probably better off just rewatching one of those instead, because folks, this movie is not very good.

From the listless performances to the obvious corner-cutting, “The Royal Treatment” is a tossed-off trifle of a movie, not even bad enough to entertain. It is emblematic of one of the biggest downsides to the Netflix machine – good, bad or indifferent, all that really matters is that the movie exists. And it does have that going for it – “The Royal Treatment” does indeed exist.

Monday, 17 January 2022 16:40

‘Sex Appeal’ is appealing enough

Written by Allen Adams

The relationship between teenagers and sex has long been a popular theme to be explored in movies. The discourse around that relationship has changed, to be sure, and the films have themselves changed accordingly. But rest assured – the teen sex comedy isn’t going anywhere.

That said, we’ve come a long way since films like “Porky’s” or even “American Pie.” Teenagers and their relationship to sex – and the viewing public’s relationship with that relationship – has continued to become something a bit more nuanced as time has passed.

“Sex Appeal,” a Hulu original offering directed by Talia Osteen from a script by Tate Hanyok, is an effort to engage with society’s ever-evolving perspective on teenage sexuality. While it doesn’t do much in the way of breaking new ground, it does manage to have some fun with the standard tropes of the genre and even trots out a few unexpected stylistic flourishes that elevate it somewhat beyond the usual standards of streaming teen fare. The end result is a film that might not be life-changing but is still a perfectly charming and funny way to spend some time.

Monday, 10 January 2022 15:57

‘Licorice Pizza’ a nostalgic triumph from PTA

Written by Allen Adams

There are a handful of filmmakers whose movies are what I would consider unmissable. These are the auteurs who bring unique and compelling visions to the screen, telling engaging stories with visual flair and structural panache. We all have our pantheons.

Paul Thomas Anderson is part of mine.

Now, I’m hardly alone in this. The PTA hive has been a robust one pretty much from the beginning – he’s been on the cinephile radar since the late ‘90s. I’d put his three-film fun of “Hard Eight,” “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” against any filmmaker’s first three features … and he just continued to get better.

One of the many qualities of PTA’s work that I’ve always admired is his willingness to pivot, to veer in different directions with the choices that he makes and the stories he chooses to tell. So I was obviously thrilled when I (finally – everyone kept things very close to the vest) learned that his newest film, “Licorice Pizza,” would revisit the San Fernando Valley and focus on telling a coming of age story in early ‘70s California.

The film – named after a now-shuttered chain of record stores – is a story of affection and ambition, a tale of misguided attraction and relentless hustle. It’s a story about what it means to actually grow up when you already view yourself as grown up, as well as some of the consequences that this sort of up-and-down maturation process can have. All of it rendered through Anderson’s exquisite eye and brought forth by an absolutely dynamite cast – a cast led by a central odd couple of sorts offering up performances that far outstrip what we might have reasonably expected.

It’s always interesting to see what happens when memoirs become movies. Watching one person’s life story, rendered in their own words, transformed into something else by other artists … it’s fascinating. Sometimes, it doesn’t work. And sometimes, it REALLY doesn’t work. But when it does work, it can make for a truly engaging viewing experience.

“The Tender Bar” works. It works because it is a heartfelt and emotionally honest portrait of a childhood and young adulthood spent in very specifically realized times and places. It works because it is loving without being saccharine and funny without being condescending. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to have George Clooney behind the camera and Ben Affleck in front of it.

Based on J.R. Moehringer’s 2005 memoir of the same name, “The Tender Bar” is a loving look back, full of fond memories despite (or perhaps because of) the more complicated aspects of growing up. There’s a well-worn familiarity at work here – we’ve heard plenty of stories like this before – but this tale mostly manages to maintain its charm. Sure, you can argue that its narrative wanders and its tone occasionally ventures too far into the realm of the sentimental, but the people we meet make it an engaging hang nevertheless.

Monday, 10 January 2022 15:51

Girl power outage – ‘The 355’

Written by Allen Adams

We’ve reached that time on the movie calendar where theatrical offerings tend to land in one of two categories:

  1.     Wider expansion of late-year award contenders, or
  2.     Movies that are various flavors of not good

You can probably guess into which category the new film “The 355” falls.

The latest project from director Simon Kinberg, working from a script he co-penned with Theresa Rebeck, “The 355” is an attempt to craft some sort of high-end spy franchise, one ostensibly intended to place women at the forefront. And while it does foreground female characters, it never really finds its way beyond that, resulting in slipshod plotting and vaguely inexplicable motivations that undermine what very well may have been a good faith effort.

While there are occasional flashes of something more – thanks in large part to the talented cast – the film ultimately fails to resonate – its action sequences are muddy and its twists are telegraphed. Thus viewers are left with nothing more than an empty and unengaging action movie, the sort of forgettable mediocrity that fits right into the chilly box office winter.

You might not think that the end of the world is an appropriate backdrop for comedy, but fear not – Adam McKay has you covered.

Sure, an impending apocalypse SHOULDN’T be funny, but in the right hands, it certainly can be, and McKay has those hands, along with a willingness to embrace cultural divides and darkness in the name of plausibly bleak satiric observation.

McKay’s latest is “Don’t Look Up,” an at-times pitch-black comedy about what happens when the end of the world is coming and no one can seem to agree on what – if anything – we should do about it. The film has the same sort of sharp edges that we’ve seen in McKay’s more recent output and his fingerprints are all over it – he’s directing his own screenplay here. It also features a frankly incredible cast, an ensemble jam packed with Oscar winners and Hollywood icons; you don’t often see a bench this deep.

It is wildly funny – darkly so, but funny nevertheless – while also being deeply, bleakly plausible. It is a condemnation of current cultural discourse, a scathing takedown of American attitudes that is relentless in its disdain. It is a relevant and resonant reflection of where we are and where we could be going, delivered in a manner that elicits laughter even as it unsettles.

Wednesday, 29 December 2021 12:54

‘The Matrix Resurrections’ lives on

Written by Allen Adams

Funny thing about art – more often than not, you get out what you put in.

Consuming a creative work, whether it be a book or a painting or a film or a play or a song, is in many ways a means of looking at oneself. The best art holds up a mirror to life, offering a reflection that is specific to the one gazing upon it.

So I suppose it makes sense that mirrors are a major motif in “The Matrix Resurrections,” the years-later sequel to the trilogy of films that began over two decades ago. This film – directed solo this time, by Lana Wachowski, from a script she co-wrote with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon – is the product of years of self-reflection, a return to a morally and philosophically complex sci-fi universe constructed on a foundation of perception versus reality and whether we can ever actually know the difference.

It is a gloriously messy film, one that tells the story that Lana Wachowski wishes to tell … and that has relatively little regard for the expectations others might hold for it. The underlying metaphor – the idea that the world we see is not necessarily the world that is – remains intact, but altered; “The Matrix Resurrections” is a movie driven not by logic, but by emotion. For all its intense action trappings, it is, at its core, a love story.

Wednesday, 22 December 2021 12:59

The year in film failures: 2021’s worst movies

Written by Allen Adams

As you saw a couple of weeks ago, there were a LOT of good movies that came out in 2021. And there were plenty of pretty good ones too, even if they didn’t quite ascend to the heights of greatness.

Of course, there were also some bad ones.

The following is a list of my least favorite viewing experiences of the year. Now, I acknowledge that when it comes to creative endeavors, quality can be a very subjective thing. I have no doubt that there are movies on this list that some of you not only liked, but loved. And that’s OK – we can feel different ways about things.

You’re wrong, obviously, but you have the right to feel the way you do.

I kid, I kid. The truth is that if you can find joy in a piece of creative work, be it a movie or a book or a TV show or a song, that’s a good thing.

As for me, well … I did NOT find much joy in these 10 films. Here they are, in alphabetical order.

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