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Wednesday, 26 February 2020 12:58

Every dog has its day – ‘The Call of the Wild’

Written by Allen Adams

In a cinematic landscape littered with high-octane action movies driven by gritty dialogue, computer generated imagery and explosions, it’s rare to see a good old-fashioned adventure story, something family-friendly but not condescending.

Oddly enough, “The Call of the Wild” fills that void, even though it heavily relies on CGI in its own way. This adaptation of Jack London’s 1903 classic of the same name is directed by Chris Sanders from a screenplay adapted by Michael Green; unlike the numerous film adaptations that preceded it, this version relies on a computer-generated lead character. It’s a choice that, while not wholly effective, winds up working considerably better than you might expect.

There’s a bit of tonal inconsistency as far as the narrative goes, but for the most part, the filmmakers lean into the broad adventure vibe that is foundational to the book. That grand sense of nature’s power and possibility goes a long way toward compensating for any issues. Ultimately, this is a story that kids and parents alike will find palatable, if perhaps not the most exciting entertainment ever made.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020 12:55

‘Brahms: The Boy II’ will put you to sleep

Written by Allen Adams

Fun fact: I really enjoy going to see sequels to movies I never saw in the first place.

Now, I’ve been reviewing films for over a decade, so the opportunity to do so has become an increasingly rare thing. Hence, when it comes along, I eagerly embrace it – even if (or perhaps especially) when the reason I never saw the initial offering is because of how terrible I perceived it to be.

So let’s talk about “Brahms: The Boy II.” Serving as a sequel to 2016’s “The Boy,” this new film – directed by William Brent Bell and written by Stacey Menear, returning to their respective roles from the first film – is an effort to expand upon the creepy doll mythos established the last time out.

You might think it would be difficult to follow “The Boy II” without having seen the first film. Rest assured, it is not. There’s nothing difficult about following this story because, well … there’s not really much in the way of story. It’s a slow-moving slog of a story where very little happens; it’s your standard atmospheric horror, only there’s no real atmosphere to speak of. Even the efforts to tie in to the first film are perfunctory.

Basically, I can say with all confidence that you do not need to see the first film to watch this one. In fact, I would advise against it. Actually – I’d advise against seeing either one.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020 13:53

‘Downhill’ an uphill battle

Written by Allen Adams

A good comedic pairing is something to cherish. When two talented and funny people are brought together onscreen for the first time, our expectations are really elevated. We can’t wait to see how their respective talents react with one another. And when the filmmakers bringing them together are acclaimed talents in their own right, well … what could go wrong?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

So it is with “Downhill,” the new film starring Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Written and directed by Oscar-winning duo Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the film is a remake of the 2014 dark comedy “Force Majeure.” Unfortunately, despite the tremendous talent involved, “Downhill” goes downhill pretty fast.

This new film never manages to recreate the same delicately unsettling balance of its predecessor, resulting in a movie that is constantly at odds with itself regarding the sort of movie it wants to be. The erstwhile dramatic moments feel forced and false, while the ostensibly comedic bits come off as disingenuous and get lost in the morass. Tonally, “Downhill” never stays in its lane; it gets out over its skis, leaving its cast (and us) tumbling helplessly down the mountain.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020 13:51

‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ runs amok

Written by Allen Adams

It’s a bit of a Hollywood truism – video game movies are bad.

Unlike a lot of things that “everybody knows,” this is actually more or less true. That isn’t to say that they don’t make money – some do all right at the box office even when they’re terrible – but in terms of quality, they never measure up.

So it was with some obvious apprehension that I sat down to watch “Sonic the Hedgehog.” Considering the long and arduous road to release the film had – including extensive redesigns following the internet’s collective horror at the initial trailers – and the fact that I myself was always a Nintendo guy instead of Sega, it’s fair to say that my expectations were low.

Imagine my surprise when “Sonic” exceeded them.

Not by much, mind you – we’re not talking greatness here, to be sure – but still. This movie is … OK. It’s fine. And the reality is that “OK” and “fine” are words that have only rarely been associated with video game adaptions.

Sure, it’s all a bunch of dumb jokes and already-dated pop culture references, but the truth is that the target audience loves those things. Kids will dig it and adults will be able to tolerate it, which is no small thing. And there are occasional moments (all of which feature Jim Carrey cranking the weird to 11 and snapping off the knob) that are even better than that. For a movie that threatened to be an unhealthy dose of nightmare fuel, that’s a win.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020 13:49

My not-so-beautiful dark twisted ‘Fantasy Island’

Written by Allen Adams

Anyone who watched the campy classic Ricardo Montalbon-starring ‘70s TV show “Fantasy Island” or the short-lived two-decades-later Malcolm McDowell reboot has to recognize the creepy potential of the conceit. A place where fantasies come true, only in unexpected ways? There’s so much there with which to work.

Jason Blum and the folks at Blumhouse certainly thought so. Hence, we get “Fantasy Island,” a horror exploration of that classic concept. It’s a natural fit – Blum and his crew have proven time and again that they are capable of turning these sorts of ideas into quality genre fare. Unfortunately, no one bats 1.000; this latest film is one of the rare misfires from the production company.

This incarnation of “Fantasy Island” – directed by Jeff Wadlow from a script he co-wrote with Jillian Jacobs and Christopher Roach – never manages to develop anything worthwhile from the rich soil of the source material. Instead, we get a bunch of recycled tropes and cheap scares, a low-rent mélange of monkey’s paw clichés and lazy storytelling. There are a few brief glimpses of the film this could have been, but for the most part, there’s nothing here – filmmaking fantasy meeting cold, stark mismanaged reality.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020 11:57

‘Birds of Prey’ offers high-flying fun

Written by Allen Adams

It’s fair to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has far outpaced its DC counterpart. One of the biggest reasons for the difference in levels of success has been tone – the MCU has always found ways to make its films fun, while DC has largely produced movies weighed down by a sense of bleak, gray self-seriousness.

Recently, however, the DCEU has started finding its way out of that grimdarkness. Films like “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman” have done a better job of finding the fun. And their latest offering – full title “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” – continues in that vein, producing a piece of candy-colored weirdness that is as enjoyable to watch as any film in the franchise thus far.

It’s worth noting that this film is female-driven – not just in front of the camera, but behind it, with Cathy Yan directing from a script by Christina Hodson – in an organic fashion that never comes off as forced or pandering.

It’s not a perfect film – the narrative is a bit haphazard and the structure is all over the place – but by and large, it’s pretty darned good and entertaining as hell. The performances are strong and there are some killer action sequences, along with a few solid gags. Put it all together and you get one of the better DCEU outings.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020 11:55

‘Horse Girl’ a wild, weird ride

Written by Allen Adams

Sometimes, you sit down to watch a movie with certain expectations, only to have those expectations completely subverted because it turned out you really didn’t have any idea what you were getting into.

That’s an apt description of my experience with “Horse Girl,” newly streaming on Netflix after its recent debut at Sundance. Starring Alison Brie, who co-wrote the screenplay alongside director Jeff Baena, the film is a difficult-to-describe experience, a seemingly straightforward look at a socially awkward woman’s struggles that rapidly deteriorates into a what’s real/what’s not tightrope walk between mental illness and paranormal experience – and it occasionally loses its balance.

It’s an uneven and strange viewing experience, one that is unafraid to be opaque and confusing with regards to what is happening and why (or even if). The jaggedness of the plot and the fluidity between reality and fantasy and which is which can present some problems in terms of engagement with the story. Still, with a strong performance from Brie and some bold aesthetic and narrative choices, there’s more than enough here to warrant a look.

Tuesday, 04 February 2020 10:58

‘The Rhythm Section’ is out of sync

Written by Allen Adams

There’s something deeply satisfying about a good revenge thriller. There’s a visceral enjoyment that comes from watching a wronged person exact vengeance upon those who wronged them. Sure, it can be a little formulaic, but if the formula is executed well, it doesn’t matter – it’s brutal, bloody fun.

But if it is executed poorly, well … that’s a whole different story.

Poor execution is just one of the many problems with “The Rhythm Section,” directed by Reed Morano from a screenplay by Mark Burnell (adapted from his own novel of the same name). It is meandering and convoluted, with a thin narrative that strains the credulity of even the most forgiving audience member. There are some talented performers here – and they even seem to give a s—t – but that’s not enough to salvage a film that is utterly familiar and ultimately forgettable.

Tuesday, 04 February 2020 10:56

Fractured fairy tale – ‘Gretel and Hansel’

Written by Allen Adams

There’s a reason that Grimm’s Fairy Tales remain embedded in the cultural consciousness even now, over two centuries since their appearance on the literary scene. So many of those stories, while collected in the early 19th century, sported origins much older – ancient even. They are archetypal and allegorical, framing the good and evil of the world in a manner both fantastical and mundane.

It doesn’t hurt that a lot of them are scary as s—t.

So it makes sense that we would see adaptations of these tales – some direct, some loose, some tangential – for the big screen. There’s a universality to them that appeals, and they lend themselves quite well to cinematic translation. But that same universality also means that it can be hard to figure out what’s going too far and what’s not going far enough.

The new film “Gretel and Hansel,” directed by Oz Perkins from a screenplay by Rob Hayes, suffers from that particular problem – it seems as though the filmmakers are never sure just how far they want to push the envelope, which means that for every challenging, provocative moment, there’s another bit of formulaic boilerplate. The result is a movie that is wildly uneven and never settles into any kind of real groove.

It’s a shame, because there are some good things here. The performances are solid, while the establishing of atmosphere is spot-on. There are a couple of good slow-burn scares as well. Unfortunately, that’s all wound up in a too-thin plot that feels empty despite a sub-90-minute runtime; far too little actually happens here.

Again – moments of excellence, but sadly not enough of them.

Sometimes, films come along that are outsized in the universal acclaim they receive. These movies are capital-G Great by consensus, leaving seemingly every single person who sees them breathless with effusive praise. These films are heaped with accolades and celebrated from on high.

But it’s rare – truly rare – that a film not only earns every accolade, every commendation and compliment, but somehow manages to also come off as somehow underappreciated. Rare … but not unheard of.

And here we arrive at Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite.” Simply put, it is a masterpiece. It is a movie that deserves consideration not only as 2019’s best film, but as one of the decade’s best. Hell, one of the 21st century’s best. It is a brilliantly conceived and meticulously constructed piece, driven by an immersive narrative, an exquisite aesthetic and outstanding performances. It is smart and funny and brutal and cruel, a tense and complicated work that weaves together family drama, social commentary and sly wit. It is a film of challenges and contradictions – an intimate explosion.

(Full disclosure: “Parasite” is a South Korean film and hence is subtitled for American audiences. There are some who will automatically dismiss it because of that. I implore you – do not let your perceived issues with foreign language films prevent you from seeing this movie. It is beautiful and haunting no matter what tongue you speak.)

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