Monday, 04 April 2022 15:31

Bursting ‘The Bubble’

Written by Allen Adams

The ongoing circumstances of the COVID pandemic have been part of our lives for so long that it can be difficult to remember what it was like before … everything. It has been going on for so long, in fact, that we’re seeing more and more creative endeavors that have spring from those circumstances.

As to whether that’s a good thing, your mileage may vary.

Writer-director Judd Apatow has thrown his hat into that particular ring with his new Netflix movie “The Bubble,” a comedy about a film crew sequestered in a hotel in order to make a big-budget entry in a popular franchise. Inspired by the real-life effort to film “Jurassic World Dominion” during the pandemic, it’s a shaggy satire intended to skewer the self-importance of Hollywood’s own bubble while also finding humor in the unexpected connections forged by forced proximity.

It's an interesting attempt, though uneven in terms of its success. While there are some laughs to be had, the reality is that many of the gags – inspired by truth though they may be – don’t quite land. That’s not to say that it’s a bad movie – I actually had a pretty good time – but with a cast this star-studded, my expectations were for something a little bit more.

Wednesday, 30 March 2022 12:20

Scorsese’s latest MCU beef isn’t what you think

Written by Allen Adams

In a shocking turnaround, one of the giants of modern cinema has signed on to make a superhero movie.

Martin Scorsese, the acclaimed filmmaker behind such iconic films as “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas” and “The Departed,” has long been a vocal opponent of the industry’s move toward comic book movies. He has been on record as adamantly opposed to those sorts of films, even going so far as to deny that they’re really films at all, referring to them as amusement park rides.

Well … looks like Marty wants to take a spin.

There was a certain flavor of film that we used to see fairly often back in the day, films that were part rom-com, part adventure. These movies brought together action elements with love stories and steeped the whole thing in quippy banter and moments of slapstick. Now, were these movies always good? Of course not. But they were almost always fun – and that was more than enough.

We don’t see as many of those films these days, what with the industry’s pivot to IP blockbusters and franchise development. But when they do turn up, it can be a reminder of how much fun these kinds of movie experiences can be.

“The Lost City,” directed by Aaron and Adam Nee from a screenplay they co-wrote with Dana Fox and Oren Uziel, is a throwback to those delightful mélanges of comedy, adventure and romance. Thanks to some engaging performances, headlined by Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, and a distinctly retro storytelling sensibility, the movie proves to be a lovely romp, a frothy, goofy trifle of a film that refuses to take itself too seriously.

Sure, it might not be great cinema, but I definitely had a great time … and I bet you will too.

Monday, 28 March 2022 15:06

‘Windfall’ a solid single-space thriller

Written by Allen Adams

There’s something about a movie that is consciously small-scale.

That’s not to say that I have anything against the broad bombast of blockbuster filmmaking – I have plenty of room in my heart for CGI explosions, after all – but I do admire those filmmakers who can craft meaningful, powerful stories with little more than a handful of actors and a single location.

“Windfall,” a new offering from Netflix, is just that sort of chamber piece. Directed by Charlie McDowell from a script by Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker, the film is a taut three-hander cast with notable talents – Jesse Plemons, Lily Collins and Jason Segel – that takes place at an isolated estate. All the pieces are here for a solid film.

And that’s what we get. Solid. Which feels just a little disappointing, because the pieces are all here for an excellent movie, but for whatever reason, we never quite get there. Not that there’s anything wrong with making a perfectly serviceable thriller – there are plenty of folks out there who can’t do it – but one gets the sense of an opportunity just missed.

Still, “Windfall” is an engaging watch, the sort of thriller that provides ample entertainment in the moment, even if it likely won’t resonate for the viewer long-term.

Monday, 21 March 2022 15:21

‘Deep Water’ runs shallow

Written by Allen Adams

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that is especially fascinating because of the factors surrounding its making. Obviously, just about every film project comes with its share of drama – it’s the nature of the business – but occasionally, we get something where the extracurricular noise largely subsumes the work itself.

There is no better recent example of this phenomenon than “Deep Water,” the new erotic thriller currently streaming on Hulu. The film’s central pairing is Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, whose real-life relationship’s tumultuous conclusion may well have gotten its start on this set. Not to mention the fact that director Adrian Lyne – an absolute legend in the realm of erotic thrillers – made this his first movie in two decades. The buzz surrounding the movie was far more prominent than that for the movie itself.

And with good reason, as it turns out.

“Deep Water” is a bizarre work of hot nonsense, at times bordering on the incomprehensible. The narrative is scattered, the performances are strange and the whole thing is campy in a way that makes it difficult to determine whether said campiness was actually intentional.

It is also, to be fair, a pretty good time, albeit a weird one.

At what point does the degradation of a copy of a copy of a copy become a bridge too far with regard to filmmaking? In this era of reboots and remakes, how many iterations are too many?

Take “Cheaper by the Dozen,” the new original – sorry, “original” – film streaming on Disney+. This film is a remake of the 2003 Steve Martin vehicle which was itself an adaptation of the 1950 original, based on the real life of efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth.

It’s dozens all the way down.

The central focus of these films – massive blended families – remains the same even as the details surrounding those large families change. However, there’s undeniably a significant degree of diminishing returns, and while this latest iteration does expand its vocabulary somewhat – largely through efforts at wider inclusivity – it doesn’t really seem to have much to say.

“Cheaper by the Dozen” isn’t bad. Not really. But nor is it particularly good. It is a perfectly cromulent family film, one that will likely prove acceptable for everyone in the family while not actively appealing to any of them. Slight, saccharine and ultimately forgettable, it will pass the time, but don’t expect much more than that.

Everyone loves a good underdog story and this one checks all the boxes. The undisputed king of hit radio in New York City is WHTZ (Z100), the station that’s dominated the competition for decades in America’s top media market. But it hasn’t always been that way.

Nearly four decades removed from the fractured media landscape of the present, a young outwardly cocky and confident (but in truth “scared to death”) program director and AM drive talent named Scott Shannon gave up a legacy gig in Tampa for a New York City station that was being crushed in the ratings by every competitor, including a signal drifting in from another state.

In just 74 days, Shannon and his crew accomplished the impossible by taking Z100 from number 51 in the radio ratings all the way to the top.

“Worst to First: The True Story of Z100/New York” chronicles the station’s historic come from nowhere ratings dominance in an appropriately high energy, revealing and hilarious documentary about drive, passion, commitment and competition from Emmy-winning director Mitchell Stuart.

I have a complicated history with Ryan Reynolds.

For a good stretch of his career, I found him to be generally insufferable. He radiated smugness, smirking and quipping his way through a series of not-terribly-interesting comedies and franchise misfires. Long story short, I didn’t care for him.

And then, well … he wore me down.

Don’t get me wrong – the aforementioned qualities are still part of the package. And he’s still making plenty of questionable films. I just find myself enjoying them more, even if (when) they’re not necessarily that great.

Which brings us to “The Adam Project,” the new big-budget Netflix offering starring Reynolds as a time traveler who inadvertently winds up partnering with his younger self (played exceptionally by newcomer Walker Scobell) in an effort to save the world from the clutches of a power-mad billionaire.

I know, I know – it sounds ridiculous. And it is. But it’s better than it sounds. The notion of setting right what once went wrong is a staple of the time travel genre; adding the coming-of-age element gives the film a flavor that makes it palatable even when the logistics of the narrative break down and we see the seams a little.

Monday, 14 March 2022 14:59

Zac Efron glitters in ‘Gold’

Written by Allen Adams

It’s not easy for actors who get an early start in the business to overcome the stigma that can come from the sorts of roles that lead to said early start. We’ve seen a number of young performers get chewed up by the fallout from the constant churn of the content machine, leading to them getting saddled with perceptions of their abilities that could be considered unfair.

Take Zac Efron, for instance. The actor shot to stardom as the brightest light in the massively popular “High School Musical” franchise, and while that stardom led to steady work in Hollywood, the truth is that he has struggled to be taken seriously due to his origins in the business.

(I’ll confess that I’m as guilty of that dismissal as anyone, though in my defense, Mr. Efron has made some real stinkers.)

However, when these former child stars get their chance to engage with serious work, sometimes they’ll surprise you.

This brings us to “Gold,” an Australian film directed by Anthony Hayes. In addition, Hayes co-wrote the screenplay with Polly Smyth, and oh yeah, he co-stars in the film as well. It’s a survival thriller set against the harsh environs of the Australian Outback – environs rendered all the harsher by the extreme circumstances.

It’s a film that really features just three performers, with Efron as the actor doing the majority of the heavy lifting. And despite being alone onscreen for much of the film’s running time, he more than holds his own, crafting a haunting and surprisingly captivating performance of a man committed to doing whatever it takes to seize an unanticipated opportunity.

Monday, 07 March 2022 15:49

The Dark Knight returns – ‘The Batman’

Written by Allen Adams

Comic books have become the dominant source material for franchise filmmaking. There is a staggering amount of IP out there, ripe for exploration on the big screen. And yet, there are a handful of characters to which we invariably return. Characters upon whom filmmakers can’t resist placing their own stamp.

Few characters have seen the kind of churn that we’ve gotten from Batman over the years – a churn that continues with the release of “The Batman.”

Since Tim Burton’s “Batman” hit in 1989, laying the groundwork for the superhero explosion that would eventually follow, we’ve seen numerous artists and artisans embrace the character in their own way. Early on, we got Burton’s neo-Gothic vibes and Joel Schumacher’s candy-colored neon fever dreams. After that, Christopher Nolan’s trilogy redefined the possibilities of what the character – and comic book movies in general – could be. Next, we got Zach Snyder’s stylized grimdark take as the character was moved into a wider expanded cinematic universe.

And now, Matt Reeves has entered the ring.

“The Batman” promises a more grounded take on the character, moving away from the more extreme interpretations and focusing on a younger Batman, one still learning the logistical challenges and harsh realities that come with costumed vigilantism. With Robert Pattinson assuming the cowl, the film seeks to dig into the early years of the hero and his development.

The film seeks to embrace verisimilitude – at least, to the extent that a movie based on a superhero comic can – and focuses more on the idea of Batman as detective, an aspect of the character that has largely been underplayed or outright ignored by previous adaptations. The result is a movie that, while uneven, offers room to evolve and expand in ways we haven’t yet seen on the big screen.

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