Monday, 21 February 2022 16:14

‘Uncharted’ can’t quite find itself

Written by Allen Adams

The history of movies derived from video games is … well, let’s just call it checkered. While there have been a handful that have proven successful from a financial standpoint, the overall quality of films within the genre hasn’t been great.

Meanwhile, the history of movies that have languished in development hell for a decade or more? Also checkered. It’s rare for a film to be stuck in limbo for that long to make its way out and prove a success. Not unprecedented, but rare.

“Uncharted” is both.

The new film – based on the wildly popular video game series of the same name – has been in development since 2008. That’s 14 years (though some of that time on this end was obviously lost to the pandemic) – so long that co-star Mark Wahlberg was actually attached to play the lead role occupied by Tom Holland at one point. So it finally made it to the screen after a long journey through the wilderness. And the final verdict?


While there’s some fun to be had here, the overall experience feels like less than the sum of its parts. I’ll concede a lack of familiarity with the games, but “Uncharted” feels like a CGI-heavy knockoff of much better movies. The plot meanders and the character arcs don’t make much sense and the entire third act is hot nonsense. That said, I didn’t have a terrible time. Not a great time, but not a terrible one. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, 21 February 2022 16:10

‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ a cut below

Written by Allen Adams

It’s an IP world, folks. The cinematic landscape exists largely on a foundation of franchises, of sequels and reboots and the like. Whether we’re talking about the big screen or the small, it doesn’t matter. Sure, there are still original ideas out there, but while familiarity breeds contempt, it also breeds profit, so … here we are.

But there’s more than one way to skin a sequel.

So it is with “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” the latest iteration of the grisly grindcore horror franchise; this entry marks the ninth TCM film. This Netflix offering takes its cue from another recently revisited series – “Halloween” – in that it is a direct sequel to the 1974 original only, ignoring the many sequels since and essentially opting to erase them from canon.

Unfortunately, the decision to wipe the slate clean doesn’t have a ton of impact. Instead, we get a film that feels surprisingly generic, a ho-hum slasher film that doesn’t have anything like the impact of the original. Sure, there’s some gore and a couple of intense scenes, but even with some ham-fisted efforts to loop in some bits of social and cultural commentary, it ultimately falls flat.

Monday, 14 February 2022 15:53

A river runs through it – ‘Death on the Nile’

Written by Allen Adams

There’s nothing quite like a good whodunit. And the absolute O.G. of the whodunit is Agatha Christie, who wrote scores of novels and short story collections, all devoted to laying out literary mysteries for us to solve … or at least, for us to enjoy being solved.

One of Christie’s iconic characters – Detective Hercule Poirot – is currently in the midst of a big-screen renaissance, courtesy of the efforts of one Sir Kenneth Branagh, who is devoted to bringing the character back into the popular consciousness by working both in front of and behind the camera.

Indeed, “Death on the Nile” marks the second outing for Branagh as both director and star – he plays the iconic Belgian crime-solving genius (mustache and all) even as he steers the ship. It’s not quite as engaging as 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” for a variety of reasons – the level of ensemble talent isn’t quite as high and there’s a pasted-on feel to most of the exterior shots, making the whole thing feel just a touch low-rent – ironic, since this is a story that revolves around the rich.

Even taking those issues into account, however, it is a perfectly pleasant piece of pop cinema, a throwback of sorts (though one could certainly argue that “Death on the Nile” is no less IP-reliant than any superhero movie) that mostly works despite a fair share of flaws.

Monday, 14 February 2022 15:51

Say ‘I do’ to ‘Marry Me’

Written by Allen Adams

The past few years have shown us that the streamers in general – and Netflix in particular – have taken the baton with regard to romantic comedies. The major players just aren’t as interested in rom-coms anymore, choosing to focus their energies elsewhere.

However, that doesn’t mean they’ve given up entirely.

And so we get “Marry Me,” the new film directed by Kat Coiro and starring Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson. With a screenplay adapted by John Rogers, Tami Sagher and Harper Dill from Bobby Crosby’s graphic novel of the same name, the film tells the story of an iconic pop star whose way forward gets thrown into disarray when she crosses paths with a man who is unlike anyone she has ever met before.

Is it predictable? Yes. Corny? For sure. Sappy? Absolutely. It is also a sweet, good-hearted good time, a movie that is unashamed to be what it is. This film isn’t striving for edginess or excitement. It offers up romantic formula with glee, hitting all the standard markers – playing the hits, if you will – but is no lesser for it. “Marry Me” isn’t great cinema, but rom-com fans – of which I am definitely one – will find plenty to enjoy.

Monday, 14 February 2022 15:48

‘Blacklight’ a dim bulb

Written by Allen Adams

The king of geriaction is back!

Liam Neeson, whose late-career pivot into action movies essentially invented a subgenre, has returned to the big screen once more to utilize his particular set of skills. Said skills may vary somewhat from film to film, but fundamentally, they remain forever the same.

His latest outing is “Blacklight,” directed by Mark Williams from a screenplay by Nick May. It’s the story of a veteran law enforcement agent who inadvertently gets wrapped up in a conspiracy that reaches high into the halls of power and if he’s to have any hope of saving himself and those close to him, he’s going to have to root out the corrupt evildoers himself – by any means necessary.

That might ring a bell, because Neeson has made half-a-dozen movies that could easily fit that description. We're deep into variations on a theme territory here; it’s a movie that is largely devoid of surprises because, again, you’ve seen it all before. Honestly, the biggest (only?) surprise about “Blacklight” is that it is somewhat inexplicably not a Netflix offering. Theatrical release all the way, baby – just as geriaction is meant to be seen!

Monday, 07 February 2022 16:10

Older, but no wiser – ‘Jackass Forever’

Written by Allen Adams

We’re approaching that time of year where we really lean into the celebration of the movie year. That time when we break down the best films of the recent past in advance of the Academy Awards (and perhaps catching up on the ones that we missed). That time when we’re awash in the sophisticated brilliance of the cinema.

But films writ large are far more than mere awards bait. They are entertainment. And sometimes, you just want to see something that appeals to your baser self, a movie that is unabashedly and unapologetically aiming directly at your lowest common denominator.

A movie like “Jackass Forever.”

Johnny Knoxville and his band of merry lunatics are back on the big screen, a full decade since they last graced us with their cinematic presence. But rest assured, while times have changed, these weirdoes definitely (and defiantly) have not. This mixture of old favorites and new faces – this film marks the first time the gang has introduced additional cast members to the fray – brings the unique “Jackass” aesthetic to the forefront once again.

And I have to say – heaven help me – it is glorious.

There’s something to be said for filmmakers who have a gift for creating a certain type of movie. Sure, these directors and writers can and do produce work outside that area of expertise, but even as they spread their wings, there’s no doubt that they have a space in which they can become the best versions of themselves.

Roland Emmerich is one of those filmmakers.

Seriously, is there anyone out there who can hang with Emmerich when it comes to big-budget movies revolving around ludicrous, over-the-top disasters? Is there anyone else even in the conversation? I’d say not. Sure, he can do other stuff and do it fairly well, but nothing tops Emmerich when he’s placing the world in existential peril.

And so, it’s always a hoot when we get a new entry into that particular canon. His latest is “Moonfall,” which he directed from a script he co-wrote with Spenser Cohen and Harald Kloser (who also did the score). It is as deliriously dumb as the very best of his movies have been in recent years, a sci-fi action film based on a ridiculous premise and made with a nine-figure budget.

Seriously – this movie doesn’t make a lick of sense. It is packed with questionable decisions and incoherent action. There are SO MANY PLOTLINES, and just when it seems like the narrative threads are coming together, more tendrils are sent spiraling outward. Just an absolute bonkers mess.

It is lunacy and I am here for it.

So much of our storytelling is built around traumas and how we manage them. Some of those traumas are insular, personal. Others are writ large, part of a societal concern. And still others – perhaps the most complicated of all – are the ones that exist in the overlap between those two extremes, traumas that are both deeply personal and undeniably widespread.

“The Fallout,” newly streaming on HBO Max, attempts to delve into just such a complex trauma. Written and directed by Megan Park in her feature debut, it follows a young woman as she struggles through the aftermath of a mass shooting at her school. We watch as she tries to process what happened even as others find ways to move forward and move on … and some of her coping mechanisms prove to be a bit self-destructive, even as her loved ones try to help.

It’s a striking and emotionally powerful film, well-crafted and almost shockingly self-assured work from a writer-director making her feature debut. It is honest without being strident and emotionally engaging without being cloying, rife with excellent performances. The end result is a film that will stay with the viewer long after its vivid, visceral conclusion gives way to rolling credits.

Fans of the NFL are probably aware that Sean Payton, longtime coach of the New Orleans Saints, stepped down after this past season. However, they might not be aware that a new film involving the last time Payton “stepped down” has hit Netflix.

“Home Team,” directed by Charles and Daniel Kinnane and starring Kevin James, tells the story of what Payton got up to during his year-long suspension following the headhunting “Bountygate” scandal that involved Saints players getting paid to outright injure opposing players (not that this movie is all that interested in digging too deeply into that story).

No, what we get here is a focus on what Payton did while he was gone. Specifically, he apparently spent some time working with his son’s sixth-grade football team in Texas. And so, with the full power of Adam Sandler behind it, “Home Team” turns one of the biggest NFL scandals of the past decade into fodder for a kid-friendly sports movie.

It’s not great, folks. Now, it isn’t quite as terrible as some of Sandler’s previous Netflix productions (it’s worth noting that the man doesn’t appear in this one, though the rest of his usual roster is present and accounted for – and yes, that includes family), but that’s a low bar. It’s derivative of pretty much every kid-oriented sports movie you’ve seen … and worse than most of them.

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.

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