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Is it weird that there have been enough time loop movies recently for it to kind of feel like we’re in a time loop? And I say this as someone who digs the subgenre almost universally. Seriously – gimme an unstuck-in-time protagonist trying to solve their personal repetitive infinity and I am here for it.

The big daddy of them all is “Groundhog Day,” obviously, borne aloft by the brilliance of Bill Murray and Andie McDowell and Harold Ramis and – let’s be real – the delightful Stephen Tobolowsky. It’s the grandaddy of them all, the OG.

Is it weird that there have been enough time loop movies recently for it to kind of feel like we’re in a time loop? And I say this as someone who digs the subgenre almost universally. Seriously – gimme an unstuck-in-time protagonist trying to solve their personal repetitive infinity and I am here for it.

Of course, our most recent entry into the canon was the excellent “Palm Springs,” which set Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti loose in a delightfully loopy love story. It’s the freshest and most timely effort we’ve seen in ages.

Is it weird that there have been enough time loop movies recently for it to kind of feel like we’re in a time loop? And I say this as someone who digs the subgenre almost universally. Seriously – gimme an unstuck-in-time protagonist trying to solve their personal repetitive infinity and I am here for it.

Thank you – I’ll be here all week.

That dumb bit is in service of “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things,” currently streaming via Amazon Prime Video. The film – directed by Ian Samuels from a screenplay that Lev Grossman adapted from his own short story – is yet another riff on the time loop trope, adding a high school love story into the mix that gives it a little distance from some of the more well-known entries into the genre (entries that the film itself is unafraid to reference to humorous effect).

Now, this movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel. The filmmakers have a clear understanding of what makes these types of narratives work; they lean into the repetition and embrace the comedic possibilities therein. I’ll grant that such an approach limits the film’s ceiling, but it also assures a high floor. This leaves us with a movie that, while not necessarily great, is a pretty good viewing experience.

Sunday, 14 February 2021 18:51

‘Young Hearts’ can be broken

Written by Allen Adams

There’s an urgency to the love between teenagers that is never really replicated in adulthood. The newness of it all – not just the specific relationships, but just love in general – makes everything feel outsized and overwrought. The knob is turned to 11 and then snapped off.

Often, when adults seek to evoke those early romances – particularly in YA or YA-adjacent fare – they succumb to the temptation to add variables to the equation. Sometimes, they go with elements of the supernatural. Other times, they introduce drastic health issues. However it is done, the intent is always to contribute more obstacles to the situation. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

So when you get a story that is just a sweet, simple story of young love, it almost feels daring.

That’s the new film “Young Hearts,” co-directed by Sarah and Zachary Ray Sherman from a screenplay penned by the former. It’s a sincere love story, devoid of high-concept flourishes; it’s just about the connections between teenagers and the ways in which those connections can change due to forces internal and external alike.

At its (very large) heart, this movie is about reminding us that high school romance is innocent, yes, but it also comes with its own difficulties. Dealing with those difficulties is part of the adolescent experience – an experience portrayed wonderfully here.

Sunday, 14 February 2021 18:43

‘Little Fish’ a smart sci-fi love story

Written by Allen Adams

So much of how we relate to the world rests on a foundation of memory. But what if that foundation were to crumble? How can a society survive without remembering?

How can love?

“Little Fish” – directed by Chad Hartigan from Mattson Tomlin’s screenplay – is a look at what might happen if the world started to forget. A young couple is just starting out on their life of love when their future is threatened by a global pandemic (yes, I know), one that threatens the very memory of their time together.

It is a thoughtful and emotional engagement with the idea of what it means to be connected to one another and how much of what binds us together is shared experience and the ability to return to those times through memory. Without that tether, we simply float away. And yet … perhaps love can transcend that tether and form a tie of its own.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021 13:01

Forgetting to remember – ‘Malcolm & Marie’

Written by Allen Adams

The deluge of pandemic movies is coming. Brace yourselves.

As we sit just shy of a year since the country shut down in the face of COVID-19, we’re starting to see some of the early fruits of cinematic pandemic pivots. These films will in many ways be defined by the circumstances of their origins – separating movies made during this time from this time will be impossible. Now, they aren’t necessarily ABOUT the pandemic, but rather shaped by the situation.

“Malcolm & Marie” is a prime example – an Amazon Prime example – of what these projects might look like. It’s a legitimate two-hander; there are literally two people that we see on screen in the entire movie. It is a legitimate single location shoot; all of the action takes place in and around one house. It is a dialogue-heavy black-and-white relationship drama, one that features two actors on the rapid rise to movie stardom in Zendaya and John David Washington. And all of it came together over the course of a couple of weeks with a twenty-person crew in an effort to keep working following the shutdown of Hollywood operations (including Levinson and Zendaya’s HBO show “Euphoria”).

But while the dense dialogue and vaguely true origins of the story prove compelling, the back-and-forth verbosity slowly starts devolving into a Hollywood-centric Albee riff – think “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” meets “The Player” – that rings false. Now, the barrels of charisma spilling all over the set courtesy of the two leads certainly help mitigate the situation; Washington and Zendaya certainly generate heat. Alas, that heat is somewhat undermined by Levinson’s affinity for speechifying; ultimately, there’s an insincere hollowness to it all – and that CAN’T be solved by presence alone, leaving the actors to their struggle.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021 12:37

Set adrift on memory – ‘Bliss’

Written by Allen Adams

What if the life you know isn’t the whole story?

Few science fiction tropes offer the kind of narrative oomph that you get from parallel worlds. It’s an ideal way to introduce that “what if?” vibe that can make for such an interesting story. A more recent evolution of the concept is from the notion that we are living inside a simulation – an idea that seems to be steadily be gaining more real-world traction.

Of course, the fact that it CAN be effective doesn’t mean it always WILL be effective. And that potential for effectiveness means that we see it used a lot; unfortunately, that high volume doesn’t necessarily translate to consistent quality.

“Bliss” – the latest film from indie genre auteur Mike Cahill – attempts to explore some of the potential ramifications that might come from learning that what you believe to be real … isn’t. And while it does find room for some interesting ideas and a couple of sly subversions, it unfortunately becomes rather tangled in its own construction, to no one’s benefit.

Cahill, who wrote and directed the film, has a history of doing a lot with a little, crafting a pair of marvelous genre gems in “Another Earth” and “I Origins.” He’s venturing into familiar territory here, but despite some big ideas and strong performances from his leads, the film never quite clicks, particularly in its chaotic and vaguely unsatisfying third act.

Denzel Washington is a movie star. One of the few we still have, really.

This doesn’t mean that every movie he makes is automatically some sort of commercial and/or critical success. He can usually open a movie – well, as much as anyone can outside the realm of blockbuster IP – and he’s almost always good, but the films themselves are a little more inconsistent.

“The Little Things” – currently in theaters and available on HBO Max – is a prime example of that variability. It’s a period crime thriller (though as an aside, calling a movie set in 1990 “period” has me feeling my age) – red meat for Denzel – with a couple of Oscar-winning co-stars in Rami Malek and noted weirdo Jared Leto. That certainly looks like a formula for success.

Unfortunately, while director John Lee Hancock did an admirable job in eliciting good performances and evoking an engaging atmosphere, screenwriter John Lee Hancock failed to rise to the occasion, leading to a story that feels formulaic, disjointed and a little derivative. For me, the pros slightly outweigh the cons, but your mileage may vary.

I’m a huge admirer of triple threats – that is, performers with the ability to sing, dance and act at a high level. It’s a term most often foisted upon stage actors, specifically Broadway types, but it can be applied to a number of stage and screen talents.

Here’s the thing, though: Something has to be third. No one is EQUALLY gifted at singing, dancing and acting. Yes, you can be good, even great, at all three, but there has to be one that comes in last.

This brings us to Justin Timberlake, a performer of immense ability across the spectrum – a legitimate triple threat. However, I feel very comfortable saying that for JT, acting definitely comes in third.

And yet, when I watch him in “Palmer,” his new film currently streaming on Apple TV+, I wonder. Not enough to change my mind, of course, but that’s more because his singing/dancing talents are so extreme rather than any acting shortcoming. We haven’t seen Timberlake take on any kind of a serious role in years (and never anything like this one), so it’s easy to forget.

This movie – directed by Fisher Stevens from a screenplay by Cheryl Guerriero – pushes the pop star toward a darkness that is vastly unlike any of his previous efforts. It’s a heartfelt story of redemption and acceptance, one that goes to some morally murky places and is unafraid to venture into unpleasant territory. It’s about responsibility, about protecting those who need protection and how that protective instinct can grow into something more. And it’s about what happens when someone who has lost everything sees a chance to regain some of what he no longer has.

Maintaining a connection to the past is paramount to understanding the present. Knowledge of history allows us to learn from those who came before, and where we come from can often help us get to where we’re going. But just as the past informs the present, so too does the present attempt to define the past.

But the quest for that knowledge isn’t always an easy one. While many seekers will be pure of intent, there will always be those who attempt to profit or self-aggrandize, people made erstwhile gatekeepers through matters of circumstance rather than talent.

“The Dig” – directed by Simon Stone from a screenplay by Moira Buffini, adapted from the John Preston novel of the same name – is a story of history uncovered, a based-on-a-true-story tale of amateur archaeology and passions both overt and opaque that explores the bonds of shared interest and understanding that can help transcend barriers of class.

With a charming sense of understatement, a deliberate pace and some quietly compelling performances, “The Dig” is a low-key delight, a warm blanket of a movie that unhurriedly unspools with a stiff-upper-lipped sweetness. And while there’s not a lot of excitement here, the film manages to engage with its audience just fine.

Surprises are pretty rare these days when it comes to movies. So much of what we see has been relentlessly promoted, with outreach projected through algorithmic and demographic prisms. To know anything about an upcoming offering is often to know everything.

But not always.

I had heard a little bit about Derek Delgaudio’s one-man show “In & Of Itself” when it was first taking off a couple of years ago, but not much. Basically, I understood that it was a show that utilized stage magic but wasn’t ABOUT stage magic. That was it, really – no knowledge of content or tone or anything like that.

So when I learned that Hulu was airing a filmed version of the show – one directed by the same person who directed the stage show, the legendary Frank Oz – I figured I’d check it out, see some card tricks, that kind of thing.

I had no idea.

Last year, I watched and reviewed over 150 films. That’s a LOT of movies. And yet, I barely scratched the surface of what was available; last year saw hundreds of new releases that I not only didn’t see, but quite likely never even heard about. Making a movie is hard, but getting it seen is in many cases even harder.

No one understands that exponential increase in difficulty like an independent filmmaker, someone who has to constantly hustle to make even incremental advances with their projects. There are so many aspects of the movie business; the creative process is just one small facet of the overall machine.

In the documentary “Clapboard Jungle,” currently available on demand, director Justin McConnell takes the viewer on a five-year journey through the life of an indie filmmaker: namely, one Justin McConnell. Through a combination of recording his own experiences trying to get projects made and interviews with a number of successful industry folks with indie connections, McConnell seeks to break down for us just how difficult it all can be for those operating outside the traditional studio system.

Meanwhile, he also juxtaposes that difficulty with the fact that there are more films being made now than ever before. Of course, that explosive growth in content doesn’t necessarily mean a corresponding growth in audiences, resulting in circumstances where someone could watch a hundred movies in a year and not see a quarter of the new work available.

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