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Come with me, won’t you? Come with me to a simpler time. To 1996, when sequels were considered mildly profitable punchlines and the idea of constructing massive cinematic franchises was largely contained to the Spielbergs and Lucases of the world.

That was the year we got “Mission: Impossible,” an adaptation of the 1960s television show of the same name. It was a Tom Cruise action vehicle that did well both commercially and critically and that could have been that. A pair of sequels that caught top-tier directorial talents either after their prime (John Woo for MI2 in 2000) or before it (J.J. Abrams for MI3 in 2006) made it seem like maybe we should stop.

Instead, the franchise has carried forward with three of the best action movies of the past decade. This unlikely wellspring has given us “Ghost Protocol,” “Rogue Nation” and the latest installment “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” … which might be the best one we’ve seen so far. It once again relies on coherent, well-executed action set pieces, a few moments of winking dialogue and – most importantly - Cruise’s complete willingness to hurl himself headlong into harm’s way if it might allow him to win our love.

Published in Movies

There’s something comforting about known quantities when it comes to the cinema. Going to the movies with a confident understanding of precisely the experience you’re going to have can be kind of nice.

So it is with summer CGI-explosion fest “Skyscraper,” a simplistically-titled vehicle for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who by The Maine Edge fiat will continue to be called The Rock and there’s nothing any of you can do to stop me) that is formulaic and predictable and jam-packed with action clichés both general and Rock-specific.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not a good movie, mind you, but if your expectations are tempered by the knowledge of both the film’s star and its title, you will almost certainly have a good time.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 11 July 2018 12:13

‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ comes up big

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become one of the primary driving forces in the world of movies over the past decade. Each of these films makes hundreds of millions at the box office and continues the ever-evolving and unfolding story, moving toward massive paradigm shifts and crossover events.

But here’s the thing – operating on global and cosmic scales presents some issues. Namely – you can’t just keep raising the stakes; narrative stakes can only be raised so many times before things begin to lose their impact and feel forced. To avoid reaching that point, some sort of reset is necessary. With the 20th film in the MCU, the powers that be have chosen to cleanse our palates after the cataclysmic consequences of “Avengers: Infinity War.”

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” brings the MCU back down to Earth, choosing to tell a smaller, largely self-contained story. Taking place before the events of “IW,” the film doesn’t deal with fate-of-the-universe-level consequences. Instead, its impact is primarily on a more individual plane. It exists mostly independent of the other films, without the numerous cameos and tangential MacGuffins that often riddle MCU offerings. That freedom allows “AM&TW” to be lighter and funnier while still providing the superpowered set pieces audiences have come to expect.

Published in Movies

We’re all aware that sequels and franchises are the primary drivers of Hollywood’s economic engine. That’s the nature of the beast, so it’s something to which audiences have grown accustomed. But every so often, a sequel will come along that is surprising in that its very existence seems to be unnecessary, leaving you to wonder … how? Why?

“Sicario: Day of the Sodaldo” is one such head-scratcher, a sequel to 2015’s excellent “Sicario,” a taut, subversive thriller which starred Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro and wound up with a couple of Oscar nominations. “Sicario” was a really good movie – and a story that needn’t go on.

It seems that screenwriter Taylor Sheridan had more to tell, however, and so we get this weird and unexpected sequel; Stefan Sollima takes the reins from Denis Villeneuve. Blunt is gone, but Brolin and Del Toro are back. The result is a movie that isn’t nearly as thoughtful or challenging as its predecessor; the amorality of its primary figures is largely untempered. In essence, the first film’s misguided-but-present moral compass is replaced with gunfire and action-movie nihilism.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 19 June 2018 15:20

‘Superfly’ is less than super

Here’s a fun fact about my cinematic tastes that might surprise you: I have a deep-seated and ongoing affection for the blaxploitation genre films of the early 1970s. “Shaft,” “Dolemite,” “Avenging Disco Godfather” – even later parodies like “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka” and “Black Dynamite” – are all … not favorites, per se, but definitely beloved bits of my movie-watching history.

“Superfly,” the new remake of the 1972 classic of the same name, makes an effort to stay true to the spirit of the original. It’s definitely slick and stylish, directed by noted music video auteur Director X from a script by Alex Tse, but it lacks some of the soul that made the original film so engaging and fun. While this new offering shows some flashes, it can’t quite put the pieces together. The end result is too long and lacking in joy.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 12 June 2018 16:04

Checking into ‘Hotel Artemis’

World-building – particularly sci-fi world-building – isn’t easy. Creating a consistent, believable genre landscape is tricky business. And doing it in such a way as to allow for both exciting action and narrative engagement is trickier still.

Drew Pearce knows how tough that can be, having penned scripts for iconic franchises like the MCU (“Iron Man 3”) and “Mission: Impossible” (“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”). But creating something original presents its own set of unique challenges.

Pearce marks his directorial debut with one such original script in “Hotel Artemis,” a gritty bit of near-future sci-fi storytelling. The simplest way to describe it is if you wanted to focus on what happened to bad guys that John Wick injured but didn’t kill, only a decade or so in the future. It has that same sort of hinted-at rich and complex underworld, centered around a hospital where criminals can receive treatment for injuries suffered in the execution of their duties. It’s brutally violent and darkly funny with moments of surprising poignancy.

All that, plus Jodie Foster. What’s not to love?

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 22 May 2018 15:00

More meta mayhem – ‘Deadpool 2’

Superheroes are big business at the box office. The biggest cinematic successes of the past few years have involved CGI explosions and spandex. Hell, 2018 alone has seen “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” taking their places atop various all-time lists.

And yet … there’s more than one path to victory.

We got a glimpse of one such path with 2016’s “Deadpool,” the hard-R Ryan Reynolds passion project that brought the unorthodox and profane titular character to the big screen in all of his fourth wall-breaking metatextual glory. The critical and commercial acclaim with which it was met ensured that we’d see another installment.

“Deadpool 2” is … more. More of the self-awareness. More of the snark. More winking jokes and nods. More curse words. Just … more. It is broad and crude and unapologetic. And while it’s maybe a little messier and unfocused than its predecessor, it also opens up and shows some unexpected heart – albeit in Deadpool’s specific and very peculiar way.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 01 May 2018 16:02

Summer movies: 18 for 2018

We begin this annual tradition as we always do, which is with the caveat that it seems a bit silly to be writing a summer movie preview so far in advance of summer.

Still, Hollywood has extended the season, turning the beginning of May into our summer starting point, so if we’re going to catalog the blockbusters, then it has to be from here.

Although if we’re going to be real about it, the biggest movie of the year has already happened – “Avengers: Infinity War” just had the biggest box office opening since, well … ever. And hey – you can check out my review right in this very edition.

But while the biggest may have already landed, there’s still plenty to be excited about.

2018 has plenty of what we’ve come to expect from blockbuster season -  a bunch of sequels and a handful of remake/reboot-type offerings and some superheroes, along with some animated fare and a smattering of comedies. It’s not like we don’t know how it works.

Honestly, there’s a LOT of what we’ve seen before. But hey – familiarity isn’t always a bad thing. Let’s have a look at what the summer of 2018 has to offer.

(Please note: this not a list of the 18 best films, but rather an attempt at a representative sample of what’s coming. There are movies that I expect to love that aren’t here and movies I expect to loathe that are. Still, it looks like there’s something for everyone.)

Published in Cover Story
Tuesday, 17 April 2018 14:41

Monster mash – ‘Rampage’

Despite its best efforts, Hollywood remains unable to properly transition video game properties to the big screen. There are plenty of obstacles – some obvious, others not so much – and while studios have proven able to overcome many of them, they have yet to fully solve the problems inherent to the necessary shift in storytelling.

So it should come as no surprise that “Rampage,” based on the essentially plotless arcade game of the same name, doesn’t present a particularly compelling narrative. What DOES come as a surprise, however, is that despite the presence of everybody’s favorite action star Dwayne Johnson and some big-budget CGI, “Rampage” isn’t even all that much fun.

Published in Movies

There are some movies that are clearly designed for sequels. They are structured specifically to allow for a continuation of the story going forward – sometimes to the detriment of the tale being told in the moment. They’re built to be built again.

And then you have a film like 2013’s “Pacific Rim.” Guillermo del Toro’s big-budget love letter to the giant monster movies of the past felt for all the world like a one-off; a stylish two-hour whirlwind of enormous robots fighting enormous monsters. It seemed to have told the story it meant to tell.

Enter “Pacific Rim Uprising,” a decent-enough sequel that nevertheless feels unnecessary and almost cursory. Without del Toro as the driving creative force – though he is credited as a producer – this new film simply fails to reach the heights of the first, lacking spirit to match the spectacle of the too-familiar action beats.

Published in Movies
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