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Wednesday, 02 September 2020 16:01

Time is (not) on my side – ‘Tenet’

Christopher Nolan has clout. And he’s unafraid to use it.

It’s almost cliché at this point to talk about Nolan’s position as the last bastion of original idea-driven blockbuster filmmaking. Yes, the cinematic landscape is defined by the ebb and flow of franchises now. Hell, Nolan understands that better than anyone – he did his franchise turn with Batman, after all, though those films are obviously superhero outliers. But he’s the guy who can get a nine-figure check to direct his own non-IP script.

He’s at it again with “Tenet,” currently in theaters. I’ll be real with you – I’m not at all sure how to talk about this movie to people who haven’t already seen it. But hey, that’s the gig, right?

There’s obviously a lot of baggage here. Nolan’s insistence that the film be experienced in a theater turned it into a bellwether, leaving it to assume the burden of expectation with regard to theatrical reopenings writ large. That pressure can’t help but inform the way audiences experience the film. Add to that the outsized expectations that always accompany the filmmaker’s work and you’ve got a recipe for disappointment.

Thankfully, Nolan’s skill is such that he largely manages to sidestep that potential letdown. “Tenet” isn’t a perfect movie, but it is the sort of meticulously-constructed blockbuster that we’ve come to expect from the director. It is massive in scope, a challenging puzzle box of a film that works both as pure spectacle and as something a bit more thoughtful. The complexities of the plot skate right up to the edge of confusion, but anyone sitting down to watch a Nolan movie should probably expect some sort of chronological convolution.

And boy, do we ever get some of that.

Published in Movies

If you’re looking to make a kid-friendly action movie, you’re limited in many ways. Ultimately, this means that there are only a handful of basic ideas that are feasible. Filmmakers take one of these concepts, slap some cosmetic changes onto it and call it a movie.

One of the go-tos for kiddie action is “Parents have a secret and kids are the only ones who can save them.” We’ve seen it a million times.

Better make it a million and one.

“The Sleepover,” a new original movie from Netflix currently streaming on the service, is the latest to throw a coat of paint and a few accessories onto that baseline idea and let her rip. Now, there’s a certain base level of competence that comes with Netflix films, so this film’s floor is pretty high. Unfortunately, it’s rare that the company’s originals far exceed that base level, so the ceiling is fairly low.

And so we get “The Sleepover,” a reasonably-executed and largely soulless collection of dopey kid jokes and slightly-off adult banter featuring a couple of decent action sequences. The story is thin and the film features a couple of actors you recognize giving inoffensive performances; basically, it’s the exact kind of disposable cinema we largely expect from Netflix.

Published in Movies

Everyone knows that superhero movies are big business these days. The MCU and DCEU have both proven to be massive moneymakers, bringing in billions of dollars for the studios. What we sometimes forget, however, is that these films are being built on a foundation of source material that runs decades deep. That depth provides a wealth of ready-made narrative and loads of context.

As you might imagine, these means that creating movies based on more limited or obscure source material can result in varying degrees of success. And when you start talking about wholly original ideas, with no IP serving to shore them up structurally, well – you’ve got a task ahead of you.

Netflix has offered up just such an idea with their new movie “Project Power.” Specifically – what if there was a pill you could take that would give you superpowers for five minutes? But there’s a catch: you won’t know what your power will be until you take the pill … and there’s a chance you might just explode.

“Project Power” is a big-budget action-adventure that, while liberally borrowing from other sources, still manages to be more or less its own thing. Sure, it’s a touch derivative in spots, but it also has a couple of top-tier talents heading the call list (Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and an up-and-coming directing team at the helm (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman). It’s not a wheel reinvention; this movie hits the beats we’ve come to expect from superhero cinema and does so in a familiar way. However, there’s just enough different here to make things interesting not just for the average viewer, but for the hardcore Marvel and DC stans as well.

Published in Movies
Saturday, 11 July 2020 16:41

Never say die – ‘The Old Guard’

It takes a special kind of performer to headline an action franchise. Gone are the days when all it took was a willingness to bulk up, shoot guns and spout catchphrases; today’s action offerings trend toward the high-concept, particularly when looking to create or continue a series. And a different sort of action requires a different sort of actor.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have pegged someone like Charlize Theron as a likely action star, but following recent turns in films like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Atomic Blonde,” it is abundantly clear that she has all the requisite chops to handle her business.

Her latest entry into that realm is “The Old Guard,” currently streaming on Netflix. It’s a sharp and sometimes surprising sci-fi action offering, one clearly intended to kick off a franchise for the streamer. There’s a thoughtfulness to the film that you don’t always see in this sort of offering, along with a willingness to allow breathing room for character development (although the action set pieces are high in both quality and quantity).

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood from a screenplay that Greg Rucka adapted from his own graphic novel series of the same name, “The Old Guard” is a film whose strengths are consistently complementary, finding the perfect blend of action-packed excitement and character engagement – one left wide open for future installments.

Published in Movies

As someone who considers himself a bit of an action movie connoisseur, I’ve got a special place in my heart for high-concept action. I enjoy the broad strokes and tropes of the genre, but I particularly dig it when there’s an interesting idea serving as the framework.

Obviously, when I hear tell of a film with just such a framework, I look forward to seeing it. I have certain expectations, of course, but they are expectations I believe to be quite reasonable. My bar in terms of pure enjoyment is relatively low … and yet some films still manage to undershoot it by a frankly astonishing degree.

So it is with “The Last Days of American Crime,” a film that limbos so far beneath my reasonable expectations as to bury itself in a not-so-shallow grave. The film – directed by Olivier Megaton and currently streaming on Netflix – commits egregious cinematic sins almost too numerous to name, working its way through what almost seems like a deliberate checklist of poor choices and worse execution.

Seriously – this movie is a bad time. It is staggeringly overlong, yet still manages to feel dull and uneventful. The dialogue is laughable, the performances are wooden and/or off-kilter and the character motivations are either nonsensical or nonexistent. The action sequences feel rote and uninspired and it is shockingly tone deaf in spots. Just … not good.

Published in Movies

Everyone has their particular tastes when it comes to movies. Even those of us whose job it is to offer up opinions regarding films have our personal preferences. And while we strive for objectivity, we also recognize that when it comes down to it, we like what we like. Taste matters.

Take action movies, for instance. There are those out there who find action movies to be generally lacking in appeal, who think that watching bullets and/or fists flying simply doesn’t make for good cinema. They are entitled to their opinion.

Their wrong, wrong, wrong opinion.

“Extraction,” the latest Netflix original offering to hit the streaming service, isn’t the greatest or most original action movie you’ll see … and that’s OK. See, it’s driven by some excellent set pieces and a strong lead performance from Chris Hemsworth, which means that it’s plenty good enough. It isn’t necessary to innovate when you’re willing to embrace the essence of what has always worked.

Adapted by Joe Russo from his own graphic novel “Ciudad” and directed by longtime stunt coordinator and first-time feature director Sam Hargrave, “Extraction” adheres pretty closely to standard action tropes. However, by executing at a high level, the film manages to largely transcend formula, offering viewers a thrilling and exciting two hours of escapist action.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 18 March 2020 12:18

‘Bloodshot’ a complete misfire

One of the things that we’ve learned as various studios try to construct their own cinematic universes in the wake of the massive success of the MCU? It’s hard to do – much harder than Marvel makes it look.

That doesn’t mean folks are going to stop trying.

The Vin Diesel vehicle “Bloodshot” is intended to serve as the jumping-off point for yet another cinematic universe – this one built on the IP of Valiant Comics. It’s a rich source of material, albeit one far less familiar to the layperson than the works of either Marvel or DC; Sony is counting on a better outcome than what they got with their efforts to make Spider-Man a going concern.

Alas, it’s not looking good.

Leaving aside the very real logistical issues that have sprung from the global situation with the coronavirus, the truth is that this movie just isn’t very good. There’s a lack of energy to the proceedings that undercuts any effort to excite the viewer about the movie they are watching, let alone future films that might come along. With iffy effects work, sloppy screenwriting, pedestrian direction and a particularly leaden performance from Diesel, “Bloodshot” simply misses the mark.

Published in Movies

Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese. John Wayne and John Ford. Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott. Alfred Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Kurt Russell and John Carpenter. Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder.

The history of Hollywood is littered with actor/director pairings that became ongoing, marriages between filmmaker and star that led to long-term cinematic relationships. These pairings often – but definitely not always – lead to exceptional and memorable projects.

While the partnership between Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg might not have the same legendary heft carried by the names on that previous list, it’s tough to argue that they haven’t been both prolific and successful (commercially, anyway – critically is a different story).

Their latest collaboration is “Spenser Confidential,” a Netflix original film loosely based on the novel “Wonderland” by Ace Atkins and the 1980s TV show “Spencer: For Hire,” both featuring characters created by Robert B. Parker. Wahlberg plays the titular Spenser, an ex-cop and ex-con looking to get his life back together, only to get swept up into a vast conspiracy.

It’s a throwback movie, one reminiscent of the Reagan-era action thrillers from which it draws its inspiration. While the plot is thin and convoluted and most of the characters are more accurately described as caricatures, that nostalgia vibe is enough to make the movie a mildly enjoyable experience – though no one is going to mistake it as “good,” per se.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 11 February 2020 11:57

‘Birds of Prey’ offers high-flying fun

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.

Published in Movies

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come … back … for you?

That’s the question some might have been asking themselves upon hearing that there would be a third installment in the Will Smith-Martin Lawrence buddy cop action comedy “Bad Boys” series. With 17 years having elapsed since the last entry, would this latest offering work? Would the high-octane rapid-fire profane chemistry of the two leads hold up? What about the new directing team of Adil and Bilall? Would they be able to fill the explosion-and-bikini-filled shoes of action auteur Michael Bay?

Do we need another “Bad Boys” movie?

Ultimately, the answer is “no” – and that’s OK. We don’t need another “Fast & Furious” movie. We don’t need another Marvel/DC movie. We don’t need another cartoon musical. But they’re still fun, and that’s what “BBFL” is. It’s fun. A lot more fun than it has any right to be, in fact.

This film is a throwback to a different era of action movie, one anchored and elevated by the still-strong comedic dynamic between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. It somehow manages to simultaneously acknowledge and ignore the passage of time, a look at two guys coming to terms with the realities of aging while ALSO still clearly being far and away the coolest dudes in the room. It’s ridiculous and sublime and unexpectedly honest, close to the best-case scenario for a story that’s been gathering dust for nearly two decades.

Published in Movies
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