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Stop me if you heard this one: a professional wrestler who transitioned to acting makes an action comedy in which he shares the screen with a precocious child costar.

Ever since the double leg drop of Hulk Hogan’s “Suburban Commando” and “Mr. Nanny,” it seems that part of the formula for getting over a wrestler as a movie star involves that sort of kid-oriented flick. Hogan did it, the Rock did it (wildly successfully, it should be added) and now we’re seeing offerings from the likes of John Cena and Dave Bautista.

Bautista stars in “My Spy,” currently available on Amazon Prime Video and for rental, precisely the sort of odd couple kiddie comedy we’re talking about. Now, Bautista is an interesting case, in that he initially skipped a few steps in the wrestler-to-movie star plan thanks to his delightful turn as Drax in the MCU, but apparently he still has to follow the rules, even if he does it out of order.

As you might expect, there’s not much here that you haven’t seen before. The standard beats are all present, landing with a steady deliberateness. This is not a movie that surprises in terms of structure or story; you’re pretty sure how it’s all going to go from the top.

And yet … it’s actually not bad. Not great, mind you, but charming enough, thanks to Bautista and (particularly) his young costar. It’s all perfectly pleasant, with some dumb jokes and a couple of fun supporting turns and some fun kid-friendly(ish) action sequences. Not memorable, but in a vaguely pleasant way.

Honestly, it could have been worse.

Published in Movies

Creating tension – genuine tension – is one of the most difficult things to effectively do in a film. It’s about finding the right buttons to push, yes, but also about discerning the best manner in which to push them. It comes down to the choices made by the filmmaker. When those choices don’t work, the result is flat and leaves the viewer disinterested and disengaged. When they DO work, however, the sky is the limit.

The new film “7500” is very much the latter – both literally and figuratively.

The film – currently streaming and available for free on Amazon Prime Video – is the story of a pilot confronted with an attempted hijacking. Taking place almost exclusively within the confines of the cockpit of an airliner, it is a claustrophobic and taut piece, a bundle of exposed-nerve tension that is rendered all the more powerful by the limitations of its setting.

Anchored by a phenomenal performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “7500” is a story about a man being pushed to the breaking point – and beyond – by circumstances outside of his control. His survival and the survival of his passengers are reliant on his making the right choices at the right time. And thanks to the efforts of Gordon-Levitt and first-time feature writer/director Patrick Vollrath, we’re there right alongside him – muscles tensed, breath held – until the bitter end.

Published in Movies

When we think of sci-fi movies today, we tend to think of big, effects-driven events. We’re thinking about nine-figure budgets aimed mostly at either advancing franchises or originating them, the odd name director standalone project notwithstanding. These films allow for grand visual, visceral representation of the futuristic/alien/whatever worlds of their stories – and that grandness can cover up a lot of flaws.

But there’s a whole other tradition of cinematic sci-fi, one that can tell a commanding story without the bells and whistles. These films are the one that convey science fiction narratives through ideas, finding ways to engage and entertain without the trappings of spectacle. They are smaller films, with far less room for error – there’s no massive effects budget to distract from any missed choices. These indie offerings are much more warts and all.

“The Vast of Night” – newly streaming on Amazon Prime Video – falls very much into the latter category. The film, directed by first-timer Andrew Patterson from a script by James Montague and Craig Sanger, is a retro sci-fi delight telling the story of a fateful night in 1950s New Mexico where two young people find themselves in the midst of a mystery unlike anything anyone in their small town could ever have imagined.

The film leans heavily into its lo-fi high-concept underpinnings, going so far as to use a “Twilight Zone”-esque TV show called “Paradox Theatre” as a framing device. This isn’t about visual flourishes – though Patterson shows his clearly considerable stylistic talent in a few spots – so much as density of storytelling. The dialogue is thick and the pacing is deliberate, all in service to a narrative that unfolds in enigmatic quietude. It is atmospheric and creepy – and very good.

Published in Movies
Sunday, 19 April 2020 16:55

Clique bait - ‘Selah and the Spades’

There are plenty of teen movies out there, comedies and dramas alike. But while the standard high school setting lends itself well to the former, it seems that if you’re looking for the latter, then something more … hallowed … is in order.

Specifically, prep school, in all of its trust-funded, ivy-walled glory. The deep pockets and deeper tradition that comes with such a setting clears the runway for more dramatic stakes. That’s not to say that regular high schools can’t host drama, nor prep schools comedies – there are plenty of examples of both – but the insularity inherent to boarding school is fallow ground for dramatics.

This brings us to “Selah and the Spades,” a new film currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The film – a debut feature from writer/director Tayarisha Poe – ventures into the shadowy world of cliques at an upscale Pennsylvania prep school. It’s a deconstruction of what it means to be a big fish in a small pond – particularly when the fish becomes big enough to endanger the delicate equilibrium.

It’s also a look at the fragility of teenage relationships, an examination of how the stresses of high achievement can fracture a young person’s sense of self. The result is a willingness to throw one’s lot in fully with a group; this allows the onus of identity definition to fall on peers … for better and for worse.

Published in Movies

Just because a town is small doesn’t mean it is lacking in shadows or secrets. With proximity comes familiarity … and familiarity breeds contempt.

That’s why small-town noir works so well – the trappings of the genre work beautifully even removed from sprawling urban landscapes. A ramshackle desert town, an isolated Midwestern farming community or a hardscrabble coastal fishing village – they’re all ripe for receiving the noir treatment.

So it is with “Blow the Man Down,” newly streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The movie – set in the fictional town of Easter Cove, Maine, and filmed largely on location within the state – marks the feature debut of the writing/directing team of Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy.

It’s the story of a small town and the murkiness that exists in the depths beneath the seemingly placid surface. The film explores the idea that in these small places, the divide between the person we present to the world and the person we actually are can be shockingly vast. There are plenty of secrets packed into the cracks; even the most upstanding of citizens may have unsettling skeletons in their closets. And when that veneer of respectability and gentility is cracked, true (and often unpleasant) natures are unleashed.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 01 October 2019 15:48

New to view 2019: A fall TV preview

Fall TV premiere season is upon us!

Granted, the whole concept of the “new fall lineup” has increasingly become less of a thing with the proliferation of streaming services willing to drop entire seasons in one go and networks becoming more and more flexible with regards to when a series can and should debut, but whether it is by design or simply through inertia, we still see a whole lot of new material hit the airwaves in the autumn.

As per usual, this preview addresses only those shows entering their debut seasons. This isn’t about all the exceptional television that is returning for a second or third or fifth or tenth season – this is about stuff we haven’t seen before. It’s a chance to look ahead at what’s coming and think about what content – if any – we might be willing to invest our limited leisure time into.

It’s a mixed bag for sure. We’ve got broadcast and we’ve got streaming and you’d better believe we’ve got HBO. We’ve got comedy and drama. We’ve got prestige fare and we’ve got mass appeal. We’ve got highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow – all the brows you could ever desire.

Will all of these shows be good? Absolutely not. Should you watch them all? Also – no. And this is far from everything. But if there’s even one or two gems among the flotsam, that’s a big win. And honestly, it looks like there might be a couple of winners here.

Or maybe it’s all just poorly-conceived adequately-executed entertainment detritus. Who can say?

Let’s have a look at a few of 2019’s fall TV premieres.

Published in Cover Story

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