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Monday, 03 October 2022 12:42

This gentleman did not prefer ‘Blonde’

Few film genres are as well-worn as the biopic. We’ve been getting movies that offer takes on the life stories of real people pretty much since we’ve been getting movies. And when you’ve got a style of film that has been around for this long – everything from moment-in-time to cradle-to-grave – well … it can be tough to stand out.

And sometimes, even when you do stand out, it’s for the wrong reasons.

Andrew Dominik’s new film “Blonde” – currently streaming on Netflix – is one such standout. Adapted by Dominik from the 2000 Joyce Carol Oates fictionalized biography of the same name, it purports to tell the story (or A story, anyway) about the silver screen legend Marilyn Monroe. And in its way, it does that, taking us from her troubled childhood through her Hollywood ebbs and flows and her tumultuous personal life all the way to her tragic too-soon end.

The manner in which it does that, however, is … complicated.

The story plays out in a fractured and haphazard manner, both narratively and stylistically. We move through time in fits and starts, staying in some places too long and blurring past others. There are flashbacks upon flashbacks and frequent insertions of surreality. The aesthetics of the film wander with no seeming rhyme or reason, shifting from black and white to flashes of color at random and changing aspect ratios seemingly on a whim.

It's an undeniably bold effort – one that includes some exceptional performances, including by Ana de Armas in the lead – but that boldness seems utterly untempered by any mitigating influence. The result is a shaggy and meandering film whose staggering 167-minute runtime is marked by extended stretches that could be (and should have been) excised with little to no impact on the overall experience of the film.

Published in Movies

Say what you will about Joe and Anthony Russo, but they understand what it means for a movie to be big. There are few filmmakers currently working who understand the particulars of blockbusters as well as they do. The Russos seem to have an inherent grasp of what makes large-scale films work. So it’s no surprise that the powers that be at Netflix would tap the Russos to helm their biggest budget film to date.

That film is “The Gray Man,” an action blockbuster currently streaming on the service. The Russos direct from a script by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, adapted from the 2009 Mark Greaney novel of the same name. It has all the components of a massive movie – huge budget, A-list stars, elaborate set pieces and exotic locales, the whole shebang – so of course, why not enlist guys who fundamentally get it to steer the ship?

It’s an espionage action-thriller, a story about one man’s attempt to survive when the government agency for which he has spent over a decade working decides that he has become a liability. This is a big, loud globetrotter of an adventure, and while it perhaps doesn’t work as fully as it might have, it remains an exciting and engaging work of popcorn entertainment.

Published in Movies
Monday, 21 March 2022 15:21

‘Deep Water’ runs shallow

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that is especially fascinating because of the factors surrounding its making. Obviously, just about every film project comes with its share of drama – it’s the nature of the business – but occasionally, we get something where the extracurricular noise largely subsumes the work itself.

There is no better recent example of this phenomenon than “Deep Water,” the new erotic thriller currently streaming on Hulu. The film’s central pairing is Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, whose real-life relationship’s tumultuous conclusion may well have gotten its start on this set. Not to mention the fact that director Adrian Lyne – an absolute legend in the realm of erotic thrillers – made this his first movie in two decades. The buzz surrounding the movie was far more prominent than that for the movie itself.

And with good reason, as it turns out.

“Deep Water” is a bizarre work of hot nonsense, at times bordering on the incomprehensible. The narrative is scattered, the performances are strange and the whole thing is campy in a way that makes it difficult to determine whether said campiness was actually intentional.

It is also, to be fair, a pretty good time, albeit a weird one.

Published in Movies

From the moment he exploded onto screens in 1962’s “Dr. No,” James Bond – 007 – has cast a suave and swaggering shadow across the cinematic landscape.

It doesn’t matter that multiple actors have played the role. It doesn’t matter that there’s little to no consistency or constancy to the timeline – some events carry forward, others are forgotten. Over the course of decades, we’ve watched assorted Bonds ply their craft. They thwart elaborate plots with even more elaborate gadget-driven schemes, saving the world and inevitably falling into bed with one or more beautiful women.

That’s it. That’s the job. Or at least, it was.

Things changed when Daniel Craig assumed the mantle. For the first time, Bond was more than an unstoppable heavily-armed lothario in a tuxedo. Craig lent a heretofore unseen gravitas to the character, creating someone who actually dealt with the consequences of his actions, both bad and good. There was no more wiping clean of the slate – Bond’s deeds had lasting impact.

“No Time to Die” is Craig’s fifth – and final – outing as James Bond, and as far as sendoffs go, well … he certainly could have done a lot worse. It is very much a Bond movie, with all of the globetrotting intrigue and wild action set pieces that label entails, but it is also a surprisingly engaging character study of a man forced to confront the inexorable passage of time. Craig’s Bond is a flawed Bond – and arguably, the best of the lot.

Cary Joji Fukunaga helms this latest installment, taking the reins from Sam Mendes, who directed the previous two Bond films; Fukunaga also shares screenplay credit with three other writers. It is jam-packed with the sorts of extended action and convoluted plotting that marks most of the franchise’s offerings. One could argue that it is overstuffed – the runtime is a gargantuan 163 minutes – but considering that it doubles as a farewell to its lead actor, I’d say that it deserves to take as much time as it likes.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 03 December 2019 13:52

‘Knives Out’ a cut above

Is there anything better than a good old-fashioned whodunnit? Getting dropped into the midst of a mystery as it unfolds can be an utterly delightful entertainment experience, whether we’re talking about the page, the stage or the screen.

Of course, the key here is the word “good.” Because while a good whodunnit is great fun, a bad one is decidedly not. There are a LOT of ways for a mystery to go bad and it is far from easy to make one that engages in all the ways it needs to engage.

“Knives Out,” the latest offering from writer/director Rian Johnson, isn’t good. It’s great.

From the film’s opening moments to its dynamic conclusion, “Knives Out” is firing on all cylinders. The aesthetic is exquisite, packed with details both ornamental and load-bearing. The narrative is nuanced, with a twisty-turny plot that finds ways to both celebrate and subvert the conventions of the genre. And the cast is magnificent, a collection of top-tier talent welded together into one of the most entertaining ensembles to hit theaters this year.

It is a modern twist of the knife, so to speak; a combination of Agatha Christie-esque manor house mystery with a 21st sensibility. It is smart and self-aware, layered and tense and surprisingly funny. It embraces stylistic formula while simultaneously being something altogether itself. It cuts quickly and deeply … and so very effectively.

Published in Movies

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