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Monday, 21 November 2022 16:23

Food for thought – ‘The Menu’

There has always been a tendency to fetishize high-end experiences, but the proliferation of social media has only exacerbated that fact. Instead of just making the people in your direct circle jealous, you can become the envy of legions of strangers as well.

Take fine dining, for instance. Foodies have long been among us, but now, they can force themselves into your line of sight by way of Instagram photos. It’s not enough to enjoy a meal – you have to make sure that other people know that you’re enjoying that meal … and they’re not.

But what happens when an ideological tipping point is reached?

In “The Menu,” directed by Mark Mylod from a script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, we get a look at the next evolution in fine dining. A smart thriller with a satiric edge and a deceptively wicked sense of humor, it tells the tale of what happens when – apologies in advance – the tables are turned.

Playing out in chapters fashioned after courses, “The Menu” deconstructs the classist underpinnings inherent to the sort of high-concept, high-priced dining experiences that so many aspire to celebrate. It’s a slow burn build into chaos, a film whose seeming straightforwardness gradually evaporates as the proceedings play out. And by the time dessert is served, well … let’s just say you’ve never had a meal quite like this one.

Published in Style

Have you ever asked yourself what the difference between “based on” and “inspired by” actually is?

It’s always tricky when it comes to movies, because obviously, filmmakers want (and should want) a degree of creative license with which to tell their stories. We’re not talking about documentaries here – these are fictionalized features, bearing as much or as little direct resemblance to their inspirations as deemed fit by the folks behind the camera. We can talk about based on or inspired by, but ultimately it comes down to this:

How true is the true story? And how true do we need it to be?

This brings us to “Amsterdam,” the latest film – and first in seven years – from writer/director David O. Russell. It’s clear early on that this one falls into the “inspired by” camp, with an opening title card that flat-out states “A lot of this really happened.” It should be noted, however, that the words “a lot” are doing A LOT of heavy lifting.

It’s got the standard galaxy of A-listers that we’ve come to expect from Russell’s movies, the sort of absolutely stacked cast that always seems to turn up. It blends comedic quirks with dramatic stakes and tries very hard to give its many stars a chance to shine.

Loosely (and I do mean loosely) based on the alleged Business Plot of the early 1930s, “Amsterdam” is a shaggy screwball mystery wrapped around a nugget of bleak historical truth. And while I myself found it charming and engaging, the meandering nature of the plot and the often-questionable relationship to the “real” events on which it is based might well prove a turn-off to others. As with many of Russell’s movies, your mileage may vary.

Published in Style

We can’t control what art resonates with us.

Even when we see something and recognize its intrinsic artistic value, we can’t make ourselves feel a certain way about it. We like what we like and that’s all there is to it. And sometimes, even when the thing we’re watching should resonate, it doesn’t always.

Take “The Northman,” the new film from writer/director Robert Eggers. By all accounts, I should LOVE this movie. It’s “Hamlet” with Vikings, for God’s sake. The production values are first-rate and Eggers is a visual stylist par excellence. The performers are clearly invested, with plenty of top-tier action sequences and a healthy helping of line-blurring magical and magical-adjacent stuff. We are planted squarely in my wheelhouse.

And yet … it didn’t click for me as fully as I would have thought.

It’s not a huge surprise, honestly; the previous two Eggers outings – “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse” – are films that on paper should have been right up my alley, yet for whatever reason left me just the slightest bit cold.

Again, I need to note that I acknowledge the quality of these films in a vacuum, as well as the tremendous amount of skill necessary to make them. By all practical measures, they are excellent films, beautifully shot with a clear and vivid vision and featuring committed performances. They are good movies that nevertheless did not connect with me.

So it is with “The Northman,” a stark and violent tale of palace intrigue by way of ninth-century Vikings. There is a bleak beauty to the aesthetic, one that is simultaneously washed out and vivid. The cast is absolutely stacked. Alexander Skarsgard gives a brutal and balletic lead turn, leading the way in a tale of one man’s quest for vengeance against the man who killed his father and usurped the throne.

Like I said – I should love this movie. And there’s a good chance that you will.

Published in Movies
Monday, 01 November 2021 14:50

About ‘Last Night in Soho’

Few active filmmakers are possessed of a style and sensibility that is specifically theirs. These filmmakers stamp their idiosyncratic signatures on their works in an undeniable manner; theirs are the movies that we watch and know instantly who made them. The Andersons – both Wes and Paul Thomas – are in that category, for instance. So too are the Coen brothers.

And Edgar Wright is definitely in that conversation.

The English auteur’s latest film is “Last Night in Soho,” a time travel horror thriller of sorts that is packed with the sort of vivid imagery and pop deep cuts in which he delights. We move back and forth between the present day and a neon-soaked ‘60s London, the color and lights serving only to deepen the shadows of a story whose details are ever-shifting.

Wright has never been one to flee from his influences; he’s unafraid to embrace and celebrate the pop culture sights, sounds and ideas that he loves. That said, “Last Night in Soho” – while undeniably and instantly identified as an Edgar Wright movie – might be the least overtly engaged in conversation with those influences. They’re there, but we’re much farther from the homage/pastiche vibe of, say, his Cornetto Trilogy.

It’s stylish. It’s creepy. And it’s very good.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 11 March 2020 13:11

Austen powers – ‘Emma.’

One never knows what to expect with literary adaptations. Guiding a story from page to screen is tricky business, packed with pitfalls both anticipated and unexpected. The degree of difficulty runs even higher when you’re dealing with a work that is both beloved in its original form AND has already been made into a well-received film.

This begs the question: why adapt Jane Austen’s “Emma” again?

That question is answered by first-time feature director Autumn de Wilde’s “Emma.” Working from a script adapted by Eleanor Catton, this latest incarnation of the tale offers a quirky, period take on the classic, bringing an unexpected aesthetic to bear alongside relatively straightforward storytelling.

(Note: Part of that quirkiness is the title itself – the period in “Emma.” is intended to indicate that the film is a period piece. It’s a fun bit of self-aware metatextual goofiness. That said, going forward, I’ll refer to the title sans period, just for clarity and logistical ease.)

Featuring the talented Anya Taylor-Joy in the titular role, this latest incarnation of the story captures the spirited satire of the original while also freely indulging in a rampant tweeness that suits the story’s soul surprisingly well. It’s a smart and sharp film, clever and sweet and just strange enough – a take on the tale that will both satisfy longtime Austenites and serve as a worthwhile introduction to the work.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 25 January 2017 13:03

‘Split’ a multi-faceted triumph

Horror thriller an exceptional offering from Shyamalan

Published in Movies
Friday, 02 September 2016 16:14

Girl, disrupted - 'Morgan'

Sci-fi thriller fails to expound uponintriguing concept

For decades, the concept of artificial intelligence gone awry has been a mainstay of science fiction. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the exponential advancement of technology has led to even more explorations of this idea that man can create an intellect that matches and ultimately surpasses its maker.

Published in Movies

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