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You might not think that the end of the world is an appropriate backdrop for comedy, but fear not – Adam McKay has you covered.

Sure, an impending apocalypse SHOULDN’T be funny, but in the right hands, it certainly can be, and McKay has those hands, along with a willingness to embrace cultural divides and darkness in the name of plausibly bleak satiric observation.

McKay’s latest is “Don’t Look Up,” an at-times pitch-black comedy about what happens when the end of the world is coming and no one can seem to agree on what – if anything – we should do about it. The film has the same sort of sharp edges that we’ve seen in McKay’s more recent output and his fingerprints are all over it – he’s directing his own screenplay here. It also features a frankly incredible cast, an ensemble jam packed with Oscar winners and Hollywood icons; you don’t often see a bench this deep.

It is wildly funny – darkly so, but funny nevertheless – while also being deeply, bleakly plausible. It is a condemnation of current cultural discourse, a scathing takedown of American attitudes that is relentless in its disdain. It is a relevant and resonant reflection of where we are and where we could be going, delivered in a manner that elicits laughter even as it unsettles.

Published in Movies

Few filmmakers are as comfortable astride the line between the beautiful and the grotesque as Guillermo del Toro. The echoes of this affinity reverberate through much of his filmography, whether we’re talking about horror or sci-fi or fantasy – he finds ways to elevate genre filmmaking more cleanly and compellingly than any of his peers.

His latest offering is “Nightmare Alley,” a film whose script he also co-adapted alongside Kim Morgan from William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel of the same name. While it doesn’t venture as far into the fantastical as much of his earlier work – the genre this time around is noir more than anything – he’s still able to find ways to explore that light/dark balance, albeit largely in an internal manner rather than externally.

Of course, it is also marked by del Toro’s typically lush visual stylings, an idiosyncratic and mesmerizing aesthetic that is evocative and haunting. While it does get a little mushy in terms of narrative, it also features an incredibly talented cast (including a few del Toro favorites). It is stark and bleak and beautiful, a thriller that revels in the moral and ethical shadows that it casts.

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Rudyard Kipling’s classic 1894 novel “The Jungle Book” has served as the inspiration for a number of films over the years. Like any good source material, it has come to the attention of multiple filmmakers looking to tell their own version of the story.

Generally, we’ve seen a new movie about once every generation. Since the early 1940s, audiences have gotten a new version of Mowgli and his jungle brethren every 20-25 years. The iconic Disney animation hit in 1967; another live-action version swung through in 1994.

But then, “The Jungle Book” fell victim to the dreaded Hollywood disease known to some as ADIMMS (Armageddon/Deep Impact Multiple Movie Syndrome); two too-similar movies released too close together. There was Disney’s CGI-laden remake in 2016, replete with an all-star voice cast and directed by Jon Favreau.

And now there’s “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” courtesy of Netflix. The streaming giant meant for this big-budget outing – a motion-capture extravaganza filled with famous voices and directed by mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis – to be a theatrical release. But circumstances (including the massive success of the Disney film from just two years prior) led to a shift in plans – a very limited big-screen turn followed by a quick turnaround to home availability.

It’s certainly a darker look for the material than we usually see. But despite that darkness – or perhaps because of it – Serkis and company lose track of the story’s soul. “Mowgli” looks great, but looks aren’t everything. It’s a beautiful package without much inside.

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I’m not sure when exactly “family-friendly” became code for “condescending and/or milquetoast,” but that’s pretty much where we are as far as Hollywood is concerned. The truth is that there are plenty of ways to make a movie for younger audiences that engages with them in a manner that treats them with respect – folks like Steven Spielberg did it all the time in the 1980s.

So when word of “The House with a Clock in its Walls” came out, I was cautiously optimistic. The original source material – a 1973 YA magic mystery by John Bellairs and illustrated by Edward Gorey that was the first of a dozen in the series – had the requisite spookiness. Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment production company is prominently involved. The cast – led by Jack Black and Cate Blanchett – is strong.

But there were questions – and the biggest involved the man sitting in the director’s chair. Eli Roth built his career on brutal, bloody genre fare – the choice to hand what is essentially a movie for kids over to the dude who made “Hostel” is an odd one. It seemed like a jarring, unconventional marriage unlikely to succeed.

Instead, it turned out to be an ideal pairing, with Roth bringing his visceral sensibility to the PG-realm with nary a hiccup, resulting in a children’s movie that isn’t afraid to spend some time in the shadows and bring genuine scares to the screen.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 12 June 2018 16:06

‘Ocean’s 8’ is more than enough

Anyone who digs a good heist/caper movie carries a fondness for the “Ocean’s” series of movies. 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven,” 2004’s “Ocean’s Twelve” and 2007’s “Ocean’s Thirteen” were a stylized delight, reinvigorating the genre via the directorial talents of Steven Soderbergh and the tremendous cast, anchored by the movie star triumvirate of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon atop some phenomenal ensemble casts.

It’s such a wonderful trilogy, in fact, that one can certainly understand the skepticism felt my moviegoers upon hearing the announcement of a new, female-led installment in the series. However, “Ocean’s 8” largely puts that skepticism to rest; while the film doesn’t necessarily reach the heights of the initial films, it’s got a powerhouse cast of its own telling a story that – while a bit implausible – is still a heck of a lot of fun.

Published in Movies
Friday, 03 November 2017 11:05

'Ragnarok' and roll

Latest “Thor” film an exceptional MCU addition

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