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It’s hard to make a good movie about the theatre.

You would think that it would be relatively easy, considering the considerable overlap between the two worlds. It’s all about people coming together to tell a story, right? And yet, films that revolve around the theatrical world rarely seem to fully click. Sure, making the stage-to-screen transition with a script is a long-honored and successful tradition, but successful movies set in the theatre? Those come along much more rarely.

But rarely is not never.

Take “See How They Run,” the new film from Tom George. Written by Mark Chappell, it’s a screwball deconstruction of the time-tested murder mystery genre, bringing together layers and metalayers to mine laughs from one of the theatre’s most beloved traditions – the whodunit.

Packed with winks and nods to those of a theatrical persuasion, “See How They Run” offers a shaggy combination of affection for and skewering of the conventions of the theatre. All of it refracted through a foundational lens of the Grand Dame of mystery herself, Agatha Christie. It’s a murder mystery within a murder mystery within a murder mystery – whodunits all the way down.

Published in Movies
Monday, 19 September 2022 13:16

‘Do Revenge’ a smart, satiric dark comedy

I’ve long been a proponent of films set in high schools. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories, so there is that, but I’ve also found that there’s a lot of malleability inherent to high school movies. They can exist on their own merits, yes, but they can also serve as wonderful palettes upon which to explore other genres, tropes and ideas.

Think of it as the “X, but in high school” categorization.

The new Netflix film “Do Revenge,” directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson from a script she co-wrote with Celeste Ballard, is a great example of this kind of movie. It’s almost a pastiche of its influences, pulling from classic dark teen comedy and elevated cinematic and genre fare alike. Imagine “Strangers on a Train” getting the same sort of treatment that “Cruel Intentions” gave “Dangerous Liaisons” – it’s kind of like that.

This story of wronged teenagers joining forces to exact revenge on those who wronged them is a blackly comic joy, bringing together standard teen fare with a shadowy sense of humor. The combination isn’t always a perfect fit, but thanks to some sharp writing and a pair of strong lead performances, it works far more often than it doesn’t. It’s tough to make a movie that feels both like a throwback and of its moment, but “Do Revenge” manages the feat.

Published in Movies
Monday, 29 August 2022 14:15

‘Me Time’ a meh time

It should come as no surprise that when a company adopts a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach to moviemaking, the results are going to be mixed.

So it is at Netflix, where the streamer continues to churn out films at a blistering rate. Whether they’re outside purchases or in-house productions, these movies are constantly arriving. Some of them have been great, some of them have been bad and the rest exist in a massive, mushy middle.

“Me Time” is very much in the mush.

The new film, written and directed by John Hamburg and starring Kevin Hart and Mark Wahlberg, is a buddy comedy of sorts, one more than happy to spend 100 minutes or so randomly plucking low-hanging fruit. It’s the sort of movie that seems content to merely exist, counting on the name recognition of its stars to do the heavy lifting.

As you might imagine, this attitude doesn’t result in a good movie. Yes, there are a few laughs sprinkled throughout – however you feel about the leads, they are not without their charms – but for the most part, we spend our time laboring from point A to point B until, eventually, we land on whatever poorly-defined lesson we’re supposed to learn about the importance of family or whatever.

Published in Movies

There’s something fascinating about watching a new generation make its way onto film. Time’s march is inevitable, so it stands to reason that new cohorts will become focal points of the movies being made. And each of those cohorts will bring a new and different energy to the stories being told, both in terms of style and of substance.

One could argue that we’re currently witnessing a transitional period wherein the Gen-Z crowd is beginning to see itself on the big screen. This is a generation that was shaped more fully by the internet than any that came before, people whose lives have been lived online as much as off – reductive, I know, but as shorthand, it’ll do.

“Bodies Bodies Bodies,” the English-language directorial debut of acclaimed Dutch actor Halina Reijn, is a horror/comedy that places the young people of Generation Z in the center of the frame, skewering the social mores – or lack thereof – of that group with pitch black humor and razor-sharp satire, powering it all with a collection of strong performances.

The screenplay, as adapted by Sarah DeLappe from a short story by Kristen Roupenian, is a dense collection of rapid-fire banter, equal parts clever and cutting, all flying forth from the mouths of a group of self-obsessed and deeply unlikeable characters. It’s a movie unafraid to plumb the shadows, both literally and figuratively, as it deconstructs the disconnect cultivated by those whose existences are defined not by who they are, but how they are seen.

Published in Movies

I’ve always had a soft spot for sliding doors. Maybe it’s because I’m the sort of person predisposed to wondering “what if?” and fascinated by the notion of one point of divergence altering a life – a world – moving forward. It doesn’t always work (although in truth, what does?), but it almost always holds my attention.

“Look Both Ways,” currently streaming on Netflix, is a recent addition to the sliding doors canon. It’s a relatively light and breezy take on the trope, even as its divergence point – pregnant/not pregnant – is perhaps a bit more charged than you might expect, though the film itself isn’t all that interested in addressing that charged nature.

With a charming, albeit somewhat bland, cast and a more or less constant levity, this film is well-made, with some solid visual representations of the split timelines, and it’s got some laughs. Put it all together and you wind up with a perfectly pleasant way to while away a couple of hours.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, you just know that you’re going to like a movie. You hear the basic concept, you learn who’s involved, maybe you catch a trailer or two and boom – you’re in.

That’s how I felt when I first learned about “Day Shift,” the new film currently streaming on Netflix. Jamie Foxx and Dave Franco are hunting vampires? And Snoop Dogg is in it? Directed by stunt legend J.J. Perry in his directorial debut, it’s a high-octane genre mashup, bringing together action, horror and comedy to create a fast-paced, funny entertainment experience.

For me, it’s an easy call. You’ve got elaborate action sequences. You’ve got over the top gore. You’ve got banter and jokes. And you’ve got a trailer that prominently features one of my favorite actresses (and human beings) tearing s—t up as a vampire. Of COURSE I liked it. What’s not to like?

This movie is big and broad in the ways that we want movies to be big and broad. This is pedal-to-the-metal entertainment, pure and simple – and it is one hell of a good time.

Published in Movies

When we think of summer movies, we tend to think about blockbusters. We think about massive CGI-laden action fests, packed with explosions and gunfire and quips. We think about IP franchise machines churning out spectacle. And that’s great – people love those movies. I love those movies.

But there’s another flavor of summer film. We don’t get a lot of them – not as many as we used to, at any rate – but they’re still there. These are the smaller movies, the ones that are more about story than spectacle. These are films that focus on people and the connections between them, driven by the desire to put interesting narratives on film.

“Mack & Rita,” the latest directorial effort from Maine’s own Katie Aselton from a script by Madeline Walter and Paul Welsh, is a prime example of that latter flavor. It is a thoughtful film about the ties that bind us, about what it means to be our authentic selves no matter what the world tells us. It is about how our connections can transcend the everyday and how we can (and should) strive to be who we want to be.

(All of this, by the way, packaged in a body-swap rom-com package, which, let’s be real, is a Venn diagram bullseye for yours truly.)

Published in Style

When someone says “superhero movie,” you almost certainly think about the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the DC Extended Universe. Of course you do – these are the costume-clad films that have completely dominated the entertainment world for coming up on two decades.

But while they are the most popular, they are far from the only superheroic entertainment content we’ve seen on our screens. Indeed, the massive success of those larger entities has led to a proliferation of smaller, less name-brand super offerings. Some are very good, some are very bad, but most are somewhere in the mushy middle.

“Secret Headquarters,” currently streaming on Paramount+, is one such middling offering. That isn’t to say that the film – co-directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost from a script co-written by Christopher L. Yost, Josh Koenigsberg and Joost – is bad; it’s a perfectly nice piece of entertainment. It’s just very much a product of that mushy middle, an average film that doesn’t aspire to be anything more than that – and that’s OK.

It's a kids’ movie. And yes, if you want to argue that all superhero movies are kids’ movies, fine – I don’t agree, but I take your point – but this one centers kids as the protagonists, moving the superhero stuff to the periphery. It is goofy and unapologetic about the goofiness, with an absence of self-seriousness that many of its big-budget brethren might do well to imitate.

Published in Movies

There’s a surprising amount of malleability when it comes to action movies. There’s lots of room within the genre to tell different types of stories. Some are self-serious while others are winking. Some are subtle while others are over the top. What they all share, however, is a sense of excitement, that feeling of pumping adrenaline. They are propulsive in whatever manner best suits them.

Sometimes, that propulsive vibe is more literal. Say, if the action takes place on a (very) fast train?

“Bullet Train,” directed by David Leitch from a Zak Olkewicz screenplay adapted from Kotaro Isaka’s 2010 novel “Maria Beetle,” brings that sense of relentless motion to candy-colored life on the big screen. It’s the story of a former assassin tasked with a simple job – procure a briefcase – on a high-speed train from Tokyo to Kyoto. However, it turns out that he’s far from the only one on this train with a vested interest in said briefcase, with scattered connections red-threading their way outward and inward.

Equal parts action movie and screwball comedy, it’s a movie that weds elaborate fight choreography with slapstick elements to create moments that are both bloody and hilarious. The dialogue is packed with snappy patter and the characters are the best sorts of caricatures. It is unhinged and garish and a hell of a lot of fun, even if the narrative doesn’t quite hold together.

Published in Movies
Monday, 01 August 2022 14:03

‘Honor Society’ gets an A

As a person of a certain age, my memories of my high school days have grown a bit blurry. One thing I do remember, however, is that while I and my peers faced our share of pressures, growing up today is an altogether different experience. The competitive nature of high school achievement is more intense now than ever, with kids motivated to increase their odds of admission to elite colleges in any way they can.

But just how far might they be willing to go?

That’s the central premise of “Honor Society,” a new film currently streaming on Paramount+. Directed by Oran Zegman from a script by David Goodman, it’s the story of a young woman on the cusp of graduation who wants nothing more than to go to Harvard. All she needs is one recommendation … but she’s got classmates who are angling for that same rec. To ensure her own success, she’s going to have to find ways to sabotage some of her peers.

But as her plans start to play out, she discovers that there is far more to these people than she ever might have guessed and that her scheming might well have some unintended effects.

Published in Movies
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