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It sure does feel like the romantic comedy is back.

For a stretch, it seemed as though the rom-com was fading away. However, recent years have shown an upswing in these sorts of films, powered largely by the relentless content churn of Netflix. And in Hollywood, success begets success (or at least imitations of success). So we get more.

(Please note: this is NOT a complaint. I love romantic comedies and am thrilled that they seem to be bouncing back to an extent, though I highly doubt we’ll ever see a return to the glory days. Still, I’ll take what I can get, even if what I get isn’t always particularly original or exciting or … good.)

Next up in the parade of fun, forgettable, semi-disposable rom-coms is “Shotgun Wedding,” coming to us courtesy of Amazon Studios. The film – currently streaming on Amazon Prime – stars Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel and is directed by Jason Moore. It’s a throwback of sorts, a goofy action-packed romp that makes a lot of noise even though the ultimate outcome is never in doubt. You’ve seen this movie before, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a nice enough time seeing it again.

Published in Movies

A good comedy will make you laugh. A GREAT comedy will make you laugh and think. Unfortunately, too often, when a film aspires to the latter, they wind up not just failing in that regard, but whiffing on the former as well. Laughs have a tendency to evaporate when people try too hard.

And let me tell you – “You People” tries WAY too hard.

On paper, this Netflix movie should have been a slam dunk. The people involved have legitimate comedic bona fides, with Kenya Barris behind the camera directing from a script he co-wrote with Jonah Hill. Hill also stars, alongside some pretty heavy hitters – Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Duchovny, Nia Long and Eddie F---ing Murphy, among others. Plus, you’re looking at a film intended to mine humor from the culture clashes and social dynamics of the current day. All in all, looking pretty good.

Right up until you, y’know, watch the thing.

“You People” is one of those movies that can’t get out of its own way, trying to be all things to all audiences and instead failing to please anyone. There are some cringe-y comic moments and some feints at social awareness, but the film never manages to find anything resembling balance. The wild variances in tone make it difficult to settle in and wind up undermining whatever moments of humor might be found. It seems like a good faith effort, but one sorely wanting in terms of execution.

Published in Movies

“Oh great,” you say. “Another adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Just what we all need.”

I get it. I do. Now, I’m not one to bemoan the ongoing efforts to tell and retell the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge – I love “A Christmas Carol” in just about all of its forms – but I understand if you’re over it. And admittedly, there have been A LOT of different takes on the tale.

But even if you’re a bit of a … well … a bit of a Scrooge about this sort of thing, I urge you to give “Spirited” a chance.

The new film – directed by Sean Anders from a script he co-wrote with John Morris – is a different take on the classic narrative, one that focuses on the mechanisms behind the scenes of the story we all know and love. With a top-tier central pairing, a delightful supporting cast and a frankly astonishing amount of high-energy production numbers (that’s right folks – it’s a musical, and a lavish one at that), it’s a very different take on “A Christmas Carol.”

Different – and delightful.

Published in Movies

One of the most fundamental aspects of being human is a desire for connection. We seek those connections through romance and family and friendship, all in an effort to feel just a little less alone in a world that is too often cold and uncaring. When we find those connections, and cultivate them, our sphere expands and the space through which we move becomes just a little warmer.

But what happens when we lose those connections? And worse – what if we don’t even understand why?

“The Banshees of Inisherin,” the latest film from writer-director Martin McDonagh, asks that very question. And it isn’t about death or divorce or anything like that. It’s not about the loss of a family member or a spouse. No, this is about what happens when someone’s friend – their very dear friend – decides to not be a friend anymore.

From this seemingly simple idea, McDonagh unleashes multitudes. It’s an exploration of the toxic repression of emotion that was the masculine ideal for so many generations and how damaging the results of that repression can be. It delves into the value of connection, both in terms of celebrating its presence and mourning its absence. All of it refracted through the pitch-black prism of McDonagh’s dark and tragic sense of humor and brought to effusive, excruciating life by two actors at the top of their game.

Published in Style

I’ve never made a secret of the breadth of my entertainment tastes. I take great joy in the fact that I can derive pleasure from creative works highbrow and lowbrow and everything in between. Sophisticated, sophomoric … doesn’t matter. There are many ways to engage.

What this means is that, when something devastatingly and deliberately dumb comes along, I can meet it where it lives and delight in it on its own terms.

Say, something like a biopic of a famed parody musician that turns out itself to be a parody of biopics? A film that fully embraces strangeness and stupidity in equal measure, producing something that becomes a transcendent (yet still utterly ridiculous) piece of pop culture?

Something like “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.”

The film – currently available on the Roku Channel – is directed by Eric Appel, who co-wrote the screenplay alongside the man himself, Weird Al Yankovic (Note: I acknowledge that it is customary to put “Weird” in quotes, but I won’t be doing that, because as far as I’m concerned, it is his first name). It purports to be a biopic, one that relates the rise to fame of the renowned pop parodist.

And it is – sort of.

You see, what “Weird” does is give the standard biopic the full-on Weird Al treatment. Every trope, every cliché, every bit of over-the-top nonsense you’ve ever seen in a rock and roll biopic? They’re here, but they’ve been run through the same cracked prism that has given us decades of parody songs. This movie is packed with the non sequiturs and random references that serve as the foundation of his music. It is outlandish and ridiculous and utterly bizarre.

In short, “Weird” is, well … weird.

Published in Movies

BANGOR – One of Hollywood’s favorite friendships is currently being brought to life at the Bangor Opera House.

“Matt & Ben” is the latest production from Penobscot Theatre Company. The show – an examination of the friendship between Matt Damon and Ben Affleck penned by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers – is directed by Lavina Jadhwani and stars Jen Shepard and Tina Muñoz Pandya as the titular pair. That’s right – these two dudes are being played by women. The show runs through November 6.

The play is an exploration of an early time in the lifelong friendship of these two men, a time before they were magazine cover-gracing Oscar-winning movie stars. A time when they were just a couple of guys starting out on a journey toward what they hoped would be fame. A time when the future was both frighteningly unclear and seemingly limitless.

All of it refracted through a satiric lens of feminine energy, magical realism and underlying absurdity, courtesy of the talented twosome in the lead. It is frantic and funny and utterly bizarre, a strange pop cultural amalgam that celebrates and skewers these men both in terms of who they are in that moment and who they might eventually become.

Published in Buzz

A lot of ink has been spilled bemoaning the death of the rom-com. For years now, we’ve been watching as studios have largely eschewed venturing into the once-well-worn territory, ceding that particular ground to the likes of Netflix and other streaming services.

But while this new breed of rom-com has proven extremely successful – particularly among younger viewers – the reality is that there’s still no substitute for a good old-fashioned star-powered romantic comedy, preferably set in some sort of tropical paradise. It’s a classic formula – grab a couple of A-listers, give them some sort of conflict and set them loose against a beautiful backdrop. Complain about formulaic filmmaking all you want – there’s a reason there’s a formula in the first place.

“Ticket to Paradise” hits all those notes. A-listers? Hell, you’ve got Julia Roberts and George Clooney at the top of the call sheet. That’s a big check. Beautiful backdrop? How’s Bali sound? Another check. Conflict? Divorced couple must come together to put a top to daughter’s ill-advised wedding – check. It’s all here, a throwback to the golden age of the modern rom-com some two or three decades past.

None of this is to anoint this movie an all-timer, by the way. It’s shaggy and a little repetitive, rife with the cliches that tend to mark the genre. There’s not a lot in the way of character development and there are plenty of holes in the narrative. Roberts and Clooney are largely cruising on their charisma and screen presence.

Then again, they’ve got a TON of that. For me, that’s enough.

Published in Movies

I love Shakespeare, both on the page and on the stage. I love the immense power and depth of the Bard’s myriad works. I love the passion and the joy. I love the tragedy and the comedy alike.

I also love adaptations of Shakespeare’s works. I love it when these great works are reimagined, allowing for different kinds of accessibility and exploration. I love it when creative minds use the fundamental themes and concepts to tell stories that are both indebted to their inspiration and free to walk their own path.

Now, are these adaptations always good? Not at all. In fact, some are actively … not. That said, even with the tougher hangs, the effort being made is admirable, no matter if the result is less than stellar. But if an interesting take hits? I am a thousand percent hooked.

And Hulu’s “Rosaline” hooked me.

The film – directed by Karen Maine and adapted to the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber from Rebecca Serle’s 2012 YA novel “When You Were Mine” – is a retelling of/riff on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Specifically, it’s an exploration of that story from the perspective of Rosaline – Romeo’s lady before his star-cross’s meeting with Juliet.

We never meet Rosaline in “R&J” – she’s little more than a plot device, an illustration of Romeo’s tendency toward passionate impulsivity. She is the victim of the play’s love at first sight conceit, mentioned briefly in passing and then promptly forgotten about. It does leave one wondering – what did she think about all this?

“Rosaline” attempts to answer that question with a funny and emotionally engaging romp, a movie that clearly adores its source material while also being unafraid to wallow in absurdity and anachronism. Far from “never was a story of more woe,” this is a tale of sharp-tongued wit that digs into the differences between infatuation and true love … and how surprising those differences can be.

Published in Movies

My affinity for romantic comedies is well-documented at this point. I love a good rom-com. Always have. From the earliest screwball comedies to the current streaming revival of the genre, I remain a devoted fan. Sure, some are better than others, but to my mind, rom-coms are like pizza – even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good.

Now, there are those who would argue that rom-coms are simply continuous rehashing of the same old formulas. And honestly? That’s a valid argument to make in a lot of respects. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? If we like something, why wouldn’t we want more of it? And why mess with a good thing?

Unless you’re Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller. Then, by all means – mess away.

Their new film “Bros” – Eichner stars, Stoller directs and they share writing credit – is a romantic comedy that centers gay men in a way that we’ve never really seen in a mainstream studio release. It is a rom-com that recognizes the significant differences between LGBTQ+ relationships and traditionally heterosexual ones. This movie is not interested in shoehorning its queerness into a cishet space, instead opting to put the (admittedly exaggerated) reality on display.

Now, it’s indisputable that a movie like “Bros” has ideas and agendas that it seeks to advance. That’s true of every piece of art that tries to say something that hasn’t been said at scale before; this movie is no different. However, while the inclusivity of the message is certainly important, you still need to make, you know, a good movie.

And “Bros” is good. VERY good. It is wildly, raunchily funny, packed with solid sight gags and pop culture references and a ton of sex positivity. It is also surprisingly, almost shockingly heartfelt; this is a movie that unapologetically wears its emotions on its sleeve between (and sometimes during) the self-aware filthiness and general joie de vivre.

Published in Style

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
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