Monday, 16 May 2022 14:53

Back to school – ‘Senior Year’

For some, the time they spent in high school is a highlight of their lives. They look back on those days with fondness and nostalgia, rose-colored memories of what it meant to be young with the whole world in front of them.

Now imagine if that person had the last few weeks of that experience snatched away from them by circumstance, only to be given the opportunity to make up for lost time many years later.

That’s more or less the premise of “Senior Year,” the new Rebel Wilson-starring Netflix comedy. Directed by Alex Hardcastle and featuring three credited screenwriters, the film is the story of a young woman who winds up in a 20-year coma after an accident, only to wake up and want nothing more than to finish the triumphant high school career she was mere weeks from completing two decades earlier.

So yeah – adult woman with teenager brain goes back to high school. Honestly, seems like an idea with potential, but alas, said potential is never realized. Instead, we’re left with a film that consistently and constantly plucks the lowest-hanging fruit; the whole thing is packed with lazy jokes and more than a few inherent ethical questions that no one involved seems all that interested in acknowledging, instead choosing to ignore anything but the path of least resistance.

There are a few flashes here and there, where you can see the good movie that might have been made. However, they are VERY few, resulting in a film that never quite manages to live up to its central conceit.

Published in Movies

When it comes to film criticism, I tend more toward populism. That isn’t to say that I fail to appreciate truly great cinematic art, but that I’m not a particularly snobbish moviegoer. Basically, my attitude is that aiming a film at a wide audience shouldn’t necessarily mean that it is somehow less-than as a creative endeavor.

But we all have our limits.

Unlike some of my critical peers, I won’t dismiss an animated kids’ movie out of hand. Even if the intended viewership might not be particularly worldly or sophisticated, the film in question might still have something to offer. It might not be great art, but there is value to be found in almost any children’s movie.

But then you see something like “Marmaduke” and are confronted with the reality of that “almost.”

The new Netflix animated offering is one of the laziest, lowest-common-denominator kids’ movies that I have ever encountered outside a convenience store’s VHS bargain bin. The animation is choppy and aesthetically unpleasant, the narrative is nonsensical and incoherent and the tone is all over the place. If the intent was to make a film that allowed four-year-olds to feel intellectually superior to those who made it, then bravo. Well done. If the intent was literally anything else, then we’re looking at a spectacular failure.

My money is on the latter.

Published in Movies
Monday, 02 May 2022 11:36

‘Crush’ a charming teen romance

I love a love story. Always have. And it doesn’t really matter who is falling in love or where; so long as the tale is well told, I am happy to come along on a romantic journey.

What has been particularly, well, lovely to see is the steady growth of LGBTQ+ love stories. More and more, these relationships and the people in them are getting to see themselves reflected in popular culture, whether it’s in movies, books or TV shows. And as that growth continues, we’re slowly approaching the point where these stories don’t have to be defined by the types of relationship at their center.

Take “Crush,” the new film currently streaming on Hulu. Directed by Sammi Cohen from a script by Kristin King and Casey Rackham, “Crush” is a sweet and slightly raucous high school rom-com. It is funny and thoughtful, driven by compelling characters brought to life by strong performances. It is about falling for someone and then falling for someone else and not knowing what to do, all through a lens of teenage self-consciousness. It’s about friends and friendship and the mistakes we make when in pursuit of what we want … or what we THINK we want.

And yes, many of the characters in this film identify as queer, but that isn’t what the movie is ABOUT. The story being told here is universal, the feelings felt by these characters are ones that will ring familiar to anyone who has ever been in love, been in high school or been in love WHILE being in high school.

Published in Movies

Self-awareness is a relative rarity in Hollywood. The idea that a movie star can recognize their own tics and foibles – or even acknowledge the possibility that such things might exist – is utterly foreign to the vast majority of stars. Even among the handful that seem like they might have an inkling, there’s a feeling of deliberateness beneath the veneer for most of them, as though through this acknowledgement, they might be able to somehow further their own ends.

And then there’s Nicolas Cage.

Cage seems to be perfectly comfortable discussing the off-the-rails oddity of his acting career. He’s done plenty of prestigious fare and given some genuinely brilliant performances. He’s also made a staggering number of films that are bad and/or inexplicable. He’s a noted eccentric, but none of it seems like a put-on. He is aware of who he is and is comfortable with that knowledge … and comfortable with us knowing.

So it should come as no surprise that Cage would eventually lead a project like “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” a surreal, bizarre and wildly funny film directed by Tom Gormican (who also co-wrote the script with Kevin Etten). It’s an opportunity for Cage to, well … go full Cage, playing a hyperstylized version of himself at the center of a layered metanarrative that explores the many facets of creative artistry and the difficulties of maintaining one’s own identity when one’s life and livelihood revolve around adopting other personae.

The result is an inventive and often-hilarious film, one that allows Cage to bring together the disparate aspects of his career and varied extremity of his “massive talent” into a singular performance that is as strange and funny as anything he has ever done. And thanks to a plot laden with its own self-referential metastructures and a capable supporting cast willing and able to play along, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is not just an interesting exercise, but a great movie.

Published in Movies

A movie comes along that is accompanied with massive amounts of hype. Maybe it’s a critical darling, maybe it’s a commercial blockbuster, maybe it’s something in the middle, but one thing is clear – people are singing its praises early and often. And loudly.

As a rule, these films tend to be excellent offerings, though perhaps not quite clearing the exceedingly high bar that has been set for them by the discourse. Occasionally, they prove to be something of a disappointment, leaving you wondering what so many people saw in them.

But every once in a while, you get something that actually manages to outperform your already massive expectations. You get a film that is somehow even better than the people shouting its quality from the rooftops have led you to believe. You get a movie that is unlike anything you’ve seen before in the very best of ways.

You get “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

The film – written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the filmmaking team known collectively as Daniels – is a phantasmagoric experience, a genre-blending adventure that digs into the collective human experience and celebrates the underlying possibilities that unfold with every decision that we make. It is incredibly smart and wildly entertaining, packed with humor and action and heartfelt emotion.

This is the sort of movie that essentially dares you to describe it. It is a roiling tumult of narrative complexity and naked feeling, swirled together into a visually stunning mélange that again – and I can’t stress this enough – is unlike anything you’ve seen before. It is vibrant and vivid and unabashedly weird, powered by the bizarre beauty of its aesthetic and some utterly captivating performances.

Published in Movies

As a general rule, video game movies tend to be bad. That’s just how it goes – Hollywood has yet to figure out a way to consistently translate video game IP to the big screen. Now, that isn’t to say that ALL video game movies are bad; there are some that are, if not necessarily good, at least OK.

“Sonic the Hedgehog” was precisely that kind of OK back in 2020. So it’s no surprise that we got a sequel – OK is practically Oscar-worthy in the context of video game movies.

Now, is the sequel as good as the first film? It is not. The story is even more scattered and the film as a whole feels overstuffed – in what world does anyone want or need a video game movie to be over two hours long? That said, it’s not as bad as it could have been, thanks to some invested performances and a few decent set pieces.

(I’ll concede that my experience may have been colored by the fact that I attended a screening with quite a few kids in the audience. Their enthusiasm absolutely contributed to my own enjoyment of the film – it’s tough to remain dour when the kiddos are constantly raising their voices in sheer delight.)

Published in Movies
Monday, 04 April 2022 15:31

Bursting ‘The Bubble’

The ongoing circumstances of the COVID pandemic have been part of our lives for so long that it can be difficult to remember what it was like before … everything. It has been going on for so long, in fact, that we’re seeing more and more creative endeavors that have spring from those circumstances.

As to whether that’s a good thing, your mileage may vary.

Writer-director Judd Apatow has thrown his hat into that particular ring with his new Netflix movie “The Bubble,” a comedy about a film crew sequestered in a hotel in order to make a big-budget entry in a popular franchise. Inspired by the real-life effort to film “Jurassic World Dominion” during the pandemic, it’s a shaggy satire intended to skewer the self-importance of Hollywood’s own bubble while also finding humor in the unexpected connections forged by forced proximity.

It's an interesting attempt, though uneven in terms of its success. While there are some laughs to be had, the reality is that many of the gags – inspired by truth though they may be – don’t quite land. That’s not to say that it’s a bad movie – I actually had a pretty good time – but with a cast this star-studded, my expectations were for something a little bit more.

Published in Movies

At what point does the degradation of a copy of a copy of a copy become a bridge too far with regard to filmmaking? In this era of reboots and remakes, how many iterations are too many?

Take “Cheaper by the Dozen,” the new original – sorry, “original” – film streaming on Disney+. This film is a remake of the 2003 Steve Martin vehicle which was itself an adaptation of the 1950 original, based on the real life of efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth.

It’s dozens all the way down.

The central focus of these films – massive blended families – remains the same even as the details surrounding those large families change. However, there’s undeniably a significant degree of diminishing returns, and while this latest iteration does expand its vocabulary somewhat – largely through efforts at wider inclusivity – it doesn’t really seem to have much to say.

“Cheaper by the Dozen” isn’t bad. Not really. But nor is it particularly good. It is a perfectly cromulent family film, one that will likely prove acceptable for everyone in the family while not actively appealing to any of them. Slight, saccharine and ultimately forgettable, it will pass the time, but don’t expect much more than that.

Published in Movies
Monday, 17 January 2022 16:40

‘Sex Appeal’ is appealing enough

The relationship between teenagers and sex has long been a popular theme to be explored in movies. The discourse around that relationship has changed, to be sure, and the films have themselves changed accordingly. But rest assured – the teen sex comedy isn’t going anywhere.

That said, we’ve come a long way since films like “Porky’s” or even “American Pie.” Teenagers and their relationship to sex – and the viewing public’s relationship with that relationship – has continued to become something a bit more nuanced as time has passed.

“Sex Appeal,” a Hulu original offering directed by Talia Osteen from a script by Tate Hanyok, is an effort to engage with society’s ever-evolving perspective on teenage sexuality. While it doesn’t do much in the way of breaking new ground, it does manage to have some fun with the standard tropes of the genre and even trots out a few unexpected stylistic flourishes that elevate it somewhat beyond the usual standards of streaming teen fare. The end result is a film that might not be life-changing but is still a perfectly charming and funny way to spend some time.

Published in Movies

There are a handful of filmmakers whose movies are what I would consider unmissable. These are the auteurs who bring unique and compelling visions to the screen, telling engaging stories with visual flair and structural panache. We all have our pantheons.

Paul Thomas Anderson is part of mine.

Now, I’m hardly alone in this. The PTA hive has been a robust one pretty much from the beginning – he’s been on the cinephile radar since the late ‘90s. I’d put his three-film fun of “Hard Eight,” “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” against any filmmaker’s first three features … and he just continued to get better.

One of the many qualities of PTA’s work that I’ve always admired is his willingness to pivot, to veer in different directions with the choices that he makes and the stories he chooses to tell. So I was obviously thrilled when I (finally – everyone kept things very close to the vest) learned that his newest film, “Licorice Pizza,” would revisit the San Fernando Valley and focus on telling a coming of age story in early ‘70s California.

The film – named after a now-shuttered chain of record stores – is a story of affection and ambition, a tale of misguided attraction and relentless hustle. It’s a story about what it means to actually grow up when you already view yourself as grown up, as well as some of the consequences that this sort of up-and-down maturation process can have. All of it rendered through Anderson’s exquisite eye and brought forth by an absolutely dynamite cast – a cast led by a central odd couple of sorts offering up performances that far outstrip what we might have reasonably expected.

Published in Movies
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