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Monday, 22 February 2021 14:14

‘Blithe Spirit’ a spirited adaptation

There’s a certain amount of pressure that comes with reimagining a beloved classic. Not only are you expected to do right by the extant fans of the work, but you must also find a way to update and accelerate the work so that it might find purchase with those who have no connection to the source material.

It’s a highwire act that many filmmakers have tried to navigate. Many have tried … and many have failed. Of particular note is the attempt to revisit a work that has already engaged in a shift from stage to screen. At that point, you’re dealing not just with a play that needs to be adapted, but a preexisting film version as well – doubly difficult.

It’s a difficulty that crops up from time to time in “Blithe Spirit,” the latest attempt to bring that classic Noel Coward play to life on the big screen. It’s directed by Edward Hall, with three credited screenwriters on the adaptation in Nick Moorcraft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth, and features a star-studded cast that includes the likes of Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher, Leslie Mann and the immortal Judi Dench.

It’s a perfectly fine film. Better than I expected actually, though ultimately, it doesn’t live up to its pedigree either in terms of source material or of ensemble. Some of the subtler aspects are lost in the transition to film, but it must be said that the story benefits greatly from the ability to more fully utilize the setting (or settings). Not as great as it could have been, but maybe not as bad as some would have you believe, either.

Published in Style

There are few cinematic tightropes that are trickier to walk than dark comedy. While finding humor in the shadows is something that many of us do, representing that humor effectively on screen is extremely hit or miss. When it hits, you get something that is both screamingly funny and weirdly unsettling. When it misses, you just get the latter.

“I Care A Lot” hits.

The film – written and directed by J Blakeson and currently streaming on Netflix – mines a lot of laughs from a decidedly grim foundation. It takes a special kind of commitment to the bit to look at the clearly broken and often unseemly world of professional guardianship and think “Now THAT is hilarious,” but Blakeson and company manage to do it.

It certainly helps that the director has an absolutely peak-of-her-powers Rosamund Pike on which to hang that narrative. The sheer force of her performance brings more than enough fuel to keep this particular fire burning, even as we delve deeper into the unsavory nature of the world in which her character operates.

It’s rare to find a movie in which no one is a good person. It’s even rarer for such a movie to work. And yet, even though there’s no one to root for, the laughs keep coming. Sure, those laughs are born of the more cynical parts of ourselves, but hey – even if you feel bad for laughing, you still laughed.

Published in Movies

Wedding movies tend to be extremely hit or miss propositions.

I understand the impulse to construct a story around a wedding. There’s a lot of emotional energy built into the premise. There’s plenty of room for slapstick goofiness or straightfaced drama. It’s a reason for a lot of people – some familiar, some relative strangers – in a single place at the same time. I get why they keep happening, but the truth is that you never really know what you’re going to get.

“Sister of the Groom” – written and directed by Amy Miller Gross – generally lands on the positive end of the wedding movie spectrum, though it certainly isn’t without its faults. Thanks to some solid lead performances, a game ensemble and a lovely Long Island setting, it succeeds more than it fails, capturing not just the weird vibes that a wedding can inspire, but also an interesting investigation into how we consider the ways in which our choices impact our lives.

Published in Movies

Few filmmakers are as habitually freewheeling as Steven Soderbergh, constantly willing to move in different directions and try new things. He’s unafraid to shift creative gears, trusting in his abilities and the abilities of those around him to make it work – and it usually does.

Take “Let Them All Talk,” his newest offering now available via HBO Max. Shot in a quasi-indie manner, it’s an amiable and chatty dramady that takes place on a trans-Atlantic cruise. The kicker, of course, is that it was filmed during an actual crossing, with all that that entailed. Soderbergh assembled an incredible cast, led by Meryl Streep, and kept it simple, using mostly natural light and minimal equipment to film.

The end result – ostensibly written by noted short story writer Deborah Eisenberg, though much of the dialogue was improvised by the cast – is an extremely watchable, albeit light, story of renewed and new connections. It’s not a film where a lot actually happens, but the people to whom stuff isn’t happening are engaging enough to get you to stick around. A good hang.

Published in Style
Monday, 14 December 2020 15:20

Two Drews can't save ‘The Stand In’

Hollywood has a long history of actors playing multiple roles in the same film. Sometimes, it is for the sake of mining the possibilities of two (or more) people resembling one another – mistaken identities or identity swaps or the like. Other times, it’s just because Eddie Murphy or Adam Sandler wants a wider runway to do whatever goofy stuff they want to do.

“The Stand In” is the latest entry into the genre. This time, it’s Drew Barrymore playing two different roles in a story about a once-famous actress and her relentlessly sunny stand in. Directed by Jamie Babbit from a screenplay by Sam Bain, it’s an effort to document the deleterious impact of fame on people, doing so by way of yet another riff on the Mark Twain classic “The Prince and the Pauper.”

Unfortunately, the film legitimately struggles to decide what sort of tone it wishes to strike. The vacillation from comedy to drama and back again is constant and almost always without warning, leaving viewers with narrative whiplash. Despite Barrymore’s willingness to go for it – and she does give it her all – that lack of consistency leaves you wondering just what the aim was. Of course, if the goal was a movie that can’t figure out if it’s “Bowfinger” or “Single White Female,” well … mission accomplished?

Published in Movies

There are some movies that are compulsively watchable. These are the films from which you simply cannot tear your eyes. Often, this magnetism springs from the exquisite quality of what has been made, a combination of narrative and aesthetic excellence that demands to be experienced. Sometimes, however – not frequently, but every once in a while – that watchability is born of the exact opposite. In these moments, we get a movie that, despite being an abject and utter mess, nevertheless holds your attention.

“Love, Weddings & Other Disasters” is one of those rare watchable shambles, an aptly-titled car-crash of a movie experience that practically demands to be rubbernecked.

Written and directed by Dennis Dugan – best known as a longtime collaborator with Adam Sandler – “Love, Weddings & Other Disasters” is a misguided effort to walk the well-worn path of the intersecting storyline rom-com. The best of those films connect the dots with grace and subtlety, but as you might have already surmised, that’s not what this film does. Instead, we get a series of barely-connected narratives that each play out in their own rambling fashion before a hurried and not-particularly-inspired finale that leaves the viewer wondering what the hell just happened.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, all you want is to find a movie that everyone in the family can watch safely, a movie that will prove pleasant enough – or at least tolerable – to everyone watching. You’re not looking for cutting-edge or challenging or anything like that. Just a movie.

If that’s where you’re at, then “Godmothered” is precisely what you seek.

The new film – currently streaming on Disney+ - tells the story of a wannabe fairy godmother venturing into the world in hopes of helping someone find their happily ever after. This despite having neither sufficient training nor permission to do so. It’s the kind of light and fluffy fare that we usually get from the live-action side of Disney (non-IP edition), executed with the same efficient competence that we’ve come to expect.

Now, this adherence to the in-house rubrics and general formula is never going to result in a great movie. What it will get you is a decent movie – a category into which “Godmothered” most assuredly falls. Directed with workmanlike skill by Sharon Maguire from a vanilla script written by Kari Granlund and Melissa K. Stack, it’s a movie that provides a perfectly nice time – and that you will likely never need to watch again.

Published in Movies
Monday, 30 November 2020 14:47

‘Superintelligence’ not too bright

Creative collaborations between couples can be a wonderful thing. Two people taking advantage of their personal connection to enhance their creative work has vast potential. We’ve seen it a million times at the movies – think Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach or Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton, with one member of the pairing in front of the camera and the other behind.

Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone have this sort of collaborative relationship. Their latest team-up – their fourth with McCarthy starring and Falcone directing – is “Superintelligence,” currently streaming on HBO Max. However, this particular pairing, while robust in quantity, doesn’t quite live up to some of the others as far as quality is concerned.

This new film, the story of a newly self-aware AI deciding to use the most average person in the world to determine the ultimate fate of humanity, is a fairly lukewarm effort. The characterizations are thin and the story is needlessly convoluted, and while there are a handful of decent jokes and moments of physical comedy, the majority of the humor is built on a rickety foundation of pop culture references and overlong bits. McCarthy’s charm keeps it from completely collapsing, but her talents aren’t enough to fully salvage the experience.

Published in Movies

Finding freshness in any longstanding entertainment genre can be a trying task. How does one bring a sense of newness or novelty to something utterly familiar without losing the essence of what makes that thing worthy of exploration in the first place?

Take romantic comedies, for example. We’re in the midst of a rom-com renaissance of sorts, with streaming services taking up the baton for the studios that have largely abandoned the genre. And while most of these new offerings are various shades of beige, content to stick to the tricks and tropes with which we’re all familiar, there are a few that succeed in breathing new life into the form.

“Happiest Season” is one of those few.

The film, directed and co-written by Clea DuVall and streaming on Hulu, is an outstanding movie, a smart and slyly subversive take on the genre. Featuring a dynamite cast and a thoughtful story, it’s the kind of high-end rom-com that just doesn’t come along that often. Maneuvering the relationship complexities that come with holidays and meeting parents and the whole deal while ALSO exploring some of the realities of queer romance? That’s one hell of a tightrope walk, but DuVall and her crew practically dance across it, embracing the joy and pain alike.

(In case you haven’t guessed yet, I REALLY liked this movie.)

Published in Style
Monday, 23 November 2020 16:42

The Bro-lympiad – ‘Buddy Games’

We all want different things from movies at different times. Sometimes, we want works of cinematic sophistication, beautifully shot and exquisitely performed. At these times, we want to see masterpieces and magnum opuses.

Other times, however, we want something different. We want lighthearted idiocy and dick jokes. We want dudes and bros being dudes and bros. We want coarse language and coarser behavior, movies that appeal to the teenage boy in us.

I’ll give you one guess as to which category applies to the new movie “Buddy Games.”

The film – the directorial debut of actor Josh Duhamel, who is also co-wrote the script and stars – is a goofy and implausible ode to arrested development, an unapologetically raunchy look at male friendship and the ties that bind men to one another, as well as the devotion of a certain masculine mindset to maintaining a connection to the glory days.

While the film does have some things going for it – especially a strong cast that is happily along for the increasingly outlandish ride – those things can’t overcome the myriad obstacles presented by what it lacks.

Published in Movies
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