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I was really looking forward to “Shaft.”

I have a genuine affection for the OG trilogy – 1971’s “Shaft,” 1972’s “Shaft’s Big Score!” and 1973’s “Shaft in Africa.” Between the of-the-moment aesthetic, the street-noir sensibility and the exquisite soundtracks, they are a delight to watch, ironically or otherwise. Likewise, I’m a fan of the decades-later, Samuel L. Jackson-starring 2000 sequel, also called “Shaft.”

So, the idea of returning us to the Shaft Cinematic Universe in the present day held obvious appeal for me, even though I understood that reconciling what I loved about the films with some of the more obviously dated and unenlightened aspects. All of those films are products of their times, for better or worse.

This new “Shaft” needed to do the same thing – be a product of its time. And by embracing the multi-generational aspect of the world that had been built with senses of both homage and humor, this new film – directed by Tim Story from a screenplay by Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow – is able to integrate the old with the new in some ways.

Unfortunately, there are some aspects that simply have not aged well, and the world has shifted far too much for them to be rejuvenated. There was a chance to say something about how certain societal attitudes have evolved in the past half-century. Instead, we get something whose regressive aspects are far too present. The stars are game and there are a few compelling stretches, but really, this movie feels like nothing so much as a missed opportunity.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 04 June 2019 16:09

Say yes to ‘Always Be My Maybe’

While I would argue that reports of the demise of the romantic comedy have been greatly exaggerated, it’s tough to deny that things have changed with regards to that particular genre.

Movie studios aren’t as interested in investing in mid-budget standalone films anymore. It’s all about massive tentpole franchises with a smattering of awards bait and a handful of mini- and microbudget niche offerings. Rom-coms aren’t really big box office anymore.

But Netflix doesn’t need you to make your way to the movie theater. They just need you to click a couple of buttons on your remote. They need your eyeballs. And they have discovered that an effective avenue to procure those eyeballs is the romantic comedy.

The streaming service’s latest – and arguably best – entry into that arena is “Always Be My Maybe,” starring Ali Wong and Randall Park. It’s from a script co-written by Wong and Park, along with Michael Golamko; the film is directed by Nahnatchka Khan, best known for her work on TV’s “Fresh Off the Boat.”

“Always Be My Maybe” is not a wheel reinvention; all of the people involved clearly have a sense for how rom-coms work and are unconcerned with change for the sake of change. Instead, the film revolves around subverting tropes – sometimes subtly, other times not so much – while still existing within the standard stylistic framework of the genre.

Published in Movies

It’s seems as though there’s something for everyone these days.

Gone is the era when consumers of popular culture were forced to fit their own tastes into the broader boxes presented by limited options, where people watched what they watched not because they had sought it out, but because it was what was available to them.

Now, with the advent of streaming services and the like, a person can carefully curate their content consumption to a staggering extent of specificity. And so too can creators curate their creations to aim at those same granular niches.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I watched The Lonely Island’s “The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience” on Netflix and I feel seen.

Published in Sports

I’m an unabashed fan of teen comedies. From John Hughes on down, I have always loved stories of teenagers doing teenager stuff. I particularly love coming-of-age stories, whether they’re emotionally grounded stories of tentative steps into adulthood or broad “last night before graduation” raunchfests.

When I initially learned about the new film “Booksmart,” I got the impression it would be the latter. And it is – but it’s also the former. It is heartfelt and thoughtful in ways that will ring true to anyone who is (or ever was) a teenager, capturing the challenges faced by a certain kind of student as they prepare to move forward from high school. But it is ALSO a foul-mouthed and unapologetically weird comedy, packed with high-minded jokes and lowbrow gags alike.

Seriously – however good you think this movie is, it’s almost certainly better.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 15 May 2019 14:30

‘The Hustle’ doesn’t quite flow

One of the interesting trends in mainstream cinema over the past few years is the gender-swapped remake. We’ve seen a number of these films recently, movies that exchange men for women and vice versa in primary roles. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t. And most often … kind of both.

That’s the case with “The Hustle,” the new film starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. A remake of the Michael Caine/Steve Martin-led 1988 comedy “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (itself a remake of 1964’s “Bedtime Story,” a Marlon Brando/David Niven film), “The Hustle” is the story of a pair of con artists caught up in a competition with one another as they ply their trade in a small town on the French Riviera.

It’s a tough sell in some ways – the 1988 film is beloved and the story is highly demanding of the people in the leads. Hathaway and Wilson are both talented enough to make a lot of this stuff work, the truth is that there’s not that much there. There are some solid jokes and a couple of good slapstick set pieces, but it’s not enough. The fairly pedestrian script never reaches the manic comedic energy of its predecessor; Hathaway and Wilson are good, but not quite good enough to help this movie transcend a general sense of formulaicness.

Published in Movies
Friday, 03 May 2019 11:58

‘Long Shot’ pays off big

Lately, it might seem as though every single studio movie is either a nine-figure-budgeted franchise blockbuster or a low-overhead genre movie. And yes, there’s a lot of that kind of stuff out there. But those who have bemoaned the loss of the mid-budget studio film should take solace, for the reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. Sure, we see FEWER of those movies, but they’re far from over.

“Long Shot” is a perfect example of just that kind of film. A high-concept hybrid of political comedy and juvenilia, it’s a rom-com that tries to be a lot of different things and is largely successful. It’s an unconventional execution of a movie-conventional pairing between Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, lending a surprising degree of nuance to the standard mixed-attractiveness comic screen pairing.

It’s also an attempt at political satire, an effort to poke fun at the current climate. Government operations and the media both take their share of hits, and while the effort doesn’t land as well as the relationship stuff, it still manages its share of laughs. It’s a movie that is smart and profane, putting forth cleverness and crassness in equal (and often hilarious) measure.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 17 April 2019 12:30

Too ‘Little,’ too late

It’s always fun when a filmmaker gives you a different take on a standard cinematic trope. There’s a reason that certain types of stories continually pop up on the big screen – they work.

That being said, I wasn’t necessarily expecting two different riffs on the classic Tom Hanks vehicle “Big” to come into wide release in back-to-back weeks, but here we are. We got the “‘Big’ but with superheroes” take with “Shazam!” last week, and this week, we get the “‘Big’ but in reverse” take with “Little.”

Yeah – “Little” takes a grown person and turns her into a 13-year-old again. That’s pretty much it. And it ALMOST lands. There are stretches where the film really cooks, but there are others where things don’t click the way they need to. It has some funny moments, but it gets bogged down by the multiple messages it seems to want to convey. It’s a pleasant enough time at the movies, but it just misses being something much better.

Published in Movies

BREWER – One of the region’s entertainment mainstays is turning 10.

Improv comedy troupe The Focus Group is marking its 10-year anniversary with a celebratory performance. “Our Big Dumb Decade” will take place on April 19 at the Next Generation Theatre in Brewer – the longtime home of the group. The show starts at 8 p.m.; tickets are $5.

The show will feature members of the group both past and present, as well as a number of special guests who have shared the stage with the Focus Group at various times over the past decade.

(Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, the writer of this story – and this note – is a founding member of The Focus Group. He is also not even a little bit sorry to be taking advantage of his position to promote this auspicious anniversary.)

Published in Cover Story

BANGOR - As part of its 45th season, Penobscot Theatre Company presents “Ripcord,” a comedy written by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Bari Newport. The show runs through March 31 at the Bangor Opera House.

Published in Style
Wednesday, 20 February 2019 13:50

Love actually – ‘Isn’t It Romantic’

While the heyday of the romantic comedy has passed, there’s no disputing that the genre is still a significant part of the cinematic whole. Sure, there aren’t as many big-screen rom-coms as there once were, but the folks at Netflix have embraced them in a big way.

Suffice it to say, rom-coms aren’t going anywhere.

That’s why even though it might feel like a bit of a late arrival, “Isn’t It Romantic” still works. Yes, the sorts of films being targeted aren’t necessarily at the forefront of the cultural consciousness like they once were, but there’s no doubt that the tropes of the form still serve as prominent pop shorthand.

It doesn’t quite have the satiric bite that you might expect – largely because of a readily apparent affection for the source material. Basically, this movie tries to have it both ways, attempting to subvert conventions while at the same time embracing them. And while it isn’t wholly successful in that effort, the end result is still a solidly entertaining movie.

Published in Movies
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