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Wednesday, 29 April 2020 16:10

Be a man – ‘Man Camp’

What does it mean to be a man?

Popular culture has mined a lot of humor from the exploration of that question. The notion of masculinity – particularly when pushed to its extremes – is ripe for parody and satire. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional concept of the masculine, though there’s certainly an argument that said traditionalism is old-fashioned to say the least.

But yeah – if you can find a way to embrace those expectations while also subverting them, you’re well on your way to getting some laughs.

“Man Camp,” a comedy directed by Nate Bakke from a script written by Daniel Cummings, Scott Kruse and Josh Long (the first two also star), digs into this oft-explored territory. It’s the tale of three young men whose lives have been defined by the too-soon loss of their manliest-of-manly-men father and their efforts to come to terms with the possibilities of finally moving on.

With a new man entering their mother’s life after so many years, the brothers take it upon themselves to put this suitor through a gauntlet of sorts, forcing him to prove himself worthy via the setting of the brothers’ annual tradition of gathering at camp to celebrate the memory of their father. It’s a funny, sometimes crude look at how we define manhood … and how that definition can change as we become men ourselves.

Published in Movies

It wasn’t that long ago that romantic comedies ruled the cinematic realm. They were the films that filled out the robust middle tier of film offerings, turning fresh faces into stars and stars into icons. Alas, the 21st century hasn’t been as kind to the rom-com; studios have leaned heavily into macro- and microbudgeted fare, with little breathing room left over for that once-jammed middle level.

Here’s the thing, though – people still like those sorts of movies. And so Netflix, kings of exploiting market inefficiencies that they are, have invested mightily in the rom-com. The service is rife with original rom-com content, filling the niche that has been largely empty for nearly two decades.

The latest in line is “Love. Wedding. Repeat.” It’s an English language remake of a 2012 French comedy titled “Plan de table,” one both adapted and directed by Dean Craig. It’s a frothy delight, featuring attractive people in a beautiful setting dealing with a bunch of nonsense. You know – your basic romantic comedy.

It’s not the most sophisticated movie you’re likely to see – it’s situationally contrived in the usual ways and largely content to settle for easy laughs and easier sentimentality. However, the cast is undeniably charming and there’s enough of an interesting spin on the standard formula to make this particular wedding one that you’ll be glad to have attended.

Published in Movies

Every movie begins with an idea, a seed that one hopes will ultimately grow into something appealing. Sometimes, that idea is a plot point or an aesthetic concept. Sometimes, it involves a character and/or the actor who plays said character. And sometimes, it’s … something else.

Take “Coffee & Kareem,” a new streaming offering that hit Netflix on April 3. Near as I can figure, this movie exists because someone thought that was a funny title and decided to reverse-engineer a film from there. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the end result was not good.

What we have here is a lukewarm and forgettable cup of movie, one that carries the slapdash algorithmically-generated vibe that often marks the less-successful of the streaming service’s original offerings. There’s relatively little humor to be found in the ostensible comedy, and what you do find is so utterly awash in flop sweat as to be rendered ineffective. The film is tonally confused and not nearly as clever as it wants you to think it is.

Published in Movies

I’m on record as being a big proponent of coming of age stories. For whatever reason, I find tales of young people crossing the various Rubicons that come with growing up to be endlessly fascinating. There’s a universality to them; while the details may change, the fundamental underpinnings are simple and constant.

That said, while I personally enjoy them all, there’s no denying that, as with any genre, there are good ones and bad ones.

My guess was that “Big Time Adolescence,” the new film streaming on Hulu, would trend more toward the latter category. Instead, the feature debut from writer/directory Jason Foley surprised me. It’s a thoughtful and heartfelt meditation on the connections we make when we’re young and the people with whom we choose to make them … not to mention the relative wisdom (or lack thereof) inherent to those choices. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it also manages to avoid the saccharine pitfalls that often undermine these kinds of stories.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 11 March 2020 13:21

Fractured fairy tale – ‘Onward’

Obviously, I love Pixar movies. I’m a human being with feelings and a soul, so of course I dig the work of the acclaimed animation studio. That being said, I also have to accept that because they have set the bar so very high, there will be occasions in which they fail to clear it.

So it is with their latest offering “Onward,” a film that, were it to come from any other studio, would likely be hailed as great work, but because it bears the Pixar name, it feels just the slightest bit underwhelming.

Make no mistake – “underwhelming” is by no means the same as “bad” – this is actually a charming and fun film. The concept is interesting enough, the vocal performances are typically strong and the execution is quite good. Jokes are made and heartstrings are tugged. All the usual pieces are here. It just doesn’t quite ascend to the level of accomplishment that we’ve come to expect from the studio.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 11 March 2020 13:11

Austen powers – ‘Emma.’

One never knows what to expect with literary adaptations. Guiding a story from page to screen is tricky business, packed with pitfalls both anticipated and unexpected. The degree of difficulty runs even higher when you’re dealing with a work that is both beloved in its original form AND has already been made into a well-received film.

This begs the question: why adapt Jane Austen’s “Emma” again?

That question is answered by first-time feature director Autumn de Wilde’s “Emma.” Working from a script adapted by Eleanor Catton, this latest incarnation of the tale offers a quirky, period take on the classic, bringing an unexpected aesthetic to bear alongside relatively straightforward storytelling.

(Note: Part of that quirkiness is the title itself – the period in “Emma.” is intended to indicate that the film is a period piece. It’s a fun bit of self-aware metatextual goofiness. That said, going forward, I’ll refer to the title sans period, just for clarity and logistical ease.)

Featuring the talented Anya Taylor-Joy in the titular role, this latest incarnation of the story captures the spirited satire of the original while also freely indulging in a rampant tweeness that suits the story’s soul surprisingly well. It’s a smart and sharp film, clever and sweet and just strange enough – a take on the tale that will both satisfy longtime Austenites and serve as a worthwhile introduction to the work.

Published in Movies

I spend a lot of time at the movies. I see quite a few good ones and plenty of bad ones, but it’s relatively rare for me to see an utterly inexplicable one, a movie that begs the question “Why does this exist?”

“Impractical Jokers: The Movie” had me asking myself that very question.

Full disclosure: I have only the most passing of passing familiarity with the television show that inspired the film, a series built entirely around four meatheads from Staten Island making each other behave like morons in front of an unsuspecting public (and a bunch of hidden cameras). You might think that such source material would prove insufficient fodder for a feature film.

And you would be correct.

“Impractical Jokers: The Movie” is a poorly-constructed excuse to string together a handful of the group’s hidden camera pranks. The story – such as it is – exists solely to get us from bit to bit. The narrative makes no sense and the central quartet are completely out of their depth any time they’re expected to act; they’re painful to watch, frankly. Even the pranks, the whole raison d’etre for this waste of time, feel perfunctory.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 26 February 2020 13:00

STC’s ‘Puffs’ makes theatre magic

BANGOR – Have you ever wanted to spend some time at a very special and VERY famous school of magic? Well, thanks to Some Theatre Company, now you can.

Sort of.

STC is presenting “Puffs: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic,” running through March 1. This show – written by Matt Cox and directed by company artistic director Elaine Bard – marks the company’s first-ever production at their brand-new space in the Bangor Mall.

Fans of a certain boy wizard might have occasionally asked themselves about some of the other students at this legendary school. We spent seven books (and eight movies and a stage play and so on) following him and his friends; what do you suppose was going on with the students who maybe weren’t so talented or popular? Every school has regular, average kids – even schools of magic.

That’s what you get with “Puffs.” It’s a chance to spend some time with the also-rans of the magical realm, the uncool kids who just want to get by, kids who are simply looking to get through school without having to deal with the horrifying mystic dangers that lurk around seemingly every corner. These are kids who are very aware of the magical hierarchy … and of their low place in it.

(Since you might be wondering what the deal is, the following disclaimer is featured on the “Puffs” website: “Puffs is a stage play written by Matt Cox as a transformative & transfigured work under the magic that is US Fair Use laws. Puffs is not authorised, sanctioned, licensed or endorsed by J.K Rowling, Warner Bros. or any person or company associated with the Harry Potter books, films or play.”)

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 19 February 2020 13:53

‘Downhill’ an uphill battle

A good comedic pairing is something to cherish. When two talented and funny people are brought together onscreen for the first time, our expectations are really elevated. We can’t wait to see how their respective talents react with one another. And when the filmmakers bringing them together are acclaimed talents in their own right, well … what could go wrong?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

So it is with “Downhill,” the new film starring Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Written and directed by Oscar-winning duo Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the film is a remake of the 2014 dark comedy “Force Majeure.” Unfortunately, despite the tremendous talent involved, “Downhill” goes downhill pretty fast.

This new film never manages to recreate the same delicately unsettling balance of its predecessor, resulting in a movie that is constantly at odds with itself regarding the sort of movie it wants to be. The erstwhile dramatic moments feel forced and false, while the ostensibly comedic bits come off as disingenuous and get lost in the morass. Tonally, “Downhill” never stays in its lane; it gets out over its skis, leaving its cast (and us) tumbling helplessly down the mountain.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 11 February 2020 11:57

‘Birds of Prey’ offers high-flying fun

It’s fair to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has far outpaced its DC counterpart. One of the biggest reasons for the difference in levels of success has been tone – the MCU has always found ways to make its films fun, while DC has largely produced movies weighed down by a sense of bleak, gray self-seriousness.

Recently, however, the DCEU has started finding its way out of that grimdarkness. Films like “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman” have done a better job of finding the fun. And their latest offering – full title “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” – continues in that vein, producing a piece of candy-colored weirdness that is as enjoyable to watch as any film in the franchise thus far.

It’s worth noting that this film is female-driven – not just in front of the camera, but behind it, with Cathy Yan directing from a script by Christina Hodson – in an organic fashion that never comes off as forced or pandering.

It’s not a perfect film – the narrative is a bit haphazard and the structure is all over the place – but by and large, it’s pretty darned good and entertaining as hell. The performances are strong and there are some killer action sequences, along with a few solid gags. Put it all together and you get one of the better DCEU outings.

Published in Movies
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