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Tuesday, 01 October 2019 15:48

New to view 2019: A fall TV preview

Fall TV premiere season is upon us!

Granted, the whole concept of the “new fall lineup” has increasingly become less of a thing with the proliferation of streaming services willing to drop entire seasons in one go and networks becoming more and more flexible with regards to when a series can and should debut, but whether it is by design or simply through inertia, we still see a whole lot of new material hit the airwaves in the autumn.

As per usual, this preview addresses only those shows entering their debut seasons. This isn’t about all the exceptional television that is returning for a second or third or fifth or tenth season – this is about stuff we haven’t seen before. It’s a chance to look ahead at what’s coming and think about what content – if any – we might be willing to invest our limited leisure time into.

It’s a mixed bag for sure. We’ve got broadcast and we’ve got streaming and you’d better believe we’ve got HBO. We’ve got comedy and drama. We’ve got prestige fare and we’ve got mass appeal. We’ve got highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow – all the brows you could ever desire.

Will all of these shows be good? Absolutely not. Should you watch them all? Also – no. And this is far from everything. But if there’s even one or two gems among the flotsam, that’s a big win. And honestly, it looks like there might be a couple of winners here.

Or maybe it’s all just poorly-conceived adequately-executed entertainment detritus. Who can say?

Let’s have a look at a few of 2019’s fall TV premieres.

Published in Cover Story
Tuesday, 23 July 2019 15:22

‘The Lion King’ a dull roar

Anyone with even the slightest modicum of pop cultural awareness knows just how monolithic the Disney machine has become. With an ever-growing list of acquisitions and developments, Big Mouse is in the driver’s seat with regards to the entertainment we consume.

Perhaps the most cynical of their recent trends is the proliferation of live-action adaptations of beloved animated fare. They’ve been ramping it up over the past couple of years, but 2019 has taken things to a whole new level.

Already this year, we’ve seen adaptations of “Dumbo” (by Tim Burton) and “Aladdin” (by Guy Richie), a pair of tepid films in blockbuster clothing.

But “The Lion King” looked like it might be different. Featuring a stellar voice cast and directed by Jon Favreau, who already had some success in this particular domain with his very good “Jungle Book” adaptation, this one seemed to have potential.

Alas, it is simply more of the same, an almost shot-for-shot remake of the original film whose visual accomplishment simply can’t overcome an overarching feeling of inessentiality. The animated version was exceptional, while this new version doesn’t really have any reason to be.

(Well, one reason: a practically guaranteed massive box office haul – the film took in $185 million opening weekend.)

While there are game efforts on the part of all involved, there are certain fundamental issues that can’t be overcome. The photorealism of the all-animal cast is impressive, yes, but it is also an obstacle; there’s a lack of expressive flexibility that makes much of the dialogue feel flat and removed. And without that interactive dynamism, it doesn’t really matter how good it all looks.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 29 May 2019 11:47

A ho-hum new world – ‘Aladdin’

We can all agree that Disney more or less rules the cinematic landscape at this point, yes? We don’t have to like it, but there’s no denying the company’s omnipresence on our screens. The Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars movies have definitely filled the coffers to overflowing, but those films are far from the only moneymakers in Big Mouse’s stable.

Another high-impact trend for Disney is the onslaught of live-action remakes of their beloved animated films. They’ve been having success with that formula for a few years now, but 2019 sees them really pushing the envelope.

The latest is “Aladdin,” a remake of the beloved 1992 animated film. It’s perhaps the boldest maneuver yet, considering the iconic nature of both the movie as a whole and of the performance by Robin Williams as the Genie in particular. Basically, we’re left to wonder why (hint: the answer is money – it’s always about the money).

This new film – directed by Guy Ritchie (I’m as surprised as you are) and featuring Will Smith assuming the bright blue mantle of geniedom – had the look of an utter disaster early on. And while it turned out to be considerably better than that, it only succeeded in being … OK. Not terrible. Not great. Just OK. And that bland meh-ness is maybe the worst place it could have landed; we’re left with a movie that is almost defined by how unnecessary it feels.

(Of course, it also did nine figures at the box office opening weekend, so what do I know?)

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 24 April 2019 12:41

Chill out with ‘Disneynature: Penguins’

There are a lot of different ways that movies can captivate us.

This is an important notion to keep in mind as the shadow of Summer Blockbuster Season begins to loom over 2019. For the next few months, bigger might not be better, but it will definitely be ubiquitous.

It’s also a reason to pay attention to a movie like “Disneynature: Penguins.” We’re about to be overwhelmed by a sea of cartoons and CGI explosions for weeks on end – why not sit down and enjoy a quiet, well-made nature film that just happens to be stunningly beautiful and surprisingly funny.

Producer-director Alistair Fothergill has played a huge part in the Disneynature process, having served in one or both of those roles for something like half of the 13 films Disney’s indie nature doc arm has produced over the past decade or so. He’s as visually gifted as any nature documentarian out there, with a willingness to invest the time and effort necessary to create films that tell compelling stories; “Penguins” is another feather in his cap.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 03 April 2019 12:56

‘Dumbo’ can’t quite take flight

Whatever your feelings with regards to mainstream Hollywood’s ongoing devotion to remakes, you have to accept the fact that things aren’t going to change anytime soon. Like it or not, you’re along for the remake ride – all you can do now is hope that they’re good.

With Disney’s live-action “Dumbo” – a remake of the studio’s 1941 animated classic – it seemed as though the pieces were there for success. Tim Burton’s pop-goth sensibilities and Technicolor weirdness seemed like a potentially fun lens through which to tell this story. The cast looks really strong. And the tale is a beloved one.

And yet – the film is less than the sum of its parts. While Burton’s aesthetic did lead to some memorable, engaging visuals and the ensemble provided generally solid-to-strong performances, an iffy screenplay and lack of spirit undermined those efforts. While it’s far from a bad movie, this “Dumbo” never manages to soar.

Published in Movies
Saturday, 22 December 2018 12:11

Nanny nostalgia – ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

On its surface, it would appear to be the most unnecessary sequel in a cinematic landscape already littered with unnecessary sequels. The mere idea seems to epitomize the monetization of nostalgia. Its title sounds more like a punchline than an actual movie.

Despite how we might feel about its existence, there’s no getting around it: beloved magical nanny Mary Poppins has returned in Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns.” And yet, even with the perceived strikes against it, the filmmakers have managed to make a decent film. Better than decent, in fact – this movie is actually pretty good.

Obviously, it doesn’t measure up to the original – no movie could, and it would be ridiculous to expect otherwise. There are stretches where it doesn’t quite click. However, for the most part, “Mary Poppins Returns” is a light and lovely story, a chance to spend a little more time with an iconic character. And it’s generally time well-spent.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 28 November 2018 14:04

‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ really connects

In a cinematic landscape featuring more animated offerings than ever before, it’s tough to find ways to stand out. But even in a crowded field, Disney stands ears-and-shoulders above the competition.

Even leaving aside the fact that Pixar is a Disney concern, Walt Disney Animation has had a heck of a run over the past half-decade or so. Yes, things were a little underwhelming in the earlier part of the 21st century, but there’s no arguing the quality of the studio’s recent run – “Wreck-It Ralph” (2012), “Frozen” (2013), “Big Hero 6” (2014), “Zootopia” (2016) and “Moana” (2016) were all hugely successful both commercially and critically; “Frozen” and “Zootopia” even won Oscars.

The latest offering – the first sequel in this new wave – is “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” A sequel to “Wreck-It Ralph,” it melds the retro charm of the original’s characters with an updated, more modern setting. The combination of old and new is an undeniable success; not only are there some delightful jokes and clever pop culture nods, there’s a surprising depth to the emotions explored. Funny gags AND genuine connection – we’re talking top-tier animated fare.

Published in Movies

As someone who spends a lot of time in movie theaters, I’ve seen a LOT of trailers. I don’t have a problem with that – I’ve always been a fan of previews. These days, my affinity is even greater because I know that odds are good that I’ll be seeing these movies, so it’s nice to know what’s coming.

However, every once in a while, I’ll see a trailer that simply mystifies me. It’s not that I think the movie will be good or bad (though it tends toward the latter) so much as I wonder how the film in question ever came to exist at all.

I got that feeling the first time I saw the trailer for Disney’s “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.” Like – was this a gritty reboot of the classic holiday ballet? What’s the deal with the four realms? Why is Morgan Freeman here? SO MANY QUESTIONS.

Alas, the answers I got were less than satisfying – superficially attractive, yes, but ultimately empty. It’s a beautifully wrapped gift with nothing inside, its connections to the supposed source material tenuous at best (you have to love a good “suggested by” caveat).

Published in Movies

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. To some extent, the entertainment landscape has always been sculpted by our fondness for memories of the past. But nostalgia’s power has grown exponentially in the internet age; today’s popular culture is powered by our love for what came before.

So it makes sense that a movie like “Christopher Robin” would appear at this moment in time. And when you take into account the general air of cynicism that permeates our discourse, the idea of a gentle remembrance of something pure and beloved from our youth sounds pretty darned nice.

And that’s what this latest Disney offering is – nice. It isn’t anything spectacular. It’s just nice. It’s a chance to visit with Winnie the Pooh and Piglet and Tigger and the rest of the A.A. Milne gang in a slightly different manner. Yes, it’s about what it means to grow up and put away childish things, but mostly, it’s about checking in with some old friends.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 19 June 2018 15:22

‘Incredibles 2’ is incredible too

We’ll start with the obvious: like anyone who loves great animated movies (or really, great movies, no qualifiers), I’m in the bag for Pixar. Ever since their initial outing with 1995’s “Toy Story,” the studio has produced an exceptional collection of high-quality fare (and also the “Cars” sequels) – and everybody has their favorites.

For me, while I’ve loved many of the movies that Pixar has given us over the past 15 years – heck, the 2008-2010 run of “WALL-E,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3” is as good a stretch as any studio has ever put up, animation or otherwise – but for me, the best Pixar movie has always been “The Incredibles.”

As you might imagine, my affection for that film meant that I was both excited and apprehensive when I heard about the impending sequel. To think that they were finally revisiting that story, bringing these characters and that world into a moviegoing culture that has not only accepted, but passionately embraced superheroes, well … would it work?

Oh yes. Yes yes yes. A thousand times yes.

Published in Movies
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