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Wednesday, 18 September 2019 09:18

Don’t hustle these ‘Hustlers’

Here’s a reminder for those of you who may have forgotten: Jennifer Lopez is legitimately good at everything. She is a talented pop singer, an excellent dancer and a gifted actress. She is a savvy businesswoman and a social media savant. She is smart as hell and still hungry after more than two decades in the spotlight.

She puts those skills on full display in her new film “Hustlers,” directed by Lorene Scafaria from a screenplay she adapted herself from a magazine article written by Jessica Pressler. It’s a movie that is equal parts heist story and female friendship narrative. Lopez unleashes the full force of her talents (not to mention her pure unbridled charisma), putting forward a performance that is nuanced and raw and serves as an absolutely magnetic foundation for what ultimately proves to be a damned good movie.

It’s an unapologetic look at what it takes to get ahead in a world where the deck is stacked against you, a story that refuses to condemn its characters for embracing the same tactics that the men of the world get rich employing. It’s a story about people who, instead of playing the hand that they were dealt, choose to change the rules to which they are expected to adhere.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 18 September 2019 09:14

Art for art’s sake – ‘The Goldfinch’

Adapting books to the big screen can be a tricky proposition. The truth is that while many times, a story is a story is a story, regardless of medium, there are some literary works – acclaimed, celebrated works – that resist that sort of translation. Sometimes, filmmakers are able to muscle through that resistance and present a great movie.

Other times, they make “The Goldfinch.”

The film, based on Donna Tartt’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, is an undeniably game effort. Everyone involved – director John Crowley, screenwriter Peter Straughan, the talented cast – is clearly giving their all to a project in which they clearly believe very strongly. Unfortunately, the layered, fractured nature of the source text works against them; the end result is a film that is technically well-crafted yet doesn’t cohere. It’s a series of good-looking scenes that never quite click together.

What we have in “The Goldfinch” is essentially an echo of a prestige film, an offering that bears many of the outer indicators of Oscar bait, but is largely devoid of substance once you move beyond those surface trappings. Again – a game and good faith effort, but one that falls short.

Published in Movies

The tail end of the summer is often a tough time at the movie theater. The blockbusters have all made their entrances, their massive opening weekends filled with quips and explosions, while the fall/winter blend of awards contenders and winter blockbusters (yeah, they’re a thing now) has yet to kick off. Most of the time, that means that the cupboard is bare.

But what it ALSO means is that I sometimes get a chance to see something I otherwise wouldn’t – the occasional surprise gets a moment in the sun.

That’s what I got with “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” a heartfelt and surprisingly sweet indie comedy/drama that is somehow both completely out of place and utterly at home on the late summer big screen. It’s the story of a young man willing to do whatever it takes to follow his passion, despite living in a world that refuses to believe he’s capable of, well … anything, really.

It’s a modern-day fable, a reimagined “Huckleberry Finn” with loads of swampy charm and a captivating cast that effectively balances triumph and tragedy while introducing audiences to a lead actor unlike any we’ve seen. It’s a film that helps us to understand that sometimes the bad guy is actually good – and that the good guy sometimes yearns to be bad.

Published in Movies

A young person’s outlet for self-discovery can take many forms. One never knows what outside influence will inspire a whole new outlook and a whole new path. Sometimes, those influences make perfect sense. Other times, they are more of a surprise.

“Blinded by the Light” gives us the latter.

The film, based on a true story, explores the life of a young Pakistani teen in Thatcher-era Great Britain. He’s left to deal with the realities of life in that place and time – economic unrest, anti-immigrant prejudices, cultural expectations – while struggling with finding his own place. He wants to be his own person, but he’s not even sure what that means.

Until, that is, he hears the music of Bruce Springsteen.

Published in Movies

Full disclosure: I love dogs. I am a bordering-on-weird dog person. I recognize this about myself and own my lack of objectivity regarding dogs and their feelings fully. That said, I am able to manage enough separation to recognize when a movie isn’t actually all that good, even if it has no problem pushing the appropriate buttons to elicit the desired emotional responses from someone like me.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain,” based on Garth Stein’s best-selling 2008 novel of the same name, is far from great cinema. On its face, it is an over-plotted and underdeveloped family drama with a whiff of Nicholas Sparks about it. We’re kind of on a road to nowhere, driving aimlessly and never actually getting anyplace.

But there’s a dog with an inner monologue who has thoughts and feelings and engages with the thoughts and feelings of people, so what am I supposed to do? I’m not made of stone.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 13 August 2019 15:22

Mob wives – ‘The Kitchen’

While their position in the zeitgeist has ebbed and flowed over the decades, there’s no denying that mob stories are a fixture in our popular culture. The framework of organized crime allows for loads of violence and sex to go with interpersonal drama – it’s like the whole enterprise was invented for the stories (and plenty of it was).

Here’s the thing about popular stories – it’s tough to find new and successful ways in which to tell them.

That’s perhaps the biggest problem faced by “The Kitchen,” a 1970s-set mob movie that tries to venture down some different and interesting paths, but other than a few flashes, winds up largely bogged down in the clichés and tropes of the subgenre.

Based on the comic book series of the same name, “The Kitchen” tells the tale of three women forced by circumstance to team up and fill the void left by their absent husbands, who have been sent to prison. The leading trio is wildly talented, as is much of the supporting cast, but it isn’t enough; first-time director Andrea Berloff – directing from her own script – can’t seem to avoid the pitfalls of returning to such thoroughly excavated territory.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 06 August 2019 19:14

Mother knows worst – ‘Otherhood’

Sometimes, you know exactly what you’re going to get from a movie within the first few minutes. Occasionally, that’s a good thing. More often, it’s definitely not.

The new movie “Otherhood” – directed by Cindy Chupak from a script she co-wrote with Mark Andrus, based on the William Sutcliffe novel “Whatever Makes You Happy” – is very much an example of the latter. Despite a talented cast, the film quickly bogs down in clichés and spins its wheels, asking the viewer to bear with it even as it staggers toward an uninspired finish.

It’s another example of the algorithmically-curated content creation model of Netflix; the streaming service recognizes an audience for a type of movie – in this case, a story featuring women of a certain age dealing with their families – and proceeds to make it. Alas, actual quality doesn’t always factor into the decision.

Published in Movies

STONINGTON – The love story behind one of history’s greatest love stories is currently playing out on the stage of the Stonington Opera House.

Opera House Arts is presenting Lee Hall’s acclaimed stage adaptation of the 1998 Oscar-winning film “Shakespeare in Love.” The show – directed by Julia Sears – runs through July 28.

Traditionally, OHA has presented one of Shakespeare’s plays, but as part of the celebration of their 20th season, the choice was made to mix things up. Thus, a play not BY Shakespeare, but rather one ABOUT him. It’s a clever pick that accentuates OHA’s usual strengths while also offering a chance to engage with something a little bit different.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s a fantastic story – a tale of one man’s desperate desire for greatness, on the page and in matters of the heart alike, and the woman whose own greatness may prove to be both blessing and curse. All of it set against a backdrop of backstage shenanigans as a handful of rogues and ruffians try to get their acts together long enough to put on a show – a show that’s still being written. Oh, and an unwanted marriage. And a queen. And a dog.

The wildest part of all? It’s even better than it sounds.

Published in Style
Wednesday, 09 January 2019 13:51

Royal rumble – ‘Mary Queen of Scots’

There are few things that grab the attention of film award voters quite like royalty. They LOVE prestige fare about kings and queens; can’t get enough of it. Crowns and capes and thrones, palace intrigue and clanging swords and righteous rhetoric. These movies are almost always good, but to be better they need … something.

Maybe it’s a killer cast. Maybe it’s a filmmaker with a unique, unconventional perspective. Maybe it’s particularly compelling source material.

Or maybe, like with “Mary Queen of Scots,” it’s all three at once.

You’ve got two of Hollywood’s most talented young actresses leading the way in Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, with four Oscar nominations between them. You’ve got a director in Josie Rourke who has never directed a film before but has extensive and acclaimed experience as a stage director of work both classic and contemporary. And you’ve got the story of the titular queen’s life as adapted from John Guy’s pioneering biography “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart.”

And yet … it never manages to quite get over the top. While the performances from both Ronan and Robbie are outstanding and the look and tone of the film are suitably epic in scope and scale, the narrative is a bit overstuffed and lacking in specificity. Too often, things happen because they’re simply next on the list, rather than with any sort of agency or urgency behind them, which leads to more story-borne borderline-soapy melodrama than you might hope for in a film like this.

Published in Movies

Hollywood success can be a double-edged sword. Prominent performers often find themselves pigeonholed by their initial triumphs; the rationale seems to be that if you prove capable of a particular style or type of role, then there’s no reason to ask you to do anything different.

Melissa McCarthy built her career on a certain style of broad comedy, brilliantly combining physicality and coarseness in 2011’s “Bridesmaids,” only to repeat variations on that theme more or less constantly for the next half-dozen years (the odd “St. Vincent” notwithstanding).

So it’s refreshing to see her tackle something completely different in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” It’s the true story of a struggling writer who harnessed her talent for biography into an ever-widening scheme involving the forgery of letters written by literary greats. It is a bleak, sad portrait of talent undone by self-doubt and false bravado, darkly funny with surprising moments of poignancy.

Published in Movies
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