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A movie comes along that is accompanied with massive amounts of hype. Maybe it’s a critical darling, maybe it’s a commercial blockbuster, maybe it’s something in the middle, but one thing is clear – people are singing its praises early and often. And loudly.

As a rule, these films tend to be excellent offerings, though perhaps not quite clearing the exceedingly high bar that has been set for them by the discourse. Occasionally, they prove to be something of a disappointment, leaving you wondering what so many people saw in them.

But every once in a while, you get something that actually manages to outperform your already massive expectations. You get a film that is somehow even better than the people shouting its quality from the rooftops have led you to believe. You get a movie that is unlike anything you’ve seen before in the very best of ways.

You get “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

The film – written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the filmmaking team known collectively as Daniels – is a phantasmagoric experience, a genre-blending adventure that digs into the collective human experience and celebrates the underlying possibilities that unfold with every decision that we make. It is incredibly smart and wildly entertaining, packed with humor and action and heartfelt emotion.

This is the sort of movie that essentially dares you to describe it. It is a roiling tumult of narrative complexity and naked feeling, swirled together into a visually stunning mélange that again – and I can’t stress this enough – is unlike anything you’ve seen before. It is vibrant and vivid and unabashedly weird, powered by the bizarre beauty of its aesthetic and some utterly captivating performances.

Published in Movies

ORONO – Our history books are filled with the names of those who were first, the intrepid figures who undertook the seemingly impossible in the name of exploration and discovery. But what about the names of those lost along the way?

That’s the underlying question of “Terra Nova,” the current show from the University of Maine’s School of Performing Arts. Written by Ted Tally and directed by Julie Arnold Lisnet and running through Feb. 20, it’s the story of the ill-fated British expedition to the South Pole. The race to be first was ultimately won by the Norwegians, but what these five brave men lost was not just the race to glory, but their very lives.

Adapted from the journals of Robert Scott, the leader of the British expedition, this is a story of what it means to sacrifice everything in the name of knowing the unknown. As these men struggle across a seemingly unending sheet of ice, we’re left to watch as their time slowly, inexorably ticks away. But even as all seemed lost, the one thing that these men never lost … was their courage.

Published in Style

So much of our storytelling is built around traumas and how we manage them. Some of those traumas are insular, personal. Others are writ large, part of a societal concern. And still others – perhaps the most complicated of all – are the ones that exist in the overlap between those two extremes, traumas that are both deeply personal and undeniably widespread.

“The Fallout,” newly streaming on HBO Max, attempts to delve into just such a complex trauma. Written and directed by Megan Park in her feature debut, it follows a young woman as she struggles through the aftermath of a mass shooting at her school. We watch as she tries to process what happened even as others find ways to move forward and move on … and some of her coping mechanisms prove to be a bit self-destructive, even as her loved ones try to help.

It’s a striking and emotionally powerful film, well-crafted and almost shockingly self-assured work from a writer-director making her feature debut. It is honest without being strident and emotionally engaging without being cloying, rife with excellent performances. The end result is a film that will stay with the viewer long after its vivid, visceral conclusion gives way to rolling credits.

Published in Movies

Every so often, a movie will come around that is a perfect encapsulation of several of my interests. These films are relatively rare, but when they do turn up, I can’t help but be thrilled. Of course, there’s always the chance that I will be disappointed.

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” was one such rarity. And happily, I was far from disappointed.

The film – directed by Joel Coen from his own adaptation of the William Shakespeare play and starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand – is a wonderful collection of things that I love. I love the works of Shakespeare. I love the films of the Coen brothers (and yes, it’s just Joel this time, but still). I love the talents of both Washington and McDormand. And I love the idea that there’s still room in the current marketplace for this type of movie – a stylized black-and-white adaptation of a classic starring capital-M capital-S Movie Stars.

After a limited theatrical release, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” made its way to Apple TV+, where it lays in wait to pounce upon you with one of the starkest, strangest and saddest new films you’re likely to encounter. Possessed of a stunning throwback aesthetic and driven by phenomenal performances, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen in ages.

Published in Movies

There are a handful of filmmakers whose movies are what I would consider unmissable. These are the auteurs who bring unique and compelling visions to the screen, telling engaging stories with visual flair and structural panache. We all have our pantheons.

Paul Thomas Anderson is part of mine.

Now, I’m hardly alone in this. The PTA hive has been a robust one pretty much from the beginning – he’s been on the cinephile radar since the late ‘90s. I’d put his three-film fun of “Hard Eight,” “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” against any filmmaker’s first three features … and he just continued to get better.

One of the many qualities of PTA’s work that I’ve always admired is his willingness to pivot, to veer in different directions with the choices that he makes and the stories he chooses to tell. So I was obviously thrilled when I (finally – everyone kept things very close to the vest) learned that his newest film, “Licorice Pizza,” would revisit the San Fernando Valley and focus on telling a coming of age story in early ‘70s California.

The film – named after a now-shuttered chain of record stores – is a story of affection and ambition, a tale of misguided attraction and relentless hustle. It’s a story about what it means to actually grow up when you already view yourself as grown up, as well as some of the consequences that this sort of up-and-down maturation process can have. All of it rendered through Anderson’s exquisite eye and brought forth by an absolutely dynamite cast – a cast led by a central odd couple of sorts offering up performances that far outstrip what we might have reasonably expected.

Published in Movies

Few film genres lend themselves as well to binary ideas as the western. There’s a fundamental divide at the heart of most movies like this – black hats/white hats, urban/rural – that allows a lot of room for different sorts of storytelling exploration. And when filmmakers find ways to subvert that shorthand, the possibilities for interesting, dynamic filmmaking expand exponentially.

“The Power of the Dog” is the latest film from writer/director Jane Campion. Based on the 1967 Thomas Savage novel of the same name, the movie delves deep into the internalized toxicity that can spring from tough-guy isolationism. It’s a look at how damage done early on can fester and scar, fracturing our capability to forge genuine human connection and leaving behind little more than a misshapen and often malevolent masculinity.

It is also a beautifully-crafted work, one that evokes the stark beauty that springs from nature’s emptiness. It’s a story of the many forms that love can take, and how not all of those forms are healthy … as well as the consequences that can arise when those incompatible loves come crashing together. And it’s a story of discovery – both internal and external – and what can happen if and when we’re unprepared for the realities therein.

Published in Movies

I love it when a filmmaker takes a big swing. It’s immensely satisfying to watch and realize in real time that what is happening on the screen is the result of multiple wild decisions, all made with the intent of making the movie in question as much … itself … as possible.

And when you get to see a filmmaker take TWO such swings in the span of just a couple of months, well – I’m here for it.

So it is with Ridley Scott, whose latest is “House of Gucci,” the frankly bonkers dramatization of the somehow-even-MORE-bonkers true story behind the battle for control of the Gucci fashion dynasty. Based on the 2001 book “The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed” by Sarah Gay Forden, it goes deep into the bizarre machinations that led to the dissolution of familial command of the company.

(This follows Scott’s equally ambitious and (almost) equally weird, yet tonally and thematically distinct “The Last Duel,” which came out mere weeks ago following a lengthy COVID delay.)

But where “The Last Duel” was self-serious, “House of Gucci” is high camp, a telenovela run through Google Translate multiple times and ultimately landing in some sort of feverish linguistic no-man’s-land, ostensibly Italian but lacking any sort of consistency from character to character. It is over the top in a bizarre but incredibly watchable way – it’s as though different actors are performing in different movies, only to have the whole thing thrown together.

It is, to be frank, a train wreck. A delightful and oft-mesmerizing train wreck, yes, but very much off the rails.

Published in Movies
Monday, 29 November 2021 15:39

MMA drama ‘Bruised’ far from a knockout

I’m on record as someone who greatly enjoys an inspirational sports movie. Whether we’re talking about comebacks from adversity or Davids taking on Goliaths or some combination therein, I am here for it. I’ve always found these types of films compelling when they’re done well.

Emphasis on the last part.

The new film “Bruised,” currently streaming on Netflix, doesn’t quite achieve that standard. It’s a muddy, confused sort of film, a movie that never figures out precisely what it is trying to say or what it wants to be. Set in the world of mixed martial arts, it is an undeniably visceral film – both physically and emotionally – but largely lacks the thematic depth that could push it to the next level.

It marks the directorial debut of Halle Berry, who also stars in the film. It’s an odd choice for a debut, a movie that originally had a different director and star attached; one wonders what drew Berry to the project in the first place. While there are some impactful moments, the muddled nature of the film’s tone undercuts them, ultimately resulting in a flawed viewing experience.

Published in Sports

Often – perhaps too often – we are wont to romanticize the past. We look back at the events of history through rose-colored lenses that focus on the grandiose and filter out many of the more unsavory elements.

The age of chivalry, for instance. We tend to celebrate the heroic and heraldic whilst utterly ignoring the bleak realities of that time for anyone who lived outside the sphere of knights and noblemen. The crushing poverty, the endless warfare, the lack of agency for anyone outside the elite – these truths are absent from the familiar tales of derring-do.

“The Last Duel” – directed by Ridley Scott and based on the 2004 book of the same name by Eric Jager – attempts to delve deeper and address that time and place with a little more honesty. Jager’s book, which is based on a true story, is adapted for the screen by some rather notable writers: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who wrote the script alongside Nicole Holofcener.

Damon and Affleck star, as do Adam Driver and Jodie Comer, in this multi-faceted tale of what happens when a woman of this era accuses a man of rape. Told from multiple perspectives, it’s an effort to deconstruct the uneven power dynamics of the time, its historicity inviting comparisons and contrasts to present-day circumstances. The film sprawls across the screen, asking the audience to view the proceedings through the eyes of three different narrators, each of whom with their own beliefs regarding how the story played out.

Published in Movies

I’m a big fan of actors pushing their own personal envelopes. I like it when comedic actors go the dramatic route and I like it when actors known for their dramatic chops venture into the realm of comedy. As a firm believer that a good actor is a good actor, it’s nice to see performers stretch themselves.

Take Jason Sudeikis. He made his bones as a comic performer, taking a turn as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live” and following that with a number of film comedies. But it’s his recent work as the titular character “Ted Lasso” – a comedy, yes, but one with dramatic underpinnings – that has really shown the breadth of his performance potential. The dude has what it takes.

In the new film “South of Heaven,” directed by Aharon Keshales and co-written by Keshales, Navot Paspushado and Kai Mark, Sudeikis is given the opportunity to take things in a much more extreme direction. What we have here is a bizarro Texas noir, a story populated by ex-cons and current criminals, all of it driven by one man’s singular desire to do right by the woman he loves.

While there’s plenty to like here, the film is tonally inconsistent to a distracting degree, veering wildly from dramatic intensity to romance to sitcom-adjacent banter – the sort of movie that relies on a steady stream of coincidence to keep moving forward. The performances – led by Sudeikis – are legitimately strong, but the unsteady narrative foundation undermines them. It’s a dark movie that can’t quite embrace its own darkness – at least, not until the end, when things get particularly nuts in an unexpected way.

Published in Movies
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