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Love ‘em or hate ‘em, superhero movies have defined the industry for well over a decade and show no signs of slowing. If anything, we’re just going to keep getting more and more of them – they’re appointment films in a business that is dying for anything that will ensure big box office receipts. Considering the faltering movie theater model, expect studios to keep pushing this kind of franchise-friendly fare.

Me? I love superhero movies. Do I recognize the more cynical motives behind them? Sure! Do I care? Not in the least!

So I was thrilled to finally see “Wonder Woman 1984.” As someone who, despite my job, is still steering clear of movie theaters, having the opportunity to see this movie in my own home via HBO Max was fantastic. Given the extended drought of superhero cinema, I was primed to dig this movie even though Marvel > DC, in my opinion.

And guess what? I dug it!

Directed by Patty Jenkins – who returned to the franchise after helming 2017’s excellent “Wonder Woman” – from a script she co-wrote with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, “Wonder Woman 1984” is engaging enough, though it doesn’t quite capture the same lightning in a bottle energy of the previous film. There are some great set pieces, solidly charismatic lead performances and a couple of really going-for-it supporting turns – enough to make for a flawed-but-satisfying moviegoing experience.

Published in Movies

Few filmmakers are as habitually freewheeling as Steven Soderbergh, constantly willing to move in different directions and try new things. He’s unafraid to shift creative gears, trusting in his abilities and the abilities of those around him to make it work – and it usually does.

Take “Let Them All Talk,” his newest offering now available via HBO Max. Shot in a quasi-indie manner, it’s an amiable and chatty dramady that takes place on a trans-Atlantic cruise. The kicker, of course, is that it was filmed during an actual crossing, with all that that entailed. Soderbergh assembled an incredible cast, led by Meryl Streep, and kept it simple, using mostly natural light and minimal equipment to film.

The end result – ostensibly written by noted short story writer Deborah Eisenberg, though much of the dialogue was improvised by the cast – is an extremely watchable, albeit light, story of renewed and new connections. It’s not a film where a lot actually happens, but the people to whom stuff isn’t happening are engaging enough to get you to stick around. A good hang.

Published in Style

Nearly half-a-century ago, an event took place that has captivated and confounded people ever since. Something so outlandish, so unbelievable, so inscrutable that it can’t help but be fascinating even now, almost 50 years since it happened.

All I have to say is a name: D.B. Cooper. If you know, you know. If you don’t, well – he’s the man who, back in 1971, executed what remains the only unsolved skyjacking in the history of American aviation. He leapt into the night carrying $200,000 dollars, the plane in the skies over Washington state … and was never seen again.

“The Mystery of D.B. Cooper” – written and directed by John Dower – is a documentary that offers its viewers a potential solution to its titular question. Or rather – four solutions. Dower’s film features four primary subjects, each of whom shares the unshakeable belief that they know who D.B. Cooper was.

And they have four different answers.

Published in Adventure
Monday, 30 November 2020 14:47

‘Superintelligence’ not too bright

Creative collaborations between couples can be a wonderful thing. Two people taking advantage of their personal connection to enhance their creative work has vast potential. We’ve seen it a million times at the movies – think Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach or Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton, with one member of the pairing in front of the camera and the other behind.

Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone have this sort of collaborative relationship. Their latest team-up – their fourth with McCarthy starring and Falcone directing – is “Superintelligence,” currently streaming on HBO Max. However, this particular pairing, while robust in quantity, doesn’t quite live up to some of the others as far as quality is concerned.

This new film, the story of a newly self-aware AI deciding to use the most average person in the world to determine the ultimate fate of humanity, is a fairly lukewarm effort. The characterizations are thin and the story is needlessly convoluted, and while there are a handful of decent jokes and moments of physical comedy, the majority of the humor is built on a rickety foundation of pop culture references and overlong bits. McCarthy’s charm keeps it from completely collapsing, but her talents aren’t enough to fully salvage the experience.

Published in Movies

Among those who know me, my general ambivalence with regard to music is well-documented. It’s not that I don’t like music, it’s that I don’t have the same kind of connection to it that so many of my fellow creatively inclined types do. But there are exceptions, certain artists and eras that have worked their way past my general indifference and into my heart.

One such artist is David Byrne. From his early days with Talking Heads to his robust and varied solo career, I’ve always felt an affinity for Byrne’s work, a connection to his music and message – appropriate, really, considering the omnipresence of the idea of connection throughout his work.

That’s a big reason why I was so excited to check out “American Utopia” – currently streaming on HBO MAX – a filmed version of the stage show of the same name that Byrne launched just over a year ago. Another big reason is the fact that this concert film would be directed by none other than Spike Lee, another artist I admire – one who also digs deep into the idea of connection in his work, albeit from a different perspective than Byrne. Obviously, with two creative powerhouses like Byrne and Lee teaming up, this was going to be good.

Still, I was not prepared for just HOW good.

Published in Style

For many people, some of their most beloved memories are of amusement parks and the rides available there. Whether we’re talking about Disney World or the local carnival or anything in between, there’s a joy that comes from the combination of fun and fear that springs from a well-made ride.

But if the ride ISN’T well-made? Well, that’s where legends are born.

“Class Action Park,” a documentary by Chris Charles Scott and Seth Porges currently streaming on HBO Max, tells the story of Action Park, a notoriously wild and unsafe amusement park that operated in New Jersey from the late 1970s into the mid-90s. The film explores the park’s origins and the unsupervised dangers that turned it into both THE summer destination for New Jersey teens and the subject of numerous lawsuits for injuries and even death.

Combining (frankly terrifying) archival footage with interviews with those who worked at and/or enjoyed Action Park during its heyday, the film – narrated by John Hodgman – paints a vivid and occasionally shocking portrait of what happens when you allow hordes of teenagers to run rampant on a collection of poorly-engineered rides with inexperienced employees and zero accountability.

Published in Adventure

The American immigrant experience has been a subject of some truly great art over the years. Incredible books and films have spring from the exploration of what it means for people to come to this country in pursuit of a better life, as well as what happens in the course of that pursuit.

But to my knowledge, none have ever told that story through the lens of accidental pickle preservation. Until now.

“An American Pickle,” currently streaming on HBO Max, is a comedy that brings the early 20th century immigrant experience into the present day … by dropping someone into a pickle barrel for a hundred years. Yes, it’s as absurd as it sounds, broad and weird and a lot of fun.

Starring Seth Rogen as both a turn-of-the-century immigrant and a modern-day Brooklyn app developer, the film mines big laughs out of its bizarre premise (though it perhaps doesn’t dig as it deep as it could). It’s a twist on the classic fish out of water trope, giving us a look at our current world through the eyes of the past.

Published in Movies

Every four years, the world watches as its greatest athletes compete on the global stage. Elite performers from all over converge on a single place in an effort to excel in the name of Olympic gold.

But what happens to these athletes after the cheering stops? Is the price paid to reach the pinnacle too high?

That’s the fundamental question behind “The Weight of Gold,” a new documentary from HBO Sports. In it, filmmaker Brett Rapkin speaks to a number of American Olympians – both Summer and Winter – about the toll their respective quests for excellence took on them. Even the most successful among them had their share of struggles … and for too many, the tale took a tragic turn.

The film – narrated by legendary swimmer Michael Phelps (a featured interviewee and an executive producer on the project as well) – brings together new interviews and archival footage to offer a look into the sacrifices these athletes make to reach the top and the aftermath through which they must navigate after the spotlight fades.

Published in Sports

There are a multitude of content providers out there vying for our attention. So many services are producing original movies and TV series for our consumption that it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. It’s a young man’s game in many respects, but don’t sleep on the OGs. There are some outlets whose histories far predate the current streaming boom and that are creating incredible content of their own.

Take HBO, for instance. While the cable giant’s most prominent original content trends toward episodic work, they are more than capable of putting forward feature efforts that are more than a match for the best of the streaming cinema.

Their latest original film is “Bad Education,” based on the real-life embezzlement scandal that rocked a Long Island school district in the early 2000s. Directed by Cory Finley from a screenplay by Mike Makowsky (adapted from a 2004 New York Magazine article titled “The Bad Superintendent”), it’s a well-crafted and exceptionally performed film, one that offers a look at one of the largest public school scandals in American history – a scandal that was first uncovered by a student journalist.

With an outstanding performance from Hugh Jackman at its heart and propelled by the so-incredible-it-must-be-true nature of its story, “Bad Education” is a wonderfully dark and absurd look at the depths to which even the most high-minded public servants can sink when faced with the temptations that can come from unreserved trust.

Published in Movies
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
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