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Monday, 25 April 2022 15:12

‘The Bad Guys’ is really good

One of the biggest obstacles faced by animated filmmakers – specifically, those making family-friendly features – is finding ways to make their work appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Those efforts don’t always work out – we’ve all seen animated fare that tries to pack in a bit too much winking and nodding for the adults in the room, to the detriment of the experience of the actual target audience. Even Pixar, whose work is easily the best at walking that line, occasionally loses the thread.

Other times, the powers that be don’t even bother, instead choosing to pack their film with low-hanging fruit and banking on the fact that, in the end, their bottom line isn’t going to change appreciably whether grown-ups like their movie or not.

Like I said – it’s hard. But it can be done.

“The Bad Guys,” the new film from the folks at DreamWorks, largely manages to walk that fine line. Directed by longtime animator and first-time feature director Pierre Perifel from an Etan Cohen screenplay loosely adapted on the Aaron Blabey-penned children’s book series of the same name, the film captures that broad appeal, providing plenty of kid-friendly gags and jokes while also offering adults a few winks and a surprisingly solid heist movie framework to enjoy.

I’ll confess that I had lowish expectations for this one, if only because of the marketing deluge of the past few weeks; I tend to equate those massive pushes with a publicity team that doesn’t have a lot of faith in their film. Instead, what I got was a funny, charming film that managed to provide moments both sophisticated and sophomoric while, yes, appealing to all ages.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, all you want is a big dumb action movie. You’re not interested in IP-driven blockbusters or massive franchises or any of that. You don’t want to worry about how this movie is impacted by what you’ve seen and/or how it will impact what you’re going to see. You just want explosions and movie stars and gunfights and quips and car chases and general big-budget tomfoolery.

That said … be careful what you wish for.

See, “Red Notice” – currently streaming on Netflix – has all of those things. It’s got an A-list trio at the top of the call sheet – The Rock, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot. It has a huge budget – reportedly coming in at $200 million. It is an original idea, from a script penned by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who also directs the movie. Things blow up. There’s a heist AND a prison break. The Rock is strong and Ryan Reynolds is snarky and Gal Gadot is sexy. Fistfights and gunfire and explosions, double- and triple-crosses. It’s all in there.

It just doesn’t really work.

“Red Notice” is made up of a lot of pieces that should fit together, but don’t. There’s a flatness to it all that is prevalent to the point of distraction, with a vague feeling of disconnect permeating the entire film. The performances come off as a bit shoulder-shruggy, with everyone coasting on their preexisting personae; it feels surprisingly phoned-in in a lot of spots. The action sequences are so-so, with a couple of solid ones surrounded by some duds. The twists are telegraphed and characterizations are thin to the point of nonexistence. Rarely has such a big-time action film felt so sedentary.

Published in Movies
Monday, 01 November 2021 14:48

‘Army of Thieves’ plays it safe

In a cinematic landscape awash with IP-fueled franchise efforts, it should come as no surprise when a movie’s splashy arrival on the scene indicates more to come – sequels or sequels or whatever -quels you like. Audiences have grown accustomed to it all; we know the drill.

However, not all -quels are created equal.

For instance, who would have thought that Netflix’s “Army of the Dead,” a reasonably entertaining Zack Snyder-helmed zombie movie, would offer up a prequel revolving around one of its lesser characters and his entry into the world of high-end heists, all of it taking place as the zombie outbreak of the initial film is just beginning – an outbreak that has negligible impact on the narrative we’re currently watching.

That’s “Army of Thieves,” new on Netflix. Directed by Matthias Schweighöfer and revolving around the goofball German safecracker Schweighöfer played in “Army of the Dead,” this new film is essentially a straightforward heist film, with only the most tenuous of connections to the movie of which it is ostensibly a prequel. Seriously – you could strip out what zombie stuff there is with ease without altering the film in any meaningful way.

Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that “Army of Thieves” is actually … pretty good? Sure, it follows the general formula for heist movies, but there’s a reason for that: the formula for heist movies works. Hell, the movie itself even makes reference to some of the tropes of the genre in the midst of executing those same tropes. It’s winking and self-aware – occasionally to a fault – but it has a game, charming cast, some decent set pieces and an undeniable sense of humor.

Published in Movies

Remember when Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement?

You’d be forgiven if you didn’t, if for no other reason than the fact that he never actually, you know, stopped making stuff. He said 2013’s “Side Effects” would be his last, but he almost immediately helmed a number of TV projects along with directing Off-Broadway and some fascinating recuts on his website.

Since returning to feature filmmaking with 2017’s “Logan Lucky,” Soderbergh has spent the past few years cementing his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most progressive and experimental mainstream filmmakers. He’s been unafraid to try different methods of filming (such as making 2018’s “Unsane” entirely on an iPhone) and distribution models (self-distribution and fully embracing streaming services).

That tradition continues with his latest, the period heist/caper movie “No Sudden Move,” currently streaming on HBO Max. It’s a convoluted thriller featuring a typically dynamite Soderbergh ensemble cast, all of it presented through the skewed lens of the director’s unique perspective. While it occasionally threatens to collapse under the weight of its own narrative complexity, the film largely holds up thanks to the considerable talents of those both behind and in front of the camera.

Published in Movies

Starting with the revolutionary work of George Romero, the movie zombie has long been used as a sort of thematic cipher. The nature of the monster allows for a filmmaker to project their viewpoint regarding a particular cultural or societal issue; horror films are often about more than just the horror, with zombie movies serving as the most flexible palette for the expression of ideas.

Then again, sometimes a zombie movie is just a zombie movie.

While I’m not going to sit here and say that Zack Snyder DIDN’T have some sort of larger commentary in mind when he made “Army of the Dead,” currently in theaters and streaming on Netflix, it sure does seem like he just wanted to throw some hot zombie action onscreen and see what happened.

And that’s OK.

Basically, Snyder has grafted a heist movie onto his zombie movie to mixed-but-largely-positive results. There’s plenty of gore and viscera splattering all over the place. The heist side of things is reasonably heist-y. And Snyder shows a degree of self-awareness, embracing and sometimes winking at his well-known filmmaking tics. It’s got its issues – primarily its length and some unnecessary narrative/character convolution – and it lacks some of the pop of Snyder’s previous zombie feature, 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” (his feature debut, no less!), but it is ultimately a successful genre mashup that works more often than it doesn’t.

Published in Movies

No one gets Jason Statham quite like Guy Ritchie. And vice versa.

From the very beginnings of their mutually beneficial collaborative efforts, the two have proven deft at understanding and embracing the talents of the other. But it has been a long time since their last outing together – 2005’s “Revolver” – and a lot has changed, with both men venturing more fully into the realm of the blockbuster.

They’ve teamed up once more on the new film “Wrath of Man,” based on the 2004 French film “Le Convoyeur.” It’s a Ritchie specialty, featuring assorted lowlifes and criminals and their behaviors of varying degrees of amorality. It’s an action thriller content to lean far more heavily on the former rather than the latter, sitting back and letting its action star lead do what he does best.

Watching this movie, you wouldn’t guess that it had been 15-plus years since Statham and Ritchie worked together. But the energy and sensibility that they shared is still going strong – it’s not the best work either’s ever done, but it is a solid entry into the filmography of both.

Published in Movies

Brace yourselves, folks – the onslaught of pandemic cinema is fast approaching. We’re going to see a wealth of films a) made during the lockdown, b) made about the lockdown or c) both. Some of these movies might well prove to be exceptional pieces of work, but rest assured that a lot of them are going to be, well … not.

“Locked Down,” the new film directed by Doug Liman and starring Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor, lands closerto that latter category. Currently available on HBO Max, it’s the kind of throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks movie that doesn’t always work; toss in the limiting factors of pandemic production and you’re looking at a project that was already hamstrung before shooting started.

I mean, who thought it was a good idea to make a lockdown-centric movie mashup of romantic comedy, relationship drama and heist movie? Rumor has it that screenwriter Steven Knight wrote the script on a dare. It definitely shows. Now, it’s not all bad – the truth is that there are some solid ideas here and the leads are certainly talented enough. Unfortunately, the disparate elements never get properly blended, leaving us with a clunky three-into-one vibe that will prove frustrating to those who see the very real potential here.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 20 November 2018 11:52

‘Widows’ an engaging, atypical thriller

What happens when an Academy Award-winning director teams up with a bestselling novelist-turned-screenwriter to make an unexpected and unconventional heist movie?

“Widows” happens.

Director Steve McQueen isn’t necessarily the guy you’d think of when it comes to gritty gangster noir fare, but this film – which he also co-wrote alongside “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn – is all that and more. It’s a tense thriller, yes, but it’s also a work of feminist empowerment. And oh yeah, it has something to say about the American political system as well.

It’s a beautifully-crafted film, aesthetically stylish and narratively surprising, featuring a peak-of-his-powers filmmaker assembling an incredibly talented ensemble to create a movie that, while hauntingly familiar in some respects, is still something you’ve never really seen before.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 12 June 2018 16:06

‘Ocean’s 8’ is more than enough

Anyone who digs a good heist/caper movie carries a fondness for the “Ocean’s” series of movies. 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven,” 2004’s “Ocean’s Twelve” and 2007’s “Ocean’s Thirteen” were a stylized delight, reinvigorating the genre via the directorial talents of Steven Soderbergh and the tremendous cast, anchored by the movie star triumvirate of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon atop some phenomenal ensemble casts.

It’s such a wonderful trilogy, in fact, that one can certainly understand the skepticism felt my moviegoers upon hearing the announcement of a new, female-led installment in the series. However, “Ocean’s 8” largely puts that skepticism to rest; while the film doesn’t necessarily reach the heights of the initial films, it’s got a powerhouse cast of its own telling a story that – while a bit implausible – is still a heck of a lot of fun.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 23 January 2018 17:42

‘Den of Thieves’ a humdrum heist

There’s a joy to watching heist movies that is tough to find in any other cinematic subgenre. They’re propulsive by nature, with an inherent structure that allows for a steady build to an elaborate and satisfying climax.

Well … hopefully satisfying, anyway.

See, while there’s a lot to love about good heist movies (and even bad ones, really), there are few things worse than a forgettable heist movie, a film that cobbles together a threadbare collection of influences from superior offerings into something that simply … is.

Published in Movies
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