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As someone who cut my teeth on the action movies of the 1980s, I have a fondness in my heart for certain highlights of the genre. However, that fondness doesn’t always extend to the increasingly tenuous and threadbare cavalcade of churned-out sequels that often followed them well into the 21st century.

“Predator” was one of those movies, an oiled-up and explosive gun show of a film that helped catapult Arnold Schwarzenegger to the top of the action heap. Of course, it was not immune to the industry’s obsession with recycling IP, leading to a handful of middling-to-bad extensions of the franchise.

So I wasn’t necessarily expecting much from “Prey,” the new film streaming on Hulu. Sure, the conceit – a prequel of sorts, set in the Great Plains of the early 1700s – was intriguing, but there’s a lot of room for this kind of revisitation to go terribly awry.

I needn’t have worried.

Director Dan Trachtenberg, working from a screenplay by Patrick Aison (the two share story credit), has created a fantastic addition to the franchise’s canon. It is a vivid and compelling story of survival against seeming insurmountable odds, one rendered all the more engaging by an absolutely outstanding lead performance from Amber Midthunder. It is smart and sharp, packed with action while also approaching this familiar story from an unfamiliar – and extremely effective – angle.

Published in Movies

While things have certainly gotten better in recent years, there’s still a relative dearth in LGTBQ+ representation in films in general and romantic comedies in particular. Sure, a bit of that could be chalked up to the downtick in rom-coms in general, but still – there are laughs to be mined from all forms of love.

So it’s nice to see when a film comes along that gets it right, offering a humorous look at a different kind of love story – one that proves representative of not only same-sex relationships, but also of Asian-Americans as well.

“Fire Island” – currently streaming on Hulu – is just such a film. Directed by Andrew Ahn from a screenplay by Joel Kim Booster (who also stars), it’s the story of a group of friends who head to the iconic gay party locale Fire Island for their annual week-long sojourn and the connections they make while there, both with others and among themselves.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” – and you better believe Ms. Austen’s influences are ALL OVER this thing in the best ways – it is a delightful story of friendship and love, one that alternates between coarseness and charm, equal parts salty and sweet.

Published in Movies

I’m on record as being a big proponent of romantic comedies. When they’re done well, they are cinematic delights, telling funny and heartfelt stories of love and our desire to find it. And when they find ways to approach old tropes from new angles, so much the better.

Hulu’s “The Valet” – directed by Richard Wong from a screenplay by Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg, adapted from Francis Weber’s 2006 French film of the same name – is a charming spin on the traditional rom-com, a movie that manages to somehow feel fresh even as it more or less follows the standard formula.

Still, variations on a theme can be a lot of fun if they’re handled properly, and for the most part, “The Valet” does just that, thanks to a game cast and some solid direction. The representation doesn’t hurt, either – the film’s ensemble is packed with Spanish speakers and we move pretty seamlessly between that language and English throughout. Again, we’re not reinventing the wheel here, but we are putting some pretty nice tires on these familiar rims.

Published in Style
Monday, 02 May 2022 11:36

‘Crush’ a charming teen romance

I love a love story. Always have. And it doesn’t really matter who is falling in love or where; so long as the tale is well told, I am happy to come along on a romantic journey.

What has been particularly, well, lovely to see is the steady growth of LGBTQ+ love stories. More and more, these relationships and the people in them are getting to see themselves reflected in popular culture, whether it’s in movies, books or TV shows. And as that growth continues, we’re slowly approaching the point where these stories don’t have to be defined by the types of relationship at their center.

Take “Crush,” the new film currently streaming on Hulu. Directed by Sammi Cohen from a script by Kristin King and Casey Rackham, “Crush” is a sweet and slightly raucous high school rom-com. It is funny and thoughtful, driven by compelling characters brought to life by strong performances. It is about falling for someone and then falling for someone else and not knowing what to do, all through a lens of teenage self-consciousness. It’s about friends and friendship and the mistakes we make when in pursuit of what we want … or what we THINK we want.

And yes, many of the characters in this film identify as queer, but that isn’t what the movie is ABOUT. The story being told here is universal, the feelings felt by these characters are ones that will ring familiar to anyone who has ever been in love, been in high school or been in love WHILE being in high school.

Published in Movies
Monday, 21 March 2022 15:21

‘Deep Water’ runs shallow

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that is especially fascinating because of the factors surrounding its making. Obviously, just about every film project comes with its share of drama – it’s the nature of the business – but occasionally, we get something where the extracurricular noise largely subsumes the work itself.

There is no better recent example of this phenomenon than “Deep Water,” the new erotic thriller currently streaming on Hulu. The film’s central pairing is Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, whose real-life relationship’s tumultuous conclusion may well have gotten its start on this set. Not to mention the fact that director Adrian Lyne – an absolute legend in the realm of erotic thrillers – made this his first movie in two decades. The buzz surrounding the movie was far more prominent than that for the movie itself.

And with good reason, as it turns out.

“Deep Water” is a bizarre work of hot nonsense, at times bordering on the incomprehensible. The narrative is scattered, the performances are strange and the whole thing is campy in a way that makes it difficult to determine whether said campiness was actually intentional.

It is also, to be fair, a pretty good time, albeit a weird one.

Published in Movies
Monday, 07 March 2022 15:46

Meat-cute – ‘Fresh’

Just like everything else, the internet has fundamentally altered the dating world. With a multitude of dating apps out there, places where you can explore just about whatever romantic niche you’d like, the possibility of discovering someone new is high. But when it comes to making and maintaining a meaningful connection, well … that possibility is considerably lower.

All in all, it can be a real meat market out there, a metaphor taken to a grisly extreme in the new film “Fresh,” currently streaming on Hulu.

Directed by Mimi Cave from a script by Lauryn Kahn, “Fresh” is a dark satire of modern-day dating marked by a bloodily over-the-top premise (that I’m going to try hard not to spoil). It is a visceral and surprising film, one that takes great pleasure in subverting your expectations at multiple turns and punching up at a few worthwhile societal targets. Smart and sharp-witted, it’s a movie that really gives you something you can chew on.

Published in Movies

We live in a golden age of “thrillers based on books that were very popular a few years ago.” It’s such a prominent trope that Netflix even gave us a series parodying it just last month. And yet – there’s a reason that these books keep getting written and these movies keep getting made.

These stories have plenty of appeal. Sure, they might not be the most literarily challenging or narrative complex. They’re simply and straightforward, with enough variations on the fundamental themes to keep the guesses coming and the pages turning. Maybe you figure it out early, maybe you don’t, but ultimately, the journey is the point.

“No Exit,” a new film currently streaming on Hulu, fits the bill to a T. Based on the 2017 Taylor Adams novel of the same name, it’s a story about fear, strangers and the ramifications of trust (or a lack thereof). Small and self-contained, it’s a taut, brisk experience.

Now, a lot of what you see here will ring familiar, but director Damien Power does a solid job of shuffling the deck, dealing out a somewhat surprising hand with the same old cards. It’s a well-executed example of what it is, a solid thriller with a twisty narrative and some unexpected intensity.

Published in Movies
Monday, 17 January 2022 16:40

‘Sex Appeal’ is appealing enough

The relationship between teenagers and sex has long been a popular theme to be explored in movies. The discourse around that relationship has changed, to be sure, and the films have themselves changed accordingly. But rest assured – the teen sex comedy isn’t going anywhere.

That said, we’ve come a long way since films like “Porky’s” or even “American Pie.” Teenagers and their relationship to sex – and the viewing public’s relationship with that relationship – has continued to become something a bit more nuanced as time has passed.

“Sex Appeal,” a Hulu original offering directed by Talia Osteen from a script by Tate Hanyok, is an effort to engage with society’s ever-evolving perspective on teenage sexuality. While it doesn’t do much in the way of breaking new ground, it does manage to have some fun with the standard tropes of the genre and even trots out a few unexpected stylistic flourishes that elevate it somewhat beyond the usual standards of streaming teen fare. The end result is a film that might not be life-changing but is still a perfectly charming and funny way to spend some time.

Published in Movies

So there’s no denying the pop cultural ubiquity of Marvel these days. The MCU is going strong, with three films already in the past few months and another on the way in December. There has been a wealth of TV content as well, with three different TV shows hitting Disney+ at various points so far this year, with yes, another one on the way.

It’s a lot. And while I acknowledge that I am absolutely here for all of it, I’ll also concede that for those whose brains weren’t steeped in Marvel Comics for their entire adolescence, it might be too much.

That said, one of the perhaps unanticipated benefits of all this too-muchness is that some weird stuff can slip through the cracks and onto our screens.

This brings me to “Hit-Monkey,” the latest episodic offering by way of Hulu. The series – which dropped on November 17 – is an altogether bizarre one, an animated series that focuses on a revenge-fueled snow monkey carving a swath of bloody vengeance through the Japanese underworld as he looks to avenge the death of his tribe, all with the ghost of a wiseacre American assassin as his mentor/sidekick.

Like I said – weird. But perhaps the weirdest part of it all? It’s good. REALLY good.

(Note: All 10 episodes of the season were provided for review.)

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 01 September 2021 11:43

‘Only Murders in the Building’ one killer show

Few pop culture phenomena have been as pervasive in recent years as true crime podcasts. Even if you don’t listen to them yourself, odds are that you know at least one person who listens obsessively to one or more. “Serial,” “My Favorite Murder,” “Dirty John, “Dr. Death” – the list goes on and on. Hell, the latter two pushed so fully into the zeitgeist that they got TV adaptations.

But while some of these programs have made the leap across media, a new Hulu show has a different idea about how to bring true crime podcasts to the small screen.

“Only Murders in the Building” is a 10-episode series on the streaming service; the first three episodes dropped on Aug. 31, with subsequent episodes landing every Tuesday from September 7 through October 5. The show was created by Steve Martin and Dan Fogelman; it stars Martin alongside Martin Short and Selena Gomez.

The fundamental question is simple – what if true crime enthusiasts were presented with an opportunity to go in-depth on a murder of their own? The result – thanks to great performances, strong writing and a genuine affection for the genre – is a show that is funny, smart and sincere, managing to parody this very specific world while also crafting a great example of that world.

(Note: Eight episodes of the show were made available for critics.)

Published in Style
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