Man versus nature is one of our most fundamental stories. There’s a primality to the notion of people, removed from the comfort of their so-called civilization, forced to survive against a natural world that, for whatever reason, seeks to do them harm.

“Beast,” the new film from Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur, is just such a story. It pits a man and his family against an animal – in this case, a lion – that has been driven to do them harm. With little understanding of the world into which they have been dropped, they must figure out a way to survive a battle against a foe that has lived its entire life in that same world.

They must do battle with a beast.

Unfortunately, while the underpinnings of the narrative offer that sort of primality, the execution ultimately proves more nonsensical, at times bordering on the cartoonish. When a story relies entirely on the questionable, irrational choices being made by its characters, you’re left with something that never quite works. There are moments of intensity and well-crafted tension, but they are almost entirely undermined by the at-time laughable decision-making to which we are witness.

But hey – Idris Elba punching a lion makes for a pretty high floor.

Published in Movies

As a general rule, video game movies tend to be bad. That’s just how it goes – Hollywood has yet to figure out a way to consistently translate video game IP to the big screen. Now, that isn’t to say that ALL video game movies are bad; there are some that are, if not necessarily good, at least OK.

“Sonic the Hedgehog” was precisely that kind of OK back in 2020. So it’s no surprise that we got a sequel – OK is practically Oscar-worthy in the context of video game movies.

Now, is the sequel as good as the first film? It is not. The story is even more scattered and the film as a whole feels overstuffed – in what world does anyone want or need a video game movie to be over two hours long? That said, it’s not as bad as it could have been, thanks to some invested performances and a few decent set pieces.

(I’ll concede that my experience may have been colored by the fact that I attended a screening with quite a few kids in the audience. Their enthusiasm absolutely contributed to my own enjoyment of the film – it’s tough to remain dour when the kiddos are constantly raising their voices in sheer delight.)

Published in Movies
Monday, 08 November 2021 10:43

‘The Harder They Fall’ rides high

I’ve got a real soft spot for the genre fare of the 1960s and ‘70s. It was a time when filmmakers were really pushing the envelope with regard to the types of stories they were telling and the way in which those stories were told.

I also love it when modern filmmakers revisit that era, when they lift the storytelling and stylistic quirks from their genre (or genres) of choice and incorporate them into the movies they’re making now.

“The Harder They Fall” – directed by Jeymes Samuel – is a delightful mashup of a Western, a kinetic collision of the spaghetti westerns of the ‘60s and the blaxploitation cinema of the ‘70s, with all of it run through a modern (or arguably postmodern) blender. It liberally borrows and embraces aesthetic and thematic touches from a wide assortment of influences – including a number of main characters drawn from actual American history – all in the name of crafting what amounts to a skilled remix of a cowboy movie.

Now, it’s worth noting that this is a Netflix production, so some of the potentially grittier aspects of this particular combination have been sanded down a bit (though not as much as you might expect). It is stylish and violent, packed with outstanding performers and driven by an unabashed confidence.

Seriously – it’s a hell of a time.

Published in Movies

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.

That’s the attitude that the powers that be at Warner Brothers have taken with regard to DC’s team of villains-turned-reluctant-heroes known as the Suicide Squad. We first met this collection of reprobates in 2016 via director David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad.” Now, thanks to James Gunn, we have “The Suicide Squad.”

It’s tough to suss out how exactly to refer to this new iteration. It’s not quite a sequel and not quite a reboot, featuring a handful of returning characters and a slew of new ones; it’s not like the events of the previous film didn’t happen, but neither do we spend any time reinvestigating them. Call it Schrödinger’s Sequel – it both is and is not.

But whether or not “The Suicide Squad” is a sequel, one thing is for certain: it’s better. A LOT better.

With a combination of gleeful gore, compelling characters and a wicked sense of humor, this is easily one of the best offerings from the DCEU to date; “The Suicide Squad” manages to find ways to hold onto the grimdark ethos of DC’s cinematic slate while also embracing how fun comic book movies can be. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but few filmmakers – if any – are better equipped to strike it than James Gunn.

Published in Movies
Monday, 05 April 2021 15:07

Saddle up with ‘Concrete Cowboy’

One of the great things about the world in which we live is that there’s room for all manner of interests and identities. No matter how niche and/or unlikely the pursuit, there will be others who share feelings about it.

These subcultures sometime surface in mainstream awareness, but others simply go on, whirring along beneath the zeitgeist for decades. And again, no matter how incongruous and unlikely they may sound, they are very real and very important to those whose passions they reflect.

“Concrete Cowboy,” the new Netflix film directed by Ricky Staub, is the story of one such subculture. Adapted by Staub and Dan Walser from Greg Neri’s 2011 novel “Ghetto Cowboy,” it’s the story of a multigenerational group of horse enthusiasts operating out of inner-city Philadelphia. Through their connection to horses, these people find what they need.

(It’s worth noting that several supporting roles are played by real-life members of Fletcher Street Stables, the group upon whom Neri’s novel was largely based.)

It’s also the story of a young man who is thrust into the midst of this world, left to contextualize it alongside his own sphere of understanding, introduced into it all by the father who is all but a stranger to him. But even with influences tugging from all sides, he is the one who ultimately must make the decision about the man he wants to become.

Published in Movies
Monday, 23 December 2019 22:25

Who let the ‘Cats’ out?

Sometimes, you see a trailer for a movie that captures your attention for all the wrong reasons. You find yourself questioning what possible series of increasingly poor decisions would lead to a world in which this movie came to be. You’re asking fundamental questions like “How?” and – perhaps more importantly – “Why?”

Those are the feelings that bubbled up from deep inside most reasonable people upon first viewing the trailer for “Cats,” director Tom Hooper’s star-studded adaptation of the (somewhat bewilderingly) beloved Broadway musical. Watching CGI-blended cat/human monstrosities gambol and cavort across the screen for just those few moments raised far more questions than any piece of art could ever answer.

Here’s the thing – that ain’t even the half of it.

“Cats” is a tortured fever dream of a film, the sort of nightmarish cinematic experience that feels like the unholy offspring of a coked-up studio executive notes session and a dark ritual intended to summon forth the Elder Gods. I walked out of this movie expecting my phone to ring, with a voice on the other end speak-singing a semi-melodic song informing me that I would die in seven days.

We are all cursed. We are all damned. We are all Cats.

Published in Movies

There’s something polarizing about the work of Aaron Sorkin. His writing can come off as a bit overly effusive and self-congratulatory – in a word, show-offy. His trademark “walk and talk” – which rose to prominence in his time on “The West Wing” and became even more overwhelming in subsequent projects like “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and “The Newsroom” – can be engaging as hell, but you can definitely have too much of a good thing.

But as prolific as he has been as a writer, both on television and in the movies, he had never before sat in the director’s chair before taking on “Molly’s Game.” The film – adapted from Molly Bloom’s book of the same name by Sorkin himself – tells the story of a woman’s rise to prominence and fall from grace as her facilitation of exclusive private high-stakes poker games leads first to wealth and then to her arrest and subsequent court battle with the U.S. government.

Published in Movies

There are a lot of reasons to dislike a movie. Perhaps the story doesn’t appeal to you. Maybe the performances fall flat or the visuals are uninteresting. Maybe you resent how a beloved character or franchise was treated.

But all of those reasons have decisions behind them. Whether you agree or not, the filmmakers involved have had a distinct idea with regards to what they want the film to be. That doesn’t mean it’s a GOOD film, but at least it knows what it is.

Something like “The Mountain Between Us” is something altogether different – and much worse.

Published in Movies
Thursday, 03 August 2017 13:57

'The Dark Tower' stands strong

Stephen King’s epic series finally hits the big screen

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 27 July 2016 11:13

Above and 'Beyond'

Third 'Star Trek' film a solid franchise offering

The reinvention of a beloved pop culture property is never going to be easy. Finding the proper balance between loyalty to preexisting fans and finding ways to welcome new ones has proven to be the downfall of numerous films in recent years.

Published in Movies
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