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When it comes to film criticism, I tend more toward populism. That isn’t to say that I fail to appreciate truly great cinematic art, but that I’m not a particularly snobbish moviegoer. Basically, my attitude is that aiming a film at a wide audience shouldn’t necessarily mean that it is somehow less-than as a creative endeavor.

But we all have our limits.

Unlike some of my critical peers, I won’t dismiss an animated kids’ movie out of hand. Even if the intended viewership might not be particularly worldly or sophisticated, the film in question might still have something to offer. It might not be great art, but there is value to be found in almost any children’s movie.

But then you see something like “Marmaduke” and are confronted with the reality of that “almost.”

The new Netflix animated offering is one of the laziest, lowest-common-denominator kids’ movies that I have ever encountered outside a convenience store’s VHS bargain bin. The animation is choppy and aesthetically unpleasant, the narrative is nonsensical and incoherent and the tone is all over the place. If the intent was to make a film that allowed four-year-olds to feel intellectually superior to those who made it, then bravo. Well done. If the intent was literally anything else, then we’re looking at a spectacular failure.

My money is on the latter.

Published in Movies
Monday, 13 December 2021 13:54

‘Being the Ricardos’ loves Lucy

There are two kinds of biopics – you’ve got your cradle-to-grave and you’ve got your slice of life. Both have their merits, though if pressed, I’d probably cop to preferring the latter. Rather than trying to lay out a whole life story, we get a chance to get to know the person or persons in question more specifically during a moment in time.

“Being the Ricardos” – the latest from writer/director Aaron Sorkin – is an example of that latter type of biopic, revolving primarily around a single tumultuous week in the lives of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and the people around them. We see other moments as well, all of it framed (rather ingeniously, honestly) through a documentary-style device, but for the most part, it’s this one week that is the focus.

Starring Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem as Lucy and Desi, respectively, the film gives us a look inside their lives, both personally and professionally. We see them at home and on set, in the past and in the present (along with some looks back from the future). It is clever and touching, a well-made film that offers a degree of insight into what it meant to be these people at this time in their lives.

And it’s pretty great.

Now, if you’re here in the deluded hope that the madcap physical energy of Lucille Ball is going to be recreated here, you’re going to be a bit disappointed. But that’s not the point of the movie, nor would it be fair to ask any performer to try and replicate Lucy’s unique gifts. Instead, we get to see her as the power player and perfectionist that she was behind the scenes, someone who used her obvious talents to get to a place where she could take advantage of her subtler ones.

Published in Style

Creating compelling science fiction isn’t easy. At its heart, it’s a genre of ideas – the best sci-fi is that which finds ways to explore those ideas through the building of interesting worlds and populating those worlds with engaging characters. That’s when sci-fi is most successful.

However, it can be very easy to get caught up in the trappings of the genre; too many filmmakers choose to repurpose that which has already been successful, assuming that these pieces can be reassembled into something new.

And often, when they do that, the end result is something like “The Tomorrow War,” a film that is new, yes, but feels all too familiar.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, the film – directed by Chris McKay from a script by Zach Dean – wraps itself in all-too-familiar tropes, feeling at times almost like a pastiche of influences from other, better sci-fi movies. Every piece of it is something that you’ve seen somewhere else before, and while sci-fi is a genre driven by seminal works of the past, you still need to bring something new to the table … and this movie doesn’t.

That’s not to say that the movie has nothing to offer – there are certainly moments – but ultimately, it’s kind of a tonal mess, one that unevenly stitches together its disparate inspirations while also largely squandering a decidedly talented cast.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 27 November 2019 11:37

A bridge too far – ’21 Bridges’

Sometimes, it is abundantly clear why a movie doesn’t work. Perhaps a director is out of their element. Perhaps a lead role is woefully miscast. Perhaps the story lacks depth or displays an unfortunate tone-deafness. Sometimes, it’s more than one of these things.

Other times, it isn’t quite so cut-and-dried. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the whole is simply less than the sum of its parts.

The latter description suits the new cop thriller “21 Bridges.” It’s a competently made film with some legitimate star power, featuring some solid action and dramatic tension. The pieces are all there for a good movie … but “21 Bridges” never quite figures out how to put them together.

Now, that’s not to say that this is a bad movie. It isn’t. What it is, unfortunately, is forgettable. And honestly, considering what’s being brought to the table in terms of talent, that’s almost more damning.

Published in Movies
Sunday, 08 January 2017 18:29

'La La Land' is la-la-lovely

Movie musical a wonderful blend of old and new

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 19 October 2016 12:04

Action by the numbers - 'The Accountant'

Affleck thriller uneven, but entertaining nevertheless

Ben Affleck is nestled firmly in the Hollywood sweet spot right now. He's got his massive superhero franchise connection. He gets to act in and/or direct awards-bait prestige projects while tossing in the occasional standard-issue popcorn flick if he feels like it.

Published in Movies

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