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Sometimes, we sit down in hopes of being challenged. We seek out art that causes us to ask questions and engage with larger ideas. We watch or we listen or we read in hopes of learning something new, or at least a new way of looking at something we already understand (or think we do). These are powerful artistic experiences, addressing something at our core.

Other times, we just want to escape. Maybe you want to laugh, maybe you want to be frightened, maybe you want a bunch of explosions. You’re not here for fundamental truths. You’re here for fart jokes and fistfights and jump scares.

Both experiences have real value. We want what we want when we want it – and that’s OK.

“Vacation Friends,” newly streaming on Hulu, is very much the latter sort of film. Directed by Clay Tarver from a screenplay Tarver co-wrote with Tom & Tim Mullen, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, the comedy is a coarse trifle, a movie built solely around outrageous situations – getting into them, getting out of them, you know the drill.

There are a handful of charming moments here where things threaten to develop some sort of meaningful underpinning – bits where deeper themes of adult friendship and loyalty and the like bob briefly to the surface – but those are quickly drowned out by the nonsense.

It’s fun. Dumb fun. Unchallenging fun. But fun. And sometimes, that’s all you’re looking for.

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, 28 June 2021 12:08

Even faster and furiouser – ‘F9’

I don’t want to be accused of burying the lead here, so I’ll just say this now: “F9” is a big, loud bunch of hot nonsense. The plot is transparently thin and peppered with holes at its best and utterly incoherent at worst. The performances are broadly winking and cartoonish. The action sequences gleefully defy even the most basic understanding of how physics work. It is candy-colored chaos, littered with CGI explosions and one-liners of varying effectiveness.

And I enjoyed myself very much.

Look, I love well-crafted sophisticated filmmaking as much as the next guy. I love complex characters working through engaging narratives, with ever word and deed sporting some sort of discernible motivation. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t also find joy within the confines of the car chase cash register that is the “F&F” franchise.

This latest installment – tenth in the series if you count “Hobbes & Shaw,” which I absolutely do – continues the ever-increasing bats—ttery that has marked the series for years now. You don’t need me to point out the bizarreness of a little film about street racing developing into a blockbuster monolith packed with action and espionage and an ongoing cavalcade of movie stars, but it’s hard to write about any of these films without at least acknowledging that truth. Justin Lin, who made his name by directing entries three through six in the franchise, returns to the helm for this entry.

I cannot in good conscience tell you that this movie is good. It is not. However, there is no denying this movie is great fun to watch. You’ve probably heard films described as something where you just “need to turn off your brain.” Suffice it to say, you might want to get ready to flip that switch. Sure, you’ll likely find yourself chuckling and shaking your head at the physically impossible action set pieces or the wildly improbable twists and turns in the narrative. Frankly, there’s a lot here that feels not just incoherent, but almost willfully stupid. And yet – there’s just something about it.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 22 January 2020 14:16

‘Dolittle’ does even less

When a once-hyped big-budget movie sees its release time moved from prime real estate to the January tundra, it’s probably safe to assume that things haven’t worked out the way anyone anticipated. It’s not hard to tell when a studio has made the grim decision to cut its losses.

“Dolittle” was obviously intended to be a tentpole, a spring/summer release meant to kick off a franchise. And with no-longer-Tony-Stark Robert Downey Jr. on board, it probably felt like an easy win, a no-brainer.

Instead, it’s a meandering and pointless exercise in formulaic filmmaking. It is utterly lacking in any sort of spark, a flat and listless story told without any real excitement or urgency. There’s zero in the way of originality and even less in the way of engagement despite an absolutely all-star cast. Younger viewers might get some giggles, but even they will likely sense that something doesn’t sit right.

Basically, “Dolittle” is a dumb movie that doesn’t really care how dumb it is.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 12 November 2019 12:42

‘Playing with Fire’ a lukewarm family film

Let’s be clear from the start: John Cena is not The Rock. Nor will he ever be The Rock, no matter how hard he, WWE and/or Hollywood try to make it be so.

And that’s OK. Cena has his own (admittedly limited) charms, both in terms of personality and performance acumen. He’s never going to be the entertainment force that is Dwayne Johnson.

Movies like “Playing with Fire” are an excellent illustration of that truth. While The Rock had his share of kid-friendly outings early in his film career, it was clear even at the time that something larger was looming. Cena simply doesn’t have the same sort of raw charisma.

This isn’t a criticism, really – though it may sound like one. Cena’s performative talents may lag behind his fellow wrestler-turned-actor, but he also has plenty to offer in his own right. He’s got a gift for using his imposing physicality to his benefit, as well as a legitimately good sense of comedic timing and a genuine earnestness – all of which work well in a movie like this one.

Published in Movies

Few franchises see the sort of gap between critical and commercial success that you get with the “Transformers” movies. The Michael Bay-led series has seen increasingly negative responses from critics, even while raking in massive dollars at the global box office. One would be forgiven for assuming that this pattern would continue.

Instead, out of nowhere, we get “Bumblebee.” It’s unheard of for a big-budget franchise like this to take a quantum leap forward in terms of quality – particularly when you’re half-a-dozen movies in – but that is the case here. This 1980s-set prequel manages to capture the energy, the gleeful spirit of the source material in a way that none of the previous iterations have.

It’s FUN, you see. And that fun comes from the respect given the audience – respect that reflects why they love the material in the first place.

“Bumblebee” is smart and sweet, blending the CGI-heavy action with a smaller, more intimate, more personal narrative that gives the movie a whiff of early Spielberg and the nostalgic bite and something like “The Iron Giant,” if perhaps not quite up to the emotional heights reached by those works.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 10 April 2018 14:33

What a girl wants – ‘Blockers’

Few have shaped the film comedy world in recent years like Judd Apatow. Even if not directly involved, his fingerprints are all over most of the more successful comedic outings of the past decade-plus.

For example, he is not involved in “Blockers,” the new comedy directed by Kay Cannon and written by Brian and Jim Kehoe. However, the film is produced by - among others – Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who definitely cut their teeth beneath the Apatovian umbrella. It’s not a Judd Apatow movie, but it has some of that DNA.

But don’t take that to mean that this is some tossed-off knockoff. “Blockers” is a sharp, funny and surprisingly thoughtful movie, featuring a well-balanced blend of raunchiness and sentimentality, with all of it executed by a talented cast.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 20 December 2017 13:51

Stop and smell the flowers with ‘Ferdinand’

Retelling of children’s classic offers sweet family fun

Published in Movies
Young superstars shine at the grandest stage of them all

WWE's biggest event of the year took place this past Sunday, and the show was definitely a large improvement compared to the last few. While many of the matches might have been predictable in people's eyes, they all delivered in one way or another. Every superstar fighting on the WrestleMania card deserved to be there, and didn't let the opportunity of a lifetime go to waste. This goes especially for the younger superstars that were fighting at the big event for the first time.

Fans, including myself, have been complaining about the fact that WWE hasn't been building up new wrestlers and instead has depended on its part-timers such as the Undertaker and the Rock. Don't get me wrong, all of those wrestlers are great as the Undertaker vs. CM Punk was easily match of the night, and the Rock delivered despite losing the WWE Championship against John Cena. Look at some of the past four or five WrestleMania's and you won't find too many new superstars on the card, whereas this year's featured six. Giving the new guys a chance at WrestleMania is a great way for them to make an immediate impact and get recognition in front of a large audience. 

 

Published in Sports

I was lucky enough to have a seat in the building as World Wrestling Entertainment made its triumphant return to the Bangor Auditorium on March 4. While I freely admit that I'm not a huge fan of professional wrestling, there's no mistaking the very real energy of the moment when it all unfolds in front of you live and in person.

This was a big show; even a relative neophyte such as I could recognize some of these names. John Cena. Chris Jericho. Kane. WWE Champion CM Punk. These are some of the brightest stars in the WWE galaxy and they were right here in Bangor.

The night's matches all had their winners and losers, but the particulars didn't really matter. It's all about experiencing the spectacle, and even if you aren't a follower of wrestling, you can't help but be swept up in the unapologetic passion of the true fanatics. 

Published in Happenings

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