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Sometimes, you look at someone on screen and think “That person has it. They’re going to be a huge star.” There’s just an indefinable … something. Presence. Charisma. Whatever you want to call it.

That said, having “it” isn’t always enough.

Take the new Netflix thriller “Beckett,” for instance. John David Washington is an actor who has that something, that elusive star quality (even if he doesn’t always know how to properly wield it). But while that energy is certainly present in this film, it can’t make up for the thin narrative and assorted odd thematic and tonal choices scattered throughout. He’s able to keep the movie from being outright bad, but he can’t pull it up to the level of being good.

There’s a decent supporting cast, but they’re stuck in the slog as well, plodding their way through the unevenly paced proceedings. Everyone in the ensemble is doing what they can, but they’re ultimately undermined by Ferdinando Filomarino’s uninspired direction and Kevin Rice’s threadbare and derivative screenplay.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 10 February 2021 13:01

Forgetting to remember – ‘Malcolm & Marie’

The deluge of pandemic movies is coming. Brace yourselves.

As we sit just shy of a year since the country shut down in the face of COVID-19, we’re starting to see some of the early fruits of cinematic pandemic pivots. These films will in many ways be defined by the circumstances of their origins – separating movies made during this time from this time will be impossible. Now, they aren’t necessarily ABOUT the pandemic, but rather shaped by the situation.

“Malcolm & Marie” is a prime example – an Amazon Prime example – of what these projects might look like. It’s a legitimate two-hander; there are literally two people that we see on screen in the entire movie. It is a legitimate single location shoot; all of the action takes place in and around one house. It is a dialogue-heavy black-and-white relationship drama, one that features two actors on the rapid rise to movie stardom in Zendaya and John David Washington. And all of it came together over the course of a couple of weeks with a twenty-person crew in an effort to keep working following the shutdown of Hollywood operations (including Levinson and Zendaya’s HBO show “Euphoria”).

But while the dense dialogue and vaguely true origins of the story prove compelling, the back-and-forth verbosity slowly starts devolving into a Hollywood-centric Albee riff – think “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” meets “The Player” – that rings false. Now, the barrels of charisma spilling all over the set courtesy of the two leads certainly help mitigate the situation; Washington and Zendaya certainly generate heat. Alas, that heat is somewhat undermined by Levinson’s affinity for speechifying; ultimately, there’s an insincere hollowness to it all – and that CAN’T be solved by presence alone, leaving the actors to their struggle.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 02 September 2020 16:01

Time is (not) on my side – ‘Tenet’

Christopher Nolan has clout. And he’s unafraid to use it.

It’s almost cliché at this point to talk about Nolan’s position as the last bastion of original idea-driven blockbuster filmmaking. Yes, the cinematic landscape is defined by the ebb and flow of franchises now. Hell, Nolan understands that better than anyone – he did his franchise turn with Batman, after all, though those films are obviously superhero outliers. But he’s the guy who can get a nine-figure check to direct his own non-IP script.

He’s at it again with “Tenet,” currently in theaters. I’ll be real with you – I’m not at all sure how to talk about this movie to people who haven’t already seen it. But hey, that’s the gig, right?

There’s obviously a lot of baggage here. Nolan’s insistence that the film be experienced in a theater turned it into a bellwether, leaving it to assume the burden of expectation with regard to theatrical reopenings writ large. That pressure can’t help but inform the way audiences experience the film. Add to that the outsized expectations that always accompany the filmmaker’s work and you’ve got a recipe for disappointment.

Thankfully, Nolan’s skill is such that he largely manages to sidestep that potential letdown. “Tenet” isn’t a perfect movie, but it is the sort of meticulously-constructed blockbuster that we’ve come to expect from the director. It is massive in scope, a challenging puzzle box of a film that works both as pure spectacle and as something a bit more thoughtful. The complexities of the plot skate right up to the edge of confusion, but anyone sitting down to watch a Nolan movie should probably expect some sort of chronological convolution.

And boy, do we ever get some of that.

Published in Movies
Friday, 24 August 2018 08:57

‘BlacKkKlansman’ goes under the hood

When it comes to telling true stories at the movies, one always has to recognize the flexibility of the notion of what is “true.” Terms like “based on” and “inspired by” give filmmakers a lot of leeway as far as shaping these true events in such a way as to serve the story they wish to tell.

Spike Lee’s latest film “BlacKkKlansman” is foundationally a true story, based on the memoir “Black Klansman” by Ron Stallworth. But again, there’s small-t true and Large-T True, and with a visionary auteur like Lee both running the camera and creating the script (Lee co-wrote the screenplay along with David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott), well … he’s going to err on the side of Large-T every time.

Published in Movies

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