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You might not think that the end of the world is an appropriate backdrop for comedy, but fear not – Adam McKay has you covered.

Sure, an impending apocalypse SHOULDN’T be funny, but in the right hands, it certainly can be, and McKay has those hands, along with a willingness to embrace cultural divides and darkness in the name of plausibly bleak satiric observation.

McKay’s latest is “Don’t Look Up,” an at-times pitch-black comedy about what happens when the end of the world is coming and no one can seem to agree on what – if anything – we should do about it. The film has the same sort of sharp edges that we’ve seen in McKay’s more recent output and his fingerprints are all over it – he’s directing his own screenplay here. It also features a frankly incredible cast, an ensemble jam packed with Oscar winners and Hollywood icons; you don’t often see a bench this deep.

It is wildly funny – darkly so, but funny nevertheless – while also being deeply, bleakly plausible. It is a condemnation of current cultural discourse, a scathing takedown of American attitudes that is relentless in its disdain. It is a relevant and resonant reflection of where we are and where we could be going, delivered in a manner that elicits laughter even as it unsettles.

Published in Movies

As someone who is fascinated by both mid-20th century American history and the work of Aaron Sorkin, you can imagine my excitement upon learning that those two fascinations were being brought together by the folks at Netflix. It’s relatively rare that a film comes along that is so squarely in the center of a Venn diagram formed by such generally incongruous interests, so rest assured – I was pumped.

Happily, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” – written and directed by Sorkin – largely lived up to my admittedly lofty expectations. It tells the story of a tumultuous time in American history through a specific event – the trial of a group of counterculture figures indicted for conspiracy to allegedly incite violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, a trial that has come to be viewed by history as a travesty of justice, an effort to make an example of those who would protest the actions of their government.

It also features an absolutely stellar cast, an ensemble running deep with top-tier talent. It’s an opportunity for Sorkin to flash his own particular brand of progressive politics, all while utilizing every trick and trope in his bag to construct a compelling story. As he often does when venturing into the real world, Sorkin takes some liberties with the facts, but for the most part, the larger picture remains connected to the larger truth.

Published in Movies

As the brilliant Scottish poet Robbie Burns once said (apologies for the English paraphrasing), “The best laid plans of mice and men/Go oft awry.” It’s a sentiment that rings true across all avenues – and the movie business is no exception.

For instance, say you had a film. You had three talented actors leading the cast, including an Oscar winner and a couple of legitimate movie stars. You had a rising young director and a screenwriter adapting his own Pulitzer Prize-winning novel for the screen. All of this folded into a period piece with a striking setting. You’d think that it was poised to be a great film, yes?

Alas, in the case of “Waiting for the Barbarians,” the sum total falls short. Despite the presence of the brilliant Mark Rylance and bold turns from the likes of Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson, despite the presence of director Ciro Guerra, despite J.M Coetzee’s adaptation of his own 2003 novel of the same name, the film can’t scale the heights to which it so clearly aspires.

It’s a story of isolation and empire, a cautionary tale about colonialism that can never fully get out of its own way. There’s no denying the quality of performances or the stunning backdrop against which they are set, but the film simply never generates any kind of momentum, limping along through most of its 114 minutes without ever presenting a sense of dramatic urgency. All the pieces are there for a great film, only they’re assembled into something that is just OK.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 04 April 2018 12:49

Game on! – ‘Ready Player One’

The potency of nostalgia is well-documented at this point. It seems as though much of the pop culture we consume these days is inspired by (or straight-up copied from) source material that we already know and love. Revisiting what we loved in the past has become a cottage industry across all entertainment platforms.

And so it’s no surprise that Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel “Ready Player One” would be adapted to the big screen. It’s a story ready-made for the wistful remembrances of the current cultural climate, packed with wave after wave of period-specific nerd references aimed at striking the winsome sweet spot of one particular generation. We do so love to love what we already love.

But when you hand the reigns over to a pop cultural icon like Steven Spielberg, well … that’s when you take things to a whole new level. A level, I might add, that is actually a bit higher than might have been expected for a film like this one. It’s precisely the sort of sci-fi-steeped young-person adventure story at which Spielberg excels. It’s throwbacks within throwbacks within throwbacks – a meta-nostalgic moviegoing experience that in many ways outshines the perfunctory nature of its inspiration.

Published in Movies
Thursday, 07 July 2016 09:43

Big and friendly indeed - 'The BFG'

Family film offers stunning visuals, sweet sentiment

We all have cultural touchstones that we love particularly those from our youth. Our fond memories of these works, be they books, films, television shows or what have you, are ingrained in us. So it's no surprise that the Hollywood machine would look to these past properties in an effort to cash in on their reinvigoration though the results can sometimes disappoint.

Published in Movies

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