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Haven’t you ever thought that the self-help and wellness realm is just a little … sinister?

We live in a world where the notion of improving one’s health – physical, emotional or otherwise – has become a billion-dollar industry. Yet we ALSO live in a world where, if there’s a way to make money through duplicitous and/or unsavory means, someone will do so.

Unsurprisingly, we’re seeing a lot of creative work that addresses that particular slice of the self-actualization pie.

The latest offering along those lines is “Nine Perfect Strangers,” the new limited series from Hulu. Created by John Henry Butterworth and television icon David E. Kelley and based on the 2018 novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty, the show offers a look at a secretive high-end wellness retreat that – surprise! – might be considerably more than it appears to be.

With an absolutely stacked cast – Nicole Kidman leads the way, but there are exceptional talents scattered all over the call sheet – and a setting that looks both bucolic and expensive, the show has a lot going for it. And when you toss some weird and mysterious narrative developments into the mix, well … you’ve got something.

I’ll put it this way: for the most part, “Nine Perfect Strangers” gets the dosage just right.

Published in Buzz

We might have passed the point of no return regarding superhero cinema.

Yes, there are plenty of folks who would argue that we long ago reached cultural saturation when it comes to superhero movies. But in the aftermath of the Snyder Cut and with multiple MCU offerings on the immediate horizon – plus the wide swath of recent and forthcoming streaming series drawing from superpowered source material both well-known and obscure – well … it’s a lot, not all of it good.

And this is coming from someone who LOVES this stuff.

Netflix’s latest foray into the realm of the superheroic is “Thunder Force,” a new film written and directed by Ben Falcone and starring Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer. It’s an effort to play the tropes for laughs and have some fun with the foibles inherent to the genre, relying heavily on the talents of its cast to carry the day.

It doesn’t quite work out the way they might have hoped.

What so many of these filmmakers forget is that while spectacle is at the forefront with superhero films, the story still matters. Without an engaging narrative, all we’re left with is a bunch of CGI nonsense that is difficult to invest in. And no matter how hard the actors try, they can’t salvage what ultimately becomes an effort to turn 45 minutes of story into 100-plus minutes of movie.

Published in Movies
Monday, 30 November 2020 14:47

‘Superintelligence’ not too bright

Creative collaborations between couples can be a wonderful thing. Two people taking advantage of their personal connection to enhance their creative work has vast potential. We’ve seen it a million times at the movies – think Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach or Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton, with one member of the pairing in front of the camera and the other behind.

Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone have this sort of collaborative relationship. Their latest team-up – their fourth with McCarthy starring and Falcone directing – is “Superintelligence,” currently streaming on HBO Max. However, this particular pairing, while robust in quantity, doesn’t quite live up to some of the others as far as quality is concerned.

This new film, the story of a newly self-aware AI deciding to use the most average person in the world to determine the ultimate fate of humanity, is a fairly lukewarm effort. The characterizations are thin and the story is needlessly convoluted, and while there are a handful of decent jokes and moments of physical comedy, the majority of the humor is built on a rickety foundation of pop culture references and overlong bits. McCarthy’s charm keeps it from completely collapsing, but her talents aren’t enough to fully salvage the experience.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 13 August 2019 15:22

Mob wives – ‘The Kitchen’

While their position in the zeitgeist has ebbed and flowed over the decades, there’s no denying that mob stories are a fixture in our popular culture. The framework of organized crime allows for loads of violence and sex to go with interpersonal drama – it’s like the whole enterprise was invented for the stories (and plenty of it was).

Here’s the thing about popular stories – it’s tough to find new and successful ways in which to tell them.

That’s perhaps the biggest problem faced by “The Kitchen,” a 1970s-set mob movie that tries to venture down some different and interesting paths, but other than a few flashes, winds up largely bogged down in the clichés and tropes of the subgenre.

Based on the comic book series of the same name, “The Kitchen” tells the tale of three women forced by circumstance to team up and fill the void left by their absent husbands, who have been sent to prison. The leading trio is wildly talented, as is much of the supporting cast, but it isn’t enough; first-time director Andrea Berloff – directing from her own script – can’t seem to avoid the pitfalls of returning to such thoroughly excavated territory.

Published in Movies

Hollywood success can be a double-edged sword. Prominent performers often find themselves pigeonholed by their initial triumphs; the rationale seems to be that if you prove capable of a particular style or type of role, then there’s no reason to ask you to do anything different.

Melissa McCarthy built her career on a certain style of broad comedy, brilliantly combining physicality and coarseness in 2011’s “Bridesmaids,” only to repeat variations on that theme more or less constantly for the next half-dozen years (the odd “St. Vincent” notwithstanding).

So it’s refreshing to see her tackle something completely different in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” It’s the true story of a struggling writer who harnessed her talent for biography into an ever-widening scheme involving the forgery of letters written by literary greats. It is a bleak, sad portrait of talent undone by self-doubt and false bravado, darkly funny with surprising moments of poignancy.

Published in Movies

I’ve always loved the Muppets. From their anarchic weirdo beginnings through every family-friendly iteration that followed, I was all in on Jim Henson’s fuzzy felted creations … though I always had a stronger connection to their darker side, whether it was overt or subtly lingering just beneath the surface.

“The Happytime Murders,” produced by Henson Alternative, the adult-oriented arm of the company, is very much connected to that darker side. Oh, and it’s definitely overt – this movie is a lot of things, but subtle is not one of them. Brian Henson, son of the legendary puppeteer, directs from a screenplay by Todd Berger.

It’s a comic noir vision of a world in which puppets and humans exist side by side, packed with foul language and incessant innuendo. It is a film that revels in its tastelessness, unafraid to get down and really wallow in the mire. It is coarse and crass and not for everyone.

As you might have guessed, I dug it.

Published in Movies

It seems as though we don’t get the same kinds of breakout comedies in the summer that we once did. The season has become overrun with blockbusters, and while I love superheroes and explosions as much as anyone and more than most, it’s nice to change it up once in a while. And occasionally, a comedy will achieve significant summertime success. A lot of factors have to line up for it to happen – timeliness, star power, subject matter, broad appeal and more – for a comedy to be that movie.

“Life of the Party” is not that movie.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 20 July 2016 11:44

Who you gonna call? - 'Ghostbusters'

Talented cast brings reboot of beloved comedy classic to life

Few movies have suffered the sort of instant backlash/resentment that was inspired by the remake/reboot of 'Ghostbusters.' Armed with little more than an overly reverent nostalgia and an (admittedly not-great) first trailer not to mention plenty of good old fashioned misogyny hordes of nitwits and trolls took to the internet to bemoan the lack of quality in a film that none of them had even seen yet.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 13 April 2016 12:04

The Boss' fails to take charge

McCarthy's performance can't elevate sub-par script

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 03 July 2013 10:45

The Heat' is on

Female buddy cop movie delivers laughs

There's no denying that Hollywood likes its formulas. After all, they're in the business of making money if a certain type of film does well at the box office, obviously they're going to try to find ways to continue making that film. All you need is a little bit of a tweak and you've got yourself another smash.

Of course, when it comes to comedy, the summer isn't necessarily a slam-dunk. Big shoot-em-up action spectaculars sell big in the dog days; comedy is something else entirely. But if you can take one of those preexisting formulas and build a comedy around itwell, then you might have something.

Published in Movies
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