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Making a movie – any movie – is a monumental task to undertake. No matter whether you’re talking about an indie feature or a summer blockbuster, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome. But sometimes a particular film, for whatever reason, is just that much harder to make than most.

Terry Gilliam’s passion project “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is one such film, a mishap-riddled odyssey 25 years in the making. Directed by Gilliam from a script he co-wrote with Tony Grisoni, it’s the end result of a quarter-century of false starts and natural disasters, of casting and recasting and shooting and reshooting. The production dealt with so many issues of varying types that one would be forgiven for believing the entire project to be somehow cursed.

After many years, the film was finally completed in 2018. And yet, the difficulties weren’t done even then; some messy legal issues between Gilliam and a former producer on the film resulted in a wonky, uneven release schedule; the movie didn’t reach American screens (non-festival edition) until now, with a limited theatrical run quickly followed by a VOD drop.

One would expect a film that had been through so many iterations to be haphazard and scattered, jagged and rough-edged. And frankly, those terms describe “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” in a lot of ways. But those viewers who are able to look beyond the surface jankiness will see Gilliam’s unique vision at work; there’s enough here – particularly for Gilliam’s fans (among whom I include myself) – to illustrate the clear, fierce passion that the director has for this story.

It’s an uneven and unflinchingly weird movie, which surprises no one; it bears the marks of both his love and his desperation and wears them proudly – and really, how else could it have gone?

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 24 April 2019 12:41

Chill out with ‘Disneynature: Penguins’

There are a lot of different ways that movies can captivate us.

This is an important notion to keep in mind as the shadow of Summer Blockbuster Season begins to loom over 2019. For the next few months, bigger might not be better, but it will definitely be ubiquitous.

It’s also a reason to pay attention to a movie like “Disneynature: Penguins.” We’re about to be overwhelmed by a sea of cartoons and CGI explosions for weeks on end – why not sit down and enjoy a quiet, well-made nature film that just happens to be stunningly beautiful and surprisingly funny.

Producer-director Alistair Fothergill has played a huge part in the Disneynature process, having served in one or both of those roles for something like half of the 13 films Disney’s indie nature doc arm has produced over the past decade or so. He’s as visually gifted as any nature documentarian out there, with a willingness to invest the time and effort necessary to create films that tell compelling stories; “Penguins” is another feather in his cap.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 17 April 2019 12:32

‘Hellboy’ is a hell of a mess

One of the things that people sometimes forget about comic books is that they can (and do) get a lot weirder than your standard superhero business – and that that can be a good thing.

Take Mike Mignola’s Dark Horse Comics creation Hellboy. That’s some weird, over-the-top supernatural stuff – eldritch strangeness that is barely adjacent to the usual superhero fare. And yet, that character preceded the MCU to the silver screen, with movies in 2004 and 2008. And thanks largely to director Guillermo del Toro and star Rob Perlman, they worked.

Unfortunately, with the new “Hellboy,” neither of those gentlemen are involved. Instead, we get Neil Marshall and David Harbour, respectively – talented folks, yes, but for whatever reason, they fail to dig into the character in the same narratively engaging manner. Instead, we get a big, loud, gory mess, a jumbled-up and chaotic slog of a movie that can’t be salvaged despite the game effort put forth by Harbour, whose delightfully slovenly dad-charisma is undermined by prosthetics and CGI.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 17 April 2019 12:30

Too ‘Little,’ too late

It’s always fun when a filmmaker gives you a different take on a standard cinematic trope. There’s a reason that certain types of stories continually pop up on the big screen – they work.

That being said, I wasn’t necessarily expecting two different riffs on the classic Tom Hanks vehicle “Big” to come into wide release in back-to-back weeks, but here we are. We got the “‘Big’ but with superheroes” take with “Shazam!” last week, and this week, we get the “‘Big’ but in reverse” take with “Little.”

Yeah – “Little” takes a grown person and turns her into a 13-year-old again. That’s pretty much it. And it ALMOST lands. There are stretches where the film really cooks, but there are others where things don’t click the way they need to. It has some funny moments, but it gets bogged down by the multiple messages it seems to want to convey. It’s a pleasant enough time at the movies, but it just misses being something much better.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 10 April 2019 12:55

Grave consequences – ‘Pet Sematary’

Considering Hollywood’s concurrent current trends toward embracing reboots and Stephen King properties, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that a number of the Master of Horror’s past filmic adaptations are ripe for revisitation. Particularly when you take into account the runaway critical and commercial success of 2017’s remake of “It” and the notorious unevenness of previous screen adaptations.

This brings us to the latest King remake “Pet Sematary.” This new film – based on King’s 1983 novel of the same name – follows the 1989 version helmed by Mary Lambert. It tells the story of the Creed family and their move to rural Maine, where in the woods behind their new home, they stumble upon a dark place – a place where death is no longer an end, but rather the beginning of a much more horrifying tale.

However, while the assembled cast is stellar and co-directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer are not without skill, the end result doesn’t quite clear the bar set by either the novel or the original film. That isn’t to say that this version is without merit, but those with a deep-seated affection for those previous works will likely find themselves a little disappointed.

Published in Movies

It’s no secret that DC Comics and their characters have been playing catch-up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the better part of a decade. Sure, DC cornered the early market on superhero cinema as high art (thanks almost entirely to Christopher Nolan), but their overall success lagged considerably.

One of the biggest complaints has been about tone. Specifically, that DC learned the wrong lessons from Nolan’s achievements and focused on gritty grimdarkness in its subsequent films. Sure, that works when you’ve got a dark-by-design character like Batman being brought forth by a brilliant actor and a transcendent filmmaker, but otherwise? Not so much.

The last couple of years have seen a course correction of sorts, with both “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman” serving to show what can happen if these films are made with a different goal. And now, we get “Shazam!”, yet another big step in the right direction.

“Shazam!” is easily the most joyful of the DC offerings to date. It is pure escapist fantasy, distilling the essence of the wish fulfillment that is at the core of why so many of us fell in love with comic books in the first place. It is goofy and charming, wearing its dorkiness with pride. And the fact that it features a less well-known character (one who once shared a name with the Marvel character who just had a movie of her own hit theaters a few weeks ago) is just the icing on the cake.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 03 April 2019 12:56

‘Dumbo’ can’t quite take flight

Whatever your feelings with regards to mainstream Hollywood’s ongoing devotion to remakes, you have to accept the fact that things aren’t going to change anytime soon. Like it or not, you’re along for the remake ride – all you can do now is hope that they’re good.

With Disney’s live-action “Dumbo” – a remake of the studio’s 1941 animated classic – it seemed as though the pieces were there for success. Tim Burton’s pop-goth sensibilities and Technicolor weirdness seemed like a potentially fun lens through which to tell this story. The cast looks really strong. And the tale is a beloved one.

And yet – the film is less than the sum of its parts. While Burton’s aesthetic did lead to some memorable, engaging visuals and the ensemble provided generally solid-to-strong performances, an iffy screenplay and lack of spirit undermined those efforts. While it’s far from a bad movie, this “Dumbo” never manages to soar.

Published in Movies

Recounting real-life stories in movies is complicated business. The filmmakers must decide where to strike the balance between historical veracity and dramatic license – and the line moves. Finding the proper offset between telling the truth and telling a story is tough when that tipping point is in different places. The best docudramas are the ones that toe the line without crossing it, finding the correct distribution of truth and fiction for a particular film.

Making a movie such as “Hotel Mumbai,” a retelling of the real-life 2008 Mumbai attacks focusing on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, demands that delicacy of touch. Not only was this a huge tragedy, but a brutal and violent one; it’s an event that demands sensitivity in its presentation, yet also requires a certain bluntness to be truthful. Director Anthony Maras – who also co-wrote the screenplay with John Collee – had to step carefully.

And for the most part, he did so.

This is an undeniably tense and unexpectedly graphic account of what happened in those hours. While there are moments that skate up to the edge of exploitation, Maras manages to avoid crossing those lines. The visceral brutality of the film is, by most accounts, true to life. And the starkness of the violence allows the moments of selflessness and heroism to stand out the more.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 27 March 2019 14:12

This is ‘Us’

Horror cinema has long been a genre whose flexibility has allowed it to serve as a remarkable vehicle for the delivery of big and complex ideas. The allegorical underpinnings of horror movies allow filmmakers to spark conversations about the complicated entanglements of the world in which we live on both macro and micro levels.

Writer/director Jordan Peele took advantage of horror’s flexibility and shifted the paradigm with his 2017 debut film “Get Out,” building a film that was both bitingly socially satiric and legitimately tense and scary. That movie’s wild critical (Oscar nominations for Actor, Director and Picture and a win for Original Screenplay) and commercial (over $250 million at the global box office against a budget under $5 million) success meant a whole lot of anticipation for (and pressure on) the follow-up.

And “Us” clears every bar.

Peele’s latest horror thriller delves into the tropes of home invasions and evil twins and more, using those genre touchstones as part of a meaningful conversation about social stratification and class warfare and other important issues confronting the America of today. I’ll put it this way – “Us” could easily be read as “U.S.” … and that’s certainly not a coincidence.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 20 March 2019 12:46

Love is in the air – ‘Five Feet Apart’

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a soft touch, emotionally speaking. My buttons can be pushed pretty easily. If a movie wants to make me cry, it will have little problem doing so. Whether or not that emotional manipulation is earned, well … it doesn’t really matter. It will work. However, just because my emotions are impacted doesn’t mean I’m unaware of the strings being pulled.

The new movie “Five Feet Apart” – directed by Justin Baldoni from a screenplay by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis – is nothing BUT strings. It is almost cynically manipulative, with a star-crossed love story featuring terminally ill teenagers falling for one another yet being kept apart by forces beyond their control. It is so formulaic, so boilerplate, that it almost feels algorithmically-generated – a product of maudlin mathematics.

Published in Movies
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