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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

Anyone who’s paid even a little attention to popular culture in the past few years has a pretty good sense of what Lin-Manuel Miranda brings to the table. Between the filmed version of his musical triumph “Hamilton” last year and the movie adaptation of his previous work “In the Heights,” we’ve gotten a lot of Lin-Manuel.

But what if I told you you could have even more? Specifically, an animated musical about a singing kinkajou?

Yeah, I’m into it too.

“Vivo,” from Sony Animation, is currently streaming in Netflix. Directed by Kirk DeMicco and Brandon Jeffords from a screenplay by DeMicco and Quiara Alegria Hudes – not to mention original songs by Miranda – it’s a charming and heartfelt story about the lengths to which we will go to do right by the people who mean the most to us.

The animation is lovely, with some wonderful stylistic flourishes, and the narrative is sweetly simple. The film also features a strong voice cast, led by Miranda as the titular Vivo, and you only need to hear a few bars of the opening number to be VERY aware of who wrote the songs. With themes of love – both romantic and familial – and the difficulty of loss, it is a movie that offers all-ages appeal.

Published in Movies
Monday, 02 August 2021 12:22

Welcome to the ‘Jungle Cruise’

Oh look – another Disney movie based on a theme park ride. It’s been a while.

From a financial perspective, making something like “Jungle Cruise” makes perfect sense. Slap the name of a familiar attraction on an action-adventure type movie, cast a charismatic movie star in the lead and watch the cash roll in. “Pirates of the Caribbean” already showed us the massive box office potential of this formula – why not give it another go? It’s going to make money.

From an artistic perspective, well … it’s going to make money.

The film, which stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, is an effort to adapt Disney’s popular ride to the big screen. Directed by Jaume Collet-Sera, it’s a familiar attempt to adapt preexisting IP into a new format in which it can be further monetized. That’s a cynical reading, obviously, but doubtless an accurate one.

As for the actual movie? It’s fine, a pleasant enough diversion; at the very least, it’s a movie that a family can watch together (though there are some moments that might prove a bit much for younger viewers – it’s rightfully rated PG-13, for whatever that’s worth). The charm and charisma of the two leads, along with other talented performers, allows for an enjoyable experience, even if things do get a little muddled by the thin plot and general CGI morass.

Published in Movies

I love being surprised at the movies. In this day of franchise fodder and omnipresent trailers, it can sometimes be tough to go into a film with little in the way of preconception. So when the opportunity arises, it can be really rewarding.

Writer-director David Lowery’s new film “The Green Knight” was just such a rewarding experience for me. It’s based on the 14th century chivalric romance “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” but beyond that and the knowledge that the wonderful Dev Patel stars, all I knew was what I half-remembered from having read the original text some 30 years ago. So I didn’t really know what was coming.

What I got was a sumptuous visual feast, an aesthetic wonder; it’s truly beautiful to look at. The central performance is exquisite, which is key – anything less than excellence from your lead and this film simply collapses under its own weight. That’s mostly because it is also one of the most actively weird mainstream releases I’ve seen in some time – and that’s a good thing.

It is a fantastic and strange tale of a man set upon a journey he doesn’t fully understand, victimized by his own hubris even as he ventures through a world that is steadily shifting around him. It is a story of the difference between responsibility and obligation, between honor and shame, all playing out through the eyes of a lone knight on a quest whose seeming purpose slowly crumbles with each step forward.

Published in Movies

There are a lot of people – directors and writers and actors and designers – who need to succeed in order to make a good movie. But that success is relative – it is possible for the work of one or a few to have an outsized impact on a movie, to be great even if their surroundings don’t quite measure up.

This is a long-winded and overly verbose way of saying that the new movie “Stillwater” – directed by Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote the script alongside Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bregdain and Noe Debre, and starring Matt Damon – is a so-so film that is nevertheless home to some outstanding individual work.

This story of an Oklahoma man who devotes himself to proving the innocence of his young daughter, jailed in France for a crime she claims not to have committed, drew inspiration from the real-life story of Amanda Knox, whose own salacious case of murder and wrongful conviction played out over the course of years back in the ‘00s. It’s a deep and often moving portrait of one man’s efforts to do what’s right, only to continually and thoroughly misstep … not to mention one of Matt Damon’s best performances in years.

(It should be noted that there’s an ongoing discourse surrounding “Stillwater” with regard to Knox and her feelings about having her ordeal used as fodder for the film; the parallels are fairly clear. The degree of control a person has over their own personal story becomes lessened when they move into the public eye, whether by choice or against their will. It might not be right, but it’s how it is, at least right now.)

Published in Movies

I dig M. Night Shyamalan movies.

Not all of them – he’s definitely got a couple of real stinkers in there – but for the most part, I’ve liked the films that he’s made. Frankly, there’s something refreshing about the dude and his work; he is clearly someone who makes movies that he likes and doesn’t really worry all that much about anything else. And thanks to the ongoing cultural impact of “The Sixth Sense,” he has enough creative capital to keep doing what he does.

Plus, he’s kind of on a pretty good run.

Since his sort-of-comeback with 2015’s “The Visit,” Shyamalan has reinvigorated his career, putting the previous decade or so – in which he became something of a punchline – in the rearview. That film, plus the double dip of 2016’s excellent “Split” and 2019’s I-liked-it-more-than-many “Glass” along with his work on TV shows like “Wayward Pines” and “Servant,” have him back in the conversation, albeit not quite at his turn-of-the-century heights.

His latest is “Old.” It’s a bit of an outlier for him; he directed and wrote the screenplay, as per usual, but this time, it’s an adaptation – a French graphic novel titled “Sandcastle.” But it’s the sort of supernaturally-tinged story we’ve learned to expect from him, with the same brand of ludicrous/intriguing elevator pitch description.

To wit: What if people went to a beach that made them age their entire lives in just a few hours?

I know, I know – it sounds goofy. And I suppose it is. But it is also precisely the sort of premise with which a filmmaker like Shyamalan can have some fun. It’s not perfect – things get clunky here and there and there’s one particular plot development that is actively icky – but the things that Shyamalan does well, he does REALLY well … and they’re on display here.

Published in Movies

As someone who was a child in the mid-1980s, I am VERY familiar with G.I. Joe. I collected the action figures and other toys. I watched the cartoons (which were essentially half-hour ads for the action figures and toys) and read the comic books (ditto). Was it a thinly-veiled celebration of American imperialism and military superiority? Absolutely! They were still cool.

That connection means that I am 100 percent the target audience for Hollywood’s ongoing efforts to craft a G.I. Joe Cinematic Universe (GIJCU). Previous efforts like “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” (2009) and its 2013 sequel “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” weren’t what any right-minded moviegoer would call good, but even in their badness, my younger self felt validated.

The latest effort to get the GIJCU up and running is “Snake Eyes.” Previously titled “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe: Origins,” because of course it was, it serves as an origin story for one of the most beloved of all G.I. Joe characters, as well as introducing us to a handful of other character stalwarts. Directed by Robert Schwentke from a screenplay written by the trio of Evan Spiliotopoulos, Anna Waterhouse and the so-perfectly-named-I’m-not-positive-he’s-real Joe Shrapnel, the film serves as a reboot and reintroduction into the franchise.

And it’s actually … OK? Maybe even pretty good, if you tilt your head and squint?

It’s nothing spectacular, but compared to the low-rent cartoonishness of the previous efforts, it’s decent. The performances are surprisingly compelling, and while the action sequences are a bit uneven, the truth is that if you’re going to reboot this sort of franchise, you could do a lot worse than what they’ve done with “Snake Eyes.”

Published in Movies

Another week, another Netflix romance tossed out into the universe.

Now, we’ve discussed at length the variance in quality that comes with Netflix’s steady churn of content. Some of those movies are very good, some are very bad and the rest – the majority – land somewhere in-between.

“The Last Letter from Your Lover” is one of those tweeners, though I’d say that it definitely falls closer to the “good” end of the spectrum. Based on the 2012 novel of the same name by JoJo Moyes, the film is directed by Augustine Frizell from a screenplay penned by Nick Payne and Esta Spaulding.

It’s a split story, the tale of a present-day journalist uncovering a cache of love letters alluding to a mysterious affair that took place some 50 years prior. With a pair of compelling female leads in Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley, it’s a charming, albeit somewhat predictable story – one that allows us to watch as two women separated by decades each come to terms with the realities of their romantic lives, even as they struggle to decide how to proceed.

Published in Style

The constant churn of Netflix, forever turning out project after project, is such that one can never be sure of the quality (or lack thereof) of a given movie. It also means that it can be very difficult to know exactly what one is getting into when they sit down to watch. That said, the churn also results in a wide array of different sorts of movies, running the genre gamut and offering unique opportunities.

“Gunpowder Milkshake” currently streaming on the service, is just such a unique opportunity. The film, directed by Navot Pushapado from a script he co-wrote with Ehud Laveski, is a stylized pastiche of a movie, riddled with homages to an assortment of action and action-adjacent offerings that came before. Some of those nods are overt – the influence of the “John Wick” franchise is all over this movie – while others are a bit more subtle (though that’s likely the last time you’re going to hear anyone use the word “subtle” in reference to this film.

It’s part action thriller, part mother-daughter drama, rife with high-octane set pieces interspersed with moments of fraught emotion. Driven by an exceptional cast and an over-the-top aesthetic, it’s a film whose strengths far outstrip its flaws, resulting in a lurid and loony good time at the movies.

Published in Movies

The great internet arbiter Judge John Hodgman has a saying: “Nostalgia is a toxic impulse.” While I don’t necessarily fully agree with that sentiment – I think there can be real value in reengaging with aspects of our past that we remember fondly – I also acknowledge that the tendency to get lost in our own personal pop culture ephemera-strewn memory palaces can result in some dark turns.

All this is to say that while I understand why “Space Jam: A New Legacy” was made and the thoughts and desires that led to that outcome, enabling the nostalgic impulse without any critical regard to the reasons behind the memory can result in something hollow and ultimately unsatisfactory.

As a late Gen-Xer, I’m a hair too old to have the same fondness for 1996’s “Space Jam” that many millennials carry. However, I do still carry a soft spot for the film – I mean, Michael Jordan, the Looney Tunes and a pre-folk hero Bill Murray? What’s not to like?

That said, the sequel – this one starring LeBron James – fails to achieve even the modicum of loose charm that surrounded the original, exchanging the winking self-awareness and quirkiness of the original for a seemingly unending cavalcade of product placement and self-celebratory IP exploitation.

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee (who replaced original director Terrence Nance a few weeks into filming) from a screenplay with no less than six credited writers, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is the unfortunate result when you attempt to recreate something whose appeal you don’t fully understand; there’s a goofball kitschiness to the original film that is lost here, the lunacy (sorry – “Loon-acy”) replaced by an overstuffed commitment to the idea that instead of using references to make jokes, the jokes ARE the references.

Published in Sports
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