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Wednesday, 13 March 2019 13:07

Marvel at ‘Captain Marvel’

There’s no disputing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe rules the box office like nothing the entertainment industry has ever seen. Film after film drawing massive numbers, with grosses in the middle nine figures AT WORST. The MCU has produced some of the most globally popular movies of all time.

As we near the end of Phase Three – set to culminate with next month’s “Avengers: Endgame” – we are finally introduced to one of the characters who promises to be a major player in how that arc ends: Captain Marvel. The superpowered spacefarer stars in her own eponymously-titled outing, serving as the first female character to headline an MCU movie.

You may have heard about efforts from certain elements to undermine the film before its release. You may have also heard about how ultimately ineffectual those efforts were. Because a LOT of people saw this movie on opening weekend. And what they saw was pretty darned good, a quippy, zippy origin story that manages to stand on its own merits while also serving as connective tissue for the rest of the MCU out of necessity.

“Captain Marvel” could have floundered under the storytelling load it was asked to shoulder, but instead manages to (mostly) soar, giving us a fun and engaging narrative, some decent gags and some solid action set pieces (along with a killer ‘90s soundtrack). Excellent performances (particularly from star Brie Larson) serve as the glue that binds it all together.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 06 March 2019 13:08

Girl stalk – ‘Greta’

We’ve largely worked our way through the winter doldrums at the movies. It won’t be long before the deluge of big-budget blockbusters and franchise tentpoles begins in earnest. However, there are still a few stragglers hitting screens, films that have been thrust out into the market because if not now, when?

One such movie is “Greta,” a film you may not have even heard about (not many did, if the box office numbers are any indication). This despite some top-notch talent leading the cast and a well-regarded writer-director returning to the big screen for the first time in the better part of a decade. And yet, aside from a few interesting choices both in front of and behind the camera, the film is a largely forgettable thriller, a movie that we’ve seen a dozen times before.

Published in Movies

Have you ever wondered where pro wrestlers come from? From what kind of environment does a professional wrestling star spring?

“Fighting with My Family” tells the story of how one particular wrestler – WWE star Paige – came to reach the pinnacle of her chosen pursuit. Written and directed by Stephen Merchant (yes, THAT Stephen Merchant), the film is based on Max Fisher’s 2012 documentary “The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family.” It’s the story of an English family and their devotion to the world of professional wrestling – a devotion that would help one of them reach the top of the heap.

It’s also a funny and surprisingly heartwarming story about what it means to be a family and about how those family ties can both help and hinder efforts at self-betterment. Sure, it’s a bit of on-brand fantasy courtesy of WWE, but instead of feeling calculated and cynical, there’s an unexpected sincerity to it that proves quite engaging.

Published in Movies

Despite how it may sometimes seem, it isn’t easy building an ongoing franchise. Creating something that will hold audience interest through multiple iterations takes plenty of skill and more than a little luck. Even animated fare, which could appear to have a leg up when it comes to turning a movie into a series, doesn’t always succeed.

That’s why the “How to Train Your Dragon” films – based on the Cressida Cowell book series of the same name – are such a delight. These movies – the third of which has just been released – have proven to be quality outings, earning plenty at the box office while also being of high enough quality to satisfy the critical sphere.

This newest installment - full title: “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” – offers us the third leg of a trilogy long in the making. Like its predecessors, the film offers up a surprisingly heartfelt message wrapped in high-flying dragon action and goofy slapstick. It feels like an ending – perhaps not of the franchise as a whole, but at least of this portion of the story.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 20 February 2019 13:53

‘Alita: Battle Angel’ fights the good fight

Considering the popularity of sci-fi/fantasy fare, you’d think that Hollywood would be better at adapting Japanese anime and manga for American audiences. However, whether it’s a cultural divide or an aesthetic difference or what have you, the undeniable appeal of those properties usually winds up getting lost in translation.

So when I started seeing ads for “Alita: Battle Angel,” I was skeptical. Based on Yukito Kushiro’s popular “Gunnm” manga from the early 1990s, it’s the sort of complex, thematically dense work that Hollywood has traditionally screwed up. Why would this time be any different?

But then I looked closer. It’s a marvelous collection of talent. You’ve got Robert Rodriguez, one of the best “genre” filmmakers of his generation, directing. Rodriguez also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Laeta Kalogridis and James Cameron – yes, that James Cameron – who also served as producer and has been moving this project forward for the better part of two decades. Oh, and there’s also an incredibly talented cast featuring far more Oscar winners and nominees than you might have anticipated for a seemingly straightforward sci-fi shoot-‘em-up.

Does it live up to that pedigree? Maybe not quite; there are some clarity issues regarding the storytelling and a few uncanny valley concerns regarding the CGI. However, there’s no disputing the vivid visual nature of the film; there are dynamic set pieces scattered throughout. And the performers all treat the material with due respect, resulting in nuanced and complex performances beyond the standard genre fare.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 20 February 2019 13:50

Love actually – ‘Isn’t It Romantic’

While the heyday of the romantic comedy has passed, there’s no disputing that the genre is still a significant part of the cinematic whole. Sure, there aren’t as many big-screen rom-coms as there once were, but the folks at Netflix have embraced them in a big way.

Suffice it to say, rom-coms aren’t going anywhere.

That’s why even though it might feel like a bit of a late arrival, “Isn’t It Romantic” still works. Yes, the sorts of films being targeted aren’t necessarily at the forefront of the cultural consciousness like they once were, but there’s no doubt that the tropes of the form still serve as prominent pop shorthand.

It doesn’t quite have the satiric bite that you might expect – largely because of a readily apparent affection for the source material. Basically, this movie tries to have it both ways, attempting to subvert conventions while at the same time embracing them. And while it isn’t wholly successful in that effort, the end result is still a solidly entertaining movie.

Published in Movies

Leave it to Steven Soderbergh to make a sports movie with hardly any sports action in it.

The auteur’s latest offering is “High Flying Bird,” released direct to streaming via Netflix. It’s the story of the game behind the game in the world of professional basketball as one agent, in an effort to do right by his client during a lockout by the owners, threatens to upend the entire model and throw the league into chaos – and one could argue that he’s right not just in economic terms, but ethical as well.

Soderbergh’s malleable ideas with regards to what it means to be an upper-echelon filmmaker in the 21st century continue on their merry way with this one. Following experiments both successful (shooting last year’s “Unsane” exclusively via iPhone) and not-so-much (the self-distribution effort to sidestep the system with 2017’s “Logan Lucky”), he’s keeping what works – the iPhone – and tweaking what doesn’t by letting Netflix wrangle the eyeballs.

The end result works – not surprising considering you’ve got Soderbergh directing a script from Tarell Alvin McCraney. It’s an insightful look behind the curtain of pro sports that feels genuine, a compelling illustration of how the sausage is made.

Published in Sports

It took all of one weekend for it to be clear that there would be a sequel to 2014’s “The Lego Movie.” It was embraced by audiences of all ages and made just an absolute crapload of money – almost $470 million all told – so making another was a no-brainer.

The danger, however, is that capturing that kind of lightning in a bottle twice isn’t easy. There were elements of the original that simply could not be replicated – would a sequel still be able to resonate with audiences?

Ultimately, “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” is able to answer that question with a “yes.” The sequel – directed by Mike Mitchell, although Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (who directed the first film) did the screenplay – shares a sensibility with the original; while it doesn’t quite manage the same degree of emotional resonance, the jokes come fast and furious and the cast is as top-notch as ever.

Published in Movies

Eventually, we’re all going to have to come to terms with the end of the “Liam Neeson avenges a relative after something bad happens to him/her” subgenre of films. As much as we might want to think he can do it forever, the truth is that Neeson will have to stop someday.

But today is not that day.

“Cold Pursuit” – an American adaptation of the 2014 Norwegian film “Kraftidioten” (“In Order of Disappearance”) – is the latest entry into Neeson’s old guy action oeuvre. He’s done planes and trains, so it was only a matter of time before we got to snowplows. Yes, really. It’s the story of a simple man who vows to determine the truth behind the loss of a loved one; his quest leads him to take up arms against a variety of bad guys, even though it might well wind up costing him everything – including his humanity.

Published in Movies
Friday, 08 February 2019 13:04

Mind over matter – ‘What Men Want’

It seems like every other weekend sees another big-screen remake landing at the box office; while that’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. And the truth is that many if not most of those projects are cynical attempts to cash in on an audience’s fond memories. An equal number are creatively bankrupt as well. But this isn’t a binary, some sort of good/bad all or nothing. There’s ample gray area.

Not all remakes are created equal.

Take “What Men Want,” a remake of 2000’s Mel Gibson-fronted “What Women Want.” This new film – directed by Adam Shankman and starring Taraji P. Henson – reverses the gender roles but leaves everything else more or less the same. The end result is a movie that is a bit wobbly on its feet and more than a little uneven, but manages to engage the audience and pull off a couple of laughs.

Published in Movies
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