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Being out in the world can be difficult. So often, we find ourselves wanting nothing more than to forget about what’s out there and bury ourselves into the insular realms that we have built for ourselves. Some believe that all the connection we need can be found within our own four walls.

But what if the ones we love want more? And what if we’re forced by circumstance to venture forth and engage, even if it’s the last thing we want to do?

“The Outside Story” offers answers to those questions. Written and directed by Casimir Nozkowski – his feature debut in both capacities – and starring Brian Tyree Henry, it’s a quirky and intimate look at urban life reflected through the eyes of an introvert who is forced by circumstance to engage with his immediate surroundings in a way he never has before.

Driven by thoughtful, grounded performances, it’s a story of what it means to be a part of the world. It’s about what can happen – both good and bad – when we are forced out of our comfort zones. We can struggle against it or fully embrace it, but either way, we will be changed by the act of engagement.

Published in Movies

I like it when a movie surprises me.

Maybe it’s a narrative surprise or an aesthetic surprise or a thematic surprise – doesn’t really matter to me. I dig it when a movie does something that is genuinely unexpected, when it becomes something different than anticipated.

And when it’s a kids’ movie? Let’s go.

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is the latest from the folks at Sony Pictures Animation. Directed by first-time feature director Mike Rianda and co-directed by Jeff Rowe from a script co-written by the two, it’s a CG film that manages to bring together two fairly disparate concepts together in a way that is both functional and fun.

Basically, what we have here is a movie that is a dysfunctional family road trip comedy AND a dystopian battle against the machine uprising. It really shouldn’t work, but somehow, the film manages to maintain its sense of goofball whimsy while also conveying genuine tension regarding the end of the world. It is heartfelt and hilarious animated fun that balances its seemingly incongruous parts with aplomb.

Published in Movies

I’ve never read a Tom Clancy novel. I’ve seen a few adaptations of his work and have a general sense of his fundamental airport-fiction-with-militaristic-themes vibe, but I can’t say that I have a deep familiarity with his oeuvre.

But it’s all a matter of taste – the dude has topped the NYT best-seller list 17 times and has overall sales figures in nine digits, so what do I know?

However, I have to imagine that the new film adaptation “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” doesn’t necessarily live up to the man’s legacy, even with his name right there in the title. Directed by Stefano Sollima and co-written by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples, the Amazon Studios original is a bit of a mess, with a convoluted plot and motivationless characters careening from set piece to set piece without a whole lot of rhyme or reason along the way.

Now, the film has Michael B. Jordan as its lead, which helps compensate for the more egregious flaws, but the reality is that as talented as he is, he’s just one actor. And even with all those muscles, he can’t lift this film out of the chaotic morass; he’s definitely an action star, but even a star’s shine can’t hide the ragged edges of this one.

Published in Movies

All criticism is subjective.

While we can steep our reviews of films or books or albums in an effort toward objectivity, the truth is that our own personal tastes and biases are going to be part of the equation. It’s the nature of the business – our opinions are what form the foundation of our writings on the matter.

And yet, sometimes, we’re gifted with a piece of art that manages to largely transcend that struggle between the subjective and objective. We read or watch or hear something that establishes its value and purity simply through being what it is. One can try to attach judgments or measurements to it, but its power is made obvious by the fact that it exists.

“Best Summer Ever” is that kind of art. It’s an original musical, directed by Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli from a script co-penned by the two plus Will Halby, Terra Mackintosh and Andrew Pilkington. The film is the latest project from Zeno Mountain Farm, a camp whose mission is to immerse the disabled and non-disabled in the arts.

And it is an absolute delight.

Featuring an entirely inclusive cast, “Best Summer Ever” is unique in that that inclusivity isn’t central to the plot. It simply is, in a manner that practically vibrates with joyous energy. It is a sweet and good-hearted story of young love, featuring a number of original songs and a winking affection for other examples of the teen movie musical genre. It is a charming and often hilarious film, one that illustrates the possibilities that come with refusing to let our differences define us.

Published in Buzz

If 21st century cinema has taught us anything, it’s that everything old is new again. We’ve watched as IP-driven blockbusters and nostalgia-trip remakes have dominated the box office over the past couple of decades.

Hollywood is a flat circle. We should never be surprised when a property from the past gets a shine-up and gets released onto a new generation of unsuspecting moviegoers.

So it is with “Mortal Kombat,” currently in theaters and available for streaming via HBO Max. Based on the iconic video game series of the same name and directed by first-timer Simon McQuoid, the film tries to breathe new cinematic life into the characters that have proved so popular for nearly three decades.

Tries and … sort of succeeds? But not really?

It’s a good faith effort, to be sure, but while we do get some narrative expansion, it proves to be awfully muddy and convoluted in ways that detract from the fundamental appeal of “Mortal Kombat.” By attempting to graft new characters and situations onto the already-extant foundation, we’re left with a film that can’t seem to get out of its own way. Yes, there’s some first-rate magical martial arts action – and a pleasantly surprising amount of visceral gore – but the clunkiness of the story development effectively caps the film’s potential.

Published in Movies

Stories that spring from the dangers of distance have always fascinated us. Whether they are journeys into the wilderness, across the sea or into the heavens, the perils of separation from those who might help us should emergencies arise can make for compelling drama.

Stories of space travel have largely supplanted those of treks into the wild or over the waves; so many space stories – particularly ones that seek to hew relatively close to the realm of the plausible – revolve around the idea that help will not and cannot come. In space, you’re more or less on your own.

“Stowaway,” the new film directed by Joe Penna from a script that Penna co-wrote with Ryan Morrison, is the latest exploration of the unforgiving nature of the unknown and the emotional consequences that can come with being forced to make impossible choices.

It’s also a crackerjack space movie, one in which care has clearly been taken to maintain a degree of verisimilitude that exceeds that of all but the most meticulously-crafted near-future sci-fi. It’s a taut thriller, one that mines tension from moments that could have felt flat and/or mundane in the hands of another filmmaker.

Published in Movies
Monday, 19 April 2021 15:09

Just another manic ‘Monday’

There’s a rush that comes with those first moments of attraction. The spark of electricity that courses from one person to the next, crackling with excitement and sexual anticipation – it’s often the beginning of something far greater. That’s how the movies portray it anyway.

However, just because that fire is burning from minute one does not mean that the relationship has any kind of real future. The reality is that those quick-hit connections often prove to be little more than infatuations, momentary dalliances. But how do you know if this one, this connection, is the one that is meant to be?

That’s the query at the center of “Monday,” a romantic drama directed by Argyris Papadimitropoulos from a script he co-wrote with Rob Hayes. It’s a story of a passionate weekend encounter between two expatriated Americans in Greece that begins to develop into something more, though it’s unclear if that’s the right thing for either of them.

There’s plenty of heat here, plenty of fire – the sex scene-to-runtime ratio here is REALLY high – to go along with the standard relationship struggles. Sure, it’s not always clear why these people are making the choices they are making, but the truth is that the specifics don’t matter – when you’ve got two people as hot for one another as this duo, it’s all about seeing where the fires lead you.

Published in Movies

Long gone are the days where there was a sharp and specific line of demarcation between the realms of television and movies. It wasn’t so long ago that TV stars were TV stars and movie stars were movie stars and there was little movement between the two, with the occasional ascendent TV actor making the leap to the big screen and the odd fading movie star moving heading into our living rooms. Movies were important and TV wasn’t. Simple.

Obviously, that isn’t the case anymore, with actors moving easily between the two mediums and prestige television achieving feats of storytelling the equal of any cinematic experience. And the lines blur further with the original offerings of the streaming services landing in both camps.

So if you’re going to tell me that Netflix’s latest animated film is also the pilot episode of an upcoming series – sure. That’s the way the world works now.

Thus we have “Arlo the Alligator Boy,” an animated musical film from director Ryan Crego (who also co-wrote both the script and the movie’s numerous original songs). It’s a sweet, tuneful story of a young boy (who happens to also be an alligator) searching for where in the world he fits in. It’s a search that leads him from the swamps of his adolescence to the bright lights of New York City as he undertakes a quest to find the man he believes to be his father.

The subsequent TV series designs could not be more clear – the film plays much like an extended pilot, introducing the characters who will undoubtedly populate the 20-episode season to come. But there’s no disputing that the characters are charming, the visual style is memorable and the music straight up slaps. Not a bad payoff for investing your 90 minutes.

Published in Movies

So much of how we engage with the world around us is defined by our senses. It is only through them – sight, sound, taste, touch, smell – that we can identify what’s around us. The absence of one or more is keenly felt, but the others can still contribute to giving us a window on the world.

But what if you couldn’t trust those senses to tell you the truth? What if what you saw, heard, touched – what if those things were other than what your brain was telling you?

“Sensation,” a new science fiction thriller from writer/director Martin Grof, explores that possibility via a mystery that defies you to believe the evidence of your own eyes. It’s a challenge to the very concept of the validity of personal perception. Lofty ideas, to be sure, albeit ones that aren’t always executed quite as cleanly as one might hope.

The premise is solid and the look is appealing – there are moments of impressive visual style. Unfortunately, there’s a sense of unnecessary convolution that mars much of the film, with the filmmakers prioritizing maintaining a sense of mystery above all else … including consistent narrative coherence.

Published in Movies

There’s something sacred about the rituals that come with saying goodbye, regardless of the culture from which you hail. No matter who you are or where you’re from, odds are that you or someone close to you has very specific ideas about what will happen when you die (logistical ideas, mind you, not metaphysical ones – we haven’t got all day).

But what happens when circumstances upend those expectations and you’re forced to rely on the kindness of strangers to fulfill them?

That’s the question that Irish filmmaker Aoife Crehan addresses in “The Last Right.” Written and directed by Crehan, it’s the story of a man whose personal journey of grief is thrown into chaos by the actions of the stranger sitting next to him on an airplane – chaos that may eventually lead him to discover the order he was always meant to experience.

It’s one of those movies that brings a lot to the table. You’ve got family secrets and dysfunction. You’ve got a little romance, plenty of situational comedy and even some heist vibes. All in service to telling a small story of what it means to follow through on a promise … even if it’s a promise you never really made.

Published in Movies
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