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Tuesday, 27 February 2018 17:00

‘Game Night’ a big winner

One could argue that the state of cinematic comedy – at least in terms of mainstream wide-release offerings – has been at a bit of an ebb recently. Sure, there have been a few standouts, but for the most part, we’ve been seeing films that are willing to rely on crassness and/or rapid-fire references as crutches rather than concentrate on storytelling or character or, you know – being funny.

That’s what makes “Game Night” – co-directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein from a script by Mark Perez – so refreshing. It’s smart and funny, driven by talented actors bringing something real to the table. It has its crass moments and is packed with referential nods, sure, but it’s all in service to driving the narrative and making actual jokes. Dark laughs, surprisingly engaging set pieces and sharp plot twists – all the pieces fit.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 21 February 2018 11:44

The brave brilliance of ‘Black Panther’

There’s no disputing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has established real dominance over the box office. These movies – nearing 20 in number – appear to have cracked the code for ensuring ongoing success.

Some might argue that the MCU has become too formulaic in its approach, that it has become a bit of a one-size-fits-all situation that doesn’t leave a lot of room for individual filmmakers to make their mark. And I might even concede that point … to a certain extent.

But then a movie like “Black Panther” comes along, a movie that somehow manages to operate within the established MCU structure while also being something wholly and uniquely itself. It’s a film that addresses serious and complex ideas while still existing in a world of superpowered beings and futuristic technology. We’ve seen superhero space operas and superhero paranoid thrillers and superhero buddy comedies.

And now, thanks to the taut direction of Ryan Coogler, the sharp, intricate screenplay of Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole and the performances of a top-to-bottom outstanding cast led by Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, we’ve seen something altogether new.

Something new, thought-provoking … and spectacular.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 21 February 2018 11:42

‘Early Man’ is right on time

Animated movies have become been big business in recent years. Yes, the Disney juggernaut has been rolling for decades now, but in the past 20 years or so, we’ve seen an explosion of cartoon content – these movies have been getting bigger in scale and box office scope, with nine-figure budgets producing ten-figure returns.

But that’s not Aardman Animation’s style.

The studio’s newest feature is “Early Man,” directed by Nick Park of “Wallace & Grommit” fame. It’s another lovely example of the whimsical simplicity that marks so many of their works, short and feature alike. It’s got that wonderful stop-motion look, a dynamite voice cast and the signature cheekily innocent wit that has become a hallmark of Park’s work.

Published in Movies

There are always obstacles when it comes to putting a real-life occurrence onto the silver screen. Mining the truth for drama while still maintaining that connection to what really happened is a delicate balance, one that isn’t at all easy to consistently strike.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 13 February 2018 17:54

Bunny buffoonery - ‘Peter Rabbit’

Bringing beloved characters to life is a tricky business. You have to balance respect for the source material with the necessity of new energy. You can’t tell the same old story, but you also bear a certain modicum of responsibility to that story.

The works of Beatrix Potter have been beloved by generations of children. Her books have delighted kids for decades, creating characters that inspire fond memories in young and old alike.

So if you’re going to make a movie about Peter Rabbit, well … be careful.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 07 February 2018 14:36

‘The Shape of Water’ beautiful and bizarre

It’s a rare thing for a filmmaker to be able to bring together diverse sensibilities in the service of furthering their own particular voice. Finding the balance between craftsmanship and commercialism is never an easy thing to do.

And when I say commercialism, I’m not necessarily referring to box office success (although that’s part of it). What I mean is the art of making commercial fare – a very different skill set than that used in the making of more indie-minded films.

Guillermo del Toro is as good at walking that line as any filmmaker in his generation. He’s probably the best we’ve seen since the heyday of Spielberg. And “The Shape of Water” is the culmination of that journey, precisely filling the Venn diagram overlap between those styles – equal parts “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy.”

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 07 February 2018 14:12

‘Winchester’ a half-cocked horrorshow

With a certain type of horror movie, one of the most unsettling parts happens right at the beginning. Before the film even really starts, in fact. It’s when you see the words “Inspired by true events” or some variation on that theme.

Published in Movies

Casual comedy fans – particularly those of a younger generation – may not be familiar with Doug Kenney. However, anyone who has any interest in the comedic craft has reaped the benefits of his groundbreaking work.

Kenney – who co-founded the subversive humor magazine The National Lampoon before branching out into stage, radio and film – was a weirdo shooting star in the comedy world, one who shone brightly and ultimately burned out too fast.

“A Futile and Stupid Gesture” – based on Josh Karp’s book of the same name – tells the story of Kenney’s rapid ascent and subsequent fall. Directed by David Wain, the film goes out of its way to paint its subject as a genius, a true icon, but despite its sprawling efforts – including a deep and talented cast - it never quite goes beyond a surface-level exploration of Kenney. The result is a serviceable biopic with a few flashes; not terrible, but not nearly what we might have hoped it to be.

Published in Movies

It seems as though Hollywood’s recent fascination with adapting dystopian young adult fiction for the big screen is finally petering out. Despite the monster success of “The Hunger Games,” most of the follow-ups have fallen apart along the way (a la “Divergent”) or never really gotten off the ground in the first place (“I Am Number Four;” “The 5th Wave;” “The Mortal Instruments;” etc.).

And in the middle, we find the “Maze Runner” trilogy.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 23 January 2018 17:42

‘Den of Thieves’ a humdrum heist

There’s a joy to watching heist movies that is tough to find in any other cinematic subgenre. They’re propulsive by nature, with an inherent structure that allows for a steady build to an elaborate and satisfying climax.

Well … hopefully satisfying, anyway.

See, while there’s a lot to love about good heist movies (and even bad ones, really), there are few things worse than a forgettable heist movie, a film that cobbles together a threadbare collection of influences from superior offerings into something that simply … is.

Published in Movies
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