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My affinity for romantic comedies is well-documented at this point. I love a good rom-com. Always have. From the earliest screwball comedies to the current streaming revival of the genre, I remain a devoted fan. Sure, some are better than others, but to my mind, rom-coms are like pizza – even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good.

Now, there are those who would argue that rom-coms are simply continuous rehashing of the same old formulas. And honestly? That’s a valid argument to make in a lot of respects. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? If we like something, why wouldn’t we want more of it? And why mess with a good thing?

Unless you’re Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller. Then, by all means – mess away.

Their new film “Bros” – Eichner stars, Stoller directs and they share writing credit – is a romantic comedy that centers gay men in a way that we’ve never really seen in a mainstream studio release. It is a rom-com that recognizes the significant differences between LGBTQ+ relationships and traditionally heterosexual ones. This movie is not interested in shoehorning its queerness into a cishet space, instead opting to put the (admittedly exaggerated) reality on display.

Now, it’s indisputable that a movie like “Bros” has ideas and agendas that it seeks to advance. That’s true of every piece of art that tries to say something that hasn’t been said at scale before; this movie is no different. However, while the inclusivity of the message is certainly important, you still need to make, you know, a good movie.

And “Bros” is good. VERY good. It is wildly, raunchily funny, packed with solid sight gags and pop culture references and a ton of sex positivity. It is also surprisingly, almost shockingly heartfelt; this is a movie that unapologetically wears its emotions on its sleeve between (and sometimes during) the self-aware filthiness and general joie de vivre.

Published in Style

There’s a surprising amount of malleability when it comes to action movies. There’s lots of room within the genre to tell different types of stories. Some are self-serious while others are winking. Some are subtle while others are over the top. What they all share, however, is a sense of excitement, that feeling of pumping adrenaline. They are propulsive in whatever manner best suits them.

Sometimes, that propulsive vibe is more literal. Say, if the action takes place on a (very) fast train?

“Bullet Train,” directed by David Leitch from a Zak Olkewicz screenplay adapted from Kotaro Isaka’s 2010 novel “Maria Beetle,” brings that sense of relentless motion to candy-colored life on the big screen. It’s the story of a former assassin tasked with a simple job – procure a briefcase – on a high-speed train from Tokyo to Kyoto. However, it turns out that he’s far from the only one on this train with a vested interest in said briefcase, with scattered connections red-threading their way outward and inward.

Equal parts action movie and screwball comedy, it’s a movie that weds elaborate fight choreography with slapstick elements to create moments that are both bloody and hilarious. The dialogue is packed with snappy patter and the characters are the best sorts of caricatures. It is unhinged and garish and a hell of a lot of fun, even if the narrative doesn’t quite hold together.

Published in Movies

It has been one heck of a movie year.

I always struggle with assembling my best-of list when it comes to a year’s film offerings. There’s the fact that I often haven’t seen some of the most anticipated/acclaimed movies due to their year-end release dates – just off the top of my head, I can name PTA’s “Licorice Pizza,” Steven Spielberg’s upcoming “West Side Story” remake, Guillermo Del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” and, of course, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” as movies that likely would have a real shot at this list. There’s also plenty of stuff that I simply haven’t seen – there’s a LOT out there.

Even so, I’ve watched and reviewed something like 130 films so far in 2021 – I probably won’t get to 150, but it could be close – so I like to think that this is a decent list. Granted, it’s also a list that could be different depending on the day – I’m leaving off some worthy movies. In addition, this list is simply one person’s opinion. If your favorites don’t appear here, that’s no condemnation of your taste.

Now, if your favorites appear on my worst-of list – don’t worry, it’s coming in the next week or two – then there might be a tiny bit of condemnation.

So here you are – my top 21 films of 2021, listed in more or less alphabetical order. Please note that the total includes my honorable mentions.

Published in Cover Story

The relationship we as a society have with technology is a fraught one. Striking the balance between the digital and analog worlds is difficult – particularly for young people, whose relationship with tech and social media and all that those things entail is especially complex.

Complex enough that perhaps a well-meaning animated family film isn’t the best method of exploring it, perhaps?

Still, that’s what we get with “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” the new computer-animated film from 20th Century Studios. The story of a young man and his burgeoning friendship with a ubiquitous piece of technology, tech whose malfunctions and idiosyncrasies make it more capable of meaningful engagement than any amount of careful planning.

In essence, the bugs become features.

With an excellent voice cast led by Jack Dylan Grazer, Zach Galifinakis and others, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” is a pleasant enough diversion, though it never delves as deep into the issues it purports to explore as you might like. It wants to be thoughtful and entertaining, but it ultimately proves more successful at the latter than the former.

Published in Movies

I’ve reviewed my share of teen weepies over the years. And there will always be more, because the powers that be aren’t dumb – there is always going to be a market for movies where attractive young people deal with obstacles both real and imaginary.

I should be clear – I’m not one of these people who automatically assumes that something with a YA label is somehow less than. There are plenty of high-quality YA entertainments across all media out there; to my mind, a good story is a good story. The unfortunate truth, however, is that those same powers that be aren’t always that concerned with a good story – for them, the overwrought feelings and melodrama are more than enough to get the job done.

“The Ultimate Playlist of Noise,” newly streaming on Hulu, isn’t QUITE that cynical. Directed by Bennett Lasseter from a script by Mitchell Winkie, it’s a well-intentioned film that offers a perspective on what it means to be a young person losing something (or someone) that you love. It’s the story of a young man who, faced with the loss of his hearing, undertakes to hit the road and record a collection of favorite sounds before they’re gone (for him) forever.

(If this rings familiar, last year’s exceptional “Sound of Metal” covered a fair amount of the same ground, only in a more nuanced and much less saccharine way.)

Now, this movie isn’t actively bad the way so many films that fall into the YA feelings category are. It has some things to recommend it – exceptional sound design, for example, with a killer soundtrack – but for the most part, it lands in the muddy middle. Fine and forgettable.

Published in Style

When you hear that a movie has been on the shelf for an extended period, you’d be forgiven for having some doubts regarding its quality.

“Animal Crackers,” an animated film from Blue Dream Studios, might raise some of those questions. The movie – adapted from a graphic novel by Scott Christian Sava – was a collaborative effort between American and Chinese companies and was actually released in China a couple of years ago. However, numerous attempts at domestic distribution fell through in the subsequent years, with Netflix finally taking the reins and releasing it on their service.

It’s too bad, because this film doesn’t deserve the stigma that comes with its lengthy remove. It might not be great, but it’s plenty good enough to have received a theatrical release here. There are a lot of quality pieces here – an exceptional cast, some great music – and while the animation is a bit low-rent and the story is meh, I’ve sat through much worse films that received far more attention.

Published in Movies

Stop me if you heard this one: a professional wrestler who transitioned to acting makes an action comedy in which he shares the screen with a precocious child costar.

Ever since the double leg drop of Hulk Hogan’s “Suburban Commando” and “Mr. Nanny,” it seems that part of the formula for getting over a wrestler as a movie star involves that sort of kid-oriented flick. Hogan did it, the Rock did it (wildly successfully, it should be added) and now we’re seeing offerings from the likes of John Cena and Dave Bautista.

Bautista stars in “My Spy,” currently available on Amazon Prime Video and for rental, precisely the sort of odd couple kiddie comedy we’re talking about. Now, Bautista is an interesting case, in that he initially skipped a few steps in the wrestler-to-movie star plan thanks to his delightful turn as Drax in the MCU, but apparently he still has to follow the rules, even if he does it out of order.

As you might expect, there’s not much here that you haven’t seen before. The standard beats are all present, landing with a steady deliberateness. This is not a movie that surprises in terms of structure or story; you’re pretty sure how it’s all going to go from the top.

And yet … it’s actually not bad. Not great, mind you, but charming enough, thanks to Bautista and (particularly) his young costar. It’s all perfectly pleasant, with some dumb jokes and a couple of fun supporting turns and some fun kid-friendly(ish) action sequences. Not memorable, but in a vaguely pleasant way.

Honestly, it could have been worse.

Published in Movies

Few filmmakers have had as outsized an influence on 21st century comedy as Judd Apatow. For over a decade, the Apatovian voice led the way, introducing us to the players who would define the genre for their generation. It was a comedy of youth, shaggy and unapologetic and inspiring to those who would follow.

It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since Apatow helmed a movie, but it’s true – his last directorial foray was the 2015 Amy Schumer vehicle “Trainwreck.” Perhaps he was simply waiting for the proper inspiration to get back into the saddle.

Said inspiration has apparently arrived in the form of Pete Davidson, who teamed up with Apatow and Dave Sirus to co-write “The King of Staten Island,” a film based in large part on Davidson’s own life. It’s an emotionally charged and honest offering, one driven by the real feelings at the heart of its semi-autobiographical story.

Davidson – who also stars – is a polarizing figure in a lot of ways, but love him or hate him, it’s difficult to deny the quality of his work here. Apatow lets the story do the heavy lifting as far as the laughs go, allowing the flat-out exceptional cast to bring forth the very genuine emotions at the heart of things. It is funny and touching and surprisingly moving, a much more warts-and-all glimpse of the arrested development that the director so excels at presenting.

Published in Movies

The evolution of sport is a fascinating thing. In some ways, the games we love are trapped in amber. The size of the court or the field stays the same. Certain distances haven’t ever really changed – 60 feet from home to first, 10 yards for a first down, 10 feet from floor to rim.

But in other ways – the ways the games are actually played – have seen significant alterations over the years, even as most sporting stalwarts are staunch traditionalists with regards to how things are done. “We do them this way because that’s the way we’ve always done them” has long been the rallying cry of the athletic establishment.

But there will always be players who challenge the status quo. Players who, for whatever reason, deem it necessary to do things in a different way. Players who see the opportunity to find success by way of something new.

Players like Kenny Sailors.

You’d be forgiven for not recognizing that name, but as you’ll discover in the documentary “Jump Shot: The Kenny Sailors Story” – written and directed by Jacob Hamilton and available for rental at altavod.com – you are almost certainly familiar with his work. You see, there is a sizeable contingent out there that believes that Sailors, a man born nearly 100 years ago, is the inventor of the modern jump shot.

The doc itself is a brisk run through a remarkable life, one that features some names and faces you absolutely will recognize – NBA legends such as Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry (who also serves as an executive producer on the film) – as well as a number of other NBA figures, former players and league historians. Through archival footage, photographs and interviews, “Jump Shot” presents a strong case that in many ways, Sailors is the progenitor of how modern basketball is played.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 03 March 2020 12:41

Out of sight – ‘The Invisible Man’

It’s one of the most traditional truisms in horror cinema: sometimes the biggest scares come from what you don’t see.

“The Invisible Man” – written and directed by Leigh Whannell – takes that notion to heart both literally and figuratively. It is a daring and inspired take on the classic tale, one that captures the unsettling energy of the classic character while also viewing it through a different lens. That shift in perspective – from the terrorizer to the terrorized – results in a thought-provoking and compelling experience.

This film marks the first revisiting of Universal’s classic movie monsters since the aborted “Dark Universe” experiment began and ended with 2017’s abysmal “The Mummy.” The studio pivoted to a different idea, one that focuses more on the characters rather than worrying about a shared universe. It’s a smart play, made all the smarter by teaming up with genre producer extraordinaire Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions.

In the end, what we get is a film guided by an auteur’s singular vision and headlined by an absolutely dynamite lead performer. It is smart and evocative and scary as hell.

(Note: There’s a real chance that survivors of abuse will find many aspects of this movie triggering. Be aware.)

Published in Movies
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