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It sure does feel like the romantic comedy is back.

For a stretch, it seemed as though the rom-com was fading away. However, recent years have shown an upswing in these sorts of films, powered largely by the relentless content churn of Netflix. And in Hollywood, success begets success (or at least imitations of success). So we get more.

(Please note: this is NOT a complaint. I love romantic comedies and am thrilled that they seem to be bouncing back to an extent, though I highly doubt we’ll ever see a return to the glory days. Still, I’ll take what I can get, even if what I get isn’t always particularly original or exciting or … good.)

Next up in the parade of fun, forgettable, semi-disposable rom-coms is “Shotgun Wedding,” coming to us courtesy of Amazon Studios. The film – currently streaming on Amazon Prime – stars Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel and is directed by Jason Moore. It’s a throwback of sorts, a goofy action-packed romp that makes a lot of noise even though the ultimate outcome is never in doubt. You’ve seen this movie before, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a nice enough time seeing it again.

Published in Movies

A good comedy will make you laugh. A GREAT comedy will make you laugh and think. Unfortunately, too often, when a film aspires to the latter, they wind up not just failing in that regard, but whiffing on the former as well. Laughs have a tendency to evaporate when people try too hard.

And let me tell you – “You People” tries WAY too hard.

On paper, this Netflix movie should have been a slam dunk. The people involved have legitimate comedic bona fides, with Kenya Barris behind the camera directing from a script he co-wrote with Jonah Hill. Hill also stars, alongside some pretty heavy hitters – Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Duchovny, Nia Long and Eddie F---ing Murphy, among others. Plus, you’re looking at a film intended to mine humor from the culture clashes and social dynamics of the current day. All in all, looking pretty good.

Right up until you, y’know, watch the thing.

“You People” is one of those movies that can’t get out of its own way, trying to be all things to all audiences and instead failing to please anyone. There are some cringe-y comic moments and some feints at social awareness, but the film never manages to find anything resembling balance. The wild variances in tone make it difficult to settle in and wind up undermining whatever moments of humor might be found. It seems like a good faith effort, but one sorely wanting in terms of execution.

Published in Movies

It used to be that if a film was going to get a sequel, that sequel would happen soon after the original. No matter how successful the movie, if a follow-up hadn’t at least gone into production within a couple of years, it probably wasn’t going to happen.

Obviously, that is no longer the case. We’re seeing more and more of these legacy-quels, sequels landing a decade or more after the original. As the mainstream movie landscape shifted, the value of IP increased dramatically.

All that said, it’s tough to know exactly how to categorize “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the new film from director James Cameron. This new film comes out some 13 years after its predecessor (a film that, in case you’ve forgotten, remains the highest-grossing film of all time), but Cameron was TALKING about the sequel(s) even before the first film made well over $2 billion worldwide.

Still, “Avatar” was kind of old news, a movie that never really made a lasting pop cultural impact despite its massive commercial success, so it feels a little weird that we’re getting a sequel now, so long after the fact. Of course, this is James Cameron we’re talking about, who has demonstrated not just a mastery of blockbuster filmmaking, but of blockbuster sequel filmmaking – this is the dude who made “Aliens” and “Terminator 2,” after all. Bet against him at your peril.

And all things considered? “Avatar: The Way of Water” has the makings of yet another winning bet.

Published in Movies
Monday, 28 November 2022 15:33

Life on Mars – ‘Good Night Oppy’

We as humans have a tendency to project our own emotions and experiences onto those around us. And that’s not just our fellow people – we’ll anthropomorphize just about anything. Pets, wild animals, even inanimate objects; we have an inherent desire to create those connections.

And yet … sometimes, it’s the right thing to do.

“Good Night Oppy,” the new documentary from Amazon Studios, is a thoughtful exploration of that tendency by way of the Mars rover, of all things. This engaging and surprisingly heartfelt film from director Ryan White takes the viewer along as the rovers Spirit and Opportunity are conceived, constructed and catapulted into the cosmos.

Interviews with some of the major players in the rover program – the engineers who designed them, the scientists who directed them – are interspersed with archival footage from varying points along the two-decade timeline and some recreations intended to give more of a first-person understanding of the rovers’ experience.

It’s the sort of story that would have been compelling enough had the rovers simply fulfilled their three-month mission. Instead, these robots would spend the next decade-plus moving across the surface of the red planet, going above and beyond their original mission again and again. And as the years passed and the rovers kept going, the scientists and engineers on the ground began to view them as not just tools or equipment or machinery.

They were family.

Published in Tekk

*climbs on soapboax*

One of the trends we’ve seen in recent years is a tendency for certain populations to condemn films – often without even seeing them – for perceived messaging issues. These people are ridiculous and deserve whatever scorn or mockery you would like to send their way.

*climbs down from soapbox*

Everyone has a right to their opinion, even if that opinion comes from a place of ignorance. I’ll admit that it sometimes makes me want to overcompensate in the other direction, simply to balance the scales. I resist, but the temptation is there.

Take “Strange World,” the latest animated offering from Disney. There are a lot of people out there on the internet who take great umbrage at a few specific aspects of the film (you can probably guess what they are right now, but even if you can’t, read on and I bet you’ll figure it out). Those criticisms are misplaced.

This is a BEAUTIFUL movie, one whose animation allows for vivid and non-representational artistry. This film looks fantastic, bringing to life an unconventional landscape with bright color and vivid imagination. It has a wonderful central theme, digging into the notion of what it means to be a father and a son and how that can impact the way a life is lived moving forward. It is progressive in its messaging and features a wealth of quality vocal performances.

However – and it’s a BIG however – “Strange World” never fully comes together. The narrative is thin at best and threadbare at worst, with a few rather gaping plot holes stirred into the mix. The characterizations are charming in their way, but somewhat lacking in depth. That lack of story cohesion makes the film, well … a little bit dull in spots, to be honest. Stunning to behold, to be sure, but still - dull.

Published in Movies

“Oh great,” you say. “Another adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Just what we all need.”

I get it. I do. Now, I’m not one to bemoan the ongoing efforts to tell and retell the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge – I love “A Christmas Carol” in just about all of its forms – but I understand if you’re over it. And admittedly, there have been A LOT of different takes on the tale.

But even if you’re a bit of a … well … a bit of a Scrooge about this sort of thing, I urge you to give “Spirited” a chance.

The new film – directed by Sean Anders from a script he co-wrote with John Morris – is a different take on the classic narrative, one that focuses on the mechanisms behind the scenes of the story we all know and love. With a top-tier central pairing, a delightful supporting cast and a frankly astonishing amount of high-energy production numbers (that’s right folks – it’s a musical, and a lavish one at that), it’s a very different take on “A Christmas Carol.”

Different – and delightful.

Published in Movies
Monday, 21 November 2022 16:23

Food for thought – ‘The Menu’

There has always been a tendency to fetishize high-end experiences, but the proliferation of social media has only exacerbated that fact. Instead of just making the people in your direct circle jealous, you can become the envy of legions of strangers as well.

Take fine dining, for instance. Foodies have long been among us, but now, they can force themselves into your line of sight by way of Instagram photos. It’s not enough to enjoy a meal – you have to make sure that other people know that you’re enjoying that meal … and they’re not.

But what happens when an ideological tipping point is reached?

In “The Menu,” directed by Mark Mylod from a script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, we get a look at the next evolution in fine dining. A smart thriller with a satiric edge and a deceptively wicked sense of humor, it tells the tale of what happens when – apologies in advance – the tables are turned.

Playing out in chapters fashioned after courses, “The Menu” deconstructs the classist underpinnings inherent to the sort of high-concept, high-priced dining experiences that so many aspire to celebrate. It’s a slow burn build into chaos, a film whose seeming straightforwardness gradually evaporates as the proceedings play out. And by the time dessert is served, well … let’s just say you’ve never had a meal quite like this one.

Published in Style

Full disclosure: I was VERY apprehensive about this movie.

As someone who bears a deep and abiding affection for the 1983 holiday classic “A Christmas Story,” I’ve always been leery about any efforts to recapture that movie’s particular quirky magic. The combination of sepia-tinged nostalgia and the verisimilitude of a certain flavor of childhood has always appealed to me.

Let’s put it this way: people like me are the reason that the film gets those 24-hour marathons on basic cable.

Bringing a grown-up Ralphie back into the fold seemed risky. Sure, it was kind of cool that they brought back as many people from that first film’s cast as possible, but even that felt a little stuntish. Why risk the associations so many of us have with the original on a decades-later sequel?

Happily, I worried for nothing, because while this new film doesn’t fully measure up to its predecessor – and really, how could it? – “A Christmas Story Christmas” (currently streaming on HBO Max) manages to strike the balance between the old and the new, creating a different, yet still familiar holiday cinematic experience.

Published in Movies

One of the most fundamental aspects of being human is a desire for connection. We seek those connections through romance and family and friendship, all in an effort to feel just a little less alone in a world that is too often cold and uncaring. When we find those connections, and cultivate them, our sphere expands and the space through which we move becomes just a little warmer.

But what happens when we lose those connections? And worse – what if we don’t even understand why?

“The Banshees of Inisherin,” the latest film from writer-director Martin McDonagh, asks that very question. And it isn’t about death or divorce or anything like that. It’s not about the loss of a family member or a spouse. No, this is about what happens when someone’s friend – their very dear friend – decides to not be a friend anymore.

From this seemingly simple idea, McDonagh unleashes multitudes. It’s an exploration of the toxic repression of emotion that was the masculine ideal for so many generations and how damaging the results of that repression can be. It delves into the value of connection, both in terms of celebrating its presence and mourning its absence. All of it refracted through the pitch-black prism of McDonagh’s dark and tragic sense of humor and brought to effusive, excruciating life by two actors at the top of their game.

Published in Style

One of the longstanding truths about the realm of comic books is that death isn’t really death. With vanishingly few exceptions, the death of a Marvel or DC character tends to be more of a temporary setback than any kind of permanent loss.

Of course, that isn’t how the real world works.

When Chadwick Boseman passed away, we lost a truly gifted artist. We lost someone whose immense talents were evident in everything he did, from Jackie Robinson to James Brown to Thurgood Marshall to, yes, T’Challa, the Black Panther. An irreplaceable star in the cinematic firmament was extinguished too soon.

And yet … the show must go on.

The massive critical, commercial and cultural success of 2018’s “Black Panther” – as well as its prominent placement in the mythology of the Marvel Cinematic Universe write large – meant that there was always going to a sequel, but what shape could that now take? Was it possible to make a film that both respected the memory of its fallen star and carried forward the singular and general narratives? Could even a filmmaker as talented as Ryan Coogler pull this off?

The answer to those final two questions … is yes.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a fascinating work of popular culture. Somehow, the parties involved have crafted a superhero film that is good in all the ways that these films need to be good – big action set pieces, memorable characters, some decent laugh lines, a story that works in micro and macro contexts – yet still maintains the more sophisticated effort to explore thornier societal ideas. All that, while also being immensely respectful and reverent of Chadwick Boseman’s memory. Threading that needle would seem nigh-impossible – but Coogler does it.

Published in Movies
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