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Monday, 14 December 2020 15:20

Two Drews can't save ‘The Stand In’

Hollywood has a long history of actors playing multiple roles in the same film. Sometimes, it is for the sake of mining the possibilities of two (or more) people resembling one another – mistaken identities or identity swaps or the like. Other times, it’s just because Eddie Murphy or Adam Sandler wants a wider runway to do whatever goofy stuff they want to do.

“The Stand In” is the latest entry into the genre. This time, it’s Drew Barrymore playing two different roles in a story about a once-famous actress and her relentlessly sunny stand in. Directed by Jamie Babbit from a screenplay by Sam Bain, it’s an effort to document the deleterious impact of fame on people, doing so by way of yet another riff on the Mark Twain classic “The Prince and the Pauper.”

Unfortunately, the film legitimately struggles to decide what sort of tone it wishes to strike. The vacillation from comedy to drama and back again is constant and almost always without warning, leaving viewers with narrative whiplash. Despite Barrymore’s willingness to go for it – and she does give it her all – that lack of consistency leaves you wondering just what the aim was. Of course, if the goal was a movie that can’t figure out if it’s “Bowfinger” or “Single White Female,” well … mission accomplished?

Published in Movies
Monday, 14 December 2020 15:17

'Gap Year' explores alternate path to NBA

When the NBA implemented its “One and Done” rule in 2006, it altered the draft landscape. Players could no longer enter the draft directly out of high school; they had to be both a) at least 19 years old, and b) at least one year removed from the graduation of their high school class.

In practice, this essentially meant that players would go play for a college team for one year before making their way to the draft. However, playing in college, while perhaps the most conventional choice, was not the only one.

Players had the option of playing professionally overseas for a year. And the NBA’s G-League developmental league also presented an opportunity to play for pay in that year, albeit considerably less lucratively than a foreign league.

But then there’s Darius Bazley, who followed an entirely different path – one that may lead to a different sort of opportunity for other players down the road.

The new documentary “Gap Year,” directed by T.J. Regan and Josh Kahn, follows Bazley as he embarks on that different opportunity. Instead of going to college for a year or heading overseas or to the G-League, Bazley embraced a heretofore unseen path – an internship.

A million-dollar internship.

Published in Sports

As with literally every other aspect of our lives, 2020 has been a weird one when it comes to movies.

Despite the fact that movie theaters have been largely dormant for much of the year, we’ve still had the opportunity to watch a LOT of movies. I myself will have seen and reviewed more than 150 films in 2020. A lot of them have been good and some have been great.

Many of those great ones appear on this list.

Now, we’ve got 20 of my favorites from 2020 here. I’ve also included some honorable mentions, many of which might well have landed on this list had I written it on a different day. There’s a lot of fungibility here and the margins between most of these are VERY thin. Still, this is pretty close – at the very least, you can rest assured that these are among the films that I enjoyed and/or engaged with most in this very weird, very long year.

(And don’t worry – I’ll be doing my annual worst-of list as well. I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of all that fun. You’ll get that in a week or two.)

So here you have it – 20 of my 2020 favorites.

(Please note: this list is in alphabetical order rather than order of preference.)

Published in Cover Story
Monday, 07 December 2020 16:53

Write hard, aim low – ‘Mank’

The term “movie magic” gets bandied about pretty regularly, even in these cynical times. It is intended to evoke the sense of awe and wonder that is often born of the cinematic arts, but it should also be noted that there’s a darkness that sometimes goes hand in hand with magic – a darkness rendered all the more deeply courtesy of film’s flickering light.

“Mank” is a film that is unafraid to delve into that darkness, exploring the bleak underside of the rapid rise of early Hollywood. Directed by David Fincher from a screenplay written by his late father Jack Fincher, “Mank” is ostensibly the story of Herman Mankiewicz, the writer (or co-writer, depending on how much stock you put into early-70s Pauline Kael) of the iconic “Citizen Kane,” but in many ways, that’s merely the tip of the iceberg.

“Mank” is an ode to old Hollywood, but not the sort of self-celebration we so often see from stories set in that time and place. Instead, we get a glimpse into the unseemly sleaziness that was so thoroughly shot through the industry at that time, with tyrannical studio heads and other assorted titans freely and unrelentingly taking advantage of those with even a modicum less power than they possessed. It is a story of one man’s journey from respectability to sellout to burnout to oddly noble flameout, all set against the backdrop of a time that has been cynically romanticized by an industry that loves nothing more than patting itself on the back.

Published in Movies
Monday, 07 December 2020 16:51

The beat goes off – ‘Sound of Metal’

What happens to us when circumstances leave us unable to do the thing that we believe defines us? How can we recover from such a loss – particularly when that loss seemingly destroys the foundation on which the rest of our identity is built?

That question serves as the central concept in “Sound of Metal,” a new film currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Written and directed by Darius Marder, it’s the story of a heavy metal drummer who must deal with an unexpected and rapid deterioration of his hearing, a devastating blow that pushes the former addict toward a potential relapse.

It’s a powerful exploration of what it means to lose what defines us, as well as what we might do to regain that definition and ultimately achieve a redefinition. It also looks at what it means to not only need help, but to be willing to accept that help. Anchored by a transcendent lead performance and an immersive and innovative sound design, “Sound of Metal” hits hard.

Published in Movies

There are some movies that are compulsively watchable. These are the films from which you simply cannot tear your eyes. Often, this magnetism springs from the exquisite quality of what has been made, a combination of narrative and aesthetic excellence that demands to be experienced. Sometimes, however – not frequently, but every once in a while – that watchability is born of the exact opposite. In these moments, we get a movie that, despite being an abject and utter mess, nevertheless holds your attention.

“Love, Weddings & Other Disasters” is one of those rare watchable shambles, an aptly-titled car-crash of a movie experience that practically demands to be rubbernecked.

Written and directed by Dennis Dugan – best known as a longtime collaborator with Adam Sandler – “Love, Weddings & Other Disasters” is a misguided effort to walk the well-worn path of the intersecting storyline rom-com. The best of those films connect the dots with grace and subtlety, but as you might have already surmised, that’s not what this film does. Instead, we get a series of barely-connected narratives that each play out in their own rambling fashion before a hurried and not-particularly-inspired finale that leaves the viewer wondering what the hell just happened.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, all you want is to find a movie that everyone in the family can watch safely, a movie that will prove pleasant enough – or at least tolerable – to everyone watching. You’re not looking for cutting-edge or challenging or anything like that. Just a movie.

If that’s where you’re at, then “Godmothered” is precisely what you seek.

The new film – currently streaming on Disney+ - tells the story of a wannabe fairy godmother venturing into the world in hopes of helping someone find their happily ever after. This despite having neither sufficient training nor permission to do so. It’s the kind of light and fluffy fare that we usually get from the live-action side of Disney (non-IP edition), executed with the same efficient competence that we’ve come to expect.

Now, this adherence to the in-house rubrics and general formula is never going to result in a great movie. What it will get you is a decent movie – a category into which “Godmothered” most assuredly falls. Directed with workmanlike skill by Sharon Maguire from a vanilla script written by Kari Granlund and Melissa K. Stack, it’s a movie that provides a perfectly nice time – and that you will likely never need to watch again.

Published in Movies

Nearly half-a-century ago, an event took place that has captivated and confounded people ever since. Something so outlandish, so unbelievable, so inscrutable that it can’t help but be fascinating even now, almost 50 years since it happened.

All I have to say is a name: D.B. Cooper. If you know, you know. If you don’t, well – he’s the man who, back in 1971, executed what remains the only unsolved skyjacking in the history of American aviation. He leapt into the night carrying $200,000 dollars, the plane in the skies over Washington state … and was never seen again.

“The Mystery of D.B. Cooper” – written and directed by John Dower – is a documentary that offers its viewers a potential solution to its titular question. Or rather – four solutions. Dower’s film features four primary subjects, each of whom shares the unshakeable belief that they know who D.B. Cooper was.

And they have four different answers.

Published in Adventure

One of the things that I’ve learned from being part of the larger critical discourse surrounding movies is that I generally align with the consensus view of my peers. That’s not to say I’m in lockstep with the crowd – we all have our differences – but a lot of the time, we’re in the same neighborhood.

Not always, though.

Take the new Netflix film “Hillbilly Elegy,” directed by Ron Howard from a script by Vanessa Taylor adapted from J.D. Vance’s 2016 memoir of the same name. This story of a young man’s connection to his Kentucky roots and how those roots impact his current circumstances as a student at Yale Law School has been largely panned by critics, with many viewing it as a transparent awards grab lacking in soul and substance.

I respectfully disagree.

I’m not calling this a perfect movie by any stretch – it has its share of issues to be sure. But it is a much better movie than it has been deemed by critics, a story of poverty and its generational impacts that at least tries to address the emotional, social and economic realities that come from being poor. It isn’t always successful, but even the misplaced efforts merit a degree of credit.

Published in Movies

There are few tighter bindings than family ties. No matter how we might try to escape them, no matter how we might want and need to separate ourselves from them, for so many of us, they are unavoidable. But while these ties are ostensibly spun from love, there’s an undeniable toxicity inherent to many of them.

“Uncle Frank,” the new film from writer/director Alan Ball, offers an illustration of how deeply those toxic waters can flow, even as those who seek to escape prove unable to extract themselves from the unrelenting riptide of familial dynamics; it shows just how much of ourselves we’re willing to hide in order to find some sort of connection with the ones who raised us.

With a titular character living a double life – closeted with his South Carolina kin, out and proud in New York City – we see what happens when the oft-avoided cultural clash between those two worlds is no longer so easily dismissed, as well as when a naïve young member of the family inadvertently discovers the truth about her beloved uncle. It’s about small-town social mores in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, a snapshot of what it means to be true to yourself – including the consequences.

Published in Movies
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