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It’s Oscar time again!

This year marks the 92nd Academy Awards, with the ceremony set to take place starting at 8 p.m. on the night of February 9. Over nine decades of Hollywood’s biggest night of self-celebration and self-congratulation. Nearly a century of dazzling gowns and dapper tuxedos and impactful acceptance speeches and inane interviews on the red carpet. Generations of excitement and disappointment.

As someone who loves the movies, I love the Oscars. Yes, they’ve grown increasingly out of touch over the years, but so what? There’s something exciting about rewarding the best of the best – even if what seems like the best of the best today might not seem so great later on down the road.

This marks the 13th Oscar preview I’ve written for The Maine Edge. I’ve been doing this for a baker’s dozen years. You might think that means I know something. And maybe I do … but not that much. While I’ve gotten pretty good at determining just who is going to win, the reality is that there are always going to be some surprises. That’s the joy of it – you just never know.

Here’s a look at my predictions for the 2020 Academy Awards. I've included write-ups for the big ones and just winners for the down-ballot stuff. As always, bear in mind that my picks here are for who I think WILL win, not who I think SHOULD win; this year especially feels like one where there’s some disconnect between the two.

Published in Cover Story

Sometimes, films come along that are outsized in the universal acclaim they receive. These movies are capital-G Great by consensus, leaving seemingly every single person who sees them breathless with effusive praise. These films are heaped with accolades and celebrated from on high.

But it’s rare – truly rare – that a film not only earns every accolade, every commendation and compliment, but somehow manages to also come off as somehow underappreciated. Rare … but not unheard of.

And here we arrive at Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite.” Simply put, it is a masterpiece. It is a movie that deserves consideration not only as 2019’s best film, but as one of the decade’s best. Hell, one of the 21st century’s best. It is a brilliantly conceived and meticulously constructed piece, driven by an immersive narrative, an exquisite aesthetic and outstanding performances. It is smart and funny and brutal and cruel, a tense and complicated work that weaves together family drama, social commentary and sly wit. It is a film of challenges and contradictions – an intimate explosion.

(Full disclosure: “Parasite” is a South Korean film and hence is subtitled for American audiences. There are some who will automatically dismiss it because of that. I implore you – do not let your perceived issues with foreign language films prevent you from seeing this movie. It is beautiful and haunting no matter what tongue you speak.)

Published in Movies

We can all agree that no one does charming scumbags like Guy Ritchie, yes? While he certainly has other gifts as a filmmaker, the truth is that Ritchie is never better than when he’s throwing wave after wave of idiosyncratic and charismatic criminals at you.

His latest film (which he both directed and co-wrote) is “The Gentlemen,” a skewed and stylized look at what happens when a career criminal decides to divest himself of his illicit holdings, only to find himself forced to do his own particular brand of business with (and against) those who seek to profit from his departure at his own expense.

With an all-star cast led by Matthew McConaughey and wholly invested in Ritchie’s vision, “The Gentlemen” is a brutal and very funny film, off-kilter and convoluted in the most entertaining ways. It might not ascend to the level of the filmmaker's most beloved works, but it’s still a heck of a good time.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 29 January 2020 14:04

‘The Turning’ screws up a classic

Adapting a literary classic for film is always a fraught proposition. Making the transition from page to screen is a delicate, tricky process. Sometimes, it is wildly successful and we get a film that not only represents the source material, but transcends it, becoming a classic in its own right.

Other times, we get “The Turning.”

Based on the 1898 Henry James novella “The Turn of the Screw,” this film is intended to be a modern update of that classic Gothic ghost story. A tale of psychological intrigue, it’s an atmospheric and insular work, one that relies heavily on the creepiness inherent to its setting and circumstances for its fright factor. It is a slow-moving, slow-developing work; the glacial nature of its pacing can present a challenge to a reader.

Now imagine that same glacial pacing unfolding on screen. It simply doesn’t play, despite the best efforts of those involved. But there are only so many rea/not-real jump scares that we can take before it all starts to blend together into rote repetition. And that’s all we get from director Floria Sigismondi, working from a screenplay by twin brother writing team Carey and Chad Hayes. It’s a meandering, unfocused ramble that doesn’t seem to understand what made the original work scary in the first place.

Published in Movies

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come … back … for you?

That’s the question some might have been asking themselves upon hearing that there would be a third installment in the Will Smith-Martin Lawrence buddy cop action comedy “Bad Boys” series. With 17 years having elapsed since the last entry, would this latest offering work? Would the high-octane rapid-fire profane chemistry of the two leads hold up? What about the new directing team of Adil and Bilall? Would they be able to fill the explosion-and-bikini-filled shoes of action auteur Michael Bay?

Do we need another “Bad Boys” movie?

Ultimately, the answer is “no” – and that’s OK. We don’t need another “Fast & Furious” movie. We don’t need another Marvel/DC movie. We don’t need another cartoon musical. But they’re still fun, and that’s what “BBFL” is. It’s fun. A lot more fun than it has any right to be, in fact.

This film is a throwback to a different era of action movie, one anchored and elevated by the still-strong comedic dynamic between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. It somehow manages to simultaneously acknowledge and ignore the passage of time, a look at two guys coming to terms with the realities of aging while ALSO still clearly being far and away the coolest dudes in the room. It’s ridiculous and sublime and unexpectedly honest, close to the best-case scenario for a story that’s been gathering dust for nearly two decades.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 22 January 2020 14:16

‘Dolittle’ does even less

When a once-hyped big-budget movie sees its release time moved from prime real estate to the January tundra, it’s probably safe to assume that things haven’t worked out the way anyone anticipated. It’s not hard to tell when a studio has made the grim decision to cut its losses.

“Dolittle” was obviously intended to be a tentpole, a spring/summer release meant to kick off a franchise. And with no-longer-Tony-Stark Robert Downey Jr. on board, it probably felt like an easy win, a no-brainer.

Instead, it’s a meandering and pointless exercise in formulaic filmmaking. It is utterly lacking in any sort of spark, a flat and listless story told without any real excitement or urgency. There’s zero in the way of originality and even less in the way of engagement despite an absolutely all-star cast. Younger viewers might get some giggles, but even they will likely sense that something doesn’t sit right.

Basically, “Dolittle” is a dumb movie that doesn’t really care how dumb it is.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 15 January 2020 14:11

War is hell – ‘1917’

I’m always a little suspicious when I hear a movie being lauded as a “technical achievement.” Not because I don’t value the technical aspects of filmmaking – quite the opposite, actually. It’s more that I worry that a film relies on technique over narrative, rather than letting each elevate the other. It doesn’t matter how beautifully a film is made if we don’t care about the tale being told.

“1917,” directed by Sam Mendes from a script he co-wrote alongside Krysty Wilson-Cairns, was that movie. I’d been hearing for months about the film’s aesthetic and cinematographic ambition, the fact that the entire thing was constructed to look like a single unbroken take. Impressive, sure, but if we aren’t engaged by the story and the characters … who cares?

Turns out I needn’t have worried, because while yes, it is an incredible technical achievement that elicits legitimate awe in spots, it is also a compelling story, as we follow along on a seemingly impossible mission laid at the feet of young men who can’t possibly be prepared for such demands, yet ultimately venture forth in an effort to do what’s right.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 15 January 2020 14:09

Depth charge - ‘Underwater’

The ocean can be scary.

Specifically, the deep ocean. We’re talking Mariana Trench deep. Challenger Deep deep. Miles down where the pressure is so intense that only particular brands of strange and strong life can exist. In many ways, the ocean floor is as alien to mankind as the moon. Perhaps more so.

As such, it makes sense that such a place would inspire some sci-fi/horror storytelling. The latest offering in that vein is “Underwater,” directed by William Eubank and starring Kristen Stewart. One might suspect that it’s your usual mid-January fare, but don’t be fooled by the release date – it isn’t a great movie, but there’s enough here to warrant a look from sci-fi fans.

There are shades of other, better films here – classics like “The Abyss” and the very obvious influence of the first two “Alien” movies – and “Underwater” occasionally wanders into the realm of the derivative. Still, the film is stylistically interesting, and Stewart is surprisingly engaging in a role that’s a bit of a departure for her. Again, not great, but not terrible either.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 07 January 2020 12:46

‘Little Women,’ big feelings

No matter how voracious a cultural consumer we might be, the reality is that there’s just too much out there for anyone to experience it all. Too many books to read, to many songs to hear, too many films and plays and shows to watch. There will always be gaps.

For instance, I myself have a “Little Women”-shaped hole in my own cultural experience. Despite the relative ubiquity of Louisa Mae Alcott’s classic novel and its multitude of film and stage adaptations, I had never directly engaged with the story. I never read the novel, nor saw it on stage or screen. Yes, I had a very basic awareness due to its cultural presence, but it boiled down to basic timeframe, number of sisters and the plot point that Rachel spoils for Joey on an episode of “Friends.”

So I wondered what kind of experience I would have seeing this new “Little Women” cinematic adaptation. It comes courtesy of Greta Gerwig, who wrote the screenplay as well as directed, and features an absolutely stacked ensemble cast. Obviously, the odds were in favor of this being a good movie. But would my lack of familiarity hinder my enjoyment?

Turns out I worried for nothing, because not only is “Little Women” a good film, it is a GREAT film. It is masterfully constructed and beautifully composed, featuring a wonderful period aesthetic and absolutely incredible performances. It stays true to the truths of the material’s history while also finding ways to endow those truths with elements tied to our own modern world. It’s an incredible feat of filmmaking, one that is almost certainly even better than you think it is, no matter how good you believe the movie to be.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 07 January 2020 12:43

Sandler sparkles in ‘Uncut Gems’

It’s easy to poke fun at Adam Sandler. His output in recent years has been largely of the “working vacation with my friends” variety, comedies that are basic and kind of lazy. Oh, and not particularly funny. Sandler has found a formula that works for him; the dude works only as hard as he has to, contenting himself with good enough.

Of course, it’s ALSO easy to forget that when Sandler is given the right material and given a proper push, he can be brilliant. It’s been a while, but we’ve finally got another great performance to add to the list.

“Uncut Gems,” directed by filmmaking brothers Josh and Bennie Safdie from a script written by the Safdies and Ronald Brownstein, is a visceral and gritty drama, a moment-in-time period piece set all the way back in the bygone time of 2012. It is a character study of a man with little character, a self-absorbed degenerate who can’t help but succumb to his own baser impulses. It is a brutal, ugly story, driven by a collection of terrible people, few of whom possess any kind of truly redeeming qualities.

Published in Movies
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