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Tuesday, 07 January 2020 12:42

Holding a grudge against ‘The Grudge’

It’s never a good sign when a movie is released in early January. Traditionally, that stretch of the calendar is reserved for the films that, for whatever reason, studios have decided to abandon. They’re done, so they might as well be released; however, they drop with little fanfare, abandoned to fend for themselves against the remaining December blockbusters and the expanded releases of late-season prestige fare.

On a related note, I saw “The Grudge.”

This film – a remake of the 2004 Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle of the same name, which was itself a remake of Takashi Shimizu’s 2002 original – is the epitome of an early January release. It’s an unnecessary remake of a mid-00s ripoff of an excellent Japanese horror film; a copy of a copy of a copy means we’re losing a little coherence.

Or a lot of coherence, because there certainly isn’t much in this new movie, written and directed by the much-better-than-this Nicholas Pesce. The story exists only to prop up a bunch of stitched-together jump scares. There’s little in the way of thoughtfulness, just a formulaic paint-by-numbers meander through the narrative; there’s an attempt to disguise the rudimentary nature of the plot via back-and-forth timeline jumping, but that only serves to further obscure any possibility of the audience engaging.

Published in Movies

Welcome to the first Maine Edge cover story of the Roaring (20)20s!

As such, I thought we might have some fun looking back at the last decade’s best cinematic offerings. I’ve been reviewing movies here since 2008. In the ‘10s, I wrote about movies roughly a thousand times. Yeah – I’m as shocked as you are. That’s a lot of ink spilled in celebration and derision of Hollywood’s finest.

So yes, while this story might be a little late to the party, it was important to me to share my Best of the Decade movie list. As per usual with this sort of feature, there’s a real chance that this list could be a little different depending on the day. However, this feels like the right list.

Here they are, in alphabetical order. Have a look!

Published in Cover Story

This isn’t going to be my usual movie review.

As you undoubtedly know, “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker” has landed in theaters, purporting to mark the end of the saga begun over 40 years ago. A saga that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Seriously - the first movie I ever saw (or at least, the first movie of which I have any memory of seeing) is “The Empires Strikes Back.” We were at the drive-in on outer Hammond Street; I was four years old, curled up under the rear windshield, half-dozing due to the lateness of the hour, yet unwilling to allow my eyes to remain closed as this marvelous thing unfolded before my eyes.

In the decades since, I have devoted considerable energies to the consumption of “Star Wars.” I watched the films of the original trilogy countless times on VHS. I paid multiple visits to theaters when the remastered versions returned to the big screen. I saw the prequels and convinced myself they were good even when in my heart I knew. And I’ve experienced with delight the recent reintroduction of new films.

Years of my life, shared with these people and places. And I’m hardly alone – there are millions of us out there, each with our own very specific connection to the Star Wars saga. So many people, all with a deep-seated devotion to the story; our feelings might be similar, but all are unique.

The uniqueness of those individual connections are a big part of why the response to “The Rise of Skywalker” – and really, to all the post-prequel films to some extent – has been so scattered. The truth is that we all bring our own feelings to the table when it comes to “Star Wars.” There’s no way for a piece of popular art to elicit the desired response from all those who seek it – it’s simply impossible.

Published in Movies
Monday, 23 December 2019 22:25

Who let the ‘Cats’ out?

Sometimes, you see a trailer for a movie that captures your attention for all the wrong reasons. You find yourself questioning what possible series of increasingly poor decisions would lead to a world in which this movie came to be. You’re asking fundamental questions like “How?” and – perhaps more importantly – “Why?”

Those are the feelings that bubbled up from deep inside most reasonable people upon first viewing the trailer for “Cats,” director Tom Hooper’s star-studded adaptation of the (somewhat bewilderingly) beloved Broadway musical. Watching CGI-blended cat/human monstrosities gambol and cavort across the screen for just those few moments raised far more questions than any piece of art could ever answer.

Here’s the thing – that ain’t even the half of it.

“Cats” is a tortured fever dream of a film, the sort of nightmarish cinematic experience that feels like the unholy offspring of a coked-up studio executive notes session and a dark ritual intended to summon forth the Elder Gods. I walked out of this movie expecting my phone to ring, with a voice on the other end speak-singing a semi-melodic song informing me that I would die in seven days.

We are all cursed. We are all damned. We are all Cats.

Published in Movies
Monday, 23 December 2019 22:23

‘Bombshell’ not quite a dud

With the cultural pervasiveness that came from the #MeToo movement, it was only a matter of time before we started seeing cinematic representations of those narratives.

“Bombshell,” directed by Jay Roach from a screenplay by Charles Randolph, is one such movie. A dramatization of the story of sexual harassment behind the scenes at Fox News, the film stars Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman, each of whom portrays a woman impacted by the behind-the-scenes actions of men in power.

Unfortunately, while the performances are undeniably excellent across the board, the framework in which those performances exist is somewhat lacking. There’s a thinness to the proceedings that undermines the overall experience, with motivational and behavioral questions left unanswered in a manner that renders the film rather unsatisfying.

 

Published in Movies

With Netflix out here throwing blank checks at cinematic auteurs, asking nothing of these filmmakers but for them to be themselves, there’s no disputing that we’re seeing some pretty incredible things spring forth from that creative freedom.

Martin Scorsese gave us “The Irishman,” a late-career masterpiece that many might not have expected Marty had left in him. Alfonso Cuaron made the beautiful and haunting semi-autobiography that was “Roma,” Noah Baumbach got to Baumbach in front of exponentially more eyeballs than ever before with “Marriage Story.” The list goes on.

However, “incredible” doesn’t always mean “good.”

This brings us to “6 Underground,” the film that is what happens when the auteur with the blank check is noted explosion fetishist Michael Bay. It is a loud, smug, barely comprehensible wad of action movie; the vibe is as though the entire thing was conceptualized on a cocktail napkin at whatever place exists on the spectrum between a Hooters and a strip club. Oh, and the lead is Ryan Reynolds playing Ryan Reynolds.

In this case, “incredible” basically means “I do not find it credible that such a movie like this exists.” By that definition, holy crap is this movie incredible.

Published in Movies

When “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” came out a couple of years ago, I was as surprised as anyone when it turned out to actually be pretty good. Who’d have thought a two-decades-later sort-of-sequel to a mid-90s kids movie would turn out to be both entertaining and WILDLY lucrative?

Well, having the Rock doesn’t hurt.

After that film did just shy of a billion dollars at the global box office, it was obviously going to get a sequel of its own. That sequel has arrived, as “Jumanji: The Next Level” has hit theaters.

And guess what? This one’s pretty good too. Not as good as the last one, perhaps, but solid. One assumes it will also make hundreds of millions of dollars.

Published in Movies

Telling true stories via movies has always been complicated. On the one hand, when one hears those words – “true story” – one has certain expectations that the events portrayed actually happened. On the other hand, the telling of stories should allow for some creative flexibility for the storyteller – these are dramatizations, not documentaries.

A movie like Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” is an apt representation of the myriad gray areas that come with representing real people and their stories on screen. The story of the titular Jewell – the security guard who discovered a pipe bomb during the Atlanta Olympics and saved hundreds, only to become a very public person of interest regarding the planting of that same bomb – is a complicated one; he was a very flawed man who was treated very badly largely because of those same flaws.

Jewell is the sort of man to whom Eastwood gravitates and the sort of uniquely American story that he greatly enjoys telling. It’s also problematic in its way, with some challenging the veracity of certain portrayals. It’s an incomplete portrait of an imperfect man.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 10 December 2019 12:04

When love leaves – ‘Marriage Story’

When does the story of a marriage end? And how should it be told when it does?

That’s the fundamental question behind “Marriage Story,” the latest offering from writer/director Noah Baumbach. The film – which stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson – is a portrait of a marriage in dissolution, a relationship that has arrived at its expiration date. It is emotionally raw and darkly funny, driven by moments of passion and poignancy.

There are many reasons for two people to choose to be together. There are many reasons – some the same, some altogether different – for two people to choose to stay together. And there are many reasons – a surprising number shared with the previous choices – for two people to choose to break apart. And the underlying reality is that the story of a marriage has two sides … and the truth lives somewhere in the middle.

“Marriage Story” is unrelenting and discomfiting – and one of the year’s best films.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 10 December 2019 12:01

‘Dark Waters’ a low-key legal drama

People often call films “difficult to watch,” but that term can mean different things to different people. Usually, it’s applied to movies that too graphic, whether it be in terms of violence or language or what have you, but sometimes, you get a movie that is difficult to watch because it forces you to learn or remember an unpleasant truth.

That’s the case with “Dark Waters,” the latest film from director Todd Haynes. It’s adapted from a 2016 magazine article by Nathanial Rich titled “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,” the story of one man’s tireless crusade to hold industry accountable when its actions are harmful to the public at large.

The story being told is one of malfeasance writ large and the years-long effort to right the wrongs that have been done. It’s also about the harm that obsession – no matter how righteous or just – can have on someone and the people around them. It is about corporate willingness to fight tooth and nail against anything that may stand in the way of almighty profit … and just how much it takes to stand strong in the face of “progress.”

Published in Movies
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