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Tuesday, 29 October 2019 10:39

‘Countdown’ lacks app-titude

Horror films have long served as a reflection of society’s real-life fears. Seeing the things that scare us outsized and twisted on the big screen can give us a different perspective on that which we fear.

The ubiquity of the internet and the various concerns it inspires have led to a wealth of horror movies built on a foundation of those (often well-founded) fears. Whether it’s the addictive qualities, the social disconnect, the constant surveillance and lack of privacy or any one of a dozen other things, there’s plenty of scary stuff about the internet.

And when you’ve got scary stuff, you’ll eventually get scary movies. Or at least, movies that TRY to be scary.

The latest iteration of the “internet is evil” horror subgenre is “Countdown,” a nonsensical supernatural thriller whose basic conceit seems to be that ignoring the terms of service will kill you. It’s a slapdash attempt to mine the internet for scares, throwing a filter over the standard “evil curse” narrative and calling it a day. It meanders and flails, jumbling together a mess of clichés and assorted tropes without ever committing to anything consistent. In fact, the only thing consistent about this movie is its unrelenting stupidity.

Published in Movies

BAR HARBOR – An icon of stage and screen will soon be treating a local audience to a gamut-running concert extravaganza.

The legendary Mandy Patinkin is bringing his show “Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries” to the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor on November 3. The concert is set to start at 3 p.m.; tickets are available at the Criterion’s box office or by visiting their website at www.criteriontheatre.org.

Patinkin will be accompanied by Adam Ben-David on piano. The show will include a wealth of songs pulled from his ongoing musical project “Diaries,” recorded as a sort of digital diary over the course of many months. His new album “Children and Art” – featuring some of the songs from these sessions – was released by Nonesuch Records on Oct. 25; it is Patinkin’s first album in over 15 years.

Few performers have achieved the kind of varied success that Patinkin has over the years. You might know him from his eight years as Saul Berenson on the Showtime series “Homeland” or his well-regarded stints on shows like “Chicago Hope” (for which he won an Emmy). Or maybe you know him from his time on the Broadway stage, winning acclaim for his work in musicals such as “Evita.”

And of course: he was Inigo Montoya, the swashbuckling Spaniard from the beloved film classic “The Princess Bride.”

(Editor’s note: Real talk, don’t sleep on 1988’s “Alien Nation” – he’s legitimately fantastic in that.)

In the following conversation, Patinkin offers a glimpse into his process. He talks about how “Diaries” came about and what led him to want to tour, as well as some insight as to how much music means to him and his well-being. And don’t worry – there’s a little “Princess Bride” talk in there as well.

Published in Cover Story

It’s rarely good news when a film’s release is significantly pushed back. Regardless of the reasons, it’s not a great look when your movie hits the festival circuit, only to disappear from view for months or even years before eventually getting a wide release.

Every once in a while, though, the end result is a better film.

That seems to be the case with “The Current War: Director’s Cut” – released as such because it has been significantly changed from its initial appearance on the scene a couple of years ago. And those changes seem to have done the trick, because while that earlier version of the film was received in a manner that would charitably be called “mixed,” this new iteration is actually a pretty solid biopic.

It’s the story of the real-life rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse as they competed to see whose electrical current – Edison’s DC or Westinghouse’s AC – would be the one that electrified America and the world. It’s a stylish and aesthetically engaging film – far more so than you might expect from a biopic such as this one – with an A-list ensemble cast and dynamic direction courtesy of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

Published in Movies

The pop culture zeitgeist is in constant flux. What’s popular and exciting changes with ever-increasing rapidity; today’s hot commodity is tomorrow’s passé cliché.

Ten years ago, zombies were hot. There were all manner of properties devoted to the horror subgenre; comic books and movies, TV shows and novels – the works. Into that world was delivered “Zombieland,” a zom-com with a dynamite cast that embraced the inherent humor while also leaning into the more visceral and graphic aspects of zombie tales. Basically, it was funny and gross and a hell of a good time. It was also a significant financial success, more than quadrupling its budget at the box office. So it stands to reason that the powers that be would want a sequel.

Only it took a little longer than anticipated.

Now, a full decade later, we’re finally getting that sequel. Titled “Zombieland: Double Tap,” this movie lands in a much different pop culture landscape than its predecessor. It’s tough to argue against a degree of zombie fatigue when it comes to our entertainment; the saturation point was passed long ago.

Published in Movies

There’s something oddly comforting about an unnecessary sequel. Sure, it would be nice if Hollywood would devote time, energy and other resources to original creations, but let’s be real – that ship has sailed. At least unnecessary sequels are honest – they want your money and don’t really care about anything else.

This brings us to “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” which continues to spin out the story of Sleeping Beauty to increasingly insane ends. If you didn’t know that it was based on the classic tale, you’d have no idea. Seriously – any resemblance to the source material is coincidental at this point.

Here’s the thing: this is a Disney joint, so there’s plenty of production value at work here. There’s no denying that this is a visually lush and aesthetically interesting film – there’s a lot of eye candy. Unfortunately, that candy comparison can be extended – this bright, shiny treat is a feast for the eyes, but absolutely devoid of any sort of nutritional value. It is as empty as it is attractive.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 15 October 2019 20:37

Battle of Wills – ‘Gemini Man’

Anyone who’s paying attention realizes that we’re moving into a post-movie star realm of cinematic entertainment. The vast majority of movies are IP-driven – the franchise matters more than the star. It’s the classic Johnny Bravo conundrum writ large – it’s all about who fits the costume, and with the current state of CGI … anyone can fit the costume.

There are a few leftovers from previous eras who are still hanging around to some extent – your Cruises, your Pitts, those sorts – and a couple of new guys (well, just one if we’re being real – congrats, The Rock!), but that’s about it.

Will Smith is one of the holdovers, someone who has been using raw charisma to dominate the big screen for going on a quarter-century. He is one of the scant handful of people out there to whom the descriptor “movie star” can still be applied, despite a … let’s just call it a questionable body of work. But hey – he’s still a movie star, right? And what could be better than a blockbuster movie featuring Movie Star Will Smith?

How about TWO Will Smiths?

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 15 October 2019 20:33

A star is (re)born – ‘Judy’

One of the staples of awards season is the biopic. For whatever reason, we’ve collectively decided that watching actors portray real people is more impressive than portraying fictional characters. Sometimes that’s true … and sometimes it isn’t. There are a lot of pitfalls that come with representing a living breathing human. Sometimes, good intentions give way to mishaps. Other times, you get something that’s middling. And sometimes, you get something unforgettable.

In “Judy,” Renee Zellweger gives us the latter.

The film, which tells the story of entertainment icon Judy Garland’s 1968 trip to London, isn’t any kind of wheel reinvention. Directed by Rupert Goold from a screenplay adapted by Tom Edge from Peter Quilter’s stageplay “End of the Rainbow,” it’s pretty standard stuff. It’s a moment-in-time biopic as opposed to a birth-to-death biopic (though we do get some “Wizard of Oz”-era flashbacks, aiming to capture one small stretch of the subject’s life.

What elevates “Judy” is Zellweger’s work in the titular role. She is wholly committed in a way we don’t often see, giving the sort of transformative performance that requires most actors to shift their weight by 50 pounds or slather on the prosthetics … and she does it with a haircut. She inhabits the icon, warts and all. Hell, she even does her own singing, which is a major flex no matter who you are.

And it works. All of it.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 08 October 2019 14:29

This ‘Joker’ is wild

Hollywood has spent the past decade-plus showing us that superheroes are more than capable of carrying a movie. We’ve seen all manner of comic book fare, from the biggies like Marvel and DC to more independent offerings. Superheroes are movie stars.

But what about supervillains?

With few exceptions, we haven’t seen the bad guys in the lead in these films. There’s “Suicide Squad” and … what? Now, one could argue that the single greatest performance in a superhero film was Heath Ledger as the Joker in “The Dark Knight,” but he wasn’t the star – not really.

And now, we’re getting yet another iteration of that character, only this time, it’s his story. “Joker,” directed by Todd Phillips from a script co-written by Phillips and Scott Silver, stars Joaquim Phoenix as the titular criminal. For the first time, a singular bad guy got the chance to carry a film all by his lonesome. There are no heroes here, no other villains – just Joker.

The result is a film that is unapologetically visceral and unwavering in its brutality. It paints a bleak portrait of the world and the people who live in it, using its titular character as a mirror to force society to look itself in the warts-and-all face. It is repugnant and fascinating in equal regard, driven by an absolutely mesmerizing and transformative performance by Phoenix. It is aggressive in its unpleasantness, doubling and tripling down on its unreliability as it forces us to follow along on a journey where the line between reality and delusion is indelibly blurred.

Published in Buzz
Tuesday, 08 October 2019 14:27

‘In the Tall Grass’ comes up a bit short

What if you heard a voice calling to you, emerging from an unseen child lost somewhere in a field of tall grass? If that voice asked you for help, would you venture forth to offer your assistance? What if you went in … and couldn’t find your way out?

That’s the deceptively simple conceit of “In the Tall Grass,” a film directed by Vincenzo Natali from a script Natali adapted from the novella of the same name co-written by Stephen King and Joe Hill. It’s pastoral horror at its most elemental, a tale of terror where unexplained forces can trap the innocent in circumstances that they cannot understand – and cannot escape.

The film operates largely in the realm of atmospheric scares, relying on the seeming innocence of the natural setting to evoke the fear-feeding tension. It isn’t always successful, with stretches that don’t quite cohere as well as they might; the plot takes on a complexity that isn’t always easy to follow. But with some brutally bloody moments and an enervating audio/visual style, you might find yourself unable to look away.

Published in Movies

In the world of big-time cinematic animation, we tend to think of Pixar as the big artistic achiever and Walt Disney Animation as the song-and-dance populist, while both are adept at the unabashed tugging of heartstrings. And then you have DreamWorks Animation, the goofball cousin with a looser, slightly weirder sensibility, but with no less attention to the pushing of emotional buttons.

“Abominable” is the latest animated offering from DreamWorks, one that fits right in with that perceived dynamic. It isn’t as ambitious as a Pixar film, nor as slick as a Disney; instead, it’s silly and sincere in equal measure, a sweet and well-made 97-minutes of quality kiddie fare.

There’s a message, of course. There always is – in this case, it’s a fairly simple moral about family and friendship and moving forward. But the film is also interested in giving us juvenile (in a good way) humor and a handful of impressive set pieces … and writer/director (and animation vet) Jill Culton is here to make sure we get plenty of that too.

It’s the right choice.

Published in Movies
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