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I’m an unabashed fan of teen comedies. From John Hughes on down, I have always loved stories of teenagers doing teenager stuff. I particularly love coming-of-age stories, whether they’re emotionally grounded stories of tentative steps into adulthood or broad “last night before graduation” raunchfests.

When I initially learned about the new film “Booksmart,” I got the impression it would be the latter. And it is – but it’s also the former. It is heartfelt and thoughtful in ways that will ring true to anyone who is (or ever was) a teenager, capturing the challenges faced by a certain kind of student as they prepare to move forward from high school. But it is ALSO a foul-mouthed and unapologetically weird comedy, packed with high-minded jokes and lowbrow gags alike.

Seriously – however good you think this movie is, it’s almost certainly better.

Published in Movies

Creating a cinematic franchise from scratch is HARD. If it wasn’t, studios wouldn’t be falling all over themselves in an effort to find preexisting intellectual properties to convert to the big screen.

And yet, that’s precisely what has happened with the “John Wick” series, which just saw its third installment – “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” – hit movie theaters nationwide. With this latest offering, the biggest and brashest of the series thus far, star Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stehelski have ensured that the creep of sequel fatigue will have to wait once again.

This new film embraces everything that made the two previous films such a success; the intricate, intimate fight scenes, the sweeping action set pieces, the meticulously constructed mythology, the kinetic hyperstylized aesthetic – it’s all here. And while it’s all much, MUCH bigger, it all scales up comfortably; the smaller moments aren’t lost. If anything, they’re accentuated even more by their massive surroundings.

In short, “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” kicks ass in every way you expect … and a few that you don’t.

Published in Movies

Full disclosure: I love dogs. Love love LOVE dogs. I love the teeny tiny puppers and the big thick doggos and all the adorable floofs out there.

Being the font of canine adoration that I am, it’s clear that I fit squarely into the target demographic of “A Dog’s Journey,” the sequel to 2017’s “A Dog’s Purpose.” It’s the story of one good boy’s spirit as he lives multiple lives, all of them focused on doing right by the one he is sworn to watch over – a duty whose subject changes in this sequel.

(It’s worth noting that while there’s no in-movie connection between these two movies and “A Dog’s Way Home” from earlier this year, all three films are based on novels by the writer W. Bruce Cameron, so don’t be shocked by tonal or thematic similarities.)

It’s a chance to follow one dog’s devoted spirit seek endlessly to track down the person that they are meant to protect, no matter what. It isn’t always easy, but a good dog will do whatever it takes. And since they’re ALL good dogs, well … they’re going to make it happen.

Published in Movies

One of the realities of growing older is accepting the fact that pop culture is no longer aimed at you. To paraphrase the proto-creepster philosopher David Wooderson, we keep getting older, but the target demographic of the zeitgeist stays the same age.

It’s less noticeable at the movies, for the most part – the massive monocultural events shooting for four-quadrant appeal don’t much care how old I am – but there are still moments that remind me of the gaps in my pop cultural history.

This brings us to “Pokémon Detective Pikachu.” I will be the first to admit that I have only a passing familiarity with the world of Pokémon, mostly through younger relatives and a brief dalliance with the AR game “Pokémon Go” a couple of years back. How would I review a movie built so thoroughly on preexisting characters and contexts? A story steeped in decades of intricate mythology and scores of previous incarnations?

Pretty easily, as it turns out.

I had a legitimately good time watching “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” despite my rudimentary understanding of the Pokémon phenomenon as a whole. Yes, I was definitely lost with regards to a lot of the specifics – my fellow audience members laughed and cheered for reasons that I didn’t fully understand – but in the general sense, it was still a lot of fun. It’s a family-friendly adventure film with solid performances, a few strong action sequences and a shockingly good aesthetic (the overlay of CGI onto live-action was seriously some of the best I’ve seen).

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 08 May 2019 11:24

Home sweet home - ‘The Intruder’

With the “Avengers: Endgame” monolith dominating the box office as expected, the big-screen offerings of early May were always going to be a bit offbeat. Studios were aware that specifically-aimed counterprogramming would be the only way to ride out the massive second and third weekends from the MCU juggernaut.

But no one could have expected something like “The Intruder,” a weird little bit of B-movie genre filmmaking featuring a pulpy blend of thriller themes and a delightfully bonkers performance from Dennis Quaid. It is unapologetic and unrelenting in its choices, committing fully to a mess of stalker/home invasion tropes sprinkled with periodic moments of intentional unintentional comedy.

Basically, if you could distill the desire to shout “Don’t go in there!” at a movie screen and turn it into an actual movie, you’d pretty much have “The Intruder.”

Published in Movies
Friday, 03 May 2019 11:58

‘Long Shot’ pays off big

Lately, it might seem as though every single studio movie is either a nine-figure-budgeted franchise blockbuster or a low-overhead genre movie. And yes, there’s a lot of that kind of stuff out there. But those who have bemoaned the loss of the mid-budget studio film should take solace, for the reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. Sure, we see FEWER of those movies, but they’re far from over.

“Long Shot” is a perfect example of just that kind of film. A high-concept hybrid of political comedy and juvenilia, it’s a rom-com that tries to be a lot of different things and is largely successful. It’s an unconventional execution of a movie-conventional pairing between Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, lending a surprising degree of nuance to the standard mixed-attractiveness comic screen pairing.

It’s also an attempt at political satire, an effort to poke fun at the current climate. Government operations and the media both take their share of hits, and while the effort doesn’t land as well as the relationship stuff, it still manages its share of laughs. It’s a movie that is smart and profane, putting forth cleverness and crassness in equal (and often hilarious) measure.

Published in Movies

This is not going to be my typical review.

If you’ve seen “Avengers: Endgame” – and judging by the record-shattering $1.2 billion (that’s billion with a B) opening weekend at the box office, there’s a good chance that you probably have – then you have an idea of my dilemma.

How do you talk about an effort to wrap up nearly two dozen movies’ worth of storytelling without disclosing too much? How do you talk about a movie that is, in essence, three hours of ending? How do you avoid spoilers when discussing a film that is, by its very nature, practically constructed of spoilable revelations?

Very carefully.

Published in Movies

We begin this now-annual tradition as we always do: with the caveat that it seems a bit silly to be writing a summer movie preview so far in advance of summer.

Still, Hollywood has undeniably extended the season, turning the beginning of May into our summer starting point, so if we’re going to catalog the blockbusters, then this is where we start.

Although if we’re going to be real about it, the biggest movie of the year has already happened – “Avengers: Endgame” just had the biggest box office opening ever, clocking well over a billion dollars worldwide.

(Note: You can check out my review right in this very edition. If you’re reading this in print, you passed it on the way here.)

But while the biggest may have already landed, there’s still plenty to be excited about.

2018 has plenty of what we’ve come to expect from blockbuster season – plenty of sequels and a bunch of remake/reboot-type offerings and some superheroes, along with animated fare, a smattering of comedies, some kiddie flicks and maybe a horror picture or two. It’s not like we don’t know how it works.

Honestly, there’s a LOT of what we’ve seen before. But hey – familiarity isn’t always a bad thing. Let’s have a look at what the summer of 2019 has to offer.

(Please note: this not a list of the 19 best films, but rather an attempt at a representative sample of what’s coming. There are movies that I expect to enjoy that aren’t here and movies I expect to actively dislike that are. Still, it looks like there’s something for everyone.)

Published in Cover Story

Making a movie – any movie – is a monumental task to undertake. No matter whether you’re talking about an indie feature or a summer blockbuster, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome. But sometimes a particular film, for whatever reason, is just that much harder to make than most.

Terry Gilliam’s passion project “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is one such film, a mishap-riddled odyssey 25 years in the making. Directed by Gilliam from a script he co-wrote with Tony Grisoni, it’s the end result of a quarter-century of false starts and natural disasters, of casting and recasting and shooting and reshooting. The production dealt with so many issues of varying types that one would be forgiven for believing the entire project to be somehow cursed.

After many years, the film was finally completed in 2018. And yet, the difficulties weren’t done even then; some messy legal issues between Gilliam and a former producer on the film resulted in a wonky, uneven release schedule; the movie didn’t reach American screens (non-festival edition) until now, with a limited theatrical run quickly followed by a VOD drop.

One would expect a film that had been through so many iterations to be haphazard and scattered, jagged and rough-edged. And frankly, those terms describe “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” in a lot of ways. But those viewers who are able to look beyond the surface jankiness will see Gilliam’s unique vision at work; there’s enough here – particularly for Gilliam’s fans (among whom I include myself) – to illustrate the clear, fierce passion that the director has for this story.

It’s an uneven and unflinchingly weird movie, which surprises no one; it bears the marks of both his love and his desperation and wears them proudly – and really, how else could it have gone?

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 24 April 2019 12:41

Chill out with ‘Disneynature: Penguins’

There are a lot of different ways that movies can captivate us.

This is an important notion to keep in mind as the shadow of Summer Blockbuster Season begins to loom over 2019. For the next few months, bigger might not be better, but it will definitely be ubiquitous.

It’s also a reason to pay attention to a movie like “Disneynature: Penguins.” We’re about to be overwhelmed by a sea of cartoons and CGI explosions for weeks on end – why not sit down and enjoy a quiet, well-made nature film that just happens to be stunningly beautiful and surprisingly funny.

Producer-director Alistair Fothergill has played a huge part in the Disneynature process, having served in one or both of those roles for something like half of the 13 films Disney’s indie nature doc arm has produced over the past decade or so. He’s as visually gifted as any nature documentarian out there, with a willingness to invest the time and effort necessary to create films that tell compelling stories; “Penguins” is another feather in his cap.

Published in Movies
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