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Tuesday, 12 November 2019 12:46

‘Doctor Sleep’ shines on

It seems like every week sees the announcement of another screen adaptation of a Stephen King work. Hollywood has always had an affinity for King, but the proliferation of outlets has brought more and more content creators to the nigh-endless font of material that is the erstwhile Master of Horror.

But “Doctor Sleep” is a little different. The 2013 book is a sequel to King’s classic novel “The Shining,” a look at whatever happened to little Danny Torrance in the aftermath of his ordeal at the Overlook Hotel. King’s relationship with Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of “The Shining” is notoriously fraught; in some ways, “Doctor Sleep” was a years-later reaction to that film.

Obviously, this makes the idea of adapting “Doctor Sleep” to the screen a tricky proposition. But few are as uniquely suited to strike the proper balance as Mike Flanagan, who both directed and wrote the screenplay for the film. Flanagan’s horror bona fides are legit, but more than that, he wrote and directed one of the best King adaptations of recent years; “Gerald’s Game” was a book that seemed almost unfilmable, yet Flanagan turned it into a powerful and effective film.

Turning his eye onto “Doctor Sleep,” Flanagan’s stated goal was to do proper service to King’s book while also finding ways to pay homage to Kubrick’s iconic film. It would seem to be a Herculean task … and yet Flanagan managed to pull it off. Being all things to all people rarely works, yet here we are – a film that is true to both the spirit of the book being adapted and of the film being remembered.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 12 November 2019 12:44

‘Midway’ tries to fight the good fight

The Battle of Midway is considered one of the major turning points in World War II. The victory by U.S. forces over the Japanese Navy prevented Japan from taking control of the Pacific Ocean and bringing devastation to America’s west coast. The United States was outnumbered and outgunned, but thanks to the bravery of the men in the fight and the brilliance of those plotting the course, they emerged victorious.

It’s an obvious choice to receive the cinematic treatment. Indeed, the battle was the namesake of a star-studded 1976 film. Now, over 40 years after that film and over 70 since the battle itself, moviegoers are getting another look at that historic fight on the big screen.

Too bad it isn’t a better movie.

Director Roland Emmerich, whose name has become a kind of shorthand for big-budget Hollywood films that are heavy on the explosions and light on the … everything else, brings us “Midway.” While he certainly understands the spectacle that comes with war movies, he doesn’t quite capture the subtler aspects of the story the way one might hope.

It’s not that the film is bad, per se – it’s just a bit heavy-handed, both in terms of the CGI battle scenes and the interpersonal relationships. To his credit, Emmerich has assembled a talented cast that is able to somewhat alleviate the issues with both his direction and Wes Tooke’s screenplay, lending the proceedings a depth that otherwise wouldn’t be there. The end result is a moviegoing experience that is fine, but no more than that.

It’s a story that warrants telling; it’s just too bad that it isn’t better told.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 12 November 2019 12:42

‘Playing with Fire’ a lukewarm family film

Let’s be clear from the start: John Cena is not The Rock. Nor will he ever be The Rock, no matter how hard he, WWE and/or Hollywood try to make it be so.

And that’s OK. Cena has his own (admittedly limited) charms, both in terms of personality and performance acumen. He’s never going to be the entertainment force that is Dwayne Johnson.

Movies like “Playing with Fire” are an excellent illustration of that truth. While The Rock had his share of kid-friendly outings early in his film career, it was clear even at the time that something larger was looming. Cena simply doesn’t have the same sort of raw charisma.

This isn’t a criticism, really – though it may sound like one. Cena’s performative talents may lag behind his fellow wrestler-turned-actor, but he also has plenty to offer in his own right. He’s got a gift for using his imposing physicality to his benefit, as well as a legitimately good sense of comedic timing and a genuine earnestness – all of which work well in a movie like this one.

Published in Movies

There’s something appealing about a fresh start.

That’s as true in Hollywood as anywhere else. Studios love their long-running franchises, embracing the sureties that come with an ongoing concern. But they also love reinvention, returning to a property after a time to start all over again.

But you don’t often see both.

That’s basically what you get with the latest installment in the “Terminator” franchise. This new entry – “Terminator: Dark Fate” – is the sixth film in the franchise. However, it is ALSO a reboot, as it is intended as a direct sequel to 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” Essentially, this means that the three films that preceded this new one – “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003), “Terminator Salvation” (2009) and “Terminator Genisys” (2015) – have been erased from franchise canon.

In many ways, “Dark Fate” offers a return to the spirit of those earlier films – films that were largely superior to the misguided franchise fodder that followed. It’s a simpler, pared-down story, one that avoids being bogged down by convoluted, tangled mythology resulting from multiple movies jammed with time travel.

By taking us back to that still-relatively-clean initial timeline, “Dark Fate” can bring us back into contact with the world that drew us in in the first place. This new film doesn’t quite scale the heights of those earliest entries – though creator James Cameron’s fingerprints are all over it (which is a good thing) – but the streamlining of the experience is welcome. Add to that some strong performances and a director who gets what makes the franchise tick and you’ve got a movie that certainly outstrips the mediocre trio of films that preceded it.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 05 November 2019 12:30

‘Harriet’ tells tale of an American icon

As we get deeper into fall, we find ourselves rapidly approaching awards season. This is when we’re going to start seeing an onslaught of prestige films, movies that merit a different sort of critical attention than the big-budget blockbusters of the summertime.

Biopics are particularly well-suited to the prestige game. They offer actors the opportunity to bring to life a real person, someone culturally important. They offer filmmakers a chance to tell a true and meaningful story in a manner that allows them to put their own personal stamp upon it. Sometimes, they become the primary way through which the world knows this person or people.

“Harriet” is the latest example of just such a biopic. It’s the story of Harriet Tubman, legendary conductor on the Underground Railroad and true American hero. It’s precisely the sort of movie that expects to generate some awards chatter. And it will – but likely less than the folks behind it may have hoped. Call it a hunch, but I feel like this is one of those attention-worthy projects that will fall through the cracks a little.

That’s not a condemnation – “Harriet” is quite a good film. It’s a nice-looking historical drama; the period aesthetic is exceptional. And the performances, led by Cynthia Erivo in the titular role, are good-to-great almost across the board. Director Kasi Lemmons – who co-wrote the script with Gregory Allen Howard – endows the project with her passion and talent. There’s a lot to like, and again, I won’t be surprised if it gets some attention.

I just won’t be surprised if it doesn’t, either. There’s a sense of familiarity here – the style, the choices, the narrative beats – that may breed just a little bit of contempt among awards voters. And that little bit could very well make the difference when nominations start landing.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 29 October 2019 10:41

‘Black and Blue’ a meandering misfire

There’s something admirable about a filmmaker wanting to tackle larger social issues through their craft. Making a movie that offers salient commentary on the world is certainly a worthwhile endeavor and almost always springs from good intentions.

But the leap from intention to execution can be tricky … and you’re not always going to stick the landing.

And that’s the story of “Black and Blue” in a nutshell. Director Deon Taylor has a history of incorporating a message into his entertainments, with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, this time it doesn’t quite land. He’s a skillful filmmaker and he’s working with a talented cast, but he’s ultimately unable to present his ideas with the nuance necessary to make them work.

Reducing big ideas to manageable size is vital in these situations, but you also must be careful not to oversimplify. In their efforts to strike the balance, the filmmakers went too far, rendering complicated issues in a manner that borders on the ham-handed. A noble effort, but one that never quite gels.

Published in Movies
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
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