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Love – and our ongoing search for it – is one of the fundamental building blocks of our lives. That quest to find the person with whom we’re going to spend our lives is complicated and surprising, often leading us in unexpected directions. Highs can very quickly become lows, and vice versa.

We’re all on our own journey when it comes to love … but most people don’t film it.

Steve Markle is not most people.

The Canadian filmmaker’s new documentary “Shoot to Marry” – winner of the Audience Award at Slamdance and currently available to rent on a variety of platforms – is a filmed record of his own search for love. It is an occasionally rambling, sometimes cringe-y and always heartfelt document of Markle’s quest to find the person who might help him heal his broken heart and give him what he has always wanted – someone to marry. Five years in the making, the film is rife with shaggy DIY charm – Markle was essentially a one-man crew.

While it’s true that Markle is sometimes disingenuous with regard to the motives behind the documentary, it’s also true that he has brought together a genuinely fascinating collection of women from all walks of life, so while his pitch about making a doc about “interesting women” is still the truth, albeit not the whole truth.

Published in Livin'
Monday, 15 June 2020 15:09

Band of brothers – ‘Da 5 Bloods’

What a perfect time to get another Spike Lee joint.

Granted, there’s never a BAD time to get a movie from America’s greatest black filmmaker, but considering the state of the world in which we’re currently living, the sort of live-wire storytelling that is Lee’s specialty is particularly welcome. No one brings the sort of electric social consciousness to the screen that he does, along with style and vision that is unparalleled among his peers.

His latest offering is “Da 5 Bloods,” currently streaming on Netflix. It’s a story of a quartet of Vietnam veterans returning to the country for the first time since the war, each carrying the world-weariness of age along with the emotional burdens that still endure from their time in battle. The foursome are on a sort of dual quest to make right the real and perceived wrongs that they have suffered, all in service to the brotherhood they formed in that life-or-death time.

It’s a typical stylistic triumph from Lee, featuring the blending of aesthetic techniques and cultural touchstones that mark his best work. And he mines truly exceptional performances from his talented cast – again, the usual. This movie – much like so many others in his oeuvre – contains multitudes in a way that no other filmmaker can match, but that’s not really surprising – there’s only one Spike Lee.

Published in Movies
Monday, 15 June 2020 14:38

‘Artemis Fowl’ is, well … foul

There’s big money to be made in franchise filmmaking. With hundreds of millions of dollars potentially on the table, it’s no wonder that studios are constantly on the lookout for intellectual property that can be translated to the big screen for big bucks.

On paper, the “Artemis Fowl” series of books by Eoin Colfer looks like a solid bet. It’s got a high-concept hook revolving around a secret world of fairies, a kid protagonist and eight novels worth of narrative to be mined. The project has been in the works at various stages with various studios for almost two decades. And now, finally, with the Disney monolith behind it, the first film in the erstwhile franchise has arrived.

Don’t be surprised if it’s also the last.

“Artemis Fowl” – currently streaming on Disney+ and inexplicably directed by Kenneth Branagh – is wildly unsuccessful on just about every conceivable level. It is a jumbled mess that borders on incoherent, a scattershot attempt at world-building that basically throws a lot of stuff at the wall, only nothing really sticks. The tone is inconsistent and the plot is nonsensical. The 95-minute runtime is not nearly enough to provide the required context, though that is offset by the feeling of audience relief at its brevity.

While I can’t say for certain, since I haven’t read them, I have to assume that the books are better than this candy-colored lunacy. They’d have to be. They probably have an actual story, for instance, rather than a series of barely-connected events that may or may not have some bearing on the overall narrative. It has all the worst parts of an origin story without conveying much about, you know, the origin. All in all, a misfire of truly epic proportions.

Published in Movies

Few filmmakers have had as outsized an influence on 21st century comedy as Judd Apatow. For over a decade, the Apatovian voice led the way, introducing us to the players who would define the genre for their generation. It was a comedy of youth, shaggy and unapologetic and inspiring to those who would follow.

It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since Apatow helmed a movie, but it’s true – his last directorial foray was the 2015 Amy Schumer vehicle “Trainwreck.” Perhaps he was simply waiting for the proper inspiration to get back into the saddle.

Said inspiration has apparently arrived in the form of Pete Davidson, who teamed up with Apatow and Dave Sirus to co-write “The King of Staten Island,” a film based in large part on Davidson’s own life. It’s an emotionally charged and honest offering, one driven by the real feelings at the heart of its semi-autobiographical story.

Davidson – who also stars – is a polarizing figure in a lot of ways, but love him or hate him, it’s difficult to deny the quality of his work here. Apatow lets the story do the heavy lifting as far as the laughs go, allowing the flat-out exceptional cast to bring forth the very genuine emotions at the heart of things. It is funny and touching and surprisingly moving, a much more warts-and-all glimpse of the arrested development that the director so excels at presenting.

Published in Movies

What does it mean to be famous?

We live in a world in which there have never been more paths to finding some degree of fame. There are the traditional arenas – entertainment, athletics, politics and the like – but the advent of the internet and social media has led to a whole different kind of fame, a fame built around likes and shares and the dopamine rush that comes with the clicks that, in some small way, validate our presence.

And there will always be those for whom infamy is just as good.

“Infamous,” written and directed by Joshua Caldwell, takes a look at the dark potential of this thirst for fame. It’s the story of a young couple who find online notoriety thanks to a video record of their criminal exploits across the South. It also serves as a look at the corrupting power of fame, with the pair getting in over their heads; they go bigger and bigger as the internet audience for their spree grows and grows. After all, you’re only as famous as your last post.

Published in Movies
Monday, 08 June 2020 14:54

Sorry Ms. Jackson – ‘Shirley’

The biopic has been a crucial part of the cinematic landscape since the very beginning. So many of our most acclaimed films have been built around the lives and narratives of real people. Whether they are cradle-to-grave or period snapshot, they share the stories of figures that have in some way shaped the world around them.

But when is a biopic not a biopic? When it’s “Shirley.”

The new film – directed by Josephine Decker from a script adapted by Sarah Gubbins from the novel of the same name by Sarah Scarf Merrell – takes a look inside the life of the notable and notorious writer Shirley Jackson, whose genre-adjacent fiction was among the most chilling of the mid-20th century.

With a dynamite performance by Elisabeth Moss in the title role, “Shirley” is not only a deconstruction of its subject, but of the very notion of biographical film. It is a sharp, biting film – one unafraid to lay bare the basic unpleasantness of its characters. By refusing to be bound by traditional tropes, this film offers up a striking and impactful interpretation of the creative process and the emotional and physical struggles that can accompany that process.

Published in Movies

As someone who considers himself a bit of an action movie connoisseur, I’ve got a special place in my heart for high-concept action. I enjoy the broad strokes and tropes of the genre, but I particularly dig it when there’s an interesting idea serving as the framework.

Obviously, when I hear tell of a film with just such a framework, I look forward to seeing it. I have certain expectations, of course, but they are expectations I believe to be quite reasonable. My bar in terms of pure enjoyment is relatively low … and yet some films still manage to undershoot it by a frankly astonishing degree.

So it is with “The Last Days of American Crime,” a film that limbos so far beneath my reasonable expectations as to bury itself in a not-so-shallow grave. The film – directed by Olivier Megaton and currently streaming on Netflix – commits egregious cinematic sins almost too numerous to name, working its way through what almost seems like a deliberate checklist of poor choices and worse execution.

Seriously – this movie is a bad time. It is staggeringly overlong, yet still manages to feel dull and uneventful. The dialogue is laughable, the performances are wooden and/or off-kilter and the character motivations are either nonsensical or nonexistent. The action sequences feel rote and uninspired and it is shockingly tone deaf in spots. Just … not good.

Published in Movies

Movies are rarely kind to prodigies.

Most of the time, when we meet an ultra-talented child on film, we quickly learn about the multitude of difficulties faced by that child. Whether they’re a brilliant mathematician or a chess master or an amazing musician, these kid geniuses unfailingly face significant personal obstacles apart from their gifts.

How those problems are handled, both by the filmmakers and by the characters within the narrative, defines the sort of movie you get.

“Mighty Oak,” a film directed by Sean McNamara from a screenplay by Matt Allen, handles its child genius – in this case, a rock and roll prodigy – with a good degree of care. While the young man’s life is marked with tragedy, that tragedy is offset by a sense of connection – connection to the people around him … and to the universe.

It isn’t the sort of story to get bogged down in negativity; the filmmakers go out of their way to generate a feel-good vibe, an effort helped greatly by a charming cast and some solid musical offerings. It’s a warm and welcoming film, a scrappy, scruffy underdog of a movie that, despite a few issues, will likely leave you with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

Published in Style
Thursday, 04 June 2020 17:46

Master of puppets – ‘Judy & Punch’

There’s nothing quite like that moment of realization – usually within the first few minutes of a movie – that you had no idea what you were in for. Most of the time, I sit down with a fairly clear idea of what to expect from a film. It’s rare for a movie to surprise me.

“Judy & Punch” surprised me.

The film – written and directed by first-timer Mirrah Foulkes – is inspired by the traditional Punch and Judy puppet show, a subversive slapstick satire with roots in the tradition of commedia dell’arte. The stylized brutality and savage humor of the duo proved very popular in Restoration Era England – the same time and place that serves as the setting for this film.

That inspiration lays the foundation for a genre-fluid and deeply weird cinematic experience, one driven by that same ethos of savagery. This is a movie that gleefully pinballs from comic absurdity to stark social commentary to graphic brutality, all in the space of mere minutes. This is a film that is unafraid to shock and almost gleeful in its willingness to undermine expectations. It is dark and unsettling and bizarre, shot through with an anarchic sense of humor that borders on Pythonesque.

All in all, I dug it, but be warned – your mileage DEFINITELY may vary.

Published in Movies

Full disclosure: I love a spelling bee.

As someone who spent a little time spelling competitively in his youth (three-time school champ with a couple of regional finals appearances, nbd), I will always have a place of affection in my heart for the bee, one of the relatively few competitive scholastic outlets for the academically gifted as opposed to the athletically inclined.

Of course, even at my best, the difference between myself and the true elites of the spellosphere was the same as that between, say, a decent high school baseball player (which I also was) and an All-Star big leaguer (which I decidedly was not).

“Spelling the Dream,” a new Netflix documentary written and directed by Sam Rega, follows a handful of those elite competitors, young people who have the skill and the will to reach the top of the mountain – the Scripps National Spelling Bee. These kids have a lot in common, of course, but this film focuses on something that connects them with a significant number of their fellow lexicographical comrades in arms – their cultural identity. Specifically, their heritage as Indian-Americans.

Published in Livin'
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