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Wednesday, 16 January 2019 13:50

OG RBG – ‘On the Basis of Sex’

Biopics are harder than you think. Telling the story of a real person – a person that your audience likely has some foreknowledge of and feelings about – requires a delicate touch, finding the balance between veracity and narrative. You want it to be true, but you also need it to be engaging.

And when you’re dealing with a person who’s currently living, it’s a good deal tougher still.

That’s where we are with “On the Basis of Sex,” the new biopic telling the story of the early days of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she crusaded for the cause of gender equality in classrooms and courtrooms – the same Ruth Bader Ginsburg currently sitting on our country’s Supreme Court. It’s the story of one brilliant woman’s efforts to be taken seriously in a world ruled by men who doubt not just her, but everyone with whom she shares a gender.

It’s a story with its compelling moments, to be sure, with a young RBG unapologetically striving to do what is right against seemingly insurmountable odds. And the cast is really talented from the top down. But it never really rises. It’s a nice enough movie, well-acted with a fascinating subject, but it isn’t much more than that – the kind of pretty good film that you expected to be a bit better.

Published in Movies
Sunday, 13 January 2019 15:24

Dog gone - 'A Dog's Way Home'

Full disclosure: I’m a dog person.

As an extension of that, I’m a movie dog person. Anytime I see a dog on screen, there’s a slight-but-significant uptick in my emotional engagement. When there’s a canine presence, I pay closer attention – particularly if there’s any possible chance that something unfortunate might befall said dog. I care more about their well-being than just about any two-legged types.

This brings us to “A Dog’s Way Home.” If you’re going to give me a movie that’s all about a dog wandering through the wilderness in an effort to make her way back to the family that she loves, then I am FOR SURE going to watch the everloving crap out of it. I am going to watch it and I am going to feel all of the feelings.

Is this a great movie? Not really. But for what it is – a sweet, warm-hearted movie aimed directly at dog lovers like myself – it’s pretty good. It has its flaws (there’s one particularly bleak, albeit mercifully brief subplot that is weirdly out of place), but for the most part, it is charming and cute and kind of funny and a little goofy … just like the four-legged friend I have beside me as I write this.

(Note: My dog is named Stella and the movie dog is named Bella, so I was even more predisposed to enjoy my time here.)

Published in Movies

There’s something freeing about walking into a movie that you know is going to be bad. Sure, you strive to enter into a cinematic experience with an open mind, but the truth is that keeping the bar nice and low can be beneficial to all involved.

However, there are some films where the bar simply can’t be lowered enough. Films like “Replicas.”

“Replicas” is so bad as to be baffling. The story is nonsensical, a jumble of illogical decision making and word salad jargon. The effects border on the laughable; the CGI work would have been bad a decade ago, let alone today. And the performances are wooden to the extreme, with the shocking exception of star Keanu Reeves, who might be the most emotive performer in a cast for the first time in … ever.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 09 January 2019 13:51

Royal rumble – ‘Mary Queen of Scots’

There are few things that grab the attention of film award voters quite like royalty. They LOVE prestige fare about kings and queens; can’t get enough of it. Crowns and capes and thrones, palace intrigue and clanging swords and righteous rhetoric. These movies are almost always good, but to be better they need … something.

Maybe it’s a killer cast. Maybe it’s a filmmaker with a unique, unconventional perspective. Maybe it’s particularly compelling source material.

Or maybe, like with “Mary Queen of Scots,” it’s all three at once.

You’ve got two of Hollywood’s most talented young actresses leading the way in Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, with four Oscar nominations between them. You’ve got a director in Josie Rourke who has never directed a film before but has extensive and acclaimed experience as a stage director of work both classic and contemporary. And you’ve got the story of the titular queen’s life as adapted from John Guy’s pioneering biography “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart.”

And yet … it never manages to quite get over the top. While the performances from both Ronan and Robbie are outstanding and the look and tone of the film are suitably epic in scope and scale, the narrative is a bit overstuffed and lacking in specificity. Too often, things happen because they’re simply next on the list, rather than with any sort of agency or urgency behind them, which leads to more story-borne borderline-soapy melodrama than you might hope for in a film like this.

Published in Movies

One of the joys of awards season is the opportunity to not just see excellent films, but to see films that are excellent in ways that you hadn’t anticipated.

Take “The Favourite,” for instance. It’s a period piece set in the court of England’s Queen Anne in the early 18th century; it tells the story of two women battling to curry favor with her. There are phenomenally talented performers in those three leads and excellent actors up and down the roster. Sounds pretty straightforward, no?

But then you learn that the director is noted weirdo auteur Yorgos Lanthimos and that the central conflict has a healthy amount of psychosexual manipulation and a little slapstick anachronism to accompany the palace intrigue and things are DEFINITELY not straightforward anymore. Excellent, for sure, but not straightforward.

“The Favourite” is an odd amalgamation, a sex farce in costume drama’s clothing … and it works wonderfully. It is sumptuously filmed and audaciously performed, an utterly fearless and unapologetically strange film. It is a cracked-mirror Merchant-Ivory production, a great piece of cinema that arrives at that greatness via paths both conventional and surprising.

Published in Movies
Sunday, 06 January 2019 16:11

Room for improvement - ‘Escape Room’

It’s no secret that January has long served as a bit of a dumping ground for Hollywood. Yes, this is the time when many award-contending films go into wider distribution, but as far as new releases January is where studios tend to offload their biggest mistakes and misfires.

However, a movie can still be entertaining even when it isn’t very good.

Take “Escape Room,” for example. It’s a formulaic and predictable horror thriller that absolutely deserves its early January release date. That being said, it’s got an interesting concept with which it proves willing to have some fun, at least initially. Sure, the movie’s back end devolves into illogic and nonsense, but that’s OK. As long as you set the bar nice and low, there’s no reason for you to not have a good time.

Published in Movies
Saturday, 29 December 2018 21:53

The absurdity of venality – ‘Vice’

If you were to make a list of real-life political figures who might make a good subject for a biopic packed with satiric elements, pitch-black humor and a liberal sprinkling of absurdism, former Vice President Dick Cheney would probably sit pretty low on it.

And yet, that’s precisely what writer/director Adam McKay has done with his new movie “Vice.” The filmmaker’s follow-up to 2015’s “The Big Short,” his biting and surprisingly impactful riff on the housing crisis of the late-00s, takes on one of the most powerful and influential – for better or worse (mostly worse) – men to hold the office of Vice President.

With a virtuoso performance from Christian Bale as Cheney and an absolutely dynamite ensemble cast, McKay treats Cheney’s calculated rise through the ranks culminating in a consolidation of political power never before seen in the office of the VP. And he does it with a depth of intelligence and razor-sharp wit, bringing together stock footage and fourth-wall-breaking internal commentary with a more-or-less straightforward look at the biographical details; the end result is one of the most thought-provoking and challenging films of the year. Not to mention one of the best.

Published in Movies
Friday, 28 December 2018 13:53

‘Holmes & Watson’ doesn’t have a clue

Saying that someone “makes it look easy” is a solid compliment. You’re implying that the person in question is so good at what they do that it looks effortless. It’s a nice thing to say.

Here’s the thing, though – oftentimes, a LOT of work goes into that perceived ease. And if that work doesn’t get done and done well, what once looked easy can quickly turn Sisyphean.

You could get “Holmes & Watson.”

Published in Movies

This year marks the 76th awarding of the Golden Globes, honoring the best in film and television as determined by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

I have devoted considerable energies to Academy Awards previews over the past decade, but the Golden Globes haven’t really inspired the same level of attention. Still, while the Globes might not have the same gravitas as the Oscars, they still warrant at least a little attention.

(Note: While the Golden Globes recognize television as well as film, my focus is on the cinematic side of things. So while I made picks in all categories, I only went in depth on the cinematic side of things.)

Let’s go to the Globes.

Published in Buzz
Sunday, 23 December 2018 00:06

‘Aquaman’ works swimmingly

It’s no secret that DC is trailing Marvel significantly when it comes to their respective cinematic universes. Marvel has turned the MCU into a content-churning, money-printing machine, while DC’s process has been a good deal less smooth. Marvel is celebrated, DC is denigrated.

It appears that DC might be learning their lesson, though. While many of their early efforts at developing their shared universe have focused on the bleak grimdarkness that the success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films convinced them that they needed, later films have shown glimpses of something resembling fun.

And while no one is going to mistake “Aquaman” for the cream of the MCU crop – or even last year’s excellent “Wonder Woman” – there’s no question that the movie marks a sizable step in the right direction. This movie is big and loud and unashamed of either; a collection of one-liners and guitar licks, a veritable smorgasbord of wide-ranging action, nonsensical cinematic physics and weirdly vivid settings. It definitely makes a splash.

Published in Movies
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