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Everyone has their particular tastes when it comes to movies. Even those of us whose job it is to offer up opinions regarding films have our personal preferences. And while we strive for objectivity, we also recognize that when it comes down to it, we like what we like. Taste matters.

Take action movies, for instance. There are those out there who find action movies to be generally lacking in appeal, who think that watching bullets and/or fists flying simply doesn’t make for good cinema. They are entitled to their opinion.

Their wrong, wrong, wrong opinion.

“Extraction,” the latest Netflix original offering to hit the streaming service, isn’t the greatest or most original action movie you’ll see … and that’s OK. See, it’s driven by some excellent set pieces and a strong lead performance from Chris Hemsworth, which means that it’s plenty good enough. It isn’t necessary to innovate when you’re willing to embrace the essence of what has always worked.

Adapted by Joe Russo from his own graphic novel “Ciudad” and directed by longtime stunt coordinator and first-time feature director Sam Hargrave, “Extraction” adheres pretty closely to standard action tropes. However, by executing at a high level, the film manages to largely transcend formula, offering viewers a thrilling and exciting two hours of escapist action.

Published in Movies

When we think about movies for kids, we tend to have fairly specific ideas about them in terms of their style. You hear “kids’ movie,” you probably think about bright colors and simple narratives and a general levity with regards to tone. And a lot of child-oriented stories hew closely to those criteria.

A lot, but by no means all. There’s plenty of darkness to be found in children’s stories. From the bleakness prevalent in the tales of the Brothers Grimm, there have been shadows mixed in with the sunshine.

Because here’s the thing: kids LIKE some darkness alongside the light.

The new Netflix animated film “The Willoughbys,” based on the book of the same name by Lois Lowry, very much embraces that dichotomy. While it is rife with candy-colored goofiness and silly set pieces, there are some underlying themes that are legitimately dark. The balance between the two is what makes the movie work – too much of one or the other would undermine the whole thing.

It’s a story of what it truly means to be a family, as well as of the sacrifices that can be required to do right by the people we love. It also explores the consequences that can come from thoughtless decisions regarding those loved ones. Plus, it’s a great-looking film based on strong source material and featuring an absolutely killer voice cast.

Published in Movies

The evolution of sport is a fascinating thing. In some ways, the games we love are trapped in amber. The size of the court or the field stays the same. Certain distances haven’t ever really changed – 60 feet from home to first, 10 yards for a first down, 10 feet from floor to rim.

But in other ways – the ways the games are actually played – have seen significant alterations over the years, even as most sporting stalwarts are staunch traditionalists with regards to how things are done. “We do them this way because that’s the way we’ve always done them” has long been the rallying cry of the athletic establishment.

But there will always be players who challenge the status quo. Players who, for whatever reason, deem it necessary to do things in a different way. Players who see the opportunity to find success by way of something new.

Players like Kenny Sailors.

You’d be forgiven for not recognizing that name, but as you’ll discover in the documentary “Jump Shot: The Kenny Sailors Story” – written and directed by Jacob Hamilton and available for rental at altavod.com – you are almost certainly familiar with his work. You see, there is a sizeable contingent out there that believes that Sailors, a man born nearly 100 years ago, is the inventor of the modern jump shot.

The doc itself is a brisk run through a remarkable life, one that features some names and faces you absolutely will recognize – NBA legends such as Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry (who also serves as an executive producer on the film) – as well as a number of other NBA figures, former players and league historians. Through archival footage, photographs and interviews, “Jump Shot” presents a strong case that in many ways, Sailors is the progenitor of how modern basketball is played.

Published in Sports
Sunday, 19 April 2020 16:55

Clique bait - ‘Selah and the Spades’

There are plenty of teen movies out there, comedies and dramas alike. But while the standard high school setting lends itself well to the former, it seems that if you’re looking for the latter, then something more … hallowed … is in order.

Specifically, prep school, in all of its trust-funded, ivy-walled glory. The deep pockets and deeper tradition that comes with such a setting clears the runway for more dramatic stakes. That’s not to say that regular high schools can’t host drama, nor prep schools comedies – there are plenty of examples of both – but the insularity inherent to boarding school is fallow ground for dramatics.

This brings us to “Selah and the Spades,” a new film currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The film – a debut feature from writer/director Tayarisha Poe – ventures into the shadowy world of cliques at an upscale Pennsylvania prep school. It’s a deconstruction of what it means to be a big fish in a small pond – particularly when the fish becomes big enough to endanger the delicate equilibrium.

It’s also a look at the fragility of teenage relationships, an examination of how the stresses of high achievement can fracture a young person’s sense of self. The result is a willingness to throw one’s lot in fully with a group; this allows the onus of identity definition to fall on peers … for better and for worse.

Published in Movies
Monday, 13 April 2020 11:19

‘Tigertail’ burns bright

The story of America cannot be told without sharing the tales of those who come here in search of something. Something new or better or simply … different. Film has proven a capable medium with regards to bringing these sorts of narrative to life.

“Tigertail” – written and directed by Alan Yang – is one such immigration story. Released via Netflix, it is a rich and compelling tale of one man’s journey from a hardscrabble youth in Taiwan to a significantly successful life in America – one that shares the sometimes-harsh truth that an immigrant’s success often comes at a price.

Lushly shot and beautifully performed (in three languages, no less – Taiwanese, Mandarin and English), it’s a thoughtful meditation on one type of immigrant experience, one that illustrates the sacrifices that are made for the mere promise of a new life. Choices have consequences that can linger long after the perceived goal has been met.

Published in Movies

It wasn’t that long ago that romantic comedies ruled the cinematic realm. They were the films that filled out the robust middle tier of film offerings, turning fresh faces into stars and stars into icons. Alas, the 21st century hasn’t been as kind to the rom-com; studios have leaned heavily into macro- and microbudgeted fare, with little breathing room left over for that once-jammed middle level.

Here’s the thing, though – people still like those sorts of movies. And so Netflix, kings of exploiting market inefficiencies that they are, have invested mightily in the rom-com. The service is rife with original rom-com content, filling the niche that has been largely empty for nearly two decades.

The latest in line is “Love. Wedding. Repeat.” It’s an English language remake of a 2012 French comedy titled “Plan de table,” one both adapted and directed by Dean Craig. It’s a frothy delight, featuring attractive people in a beautiful setting dealing with a bunch of nonsense. You know – your basic romantic comedy.

It’s not the most sophisticated movie you’re likely to see – it’s situationally contrived in the usual ways and largely content to settle for easy laughs and easier sentimentality. However, the cast is undeniably charming and there’s enough of an interesting spin on the standard formula to make this particular wedding one that you’ll be glad to have attended.

Published in Movies

Every movie begins with an idea, a seed that one hopes will ultimately grow into something appealing. Sometimes, that idea is a plot point or an aesthetic concept. Sometimes, it involves a character and/or the actor who plays said character. And sometimes, it’s … something else.

Take “Coffee & Kareem,” a new streaming offering that hit Netflix on April 3. Near as I can figure, this movie exists because someone thought that was a funny title and decided to reverse-engineer a film from there. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the end result was not good.

What we have here is a lukewarm and forgettable cup of movie, one that carries the slapdash algorithmically-generated vibe that often marks the less-successful of the streaming service’s original offerings. There’s relatively little humor to be found in the ostensible comedy, and what you do find is so utterly awash in flop sweat as to be rendered ineffective. The film is tonally confused and not nearly as clever as it wants you to think it is.

Published in Movies

Documentary filmmaking is at its most effective when it finds a way to both educate and entertain. Bringing real people and places to the big screen in service to a message is important, but the reality is that if an audience isn’t engaged – isn’t entertained – that message may well go unheard, no matter how important it is or how skillfully relayed.

It has been a long time since I saw a documentary that so successfully struck that balance as “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.” Currently streaming on Netflix, the film – directed by James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham – tells the story of a summer camp for the disabled back in the early 1970s and the huge impact some of those campers would ultimately have in the decades-long fight for civil rights for the disabled.

It’s no surprise that the film is good – it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and actually won the Audience Award – but I wasn’t prepared for HOW good it was going to be. This is a razor sharp, poignant and wickedly funny film, one that delves deep into a part of our nation’s history that is likely unfamiliar to many. It has as colorful a cast of characters as you could hope to find, as well as a message of struggle and speaking truth to power that resonates just as fully today as it did when the story it tells unfolded.

Published in Livin'

To many, the more granular aspects of wine might seem inaccessible. The finer details picked up by the oenophiles among us are largely lost on those on the outside looking in. And make no mistake, there are A LOT of finer details … and only the select few who fully grasp all of those details can achieve the title of master sommelier.

But what if your passion for wine isn’t enough? What if there are other forces at work, personal and professional responsibilities that are at odds with your singular goal?

That’s the conflict at the center of “Uncorked,” the new drama from Netflix. Written and directed by Prentice Penny, it’s the story of one young man whose love of wine inspires him to try and pursue an oenophile’s education, much to the chagrin of the father who wants him to take over the family business.

This sort of father/son conflict is pretty standard fare for family drama, but this film explores it without ever devolving into boilerplate. Sure, there’s a formula at work here, but thanks to some smart choices and a handful of really compelling performances, the movie never succumbs to cliché. Instead, we get a heartfelt and extremely watchable drama – one to which you’ll have no problem raising a glass.

Published in Movies

Just because a town is small doesn’t mean it is lacking in shadows or secrets. With proximity comes familiarity … and familiarity breeds contempt.

That’s why small-town noir works so well – the trappings of the genre work beautifully even removed from sprawling urban landscapes. A ramshackle desert town, an isolated Midwestern farming community or a hardscrabble coastal fishing village – they’re all ripe for receiving the noir treatment.

So it is with “Blow the Man Down,” newly streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The movie – set in the fictional town of Easter Cove, Maine, and filmed largely on location within the state – marks the feature debut of the writing/directing team of Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy.

It’s the story of a small town and the murkiness that exists in the depths beneath the seemingly placid surface. The film explores the idea that in these small places, the divide between the person we present to the world and the person we actually are can be shockingly vast. There are plenty of secrets packed into the cracks; even the most upstanding of citizens may have unsettling skeletons in their closets. And when that veneer of respectability and gentility is cracked, true (and often unpleasant) natures are unleashed.

Published in Movies
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