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Another week, another Netflix romance tossed out into the universe.

Now, we’ve discussed at length the variance in quality that comes with Netflix’s steady churn of content. Some of those movies are very good, some are very bad and the rest – the majority – land somewhere in-between.

“The Last Letter from Your Lover” is one of those tweeners, though I’d say that it definitely falls closer to the “good” end of the spectrum. Based on the 2012 novel of the same name by JoJo Moyes, the film is directed by Augustine Frizell from a screenplay penned by Nick Payne and Esta Spaulding.

It’s a split story, the tale of a present-day journalist uncovering a cache of love letters alluding to a mysterious affair that took place some 50 years prior. With a pair of compelling female leads in Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley, it’s a charming, albeit somewhat predictable story – one that allows us to watch as two women separated by decades each come to terms with the realities of their romantic lives, even as they struggle to decide how to proceed.

Published in Style

The constant churn of Netflix, forever turning out project after project, is such that one can never be sure of the quality (or lack thereof) of a given movie. It also means that it can be very difficult to know exactly what one is getting into when they sit down to watch. That said, the churn also results in a wide array of different sorts of movies, running the genre gamut and offering unique opportunities.

“Gunpowder Milkshake” currently streaming on the service, is just such a unique opportunity. The film, directed by Navot Pushapado from a script he co-wrote with Ehud Laveski, is a stylized pastiche of a movie, riddled with homages to an assortment of action and action-adjacent offerings that came before. Some of those nods are overt – the influence of the “John Wick” franchise is all over this movie – while others are a bit more subtle (though that’s likely the last time you’re going to hear anyone use the word “subtle” in reference to this film.

It’s part action thriller, part mother-daughter drama, rife with high-octane set pieces interspersed with moments of fraught emotion. Driven by an exceptional cast and an over-the-top aesthetic, it’s a film whose strengths far outstrip its flaws, resulting in a lurid and loony good time at the movies.

Published in Movies

One of the tricky aspects of being a movie critic is finding the balance between one’s personal (and idiosyncratic) tastes and a broader sensibility. You have to find that sweet spot where you’re addressing the work through your own personal lens while also acknowledging that lens’s subjectivity. You must recognize your own positive and negative biases as you judge the film on its merits.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I’m not entirely sure how to review the new Netflix animated film “America: The Motion Picture.”

The film – directed by Matt Thompson, written by Dave Callaham and produced by, among others, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – is a reimagining of the American revolution by way of wave after wave of anachronisms and alternate history, all steeped in adult-oriented juvenile humor. It’s an effort to parody and mock a certain kind of jingoistic action fare even as it follows much the same blueprint.

Not a successful effort, mind you. But an effort.

This is a ridiculous movie, one that readily crosses the line into abject stupidity throughout. It’s the kind of film that wears its idiocy as a badge of honor, proudly pandering to the lowest common denominator with gross-out gags, sexual innuendo and dopey one-liners. Whatever relatively high-minded ideas the filmmakers may have had are quickly buried in a seemingly unending avalanche of curse word-laden scatological juvenilia.

Here’s the thing, though: I enjoyed it. I don’t feel great about the fact that I enjoyed it. And my enjoyment is separate from the relative quality of the film, which again, has a lot of problems and will likely prove off-putting to many.

Published in Movies

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a genuine affection for old man action movies. There’s something so compelling about watching a creaky-kneed geriatric hobble his way across the screen, gratefully giving way to stunt performers when things get a little too active. I know that sounds derogatory (and maybe it is, a little) but that doesn’t change the fact that I for-real dig it.

Of course, the king of geriatric action (geriaction?) is my man Liam Neeson. His “Taken” franchise really kicked off the boom times of the subgenre, though I should note that I don’t count the aging action stars as part of it – your Schwarzeneggers, your Stallones, your Willises. And while Neeson’s definitely lost a step or two since that first “Taken” outing, he’s still out there getting after it (and getting those checks).

His latest foray into old man action is “The Ice Road,” a Netflix offering written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh. This time, Neeson plays an over-the-road truck driver who is pressed into service to save a bunch of trapped miners before it’s too late, only there are outside forces conspiring to stop him from doing that.

It’s the sort of paint-by-numbers action-thriller that makes up the entirety of Neeson’s workload these days – one that is decidedly lacking in both action and thrills. He does his gruff Everyman thing, trying to convey world-weariness even as his only clear motivation is cashing his check. It is purely disposable, a movie designed for folks of a certain age to fall asleep in front of.

Published in Movies

A major key to the ongoing success of Netflix is their ability to find and exploit market inefficiencies, an ability that applies to both the business side of the operation AND the production side.

Take romantic comedies, for instance. Rom-coms once ruled the box office, but have largely fallen off in the face of an increased reliance upon IP-based CGI-driven franchise fare. However, plenty of rom-com aficionados (I count myself among their number) are still out there. Netflix, seeing that underserved audience, set loose their algorithms and whatnot and began churning out romantic comedies. Not all of them were good and a lot of them were bad, but they still scratched that itch.

A more recent trend has been the notion of somehow deconstructing the rom-com, making different sorts of films using that genre as a template. And again – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

“Good on Paper,” the latest Netflix rom-com, is the streamer’s latest effort at that sort of spin. Directed by Kimmy Gatewood from a script written by comedian Iliza Schlesinger (who also stars), it’s ostensibly based on true events from Schlesinger’s life. It’s a clear effort to find a darker angle on the traditional romantic comedy.

A clear effort, but not a successful one.

The film suffers from an inability to settle on precisely what kind of movie it wants to be, which is really too bad; if “Good on Paper” committed more fully to going in either direction – either more thoroughly embracing the shadows or going in a more traditional rom-com direction – it would have been far better. Instead, it’s a clumsy and intermittently watchable film, one that squanders a great deal of potential.

Published in Movies

Expanding one’s horizons is usually a good thing. Getting out of a comfort zone and trying something new can be a rewarding journey. It’s the sort of experience that can prove refreshing to one’s creative spirit.

A perfect example of said horizon expansion is when a noted comedian or comedic actor opts to make the leap into a more dramatic role. There’s something admirable about someone who is willing to take their talents in one sphere and explore whether those talents transfer to another. Now, it doesn’t always work, of course, so it’s an interesting crapshoot of sorts.

“Fatherhood,” newly streaming on Netflix, is the latest entry in the “comedic actors tackling dramatic roles” canon. Starring Kevin Hart, it’s a movie about the struggles of a single father dealing with grief and loss while also trying to ensure the best possible life for his child. Directed by Paul Weitz from a script he co-wrote with Dana Stevens, the film is based on Matthew Logelin’s 2011 memoir “Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love.”

While there’s no denying that the film is a touch formulaic, it definitely has a surprising heart. And a surprising Hart, as far as that goes – he leads a solid cast with a performance that is considerably deeper, subtler and more nuanced than you might expect from him. Honestly, the film’s plot and narrative beats won’t surprise you, but the emotional impact just might.

Published in Movies

Starting with the revolutionary work of George Romero, the movie zombie has long been used as a sort of thematic cipher. The nature of the monster allows for a filmmaker to project their viewpoint regarding a particular cultural or societal issue; horror films are often about more than just the horror, with zombie movies serving as the most flexible palette for the expression of ideas.

Then again, sometimes a zombie movie is just a zombie movie.

While I’m not going to sit here and say that Zack Snyder DIDN’T have some sort of larger commentary in mind when he made “Army of the Dead,” currently in theaters and streaming on Netflix, it sure does seem like he just wanted to throw some hot zombie action onscreen and see what happened.

And that’s OK.

Basically, Snyder has grafted a heist movie onto his zombie movie to mixed-but-largely-positive results. There’s plenty of gore and viscera splattering all over the place. The heist side of things is reasonably heist-y. And Snyder shows a degree of self-awareness, embracing and sometimes winking at his well-known filmmaking tics. It’s got its issues – primarily its length and some unnecessary narrative/character convolution – and it lacks some of the pop of Snyder’s previous zombie feature, 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” (his feature debut, no less!), but it is ultimately a successful genre mashup that works more often than it doesn’t.

Published in Movies

Movies don’t always work. There are a million potential reasons why, but that’s the simple truth: sometimes, films fail.

On the surface, something like “The Woman in the Window,” newly streaming on Netflix, looks like a candidate for solid success. It’s got talent behind the camera in director Joe Wright and a wildly overqualified cast led by Amy Adams. It’s based on a best-selling book adapted by the excellent Tracy Letts (who also makes an uncredited appearance in the film).

But look closer and it all starts to crumble.

This was a film that was supposed to come out nearly two years ago – in October of 2019 – before terrible test screenings lead to re-edits, pushing the release to May of 2020 (and we all know how that worked out). After that further delay, the studio sold the rights to Netflix and here we are.

After watching it, well … I’m just curious as to how bad it was BEFORE the fixes.

This kind of “woman in distress” thriller has seen a bit of a renaissance in recent years, courtesy of authors like Gillian Flynn. But this one – penned pseudonymously by noted fabulist Daniel Mallory – has none of the propulsive power of that novel. And as for the film adaptations? Let’s just say the window should have stayed closed.

Published in Movies

I like it when a movie surprises me.

Maybe it’s a narrative surprise or an aesthetic surprise or a thematic surprise – doesn’t really matter to me. I dig it when a movie does something that is genuinely unexpected, when it becomes something different than anticipated.

And when it’s a kids’ movie? Let’s go.

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is the latest from the folks at Sony Pictures Animation. Directed by first-time feature director Mike Rianda and co-directed by Jeff Rowe from a script co-written by the two, it’s a CG film that manages to bring together two fairly disparate concepts together in a way that is both functional and fun.

Basically, what we have here is a movie that is a dysfunctional family road trip comedy AND a dystopian battle against the machine uprising. It really shouldn’t work, but somehow, the film manages to maintain its sense of goofball whimsy while also conveying genuine tension regarding the end of the world. It is heartfelt and hilarious animated fun that balances its seemingly incongruous parts with aplomb.

Published in Movies

Stories that spring from the dangers of distance have always fascinated us. Whether they are journeys into the wilderness, across the sea or into the heavens, the perils of separation from those who might help us should emergencies arise can make for compelling drama.

Stories of space travel have largely supplanted those of treks into the wild or over the waves; so many space stories – particularly ones that seek to hew relatively close to the realm of the plausible – revolve around the idea that help will not and cannot come. In space, you’re more or less on your own.

“Stowaway,” the new film directed by Joe Penna from a script that Penna co-wrote with Ryan Morrison, is the latest exploration of the unforgiving nature of the unknown and the emotional consequences that can come with being forced to make impossible choices.

It’s also a crackerjack space movie, one in which care has clearly been taken to maintain a degree of verisimilitude that exceeds that of all but the most meticulously-crafted near-future sci-fi. It’s a taut thriller, one that mines tension from moments that could have felt flat and/or mundane in the hands of another filmmaker.

Published in Movies
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