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It’s always nice to be surprised by a movie.

Take 2020’s Netflix offering “Enola Holmes.” Based on the first in a series of YA novels by Nancy Springer, the film follows the titular girl – sister to the famed detective Sherlock Holmes – as she finds herself embroiled in a mystery she herself must solve. I went in expecting something passable, and instead was served a charming and wholesome cinematic treat. And I wasn’t alone in feeling that way – the film was well-received by critics and audiences alike.

So of course we were going to get a sequel.

“Enola Holmes 2” sees Millie Bobbie Brown return as the titular girl detective. Harry Bradbeer is back to direct, while Jack Thorne has returned to write the screenplay (though it should be noted that this new film is not a direct adaptation of any of the Springer novels). And while out heroine is a little older and a little wiser, the sense of fun that marked the pervious installment is still very much present.

Mixed in with that fun, however, is a nod to some of the very real circumstances of the time and place in which the film takes place. Now, this is a fairly glossy treatment of the bleakness endured by the lower socioeconomic classes in late 19th century London, but it does draw on real events as the core of the story it tells. A story told rather successfully, I might add.

Published in Style

It’s a heck of a time to be a consumer of popular culture if you’re a fan of Stephen King.

Not only does the author continue to turn out high-quality new works of fiction on the regular – his latest book “Fairy Tale” is another top-shelf offering, just for instance – but we’re seeing all manner of King adaptations making their respective ways onto screens large and small.

The latest entry on that ever-expanding list is “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” currently streaming on Netflix. It’s based on the novella of the same name from King’s 2020 collection “If It Bleeds” and is directed and adapted for the screen by John Lee Hancock.

Now, this isn’t the best adaptation of King’s work we’ve seen, though it does feature several themes that are prevalent in the author’s oeuvre. There’s a bit of a pacing program and just a touch of tonal inconsistency, and while you never want a narrative to be overly explicatory, there’s an occasional feeling of not having quite enough information.

That being said, there’s plenty to like here as well. There are some very strong performances here, as well as a wonderful balance between the everyday and the supernatural in terms of the obstacles being faced. Plus, there’s a nice coming-of-age vibe that is reflective of some of King’s most intimate work.

Published in Movies
Monday, 03 October 2022 12:42

This gentleman did not prefer ‘Blonde’

Few film genres are as well-worn as the biopic. We’ve been getting movies that offer takes on the life stories of real people pretty much since we’ve been getting movies. And when you’ve got a style of film that has been around for this long – everything from moment-in-time to cradle-to-grave – well … it can be tough to stand out.

And sometimes, even when you do stand out, it’s for the wrong reasons.

Andrew Dominik’s new film “Blonde” – currently streaming on Netflix – is one such standout. Adapted by Dominik from the 2000 Joyce Carol Oates fictionalized biography of the same name, it purports to tell the story (or A story, anyway) about the silver screen legend Marilyn Monroe. And in its way, it does that, taking us from her troubled childhood through her Hollywood ebbs and flows and her tumultuous personal life all the way to her tragic too-soon end.

The manner in which it does that, however, is … complicated.

The story plays out in a fractured and haphazard manner, both narratively and stylistically. We move through time in fits and starts, staying in some places too long and blurring past others. There are flashbacks upon flashbacks and frequent insertions of surreality. The aesthetics of the film wander with no seeming rhyme or reason, shifting from black and white to flashes of color at random and changing aspect ratios seemingly on a whim.

It's an undeniably bold effort – one that includes some exceptional performances, including by Ana de Armas in the lead – but that boldness seems utterly untempered by any mitigating influence. The result is a shaggy and meandering film whose staggering 167-minute runtime is marked by extended stretches that could be (and should have been) excised with little to no impact on the overall experience of the film.

Published in Movies
Monday, 19 September 2022 13:16

‘Do Revenge’ a smart, satiric dark comedy

I’ve long been a proponent of films set in high schools. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories, so there is that, but I’ve also found that there’s a lot of malleability inherent to high school movies. They can exist on their own merits, yes, but they can also serve as wonderful palettes upon which to explore other genres, tropes and ideas.

Think of it as the “X, but in high school” categorization.

The new Netflix film “Do Revenge,” directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson from a script she co-wrote with Celeste Ballard, is a great example of this kind of movie. It’s almost a pastiche of its influences, pulling from classic dark teen comedy and elevated cinematic and genre fare alike. Imagine “Strangers on a Train” getting the same sort of treatment that “Cruel Intentions” gave “Dangerous Liaisons” – it’s kind of like that.

This story of wronged teenagers joining forces to exact revenge on those who wronged them is a blackly comic joy, bringing together standard teen fare with a shadowy sense of humor. The combination isn’t always a perfect fit, but thanks to some sharp writing and a pair of strong lead performances, it works far more often than it doesn’t. It’s tough to make a movie that feels both like a throwback and of its moment, but “Do Revenge” manages the feat.

Published in Movies
Monday, 12 September 2022 13:30

‘End of the Road’ a bumpy ride

Every so often, a movie comes along that answers a question that you didn’t even know you wanted to ask. Many times, that movie arrives courtesy of Netflix, because with the sheer volume of content they push out, there’s more than a little “infinite monkeys/infinite typewriters” energy there.

For example, take “End of the Road,” the new thriller from the streamer. Directed by Millicent Shelton from a script by Christopher J. Moore and David Loughery and starring Queen Latifah, it’s ostensibly an action thriller that follows a road-tripping family as they get pulled into a murderous web of criminals and ill-gotten cash. I say “ostensibly” because, while that is certainly technically correct, the film manages to raise one of those unanticipated questions.

To wit: just how many over-the-top tropes clichés can one film family endure before we move from the realm of the thriller into the theater of the absurd? The answer? Significantly fewer than get thrown at Queen Latifah and company in these 90 minutes of escalating nonsense.

Published in Movies
Monday, 29 August 2022 14:15

‘Me Time’ a meh time

It should come as no surprise that when a company adopts a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach to moviemaking, the results are going to be mixed.

So it is at Netflix, where the streamer continues to churn out films at a blistering rate. Whether they’re outside purchases or in-house productions, these movies are constantly arriving. Some of them have been great, some of them have been bad and the rest exist in a massive, mushy middle.

“Me Time” is very much in the mush.

The new film, written and directed by John Hamburg and starring Kevin Hart and Mark Wahlberg, is a buddy comedy of sorts, one more than happy to spend 100 minutes or so randomly plucking low-hanging fruit. It’s the sort of movie that seems content to merely exist, counting on the name recognition of its stars to do the heavy lifting.

As you might imagine, this attitude doesn’t result in a good movie. Yes, there are a few laughs sprinkled throughout – however you feel about the leads, they are not without their charms – but for the most part, we spend our time laboring from point A to point B until, eventually, we land on whatever poorly-defined lesson we’re supposed to learn about the importance of family or whatever.

Published in Movies

I’ve always had a soft spot for sliding doors. Maybe it’s because I’m the sort of person predisposed to wondering “what if?” and fascinated by the notion of one point of divergence altering a life – a world – moving forward. It doesn’t always work (although in truth, what does?), but it almost always holds my attention.

“Look Both Ways,” currently streaming on Netflix, is a recent addition to the sliding doors canon. It’s a relatively light and breezy take on the trope, even as its divergence point – pregnant/not pregnant – is perhaps a bit more charged than you might expect, though the film itself isn’t all that interested in addressing that charged nature.

With a charming, albeit somewhat bland, cast and a more or less constant levity, this film is well-made, with some solid visual representations of the split timelines, and it’s got some laughs. Put it all together and you wind up with a perfectly pleasant way to while away a couple of hours.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, you just know that you’re going to like a movie. You hear the basic concept, you learn who’s involved, maybe you catch a trailer or two and boom – you’re in.

That’s how I felt when I first learned about “Day Shift,” the new film currently streaming on Netflix. Jamie Foxx and Dave Franco are hunting vampires? And Snoop Dogg is in it? Directed by stunt legend J.J. Perry in his directorial debut, it’s a high-octane genre mashup, bringing together action, horror and comedy to create a fast-paced, funny entertainment experience.

For me, it’s an easy call. You’ve got elaborate action sequences. You’ve got over the top gore. You’ve got banter and jokes. And you’ve got a trailer that prominently features one of my favorite actresses (and human beings) tearing s—t up as a vampire. Of COURSE I liked it. What’s not to like?

This movie is big and broad in the ways that we want movies to be big and broad. This is pedal-to-the-metal entertainment, pure and simple – and it is one hell of a good time.

Published in Movies

Say what you will about Joe and Anthony Russo, but they understand what it means for a movie to be big. There are few filmmakers currently working who understand the particulars of blockbusters as well as they do. The Russos seem to have an inherent grasp of what makes large-scale films work. So it’s no surprise that the powers that be at Netflix would tap the Russos to helm their biggest budget film to date.

That film is “The Gray Man,” an action blockbuster currently streaming on the service. The Russos direct from a script by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, adapted from the 2009 Mark Greaney novel of the same name. It has all the components of a massive movie – huge budget, A-list stars, elaborate set pieces and exotic locales, the whole shebang – so of course, why not enlist guys who fundamentally get it to steer the ship?

It’s an espionage action-thriller, a story about one man’s attempt to survive when the government agency for which he has spent over a decade working decides that he has become a liability. This is a big, loud globetrotter of an adventure, and while it perhaps doesn’t work as fully as it might have, it remains an exciting and engaging work of popcorn entertainment.

Published in Movies

As a rule, I do my best not to let the thoughts of other unduly impact my opinions about a film. That isn’t to say I’m above being influenced – we’re all subject to some extent to the constant firehose stream of hot takes, whether we want to be or not – but I try to keep my own counsel as much as possible.

Generally, my feelings about movies more or less line up with those of my peers – good, bad or indifferent – so it’s always fun when I wind up on the take less traveled.

This brings us to “Persuasion,” the new Netflix adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. Directed by Carrie Cracknell from a script adapted by Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow, it is an attempt to infuse the story with a bit of a modern sensibility. Now, I’ll concede that said attempt isn’t a wholly successful one, but I also found that, for me, it worked more often than it didn’t. It’s an opinion that leaves me very much in the minority.

But while there are plenty of issues at play here – and I’m certainly not going to go so far as to call this a great movie (or even a particularly good one) – I can’t deny that I was engaged by the effort and found some things to enjoy. Sure, it’s gimmicky and a bit of a mishmash in terms of tone and aesthetic, and yet … I enjoyed myself.

Your mileage may (and likely will) vary.

Published in Movies
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