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Few literary characters are as beloved as the famed detective Sherlock Holmes. From his beginnings in the tales spun by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the multitude of stage and screen adaptations we’ve seen featuring the character over the ensuing decades, audiences have lone adored the eccentric crime-solver.

Of course, with a century’s worth of stories, it can be difficult to find new ways to bring the character to life. We’ve seen so many iterations – in what ways might one breathe new life into the Holmesian mythos?

Well … how about a sister?

“Enola Holmes,” newly streaming on Netflix, offers viewers a new path through this well-worn landscape. Based on the first book in a series of young adult novels by Nancy Springer, the film is directed by Harry Bradbeer from a script adapted by Jack Thorne. It introduces us to the titular Enola Holmes, a teenage girl whose intellectual talents are comparable to those of her far more famous older brothers.

There’s an undeniable charm to this film, a basic wholesomeness that is utterly appealing even as it occasionally veers into the realm of the cornball. It is goofy and fun, with a healthy sprinkling of empowerment and a top-notch collection of supporting talent, all in service of an absolute star turn from Millie Bobbie Brown, who plays the titular Enola and offers up a performance that is indicative of great things to come.

Published in Movies

The relationships that exist between people – and the motivations that drive them – are often the best fodder for storytelling. The reasons we do the things we do and the people for whom we do them can be the purest distillation of our character.

Novelist Donald Ray Pollock has a knack for evoking the dark side of that equation; his books are packed with the brutality and evil that people do even while feeling utterly justified in doing them.

That sense of physical and emotional violence is omnipresent in “The Devil All the Time,” an adaptation of Pollock’s 2011 novel of the same name. Directed by Antonio Campos from a screenplay he co-wrote with his brother Paulo, the film is set in midcentury West Virginia and Ohio and follows a sprawling collection of different characters through narratives whose connections – both overt and subtle – constantly ebb and flow toward one another.

It’s a story of sin, of the evil that even the pious are capable of if they can convince themselves of the righteousness of their acts. It’s a striking representation of the time and place, to be sure, while also featuring an incredible collection of talent in the cast. But that unrelenting representation of the dark side of human nature, the ongoing parade of terrible people doing terrible things for terrible reasons – it’s a lot. The bleakly entangled constancy of sex and violence and power and religion is frankly exhausting, though the excellent performances and quality filmmaking make it worth the undertaking nevertheless.

Published in Movies

One of the many things that we lost to the pandemic this year was the 2020 Olympic Games. Set to take place in Tokyo this summer, the event has been moved to 2021. It’s easy to forget, however, that losing the Olympics means losing more than just those Games.

Specifically, we also are deprived of the Paralympic Games, an event that is not only a way to celebrate differently-abled athletes on the global stage, but is actually the third-largest sporting event in the world.

“Rising Phoenix,” a documentary by Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui currently streaming on Netflix, is an in-depth look at the Paralympic Games through the eyes of its organizers and its competitors. It is a heartfelt and inspirational journey through the history of the Games, both in terms of how it came to be and what it means to those who participate.

Watching the best in the world do what they do is always compelling. Compounding that excellence with the remarkable fortitude that comes with overcoming additional hurdles to reach that apex is exponentially more so. This is a remarkable portrait of some remarkable athletes, a film that celebrates the multitude of ways in which someone can excel in the world of sport.

It should also be noted that “Rising Phoenix” is an absolutely stunning film to look at. These athletes are presented in ways that reflect their outsized talent and determination, with images reminiscent of superhero origin stories or renderings that recall statuary representing Greek gods. This bold aesthetic, matched with incredible footage of both competition and training, allows these athletes and their accomplishments the larger-than-life appearance that they warrant.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 26 August 2020 09:16

‘High Score’ puts in its initials

While there may still be those out there who happily dismiss video games as kid stuff or somehow niche, the truth is that anyone in this country born in the last half-century likely has some connection to them.

Obviously, gaming is big business in 2020, a multibillion-dollar industry that economically outperforms the music industry and the movie industry – combined. But it was definitely a rollercoaster ride of booms and busts along the way.

“High Score,” the new six-episode docuseries from Netflix, is an exploration of that ride, a look back to the early days of the industry evolved from the domain of a few into a world occupied by billions. Along the way, we hear the stories of assorted successes (and a few failures) as told by the people responsible.

By necessity, the filmmakers must pick and choose the people and places on which to focus. With just a half-dozen episodes – most coming in at around 45 minutes, give or take – it’s all about snapshots; there just isn’t time for a deep dive into video game history. But these glimpses are what makes the series work, looks at with the people involved, whether as designers and developers or simply players. Seeing their passion for the medium is what really makes “High Score” soar.

Published in Tekk

If you’re looking to make a kid-friendly action movie, you’re limited in many ways. Ultimately, this means that there are only a handful of basic ideas that are feasible. Filmmakers take one of these concepts, slap some cosmetic changes onto it and call it a movie.

One of the go-tos for kiddie action is “Parents have a secret and kids are the only ones who can save them.” We’ve seen it a million times.

Better make it a million and one.

“The Sleepover,” a new original movie from Netflix currently streaming on the service, is the latest to throw a coat of paint and a few accessories onto that baseline idea and let her rip. Now, there’s a certain base level of competence that comes with Netflix films, so this film’s floor is pretty high. Unfortunately, it’s rare that the company’s originals far exceed that base level, so the ceiling is fairly low.

And so we get “The Sleepover,” a reasonably-executed and largely soulless collection of dopey kid jokes and slightly-off adult banter featuring a couple of decent action sequences. The story is thin and the film features a couple of actors you recognize giving inoffensive performances; basically, it’s the exact kind of disposable cinema we largely expect from Netflix.

Published in Movies

Everyone knows that superhero movies are big business these days. The MCU and DCEU have both proven to be massive moneymakers, bringing in billions of dollars for the studios. What we sometimes forget, however, is that these films are being built on a foundation of source material that runs decades deep. That depth provides a wealth of ready-made narrative and loads of context.

As you might imagine, these means that creating movies based on more limited or obscure source material can result in varying degrees of success. And when you start talking about wholly original ideas, with no IP serving to shore them up structurally, well – you’ve got a task ahead of you.

Netflix has offered up just such an idea with their new movie “Project Power.” Specifically – what if there was a pill you could take that would give you superpowers for five minutes? But there’s a catch: you won’t know what your power will be until you take the pill … and there’s a chance you might just explode.

“Project Power” is a big-budget action-adventure that, while liberally borrowing from other sources, still manages to be more or less its own thing. Sure, it’s a touch derivative in spots, but it also has a couple of top-tier talents heading the call list (Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and an up-and-coming directing team at the helm (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman). It’s not a wheel reinvention; this movie hits the beats we’ve come to expect from superhero cinema and does so in a familiar way. However, there’s just enough different here to make things interesting not just for the average viewer, but for the hardcore Marvel and DC stans as well.

Published in Movies

Have you ever solved a Rubik’s Cube? How long did it take you?

If it was more than a few seconds, then you probably aren’t ready for the world of competitive speedcubing. It’s a world filled with idiosyncratic characters, but there’s no disputing that these people are as devoted to perfecting their craft as any other elite performer. Watching cubing at the highest level is genuinely fascinating – their hands are a blur of speed and motion as they solve cubes in mere seconds.

“The Speed Cubers,” a documentary by Sue Kim, takes a look at two of the greatest competitive cubers ever. The Australian Feliks Demgegs, who spent close to 10 years setting records and winning championships, and the young American Max Park, a prodigy who has spent the past few years shattering many of those same records as he rockets to the top of the scene.

It’s about the unlikely friendship that sprang up between the two rivals – a friendship made all the more moving by Max’s special circumstances. While the cubing itself is certainly impressive, the pure humanity on display is even more striking. It’s a short film – just 40 minutes – but no less impactful because of its brevity.

Published in Sports

When you hear that a movie has been on the shelf for an extended period, you’d be forgiven for having some doubts regarding its quality.

“Animal Crackers,” an animated film from Blue Dream Studios, might raise some of those questions. The movie – adapted from a graphic novel by Scott Christian Sava – was a collaborative effort between American and Chinese companies and was actually released in China a couple of years ago. However, numerous attempts at domestic distribution fell through in the subsequent years, with Netflix finally taking the reins and releasing it on their service.

It’s too bad, because this film doesn’t deserve the stigma that comes with its lengthy remove. It might not be great, but it’s plenty good enough to have received a theatrical release here. There are a lot of quality pieces here – an exceptional cast, some great music – and while the animation is a bit low-rent and the story is meh, I’ve sat through much worse films that received far more attention.

Published in Movies
Saturday, 11 July 2020 16:41

Never say die – ‘The Old Guard’

It takes a special kind of performer to headline an action franchise. Gone are the days when all it took was a willingness to bulk up, shoot guns and spout catchphrases; today’s action offerings trend toward the high-concept, particularly when looking to create or continue a series. And a different sort of action requires a different sort of actor.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have pegged someone like Charlize Theron as a likely action star, but following recent turns in films like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Atomic Blonde,” it is abundantly clear that she has all the requisite chops to handle her business.

Her latest entry into that realm is “The Old Guard,” currently streaming on Netflix. It’s a sharp and sometimes surprising sci-fi action offering, one clearly intended to kick off a franchise for the streamer. There’s a thoughtfulness to the film that you don’t always see in this sort of offering, along with a willingness to allow breathing room for character development (although the action set pieces are high in both quality and quantity).

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood from a screenplay that Greg Rucka adapted from his own graphic novel series of the same name, “The Old Guard” is a film whose strengths are consistently complementary, finding the perfect blend of action-packed excitement and character engagement – one left wide open for future installments.

Published in Movies
Monday, 06 July 2020 13:13

Return to sender - ‘Desperados’

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Netflix has another original romantic comedy hitting their service.

The streaming giant has done significant work in their efforts to corner a variety of cinematic niche markets through the combined power of their algorithm and their checkbook. Nowhere is that focus more apparent than in the realm of rom-coms; Netflix is the undisputed industry leader as far as that genre goes. They just keep churning them out, for (sometimes) better and (usually) worse.

Their latest offering is “Desperados,” a film that is very much the latter. It is a derivative and vaguely dull film, one that seems to have simply thrown a bunch of clichés and tropes at the wall and filmed what stuck. It is a warmed-over rehash, a cover band attempting to play the hits. It’s the sort of movie that offers literally nothing that you haven’t seen before.

Watching this movie is like watching items checked off a list. Quirky female protagonist? Check. Two unreasonably supportive friends? Check. Ridiculous and easily avoided mistake made? Check. Exotic getaway setting? Check. Questionable decision making? Check. Physical injury played for laughs? Check.

You get the picture.

Published in Movies
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