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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

If you’re like me, you’ve often wondered what would happen if you were to combine ABBA with Bjork, divide that into into two people and enter the result in the Eurovision Song Contest. Now, thanks to Will Farrell and Netflix, we finally have an answer.

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” – directed by David Dobkin and starring Ferrell (who also co-wrote the script) and Rachel McAdams – is the story of a mismatched pair of Icelandic oddballs whose strange band accidentally winds up representing their country in the legendary Eurovision Song Contest.

This is a legitimately weird movie, one that revels in its sense of exaggerated cultural absurdity and is unapologetic in its steadfast refusal to concern itself with making sense. It is both celebration and satire, a goofy love letter to Eurovision that leans into the over-the-top pomp and circumstance that helps define the beloved contest. It is relentlessly ridiculous, loose and shaggy and rife with inexplicable accents. It is a movie that won’t be everyone’s cup of brennivin, but if you’re into it, you will be INTO IT.

Real talk: I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, but your mileage definitely may vary.

Published in Movies

As someone who considers himself a bit of an action movie connoisseur, I’ve got a special place in my heart for high-concept action. I enjoy the broad strokes and tropes of the genre, but I particularly dig it when there’s an interesting idea serving as the framework.

Obviously, when I hear tell of a film with just such a framework, I look forward to seeing it. I have certain expectations, of course, but they are expectations I believe to be quite reasonable. My bar in terms of pure enjoyment is relatively low … and yet some films still manage to undershoot it by a frankly astonishing degree.

So it is with “The Last Days of American Crime,” a film that limbos so far beneath my reasonable expectations as to bury itself in a not-so-shallow grave. The film – directed by Olivier Megaton and currently streaming on Netflix – commits egregious cinematic sins almost too numerous to name, working its way through what almost seems like a deliberate checklist of poor choices and worse execution.

Seriously – this movie is a bad time. It is staggeringly overlong, yet still manages to feel dull and uneventful. The dialogue is laughable, the performances are wooden and/or off-kilter and the character motivations are either nonsensical or nonexistent. The action sequences feel rote and uninspired and it is shockingly tone deaf in spots. Just … not good.

Published in Movies

Full disclosure: I love a spelling bee.

As someone who spent a little time spelling competitively in his youth (three-time school champ with a couple of regional finals appearances, nbd), I will always have a place of affection in my heart for the bee, one of the relatively few competitive scholastic outlets for the academically gifted as opposed to the athletically inclined.

Of course, even at my best, the difference between myself and the true elites of the spellosphere was the same as that between, say, a decent high school baseball player (which I also was) and an All-Star big leaguer (which I decidedly was not).

“Spelling the Dream,” a new Netflix documentary written and directed by Sam Rega, follows a handful of those elite competitors, young people who have the skill and the will to reach the top of the mountain – the Scripps National Spelling Bee. These kids have a lot in common, of course, but this film focuses on something that connects them with a significant number of their fellow lexicographical comrades in arms – their cultural identity. Specifically, their heritage as Indian-Americans.

Published in Livin'

When the central relationship of your movie – particularly if it’s a rom-com – really pops, it can make up for considerable shortcomings in other respects. If there’s genuine chemistry in that dynamic, then viewers will forgive a lot.

There’s no denying that Kumail Najiani and Issa Rae have that easy chemistry in “The Lovebirds.” Directed by Michael Showalter (who also directed Nanjiani in the excellent “The Big Sick”) from a script written by Aaron Abrams and Brendon Gall, it’s the story of a couple who, in the midst of what may be the end of their relationship, wind up entangled in a complex and weird mystery.

As far as this sort of action-adjacent rom-com goes, “The Lovebirds” is pretty familiar stuff. We’ve more or less seen this structure with these beats before – there’s nothing new here. But it still works, thanks to what Nanjiani and Rae bring to the table. Their energy elevates the movie to a significant degree, turning something that could have been generically forgettable into a worthwhile watch.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, you just know.

When you’ve been reviewing movies for as long as I have, you start to have pretty good instincts with regards to what kind of film you’re getting even before you sit down to watch it. That isn’t to say that movies are incapable of surprising me – that’s not the case at all – but the reality is that experience gives you the ability to make some fairly accurate educated guesses.

All this is to say that I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into with Netflix’s “The Wrong Missy,” the new Netflix original from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company. In truth, all you really need to hear is “David Spade vehicle” to have a general sense of what you’re in for.

However, it’s difficult to articulate just how off-the-rails terrible this movie actually is. Casting David Spade as anything resembling a romantic lead is a mistake on its face, but when you incorporate the lackluster script, disinterested direction and a checklist of the Sandler formula playbook, you’re left with a movie driven by sheer cringe and little else. It is dumb, generally unpleasant and woefully unfunny.

Published in Movies

One of my favorite romantic comedy techniques is the adaptation of and/or inspiration by a classic work. This is particularly prolific in the teen-targeted sector, because let’s be honest, love stories tend to be a young person’s game. Granted, quality source material is hardly a guarantee of a quality film, but it’s certainly a good place to start.

The latest example of the literary classic-turned-YA rom-com “The Half of It,” written and directed by Alice Wu and newly streaming on Netflix. It definitely lands on the inspired by side of things, but it wears that particular influence – namely, Edmund Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” – loudly and proudly.

Granted, it takes the classic secret correspondence-driven love triangle and gives it a decidedly original flair, gender-flipping our erstwhile epistle-writer and lending the entire proceedings a cloak of LGBTQ+ friendliness that serves to make the story feel both of the moment and widely accessible.

It doesn’t hurt that Wu is a gifted filmmaker with a particular talent for language; she’s got a real ear for witty and romantic dialogue. And she has an outstanding trio of young actors at the film’s center. All the pieces are there for a lovely little movie – and “The Half of It” delivers.

Published in Movies

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
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
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