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Tuesday, 08 October 2019 14:27

‘In the Tall Grass’ comes up a bit short

What if you heard a voice calling to you, emerging from an unseen child lost somewhere in a field of tall grass? If that voice asked you for help, would you venture forth to offer your assistance? What if you went in … and couldn’t find your way out?

That’s the deceptively simple conceit of “In the Tall Grass,” a film directed by Vincenzo Natali from a script Natali adapted from the novella of the same name co-written by Stephen King and Joe Hill. It’s pastoral horror at its most elemental, a tale of terror where unexplained forces can trap the innocent in circumstances that they cannot understand – and cannot escape.

The film operates largely in the realm of atmospheric scares, relying on the seeming innocence of the natural setting to evoke the fear-feeding tension. It isn’t always successful, with stretches that don’t quite cohere as well as they might; the plot takes on a complexity that isn’t always easy to follow. But with some brutally bloody moments and an enervating audio/visual style, you might find yourself unable to look away.

Published in Movies

Time travel is tricky.

It’s easy to understand why a filmmaker – especially a filmmaker on a budget – would be interested in the possibilities offered by time travel. It’s a conceit that allows plenty of room for speculative spread without necessarily requiring one to shell out a ton of cash for effects work.

However, one must also be prepared to deal with the narrative ramifications of using something like time travel. You can’t just point the camera and say “time travel” – there has to be some sense of cohesion. Without a delicate touch, the whole thing is in danger of dissolving into incoherence.

Some time travel movies – the best ones – strike a balance; the filmmaker is able to embrace the advantages offered by the concept while also avoiding the many pitfalls. The vast majority fall short of that ideal.

“In the Shadow of the Moon” is one of the many, rather than the few. Rather than building a time travel narrative that builds upon itself, it instead collapses under its own weight. Its intriguing initial idea is unable to sustain itself, crumbling into paradox. The logistical issues are either ignored or hand-waved away, rendering the central mystery an uninteresting afterthought.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 01 October 2019 15:48

New to view 2019: A fall TV preview

Fall TV premiere season is upon us!

Granted, the whole concept of the “new fall lineup” has increasingly become less of a thing with the proliferation of streaming services willing to drop entire seasons in one go and networks becoming more and more flexible with regards to when a series can and should debut, but whether it is by design or simply through inertia, we still see a whole lot of new material hit the airwaves in the autumn.

As per usual, this preview addresses only those shows entering their debut seasons. This isn’t about all the exceptional television that is returning for a second or third or fifth or tenth season – this is about stuff we haven’t seen before. It’s a chance to look ahead at what’s coming and think about what content – if any – we might be willing to invest our limited leisure time into.

It’s a mixed bag for sure. We’ve got broadcast and we’ve got streaming and you’d better believe we’ve got HBO. We’ve got comedy and drama. We’ve got prestige fare and we’ve got mass appeal. We’ve got highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow – all the brows you could ever desire.

Will all of these shows be good? Absolutely not. Should you watch them all? Also – no. And this is far from everything. But if there’s even one or two gems among the flotsam, that’s a big win. And honestly, it looks like there might be a couple of winners here.

Or maybe it’s all just poorly-conceived adequately-executed entertainment detritus. Who can say?

Let’s have a look at a few of 2019’s fall TV premieres.

Published in Cover Story
Tuesday, 06 August 2019 19:14

Mother knows worst – ‘Otherhood’

Sometimes, you know exactly what you’re going to get from a movie within the first few minutes. Occasionally, that’s a good thing. More often, it’s definitely not.

The new movie “Otherhood” – directed by Cindy Chupak from a script she co-wrote with Mark Andrus, based on the William Sutcliffe novel “Whatever Makes You Happy” – is very much an example of the latter. Despite a talented cast, the film quickly bogs down in clichés and spins its wheels, asking the viewer to bear with it even as it staggers toward an uninspired finish.

It’s another example of the algorithmically-curated content creation model of Netflix; the streaming service recognizes an audience for a type of movie – in this case, a story featuring women of a certain age dealing with their families – and proceeds to make it. Alas, actual quality doesn’t always factor into the decision.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 04 June 2019 16:09

Say yes to ‘Always Be My Maybe’

While I would argue that reports of the demise of the romantic comedy have been greatly exaggerated, it’s tough to deny that things have changed with regards to that particular genre.

Movie studios aren’t as interested in investing in mid-budget standalone films anymore. It’s all about massive tentpole franchises with a smattering of awards bait and a handful of mini- and microbudget niche offerings. Rom-coms aren’t really big box office anymore.

But Netflix doesn’t need you to make your way to the movie theater. They just need you to click a couple of buttons on your remote. They need your eyeballs. And they have discovered that an effective avenue to procure those eyeballs is the romantic comedy.

The streaming service’s latest – and arguably best – entry into that arena is “Always Be My Maybe,” starring Ali Wong and Randall Park. It’s from a script co-written by Wong and Park, along with Michael Golamko; the film is directed by Nahnatchka Khan, best known for her work on TV’s “Fresh Off the Boat.”

“Always Be My Maybe” is not a wheel reinvention; all of the people involved clearly have a sense for how rom-coms work and are unconcerned with change for the sake of change. Instead, the film revolves around subverting tropes – sometimes subtly, other times not so much – while still existing within the standard stylistic framework of the genre.

Published in Movies

It’s seems as though there’s something for everyone these days.

Gone is the era when consumers of popular culture were forced to fit their own tastes into the broader boxes presented by limited options, where people watched what they watched not because they had sought it out, but because it was what was available to them.

Now, with the advent of streaming services and the like, a person can carefully curate their content consumption to a staggering extent of specificity. And so too can creators curate their creations to aim at those same granular niches.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I watched The Lonely Island’s “The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience” on Netflix and I feel seen.

Published in Sports

Cinematic reunions are rarer than you think. While there are a few Coen-esque or Andersonian (Wes or Paul Thomas, take your pick) stables of performers out there, the truth is that these sorts of filmmaking teams don’t turn up all that often.

That relative rarity is a big part of what makes the new film “Velvet Buzzsaw” so intriguing. Writer/director Dan Gilroy has brought back the two stars of his 2014 offering “Nightcrawler” – Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo – for this one, a genre-bending story of creeping horror set amidst the backdrop of the contemporary art world.

Combining elements of satire and social commentary with horror tropes and a gleefully needling deflation of the self-indulgent self-seriousness of the high-end artistic realm, “Velvet Buzzsaw” is a film that is undeniably itself. The component parts don’t always mesh as well as they might, but the overall experience is an engaging one that will appeal to a weirdly disparate audience.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 22 January 2019 16:37

From Earth to a moon – ‘IO’

The end of the world has been a prime cinematic subject pretty much since cinema has been a thing. Our imaginations are obsessed with endings and beginnings – and a good post-apocalyptic yarn can give us some of both.

So it’s no surprise that we’d get a movie like “IO,” a story of the last remaining people on an Earth whose environment is rapidly decaying beyond our ability to live upon it. It’s about what it means to cling to home even when home is no longer the safe haven we remember it to be – and the consequences of that desperate desire to stay when every indicator is that we must go.

It’s certainly a well-made movie – one of the higher-quality offerings you’re going to find amongst the wealth of original options constantly streaming forth from the Netflix monolith. And it features some good ideas and some solid performances. While it’s a bit lacking in terms of earned emotional impact – soul, if you will – it’s certainly a better-than-decent way to kill 90 minutes or so.

Published in Movies

Rudyard Kipling’s classic 1894 novel “The Jungle Book” has served as the inspiration for a number of films over the years. Like any good source material, it has come to the attention of multiple filmmakers looking to tell their own version of the story.

Generally, we’ve seen a new movie about once every generation. Since the early 1940s, audiences have gotten a new version of Mowgli and his jungle brethren every 20-25 years. The iconic Disney animation hit in 1967; another live-action version swung through in 1994.

But then, “The Jungle Book” fell victim to the dreaded Hollywood disease known to some as ADIMMS (Armageddon/Deep Impact Multiple Movie Syndrome); two too-similar movies released too close together. There was Disney’s CGI-laden remake in 2016, replete with an all-star voice cast and directed by Jon Favreau.

And now there’s “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” courtesy of Netflix. The streaming giant meant for this big-budget outing – a motion-capture extravaganza filled with famous voices and directed by mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis – to be a theatrical release. But circumstances (including the massive success of the Disney film from just two years prior) led to a shift in plans – a very limited big-screen turn followed by a quick turnaround to home availability.

It’s certainly a darker look for the material than we usually see. But despite that darkness – or perhaps because of it – Serkis and company lose track of the story’s soul. “Mowgli” looks great, but looks aren’t everything. It’s a beautiful package without much inside.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 19 September 2018 11:13

What’s new to view: A fall 2018 TV preview

Fall TV premiere season is upon us!

Granted, the whole “new fall lineup” has increasingly become less of a thing with the proliferation of streaming services willing to drop entire seasons in one go and networks becoming more and more flexible with regards to when a series can and should debut, but whether it is by design or simply through inertia, we still see a whole lot of new material hit the airwaves in the autumn.

As per usual, this preview addresses only those shows entering their debut seasons. This isn’t about all the exceptional television that is returning for a second or third or fifth or tenth season – this is about stuff we haven’t seen before. It’s a chance to look ahead at what’s coming and think about what content – if any – we might be willing to invest our limited leisure time into.

(Note: This story hits the streets on Sept. 19. We’re focusing on shows that have yet to make the scene, so for the handful of entries that bowed earlier this month … sorry. Better luck next time.)

It’s a mixed bag. We’ve got broadcast and we’ve got streaming. We’ve got comedy and drama. We’ve got prestige fare and we’ve got mass appeal. We’ve got highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow – all the brows you could ever desire.

Will all of these shows be good? Absolutely not. Should you watch them all? Also – no. But if there’s even one or two gems among the flotsam, that’s a big win. And honestly, it looks like there might be a couple of winners here.

Or maybe it’s all just poorly-conceived adequately-executed entertainment detritus. Who can say?

Let’s have a look at some of 2018’s fall TV premieres.

Published in Cover Story
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