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Monday, 18 January 2021 16:37

‘Outside the Wire’ offers so-so sci-fi

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: In a relatively near future, a human and a robot or forced to team up with the fate of the world at stake, but not all is as it seems.

Sound familiar? Then you’re well-equipped for “Outside the Wire,” a new sci-fi action film coming your way via Netflix. Directed by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Hafstrom from a script co-written by Rowan Athale and Rob Yescombe, the film is an uneven mashup of familiar genre tropes that sports that unmistakable Netflix sheen.

Basically, if you’ve seen even one human/robot partnership movie, there aren’t likely to be many surprises for you here. “Outside the Wire” is essentially a collection of predictable plot points punctuated by action set pieces and lots of explosions, without even the headiness of ideas that make some of its spiritual predecessors conceptually engaging as well as viscerally.

Published in Movies

Full disclosure: I f---ing LOVE swearing. I have a notorious potty mouth, using curse words as every conceivable part of speech in my coarse discourse. I swear in front of friends and strangers. I swear in front of kids. Hell, I even swear in front of my mom.

But while I love swear words, I’ll freely admit to not necessarily knowing that much about them. Their origins, their etymology … their history.

Happily, Nicolas Cage has got my back.

Cage is the host of the new Netflix series “History of Swearing,” currently streaming on the service. Over the course of six 20-minute episodes, Cage – along with a cavalcade of celebrities, historians and academics – walks us through the history of various swear words. Each of the six episodes is devoted wholly to one specific swear word.

(For the record, the six in question are: f—k, s—t, b—ch, d—k, p—y and damn.)

Published in Buzz

While a lot has been made about the separation of art and artist in recent years, the reality is that we’ve always been faced with that divide – we just have a LOT more access to the personal beliefs and actions of our artists. How effective – and how necessary – the separation can be varies from individual to individual.

It’s unfortunate that “Pieces of a Woman,” directed by Kornel Mundruczo from a script by Kata Weber, will become part of that conversation due to the recent allegations against Shia LaBeouf, who stars in the film. Not because LaBeouf’s actions are somehow overblown – if true, they certainly are not – but because this talk will overshadow what is otherwise a powerful and gutwrenching film.

The real star is Vanessa Kirby, who presents one of the most complex and nuanced portrayals of maternal grief that we’ve seen onscreen in years. Hell, maybe ever – she’s that good. And the film itself digs its fingers into your soul, unrelentingly showing the difficulties, overt and subtle alike, that come with dealing with loss. It’s a stunning achievement whose many accomplishments may be overshadowed by the brutal real-life misdeeds of one of its players.

Published in Movies

Sports documentaries are always a mixed bag, but that bag is particularly mixed if the doc is about a single individual. It’s a fine line; a person isn’t going to sign onto a film that’s going to be a hatchet job, but venturing too far into the realm of hagiography undermines the credibility of the filmmakers and the credulity of the viewer.

“Tony Parker: The Final Shot,” currently streaming on Netflix, manages to find its way into the middle ground, albeit considerably closer to the hagiographic side of the equation. Directed by French filmmaker Florent Bodin, it’s a journey through the career of Tony Parker, the retired NBA point guard who is generally considered to be the greatest player in the history of French basketball.

Published in Sports

The end of the world has always been a subject of fascination for storytellers. The visceral nature of apocalyptic thinking makes for high stakes that bring out the very best and very worst of humanity. Some of these endings are loud and others are quiet, but all of them show us reflections of ourselves.

“The Midnight Sky” – directed by George Clooney, who also stars – is one of the quiet ones, a film that views the end of the world from a pair of very different perspectives. Adapted from Lily Brooks-Dalton’s excellent 2016 novel “Good Morning, Midnight,” it’s a story of isolation and desperation, a tale not of saving the world, but of accepting the fact that it cannot be saved.

Yet it also manages to be a hopeful story, one in which we see people doing what they believe to be best even as they accept the truth that their actions likely won’t matter in the end. Featuring some stylish visuals and compelling performances, “The Midnight Sky” shows us the different ways in which mankind chooses to escape the trappings of Earth by turning its gaze to the stars.

Published in Movies

The transition from stage to screen can be hard.

No matter how good a stage play might be, no matter how brilliant the writing and writer, the shift from a live performance setting into the realm of cinema is rife with pitfalls. There are any number of things that can go awry, leaving audiences with a detached viewing experience that simply cannot compare with the one that took place in the room where it happened.

But when it works, man oh man – it WORKS.

Netflix’s new film “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” – directed by George C. Wolfe and adapted for the screen by Ruben Santiago-Hudson from August Wilson’s play of the same name – works. It is an electrifying piece of cinema, powerful and provocative. The performances – led by Viola Davis as the titular Ma and an absolutely mesmerizing turn from the late Chadwick Boseman – are exquisite. The period aesthetic is vividly on point and the music slaps.

It’s a story of appropriation and what it means to push back against that appropriation. It’s about using whatever talents you have to force your way into the conversation, to demand a place at the table of your own, regardless of whether the world believes you deserve that spot. It is about systemic racism and cultural exploitation and the myriad ways in which one might choose to deal with those harsh realities.

Published in Movies

We’ve seen a steady stream of movies converted into Broadway musicals in recent years to no small success. And there’s been plenty of transitioning in the other direction – the path from stage to screen has been well-traveled.

Converting musicals into movies is an interesting process. You never know if the filmmakers are going to be able to capture the essence of a musical – its spirit. Finding the right ways to convert the visceral nature of live performance onto film is always a crapshoot – one where sometimes you get “West Side Story,” sometimes you get “Cats.”

“The Prom” – currently streaming on Netflix – is the kind of movie that could be deemed nearer the former or the latter, depending on who you ask. Directed by Ryan Murphy and adapted to the screen by Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin from their and Matthew Sklar’s 2018 musical of the same name, it’s a brightly-colored and broad (and dated) look at LGBTQ inclusivity and celebrity activism.

“The Prom” is driven by high-energy performances, delightful production numbers and some songs that are catchy as hell, all in service of what is ultimately intended to be a very sweet love story. Oh, and the cast is dynamite. While it has its clunky and/or heavy-handed moments and occasional missteps, it is by and large a fun and (mostly) funny take on what it means to want to help versus actually stepping up and helping.

Published in Movies
Monday, 07 December 2020 16:53

Write hard, aim low – ‘Mank’

The term “movie magic” gets bandied about pretty regularly, even in these cynical times. It is intended to evoke the sense of awe and wonder that is often born of the cinematic arts, but it should also be noted that there’s a darkness that sometimes goes hand in hand with magic – a darkness rendered all the more deeply courtesy of film’s flickering light.

“Mank” is a film that is unafraid to delve into that darkness, exploring the bleak underside of the rapid rise of early Hollywood. Directed by David Fincher from a screenplay written by his late father Jack Fincher, “Mank” is ostensibly the story of Herman Mankiewicz, the writer (or co-writer, depending on how much stock you put into early-70s Pauline Kael) of the iconic “Citizen Kane,” but in many ways, that’s merely the tip of the iceberg.

“Mank” is an ode to old Hollywood, but not the sort of self-celebration we so often see from stories set in that time and place. Instead, we get a glimpse into the unseemly sleaziness that was so thoroughly shot through the industry at that time, with tyrannical studio heads and other assorted titans freely and unrelentingly taking advantage of those with even a modicum less power than they possessed. It is a story of one man’s journey from respectability to sellout to burnout to oddly noble flameout, all set against the backdrop of a time that has been cynically romanticized by an industry that loves nothing more than patting itself on the back.

Published in Movies

One of the things that I’ve learned from being part of the larger critical discourse surrounding movies is that I generally align with the consensus view of my peers. That’s not to say I’m in lockstep with the crowd – we all have our differences – but a lot of the time, we’re in the same neighborhood.

Not always, though.

Take the new Netflix film “Hillbilly Elegy,” directed by Ron Howard from a script by Vanessa Taylor adapted from J.D. Vance’s 2016 memoir of the same name. This story of a young man’s connection to his Kentucky roots and how those roots impact his current circumstances as a student at Yale Law School has been largely panned by critics, with many viewing it as a transparent awards grab lacking in soul and substance.

I respectfully disagree.

I’m not calling this a perfect movie by any stretch – it has its share of issues to be sure. But it is a much better movie than it has been deemed by critics, a story of poverty and its generational impacts that at least tries to address the emotional, social and economic realities that come from being poor. It isn’t always successful, but even the misplaced efforts merit a degree of credit.

Published in Movies

Making a holiday movie is easy. Studios large and small alike churn new ones out every year with metronomic regularity. Throw some snow and lights into your basic romance and you’re basically there.

Making a GOOD holiday movie? Well, now we’re talking about something different. Different, and decidedly more difficult. To create something beyond the bland vanilla sameness of the usual Christmas movie claptrap takes vision, effort and a willingness to move beyond the tired tropes of the genre.

Netflix’s “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” – written and directed by David E. Talbert – brings a welcome new energy to the holiday movie landscape. With an engaging story, great music and performances and some dynamite production numbers, it’s a celebratory romp of a film, one that might well find its way into many people’s regular rotation of seasonal offerings. It is energetic and original and an absolute blast, packed with the sort of excitement and fun that one expects from the best Christmas movies.

Published in Movies
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