Monday, 16 May 2022 14:53

Back to school – ‘Senior Year’

For some, the time they spent in high school is a highlight of their lives. They look back on those days with fondness and nostalgia, rose-colored memories of what it meant to be young with the whole world in front of them.

Now imagine if that person had the last few weeks of that experience snatched away from them by circumstance, only to be given the opportunity to make up for lost time many years later.

That’s more or less the premise of “Senior Year,” the new Rebel Wilson-starring Netflix comedy. Directed by Alex Hardcastle and featuring three credited screenwriters, the film is the story of a young woman who winds up in a 20-year coma after an accident, only to wake up and want nothing more than to finish the triumphant high school career she was mere weeks from completing two decades earlier.

So yeah – adult woman with teenager brain goes back to high school. Honestly, seems like an idea with potential, but alas, said potential is never realized. Instead, we’re left with a film that consistently and constantly plucks the lowest-hanging fruit; the whole thing is packed with lazy jokes and more than a few inherent ethical questions that no one involved seems all that interested in acknowledging, instead choosing to ignore anything but the path of least resistance.

There are a few flashes here and there, where you can see the good movie that might have been made. However, they are VERY few, resulting in a film that never quite manages to live up to its central conceit.

Published in Movies

Few times are as turbulent in a young person’s life as the transition from adolescence to adulthood. At least, that’s what the lion’s share of pop culture from the past few decades would have us believe.

As such, we’ve come to expect certain specific beats when those stories unfold onscreen. We have seen minor variations on the same themes so many times that they’re essentially baked into the way we process these types of films. Even when we don’t know what’s coming, we know what’s coming.

Writer/director Sofia Alvarez doesn’t reinvent the wheel in her new film “Along for the Ride,” adapted from the 2009 Sarah Dessen novel of the same name. There’s a lot that will ring familiar, particularly at the center of the film; you’ve seen this movie before. However, Alvarez finds enough differences on the periphery to give the film a pleasant charm and keep you from experiencing too much teen romance déjà vu.

It's not a complex movie or a challenging one, but there’s some entertainment value here. The obstacles are mild and the triumphs are mundane, but the overall effect is a soothing 100-or-so minutes of low-stakes high school romance. Not much happens, but that’s OK – there’s value in just hanging out.

Published in Movies

When it comes to film criticism, I tend more toward populism. That isn’t to say that I fail to appreciate truly great cinematic art, but that I’m not a particularly snobbish moviegoer. Basically, my attitude is that aiming a film at a wide audience shouldn’t necessarily mean that it is somehow less-than as a creative endeavor.

But we all have our limits.

Unlike some of my critical peers, I won’t dismiss an animated kids’ movie out of hand. Even if the intended viewership might not be particularly worldly or sophisticated, the film in question might still have something to offer. It might not be great art, but there is value to be found in almost any children’s movie.

But then you see something like “Marmaduke” and are confronted with the reality of that “almost.”

The new Netflix animated offering is one of the laziest, lowest-common-denominator kids’ movies that I have ever encountered outside a convenience store’s VHS bargain bin. The animation is choppy and aesthetically unpleasant, the narrative is nonsensical and incoherent and the tone is all over the place. If the intent was to make a film that allowed four-year-olds to feel intellectually superior to those who made it, then bravo. Well done. If the intent was literally anything else, then we’re looking at a spectacular failure.

My money is on the latter.

Published in Movies

Movies based on video games have a checkered history at the box office; they have traditionally not been known for their quality. Hollywood continues to struggle to find the secret sauce in converting characters and narratives from one medium to the other.

Movies ABOUT video games are something of a different animal – think “Tron” or “The Last Starfighter” or even “Ready Player One.” These are films that use video games as the foundation for the stories themselves, rather than the IP around which the story is built.

A new film that falls into that latter category is “Choose or Die,” currently streaming on Netflix. Directed by first-timer Toby Meakins from a screenplay by Simon Allen, it’s a horror film whose central conceit revolves around an obscure 1980s video game unearthed by a player hoping to solve it and get their hands on an unclaimed cash prize connected to said solution. But the game is cursed, capable of altering the player’s reality with horrifying results.

If you’re like me, that previous paragraph probably has you intrigued. It’s a compelling conceit for a film. Unfortunately, the execution isn’t quite up to snuff. “Choose or Die” can’t quite hold together, coming apart in the back half after a strong start – the third act in particular falls flat, never managing to give us the level of payoff promised by the film’s solid beginning.

Published in Movies

Few filmmakers of his generation have made as much autobiographical hay as Richard Linklater. Again and again, he finds new and inventive ways to reflect and refract his own personal story for audiences. He mines nostalgia as effectively – and as interestingly – as just about anyone out there. He’s also unafraid of experimentation, moving with ease between fairly straightforward projects and efforts of wild and occasionally strange ambition.

Seriously – the same dude made “Dazed and Confused,” “A Scanner Darkly” and the “Before Sunrise” trilogy. Also “Boyhood” and “School of Rock” and so many more. No one is more adept at moving between feet on the ground and head in the clouds.

His new film “Apollo 10 1/ 2: A Space Age Childhood” is a perfect example of Linklater’s varied capabilities. It’s a return to rotoscoping, the animation technique where animators trace over live-action footage. It’s autobiographical in nature, loosely based on Linklater’s childhood growing up in Houston in the 1960s, but it’s also a high-concept sci-fi tale about how the first man on the moon wasn’t a man at all, but a boy.

Visually compelling and narratively charming, it’s a combination of everything that makes Linklater such an engaging filmmaker. Again – grounded, but also high-flying.

Published in Movies
Monday, 04 April 2022 15:31

Bursting ‘The Bubble’

The ongoing circumstances of the COVID pandemic have been part of our lives for so long that it can be difficult to remember what it was like before … everything. It has been going on for so long, in fact, that we’re seeing more and more creative endeavors that have spring from those circumstances.

As to whether that’s a good thing, your mileage may vary.

Writer-director Judd Apatow has thrown his hat into that particular ring with his new Netflix movie “The Bubble,” a comedy about a film crew sequestered in a hotel in order to make a big-budget entry in a popular franchise. Inspired by the real-life effort to film “Jurassic World Dominion” during the pandemic, it’s a shaggy satire intended to skewer the self-importance of Hollywood’s own bubble while also finding humor in the unexpected connections forged by forced proximity.

It's an interesting attempt, though uneven in terms of its success. While there are some laughs to be had, the reality is that many of the gags – inspired by truth though they may be – don’t quite land. That’s not to say that it’s a bad movie – I actually had a pretty good time – but with a cast this star-studded, my expectations were for something a little bit more.

Published in Movies

There’s something about a movie that is consciously small-scale.

That’s not to say that I have anything against the broad bombast of blockbuster filmmaking – I have plenty of room in my heart for CGI explosions, after all – but I do admire those filmmakers who can craft meaningful, powerful stories with little more than a handful of actors and a single location.

“Windfall,” a new offering from Netflix, is just that sort of chamber piece. Directed by Charlie McDowell from a script by Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker, the film is a taut three-hander cast with notable talents – Jesse Plemons, Lily Collins and Jason Segel – that takes place at an isolated estate. All the pieces are here for a solid film.

And that’s what we get. Solid. Which feels just a little disappointing, because the pieces are all here for an excellent movie, but for whatever reason, we never quite get there. Not that there’s anything wrong with making a perfectly serviceable thriller – there are plenty of folks out there who can’t do it – but one gets the sense of an opportunity just missed.

Still, “Windfall” is an engaging watch, the sort of thriller that provides ample entertainment in the moment, even if it likely won’t resonate for the viewer long-term.

Published in Movies

I have a complicated history with Ryan Reynolds.

For a good stretch of his career, I found him to be generally insufferable. He radiated smugness, smirking and quipping his way through a series of not-terribly-interesting comedies and franchise misfires. Long story short, I didn’t care for him.

And then, well … he wore me down.

Don’t get me wrong – the aforementioned qualities are still part of the package. And he’s still making plenty of questionable films. I just find myself enjoying them more, even if (when) they’re not necessarily that great.

Which brings us to “The Adam Project,” the new big-budget Netflix offering starring Reynolds as a time traveler who inadvertently winds up partnering with his younger self (played exceptionally by newcomer Walker Scobell) in an effort to save the world from the clutches of a power-mad billionaire.

I know, I know – it sounds ridiculous. And it is. But it’s better than it sounds. The notion of setting right what once went wrong is a staple of the time travel genre; adding the coming-of-age element gives the film a flavor that makes it palatable even when the logistics of the narrative break down and we see the seams a little.

Published in Movies
Monday, 21 February 2022 16:10

‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ a cut below

It’s an IP world, folks. The cinematic landscape exists largely on a foundation of franchises, of sequels and reboots and the like. Whether we’re talking about the big screen or the small, it doesn’t matter. Sure, there are still original ideas out there, but while familiarity breeds contempt, it also breeds profit, so … here we are.

But there’s more than one way to skin a sequel.

So it is with “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” the latest iteration of the grisly grindcore horror franchise; this entry marks the ninth TCM film. This Netflix offering takes its cue from another recently revisited series – “Halloween” – in that it is a direct sequel to the 1974 original only, ignoring the many sequels since and essentially opting to erase them from canon.

Unfortunately, the decision to wipe the slate clean doesn’t have a ton of impact. Instead, we get a film that feels surprisingly generic, a ho-hum slasher film that doesn’t have anything like the impact of the original. Sure, there’s some gore and a couple of intense scenes, but even with some ham-fisted efforts to loop in some bits of social and cultural commentary, it ultimately falls flat.

Published in Movies

Social media has fundamentally altered the way we interact with one another. The internet has pushed its way into almost every interpersonal connection we make. Our professional relationships, our friendships, even our romantic lives – all beholden to the internet. In many ways, that has proven beneficial.

But not all.

“The Tinder Swindler,” a new documentary streaming on Netflix, looks at what happens when someone proves willing to utilize lies and deception to weaponize dating apps – specifically Tinder – for their own profit … and how that can impact the people who have been deceived.

Directed by Felicity Morris, the film purports to tell the true story of a man who used Tinder to find and seduce women, only to turn around and pull them into a complicated web of lies and half-truths in order to exploit them for their money. Through conversations with two of his victims and some dramatic recreations, the story of an opportunistic grifting Casanova is rendered clear … even if the consequences of his actions are not.

Published in Style
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