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Horror movies have always had an odd relationship with morality. From the earliest adaptions of gothic horror, the genre has always had a touch (or more than a touch) of judgment and victim-blaming, an underlying implication that these people are getting what they deserve.

Never was that inherent idea more apparent than during the slasher craze of the ‘70s and ‘80s, with wave after wave of boozing, promiscuous teenagers falling beneath the various blades wielded by an assortment of maniacs.

But times change. And so do sins.

“There’s Someone Inside Your House” – currently streaming on Netflix – is very much a throwback to that ‘80s slasher vibe. Directed by Patrick Brice from a screenplay by Henry Gayden (adapted from the 2017 Stephanie Perkins novel of the same name), the film is an attempt to evoke those classic horror tropes while updating attitudes for 21st century social mores.

There’s a down-and-dirty viscerality to the film that definitely captures the grimy, bloody energy of its inspirations. And it’s an interesting idea, trying to marry the evolution of teen morality to an old-school approach. It isn’t always fully successful in its execution, but it’s a gruesomely good faith effort at capturing bad faith behaviors even as it collapses a bit beneath the weight of its own logistical inconsistency in the third act.

Published in Movies
Monday, 04 October 2021 14:04

‘The Guilty’ answers the call

Limitations can make for fascinating filmmaking. Whether the obstacles spring from outside forces or are self-imposed, it’s often quite interesting seeing how filmmakers overcome them.

Stories that are set in a singular space, for example – narratives that require our protagonist (and often ONLY our protagonist) to be confined to one place by circumstance. The inherent stasis to such a setting presents all manner of challenges – to the director, to the writer, to the actor(s). When those challenges are suitably and fully met, the result can be brilliant.

Alas, the new Netflix film “The Guilty” doesn’t quite get there. The pieces are certainly in place – Antoine Fuqua directed, Nick Pizzolatto penned the script and Jake Gyllenhaal is our lead – but they don’t all fit together in precisely the right way. That’s not to indicate the film is bad, by the way – it isn’t – but that it hits a few bumps along the way.

A remake of a 2018 Danish film of the same name, “The Guilty” is a story of a disgraced police officer stuck on a dispatch desk as he awaits judgment on his questionable acts. A 911 call from a woman claiming to be abducted sends him into a frenzy, pulling out all the stops as he tries to help this woman, even while the qualities and flaws that led him to this place continue to roil and bubble – and erupt.

Published in Movies
Monday, 27 September 2021 15:08

‘The Starling’ is for the birds

There’s nothing inherently wrong with tonal variance in a film. In the right circumstances, that can allow for a wider net to be cast with regard to the themes and ideas explored. A well-executed balance of laughter and tears can result in something greater than the sum of its parts.

If it ISN’T well-executed, however, you might be left with an ineffectual mishmash.

Such is the case with the new Netflix drama “The Starling.” The film – which is directed by Theodore Melfi and stars Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd – never seems able to find any kind of tonal consistency, punctuating its family drama intentions with moments of avian-flavored slapstick. Again, it’s not that such vacillation CAN’T work, but here, it definitely doesn’t.

That isn’t to say that the participants aren’t acting in good faith. In truth, McCarthy and O’Dowd – as well as a number of supporting players – are putting forward solid efforts. It’s just that the script and the overall lack of emotional coherence undermines those efforts, resulting in something that comes off like a Lifetime movie crossed with a Looney Tunes short.

Published in Movies
Monday, 20 September 2021 14:46

‘Nightbooks’ offers kid-friendly scares

I’ve always been a fan of movies aimed at kids. I loved them when I was young, sure, but even as I’ve grown older, I’ve maintained an affection for them. Granted, there’s a LOT of variance with regard to quality (and a bad movie is a bad movie, no matter its target audience), but unless they’re REALLY bad, I usually find something engaging about them.

Still, one could argue that kid-oriented cinema has moved in the direction of more safe offerings in recent years. Looking back at the live-action children’s fare of my youth, I see a degree of intensity that is largely lacking today. Now, that isn’t to say all those movies were good – there were plenty of clunkers back then as well – but they seemed a bit more willing to push the audience.

“Nightbooks,” the new Netflix film, is a bit of a throwback in that way. Adapted from J.A. White’s YA novel of the same name and directed by David Yarovesky, it’s the story of a boy who is captured by a witch and forced to tell her scary stories each night or else be killed. The “Hansel & Gretel” parallels are overt, and there’s more than a little Scheherazade thrown into the mix. It’s definitely on the darker side for a kids’ movie, for sure. And when you throw in the fact that horror legend Sam Raimi is a producer, well … you know you’re in for something different.

Different … and pretty good.

Published in Movies

There are a surprising number of movies out there that are built on the premise of someone dying, only to return from the Great Beyond to right various wrongs. Technically, these are ghost stories, though a lot of them are somewhat inexplicably played for laughs.

On the relatively rare occasion that the conceit works, you get a movie that is heartfelt and funny and that fully earns whatever emotional payoff it seeks. These are the films that manage to be both funny and poignant, deriving genuine humor and pathos from the narrative circumstances.

When it doesn’t work, well … that’s when you get “Afterlife of the Party.”

The Netflix streamer – directed by Stephen Herek from a script by Carrie Freedle – is a derivative clunker of a film, seemingly assembled from vague recollections of far better movies. It’s the sort of movie that attempts to elicit laughs through broad comedy and tears through fraught emotionality, only to succeed on neither front, resulting in a vapid and unsatisfying movie experience.

Published in Movies

Everyone loves Bob Ross.

The soft-spoken host of the long-running PBS program “The Joy of Painting” was an iconic figure to many, a person who celebrated the utility and democratization of painting. His attitude was simple: If you want to be a painter, paint – and then you’re a painter.

Even now, more than a quarter-century after his too-soon passing in 1995 at the age of 52, Ross is a familiar presence in pop culture. Through merchandising and reruns and references across assorted media, he is well-known – even to those who might not have even been born when his popular show was airing.

But in a new documentary, we learn that while he might have been a beloved icon in life, in death, he became the subject of far more contention.

The film – “Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed” – is currently streaming on Netflix. Directed by Joshua Rofé, the film looks at the life and times of Ross, documenting his unconventional rise to fame and the people who accompanied him on that rise. And for the first hour, that’s what we get – a very human portrait of a man who is both decent and flawed – but as we go, it becomes clear that something isn’t quite right.

Indeed, when we get to the latter part of the documentary, where Ross’s very legacy – and to whom that legacy rightly belongs – becomes controversial in its own right, well … things get complicated. And one thing is for certain – the chicanery and manipulation that went on behind the scenes was neither happy nor an accident.

Published in Style

There’s a universality to certain stories that ensures that every generation gets its own versions of them. These fundamental narratives can be adapted and shaped to the time in which they are told; the evolve as the culture around them does.

George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” has become one of those universal stories in the century-plus since it first landed in 1913. The tale of one upper-class person shaping another, lower-class person to fit appropriately into the former’s world is one that has been told again and again. The former (almost always a man) brings the latter (almost always a woman) into their own social stratum – often at the expense of the latter’s dignity and/or personal identity.

1999’s “She’s All That” was the high school rom-com version of that tale for late 20th century moviegoers, a film that landed in the midst of a spate of teen-oriented cinematic fare. The BMOC takes a wager in which he is to turn the school’s lowliest of the social low into the prom queen and hijinks ensue.

Now imagine that, only gender-flipped.

Published in Movies

Another week, another Netflix original.

While the streamer’s commitment to providing a steady supply of original content is admirable, the combination of constant churn and a vague sense of algorithmic generation, there’s no disputing that the level of quality is … uneven, to say the least, even if the quantity is largely delivered as promised.

Their latest entry is “Sweet Girl,” a revenge thriller starring Jason Momoa. This story of a man pursuing vengeance against the pharmaceutical company that he holds responsible for the death of his wife is your run-of-the-mill passable, largely forgettable action offering … right up until a late twist that turns the whole thing into something altogether more bonkers, altering not just the remainder of the film, but everything we’ve seen before.

Now, that’s not to say that this makes any of this what you’d call “good” – the film is too across-the-board workmanlike for that – but it certainly turns what initially seems like a time-filling watch into something you’ll at least remember beyond the end credits.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, you look at someone on screen and think “That person has it. They’re going to be a huge star.” There’s just an indefinable … something. Presence. Charisma. Whatever you want to call it.

That said, having “it” isn’t always enough.

Take the new Netflix thriller “Beckett,” for instance. John David Washington is an actor who has that something, that elusive star quality (even if he doesn’t always know how to properly wield it). But while that energy is certainly present in this film, it can’t make up for the thin narrative and assorted odd thematic and tonal choices scattered throughout. He’s able to keep the movie from being outright bad, but he can’t pull it up to the level of being good.

There’s a decent supporting cast, but they’re stuck in the slog as well, plodding their way through the unevenly paced proceedings. Everyone in the ensemble is doing what they can, but they’re ultimately undermined by Ferdinando Filomarino’s uninspired direction and Kevin Rice’s threadbare and derivative screenplay.

Published in Movies

Anyone who’s paid even a little attention to popular culture in the past few years has a pretty good sense of what Lin-Manuel Miranda brings to the table. Between the filmed version of his musical triumph “Hamilton” last year and the movie adaptation of his previous work “In the Heights,” we’ve gotten a lot of Lin-Manuel.

But what if I told you you could have even more? Specifically, an animated musical about a singing kinkajou?

Yeah, I’m into it too.

“Vivo,” from Sony Animation, is currently streaming in Netflix. Directed by Kirk DeMicco and Brandon Jeffords from a screenplay by DeMicco and Quiara Alegria Hudes – not to mention original songs by Miranda – it’s a charming and heartfelt story about the lengths to which we will go to do right by the people who mean the most to us.

The animation is lovely, with some wonderful stylistic flourishes, and the narrative is sweetly simple. The film also features a strong voice cast, led by Miranda as the titular Vivo, and you only need to hear a few bars of the opening number to be VERY aware of who wrote the songs. With themes of love – both romantic and familial – and the difficulty of loss, it is a movie that offers all-ages appeal.

Published in Movies
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