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Monday, 19 September 2022 13:16

‘Do Revenge’ a smart, satiric dark comedy

I’ve long been a proponent of films set in high schools. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories, so there is that, but I’ve also found that there’s a lot of malleability inherent to high school movies. They can exist on their own merits, yes, but they can also serve as wonderful palettes upon which to explore other genres, tropes and ideas.

Think of it as the “X, but in high school” categorization.

The new Netflix film “Do Revenge,” directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson from a script she co-wrote with Celeste Ballard, is a great example of this kind of movie. It’s almost a pastiche of its influences, pulling from classic dark teen comedy and elevated cinematic and genre fare alike. Imagine “Strangers on a Train” getting the same sort of treatment that “Cruel Intentions” gave “Dangerous Liaisons” – it’s kind of like that.

This story of wronged teenagers joining forces to exact revenge on those who wronged them is a blackly comic joy, bringing together standard teen fare with a shadowy sense of humor. The combination isn’t always a perfect fit, but thanks to some sharp writing and a pair of strong lead performances, it works far more often than it doesn’t. It’s tough to make a movie that feels both like a throwback and of its moment, but “Do Revenge” manages the feat.

Published in Movies
Monday, 12 September 2022 13:30

‘End of the Road’ a bumpy ride

Every so often, a movie comes along that answers a question that you didn’t even know you wanted to ask. Many times, that movie arrives courtesy of Netflix, because with the sheer volume of content they push out, there’s more than a little “infinite monkeys/infinite typewriters” energy there.

For example, take “End of the Road,” the new thriller from the streamer. Directed by Millicent Shelton from a script by Christopher J. Moore and David Loughery and starring Queen Latifah, it’s ostensibly an action thriller that follows a road-tripping family as they get pulled into a murderous web of criminals and ill-gotten cash. I say “ostensibly” because, while that is certainly technically correct, the film manages to raise one of those unanticipated questions.

To wit: just how many over-the-top tropes clichés can one film family endure before we move from the realm of the thriller into the theater of the absurd? The answer? Significantly fewer than get thrown at Queen Latifah and company in these 90 minutes of escalating nonsense.

Published in Movies
Monday, 29 August 2022 14:15

‘Me Time’ a meh time

It should come as no surprise that when a company adopts a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach to moviemaking, the results are going to be mixed.

So it is at Netflix, where the streamer continues to churn out films at a blistering rate. Whether they’re outside purchases or in-house productions, these movies are constantly arriving. Some of them have been great, some of them have been bad and the rest exist in a massive, mushy middle.

“Me Time” is very much in the mush.

The new film, written and directed by John Hamburg and starring Kevin Hart and Mark Wahlberg, is a buddy comedy of sorts, one more than happy to spend 100 minutes or so randomly plucking low-hanging fruit. It’s the sort of movie that seems content to merely exist, counting on the name recognition of its stars to do the heavy lifting.

As you might imagine, this attitude doesn’t result in a good movie. Yes, there are a few laughs sprinkled throughout – however you feel about the leads, they are not without their charms – but for the most part, we spend our time laboring from point A to point B until, eventually, we land on whatever poorly-defined lesson we’re supposed to learn about the importance of family or whatever.

Published in Movies

I’ve always had a soft spot for sliding doors. Maybe it’s because I’m the sort of person predisposed to wondering “what if?” and fascinated by the notion of one point of divergence altering a life – a world – moving forward. It doesn’t always work (although in truth, what does?), but it almost always holds my attention.

“Look Both Ways,” currently streaming on Netflix, is a recent addition to the sliding doors canon. It’s a relatively light and breezy take on the trope, even as its divergence point – pregnant/not pregnant – is perhaps a bit more charged than you might expect, though the film itself isn’t all that interested in addressing that charged nature.

With a charming, albeit somewhat bland, cast and a more or less constant levity, this film is well-made, with some solid visual representations of the split timelines, and it’s got some laughs. Put it all together and you wind up with a perfectly pleasant way to while away a couple of hours.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, you just know that you’re going to like a movie. You hear the basic concept, you learn who’s involved, maybe you catch a trailer or two and boom – you’re in.

That’s how I felt when I first learned about “Day Shift,” the new film currently streaming on Netflix. Jamie Foxx and Dave Franco are hunting vampires? And Snoop Dogg is in it? Directed by stunt legend J.J. Perry in his directorial debut, it’s a high-octane genre mashup, bringing together action, horror and comedy to create a fast-paced, funny entertainment experience.

For me, it’s an easy call. You’ve got elaborate action sequences. You’ve got over the top gore. You’ve got banter and jokes. And you’ve got a trailer that prominently features one of my favorite actresses (and human beings) tearing s—t up as a vampire. Of COURSE I liked it. What’s not to like?

This movie is big and broad in the ways that we want movies to be big and broad. This is pedal-to-the-metal entertainment, pure and simple – and it is one hell of a good time.

Published in Movies

Say what you will about Joe and Anthony Russo, but they understand what it means for a movie to be big. There are few filmmakers currently working who understand the particulars of blockbusters as well as they do. The Russos seem to have an inherent grasp of what makes large-scale films work. So it’s no surprise that the powers that be at Netflix would tap the Russos to helm their biggest budget film to date.

That film is “The Gray Man,” an action blockbuster currently streaming on the service. The Russos direct from a script by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, adapted from the 2009 Mark Greaney novel of the same name. It has all the components of a massive movie – huge budget, A-list stars, elaborate set pieces and exotic locales, the whole shebang – so of course, why not enlist guys who fundamentally get it to steer the ship?

It’s an espionage action-thriller, a story about one man’s attempt to survive when the government agency for which he has spent over a decade working decides that he has become a liability. This is a big, loud globetrotter of an adventure, and while it perhaps doesn’t work as fully as it might have, it remains an exciting and engaging work of popcorn entertainment.

Published in Movies

As a rule, I do my best not to let the thoughts of other unduly impact my opinions about a film. That isn’t to say I’m above being influenced – we’re all subject to some extent to the constant firehose stream of hot takes, whether we want to be or not – but I try to keep my own counsel as much as possible.

Generally, my feelings about movies more or less line up with those of my peers – good, bad or indifferent – so it’s always fun when I wind up on the take less traveled.

This brings us to “Persuasion,” the new Netflix adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. Directed by Carrie Cracknell from a script adapted by Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow, it is an attempt to infuse the story with a bit of a modern sensibility. Now, I’ll concede that said attempt isn’t a wholly successful one, but I also found that, for me, it worked more often than it didn’t. It’s an opinion that leaves me very much in the minority.

But while there are plenty of issues at play here – and I’m certainly not going to go so far as to call this a great movie (or even a particularly good one) – I can’t deny that I was engaged by the effort and found some things to enjoy. Sure, it’s gimmicky and a bit of a mishmash in terms of tone and aesthetic, and yet … I enjoyed myself.

Your mileage may (and likely will) vary.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 12 July 2022 09:12

Set sail with ‘The Sea Beast’

I love animated movies. Specifically, I love well-made animated movies. This is an important distinction.

That isn’t to say that a movie has to be high-minded for me to enjoy it. Quite the opposite, in fact – I dig a dumb romp as much as the next guy. However, I’m not interested in movies that view their young target audience as somehow less than. Your movie can be as ridiculous as you like – just don’t condescend to the kids. They’re smarter than you think.

The folks behind the new Netflix animated film “The Sea Beast” understand that. Directed by animation vet Chris Williams in his first solo turn at the helm, from a script he co-wrote with Nell Benjamin, the film combines adventure and excitement with a surprisingly sophisticated underlying message. It has a vivid aesthetic, some great action and a well-crafted narrative. And while some moments might prove a tough too scary for very young viewers, it’s a movie that will likely resonate with the majority of its young audience (and with their parents, too).

Published in Movies
Monday, 13 June 2022 13:30

Respect the ‘Hustle’

It’s kind of incredible to think that Adam Sandler has been a major part of the pop cultural firmament for three decades at this point. Love him or hate him – and it’s likely that you have one of those opinions – you can’t deny the impact that he’s had.

But while many tend to dismiss him out of hand for his (admittedly uneven) filmography – and make no mistake, he’s made more than his share of clunkers over the years – he’s also got a deep well of talent, and when he delves into it, it can be something special.

Sandler’s latest is “Hustle,” an original film streaming on Netflix. Directed by Jeremiah Zagar from a screenplay by Taylor Materne and Will Fetters, the movie stars Sandler as a longtime NBA scout who places everything on the line for a prospect in whose potential he deeply believes. As performances go, it’s one of his best – more Safdie Brothers than Happy Madison – and while it doesn’t quite reach the dramatic heights of his performative apex, it gets awfully close.

It is a film about family, about regret and ambition … and a really good basketball movie, one that offers some surprisingly strong and nuanced performances from unexpected sources; in particular, the turn from NBA player Juancho Hernangomez as the prospect in question is almost shockingly good. The combination of interpersonal relationships and pro basketball nuts-and-bolts turns out to be a winning team.

Published in Sports

There’s no disputing that the proliferation of streaming services has led to a serious uptick in the quantity of movie offerings. However, it is also tough to argue that the quality of those offerings has kept pace. That isn’t to say that all streaming originals are bad – far from it – but the truth is that “more” has not meant “better.”

Netflix is the most responsible for this content churn, releasing multiple new films on a weekly basis. And while a handful of those movies go on to be celebrated critical successes, the vast majority are disposable at best and outright bad at worst.

The new film “Interceptor” leans more toward the latter category than the former. Directed by Matthew Reilly from a script he co-wrote with Stuart Beattie, it is a small-cast military thriller that unfortunately falls short on the delivery of thrills. There’s a bit of a throwback vibe to the proceedings – if you haunted video stores in the late 1980s, you probably saw quite a few movies that bore a lot of similarities to this one – but those whispers of the past never get to the point of actually being fun.

Instead, we’re given a generic point-to-point action movie, one whose plot mechanics make less and less sense as we proceed and whose action sequences – ostensibly the reason we’re here in the first place – prove to be largely bland and uninteresting.

Published in Movies
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