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We can’t control what art resonates with us.

Even when we see something and recognize its intrinsic artistic value, we can’t make ourselves feel a certain way about it. We like what we like and that’s all there is to it. And sometimes, even when the thing we’re watching should resonate, it doesn’t always.

Take “The Northman,” the new film from writer/director Robert Eggers. By all accounts, I should LOVE this movie. It’s “Hamlet” with Vikings, for God’s sake. The production values are first-rate and Eggers is a visual stylist par excellence. The performers are clearly invested, with plenty of top-tier action sequences and a healthy helping of line-blurring magical and magical-adjacent stuff. We are planted squarely in my wheelhouse.

And yet … it didn’t click for me as fully as I would have thought.

It’s not a huge surprise, honestly; the previous two Eggers outings – “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse” – are films that on paper should have been right up my alley, yet for whatever reason left me just the slightest bit cold.

Again, I need to note that I acknowledge the quality of these films in a vacuum, as well as the tremendous amount of skill necessary to make them. By all practical measures, they are excellent films, beautifully shot with a clear and vivid vision and featuring committed performances. They are good movies that nevertheless did not connect with me.

So it is with “The Northman,” a stark and violent tale of palace intrigue by way of ninth-century Vikings. There is a bleak beauty to the aesthetic, one that is simultaneously washed out and vivid. The cast is absolutely stacked. Alexander Skarsgard gives a brutal and balletic lead turn, leading the way in a tale of one man’s quest for vengeance against the man who killed his father and usurped the throne.

Like I said – I should love this movie. And there’s a good chance that you will.

Published in Movies
Monday, 13 December 2021 13:54

‘Being the Ricardos’ loves Lucy

There are two kinds of biopics – you’ve got your cradle-to-grave and you’ve got your slice of life. Both have their merits, though if pressed, I’d probably cop to preferring the latter. Rather than trying to lay out a whole life story, we get a chance to get to know the person or persons in question more specifically during a moment in time.

“Being the Ricardos” – the latest from writer/director Aaron Sorkin – is an example of that latter type of biopic, revolving primarily around a single tumultuous week in the lives of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and the people around them. We see other moments as well, all of it framed (rather ingeniously, honestly) through a documentary-style device, but for the most part, it’s this one week that is the focus.

Starring Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem as Lucy and Desi, respectively, the film gives us a look inside their lives, both personally and professionally. We see them at home and on set, in the past and in the present (along with some looks back from the future). It is clever and touching, a well-made film that offers a degree of insight into what it meant to be these people at this time in their lives.

And it’s pretty great.

Now, if you’re here in the deluded hope that the madcap physical energy of Lucille Ball is going to be recreated here, you’re going to be a bit disappointed. But that’s not the point of the movie, nor would it be fair to ask any performer to try and replicate Lucy’s unique gifts. Instead, we get to see her as the power player and perfectionist that she was behind the scenes, someone who used her obvious talents to get to a place where she could take advantage of her subtler ones.

Published in Style

Haven’t you ever thought that the self-help and wellness realm is just a little … sinister?

We live in a world where the notion of improving one’s health – physical, emotional or otherwise – has become a billion-dollar industry. Yet we ALSO live in a world where, if there’s a way to make money through duplicitous and/or unsavory means, someone will do so.

Unsurprisingly, we’re seeing a lot of creative work that addresses that particular slice of the self-actualization pie.

The latest offering along those lines is “Nine Perfect Strangers,” the new limited series from Hulu. Created by John Henry Butterworth and television icon David E. Kelley and based on the 2018 novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty, the show offers a look at a secretive high-end wellness retreat that – surprise! – might be considerably more than it appears to be.

With an absolutely stacked cast – Nicole Kidman leads the way, but there are exceptional talents scattered all over the call sheet – and a setting that looks both bucolic and expensive, the show has a lot going for it. And when you toss some weird and mysterious narrative developments into the mix, well … you’ve got something.

I’ll put it this way: for the most part, “Nine Perfect Strangers” gets the dosage just right.

Published in Buzz

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, 23 December 2019 22:23

‘Bombshell’ not quite a dud

With the cultural pervasiveness that came from the #MeToo movement, it was only a matter of time before we started seeing cinematic representations of those narratives.

“Bombshell,” directed by Jay Roach from a screenplay by Charles Randolph, is one such movie. A dramatization of the story of sexual harassment behind the scenes at Fox News, the film stars Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman, each of whom portrays a woman impacted by the behind-the-scenes actions of men in power.

Unfortunately, while the performances are undeniably excellent across the board, the framework in which those performances exist is somewhat lacking. There’s a thinness to the proceedings that undermines the overall experience, with motivational and behavioral questions left unanswered in a manner that renders the film rather unsatisfying.

 

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 18 September 2019 09:14

Art for art’s sake – ‘The Goldfinch’

Adapting books to the big screen can be a tricky proposition. The truth is that while many times, a story is a story is a story, regardless of medium, there are some literary works – acclaimed, celebrated works – that resist that sort of translation. Sometimes, filmmakers are able to muscle through that resistance and present a great movie.

Other times, they make “The Goldfinch.”

The film, based on Donna Tartt’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, is an undeniably game effort. Everyone involved – director John Crowley, screenwriter Peter Straughan, the talented cast – is clearly giving their all to a project in which they clearly believe very strongly. Unfortunately, the layered, fractured nature of the source text works against them; the end result is a film that is technically well-crafted yet doesn’t cohere. It’s a series of good-looking scenes that never quite click together.

What we have in “The Goldfinch” is essentially an echo of a prestige film, an offering that bears many of the outer indicators of Oscar bait, but is largely devoid of substance once you move beyond those surface trappings. Again – a game and good faith effort, but one that falls short.

Published in Movies
Sunday, 23 December 2018 00:06

‘Aquaman’ works swimmingly

It’s no secret that DC is trailing Marvel significantly when it comes to their respective cinematic universes. Marvel has turned the MCU into a content-churning, money-printing machine, while DC’s process has been a good deal less smooth. Marvel is celebrated, DC is denigrated.

It appears that DC might be learning their lesson, though. While many of their early efforts at developing their shared universe have focused on the bleak grimdarkness that the success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films convinced them that they needed, later films have shown glimpses of something resembling fun.

And while no one is going to mistake “Aquaman” for the cream of the MCU crop – or even last year’s excellent “Wonder Woman” – there’s no question that the movie marks a sizable step in the right direction. This movie is big and loud and unashamed of either; a collection of one-liners and guitar licks, a veritable smorgasbord of wide-ranging action, nonsensical cinematic physics and weirdly vivid settings. It definitely makes a splash.

Published in Movies

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