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When does a villain become a villain? At what point does a person reach the tipping point that sends them spiraling into the darkness? Is it a singular event? Or simply the culmination of a thousand smaller moments? Does it even matter?

These are the sorts of questions that power Suzanne Collins’s “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” (Scholastic, $27.99), a return to the world of her blockbuster “Hunger Games” series. Set over 60 years before the events of that first novel, this latest installment looks at the origins of Coriolanus Snow, President of Panem and general big bad of the initial trilogy.

But what goes into the making of a man so brutally and single-mindedly devoted to the systemic dystopia that is Katniss Everdeen’s Panem? This book introduces us to a young man who desperately wants to be perceived a certain way by the world, who wants nothing so much as to be restored to what he deems his rightful place in society … and who uses a combination of aristocratic charm and subtle ruthlessness to try and achieve that goal.

Published in Buzz

Few franchises see the sort of gap between critical and commercial success that you get with the “Transformers” movies. The Michael Bay-led series has seen increasingly negative responses from critics, even while raking in massive dollars at the global box office. One would be forgiven for assuming that this pattern would continue.

Instead, out of nowhere, we get “Bumblebee.” It’s unheard of for a big-budget franchise like this to take a quantum leap forward in terms of quality – particularly when you’re half-a-dozen movies in – but that is the case here. This 1980s-set prequel manages to capture the energy, the gleeful spirit of the source material in a way that none of the previous iterations have.

It’s FUN, you see. And that fun comes from the respect given the audience – respect that reflects why they love the material in the first place.

“Bumblebee” is smart and sweet, blending the CGI-heavy action with a smaller, more intimate, more personal narrative that gives the movie a whiff of early Spielberg and the nostalgic bite and something like “The Iron Giant,” if perhaps not quite up to the emotional heights reached by those works.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 29 May 2018 14:24

Taking flight with 'Solo'

Full disclosure: I love “Star Wars.” The original trilogy is near and dear to my heart – one of my earliest memories is seeing “Empire” at the drive-in when I was three. And while the prequels left a lot to be desired, Disney’s reinvigoration of the franchise in recent years has been welcome.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is the fourth film in this new wave and somehow manages to be both the biggest departure and the most conventional of the bunch. Turmoil seemed abundant behind the scenes – original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were replaced by Ron Howard; rumblings about reshoots and acting coaches and whatnot were plentiful – so one wondered what the final product was going to be.

It’s … fine. Pretty good, actually. Not as good as the other newer offerings, but with plenty to recommend it. There are moments where it feels stitched together and a bit inconsistent, but otherwise, the directorial drama doesn’t show up much on screen. The performances range from meh to solid to excellent. The story is a bit slight and there are certain narrative mysteries that might have been better left unsolved (along with some tonal inconsistency and a few not-insignificant timeline questions), but all in all, it’s a fun space opera/heist movie with a charming cast and some strong set pieces.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 21 December 2016 10:55

The audacity of hope – ‘Rogue One’

Remember the days when you waited years for a new “Star Wars” movie to arrive? When you waited so long that even when it wasn’t very good, you talked yourself into it because any new “Star Wars” was better than no new “Star Wars”?

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 26 June 2013 13:43

Back to school with Monsters University'

Pixar prequel takes us back to college days

 

Over the past 20 years or so, no animation studio has produced consistent excellence even close to that put out by the folks at Pixar. It is a singularly impressive body of work even when some of their recent misfires are taken into account ('Cars 2,' anyone?). Of course, most of us are of the opinion that Pixar films are like pizza even the bad ones are still pretty good (again, the aforementioned 'Cars 2' excepted).

'Monsters University' is their latest effort, a prequel to 2001's 'Monsters, Inc.' that takes a look back at the school days of Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal, 'Parental Guidance') and James 'Sully' Sullivan (John Goodman, 'The Hangover Part III').

Published in Movies

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