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Tuesday, 23 July 2019 15:22

‘The Lion King’ a dull roar

Anyone with even the slightest modicum of pop cultural awareness knows just how monolithic the Disney machine has become. With an ever-growing list of acquisitions and developments, Big Mouse is in the driver’s seat with regards to the entertainment we consume.

Perhaps the most cynical of their recent trends is the proliferation of live-action adaptations of beloved animated fare. They’ve been ramping it up over the past couple of years, but 2019 has taken things to a whole new level.

Already this year, we’ve seen adaptations of “Dumbo” (by Tim Burton) and “Aladdin” (by Guy Richie), a pair of tepid films in blockbuster clothing.

But “The Lion King” looked like it might be different. Featuring a stellar voice cast and directed by Jon Favreau, who already had some success in this particular domain with his very good “Jungle Book” adaptation, this one seemed to have potential.

Alas, it is simply more of the same, an almost shot-for-shot remake of the original film whose visual accomplishment simply can’t overcome an overarching feeling of inessentiality. The animated version was exceptional, while this new version doesn’t really have any reason to be.

(Well, one reason: a practically guaranteed massive box office haul – the film took in $185 million opening weekend.)

While there are game efforts on the part of all involved, there are certain fundamental issues that can’t be overcome. The photorealism of the all-animal cast is impressive, yes, but it is also an obstacle; there’s a lack of expressive flexibility that makes much of the dialogue feel flat and removed. And without that interactive dynamism, it doesn’t really matter how good it all looks.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 25 June 2019 16:58

Dies and dolls – ‘Child’s Play’

One of the unexpected side effects of Hollywood’s current remake/reboot culture is the reflection of how the world has changed in the time between iterations of a story.

This societal shift is often most clearly reflected in horror movies; perhaps more than any other genre of film, they are of-the-moment representations of the culture at a certain time and place. Seriously – if you want an accurate notion of what sorts of issues, large and small, that are troubling the general public at a given point in time, you could do worse than checking out a horror flick.

You can learn a lot about people by what scares them.

And in the case of the new “Child’s Play,” we get a story that, almost by accident, is able to speak to those current fears in a way that its 1988 predecessor never could have dreamed.

Don’t get me wrong – this latest film has plenty of the ridiculous camp and over-the-top schlock that made its inspiration into a cult classic and basis for a shockingly deep franchise; did you know there were SIX (!) sequels to that film? It’s also surprisingly funny, albeit in a winkingly gruesome way – the filmmakers are gleeful with their distribution of spurting, squirting viscera. And the performances are strong as well, with the stars striking just the right balance of taking the work seriously while also being fully aware of the inherent ridiculousness.

It’s an unexpectedly good movie – one that has its shares of hiccups and bumps, but is a reasonably enjoyable time at the cinema all the same.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 29 May 2019 11:47

A ho-hum new world – ‘Aladdin’

We can all agree that Disney more or less rules the cinematic landscape at this point, yes? We don’t have to like it, but there’s no denying the company’s omnipresence on our screens. The Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars movies have definitely filled the coffers to overflowing, but those films are far from the only moneymakers in Big Mouse’s stable.

Another high-impact trend for Disney is the onslaught of live-action remakes of their beloved animated films. They’ve been having success with that formula for a few years now, but 2019 sees them really pushing the envelope.

The latest is “Aladdin,” a remake of the beloved 1992 animated film. It’s perhaps the boldest maneuver yet, considering the iconic nature of both the movie as a whole and of the performance by Robin Williams as the Genie in particular. Basically, we’re left to wonder why (hint: the answer is money – it’s always about the money).

This new film – directed by Guy Ritchie (I’m as surprised as you are) and featuring Will Smith assuming the bright blue mantle of geniedom – had the look of an utter disaster early on. And while it turned out to be considerably better than that, it only succeeded in being … OK. Not terrible. Not great. Just OK. And that bland meh-ness is maybe the worst place it could have landed; we’re left with a movie that is almost defined by how unnecessary it feels.

(Of course, it also did nine figures at the box office opening weekend, so what do I know?)

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 15 May 2019 14:30

‘The Hustle’ doesn’t quite flow

One of the interesting trends in mainstream cinema over the past few years is the gender-swapped remake. We’ve seen a number of these films recently, movies that exchange men for women and vice versa in primary roles. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t. And most often … kind of both.

That’s the case with “The Hustle,” the new film starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. A remake of the Michael Caine/Steve Martin-led 1988 comedy “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (itself a remake of 1964’s “Bedtime Story,” a Marlon Brando/David Niven film), “The Hustle” is the story of a pair of con artists caught up in a competition with one another as they ply their trade in a small town on the French Riviera.

It’s a tough sell in some ways – the 1988 film is beloved and the story is highly demanding of the people in the leads. Hathaway and Wilson are both talented enough to make a lot of this stuff work, the truth is that there’s not that much there. There are some solid jokes and a couple of good slapstick set pieces, but it’s not enough. The fairly pedestrian script never reaches the manic comedic energy of its predecessor; Hathaway and Wilson are good, but not quite good enough to help this movie transcend a general sense of formulaicness.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 17 April 2019 12:32

‘Hellboy’ is a hell of a mess

One of the things that people sometimes forget about comic books is that they can (and do) get a lot weirder than your standard superhero business – and that that can be a good thing.

Take Mike Mignola’s Dark Horse Comics creation Hellboy. That’s some weird, over-the-top supernatural stuff – eldritch strangeness that is barely adjacent to the usual superhero fare. And yet, that character preceded the MCU to the silver screen, with movies in 2004 and 2008. And thanks largely to director Guillermo del Toro and star Rob Perlman, they worked.

Unfortunately, with the new “Hellboy,” neither of those gentlemen are involved. Instead, we get Neil Marshall and David Harbour, respectively – talented folks, yes, but for whatever reason, they fail to dig into the character in the same narratively engaging manner. Instead, we get a big, loud, gory mess, a jumbled-up and chaotic slog of a movie that can’t be salvaged despite the game effort put forth by Harbour, whose delightfully slovenly dad-charisma is undermined by prosthetics and CGI.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 10 April 2019 12:55

Grave consequences – ‘Pet Sematary’

Considering Hollywood’s concurrent current trends toward embracing reboots and Stephen King properties, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that a number of the Master of Horror’s past filmic adaptations are ripe for revisitation. Particularly when you take into account the runaway critical and commercial success of 2017’s remake of “It” and the notorious unevenness of previous screen adaptations.

This brings us to the latest King remake “Pet Sematary.” This new film – based on King’s 1983 novel of the same name – follows the 1989 version helmed by Mary Lambert. It tells the story of the Creed family and their move to rural Maine, where in the woods behind their new home, they stumble upon a dark place – a place where death is no longer an end, but rather the beginning of a much more horrifying tale.

However, while the assembled cast is stellar and co-directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer are not without skill, the end result doesn’t quite clear the bar set by either the novel or the original film. That isn’t to say that this version is without merit, but those with a deep-seated affection for those previous works will likely find themselves a little disappointed.

Published in Movies
Friday, 08 February 2019 13:04

Mind over matter – ‘What Men Want’

It seems like every other weekend sees another big-screen remake landing at the box office; while that’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. And the truth is that many if not most of those projects are cynical attempts to cash in on an audience’s fond memories. An equal number are creatively bankrupt as well. But this isn’t a binary, some sort of good/bad all or nothing. There’s ample gray area.

Not all remakes are created equal.

Take “What Men Want,” a remake of 2000’s Mel Gibson-fronted “What Women Want.” This new film – directed by Adam Shankman and starring Taraji P. Henson – reverses the gender roles but leaves everything else more or less the same. The end result is a movie that is a bit wobbly on its feet and more than a little uneven, but manages to engage the audience and pull off a couple of laughs.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 10 October 2018 12:11

‘A Star is Born’ burns bright

Predicting the relative success of a film, whether commercially or critically, is no easy feat. Sometimes, all the pieces are there for a hit, only for the final product to fall short. Other times, what looks like an abject disaster proves to be a runaway smash.

And then there are those movies that you can’t quite get a read on.

“A Star is Born” was one such film for me. I love Bradley Cooper as an actor – I think he’s got real talent – but how was he going to be in his directorial debut? Especially when he would be directing himself? And Lady Gaga is an undeniable musical powerhouse, but could she transcend her persona enough to create a character that felt real? Would the movie elicit genuine pathos … or simply come off as pathetic?

After seeing the movie, let’s check those boxes. First, Cooper displayed far more directorial talent than I would have expected from any first-timer, let alone someone directing himself. Second, Gaga is absolutely captivating in this role, exposed and vulnerable in a way we rarely see her. And finally – pathos. Wave after wave of elicited emotion … and every feeling is well-earned.

The story is simple and compelling. The performances are raw and heartfelt. The aesthetic is honest and the music is spectacular. It uplifts and undercuts with equal abandon. It is a fantastic movie experience the likes of which we don’t often see anymore – one that will almost certainly reap rewards come awards season.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 19 June 2018 15:20

‘Superfly’ is less than super

Here’s a fun fact about my cinematic tastes that might surprise you: I have a deep-seated and ongoing affection for the blaxploitation genre films of the early 1970s. “Shaft,” “Dolemite,” “Avenging Disco Godfather” – even later parodies like “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka” and “Black Dynamite” – are all … not favorites, per se, but definitely beloved bits of my movie-watching history.

“Superfly,” the new remake of the 1972 classic of the same name, makes an effort to stay true to the spirit of the original. It’s definitely slick and stylish, directed by noted music video auteur Director X from a script by Alex Tse, but it lacks some of the soul that made the original film so engaging and fun. While this new offering shows some flashes, it can’t quite put the pieces together. The end result is too long and lacking in joy.

Published in Movies

Hollywood’s recent reliance on remakes and reboots has become almost a self-fulfilling prophecy as of late – people see them because that’s what available and the studios make more of them because people are going to see them and on and on. We’re in chicken/egg territory, only we’ve stopped caring which actually came first.

That line of thinking inevitably results in something like “Overboard.”

Published in Movies
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