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Among the odder developments of the last decade or so of big-budget moviemaking is the Disney trend of making live-action versions of their beloved animated classics. The powers that be at Big Mouse saw the opportunity to commodify nostalgia to an even greater extent than they already had, resulting in a spate of films that turned cartoons into the third dimension (though in some respects, “live-action” is a bit of a misnomer – there’s still LOADS of computer animation at work in these films).

Of course, the ongoing success of these films – not always critically, but definitely commercially – meant that we would keep seeing largely unnecessary remakes being trotted out to be eagerly consumed by those looking for new ways to engage with old memories.

Which brings us to “Pinocchio,” the latest effort to reengage with a beloved classic. This one – directed by Robert Zemeckis, who also co-wrote the adapted screenplay alongside Chris Weitz – offers audiences a new look at the beloved tale of a marionette granted sentience and his quest to figure out how to become a real boy, with plenty of adventures along the way.

Unfortunately, this film suffers from the same big issue that many of its live-action remake brethren do – it simply feels unneeded. That isn’t to say that it’s terrible – it’s generally inoffensive, with a few interesting moments. It’s just that it’s hard to feel that strongly about a film that we have, in essence, seen before.

Published in Movies
Monday, 20 June 2022 15:20

Here comes ‘Father of the Bride’

It’s no secret that remakes have become a huge part of the Hollywood landscape. It makes sense from a studio standpoint – they make movies to make money, so why not take something with a proven track record and run it back?

But here’s the thing – while it may feel more common today, this has been a cinematic M.O. for a long time.

Take “Father of the Bride,” the new film streaming on HBO Max. This movie is a remake, yes … but it isn’t the first time. Back in 1950, “Father of the Bride” hit screens, based on the 1949 Edward Streeter novel of the same name. Then, in 1991, we got a remake of that film. And now, in 2022, well … here comes the “Father of the Bride” yet again.

This latest iteration offers a Latin twist on the tale, with the central family consisting of Cuban-Americans and the action based in and around Miami. It’s got plenty of charm, thanks largely to its engaging cast and endearing story. Granted, there’s nothing particularly new here, with the basic structure repeating from previous films, but that’s OK – there’s a comfort food vibe to the proceedings that makes for a light, lovely watch.

Published in Style
Monday, 16 May 2022 14:55

‘Firestarter’ a lukewarm remake

Stephen King is having a … well, what exactly? It’s hard to call it a moment when it feels like we’ve been watching a steady stream of adaptations of his work for years now. And you can’t really call it a Renaissance or a comeback, if only because his popularity never really waned in any real way.

Anyway – whatever it is, he sure is having it.

The latest adaptation (or re-adaptation) is “Firestarter,” based on King’s 1980 novel. This new film – directed by Keith Thomas from a screenplay by Scott Teems – is the second cinematic adaptation of the work, following the 1984 version that, among other things, helped catapult young Drew Barrymore into superstardom. With Jason Blum’s Blumhouse productions on board, you might expect a leap forward in quality; they do have a knack for solid horror offerings.

Unfortunately, this new version instead fails to capture the spirit of the source material, leaving the viewer with a film that – ironically – lacks heat. There’s a flatness to the proceedings that undercuts the possibilities inherent to King’s work; parts of the film feel rushed and/or unfinished, with those cohesion-lacking moments impacting the rest of the film.

It’s not a BAD film – I’d argue that it’s better than the 1984 version, though that might be damning it with faint praise – but neither is it a particularly good one. Instead, we get something that feels disposable and unnecessary; if you’re not going to try and do anything new, why bother with a remake at all?

Correction: if you’re not going to try and do anything AT ALL, why bother?

Published in Movies

Look, I’m with you – we 100% did not need yet another cinematic riff on “Cinderella.” There are plenty of those, whether we’re talking direct or indirect, and after the abysmal jukebox musical version that Amazon Studios gave us last year, one would have hoped we’d get a bit of a reprieve.

We did not.

So as you might imagine, I was not particularly excited to check out the new Disney+ film “Sneakerella.” The notion of a gender-swapped sneaker-culture-based adaptation sounded frankly exhausting, but I sat down and fired it up anyway.

As it turns out, it’s better than I expected. Not a great movie, mind you, but not bad. Not bad at all. And when it comes to adaptations of this classic fairy tale, not bad is actually pretty darned good. Driven by a charming young cast and some decent musical numbers, “Sneakerella” manages to put a genuinely interesting spin on the beloved story.

It’s not all good, of course – the film has its share of issues – but as far as efforts toward inclusive storytelling go, director Elizabeth Rosenbaum and company make something that feels reasonably progressive in its outlook. The standard clichés still very much apply, but all in all, there’s more good than bad here.

Published in Movies

At what point does the degradation of a copy of a copy of a copy become a bridge too far with regard to filmmaking? In this era of reboots and remakes, how many iterations are too many?

Take “Cheaper by the Dozen,” the new original – sorry, “original” – film streaming on Disney+. This film is a remake of the 2003 Steve Martin vehicle which was itself an adaptation of the 1950 original, based on the real life of efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth.

It’s dozens all the way down.

The central focus of these films – massive blended families – remains the same even as the details surrounding those large families change. However, there’s undeniably a significant degree of diminishing returns, and while this latest iteration does expand its vocabulary somewhat – largely through efforts at wider inclusivity – it doesn’t really seem to have much to say.

“Cheaper by the Dozen” isn’t bad. Not really. But nor is it particularly good. It is a perfectly cromulent family film, one that will likely prove acceptable for everyone in the family while not actively appealing to any of them. Slight, saccharine and ultimately forgettable, it will pass the time, but don’t expect much more than that.

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

Justice for the Justice League!

Specifically, for director Zack Snyder’s vision of the team – a vision that was undeniably disrupted by the circumstances surrounding 2017’s “Justice League.” When personal issues led to Snyder’s walking away from the project during post-production, replacement director Joss Whedon wound up putting his own very distinct stamp on the proceedings … for better or worse.

Mostly worse, as it turns out.

But now, in what is a first in the vast and varied world of big-budget superhero cinema, we’ve been given a chance to experience something far closer to Snyder’s original intent – a do-over. Thanks in no small part to massive internet outcry from fans, the powers that be at HBO gave the keys back to Snyder (as well as a hefty budget, around $70 million) to turn the film back toward his original intent, retrofitting and reshooting and ultimately restoring Snyder’s vision.

The end result is “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” a four-hour extravaganza that far outshines the film that came before it. It’s better. A lot better. Now, if you want to argue that it’s bloated and unnecessary, I won’t fight you. Think a dangerous precedent has been sent regarding the power potential of dedicated fandoms, no matter how potentially toxic? Could be. None of that changes the fact that this new film, as overwrought and overproduced as it may be, is a significant improvement.

It’s got many of the usual issues that dog Snyder’s work – the washed-out color palette, the ubiquitous slo-mo, the jittery, hard-to-follow battle scenes – but even those concerns are lesser here than they’ve been in previous films. And the storytelling gains – particularly when it comes to certain character arcs – more than offset all of that.

For me, it boils down to this. I basically shrugged my shoulders at “Justice League” in 2017. I genuinely enjoyed “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” … and I really wasn’t sure that I would.

Published in Movies
Monday, 26 October 2020 14:45

‘The Witches’ somewhat lacking in magic

The works of author Roald Dahl have long been prime fodder for the leap from page to screen. The unabashed weirdness and genuinely frightful nature of his work – not to mention the wildly inventive and colorful characters and narratives that he constructs – make these books ideal subjects for translation to visual media. They are fun, bizarre experiences whether you’re reading them or seeing them.

However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing … particularly when a story is revisited for the big screen treatment.

To wit: HBO Max is currently streaming their version of “The Witches,” directed by Robert Zemeckis. It’s an adaptation of Dahl’s 1983 novel of the same name – a novel that already received a VERY successful remake in 1990. It’s a bold choice, remaking a film that, while 30 years old, still maintains a place of high regard in the memories of many moviegoers. A bold choice … and a somewhat misguided one.

Don’t get me wrong – this new version isn’t bad. It just doesn’t land with the same spirited resonance as its predecessor. Much like Tim Burton’s stab at “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory,” this new take on “The Witches” simply feels unnecessary. It’s no one’s fault, really – everyone involved seems to be operating in good faith and really giving it their all. It’s just that there probably shouldn’t have been a project for which to give said all.

Published in Movies
Monday, 26 October 2020 12:49

‘Rebecca’ offers stylish gothic thrills

It takes a lot of chutzpah to remake Alfred Hitchcock.

There are a handful of acknowledged masters in the cinematic realm that pretty much everyone can agree on, filmmakers who are universally acclaimed as the very best at what they do … and Hitchcock is on that list. No one has demonstrated such mastery of the psychological thriller. Even now, nearly 50 years after his last film, he’s the maestro.

His 1940 “Rebecca” – based on Daphne Du Maurier’s 1938 novel of the same name – was his first American project, a film that landed 11 Academy Award nominations and won two, including Hitchcock’s only Best Picture win.

So to tackle a movie that remakes not just any Hitchcock, but one of his best, well … like I said. Chutzpah.

Yet here we are, with Netflix producing a remake of the classic, directed by Ben Wheatley from a screenplay adaptation by Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. And it’s a pretty solid effort, with a talented cast and a suitably sumptuous aesthetic. The biggest strike against it – and it is a big one – is that it was preceded by a legitimate masterpiece.

The story of a young woman who marries into a situation far more complex and shadowy than she ever could have imagined, “Rebecca” is a gothic thriller set against the lush English countryside in the heady days preceding World War II. It is a tale of the darkness within – and the fact that even those closest to us may be keeping secrets.

Published in Movies
Friday, 04 September 2020 23:47

Crouching ‘Mulan,’ hidden dragon

It’s tough to argue against the live-action remake strategy that Disney has trotted out over the past five years or so. By presenting live retellings of their beloved animated fare, Big Mouse is able to double down on the value derived from those properties while also introducing (or reintroducing) them to a new audience. Economically, it totally makes sense.

Artistically? Your mileage may vary. But whether you view these films as viable extensions of the originals or little more than cash grabs, there’s no fighting it – they’re here to stay.

The latest in line is “Mulan,” a live-action adaptation of the 1998 animated film. Originally scheduled as a summertime tentpole release for the studio, the film was made available for streaming to Disney+ subscribers, albeit for an additional charge of $30. This move makes it an interesting test case as far as what may happen with movies moving forward; in truth, this movie’s reception and receipts could prove definitional to film’s commercial future.

As for the movie itself? Pretty solid, actually. Director Niki Caro does a good job capturing the epic scale of the thing; her choices evoke the vastness of the proceedings with a deft clarity. The action sequences are on point – there’s an elevated kung-fu movie vibe to the fight scenes that works nicely. The emotional beats are all properly hit and the performances are uniformly strong. All in all, a really good movie.

Published in Movies
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