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I love Shakespeare, both on the page and on the stage. I love the immense power and depth of the Bard’s myriad works. I love the passion and the joy. I love the tragedy and the comedy alike.

I also love adaptations of Shakespeare’s works. I love it when these great works are reimagined, allowing for different kinds of accessibility and exploration. I love it when creative minds use the fundamental themes and concepts to tell stories that are both indebted to their inspiration and free to walk their own path.

Now, are these adaptations always good? Not at all. In fact, some are actively … not. That said, even with the tougher hangs, the effort being made is admirable, no matter if the result is less than stellar. But if an interesting take hits? I am a thousand percent hooked.

And Hulu’s “Rosaline” hooked me.

The film – directed by Karen Maine and adapted to the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber from Rebecca Serle’s 2012 YA novel “When You Were Mine” – is a retelling of/riff on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Specifically, it’s an exploration of that story from the perspective of Rosaline – Romeo’s lady before his star-cross’s meeting with Juliet.

We never meet Rosaline in “R&J” – she’s little more than a plot device, an illustration of Romeo’s tendency toward passionate impulsivity. She is the victim of the play’s love at first sight conceit, mentioned briefly in passing and then promptly forgotten about. It does leave one wondering – what did she think about all this?

“Rosaline” attempts to answer that question with a funny and emotionally engaging romp, a movie that clearly adores its source material while also being unafraid to wallow in absurdity and anachronism. Far from “never was a story of more woe,” this is a tale of sharp-tongued wit that digs into the differences between infatuation and true love … and how surprising those differences can be.

Published in Movies

Few times are as turbulent in a young person’s life as the transition from adolescence to adulthood. At least, that’s what the lion’s share of pop culture from the past few decades would have us believe.

As such, we’ve come to expect certain specific beats when those stories unfold onscreen. We have seen minor variations on the same themes so many times that they’re essentially baked into the way we process these types of films. Even when we don’t know what’s coming, we know what’s coming.

Writer/director Sofia Alvarez doesn’t reinvent the wheel in her new film “Along for the Ride,” adapted from the 2009 Sarah Dessen novel of the same name. There’s a lot that will ring familiar, particularly at the center of the film; you’ve seen this movie before. However, Alvarez finds enough differences on the periphery to give the film a pleasant charm and keep you from experiencing too much teen romance déjà vu.

It's not a complex movie or a challenging one, but there’s some entertainment value here. The obstacles are mild and the triumphs are mundane, but the overall effect is a soothing 100-or-so minutes of low-stakes high school romance. Not much happens, but that’s OK – there’s value in just hanging out.

Published in Movies

There was a certain flavor of film that we used to see fairly often back in the day, films that were part rom-com, part adventure. These movies brought together action elements with love stories and steeped the whole thing in quippy banter and moments of slapstick. Now, were these movies always good? Of course not. But they were almost always fun – and that was more than enough.

We don’t see as many of those films these days, what with the industry’s pivot to IP blockbusters and franchise development. But when they do turn up, it can be a reminder of how much fun these kinds of movie experiences can be.

“The Lost City,” directed by Aaron and Adam Nee from a screenplay they co-wrote with Dana Fox and Oren Uziel, is a throwback to those delightful mélanges of comedy, adventure and romance. Thanks to some engaging performances, headlined by Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, and a distinctly retro storytelling sensibility, the movie proves to be a lovely romp, a frothy, goofy trifle of a film that refuses to take itself too seriously.

Sure, it might not be great cinema, but I definitely had a great time … and I bet you will too.

Published in Movies
Monday, 28 February 2022 15:52

Love letters – ‘Cyrano’

Love stories have long been a major part of our narrative experience. We as humans simply love talking about love. But there are all manner of different kinds of love about which we tell these tales. Passionate romances, slow-burn affairs and everything in between.

Of all these loves, however, the type that offers the widest range between joyfulness and sadness is unrequited love. Stories of one who loves without being loved in return – for whatever reason – are striking and heartmelting and utterly relatable to all of us.

While the history of love stories is riddled with examples, many would argue that the greatest of all such tales is that of Cyrano de Bergerac.

From the time that French playwright Edmond Rostand brought the fictionalized tale of the real-life figure to the stage with the eponymously-named “Cyrano de Bergerac” in 1897, the character has become a sort of cultural shortcut, a literary shorthand that fully embodies that sense of unrequited love.

We’ve seen many adaptations of the story over the years, with artists placing their own stamps onto what has proved to be a universal tale.

The latest iteration of this classic to hit the big screen is “Cyrano,” directed by Joe Wright from a screenplay by Erica Schmidt (said screenplay is adapted from Schmidt’s own 2018 stage musical of the same name). It is a charming mishmash, period-set but rife with moments of tonal anachronism; it’s a film that seeks to find new angles from which to approach the well-word tale.

Admittedly, there are some moments when the film’s reach seems to exceed its grasp, but I’m not going to fault Wright and company for an ambitious approach. And while it doesn’t always work, when “Cyrano” and its players get cooking, it can be a truly mesmerizing experience.

Published in Movies

It is a longstanding tradition in the film distribution world that January serves as a bit of a dumping ground for those movies that, for whatever reason, haven’t lived up to expectations. They’re finished products in which no one really has much faith.

There’s a reason they call it Dumpuary.

Of course, given the current ever-shifting circumstances of the pandemic, the box office situation is all the more tenuous. Throw in the carryover of recent hits and the expanded release of award contenders and you’ve got a landscape where new theatrical offerings are of … questionable quality.

Offerings like “The King’s Daughter.”

This staggering oddball comes to us courtesy of journeyman director Sean McNamara; the script was written by Barry Berman and James Schmaus, adapted from Vonda N. McIntyre’s 1997 novel “The Moon and the Sun.” It is ostensibly a fantasy adventure, though there’s fairly little adventure and the true fantasy is imagining a world in which you didn’t go see this movie.

There’s a jarring unevenness to this movie, with shots of real-life locations awkwardly juxtaposed with badly-rendered backdrops and iffy CGI. There are some good performers here, but there’s a weird vibe – it’s as though everyone involved could tell that they were participating in a disaster-in-the-making.

Seriously – this thing finished filming back in 2014 and is only just now seeing release. That tells you everything you need to know about how the people involved felt about it.

Published in Movies

Another week, another Netflix romance tossed out into the universe.

Now, we’ve discussed at length the variance in quality that comes with Netflix’s steady churn of content. Some of those movies are very good, some are very bad and the rest – the majority – land somewhere in-between.

“The Last Letter from Your Lover” is one of those tweeners, though I’d say that it definitely falls closer to the “good” end of the spectrum. Based on the 2012 novel of the same name by JoJo Moyes, the film is directed by Augustine Frizell from a screenplay penned by Nick Payne and Esta Spaulding.

It’s a split story, the tale of a present-day journalist uncovering a cache of love letters alluding to a mysterious affair that took place some 50 years prior. With a pair of compelling female leads in Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley, it’s a charming, albeit somewhat predictable story – one that allows us to watch as two women separated by decades each come to terms with the realities of their romantic lives, even as they struggle to decide how to proceed.

Published in Style
Monday, 19 April 2021 15:09

Just another manic ‘Monday’

There’s a rush that comes with those first moments of attraction. The spark of electricity that courses from one person to the next, crackling with excitement and sexual anticipation – it’s often the beginning of something far greater. That’s how the movies portray it anyway.

However, just because that fire is burning from minute one does not mean that the relationship has any kind of real future. The reality is that those quick-hit connections often prove to be little more than infatuations, momentary dalliances. But how do you know if this one, this connection, is the one that is meant to be?

That’s the query at the center of “Monday,” a romantic drama directed by Argyris Papadimitropoulos from a script he co-wrote with Rob Hayes. It’s a story of a passionate weekend encounter between two expatriated Americans in Greece that begins to develop into something more, though it’s unclear if that’s the right thing for either of them.

There’s plenty of heat here, plenty of fire – the sex scene-to-runtime ratio here is REALLY high – to go along with the standard relationship struggles. Sure, it’s not always clear why these people are making the choices they are making, but the truth is that the specifics don’t matter – when you’ve got two people as hot for one another as this duo, it’s all about seeing where the fires lead you.

Published in Movies

Is it weird that there have been enough time loop movies recently for it to kind of feel like we’re in a time loop? And I say this as someone who digs the subgenre almost universally. Seriously – gimme an unstuck-in-time protagonist trying to solve their personal repetitive infinity and I am here for it.

The big daddy of them all is “Groundhog Day,” obviously, borne aloft by the brilliance of Bill Murray and Andie McDowell and Harold Ramis and – let’s be real – the delightful Stephen Tobolowsky. It’s the grandaddy of them all, the OG.

Is it weird that there have been enough time loop movies recently for it to kind of feel like we’re in a time loop? And I say this as someone who digs the subgenre almost universally. Seriously – gimme an unstuck-in-time protagonist trying to solve their personal repetitive infinity and I am here for it.

Of course, our most recent entry into the canon was the excellent “Palm Springs,” which set Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti loose in a delightfully loopy love story. It’s the freshest and most timely effort we’ve seen in ages.

Is it weird that there have been enough time loop movies recently for it to kind of feel like we’re in a time loop? And I say this as someone who digs the subgenre almost universally. Seriously – gimme an unstuck-in-time protagonist trying to solve their personal repetitive infinity and I am here for it.

Thank you – I’ll be here all week.

That dumb bit is in service of “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things,” currently streaming via Amazon Prime Video. The film – directed by Ian Samuels from a screenplay that Lev Grossman adapted from his own short story – is yet another riff on the time loop trope, adding a high school love story into the mix that gives it a little distance from some of the more well-known entries into the genre (entries that the film itself is unafraid to reference to humorous effect).

Now, this movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel. The filmmakers have a clear understanding of what makes these types of narratives work; they lean into the repetition and embrace the comedic possibilities therein. I’ll grant that such an approach limits the film’s ceiling, but it also assures a high floor. This leaves us with a movie that, while not necessarily great, is a pretty good viewing experience.

Published in Movies
Sunday, 14 February 2021 18:43

‘Little Fish’ a smart sci-fi love story

So much of how we relate to the world rests on a foundation of memory. But what if that foundation were to crumble? How can a society survive without remembering?

How can love?

“Little Fish” – directed by Chad Hartigan from Mattson Tomlin’s screenplay – is a look at what might happen if the world started to forget. A young couple is just starting out on their life of love when their future is threatened by a global pandemic (yes, I know), one that threatens the very memory of their time together.

It is a thoughtful and emotional engagement with the idea of what it means to be connected to one another and how much of what binds us together is shared experience and the ability to return to those times through memory. Without that tether, we simply float away. And yet … perhaps love can transcend that tether and form a tie of its own.

Published in Movies

I’ve reviewed my share of teen weepies over the years. And there will always be more, because the powers that be aren’t dumb – there is always going to be a market for movies where attractive young people deal with obstacles both real and imaginary.

I should be clear – I’m not one of these people who automatically assumes that something with a YA label is somehow less than. There are plenty of high-quality YA entertainments across all media out there; to my mind, a good story is a good story. The unfortunate truth, however, is that those same powers that be aren’t always that concerned with a good story – for them, the overwrought feelings and melodrama are more than enough to get the job done.

“The Ultimate Playlist of Noise,” newly streaming on Hulu, isn’t QUITE that cynical. Directed by Bennett Lasseter from a script by Mitchell Winkie, it’s a well-intentioned film that offers a perspective on what it means to be a young person losing something (or someone) that you love. It’s the story of a young man who, faced with the loss of his hearing, undertakes to hit the road and record a collection of favorite sounds before they’re gone (for him) forever.

(If this rings familiar, last year’s exceptional “Sound of Metal” covered a fair amount of the same ground, only in a more nuanced and much less saccharine way.)

Now, this movie isn’t actively bad the way so many films that fall into the YA feelings category are. It has some things to recommend it – exceptional sound design, for example, with a killer soundtrack – but for the most part, it lands in the muddy middle. Fine and forgettable.

Published in Style
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