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Monday, 22 March 2021 15:24

‘Happily’ never after

Most of the time, the media we consume – movies, books, TV, music – fits comfortably within the confines of description. That is, we can pretty easily define what kind of film or book or show or song we’re experiencing; even the stuff built on genre cross-pollination can be described reasonably succinctly.

Occasionally, though, we get something that doesn’t quite fit into one or two categories. Something that is many different things at once while also being essentially its own thing.

“Happily,” written and directed by BenDavid Grabinski, checks a LOT of different genre boxes, but does so in a way that is appealingly messy. There’s a fundamental shagginess to the film, born of the filmmaker’s clear desire to take a kitchen sink approach to tone and type. And the film really does have it all – romance and dark comedy and speculative undertones and relationship drama – but in the course of doing so, it sometimes loses its way.

That said, we’ve got a dynamite cast, some killer aesthetic choices and visual styling and an obvious willingness to let things get weird. It’s a film where you might THINK you know what you’re getting into, but you don’t. Not really. And that’s (mostly) a good thing.

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

Brace yourselves, folks – the onslaught of pandemic cinema is fast approaching. We’re going to see a wealth of films a) made during the lockdown, b) made about the lockdown or c) both. Some of these movies might well prove to be exceptional pieces of work, but rest assured that a lot of them are going to be, well … not.

“Locked Down,” the new film directed by Doug Liman and starring Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor, lands closerto that latter category. Currently available on HBO Max, it’s the kind of throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks movie that doesn’t always work; toss in the limiting factors of pandemic production and you’re looking at a project that was already hamstrung before shooting started.

I mean, who thought it was a good idea to make a lockdown-centric movie mashup of romantic comedy, relationship drama and heist movie? Rumor has it that screenwriter Steven Knight wrote the script on a dare. It definitely shows. Now, it’s not all bad – the truth is that there are some solid ideas here and the leads are certainly talented enough. Unfortunately, the disparate elements never get properly blended, leaving us with a clunky three-into-one vibe that will prove frustrating to those who see the very real potential here.

Published in Movies

There are some movies that are compulsively watchable. These are the films from which you simply cannot tear your eyes. Often, this magnetism springs from the exquisite quality of what has been made, a combination of narrative and aesthetic excellence that demands to be experienced. Sometimes, however – not frequently, but every once in a while – that watchability is born of the exact opposite. In these moments, we get a movie that, despite being an abject and utter mess, nevertheless holds your attention.

“Love, Weddings & Other Disasters” is one of those rare watchable shambles, an aptly-titled car-crash of a movie experience that practically demands to be rubbernecked.

Written and directed by Dennis Dugan – best known as a longtime collaborator with Adam Sandler – “Love, Weddings & Other Disasters” is a misguided effort to walk the well-worn path of the intersecting storyline rom-com. The best of those films connect the dots with grace and subtlety, but as you might have already surmised, that’s not what this film does. Instead, we get a series of barely-connected narratives that each play out in their own rambling fashion before a hurried and not-particularly-inspired finale that leaves the viewer wondering what the hell just happened.

Published in Movies

Finding freshness in any longstanding entertainment genre can be a trying task. How does one bring a sense of newness or novelty to something utterly familiar without losing the essence of what makes that thing worthy of exploration in the first place?

Take romantic comedies, for example. We’re in the midst of a rom-com renaissance of sorts, with streaming services taking up the baton for the studios that have largely abandoned the genre. And while most of these new offerings are various shades of beige, content to stick to the tricks and tropes with which we’re all familiar, there are a few that succeed in breathing new life into the form.

“Happiest Season” is one of those few.

The film, directed and co-written by Clea DuVall and streaming on Hulu, is an outstanding movie, a smart and slyly subversive take on the genre. Featuring a dynamite cast and a thoughtful story, it’s the kind of high-end rom-com that just doesn’t come along that often. Maneuvering the relationship complexities that come with holidays and meeting parents and the whole deal while ALSO exploring some of the realities of queer romance? That’s one hell of a tightrope walk, but DuVall and her crew practically dance across it, embracing the joy and pain alike.

(In case you haven’t guessed yet, I REALLY liked this movie.)

Published in Style

The deluge of holiday movies is underway, with scores of new offerings coming at us over the next couple of months. You can’t fight it, so you might as well go along for the ride.

And there’s joy to be found. Sure, most of the holiday fare we see has a churned-out quality, a cookie-cutter sensibility. But so what? These types of movies are almost always intended as comfort food, nothing more. Familiar and uncomplicated. Consume them with that in mind and you’ll have a good time.

This brings us to “Operation Christmas Drop,” a Netflix original currently streaming on the service. As a holiday movie/rom-com crossover, it’s part of one of the largest holiday film subgenres, and there’s little about it that sets it apart from a dozen other movies. It is an easy-to-drink cocktail, egg nog by way of the tropics.

Everything you think is going to happen, happens. There are no surprises here, nothing the least bit challenging or provocative. What flavor there is comes from the tropical setting, but even that is just the barest hint. This movie is as bland and inoffensive as they come, something you can have on in the background during multi-generational family celebrations.

Published in Movies
Monday, 02 November 2020 15:51

Date the halls – ‘Holidate’

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Netflix reigns supreme over rom-coms.

People have been bemoaning the death of the romantic comedy for some time, and at the box office, the notion had the ring of truth to it – rom-coms weren’t the big business that they once were. And if people aren’t buying, the studios stop selling.

But while rom-coms might have waned in popularity, there are still lots of folks out there who love them. And, in typical fashion, Netflix detected a market inefficiency and started churning out romantic comedies. Now, these offerings vary in overall quality (though they all have that unmistakable Netflix sheen to them), but the sheer number that we’re seeing would seem to indicate that they are being watched and watched a lot.

The latest in the queue is “Holidate,” directed by John Whitesell from a script by Tiffany Paulsen. It’s a genial and low-stakes story, revolving around the sort of vaguely-absurd-on-its-face concept that marks a lot of the genre offerings from the streaming service. It’s about two people looking for someone to share the holidays with without, you know, any of the other stuff.

The movie is charming enough, even if it does feel a bit formulaic. Of course, this isn’t a movie you watch if you’re looking to be surprised in any manner whatsoever. And there’s a real comfort to familiarity – sometimes, it’s soothing to know what you’re getting.

Published in Movies
Monday, 06 July 2020 13:13

Return to sender - ‘Desperados’

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Netflix has another original romantic comedy hitting their service.

The streaming giant has done significant work in their efforts to corner a variety of cinematic niche markets through the combined power of their algorithm and their checkbook. Nowhere is that focus more apparent than in the realm of rom-coms; Netflix is the undisputed industry leader as far as that genre goes. They just keep churning them out, for (sometimes) better and (usually) worse.

Their latest offering is “Desperados,” a film that is very much the latter. It is a derivative and vaguely dull film, one that seems to have simply thrown a bunch of clichés and tropes at the wall and filmed what stuck. It is a warmed-over rehash, a cover band attempting to play the hits. It’s the sort of movie that offers literally nothing that you haven’t seen before.

Watching this movie is like watching items checked off a list. Quirky female protagonist? Check. Two unreasonably supportive friends? Check. Ridiculous and easily avoided mistake made? Check. Exotic getaway setting? Check. Questionable decision making? Check. Physical injury played for laughs? Check.

You get the picture.

Published in Movies

Love – and our ongoing search for it – is one of the fundamental building blocks of our lives. That quest to find the person with whom we’re going to spend our lives is complicated and surprising, often leading us in unexpected directions. Highs can very quickly become lows, and vice versa.

We’re all on our own journey when it comes to love … but most people don’t film it.

Steve Markle is not most people.

The Canadian filmmaker’s new documentary “Shoot to Marry” – winner of the Audience Award at Slamdance and currently available to rent on a variety of platforms – is a filmed record of his own search for love. It is an occasionally rambling, sometimes cringe-y and always heartfelt document of Markle’s quest to find the person who might help him heal his broken heart and give him what he has always wanted – someone to marry. Five years in the making, the film is rife with shaggy DIY charm – Markle was essentially a one-man crew.

While it’s true that Markle is sometimes disingenuous with regard to the motives behind the documentary, it’s also true that he has brought together a genuinely fascinating collection of women from all walks of life, so while his pitch about making a doc about “interesting women” is still the truth, albeit not the whole truth.

Published in Livin'

One of my favorite romantic comedy techniques is the adaptation of and/or inspiration by a classic work. This is particularly prolific in the teen-targeted sector, because let’s be honest, love stories tend to be a young person’s game. Granted, quality source material is hardly a guarantee of a quality film, but it’s certainly a good place to start.

The latest example of the literary classic-turned-YA rom-com “The Half of It,” written and directed by Alice Wu and newly streaming on Netflix. It definitely lands on the inspired by side of things, but it wears that particular influence – namely, Edmund Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” – loudly and proudly.

Granted, it takes the classic secret correspondence-driven love triangle and gives it a decidedly original flair, gender-flipping our erstwhile epistle-writer and lending the entire proceedings a cloak of LGBTQ+ friendliness that serves to make the story feel both of the moment and widely accessible.

It doesn’t hurt that Wu is a gifted filmmaker with a particular talent for language; she’s got a real ear for witty and romantic dialogue. And she has an outstanding trio of young actors at the film’s center. All the pieces are there for a lovely little movie – and “The Half of It” delivers.

Published in Movies
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