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“Oh great,” you say. “Another adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Just what we all need.”

I get it. I do. Now, I’m not one to bemoan the ongoing efforts to tell and retell the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge – I love “A Christmas Carol” in just about all of its forms – but I understand if you’re over it. And admittedly, there have been A LOT of different takes on the tale.

But even if you’re a bit of a … well … a bit of a Scrooge about this sort of thing, I urge you to give “Spirited” a chance.

The new film – directed by Sean Anders from a script he co-wrote with John Morris – is a different take on the classic narrative, one that focuses on the mechanisms behind the scenes of the story we all know and love. With a top-tier central pairing, a delightful supporting cast and a frankly astonishing amount of high-energy production numbers (that’s right folks – it’s a musical, and a lavish one at that), it’s a very different take on “A Christmas Carol.”

Different – and delightful.

Published in Movies

I have a complicated history with Ryan Reynolds.

For a good stretch of his career, I found him to be generally insufferable. He radiated smugness, smirking and quipping his way through a series of not-terribly-interesting comedies and franchise misfires. Long story short, I didn’t care for him.

And then, well … he wore me down.

Don’t get me wrong – the aforementioned qualities are still part of the package. And he’s still making plenty of questionable films. I just find myself enjoying them more, even if (when) they’re not necessarily that great.

Which brings us to “The Adam Project,” the new big-budget Netflix offering starring Reynolds as a time traveler who inadvertently winds up partnering with his younger self (played exceptionally by newcomer Walker Scobell) in an effort to save the world from the clutches of a power-mad billionaire.

I know, I know – it sounds ridiculous. And it is. But it’s better than it sounds. The notion of setting right what once went wrong is a staple of the time travel genre; adding the coming-of-age element gives the film a flavor that makes it palatable even when the logistics of the narrative break down and we see the seams a little.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, all you want is a big dumb action movie. You’re not interested in IP-driven blockbusters or massive franchises or any of that. You don’t want to worry about how this movie is impacted by what you’ve seen and/or how it will impact what you’re going to see. You just want explosions and movie stars and gunfights and quips and car chases and general big-budget tomfoolery.

That said … be careful what you wish for.

See, “Red Notice” – currently streaming on Netflix – has all of those things. It’s got an A-list trio at the top of the call sheet – The Rock, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot. It has a huge budget – reportedly coming in at $200 million. It is an original idea, from a script penned by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who also directs the movie. Things blow up. There’s a heist AND a prison break. The Rock is strong and Ryan Reynolds is snarky and Gal Gadot is sexy. Fistfights and gunfire and explosions, double- and triple-crosses. It’s all in there.

It just doesn’t really work.

“Red Notice” is made up of a lot of pieces that should fit together, but don’t. There’s a flatness to it all that is prevalent to the point of distraction, with a vague feeling of disconnect permeating the entire film. The performances come off as a bit shoulder-shruggy, with everyone coasting on their preexisting personae; it feels surprisingly phoned-in in a lot of spots. The action sequences are so-so, with a couple of solid ones surrounded by some duds. The twists are telegraphed and characterizations are thin to the point of nonexistence. Rarely has such a big-time action film felt so sedentary.

Published in Movies

When it comes to movies, we all have our biases. Even those of us who try to maintain objectivity are subject to expectation, the ebb and flow of personal taste. Those biases can come into play even before we see a film; often, we’re steered in one direction or another through early marketing or criticism or what have you.

But when those expectations are subverted, well – let’s just say that it can be nice to be surprised.

Which brings me to “Free Guy,” the new Ryan Reynolds-led video game-inspired action movie. Conceptually, I had doubts. The trailers I had seen seemed fine, just OK. And the truth is that while I sometimes enjoy the winking meta-energy of Reynolds, I don’t always … and this one felt like a “don’t always.”

Man, was I wrong.

The film – directed by Shawn Levy from a screenplay by Matt Lieberman and Zakk Penn – is a clever and funny action-adventure. The high concept is handled deftly and the majority of the jokes land. It is winkingly self-aware without being smug. The action sequences are suitably bonkers. And Reynolds himself manages to convey a level of sincerity that feels both genuine and just a touch subversive. It’s smarter than it looks, with a surprisingly sharp edge at times. Just a great time at the movies.

Published in Movies

There’s no accounting for taste – especially in Hollywood. Concepts like “good” and “bad” are mere abstracts at the highest levels of the movie business. The quality of the product itself is secondary; all that matters is the money. And when a movie makes a lot of money, there’s a good chance we’re going to get a sequel. Even if the movie in question is kind of terrible.

Hence, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

This awkwardly-titled sequel to 2017’s mediocre-at-best action-comedy “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” can’t even rise to the level of the rather low bar set by its predecessor. This new offering features Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds reprising their roles as the titular hitman and bodyguard, respectively; Salma Hayek is back as well (she’s the wife). A collection of new faces appears as well, including a handful of folks who definitely should have known better.

Gotta tell you - it’s not good, folks.

That first film managed to get by on the energy of its two leads and the chemistry between them, occasionally reaching the level of store-brand “Midnight Run,” but even that sense of fun is long gone in this new entry. Instead, we get a tonally inconsistent combination of smug mugging and bloody violence that isn’t nearly as funny as it seems to think it is, presented to us alongside a confusing and borderline nonsensical plot and a bunch of rote, repetitive and generally uninteresting action sequences.

Published in Movies

With Netflix out here throwing blank checks at cinematic auteurs, asking nothing of these filmmakers but for them to be themselves, there’s no disputing that we’re seeing some pretty incredible things spring forth from that creative freedom.

Martin Scorsese gave us “The Irishman,” a late-career masterpiece that many might not have expected Marty had left in him. Alfonso Cuaron made the beautiful and haunting semi-autobiography that was “Roma,” Noah Baumbach got to Baumbach in front of exponentially more eyeballs than ever before with “Marriage Story.” The list goes on.

However, “incredible” doesn’t always mean “good.”

This brings us to “6 Underground,” the film that is what happens when the auteur with the blank check is noted explosion fetishist Michael Bay. It is a loud, smug, barely comprehensible wad of action movie; the vibe is as though the entire thing was conceptualized on a cocktail napkin at whatever place exists on the spectrum between a Hooters and a strip club. Oh, and the lead is Ryan Reynolds playing Ryan Reynolds.

In this case, “incredible” basically means “I do not find it credible that such a movie like this exists.” By that definition, holy crap is this movie incredible.

Published in Movies

One of the realities of growing older is accepting the fact that pop culture is no longer aimed at you. To paraphrase the proto-creepster philosopher David Wooderson, we keep getting older, but the target demographic of the zeitgeist stays the same age.

It’s less noticeable at the movies, for the most part – the massive monocultural events shooting for four-quadrant appeal don’t much care how old I am – but there are still moments that remind me of the gaps in my pop cultural history.

This brings us to “Pokémon Detective Pikachu.” I will be the first to admit that I have only a passing familiarity with the world of Pokémon, mostly through younger relatives and a brief dalliance with the AR game “Pokémon Go” a couple of years back. How would I review a movie built so thoroughly on preexisting characters and contexts? A story steeped in decades of intricate mythology and scores of previous incarnations?

Pretty easily, as it turns out.

I had a legitimately good time watching “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” despite my rudimentary understanding of the Pokémon phenomenon as a whole. Yes, I was definitely lost with regards to a lot of the specifics – my fellow audience members laughed and cheered for reasons that I didn’t fully understand – but in the general sense, it was still a lot of fun. It’s a family-friendly adventure film with solid performances, a few strong action sequences and a shockingly good aesthetic (the overlay of CGI onto live-action was seriously some of the best I’ve seen).

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 22 May 2018 15:00

More meta mayhem – ‘Deadpool 2’

Superheroes are big business at the box office. The biggest cinematic successes of the past few years have involved CGI explosions and spandex. Hell, 2018 alone has seen “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” taking their places atop various all-time lists.

And yet … there’s more than one path to victory.

We got a glimpse of one such path with 2016’s “Deadpool,” the hard-R Ryan Reynolds passion project that brought the unorthodox and profane titular character to the big screen in all of his fourth wall-breaking metatextual glory. The critical and commercial acclaim with which it was met ensured that we’d see another installment.

“Deadpool 2” is … more. More of the self-awareness. More of the snark. More winking jokes and nods. More curse words. Just … more. It is broad and crude and unapologetic. And while it’s maybe a little messier and unfocused than its predecessor, it also opens up and shows some unexpected heart – albeit in Deadpool’s specific and very peculiar way.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 23 August 2017 11:27

‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ misses the mark

Action comedy can’t quite strike the proper balance

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 29 March 2017 11:57

‘Life’ and death

Sci-fi horror film familiar, but compelling

Published in Movies
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