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There’s something appealing about a fresh start.

That’s as true in Hollywood as anywhere else. Studios love their long-running franchises, embracing the sureties that come with an ongoing concern. But they also love reinvention, returning to a property after a time to start all over again.

But you don’t often see both.

That’s basically what you get with the latest installment in the “Terminator” franchise. This new entry – “Terminator: Dark Fate” – is the sixth film in the franchise. However, it is ALSO a reboot, as it is intended as a direct sequel to 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” Essentially, this means that the three films that preceded this new one – “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003), “Terminator Salvation” (2009) and “Terminator Genisys” (2015) – have been erased from franchise canon.

In many ways, “Dark Fate” offers a return to the spirit of those earlier films – films that were largely superior to the misguided franchise fodder that followed. It’s a simpler, pared-down story, one that avoids being bogged down by convoluted, tangled mythology resulting from multiple movies jammed with time travel.

By taking us back to that still-relatively-clean initial timeline, “Dark Fate” can bring us back into contact with the world that drew us in in the first place. This new film doesn’t quite scale the heights of those earliest entries – though creator James Cameron’s fingerprints are all over it (which is a good thing) – but the streamlining of the experience is welcome. Add to that some strong performances and a director who gets what makes the franchise tick and you’ve got a movie that certainly outstrips the mediocre trio of films that preceded it.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 15 October 2019 20:37

Battle of Wills – ‘Gemini Man’

Anyone who’s paying attention realizes that we’re moving into a post-movie star realm of cinematic entertainment. The vast majority of movies are IP-driven – the franchise matters more than the star. It’s the classic Johnny Bravo conundrum writ large – it’s all about who fits the costume, and with the current state of CGI … anyone can fit the costume.

There are a few leftovers from previous eras who are still hanging around to some extent – your Cruises, your Pitts, those sorts – and a couple of new guys (well, just one if we’re being real – congrats, The Rock!), but that’s about it.

Will Smith is one of the holdovers, someone who has been using raw charisma to dominate the big screen for going on a quarter-century. He is one of the scant handful of people out there to whom the descriptor “movie star” can still be applied, despite a … let’s just call it a questionable body of work. But hey – he’s still a movie star, right? And what could be better than a blockbuster movie featuring Movie Star Will Smith?

How about TWO Will Smiths?

Published in Movies

Time travel is tricky.

It’s easy to understand why a filmmaker – especially a filmmaker on a budget – would be interested in the possibilities offered by time travel. It’s a conceit that allows plenty of room for speculative spread without necessarily requiring one to shell out a ton of cash for effects work.

However, one must also be prepared to deal with the narrative ramifications of using something like time travel. You can’t just point the camera and say “time travel” – there has to be some sense of cohesion. Without a delicate touch, the whole thing is in danger of dissolving into incoherence.

Some time travel movies – the best ones – strike a balance; the filmmaker is able to embrace the advantages offered by the concept while also avoiding the many pitfalls. The vast majority fall short of that ideal.

“In the Shadow of the Moon” is one of the many, rather than the few. Rather than building a time travel narrative that builds upon itself, it instead collapses under its own weight. Its intriguing initial idea is unable to sustain itself, crumbling into paradox. The logistical issues are either ignored or hand-waved away, rendering the central mystery an uninteresting afterthought.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 25 September 2019 09:18

To the stars – ‘Ad Astra’

In the age of blockbuster franchises and repurposed intellectual property, it’s rare for a film based wholly on an original idea, whose concept wasn’t pulled from a preexisting source, to receive the big-budget treatment. A perfect storm of sorts is required – a combination of story and storyteller that can warrant nine figures without the crutch of already-extant exposure.

“Ad Astra” is just such a film. It’s a sci-fi epic, one that features the talented auteur James Gray in the director’s chair, working from a script Gray co-wrote with Ethan Gross. And Brad Pitt, one of Hollywood’s last movie stars, leads the way in an actual movie star-type role – something we haven’t seen a lot of from him in recent years.

It has all the trappings of big-time science fiction, but it uses those trappings to tell a much more intimate story. At its core, “Ad Astra” is a film about coming to terms with who we are, about understanding our choices and the motivations behind them. It’s about finding ways to let go of the past while holding onto the lessons we learned from it.

Published in Movies

Memory is a powerful thing. Certain memories are so vibrant, so potent, that recalling them almost feels as though we’ve been transported back to the moment in which they took place.

But just how real could that sense of transport truly become?

That’s one of the central notions in “Recursion” (Crown, $27), the new novel from author Blake Crouch. It’s an exploration of what might happen if mankind was allowed to use our most vivid memories as a gateway to what came before. It’s a compelling thriller built on big ideas – typical of Crouch’s thought-provoking sci-fi sensibility.

Published in Buzz

If history has taught us anything, it’s that when people are confronted with an invasion, they inevitably fall into one of two categories: collaborator or resistor. It has been that way in every war that has ever been fought; when enemy forces take over, some will fall in line and others will fight back.

There’s no reason to think that that would somehow change if said forces came not from another country, but from another world.

That’s the basic gist of “Captive State,” an alien occupation thriller directed by Rupert Wyatt from a script he co-wrote with Erica Beeney. It’s a story of what it means to live under the rule of an enemy that seems too powerful to overcome – and what it means to stand up to that enemy anyway.

It’s not a particularly subtle movie; it wears its ideas on its sleeve and is more about blunt force than surgical precision. The story is a bit overlong as well and meanders through its middle third. However, the low-fi aesthetic is interesting and there are some good performances. Add it all up and you get an acceptable (and forgettable) sci-fi outing.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 20 February 2019 13:53

‘Alita: Battle Angel’ fights the good fight

Considering the popularity of sci-fi/fantasy fare, you’d think that Hollywood would be better at adapting Japanese anime and manga for American audiences. However, whether it’s a cultural divide or an aesthetic difference or what have you, the undeniable appeal of those properties usually winds up getting lost in translation.

So when I started seeing ads for “Alita: Battle Angel,” I was skeptical. Based on Yukito Kushiro’s popular “Gunnm” manga from the early 1990s, it’s the sort of complex, thematically dense work that Hollywood has traditionally screwed up. Why would this time be any different?

But then I looked closer. It’s a marvelous collection of talent. You’ve got Robert Rodriguez, one of the best “genre” filmmakers of his generation, directing. Rodriguez also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Laeta Kalogridis and James Cameron – yes, that James Cameron – who also served as producer and has been moving this project forward for the better part of two decades. Oh, and there’s also an incredibly talented cast featuring far more Oscar winners and nominees than you might have anticipated for a seemingly straightforward sci-fi shoot-‘em-up.

Does it live up to that pedigree? Maybe not quite; there are some clarity issues regarding the storytelling and a few uncanny valley concerns regarding the CGI. However, there’s no disputing the vivid visual nature of the film; there are dynamic set pieces scattered throughout. And the performers all treat the material with due respect, resulting in nuanced and complex performances beyond the standard genre fare.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 30 January 2019 13:40

To tell the truth – ‘Golden State’

What would it be like to live in a world where there was no greater crime than telling a lie? And what if you were one of the few people with the ability to detect said lies – as well as the official state-sponsored authorization to venture outside the truth?

“Golden State” (Mulholland Books, $28), the latest novel by Ben H. Winters, takes a look at just such a world, a skewed near-future state in which pure, unadulterated truth is mandated by law. Interactions are defined through basic, unassailable facts – with no room for anything more.

While we might believe that absolute truth would be the way to go, the reality is that massive gray area between truths and lies is where the lion’s share of human relationships live. When truth is all that is allowed, it’s not long before free will begins to fade.

Published in Buzz
Tuesday, 22 January 2019 16:37

From Earth to a moon – ‘IO’

The end of the world has been a prime cinematic subject pretty much since cinema has been a thing. Our imaginations are obsessed with endings and beginnings – and a good post-apocalyptic yarn can give us some of both.

So it’s no surprise that we’d get a movie like “IO,” a story of the last remaining people on an Earth whose environment is rapidly decaying beyond our ability to live upon it. It’s about what it means to cling to home even when home is no longer the safe haven we remember it to be – and the consequences of that desperate desire to stay when every indicator is that we must go.

It’s certainly a well-made movie – one of the higher-quality offerings you’re going to find amongst the wealth of original options constantly streaming forth from the Netflix monolith. And it features some good ideas and some solid performances. While it’s a bit lacking in terms of earned emotional impact – soul, if you will – it’s certainly a better-than-decent way to kill 90 minutes or so.

Published in Movies

There’s something freeing about walking into a movie that you know is going to be bad. Sure, you strive to enter into a cinematic experience with an open mind, but the truth is that keeping the bar nice and low can be beneficial to all involved.

However, there are some films where the bar simply can’t be lowered enough. Films like “Replicas.”

“Replicas” is so bad as to be baffling. The story is nonsensical, a jumble of illogical decision making and word salad jargon. The effects border on the laughable; the CGI work would have been bad a decade ago, let alone today. And the performances are wooden to the extreme, with the shocking exception of star Keanu Reeves, who might be the most emotive performer in a cast for the first time in … ever.

Published in Movies
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