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Monday, 18 January 2021 16:37

‘Outside the Wire’ offers so-so sci-fi

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: In a relatively near future, a human and a robot or forced to team up with the fate of the world at stake, but not all is as it seems.

Sound familiar? Then you’re well-equipped for “Outside the Wire,” a new sci-fi action film coming your way via Netflix. Directed by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Hafstrom from a script co-written by Rowan Athale and Rob Yescombe, the film is an uneven mashup of familiar genre tropes that sports that unmistakable Netflix sheen.

Basically, if you’ve seen even one human/robot partnership movie, there aren’t likely to be many surprises for you here. “Outside the Wire” is essentially a collection of predictable plot points punctuated by action set pieces and lots of explosions, without even the headiness of ideas that make some of its spiritual predecessors conceptually engaging as well as viscerally.

Published in Movies

The end of the world has always been a subject of fascination for storytellers. The visceral nature of apocalyptic thinking makes for high stakes that bring out the very best and very worst of humanity. Some of these endings are loud and others are quiet, but all of them show us reflections of ourselves.

“The Midnight Sky” – directed by George Clooney, who also stars – is one of the quiet ones, a film that views the end of the world from a pair of very different perspectives. Adapted from Lily Brooks-Dalton’s excellent 2016 novel “Good Morning, Midnight,” it’s a story of isolation and desperation, a tale not of saving the world, but of accepting the fact that it cannot be saved.

Yet it also manages to be a hopeful story, one in which we see people doing what they believe to be best even as they accept the truth that their actions likely won’t matter in the end. Featuring some stylish visuals and compelling performances, “The Midnight Sky” shows us the different ways in which mankind chooses to escape the trappings of Earth by turning its gaze to the stars.

Published in Movies

I’ll admit to having had some fun at Gerard Butler’s expense over the years. He’s made some interesting choices, particularly in recent years, from the increasingly outlandish “[Something] has Fallen” series to ridiculous genre offerings like “Geostorm” and “Hunter Killer” to the outright execrable “Gods of Egypt.”

Quite the resume, no?

That being said, I’ve always derived enjoyment from these movies precisely BECAUSE they’re so flawed. Butler has carved out a niche as the guy you call to star in your nonsense movie. He’s good at it, lending an unearned gravitas to projects (I personally prefer him in his natural accent, but his generic American works just as well) that otherwise would sink unnoticed to the bottom of the VOD seas.

“Greenland” – directed by Ric Roman Waugh from a script by Chris Sparling – is a perfect example of the kind of B-movie sensibility to which Butler has hitched his wagon over the past near-decade, a straightforward end-of-the-world movie that nevertheless manages to engage on a more individualized level. It’s a film that embraces its budgetary limitations, giving us a film that is heavy on the human element rather than CGI pageantry.

Now, is it a great movie? Of course not – this is Gerard Butler we’re talking about. But it is an undeniably fun movie, one that manages to prove surprisingly moving in moments despite the general outlandishness of its plot machinations. We’ve seen a lot of apocalypses play out on the silver screen over the years, and while “Greenland” certainly isn’t the best of the bunch, it is far from the worst.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 28 October 2020 11:40

Words like violence, break ‘The Silence’

When we’re talking about the best American writers of the past half-century, everyone’s going to have a different list, but there are certain names that will likely appear on most of them. One of those names is Don DeLillo, who has written some of the most impactful literature of his generation. Books like “White Noise,” “Underworld” and others are significant parts of the 20th century canon.

And he’s still going strong.

DeLillo’s latest novel – his 17th, but who’s counting? – is “The Silence” (Scribner, $22), a slim volume that takes a look at what it might mean for our precarious and codependent relationship to technology to be unceremoniously ripped away, leaving nothing but the quiet echo of our own thoughts. How has this proliferation of tech impacted our ability to engage with one another – and are we able to get back what was lost.

“The Silence” is a lightning-fast read – just 128 pages – but no less engaging for its brevity. It is thoughtful and thought-provoking, a quick-hit of a novel one assumes is intended to mirror the bite-sized rapid consumption encouraged by our current relationship to media both old and new.

Published in Style

Who doesn’t love a good filmmaking duo?

Yes, the individual auteur tends to get most of the attention – the singular visionary driving all aspects of a film – but there’s something special about a good collaborative team. The best of them are complementary pieces, individuals whose talents mesh in such a way as to elevate one another, resulting in work that is deep and rich, rendered all the more engaging through the combined viewpoints.

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead might not have reached that top tier just yet, but give them time – they’re just getting started. And if their latest offering is any indication, they’re going to reach that level sooner rather than later.

“Synchronic” – co-directed by the two, with a script by Benson and cinematography by Moorhead – is a wonderful piece of well-constructed storytelling. It’s smart, taut science fiction, using the trappings of genre to craft a tale of love, loss and the deep and abiding power of friendship.

Published in Movies

One of the great things about having literary tastes that tend toward the omnivorous is that you never know when the mood to read something in particular will strike you. Sometimes, you want to read some high-minded lit fiction. Other times, you’re up for some lowbrow genre fare. Sometimes, it’s a biography or memoir; other times, a work of pop science or philosophy.

And sometimes, well … you just want to get weird.

When those times arrive, you could do worse than checking out the works of David Wong. His latest is the coarsely-named “Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick” (St. Martin’s Press, $27.99), the sequel to his delightfully profane and bizarre 2015 novel “Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits.” This new book is a sharp and satiric continuation of that story, yet it also manages to largely stand on its own – a relative rarity for genre series.

It’s smart sci-fi that delights in playing dumb, hiding sophisticated ideas and themes behind bizarre set pieces and all manner of creative profanity. It’s also a rip-roarer of an adventure tale, packed with high-concept twists and turns. All in all, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Published in Buzz

The desire to disconnect is very real. So much of our lives are lived in the online realm, leaving us tethered to and reliant upon our devices. The current circumstances being what they are, we’ve only become more dependent on all of it, so there’s genuine appeal in breaking loose, if only for a moment.

But what if, in the midst of your big disconnect … the world as you knew it came apart?

That’s the foundational premise of the new movie “Save Yourselves!” The film – written and directed by Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson – is a weird and weirdly prescient story, a low-key look at the apocalypse that also manages to shine a satiric spotlight on tech-obsessed self-involvement at the same time.

It is a strange and funny slow burn, a film that plays with a lot of ideas without ever losing track of the hilariously skewed yet still somehow honest relationship at its center. “Save Yourselves!” is goofy and dark, turning its traditionally bleak speculative subject matter into something driven by quirky hilarity.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 02 September 2020 16:01

Time is (not) on my side – ‘Tenet’

Christopher Nolan has clout. And he’s unafraid to use it.

It’s almost cliché at this point to talk about Nolan’s position as the last bastion of original idea-driven blockbuster filmmaking. Yes, the cinematic landscape is defined by the ebb and flow of franchises now. Hell, Nolan understands that better than anyone – he did his franchise turn with Batman, after all, though those films are obviously superhero outliers. But he’s the guy who can get a nine-figure check to direct his own non-IP script.

He’s at it again with “Tenet,” currently in theaters. I’ll be real with you – I’m not at all sure how to talk about this movie to people who haven’t already seen it. But hey, that’s the gig, right?

There’s obviously a lot of baggage here. Nolan’s insistence that the film be experienced in a theater turned it into a bellwether, leaving it to assume the burden of expectation with regard to theatrical reopenings writ large. That pressure can’t help but inform the way audiences experience the film. Add to that the outsized expectations that always accompany the filmmaker’s work and you’ve got a recipe for disappointment.

Thankfully, Nolan’s skill is such that he largely manages to sidestep that potential letdown. “Tenet” isn’t a perfect movie, but it is the sort of meticulously-constructed blockbuster that we’ve come to expect from the director. It is massive in scope, a challenging puzzle box of a film that works both as pure spectacle and as something a bit more thoughtful. The complexities of the plot skate right up to the edge of confusion, but anyone sitting down to watch a Nolan movie should probably expect some sort of chronological convolution.

And boy, do we ever get some of that.

Published in Movies
Friday, 17 July 2020 13:39

Close encounters – ‘Skyman’

Daniel Myrick knows a thing or two about portraying a fictional story as something real. As one half of the duo that made 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project” and fundamentally altered the course of horror cinema, he has some experience with presenting fiction as reality.

His new movie “Skyman” isn’t quite the same thing – styled as a full-on faux documentary rather than found footage – but it does capture some of the same energy. It’s a look at a man whose life has been spent chasing an obsession, springing from an encounter with an alien that took place in his childhood. The time since has been spent quietly trying to make sense of that moment, even as most people around him express wary skepticism. It’s about the ideas that take hold of us and simply refuse to let go. It’s about what happens when the world views as false something you absolutely know to be true.

And with a cast of relative unknowns and a documentarian’s stylings, “Skyman” reads as the real thing (or close enough to allow us to embrace the conceit anyway).

Published in Movies

As someone who considers himself a bit of an action movie connoisseur, I’ve got a special place in my heart for high-concept action. I enjoy the broad strokes and tropes of the genre, but I particularly dig it when there’s an interesting idea serving as the framework.

Obviously, when I hear tell of a film with just such a framework, I look forward to seeing it. I have certain expectations, of course, but they are expectations I believe to be quite reasonable. My bar in terms of pure enjoyment is relatively low … and yet some films still manage to undershoot it by a frankly astonishing degree.

So it is with “The Last Days of American Crime,” a film that limbos so far beneath my reasonable expectations as to bury itself in a not-so-shallow grave. The film – directed by Olivier Megaton and currently streaming on Netflix – commits egregious cinematic sins almost too numerous to name, working its way through what almost seems like a deliberate checklist of poor choices and worse execution.

Seriously – this movie is a bad time. It is staggeringly overlong, yet still manages to feel dull and uneventful. The dialogue is laughable, the performances are wooden and/or off-kilter and the character motivations are either nonsensical or nonexistent. The action sequences feel rote and uninspired and it is shockingly tone deaf in spots. Just … not good.

Published in Movies
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