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Wednesday, 19 September 2018 11:21

To catch ‘The Predator’

When Hollywood isn’t rebooting or remaking, it’s sequel-izing – even if the previous entry is years or even decades in the past. The successful efforts are fairly few and far between, but the wave of IP filmmaking doesn’t appear to have crested yet.

And so we get another “Predator” movie.

“The Predator” is the fourth standalone film in the franchise, following “Predator” (1987), “Predator 2” (1990) and “Predators” (2010) – please note that we’re not including the two crossover films with the “Alien” universe. Shane Black – who is not only one of the best action screenwriters of the past 25 years and a heck of a director, but actually played a small part in “Predator” back in 1987 – is the ideal man to bring this franchise back, someone with a clear affection for and understanding of the source material. Black directs from a script he co-wrote with Fred Dekker.

Set in the present day, it’s the story of a soldier whose chance encounter with an alien in the jungle leads to a fight to save himself and everyone he cares about from a gruesome (and I do mean GRUESOME) death. It is packed with gags and gore, a throwback sort of action movie that feels like it would fit right into the heyday of the original. It’s a flawed film, to be sure, but action fans will have a hell of a time.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 05 September 2018 10:41

Brothers in arms – ‘Kin’

It’s always interesting to watch a feature debut. Seeing first-time directors and/or writers take their initial bow in the world of mainstream cinema … it’s bearing witness to the realization of what is almost certainly a lifelong dream. Maybe it’s an effort that promises future excellence. Maybe it’s even a fully-formed masterpiece. But really, it’s likely to be flawed and uneven, alternating quality with rookie mistakes.

The new film “Kin” definitely falls into that last category.

The movie – directed by twin brothers Jonathan and Josh Baker and based on their own 2014 short film “Bag Man” – is an ambitious effort, an attempt to bring family drama and science fiction together. Unfortunately, while there are shining examples from both ends of the spectrum, the combination never really meshes the way it needs to, despite its surprisingly robust cast and intriguing concept.

Published in Movies
Friday, 31 August 2018 09:30

‘A.X.L.’ a real junkyard dog

Summer blockbuster season is coming to a close. With Labor Day right around the corner, the cinematic cycle is set to begin anew. As per usual, late August is littered with oddball offerings – some good, some bad.

Take “A.X.L.” This is a movie that you very well may not have even heard of before this very minute. Basically, it’s about a young man who finds and befriends a robot dog.

Yeah. That’s what I said too.

Published in Movies

If you’re looking to read some YA genre fiction, you’ve got plenty of options. You can’t swing a cat in a bookstore without hitting half-a-dozen sci-fi/fantasy/whatever books aimed at younger readers. If you’re looking to read some GOOD YA genre fiction, well … you’re going to need to put the cat down.

The point is that there’s a glut of content out there, so don’t be afraid to shape your expectations accordingly. Look for something that speaks to you - whether it’s an author or a plot or a theme or an idea - and take a swing.

Will McIntosh’s “The Future Will Be BS Free” (Delacorte Press, $17.99) promises something that feels a little different. It’s the story of a near-future America under the sway of a despotic and corrupt President, one in which the truth has become so malleable and subjective as to be almost meaningless as a concept. Into this America, a group of gifted teens attempts to bring a beacon – an unfailingly accurate and foolproof lie detector. But their initial dreams of societal (not to mention financial) gain soon fall by the wayside as they discover that there are plenty of people out there with little interest in the truth.

Published in Buzz

The past decade or so has seen a real glut of films based on young adult novels – particularly those of the dystopian sci-fi persuasion. It makes sense – when “The Hunger Games” blew up, every Hollywood studio out there wanted to get a piece of that bleakly futuristic pie.

Only there was a problem – not all of those properties made for great movies … or even good ones. Hence, we got a downward spiral of diminishing returns. There were a couple of franchises marked by increasingly inane installments and a handful of attempts at series that were abandoned following major flopping at the box office.

I can’t say for certain that we’ve reached the bottom of that spiral, but “The Darkest Minds” has to have brought us awfully close.

Published in Movies

My affection for the alternate history subgenre of speculative fiction is no secret. I’ve always been enamored of the answers to “what if?” questions that these sorts of stories can provide. The idea that one small difference can cause ripples that lead to larger and larger divergences – it makes for fascinating fiction.

S.M. Stirling is one of the foremost practitioners of alternate history; his latest is “Black Chamber” (Ace, $16), the first in a series about a World War I that was significantly different than our own, from the enemies being fought and the institutions doing the fighting. It’s a strong introduction, one that hints at the many differences – large and small – between that history and this one.

Published in Buzz

As the Hollywood landscape has evolved and shifted in recent years, moving toward a model built on a foundation of franchise, of sequels and prequels and cinematic universes, one finds oneself asking: when is enough enough? Where is the line that, when crossed, leaves a franchise bereft of quantity even as quantity marches on? When does the downward spiral begin in earnest?

It’s usually pretty tough to spot, but in the case of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” it’s pretty clear. This is one franchise that has officially jumped the shark. Or dinosaur. Whatever.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 12 June 2018 16:04

Checking into ‘Hotel Artemis’

World-building – particularly sci-fi world-building – isn’t easy. Creating a consistent, believable genre landscape is tricky business. And doing it in such a way as to allow for both exciting action and narrative engagement is trickier still.

Drew Pearce knows how tough that can be, having penned scripts for iconic franchises like the MCU (“Iron Man 3”) and “Mission: Impossible” (“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”). But creating something original presents its own set of unique challenges.

Pearce marks his directorial debut with one such original script in “Hotel Artemis,” a gritty bit of near-future sci-fi storytelling. The simplest way to describe it is if you wanted to focus on what happened to bad guys that John Wick injured but didn’t kill, only a decade or so in the future. It has that same sort of hinted-at rich and complex underworld, centered around a hospital where criminals can receive treatment for injuries suffered in the execution of their duties. It’s brutally violent and darkly funny with moments of surprising poignancy.

All that, plus Jodie Foster. What’s not to love?

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 29 May 2018 14:24

Taking flight with 'Solo'

Full disclosure: I love “Star Wars.” The original trilogy is near and dear to my heart – one of my earliest memories is seeing “Empire” at the drive-in when I was three. And while the prequels left a lot to be desired, Disney’s reinvigoration of the franchise in recent years has been welcome.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is the fourth film in this new wave and somehow manages to be both the biggest departure and the most conventional of the bunch. Turmoil seemed abundant behind the scenes – original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were replaced by Ron Howard; rumblings about reshoots and acting coaches and whatnot were plentiful – so one wondered what the final product was going to be.

It’s … fine. Pretty good, actually. Not as good as the other newer offerings, but with plenty to recommend it. There are moments where it feels stitched together and a bit inconsistent, but otherwise, the directorial drama doesn’t show up much on screen. The performances range from meh to solid to excellent. The story is a bit slight and there are certain narrative mysteries that might have been better left unsolved (along with some tonal inconsistency and a few not-insignificant timeline questions), but all in all, it’s a fun space opera/heist movie with a charming cast and some strong set pieces.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 04 April 2018 12:49

Game on! – ‘Ready Player One’

The potency of nostalgia is well-documented at this point. It seems as though much of the pop culture we consume these days is inspired by (or straight-up copied from) source material that we already know and love. Revisiting what we loved in the past has become a cottage industry across all entertainment platforms.

And so it’s no surprise that Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel “Ready Player One” would be adapted to the big screen. It’s a story ready-made for the wistful remembrances of the current cultural climate, packed with wave after wave of period-specific nerd references aimed at striking the winsome sweet spot of one particular generation. We do so love to love what we already love.

But when you hand the reigns over to a pop cultural icon like Steven Spielberg, well … that’s when you take things to a whole new level. A level, I might add, that is actually a bit higher than might have been expected for a film like this one. It’s precisely the sort of sci-fi-steeped young-person adventure story at which Spielberg excels. It’s throwbacks within throwbacks within throwbacks – a meta-nostalgic moviegoing experience that in many ways outshines the perfunctory nature of its inspiration.

Published in Movies
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