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Wednesday, 29 December 2021 12:54

‘The Matrix Resurrections’ lives on

Funny thing about art – more often than not, you get out what you put in.

Consuming a creative work, whether it be a book or a painting or a film or a play or a song, is in many ways a means of looking at oneself. The best art holds up a mirror to life, offering a reflection that is specific to the one gazing upon it.

So I suppose it makes sense that mirrors are a major motif in “The Matrix Resurrections,” the years-later sequel to the trilogy of films that began over two decades ago. This film – directed solo this time, by Lana Wachowski, from a script she co-wrote with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon – is the product of years of self-reflection, a return to a morally and philosophically complex sci-fi universe constructed on a foundation of perception versus reality and whether we can ever actually know the difference.

It is a gloriously messy film, one that tells the story that Lana Wachowski wishes to tell … and that has relatively little regard for the expectations others might hold for it. The underlying metaphor – the idea that the world we see is not necessarily the world that is – remains intact, but altered; “The Matrix Resurrections” is a movie driven not by logic, but by emotion. For all its intense action trappings, it is, at its core, a love story.

Published in Movies

Let’s just get this out of the way off the top - I loved “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” LOVED it.

Now, I was ALWAYS going to love it. I am fully invested in the MCU writ large as blockbuster popcorn entertainment and have been since Day 1. And I carry a deep and abiding affection for and affinity toward the character of Spider-Man, in all his many iterations. From my time as a boy reading assorted Spider-Man comics up to the present day, I ride hard for Spidey. He’s as central a figure in my own personal pop culture history as any. So this is very much a movie for me.

But here’s the thing – it’s probably a movie for you too.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the biggest and boldest MCU entry in a year packed with them – “NWH” marks the fourth film since June – as well as being the best. It is a massive spectacle while also finding room for the smaller moments, loaded and overloaded with everything that makes the character (and the franchise) great.

It also manages not to succumb to the elements of franchise bloat and metanarrative requirements that have undermined some of Marvel’s past efforts. It’s huge but not unwieldy, fan service-y but not exclusive, epic but not crowded.

You’ve got loads of web-swinging, wall-crawling action. You’ve got quips and jokes galore. You’ve got pathos and pain and the ethical dilemmas that those things can cause. You’ve got an absolute cavalcade of familiar faces joining in on the fun.

And at the center of it all, you’ve got a kid forced to once again stand up beneath an unfair burden that circumstances have thrust upon him.

Published in Movies

Revisiting the things that we love comes with risk. How do we continue the stories we cherish in a way that is loyal to the original while also adding something meaningful? It’s a delicate tightrope walk, to be sure, a balancing act that far too many creators and artists have failed to execute.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” After all, I love the Ghostbusters. I love the 1984 original. I love the 1989 sequel. Hell, I’m even in the minority that enjoyed the 2016 reboot, for its flaws. But the idea of making a direct sequel to those films over three decades later seemed … ambitious? Complicated? Risky?

Well, I’m happy to report that my concerns were largely unfounded. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” – directed by Jason Reitman from a script by Reitman and Gil Kenan – is a delightful experience, one that stays true to the spirit (see what I did there?) of the original. It’s a fun and funny and at times surprisingly poignant dip back into this world, a world where the consequences of long-ago actions have rippling consequences to this day.

It’s not perfect – there are those who have argued that the third act leans a little too far into the fan service lane and I don’t think they’re entirely wrong – but the truth is that this film treats the legacy of the franchise with love and respect. No surprise, considering that Reitman’s father Ivan was behind the camera for the original, but it’s worth noting.

Published in Movies
Monday, 01 November 2021 14:48

‘Army of Thieves’ plays it safe

In a cinematic landscape awash with IP-fueled franchise efforts, it should come as no surprise when a movie’s splashy arrival on the scene indicates more to come – sequels or sequels or whatever -quels you like. Audiences have grown accustomed to it all; we know the drill.

However, not all -quels are created equal.

For instance, who would have thought that Netflix’s “Army of the Dead,” a reasonably entertaining Zack Snyder-helmed zombie movie, would offer up a prequel revolving around one of its lesser characters and his entry into the world of high-end heists, all of it taking place as the zombie outbreak of the initial film is just beginning – an outbreak that has negligible impact on the narrative we’re currently watching.

That’s “Army of Thieves,” new on Netflix. Directed by Matthias Schweighöfer and revolving around the goofball German safecracker Schweighöfer played in “Army of the Dead,” this new film is essentially a straightforward heist film, with only the most tenuous of connections to the movie of which it is ostensibly a prequel. Seriously – you could strip out what zombie stuff there is with ease without altering the film in any meaningful way.

Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that “Army of Thieves” is actually … pretty good? Sure, it follows the general formula for heist movies, but there’s a reason for that: the formula for heist movies works. Hell, the movie itself even makes reference to some of the tropes of the genre in the midst of executing those same tropes. It’s winking and self-aware – occasionally to a fault – but it has a game, charming cast, some decent set pieces and an undeniable sense of humor.

Published in Movies
Monday, 18 October 2021 11:34

‘Halloween Kills’ more trick than treat

Even in a Hollywood landscape constructed atop a foundation of IP-driven franchises and remakes, there are few rabbit holes as deep as the one surrounding the current iteration of “Halloween.”

The John Carpenter original is one of the classics of the horror genre; its success gave birth to a lengthy list of sequels of rapidly-diminishing quality. We got a Rob Zombie effort at rebooting, resulting in a couple of movies of middling quality. And then, in 2018, we got yet another reinvention of the franchise with David Gordon Green and Danny McBride leading the way – an effort to wipe the slate clean of the confusing and convoluted lore and reenergize the franchise. It was an effort that mostly worked.

However, the sequel to THAT movie – “Halloween Kills” – doesn’t achieve the same manner of success, instead opting to lean into over-the-top gore and an added selection of legacy characters from the franchise’s early days. And while there’s some meat on that particular nostalgic bone, Green and the rest of the filmmaking team never quite figure out how to most effectively gnaw it.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s joy to be derived from the sheer splatter factor here, as well as some moments of dark levity. It’s just that this is very obviously a middle movie, and when you already know the next movie is coming, it’s hard to make any sort of real narrative progress; it occasionally feints at some greater themes, but can’t really deliver on the follow through. In the end, what you get is largely a placeholder, a movie that exists largely because you can’t get from point A to point C without a point B. It’s fine for what it is, but ultimately, it proves disposable.

Published in Movies

From the moment he exploded onto screens in 1962’s “Dr. No,” James Bond – 007 – has cast a suave and swaggering shadow across the cinematic landscape.

It doesn’t matter that multiple actors have played the role. It doesn’t matter that there’s little to no consistency or constancy to the timeline – some events carry forward, others are forgotten. Over the course of decades, we’ve watched assorted Bonds ply their craft. They thwart elaborate plots with even more elaborate gadget-driven schemes, saving the world and inevitably falling into bed with one or more beautiful women.

That’s it. That’s the job. Or at least, it was.

Things changed when Daniel Craig assumed the mantle. For the first time, Bond was more than an unstoppable heavily-armed lothario in a tuxedo. Craig lent a heretofore unseen gravitas to the character, creating someone who actually dealt with the consequences of his actions, both bad and good. There was no more wiping clean of the slate – Bond’s deeds had lasting impact.

“No Time to Die” is Craig’s fifth – and final – outing as James Bond, and as far as sendoffs go, well … he certainly could have done a lot worse. It is very much a Bond movie, with all of the globetrotting intrigue and wild action set pieces that label entails, but it is also a surprisingly engaging character study of a man forced to confront the inexorable passage of time. Craig’s Bond is a flawed Bond – and arguably, the best of the lot.

Cary Joji Fukunaga helms this latest installment, taking the reins from Sam Mendes, who directed the previous two Bond films; Fukunaga also shares screenplay credit with three other writers. It is jam-packed with the sorts of extended action and convoluted plotting that marks most of the franchise’s offerings. One could argue that it is overstuffed – the runtime is a gargantuan 163 minutes – but considering that it doubles as a farewell to its lead actor, I’d say that it deserves to take as much time as it likes.

Published in Movies

I’ll be the first to admit that much of the current cinematic landscape leaves a lot to be desired. Formulaic blockbusters laden with CGI, too-similar stories being told again and again. And I assume it’s challenging for an actor who is serious about their craft to treat them, well … seriously.

That said, there’s nothing worse than watching a famous actor go through the motions in one of these films, clearly there for a check and trying their damnedest to appear above it all. You can’t always pick up the full “I’m too good for this” vibe, but when it’s there, it’s a downer.

But there’s a flip side. The flip side is when actors who are wildly talented and incredibly devoted to their work gleefully embrace the madness and go for it. That’s when you can see real joy, these performers who understand that what they do is about play and that every character, no matter how seemingly strange or nonsensical, can shine so long as that character is treated with respect.

Tom Hardy is an incredibly talented actor. He is also, by every indication, a strange dude. But one thing you can say for certain – no matter what the situation, Hardy is ready to give everything he has. And in his new movie “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” he has clearly been told to go big.

And he. Goes. Big.

The film – a sequel to 2018’s “Venom” – is directed by Andy Serkis from a screenplay by Kelly Marcel (it’s worth noting that Hardy has a story credit). It’s a glorious mess of a movie, a slapdash mélange of buddy comedy and superhero CGI and weird body horror that absolutely should not work … and yet it does. Well, kind of. It’s an uneven experience, one where the story sometimes gets lost in the noise. But hey – the noise is a hell of a lot of fun.

Published in Movies
Friday, 01 October 2021 15:40

‘The Addams Family 2’ hits the road

You never know what will have pop cultural staying power. For every bit of creative content that maintains a place in the consciousness, hundreds upon hundreds more disappear into the scrap heap of zeitgeist detritus.

It seems unlikely that Charles Addams knew what he had birthed when the first images of his macabre “Addams Family” graced the pages of The New Yorker back in 1938. But those darkly humorous pieces led to a popular television show, which in turn led to a popular series of films, then to another TV show and a Broadway musical and now an animated film franchise.

The latest iteration of the creepy, kooky titular family is “The Addams Family 2,” a sequel to 2019’s “The Addams Family.” These animated films aim to strike the balance between kid-friendliness and staying true to the spirit of the source material. As to how successful they are, well … your mileage may vary.

There’s a lot to like here – the voice cast is outstanding and the character design nicely evokes the original cartoons without being derivative. That said, the script leaves something to be desired, with a relative dearth of narrative action padded by musical numbers that, while cute enough, feel kind of incongruous. Still, it has its charms – enough to make it worth your time.

Published in Movies

Genre storytelling has long offered a flexible path for those wishing to speak to greater truths. Often, these are people whose ideas or very identities have been marginalized, making it all the more difficult for their ideologies to be taken seriously – or even addressed at all – by the mainstream.

Genre work – be it literature or film or TV – is a way in. The outsized nature of science fiction or fantasy or horror allows room for social and cultural commentary to exist in the margins – a Trojan Horsing of sorts, utilizing tropes to reflect larger concepts in a manner that demands interpretation even while working effectively.

But in recent years, as some of those marginalized figures start making inroads higher up the cultural food chain, we’re getting more of their insights on textual levels as well as subtextual.

Take “Candyman,” the new film from director Nia DaCosta, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Win Rosenfeld and Jordan Peele (Peele also served as executive producer of the project). It’s a decades-later direct sequel to the 1992 film of the same name.

The sequel is plenty scary, of course, well-crafted and striking a balance between atmospheric scares and visceral gore. But it is also able to address the same central tenet of the original film – this idea that the focused anger and fear of a community can manifest in ways that negatively impact that community, living on long after the original players are gone – in a much more overt way. This is still social commentary wrapped in the trappings of a horror movie, but this time, there’s considerably more freedom regarding how that commentary is conveyed.

Stories, even urban legends, have power; the more they’re told, the more they’re believed … and the more they’re believed, the more power they ultimately carry.

Published in Movies

There’s a universality to certain stories that ensures that every generation gets its own versions of them. These fundamental narratives can be adapted and shaped to the time in which they are told; the evolve as the culture around them does.

George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” has become one of those universal stories in the century-plus since it first landed in 1913. The tale of one upper-class person shaping another, lower-class person to fit appropriately into the former’s world is one that has been told again and again. The former (almost always a man) brings the latter (almost always a woman) into their own social stratum – often at the expense of the latter’s dignity and/or personal identity.

1999’s “She’s All That” was the high school rom-com version of that tale for late 20th century moviegoers, a film that landed in the midst of a spate of teen-oriented cinematic fare. The BMOC takes a wager in which he is to turn the school’s lowliest of the social low into the prom queen and hijinks ensue.

Now imagine that, only gender-flipped.

Published in Movies
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