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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

When a film trots out the phrase “based on a true story,” that can mean a lot of things, from a meticulous recreation of well-documented events (albeit with some dramatic license) to a largely constructed fiction that borrows a couple of ostensibly true elements from a preexisting story. But if the “true story” in question already has a complicated relationship with veracity?

Well … then you get “The Conjuring” films.

The latest installment in the increasingly sprawling horror franchise is “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.” It’s the third “Conjuring” film proper, though there have been a number of spin-off/tangentially connected movies as well. Directed by Michael Chaves from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, it’s a continuation of the supernatural adventures of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

As with any franchise, the law of diminishing returns is in play; this one is no exception. While it does feature some solid performances and a couple of decent jump scares, the truth is that this new offering doesn’t reach the level of the previous two films in the series.

Published in Movies

The cinematic landscape is littered with unnecessary sequels.

The reality is that in this time of IP franchise building, any original film that achieves box office success is almost certainly going to receive the sequel treatment, regardless of whether the story actually lends itself to continuation.

Often, that leads to sequels that bear only tangential connection to their predecessors, both in terms of commercial and critical success. To wit – they’re worse and fewer people see them.

However, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, a filmmaker is able to craft an addition to their initial story that contributes something more to the story being told while also maintaining the spirit of the original, even if that original seemingly concluded satisfactorily.

“A Quiet Place Part II” – writer-director John Krasinski’s follow-up to his excellent 2018 “A Quiet Place” – falls into that latter category. While that first film didn’t necessarily seem to cry out for a sequel, its success ensured that it would get one nevertheless. And while I think one can argue that this new film is in fact largely unnecessary, that doesn’t mean that it’s bad.

Quite the opposite, really.

Now, it doesn’t clear the high bar set by the first movie, whose surprising and innovative craftsmanship made it one of the best horror movies of recent years. But it does have plenty to offer, and with Emily Blunt to lead the cast and Krasinski steering the ship, it proves to be quite a successful film.

It’s bigger and louder than the first film – sometimes to its detriment – but it still manages to expand upon that film’s world, both in terms of the apocalyptic present day and, through flashback, the horrifying swiftness of society’s collapse beneath the weight of an attack by a seemingly invincible enemy.

Published in Movies
Monday, 17 May 2021 11:28

‘Spiral’ spins its wheels

Sure, I’ll ask the question: did we really need another “Saw” movie?

It shouldn’t be a surprise, really – we live in a world of sequels and reboots and franchises, and with the horror genre being one of the few generally reliable box office draws, it makes sense that we’d see a horror film or three kicking off what appears to be a wider reopening of movie theaters.

But the truth is that while these movies have been undeniable commercial successes – even the “Jigsaw” reboot from a couple of years ago did nine figures at the box office – the transgressive nature of the earlier installments has definitely been backlined in favor of more and gorier action. So it was interesting to see the latest incarnation at least make the effort to try and say something beyond “Look how gross this is!”

“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” is effectively the first spinoff from the series. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (his fourth go at the series) from a script by Josh Stoolberg and Peter Goldfinger, the film adds some unanticipated star power with star Chris Rock (who also executive produced) and tries to use its still-effective gory torture devices to say something about the wider world – in this case, police corruption and by extension systemic racism.

No, you’re not going to get a lot of nuanced commentary from a “Saw” movie – no one is showing up to one of these to get a lecture on world affairs; they’re here to see people die in horrible ways – but at least it allows the film to feel like it’s about something, rather than just an excuse for inventive torture devices.

But the truth is that while the filmmakers seem well-intentioned, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. While there are some solid performances here – Rock in particular is quite good – the story is scattered and haphazard, with questionable decisions regarding the pacing. The result is a horror movie with plenty of gore that is never fully able to articulate what it wants to convey.

Published in Movies
Monday, 08 March 2021 15:58

2 Coming 2 America

Sequels are always hit-or-miss propositions. Even film franchises, where sequels are baked into the equation, can struggle with making sequels work. But what about those sequels to films that clearly were not intended to have sequels? How do you go back and continue a story that already had a satisfactory conclusion?

Well, now you can find out, thanks to Eddie Murphy.

“Coming 2 America” is the direct sequel to 1988’s “Coming to America,” Murphy’s absolute all-timer of a comedy. Directed by Craig Brewer, this new film offers a 33-years-later look at these characters; just about everyone from the cast of the first film is back, along with a few high-profile additions.

It’s an exercise in nostalgia, for sure – one that perhaps isn’t as successful as it hoped to be. I enjoyed myself well enough, but I’ll concede that my own personal affection for the original film likely impacted my experience with this new offering. That said, it has plenty of issues – the narrative loses coherence in spots and gets clunky in others; too often, everyone seems content to say “Hey! Remember this?” (and some of the characters haven’t aged particularly well).

Published in Movies

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, superhero movies have defined the industry for well over a decade and show no signs of slowing. If anything, we’re just going to keep getting more and more of them – they’re appointment films in a business that is dying for anything that will ensure big box office receipts. Considering the faltering movie theater model, expect studios to keep pushing this kind of franchise-friendly fare.

Me? I love superhero movies. Do I recognize the more cynical motives behind them? Sure! Do I care? Not in the least!

So I was thrilled to finally see “Wonder Woman 1984.” As someone who, despite my job, is still steering clear of movie theaters, having the opportunity to see this movie in my own home via HBO Max was fantastic. Given the extended drought of superhero cinema, I was primed to dig this movie even though Marvel > DC, in my opinion.

And guess what? I dug it!

Directed by Patty Jenkins – who returned to the franchise after helming 2017’s excellent “Wonder Woman” – from a script she co-wrote with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, “Wonder Woman 1984” is engaging enough, though it doesn’t quite capture the same lightning in a bottle energy of the previous film. There are some great set pieces, solidly charismatic lead performances and a couple of really going-for-it supporting turns – enough to make for a flawed-but-satisfying moviegoing experience.

Published in Movies

It’s always interesting when a years-later sequel pops up. The results have certainly been mixed, with the unqualified success rate for these sorts of projects being fairly low. We’ve seen some that had some moments, but for the most part, dusting off old films – particularly comedies – to try and revisit their stories hasn’t really worked.

This brings us to “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Deliver of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” – henceforth to be called simply “Borat 2” – the new project from comedic auteur Sacha Baron Cohen, currently streaming via Amazon Prime Video. The sequel to 2006’s “Borat,” this new film came to be in a vastly different American environment than its predecessor, but Cohen’s incisive and bizarre wit still plays, albeit with a different energy than before.

While it’s more successful than many other years-late sequels, it also can’t quite reach the bar of satiric absurdity set by that first film. Not that there’s any shame in that – “Borat” is a top-tier piece of social satire and transgressive comedy. The fact that this new offering even gets close is plenty impressive. Cohen holds up a mirror to American culture, but the warped reflection we see is simply an accurate depiction of who and what we are in this moment. It’s not a funhouse mirror, folks. We’re the funhouse.

Published in Movies

One of the many unfortunate side effects of 21st century cinema’s affinity for franchises is the occasional appearance of the years-later sequel. These movies continue stories on which the book had closed a decade or more in the past. They are almost always bad ideas across the board, woeful misfires that fail to capture or even understand what made their predecessors so beloved in the first place.

Note that I said “almost always,” because it is possible for one of these films to actually prove to be a worthwhile continuation, a new chapter that both expands upon and embraces the legacy of the movie or movies that came before.

“Bill & Ted Face the Music” is just such a chapter. Reuniting Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves as the titular duo, the film captures the essence of what made these characters resonate 30 years ago while also allowing them to tell a different kind of story, a story of adulthood and the pressures of expectations and the challenges that come in a life that lacks balance … even as they remain in many ways the same amiably goofy dudes that they’ve always been.

It’s also a story of family and what it means to live up to a legacy, of how the next generation’s ideas about the world are impacted by those who came before, but not always bound by them. It’s about the frustration of having a path dictated for you and the disappointment when it proves too difficult to properly follow. It is weird and hilarious and moving, sweetly and unapologetically strange.

Published in Movies

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come … back … for you?

That’s the question some might have been asking themselves upon hearing that there would be a third installment in the Will Smith-Martin Lawrence buddy cop action comedy “Bad Boys” series. With 17 years having elapsed since the last entry, would this latest offering work? Would the high-octane rapid-fire profane chemistry of the two leads hold up? What about the new directing team of Adil and Bilall? Would they be able to fill the explosion-and-bikini-filled shoes of action auteur Michael Bay?

Do we need another “Bad Boys” movie?

Ultimately, the answer is “no” – and that’s OK. We don’t need another “Fast & Furious” movie. We don’t need another Marvel/DC movie. We don’t need another cartoon musical. But they’re still fun, and that’s what “BBFL” is. It’s fun. A lot more fun than it has any right to be, in fact.

This film is a throwback to a different era of action movie, one anchored and elevated by the still-strong comedic dynamic between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. It somehow manages to simultaneously acknowledge and ignore the passage of time, a look at two guys coming to terms with the realities of aging while ALSO still clearly being far and away the coolest dudes in the room. It’s ridiculous and sublime and unexpectedly honest, close to the best-case scenario for a story that’s been gathering dust for nearly two decades.

Published in Movies

This isn’t going to be my usual movie review.

As you undoubtedly know, “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker” has landed in theaters, purporting to mark the end of the saga begun over 40 years ago. A saga that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Seriously - the first movie I ever saw (or at least, the first movie of which I have any memory of seeing) is “The Empires Strikes Back.” We were at the drive-in on outer Hammond Street; I was four years old, curled up under the rear windshield, half-dozing due to the lateness of the hour, yet unwilling to allow my eyes to remain closed as this marvelous thing unfolded before my eyes.

In the decades since, I have devoted considerable energies to the consumption of “Star Wars.” I watched the films of the original trilogy countless times on VHS. I paid multiple visits to theaters when the remastered versions returned to the big screen. I saw the prequels and convinced myself they were good even when in my heart I knew. And I’ve experienced with delight the recent reintroduction of new films.

Years of my life, shared with these people and places. And I’m hardly alone – there are millions of us out there, each with our own very specific connection to the Star Wars saga. So many people, all with a deep-seated devotion to the story; our feelings might be similar, but all are unique.

The uniqueness of those individual connections are a big part of why the response to “The Rise of Skywalker” – and really, to all the post-prequel films to some extent – has been so scattered. The truth is that we all bring our own feelings to the table when it comes to “Star Wars.” There’s no way for a piece of popular art to elicit the desired response from all those who seek it – it’s simply impossible.

Published in Movies
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