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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

When “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” came out a couple of years ago, I was as surprised as anyone when it turned out to actually be pretty good. Who’d have thought a two-decades-later sort-of-sequel to a mid-90s kids movie would turn out to be both entertaining and WILDLY lucrative?

Well, having the Rock doesn’t hurt.

After that film did just shy of a billion dollars at the global box office, it was obviously going to get a sequel of its own. That sequel has arrived, as “Jumanji: The Next Level” has hit theaters.

And guess what? This one’s pretty good too. Not as good as the last one, perhaps, but solid. One assumes it will also make hundreds of millions of dollars.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 27 November 2019 11:43

2 Fast 2 Frozen – ‘Frozen II’

Disney’s “Frozen” was one of the most successful films of all time, raking in nearly $1.3 billion at the box office; as of now, it remains the 15th highest-grossing film of all time. It has also spent the past six years as a beloved mainstay in many a child’s home, with earworms like the ubiquitous “Let It Go” lodging themselves firmly into the wider pop culture landscape.

Obviously, there was always going to be a sequel.

But we no longer live in a world of hastily churned-out video-only sequels to iconic IP. There was never going to be anything direct to video about this one, though the truth is that it probably doesn’t matter all that much how good a sequel actually is – people were going to buy in.

But while “Frozen II” isn’t the achievement that its predecessor was, it’s still pretty darned good. Better than it had to be, really.

It is a continuation of the story of Elsa and Anna and their friends, a film that offers answers to questions that you may (or may not) have had about the previous installment. It features the same voice cast, the same directors, the same screenwriters and the same songwriters, all clearly having as much fun as you can have while also being tasked with continuing the money-printing legacy of Disney in general as well as “Frozen” specifically.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 19 November 2019 11:55

‘Charlie’s Angels’ get their wings

Did we really need another “Charlie’s Angels” movie?

It’s not surprising, really; the basic concept is certainly ripe for revisiting in this current era of IP-driven franchise-building. And in case you’re wondering, yes – this new film is intended as a sequel of sorts to the two “Charlie’s Angels” films from 15 years ago, rather than a reboot.

But the question remains: why?

That said, the actual result is better than it has any right to be. Not great, but OK. It’s probably safe to assume that much of the credit for that has to go to Elizabeth Banks, who not only directed the film but also makes her feature debut as a screenwriter. Oh, and she’s in it as well. So yeah – this is very much an Elizabeth Banks joint.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 12 November 2019 12:46

‘Doctor Sleep’ shines on

It seems like every week sees the announcement of another screen adaptation of a Stephen King work. Hollywood has always had an affinity for King, but the proliferation of outlets has brought more and more content creators to the nigh-endless font of material that is the erstwhile Master of Horror.

But “Doctor Sleep” is a little different. The 2013 book is a sequel to King’s classic novel “The Shining,” a look at whatever happened to little Danny Torrance in the aftermath of his ordeal at the Overlook Hotel. King’s relationship with Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of “The Shining” is notoriously fraught; in some ways, “Doctor Sleep” was a years-later reaction to that film.

Obviously, this makes the idea of adapting “Doctor Sleep” to the screen a tricky proposition. But few are as uniquely suited to strike the proper balance as Mike Flanagan, who both directed and wrote the screenplay for the film. Flanagan’s horror bona fides are legit, but more than that, he wrote and directed one of the best King adaptations of recent years; “Gerald’s Game” was a book that seemed almost unfilmable, yet Flanagan turned it into a powerful and effective film.

Turning his eye onto “Doctor Sleep,” Flanagan’s stated goal was to do proper service to King’s book while also finding ways to pay homage to Kubrick’s iconic film. It would seem to be a Herculean task … and yet Flanagan managed to pull it off. Being all things to all people rarely works, yet here we are – a film that is true to both the spirit of the book being adapted and of the film being remembered.

Published in Movies

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

The pop culture zeitgeist is in constant flux. What’s popular and exciting changes with ever-increasing rapidity; today’s hot commodity is tomorrow’s passé cliché.

Ten years ago, zombies were hot. There were all manner of properties devoted to the horror subgenre; comic books and movies, TV shows and novels – the works. Into that world was delivered “Zombieland,” a zom-com with a dynamite cast that embraced the inherent humor while also leaning into the more visceral and graphic aspects of zombie tales. Basically, it was funny and gross and a hell of a good time. It was also a significant financial success, more than quadrupling its budget at the box office. So it stands to reason that the powers that be would want a sequel.

Only it took a little longer than anticipated.

Now, a full decade later, we’re finally getting that sequel. Titled “Zombieland: Double Tap,” this movie lands in a much different pop culture landscape than its predecessor. It’s tough to argue against a degree of zombie fatigue when it comes to our entertainment; the saturation point was passed long ago.

Published in Movies

There’s something oddly comforting about an unnecessary sequel. Sure, it would be nice if Hollywood would devote time, energy and other resources to original creations, but let’s be real – that ship has sailed. At least unnecessary sequels are honest – they want your money and don’t really care about anything else.

This brings us to “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” which continues to spin out the story of Sleeping Beauty to increasingly insane ends. If you didn’t know that it was based on the classic tale, you’d have no idea. Seriously – any resemblance to the source material is coincidental at this point.

Here’s the thing: this is a Disney joint, so there’s plenty of production value at work here. There’s no denying that this is a visually lush and aesthetically interesting film – there’s a lot of eye candy. Unfortunately, that candy comparison can be extended – this bright, shiny treat is a feast for the eyes, but absolutely devoid of any sort of nutritional value. It is as empty as it is attractive.

Published in Movies

Did we really need another Rambo movie?

When the character – played by Sylvester Stallone – first graced movie screens back in 1982’s “First Blood,” John Rambo was a relatively nuanced rendition of a Vietnam veteran struggling to reintegrate into American society upon his return from war. But with each subsequent iteration – “Rambo: First Blood Part II” in 1985, “Rambo III” in 1988 and especially 2008’s “Rambo” – the character became more cartoonish and violent, with increasingly nonsensical plotlines and escalating brutality essentially erasing the complexity displayed in that initial film.

“Rambo: Last Blood” continues in that unfortunate vein. With a disinterested and generic script co-written by Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick and bland direction from Adrian Grunberg, this fifth installment in the series brings nothing new to the table. Instead, it seems to exist solely to give Stallone a chance to flail around in his blood-soaked sandbox; it is visceral in its violence and largely absent of anything resembling real connection.

Published in Movies
Thursday, 05 September 2019 14:47

Send in the clowns – ‘It Chapter Two’

The next chapter has arrived: Pennywise the Dancing Clown is once again creepily cavorting across movie screens.

“It Chapter Two” concludes the cinematic diptych begun with 2017’s “It” – both films were directed by Andy Muschietti, while screenwriter Gary Dauberman handles the new installment solo after co-writing the previous film, all of it adapted from the iconic 1987 horror masterpiece of the same name by Stephen King. That creative carryover goes a long way toward building an aesthetic and tonal consistency across the two films – important in any case, but particularly vital when you have a movie whose narratives are both chronologically separate and utterly entangled.

This second installment brings to an end the story of the self-styled Losers Club, a group of childhood outcasts forced to confront an ancient evil that has poisoned their hometown of Derry. Despite believing that they had emerged victorious – and allowing themselves to compartmentalize away the trauma that came with the triumph – it seems that their foe merely slumbered, awaiting an opportunity to victimize the town anew.

“It Chapter Two” is an aesthetic triumph, one where every frame seems perfectly crafted to elicit the creepy weirdness and absurdity of the circumstances. And the ensemble is exceptional, with outstanding work from performers of all ages. However, it doesn’t quite clear the (extremely high) bar set by its predecessor – not that there’s any shame in that. The film’s pacing occasionally undermines the meticulously-conceived look and feel; the 169-minute runtime could have been trimmed to two-and-a-half hours pretty easily. It’s more tense than scary.

But again – that’s OK. Ultimately, any quibbles are minor. If this film’s biggest sin is that it isn’t quite as good as the one that came before, then you’ve still got a damned good movie – which this absolutely is.

Published in Movies
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