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Monday, 11 April 2022 14:02

Emergency Bay – ‘Ambulance’

There’s a tendency to bemoan the dearth of original films coming out of Hollywood. The IP franchise model has largely taken over the industry, with relatively little room for material not explicitly designed as part of a larger, familiar whole. That desire for standalone offerings is certainly understandable.

What you might not have expected, however, is that Michael Bay would be the one to fulfill that desire for you.

Bay’s new film is “Ambulance,” a heist thriller based on a 2005 Danish film of the same name (although the director reportedly never saw the original nor read the screenplay). It’s the sort of movie we’ve come to expect from Bay, one packed to the brim with over-the-top action set pieces and overwrought interpersonal dynamics while also being somewhat lacking in the narrative cohesion department.

It’s the Michael Bay experience.

You’re not here for explorations of the complexity of the human condition. You’re not here for taut dialogue loaded with subtext. You are here to watch guns being fired, vehicles being crashed and a whole lot of explosions of various sizes and shapes. You know it. I know it. And Michael Bay definitely knows it.

Published in Movies

There are few things as exciting to watch onscreen as a pairing that features legitimate chemistry. When you’ve got two actors whose connection generates real electricity, when you can feel the crackle in the air between them within the context of their interactions … it’s so compelling.

But what happens when that remarkable chemistry is dropped into a film featuring a so-so script and unexciting direction? Can that chemistry alter the fundamental formula?

Sadly, in the case of “All the Old Knives” – currently in theaters and available on Amazon Prime Video – the answer is no. Despite an absolutely dynamite lead pairing in Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton, both of whom are outstanding, the film can’t seem to get out of its own way. With muddy multiple timelines and assorted convoluted plot dynamics, the spy thriller can’t come close to living up to the bar set by its leads.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s worth seeing. Pine and Newton alone are more than worth the cost of admission. Just don’t be surprised if you wind up feeling slightly disappointed, wondering what might have been.

Published in Style

There’s something about a movie that is consciously small-scale.

That’s not to say that I have anything against the broad bombast of blockbuster filmmaking – I have plenty of room in my heart for CGI explosions, after all – but I do admire those filmmakers who can craft meaningful, powerful stories with little more than a handful of actors and a single location.

“Windfall,” a new offering from Netflix, is just that sort of chamber piece. Directed by Charlie McDowell from a script by Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker, the film is a taut three-hander cast with notable talents – Jesse Plemons, Lily Collins and Jason Segel – that takes place at an isolated estate. All the pieces are here for a solid film.

And that’s what we get. Solid. Which feels just a little disappointing, because the pieces are all here for an excellent movie, but for whatever reason, we never quite get there. Not that there’s anything wrong with making a perfectly serviceable thriller – there are plenty of folks out there who can’t do it – but one gets the sense of an opportunity just missed.

Still, “Windfall” is an engaging watch, the sort of thriller that provides ample entertainment in the moment, even if it likely won’t resonate for the viewer long-term.

Published in Movies
Monday, 21 March 2022 15:21

‘Deep Water’ runs shallow

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that is especially fascinating because of the factors surrounding its making. Obviously, just about every film project comes with its share of drama – it’s the nature of the business – but occasionally, we get something where the extracurricular noise largely subsumes the work itself.

There is no better recent example of this phenomenon than “Deep Water,” the new erotic thriller currently streaming on Hulu. The film’s central pairing is Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, whose real-life relationship’s tumultuous conclusion may well have gotten its start on this set. Not to mention the fact that director Adrian Lyne – an absolute legend in the realm of erotic thrillers – made this his first movie in two decades. The buzz surrounding the movie was far more prominent than that for the movie itself.

And with good reason, as it turns out.

“Deep Water” is a bizarre work of hot nonsense, at times bordering on the incomprehensible. The narrative is scattered, the performances are strange and the whole thing is campy in a way that makes it difficult to determine whether said campiness was actually intentional.

It is also, to be fair, a pretty good time, albeit a weird one.

Published in Movies
Monday, 14 March 2022 14:59

Zac Efron glitters in ‘Gold’

It’s not easy for actors who get an early start in the business to overcome the stigma that can come from the sorts of roles that lead to said early start. We’ve seen a number of young performers get chewed up by the fallout from the constant churn of the content machine, leading to them getting saddled with perceptions of their abilities that could be considered unfair.

Take Zac Efron, for instance. The actor shot to stardom as the brightest light in the massively popular “High School Musical” franchise, and while that stardom led to steady work in Hollywood, the truth is that he has struggled to be taken seriously due to his origins in the business.

(I’ll confess that I’m as guilty of that dismissal as anyone, though in my defense, Mr. Efron has made some real stinkers.)

However, when these former child stars get their chance to engage with serious work, sometimes they’ll surprise you.

This brings us to “Gold,” an Australian film directed by Anthony Hayes. In addition, Hayes co-wrote the screenplay with Polly Smyth, and oh yeah, he co-stars in the film as well. It’s a survival thriller set against the harsh environs of the Australian Outback – environs rendered all the harsher by the extreme circumstances.

It’s a film that really features just three performers, with Efron as the actor doing the majority of the heavy lifting. And despite being alone onscreen for much of the film’s running time, he more than holds his own, crafting a haunting and surprisingly captivating performance of a man committed to doing whatever it takes to seize an unanticipated opportunity.

Published in Movies

We live in a golden age of “thrillers based on books that were very popular a few years ago.” It’s such a prominent trope that Netflix even gave us a series parodying it just last month. And yet – there’s a reason that these books keep getting written and these movies keep getting made.

These stories have plenty of appeal. Sure, they might not be the most literarily challenging or narrative complex. They’re simply and straightforward, with enough variations on the fundamental themes to keep the guesses coming and the pages turning. Maybe you figure it out early, maybe you don’t, but ultimately, the journey is the point.

“No Exit,” a new film currently streaming on Hulu, fits the bill to a T. Based on the 2017 Taylor Adams novel of the same name, it’s a story about fear, strangers and the ramifications of trust (or a lack thereof). Small and self-contained, it’s a taut, brisk experience.

Now, a lot of what you see here will ring familiar, but director Damien Power does a solid job of shuffling the deck, dealing out a somewhat surprising hand with the same old cards. It’s a well-executed example of what it is, a solid thriller with a twisty narrative and some unexpected intensity.

Published in Movies

There’s something to be said for filmmakers who have a gift for creating a certain type of movie. Sure, these directors and writers can and do produce work outside that area of expertise, but even as they spread their wings, there’s no doubt that they have a space in which they can become the best versions of themselves.

Roland Emmerich is one of those filmmakers.

Seriously, is there anyone out there who can hang with Emmerich when it comes to big-budget movies revolving around ludicrous, over-the-top disasters? Is there anyone else even in the conversation? I’d say not. Sure, he can do other stuff and do it fairly well, but nothing tops Emmerich when he’s placing the world in existential peril.

And so, it’s always a hoot when we get a new entry into that particular canon. His latest is “Moonfall,” which he directed from a script he co-wrote with Spenser Cohen and Harald Kloser (who also did the score). It is as deliriously dumb as the very best of his movies have been in recent years, a sci-fi action film based on a ridiculous premise and made with a nine-figure budget.

Seriously – this movie doesn’t make a lick of sense. It is packed with questionable decisions and incoherent action. There are SO MANY PLOTLINES, and just when it seems like the narrative threads are coming together, more tendrils are sent spiraling outward. Just an absolute bonkers mess.

It is lunacy and I am here for it.

Published in Movies

Few filmmakers are as comfortable astride the line between the beautiful and the grotesque as Guillermo del Toro. The echoes of this affinity reverberate through much of his filmography, whether we’re talking about horror or sci-fi or fantasy – he finds ways to elevate genre filmmaking more cleanly and compellingly than any of his peers.

His latest offering is “Nightmare Alley,” a film whose script he also co-adapted alongside Kim Morgan from William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel of the same name. While it doesn’t venture as far into the fantastical as much of his earlier work – the genre this time around is noir more than anything – he’s still able to find ways to explore that light/dark balance, albeit largely in an internal manner rather than externally.

Of course, it is also marked by del Toro’s typically lush visual stylings, an idiosyncratic and mesmerizing aesthetic that is evocative and haunting. While it does get a little mushy in terms of narrative, it also features an incredibly talented cast (including a few del Toro favorites). It is stark and bleak and beautiful, a thriller that revels in the moral and ethical shadows that it casts.

Published in Movies
Monday, 13 December 2021 13:50

No need to get close to ‘Encounter’

I’ve always loved paranoid thrillers. Movies where something sinister and paradigm-shattering is happening, but only a few people (or even just one person) know the truth? Yeah, I’m here for it.

Sure, we’re past the ‘70s-era heyday of such films, but that doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally get one now and then. And when these thrillers incorporate other genre elements, so much the better. Of course, all of this is predicated on the fact that the movie in question has to be, you know … good.

If it isn’t, well … that’s when you wind up with something like “Encounter.”

The film, directed by Michael Pearce from a script Pearce co-wrote with Joe Barton, is an attempt to recreate that paranoid thriller vibe within a science fiction framework. Now, that kind of genre melding has been done to great success in the past, but the truth is that this story never quite finds its footing, with an inconsistent connection to the relative reality of its premise that evokes more confusion than paranoia.

It’s too bad, because there does seem to be something here. And there’s a dynamite lead performance from Riz Ahmed. Unfortunately, that performance is largely wasted in service of a story that never quite adds up. One might argue that that narrative jumbling is a choice, but even if it is, it is a largely ineffectual one.

Published in Movies
Monday, 01 November 2021 14:50

About ‘Last Night in Soho’

Few active filmmakers are possessed of a style and sensibility that is specifically theirs. These filmmakers stamp their idiosyncratic signatures on their works in an undeniable manner; theirs are the movies that we watch and know instantly who made them. The Andersons – both Wes and Paul Thomas – are in that category, for instance. So too are the Coen brothers.

And Edgar Wright is definitely in that conversation.

The English auteur’s latest film is “Last Night in Soho,” a time travel horror thriller of sorts that is packed with the sort of vivid imagery and pop deep cuts in which he delights. We move back and forth between the present day and a neon-soaked ‘60s London, the color and lights serving only to deepen the shadows of a story whose details are ever-shifting.

Wright has never been one to flee from his influences; he’s unafraid to embrace and celebrate the pop culture sights, sounds and ideas that he loves. That said, “Last Night in Soho” – while undeniably and instantly identified as an Edgar Wright movie – might be the least overtly engaged in conversation with those influences. They’re there, but we’re much farther from the homage/pastiche vibe of, say, his Cornetto Trilogy.

It’s stylish. It’s creepy. And it’s very good.

Published in Movies
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