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A perhaps underrated aspect of a story’s quality is our engagement by the storyteller.

Yes, I mean the person crafting the story in question, of course, but there’s more to it than that. Once we venture beyond the third-person omniscience POV, well … now you’ve got a narrator. Another layer of the storytelling onion.

There are plenty of narrators in the world of fiction, with wave upon wave of first-person perspectives lapping against assorted narrative shores. There’s a certain degree of familiarity that comes with that plentitude – it’s rare for you to get a story to you by someone whose like you’ve never encountered before.

But in Will Leitch’s new novel “How Lucky” (Harper, $25.99), that’s precisely what we get.

The person at the center of this story – the one through whose eyes we watch it all unfold – is unlike anyone you’ve met in literature. And the story that he shares with us is thrilling and funny and just a little off-kilter, driven by the notion that the desire to save the day isn’t confined to a certain type of person. It’s a story of living a life of limitation, yet refusing to be defined by those limitations – even when the world around you isn’t quite so free of judgment.

Published in Style

As someone with a genuine affection for the genre, I’ve enjoyed seeing the evolution of the Western for the modern day. The most successful of these neo-Westerns are the ones that are able to maintain the frontier sensibilities of the classics within a more present-day framework.

Among the foremost practitioners of the neo-Western – and perhaps the best and striking that delicate balance – is Taylor Sheridan, the writer-director behind such projects as “Wind River,” “Hell or High Water” and the TV western “Yellowstone.”

Sheridan’s latest – a project that he both directed and co-wrote – is “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” adapted from Michael Kortya’s 2014 novel of the same name. It’s a great example of how the neo-Western vibe doesn’t necessarily rely on the tropes of the genre. There are no cowboys here, but the tone and attitude of the characters and the narrative surrounding them can be traced directly back to the classic Westerns of the ’60s and ‘70s.

It’s a lushly-filmed thriller, one that takes full advantage of the natural majesty in which it was filmed. And it features a top-notch cast, led by Angelina Jolie. But while there’s no denying the propulsive nature of the story, there’s some muddiness to the proceedings that prevent the film from reaching its full potential. Still, it’s a hell of a watch, and truthfully? That’s more than enough.

Published in Movies

Movies don’t always work. There are a million potential reasons why, but that’s the simple truth: sometimes, films fail.

On the surface, something like “The Woman in the Window,” newly streaming on Netflix, looks like a candidate for solid success. It’s got talent behind the camera in director Joe Wright and a wildly overqualified cast led by Amy Adams. It’s based on a best-selling book adapted by the excellent Tracy Letts (who also makes an uncredited appearance in the film).

But look closer and it all starts to crumble.

This was a film that was supposed to come out nearly two years ago – in October of 2019 – before terrible test screenings lead to re-edits, pushing the release to May of 2020 (and we all know how that worked out). After that further delay, the studio sold the rights to Netflix and here we are.

After watching it, well … I’m just curious as to how bad it was BEFORE the fixes.

This kind of “woman in distress” thriller has seen a bit of a renaissance in recent years, courtesy of authors like Gillian Flynn. But this one – penned pseudonymously by noted fabulist Daniel Mallory – has none of the propulsive power of that novel. And as for the film adaptations? Let’s just say the window should have stayed closed.

Published in Movies
Monday, 22 March 2021 15:24

‘Happily’ never after

Most of the time, the media we consume – movies, books, TV, music – fits comfortably within the confines of description. That is, we can pretty easily define what kind of film or book or show or song we’re experiencing; even the stuff built on genre cross-pollination can be described reasonably succinctly.

Occasionally, though, we get something that doesn’t quite fit into one or two categories. Something that is many different things at once while also being essentially its own thing.

“Happily,” written and directed by BenDavid Grabinski, checks a LOT of different genre boxes, but does so in a way that is appealingly messy. There’s a fundamental shagginess to the film, born of the filmmaker’s clear desire to take a kitchen sink approach to tone and type. And the film really does have it all – romance and dark comedy and speculative undertones and relationship drama – but in the course of doing so, it sometimes loses its way.

That said, we’ve got a dynamite cast, some killer aesthetic choices and visual styling and an obvious willingness to let things get weird. It’s a film where you might THINK you know what you’re getting into, but you don’t. Not really. And that’s (mostly) a good thing.

Published in Movies
Monday, 18 January 2021 16:37

‘Outside the Wire’ offers so-so sci-fi

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: In a relatively near future, a human and a robot or forced to team up with the fate of the world at stake, but not all is as it seems.

Sound familiar? Then you’re well-equipped for “Outside the Wire,” a new sci-fi action film coming your way via Netflix. Directed by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Hafstrom from a script co-written by Rowan Athale and Rob Yescombe, the film is an uneven mashup of familiar genre tropes that sports that unmistakable Netflix sheen.

Basically, if you’ve seen even one human/robot partnership movie, there aren’t likely to be many surprises for you here. “Outside the Wire” is essentially a collection of predictable plot points punctuated by action set pieces and lots of explosions, without even the headiness of ideas that make some of its spiritual predecessors conceptually engaging as well as viscerally.

Published in Movies

I’ll admit to having had some fun at Gerard Butler’s expense over the years. He’s made some interesting choices, particularly in recent years, from the increasingly outlandish “[Something] has Fallen” series to ridiculous genre offerings like “Geostorm” and “Hunter Killer” to the outright execrable “Gods of Egypt.”

Quite the resume, no?

That being said, I’ve always derived enjoyment from these movies precisely BECAUSE they’re so flawed. Butler has carved out a niche as the guy you call to star in your nonsense movie. He’s good at it, lending an unearned gravitas to projects (I personally prefer him in his natural accent, but his generic American works just as well) that otherwise would sink unnoticed to the bottom of the VOD seas.

“Greenland” – directed by Ric Roman Waugh from a script by Chris Sparling – is a perfect example of the kind of B-movie sensibility to which Butler has hitched his wagon over the past near-decade, a straightforward end-of-the-world movie that nevertheless manages to engage on a more individualized level. It’s a film that embraces its budgetary limitations, giving us a film that is heavy on the human element rather than CGI pageantry.

Now, is it a great movie? Of course not – this is Gerard Butler we’re talking about. But it is an undeniably fun movie, one that manages to prove surprisingly moving in moments despite the general outlandishness of its plot machinations. We’ve seen a lot of apocalypses play out on the silver screen over the years, and while “Greenland” certainly isn’t the best of the bunch, it is far from the worst.

Published in Movies
Monday, 23 November 2020 16:48

Mommy fearest - ‘Run’

Most of us have a pretty good understanding of the power of a mother’s love. Heaven knows we’ve seen it portrayed enough times on page, stage and screen. The majority of the time, we’re given a sense of not just the power, but the purity of that power. A mother’s love is meaningful and unconditional.

But when that love turns toxic, when it becomes all-consuming? That’s when we bear witness to the darkness, for there can be no light without shadow.

“Run,” the new movie from Hulu, offers us a look at that toxic darkness. Directed and co-written by Aneesh Chaganty, the talented filmmaker behind 2018’s excellent “Searching,” this is a chilling and emotionally charged dive into the circumstances of one mother’s love and how fear and delusion can twist that relationship into something dark and hurtful.

We’ve seen variations on the “mother from hell” formula before, but few have achieved this level of genuine scares. Sure, there are a couple of moments that threaten to teeter over the edge into camp – always a concern with these kinds of movies – but Chaganty’s steady hand and a pair of dynamite performances keep things on the rails. That barely-restrained sense of impending lunacy contributes greatly to what is ultimately a top-notch viewing experience.

Published in Movies
Monday, 26 October 2020 12:49

‘Rebecca’ offers stylish gothic thrills

It takes a lot of chutzpah to remake Alfred Hitchcock.

There are a handful of acknowledged masters in the cinematic realm that pretty much everyone can agree on, filmmakers who are universally acclaimed as the very best at what they do … and Hitchcock is on that list. No one has demonstrated such mastery of the psychological thriller. Even now, nearly 50 years after his last film, he’s the maestro.

His 1940 “Rebecca” – based on Daphne Du Maurier’s 1938 novel of the same name – was his first American project, a film that landed 11 Academy Award nominations and won two, including Hitchcock’s only Best Picture win.

So to tackle a movie that remakes not just any Hitchcock, but one of his best, well … like I said. Chutzpah.

Yet here we are, with Netflix producing a remake of the classic, directed by Ben Wheatley from a screenplay adaptation by Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. And it’s a pretty solid effort, with a talented cast and a suitably sumptuous aesthetic. The biggest strike against it – and it is a big one – is that it was preceded by a legitimate masterpiece.

The story of a young woman who marries into a situation far more complex and shadowy than she ever could have imagined, “Rebecca” is a gothic thriller set against the lush English countryside in the heady days preceding World War II. It is a tale of the darkness within – and the fact that even those closest to us may be keeping secrets.

Published in Movies

Producer Jason Blum has long been a champion of rising filmmakers. Through his Blumhouse production company, he has built a reputation for low-cost high-reward genre filmmaking that allows budding writers and directors to gain access to a larger audience.

His latest project is “Welcome to the Blumhouse,” an anthology film series developed in partnership with Amazon. All told, this series will consist of eight feature-length films, with four being released this October and the other four released sometime in 2021.

The first two in the series – “Black Box” and “The Lie” – dropped on October 6. One week later, on October 13, we got two more: “Evil Eye,” directed by Elan and Rajeev Dassani from a screenplay by Madhuri Shekar (based on her own Audible original), and “Nocturne,” written and directed by Zu Quirke. Much like the previous two offerings, these films aren’t necessarily the sort of straightforward horror offerings that audiences might expect from Blumhouse, there’s still plenty here worth seeing.

Again, these movies may not be quite ready to work as standalone offerings, but as part of the grander picture under the anthology umbrella, they’re certainly sufficient. Each has its flaws, to be sure, but they also put the considerable talents of their respective makers on full display, which is a big part of the point. Yes, if you’re here for “Paranormal Activity” and the like, you might be left wanting, but there’s a lot more to Jason Blum’s shop. And like the first two films, these latest works are worth checking out.

Published in Movies

Producer Jason Blum has long been a champion of rising filmmakers. Through his Blumhouse production company, he has built a reputation for low-cost high-reward genre filmmaking that allows budding writers and directors to gain access to a larger audience.

His latest project is “Welcome to the Blumhouse,” an anthology film series developed in partnership with Amazon. All told, this series will consist of eight feature-length films, with four being released this October and the other four released sometime in 2021.

The first two in the series dropped on October 6. Leading off, we have “Black Box,” directed by Emmanuel Osei-Jouffer from a screenplay Osei-Jouffer co-wrote with Stephen Herman, and “The Lie,” directed by Veena Sud, who also wrote the script, an adaptation of the German film “Wir Monster.” While the films aren’t necessarily the sort of straightforward horror offerings that audiences might expect from Blumhouse, there’s still plenty here worth seeing.

The truth is that these films might not be quite ready to work as standalone offerings, but as part of the grander picture under the anthology umbrella, they’re more than sufficient. Each film has its flaws, to be sure, but they also put the considerable talents of their respective makers on full display, which is a big part of the point. Again, if you’re here for “Paranormal Activity” and the like, you might be left wanting, but there’s a lot more to Jason Blum’s shop. Why not give it a try?

Published in Movies
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