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Sunday, 20 January 2019 18:47

‘Glass’ more than half full

It’s always nice to be truly, genuinely surprised by a movie. It doesn’t happen all that often, so when it does, it’s a treat.

For instance, the most delightful surprise of 2016 was the ending of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split,” whose closing scene revealed it to be part of the same universe in which his 2000 film “Unbreakable” took place.

A surprise sequel? To a movie that I personally loved and whose deconstruction of the superhero predated the MCU-led super-movie explosion of the last decade or so? Yes, please.

And of course, the series – dubbed the Eastrail 177 trilogy, after the train crash that kicked off the events of “Unbreakable” – must be completed.

“Glass” marks the culmination of a decades-spanning story, one that addresses the aspirational mythologizing behind our fascination with the superhuman. It’s a chance to once again grapple with what a world of heroes and villains might actually mean – both to them and to the rest of us.

While “Glass” has its share of flaws – namely Shyamalan’s inability to fully divest himself of some of his more self-indulgent tendencies – it is still a worthwhile final installment. The ethical ambiguity of heroes and villains, the general implications scaled both small and large – those are here, albeit occasionally a bit muddied. And with some top-notch performances and a handful of sharp aesthetic choices, the movie succeeds far more than it fails.

Published in Movies
Sunday, 06 January 2019 16:11

Room for improvement - ‘Escape Room’

It’s no secret that January has long served as a bit of a dumping ground for Hollywood. Yes, this is the time when many award-contending films go into wider distribution, but as far as new releases January is where studios tend to offload their biggest mistakes and misfires.

However, a movie can still be entertaining even when it isn’t very good.

Take “Escape Room,” for example. It’s a formulaic and predictable horror thriller that absolutely deserves its early January release date. That being said, it’s got an interesting concept with which it proves willing to have some fun, at least initially. Sure, the movie’s back end devolves into illogic and nonsense, but that’s OK. As long as you set the bar nice and low, there’s no reason for you to not have a good time.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 20 November 2018 11:52

‘Widows’ an engaging, atypical thriller

What happens when an Academy Award-winning director teams up with a bestselling novelist-turned-screenwriter to make an unexpected and unconventional heist movie?

“Widows” happens.

Director Steve McQueen isn’t necessarily the guy you’d think of when it comes to gritty gangster noir fare, but this film – which he also co-wrote alongside “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn – is all that and more. It’s a tense thriller, yes, but it’s also a work of feminist empowerment. And oh yeah, it has something to say about the American political system as well.

It’s a beautifully-crafted film, aesthetically stylish and narratively surprising, featuring a peak-of-his-powers filmmaker assembling an incredibly talented ensemble to create a movie that, while hauntingly familiar in some respects, is still something you’ve never really seen before.

Published in Movies

Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy” of crime novels – “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” – are among the most popular books of the 21st century, selling tens of millions of copies.

The books were made into films by the Swedish production company Yellow Bird; with Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander (the titular Girl), they proved wildly popular. So popular that an American adaptation of the first book was made in 2011, directed by David Fincher and starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig.

However, plans for adaptations of the second and third books fell through. Instead, what we get it “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” based on the fourth book in the series, the first written by David Lagercrantz. This installment – directed by Fede Alvarez and starring Claire Foy as Salander – is an effort to continue the story set forth so brilliantly by Larsson.

Said effort is futile.

While there are moments where we’re reminded of the visceral power of Larsson’s story and Lisbeth’s character, too much nuance has been lost. Where once Salander was a relatable, complex person, this new narrative has rendered her largely inert, a collection of traumas dressed like a Hot Topic bargain bin and possessed of computer acumen indistinguishable from wizardry. There’s no reason to emotionally connect with her – even when the filmmakers unabashedly demand it.

Published in Movies

As someone who considers himself a reasonably savvy moviegoer, I like to think that I’m not bad at discerning what the deal is going to be with a movie before I see it. That’s not to say that I think I have every plot point or aesthetic choice nailed down; I just mean that I’m good at predicting some general qualities from limited information.

Good, but far from perfect.

For instance, I was pretty sure I knew what I was going to get from “Bad Times at the El Royale” despite the fact that the publicity run-up wasn’t particularly thorough. The thing is written and directed by Drew Goddard, after all – he’s a prolific writer and producer, but the last time we got the writer/director double-dip, he gave us the exceptional meta-horror “The Cabin in the Woods.” I figured I was going to get something similar to that movie, a noir/neo-noir deconstruction-cum-parody.

But rather than a comment on a genre, Goddard – along with a fantastic ensemble cast – gives us a particularly well-executed example of that genre, one tinged with Goddard’s weirdo sensibilities and unique aesthetic sense. It twists and turns with abandon and is utterly remorseless in the sacrifices it makes in order to advance the narrative. It’s brutal and visceral and darkly funny – not quite what I expected, but a hell of a time nonetheless.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 10 October 2018 12:20

New novel proves a worthy ‘Foe’

What is it that makes us who we are? And just what would it take to create something that accurately captures that indefinable something?

“Foe” (Gallery, $25.99) by Iain Reid is structured around that deceptively simple question. We all think we know what it is that makes us tick, but what if there were someone out there who wanted – who NEEDED to find a way to accurately recreate you for reasons that were seemingly important yet unfortunately murky.

What Reid has built is a philosophical puzzle-box of a novel, a near-future speculative journey that explores the notion of self-determinism and the lengths to which we will go to execute our perceived duty – both to ourselves and to those about whom we care the most.

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 19 September 2018 11:19

Grant yourself ‘A Simple Favor’

When I first saw a trailer for “A Simple Favor,” I was intrigued. Sure, I figured it was basically going to be another “Gone Girl” knockoff – I wasn’t familiar with the 2017 Darcey Bell book of the same name or anything, but it all seemed pretty clear how this was going to go. I assumed I had it all figured out.

But you know what they say about when you assume.

I should have been suspicious. Paul Feig – best known for making sitcoms and Melissa McCarthy-led comedies – was in the director’s chair. The odd couple pairing of Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick as the leads. Still, I went into the theater expecting an entertaining, albeit fairly formulaic thriller.

Instead, I got something else. “A Simple Favor” definitely has “Gone Girl” in its DNA, but Feig has reflected the standard “Lost Woman” thriller through the skewed lens of his own absurd-leaning sensibility. The result is a movie riddled with twists and turns, filled with weird secrets and outlandish choices. It is somehow deadly serious and rather silly at the same time, with neither tone undermining the other. And it sure is fun to watch.

Published in Movies

We’re still not used to female action stars.

Even as the gates are gradually opening and allowing women to take the lead in action movies, there’s still a degree of novelty to it. It’s unfortunate that that’s the case, although it is slowly getting better. Still, woman-driven action is still a relative rarity.

So when you see something like “Peppermint” come along, a revenge thriller featuring Jennifer Garner as a mother who lost everything and is willing to do anything and everything necessary to make those responsible pay dearly. It isn’t a shining example of the genre – it’s formulaic and lacks much in the way of perspective and/or visceral thrills. It head fakes toward a few message-type issues – feminism, class, the legal system – but never really strays from its fundamental potboiler-ness. And yet, it is extremely watchable, thanks mostly to a strong and believable performance from Garner and a frankly-impressive body count.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 12 September 2018 11:25

‘Searching’ tells its story through screens

Trying new things can be dangerous.

Experimenting with methods of cinematic storytelling is often risky. You want to stay true to the story and avoid technical distractions. You don’t want those choices to come off as superfluous and/or gimmicky. It’s a fine line between telling a story a new way and simply being different for the sake of being different.

The new film “Searching,” directed by feature first-timer Aneesh Chaganty from a script he co-wrote with Sev Ohanian, is a thriller revolving around a father whose daughter has disappeared. You’ve seen it a million times. However, this film unfolds entirely through communication technology – through FaceTime and laptops and group chats, through social media and text messaging and online video. Sure, that’s not a brand-new concept, but it’s certainly still new enough to catch your attention. And while other movies and TV shows have experimented with the idea, none have done so as successfully as this one.

Published in Movies

We’re all aware that sequels and franchises are the primary drivers of Hollywood’s economic engine. That’s the nature of the beast, so it’s something to which audiences have grown accustomed. But every so often, a sequel will come along that is surprising in that its very existence seems to be unnecessary, leaving you to wonder … how? Why?

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is one such head-scratcher, a sequel to 2015’s excellent “Sicario,” a taut, subversive thriller which starred Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro and wound up with a couple of Oscar nominations. “Sicario” was a really good movie – and a story that needn’t go on.

It seems that screenwriter Taylor Sheridan had more to tell, however, and so we get this weird and unexpected sequel; Stefan Sollima takes the reins from Denis Villeneuve. Blunt is gone, but Brolin and Del Toro are back. The result is a movie that isn’t nearly as thoughtful or challenging as its predecessor; the amorality of its primary figures is largely untempered. In essence, the first film’s misguided-but-present moral compass is replaced with gunfire and action-movie nihilism.

Published in Movies
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