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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

Young adult fiction means different things to different people. The very label leaves loads of room for variance and interpretation. And while there are those who look down their nose at YA fiction, the reality is that there’s plenty of nuance and sophistication to the best work in the genre.

Maine author Gillian French’s work definitely demonstrates those qualities; her latest is “The Lies They Tell” (HarperTeen, $17.99), a thriller featuring a young woman trying to get to the bottom of a tragic mystery that haunts her small island town. Secrets and lies abound even as the dynamics between the town’s wealthy summer visitors and the year-round residents who serve them grow complicated.

Published in Style

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Stephen King is the preeminent American storyteller.

Apologies for my broken-recordness on the subject, but it always bears repeating – there is no one in American letters over the past half-century who has managed to be as prolific and as culturally relevant as Stephen King.

And there’s a reason the zeitgeist is awash with King-inspired and -adjacent properties. Not only have the majority of his iconic earlier works withstood the test of time, but his late-career renaissance puts on display a King who has evolved while still maintaining an unprecedented degree of narrative skillfulness.

Oh yeah – and his stuff is still REALLY scary.

King’s latest is “The Outsider” (Scribner, $30), a pulpy, propulsive tale reminiscent of some of his earlier highlights. Yet even as he elicits memories of his own creepy stylings from 30 years ago, he infuses that throwback thriller with pointed references to the present. The end result is a book that is somehow both Now and Then, where early King and late King combine with an eerie smoothness. It is dark and creepy and thought-provoking and engrossing – everything you hope for from Stephen King.

Published in Buzz
Tuesday, 15 May 2018 14:53

One bad mother – ‘Breaking In’

While it hasn’t reached the apex of home invasion movies, the subgenre of panic room thrillers has its place in the cinematic firmament. The notion of being (relatively) safe, yet still being trapped by the bad guys – usually with something to lose – is a resonant one and can make for some engaging, albeit fairly predictable, fare.

The new movie “Breaking In” attempts to subvert that basic structure. This time, the bad guys are the ones in the safe space and it’s up to our protagonist to find their way in and save the day. It’s not bad as ideas go – in the hands of really capable filmmakers, you could imagine this working quite well.

Alas, these filmmakers don’t appear to have that kind of capability. What we actually get is a poorly-paced ramble that never bothers to justify or explain the actions, events and decisions that play out on the screen. Gabrielle Union (“The Public”) does her level best in the lead – and gives a performance far better than this movie deserves – but that’s just not enough to overcome the jumbled blandness of literally everything else.

Published in Movies

One could make the argument that we’re currently in the midst of a horror movie renaissance. While the genre still offers up its share of misfires, horror has provided fertile ground for filmmakers looking to explore ideas big and small in sophisticated ways. It’s an arena where chances can still be taken. And when those risks pay off, you get some pretty great movies.

Movies like “A Quiet Place.”

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 27 March 2018 15:42

‘Unsane’ in the brain

Remember when Steven Soderbergh said he wasn’t going to make movies anymore?

Published in Movies

Bohjalian’s twist-laden mystery an energetic and exciting read

Published in Buzz
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