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Among the odder developments of the last decade or so of big-budget moviemaking is the Disney trend of making live-action versions of their beloved animated classics. The powers that be at Big Mouse saw the opportunity to commodify nostalgia to an even greater extent than they already had, resulting in a spate of films that turned cartoons into the third dimension (though in some respects, “live-action” is a bit of a misnomer – there’s still LOADS of computer animation at work in these films).

Of course, the ongoing success of these films – not always critically, but definitely commercially – meant that we would keep seeing largely unnecessary remakes being trotted out to be eagerly consumed by those looking for new ways to engage with old memories.

Which brings us to “Pinocchio,” the latest effort to reengage with a beloved classic. This one – directed by Robert Zemeckis, who also co-wrote the adapted screenplay alongside Chris Weitz – offers audiences a new look at the beloved tale of a marionette granted sentience and his quest to figure out how to become a real boy, with plenty of adventures along the way.

Unfortunately, this film suffers from the same big issue that many of its live-action remake brethren do – it simply feels unneeded. That isn’t to say that it’s terrible – it’s generally inoffensive, with a few interesting moments. It’s just that it’s hard to feel that strongly about a film that we have, in essence, seen before.

Published in Movies
Monday, 27 June 2022 14:52

Hail to the King – ‘Elvis’

There are few mainstream filmmakers who offer the degree of stylistic audacity that you get from Baz Luhrmann. The Australian director has made a career our of crafting visually arresting films that luxuriate in their own aesthetic extremity.

So I suppose it only makes sense that he would tackle the King.

“Elvis” is the latest project from the Aussie auteur. Working from a screenplay he co-wrote with Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce and Jeremy Doner, Luhrmann has imprinted his own vision on the story of one Elvis Presley. Powered by the standard over-the-top visuals – particularly at the onset – and driven by an electrifying performance from Austin Butler as the man himself, the movie offers a look at the man who would become a myth. All of it through the lens of the man who helped him get there even as he helped himself, the promoter Colonel Tom Parker (brought to life by Tom Hanks).

Call it “The King and the Kingmaker.”

It is a dazzling spectacle, to be sure – fitting the larger-than-life subject at its center – but it is also a look at the complicated and often toxic dynamic between the rock and roll icon and the carny-turned-music promoter who ostensibly assisted him on his rise to the top.

Published in Movies

One of the most difficult things to do as an actor is to perform by yourself.

From the outside, we tend to view actors as individuals and judge their work as such, but the reality is that so much of acting is reacting. Performers take what is being given to them by their fellow actors and respond accordingly. The quality of the work is amplified – often exponentially – by the quality of work that surrounds it.

This is why I will continue to praise Tom Hanks’s performance in “Cast Away” as one of the 20th century’s true triumphs of cinematic performance. He was brilliant despite being all by himself; people who haven’t done it have no idea how truly difficult that is.

Hanks’s latest film “Finch” doesn’t leave him quite so alone. Instead of wandering a deserted island with a volleyball for a companion, he’s got not one, but two fellow travelers through a post-apocalyptic wasteland – a dog and a robot. Still, even when your only speaking co-star is at best a dude in green spandex covered in ping-pong balls, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Directed by Miguel Sapochnik, “Finch” – available exclusively on Apple TV+ – is the story of a man doing his best to survive the aftermath of an apocalyptic event, a man who takes his responsibilities – real and perceived – very seriously. And when circumstances force him to abandon the place that has been his safe haven, he takes to the road in order to ensure not his own survival, but that of those who rely upon him.

Published in Movies
Sunday, 12 July 2020 16:28

‘Greyhound’ wages war on the water

Many of our greatest stories have revolved around warfare. From the great epics of the ancient Greeks thousands of years ago to the continued proliferation of war movies today, the tragedies and triumphs of the battlefield have been major subjects of our storytelling since we first began telling them.

We’ve already seen one strong entry into the war movie canon this year with Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” but we can add another to the list courtesy of “Greyhound,” currently available on Apple TV+. The film – directed by Aaron Schneider from a screenplay adapted by Tom Hanks (who also stars) from the C.S. Forester novel “The Good Shepherd” – is a throwback of sorts, an ode to the WWII films of the past, telling the tale of the men tasked with protecting trans-Atlantic convoys in the empty stretches too far from shore for air support.

It’s a sharply-paced, engaging war movie, one that finds interesting ways to juxtapose the vast and harsh expanse of the ocean with the nigh-claustrophobic confines within a warship. It also captures the pressures that land on the shoulders of those in command, pressures that are exponentially heightened by the simple fact that the enemy is often invisible. That air of dread and anticipation – and the heroism that it takes to stand strong and fight anyway – permeates the film.

Published in Movies

There are a certain few people in this world for whom a nigh-universal affection is held. These people are beloved for reasons that essentially transcend our individual biases, people who are by all appearances genuinely decent.

People like Mr. Rogers.

I don’t care who you are – you probably have a fondness in your heart for Mr. Rogers. He is an icon, a man not just nice but Nice, a living embodiment of humanity’s innate love for our children. To so many of us, Fred Rogers is the Socratic ideal of a good human being.

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” attempts to show us just how monumental an impact an encounter with such a person can have on our lives. Inspired by a 1998 Esquire profile written by Tom Junod, the film opens a window onto the one singular truth about Mr. Rogers that is both unbelievable and utterly expected – that he is precisely the man he appears to be.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 25 June 2019 17:00

‘Toy Story 4’ plays well with others

I didn’t want “Toy Story 4.”

Yes, I understand that sequels are valuable currency in the cinematic realm these days. And no, it’s nothing against Pixar – my admiration for their work is significant and well-documented. I just remember being so innately, fundamentally satisfied with how the trilogy wrapped up that the idea of another movie felt somehow … wrong.

So it was with some trepidation that I stepped into “Toy Story 4,” trying to give the studio the benefit of the doubt while still expecting to be vaguely disappointed.

Instead, what I got was a shockingly worthwhile addition to the series, a film that moves the saga forward in a way that is both respectful of what has come before and enthusiastic about exploring new directions. It is consistently hilarious, of course, with performers old and new delivering big-time. And while it is undeniably heartfelt – prepare for things to get dusty a couple of times; you know, standard operating procedure with Pixar – it also pulls its punches just a bit, largely avoiding the grown-up-targeted emotional haymaker.

Honestly, it’s just about the best possible follow-up to a movie that seemingly needed no follow-up.

Published in Movies
Saturday, 13 January 2018 12:54

‘The Post’ delivers

If you were to go into a filmmaking laboratory with the sole task of creating a prestige movie, you’d probably wind up with something very much like “The Post.”

Published in Movies
Friday, 28 April 2017 09:43

'The Circle' circles the drain

Tech thriller a dull, disorganized disappointment

Published in Movies
Friday, 28 October 2016 09:54

'Inferno' a hot mess

Latest Dan Brown adaptation chaotic, convoluted

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 21 September 2016 10:09

Previewing 2016's fall films

A look ahead at some autumn offerings

The summer blockbuster season has come and gone; 2016 proved to be a bit of a disappointment to many, though the season saw its share of successful films.

Published in Cover Story
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