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Monday, 21 February 2022 16:14

‘Uncharted’ can’t quite find itself

The history of movies derived from video games is … well, let’s just call it checkered. While there have been a handful that have proven successful from a financial standpoint, the overall quality of films within the genre hasn’t been great.

Meanwhile, the history of movies that have languished in development hell for a decade or more? Also checkered. It’s rare for a film to be stuck in limbo for that long to make its way out and prove a success. Not unprecedented, but rare.

“Uncharted” is both.

The new film – based on the wildly popular video game series of the same name – has been in development since 2008. That’s 14 years (though some of that time on this end was obviously lost to the pandemic) – so long that co-star Mark Wahlberg was actually attached to play the lead role occupied by Tom Holland at one point. So it finally made it to the screen after a long journey through the wilderness. And the final verdict?

Meh.

While there’s some fun to be had here, the overall experience feels like less than the sum of its parts. I’ll concede a lack of familiarity with the games, but “Uncharted” feels like a CGI-heavy knockoff of much better movies. The plot meanders and the character arcs don’t make much sense and the entire third act is hot nonsense. That said, I didn’t have a terrible time. Not a great time, but not a terrible one. Your mileage may vary.

Published in Movies

Let’s just get this out of the way off the top - I loved “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” LOVED it.

Now, I was ALWAYS going to love it. I am fully invested in the MCU writ large as blockbuster popcorn entertainment and have been since Day 1. And I carry a deep and abiding affection for and affinity toward the character of Spider-Man, in all his many iterations. From my time as a boy reading assorted Spider-Man comics up to the present day, I ride hard for Spidey. He’s as central a figure in my own personal pop culture history as any. So this is very much a movie for me.

But here’s the thing – it’s probably a movie for you too.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the biggest and boldest MCU entry in a year packed with them – “NWH” marks the fourth film since June – as well as being the best. It is a massive spectacle while also finding room for the smaller moments, loaded and overloaded with everything that makes the character (and the franchise) great.

It also manages not to succumb to the elements of franchise bloat and metanarrative requirements that have undermined some of Marvel’s past efforts. It’s huge but not unwieldy, fan service-y but not exclusive, epic but not crowded.

You’ve got loads of web-swinging, wall-crawling action. You’ve got quips and jokes galore. You’ve got pathos and pain and the ethical dilemmas that those things can cause. You’ve got an absolute cavalcade of familiar faces joining in on the fun.

And at the center of it all, you’ve got a kid forced to once again stand up beneath an unfair burden that circumstances have thrust upon him.

Published in Movies

Hollywood has long been fascinated with soldiers’ stories. Movies about soldiers, whether they’re on the battlefield or off it, have been part of the cinema since the beginnings of the medium. In the early days, those films tended toward the celebratory and/or laudatory, but more recent fare has leaned into deconstructing the physical and psychological impact of men going to war.

“Cherry,” the new film from Joe and Anthony Russo, is the latest in a long line of films exploring what happens to those who are broken by war and then dropped back into their old lives without anyone helping them to repair themselves. Adapted by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg from Nico Walker’s acclaimed 2018 novel of the same name and currently available via Apple TV+, it’s a story of one man’s struggles to deal with the aftermath of his choices – an aftermath that leads him into a seedy and unsafe world of addiction and crime.

It’s an intense and unwavering film, one that seeks to paint an unvarnished portrait of the pain of a young man left behind by the system that used him up. It is also a film not without issues, a story whose pacing is bumpy and whose character motivations are sometimes murky. All in all, an uneven but still worthwhile viewing experience.

Published in Movies

The relationships that exist between people – and the motivations that drive them – are often the best fodder for storytelling. The reasons we do the things we do and the people for whom we do them can be the purest distillation of our character.

Novelist Donald Ray Pollock has a knack for evoking the dark side of that equation; his books are packed with the brutality and evil that people do even while feeling utterly justified in doing them.

That sense of physical and emotional violence is omnipresent in “The Devil All the Time,” an adaptation of Pollock’s 2011 novel of the same name. Directed by Antonio Campos from a screenplay he co-wrote with his brother Paulo, the film is set in midcentury West Virginia and Ohio and follows a sprawling collection of different characters through narratives whose connections – both overt and subtle – constantly ebb and flow toward one another.

It’s a story of sin, of the evil that even the pious are capable of if they can convince themselves of the righteousness of their acts. It’s a striking representation of the time and place, to be sure, while also featuring an incredible collection of talent in the cast. But that unrelenting representation of the dark side of human nature, the ongoing parade of terrible people doing terrible things for terrible reasons – it’s a lot. The bleakly entangled constancy of sex and violence and power and religion is frankly exhausting, though the excellent performances and quality filmmaking make it worth the undertaking nevertheless.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 11 March 2020 13:21

Fractured fairy tale – ‘Onward’

Obviously, I love Pixar movies. I’m a human being with feelings and a soul, so of course I dig the work of the acclaimed animation studio. That being said, I also have to accept that because they have set the bar so very high, there will be occasions in which they fail to clear it.

So it is with their latest offering “Onward,” a film that, were it to come from any other studio, would likely be hailed as great work, but because it bears the Pixar name, it feels just the slightest bit underwhelming.

Make no mistake – “underwhelming” is by no means the same as “bad” – this is actually a charming and fun film. The concept is interesting enough, the vocal performances are typically strong and the execution is quite good. Jokes are made and heartstrings are tugged. All the usual pieces are here. It just doesn’t quite ascend to the level of accomplishment that we’ve come to expect from the studio.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 22 January 2020 14:16

‘Dolittle’ does even less

When a once-hyped big-budget movie sees its release time moved from prime real estate to the January tundra, it’s probably safe to assume that things haven’t worked out the way anyone anticipated. It’s not hard to tell when a studio has made the grim decision to cut its losses.

“Dolittle” was obviously intended to be a tentpole, a spring/summer release meant to kick off a franchise. And with no-longer-Tony-Stark Robert Downey Jr. on board, it probably felt like an easy win, a no-brainer.

Instead, it’s a meandering and pointless exercise in formulaic filmmaking. It is utterly lacking in any sort of spark, a flat and listless story told without any real excitement or urgency. There’s zero in the way of originality and even less in the way of engagement despite an absolutely all-star cast. Younger viewers might get some giggles, but even they will likely sense that something doesn’t sit right.

Basically, “Dolittle” is a dumb movie that doesn’t really care how dumb it is.

Published in Movies

It’s rarely good news when a film’s release is significantly pushed back. Regardless of the reasons, it’s not a great look when your movie hits the festival circuit, only to disappear from view for months or even years before eventually getting a wide release.

Every once in a while, though, the end result is a better film.

That seems to be the case with “The Current War: Director’s Cut” – released as such because it has been significantly changed from its initial appearance on the scene a couple of years ago. And those changes seem to have done the trick, because while that earlier version of the film was received in a manner that would charitably be called “mixed,” this new iteration is actually a pretty solid biopic.

It’s the story of the real-life rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse as they competed to see whose electrical current – Edison’s DC or Westinghouse’s AC – would be the one that electrified America and the world. It’s a stylish and aesthetically engaging film – far more so than you might expect from a biopic such as this one – with an A-list ensemble cast and dynamic direction courtesy of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

Published in Movies

It’s tough to argue that the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t one of the most monumental achievements in the history of the medium. Regardless of how you feel about the content of the movies – some people just don’t dig superhero flicks – you cannot deny that the unspooling of the MCU saga over more than 20 films is an incredible achievement.

The culmination of that arc was “Avengers: Endgame,” but despite what you might think, that film was not the end of Marvel’s so-called Phase 3.

That honor goes to “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” a film that puts Tom Holland’s excellent Spider-Man front and center once again while also serving to both cleanse the palate and pick up the pieces after the paradigm-shifting events of the previous film. It’s a chance to view the aftermath of what has come before while also laying the groundwork for what comes next.

It’s also a delightful standalone adventure in its own right, a quippy, flippy movie packed with web-slinging action and some first-rate comic beats. In addition, we get our first look at a world still working its way through the everyday logistical chaos left by the Snap – or the Blip, as the kids apparently call it. A first look at a world without Tony Stark.

Published in Movies

Latest reboot captures the joyful spirit of the beloved superhero

Published in Movies

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