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It’s always interesting to see what happens when memoirs become movies. Watching one person’s life story, rendered in their own words, transformed into something else by other artists … it’s fascinating. Sometimes, it doesn’t work. And sometimes, it REALLY doesn’t work. But when it does work, it can make for a truly engaging viewing experience.

“The Tender Bar” works. It works because it is a heartfelt and emotionally honest portrait of a childhood and young adulthood spent in very specifically realized times and places. It works because it is loving without being saccharine and funny without being condescending. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to have George Clooney behind the camera and Ben Affleck in front of it.

Based on J.R. Moehringer’s 2005 memoir of the same name, “The Tender Bar” is a loving look back, full of fond memories despite (or perhaps because of) the more complicated aspects of growing up. There’s a well-worn familiarity at work here – we’ve heard plenty of stories like this before – but this tale mostly manages to maintain its charm. Sure, you can argue that its narrative wanders and its tone occasionally ventures too far into the realm of the sentimental, but the people we meet make it an engaging hang nevertheless.

Published in Movies

I’ve got a long-standing fascination with movies about gamblers and gambling. The combination of inherent insular tension and a tendency toward morally complex and ethically flexible characters results in films that hit me just right. Doesn’t matter if the story is meant to be redemptive or if we’re just spending time in this world or if we’re living somewhere in between – I’m here for it.

“The Card Counter,” the latest from auteur writer/director Paul Schrader, definitely exists in that nebulous middle ground. It’s a character study of a professional gambler who attempts to find some small degree of atonement for his past sins, only to wind up drawn back into darkness.

It’s also a throwback, evoking the spirit of ‘70s New Hollywood – unsurprising since that’s the era in which Schrader cut his screenwriting teeth. It is aesthetically distinctive and meticulously paced, telling the sort of small-scale yet sweeping story at which he excels. And by placing a talent as significant as Oscar Isaac at its center, Schrader ensures that the narrative is in supremely capable hands.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 04 April 2018 12:49

Game on! – ‘Ready Player One’

The potency of nostalgia is well-documented at this point. It seems as though much of the pop culture we consume these days is inspired by (or straight-up copied from) source material that we already know and love. Revisiting what we loved in the past has become a cottage industry across all entertainment platforms.

And so it’s no surprise that Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel “Ready Player One” would be adapted to the big screen. It’s a story ready-made for the wistful remembrances of the current cultural climate, packed with wave after wave of period-specific nerd references aimed at striking the winsome sweet spot of one particular generation. We do so love to love what we already love.

But when you hand the reigns over to a pop cultural icon like Steven Spielberg, well … that’s when you take things to a whole new level. A level, I might add, that is actually a bit higher than might have been expected for a film like this one. It’s precisely the sort of sci-fi-steeped young-person adventure story at which Spielberg excels. It’s throwbacks within throwbacks within throwbacks – a meta-nostalgic moviegoing experience that in many ways outshines the perfunctory nature of its inspiration.

Published in Movies

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