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Sunday, 14 February 2021 18:51

‘Young Hearts’ can be broken

There’s an urgency to the love between teenagers that is never really replicated in adulthood. The newness of it all – not just the specific relationships, but just love in general – makes everything feel outsized and overwrought. The knob is turned to 11 and then snapped off.

Often, when adults seek to evoke those early romances – particularly in YA or YA-adjacent fare – they succumb to the temptation to add variables to the equation. Sometimes, they go with elements of the supernatural. Other times, they introduce drastic health issues. However it is done, the intent is always to contribute more obstacles to the situation. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

So when you get a story that is just a sweet, simple story of young love, it almost feels daring.

That’s the new film “Young Hearts,” co-directed by Sarah and Zachary Ray Sherman from a screenplay penned by the former. It’s a sincere love story, devoid of high-concept flourishes; it’s just about the connections between teenagers and the ways in which those connections can change due to forces internal and external alike.

At its (very large) heart, this movie is about reminding us that high school romance is innocent, yes, but it also comes with its own difficulties. Dealing with those difficulties is part of the adolescent experience – an experience portrayed wonderfully here.

Published in Movies

I’ve reviewed my share of teen weepies over the years. And there will always be more, because the powers that be aren’t dumb – there is always going to be a market for movies where attractive young people deal with obstacles both real and imaginary.

I should be clear – I’m not one of these people who automatically assumes that something with a YA label is somehow less than. There are plenty of high-quality YA entertainments across all media out there; to my mind, a good story is a good story. The unfortunate truth, however, is that those same powers that be aren’t always that concerned with a good story – for them, the overwrought feelings and melodrama are more than enough to get the job done.

“The Ultimate Playlist of Noise,” newly streaming on Hulu, isn’t QUITE that cynical. Directed by Bennett Lasseter from a script by Mitchell Winkie, it’s a well-intentioned film that offers a perspective on what it means to be a young person losing something (or someone) that you love. It’s the story of a young man who, faced with the loss of his hearing, undertakes to hit the road and record a collection of favorite sounds before they’re gone (for him) forever.

(If this rings familiar, last year’s exceptional “Sound of Metal” covered a fair amount of the same ground, only in a more nuanced and much less saccharine way.)

Now, this movie isn’t actively bad the way so many films that fall into the YA feelings category are. It has some things to recommend it – exceptional sound design, for example, with a killer soundtrack – but for the most part, it lands in the muddy middle. Fine and forgettable.

Published in Style
Monday, 15 June 2020 14:38

‘Artemis Fowl’ is, well … foul

There’s big money to be made in franchise filmmaking. With hundreds of millions of dollars potentially on the table, it’s no wonder that studios are constantly on the lookout for intellectual property that can be translated to the big screen for big bucks.

On paper, the “Artemis Fowl” series of books by Eoin Colfer looks like a solid bet. It’s got a high-concept hook revolving around a secret world of fairies, a kid protagonist and eight novels worth of narrative to be mined. The project has been in the works at various stages with various studios for almost two decades. And now, finally, with the Disney monolith behind it, the first film in the erstwhile franchise has arrived.

Don’t be surprised if it’s also the last.

“Artemis Fowl” – currently streaming on Disney+ and inexplicably directed by Kenneth Branagh – is wildly unsuccessful on just about every conceivable level. It is a jumbled mess that borders on incoherent, a scattershot attempt at world-building that basically throws a lot of stuff at the wall, only nothing really sticks. The tone is inconsistent and the plot is nonsensical. The 95-minute runtime is not nearly enough to provide the required context, though that is offset by the feeling of audience relief at its brevity.

While I can’t say for certain, since I haven’t read them, I have to assume that the books are better than this candy-colored lunacy. They’d have to be. They probably have an actual story, for instance, rather than a series of barely-connected events that may or may not have some bearing on the overall narrative. It has all the worst parts of an origin story without conveying much about, you know, the origin. All in all, a misfire of truly epic proportions.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 20 March 2019 12:46

Love is in the air – ‘Five Feet Apart’

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a soft touch, emotionally speaking. My buttons can be pushed pretty easily. If a movie wants to make me cry, it will have little problem doing so. Whether or not that emotional manipulation is earned, well … it doesn’t really matter. It will work. However, just because my emotions are impacted doesn’t mean I’m unaware of the strings being pulled.

The new movie “Five Feet Apart” – directed by Justin Baldoni from a screenplay by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis – is nothing BUT strings. It is almost cynically manipulative, with a star-crossed love story featuring terminally ill teenagers falling for one another yet being kept apart by forces beyond their control. It is so formulaic, so boilerplate, that it almost feels algorithmically-generated – a product of maudlin mathematics.

Published in Movies

I’m not sure when exactly “family-friendly” became code for “condescending and/or milquetoast,” but that’s pretty much where we are as far as Hollywood is concerned. The truth is that there are plenty of ways to make a movie for younger audiences that engages with them in a manner that treats them with respect – folks like Steven Spielberg did it all the time in the 1980s.

So when word of “The House with a Clock in its Walls” came out, I was cautiously optimistic. The original source material – a 1973 YA magic mystery by John Bellairs and illustrated by Edward Gorey that was the first of a dozen in the series – had the requisite spookiness. Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment production company is prominently involved. The cast – led by Jack Black and Cate Blanchett – is strong.

But there were questions – and the biggest involved the man sitting in the director’s chair. Eli Roth built his career on brutal, bloody genre fare – the choice to hand what is essentially a movie for kids over to the dude who made “Hostel” is an odd one. It seemed like a jarring, unconventional marriage unlikely to succeed.

Instead, it turned out to be an ideal pairing, with Roth bringing his visceral sensibility to the PG-realm with nary a hiccup, resulting in a children’s movie that isn’t afraid to spend some time in the shadows and bring genuine scares to the screen.

Published in Movies

The past decade or so has seen a real glut of films based on young adult novels – particularly those of the dystopian sci-fi persuasion. It makes sense – when “The Hunger Games” blew up, every Hollywood studio out there wanted to get a piece of that bleakly futuristic pie.

Only there was a problem – not all of those properties made for great movies … or even good ones. Hence, we got a downward spiral of diminishing returns. There were a couple of franchises marked by increasingly inane installments and a handful of attempts at series that were abandoned following major flopping at the box office.

I can’t say for certain that we’ve reached the bottom of that spiral, but “The Darkest Minds” has to have brought us awfully close.

Published in Movies

It seems as though Hollywood’s recent fascination with adapting dystopian young adult fiction for the big screen is finally petering out. Despite the monster success of “The Hunger Games,” most of the follow-ups have fallen apart along the way (a la “Divergent”) or never really gotten off the ground in the first place (“I Am Number Four;” “The 5th Wave;” “The Mortal Instruments;” etc.).

And in the middle, we find the “Maze Runner” trilogy.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 22 November 2017 13:58

The ‘Wonder’ of it all

YA adaptation inspires laughter, tears

Published in Movies

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