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Don’t Let “Past Lives” Be the One That Got Away

5 Jun

Watching Celine Song’s excellent new film, Past Lives, I found myself thinking of Sliding Doors

In that 1998 high-concept film, Gwyneth Paltrow plays a woman who exists in two different realities: One in which she just misses getting on a subway train, and the other where she makes it just in time. The film hinges on the concept of “What if?” and we see what happens in both timelines, so we don’t have to wonder.

In Past Lives — which, to be absolutely clear, is a much better film than Sliding Doors — we don’t get the benefit of seeing what would have happened had things been different. Instead, the question of “What if?” hangs over the entire film. 

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To Tell the Truth?

24 May

They say there aren’t movies made for adults anymore. They also say that when such movies are made, they’re not being released in movie theaters anymore. 

Well, “they” should check out You Hurt My Feelings, which arrives in theaters at the start of the Memorial Day weekend, opposite such competition as Fast X and Disney’s wholly unnecessary live-action remake of The Little MermaidYou Hurt My Feelings is a movie that fits the bill for that segment of the movie-watching public that likes films oriented to more “grown-up” audiences.

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Intimate, Entertaining “Still” Lets Michael J. Fox Share His Story in His Own Words

9 May

There’s a scene in Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, where the actor best known for his performances as Alex P. Keaton and Marty McFly in Family Ties and the Back to the Future trilogy acknowledges the heavy weight of responsibility that comes with being such a beloved public figure. “I don’t want to fuck it up,” he says.

When a celebrity allows a filmmaker to tell their life story in a documentary, as so many have done in recent years, that’s probably a big worry. We’ve all watched plenty of Behind the Music episodes, and we’ve seen plenty of sympathetic clip-fests about actors, sports figures, politicians, and other famous folks. Often, they’re driven by vanity or an attempt to rehabilitate a damaged reputation. Sometimes it’s purely a nostalgia trip. Either way, at this point, we know the tropes that many of these films follow all too well. Every now and then, one rises above the rest (Gleason and Amy are two of the better examples), but it’s easy to be cynical since so many of these films adhere to a conventional format.

I’d imagine Fox hesitated before he allowed a movie to be made about his own life. After all, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease when he was just 29 years old, at the peak of his career. Since then, he hasn’t sought out pity. Rather, he’s conducted himself with grit and grace, applying his well known name and his abundant optimism to fundraising campaigns and other efforts that will help others like him who have Parkinson’s. 

A less skilled filmmaker would probably seize on the obvious storyline, portraying Fox’s fast rise to fame via a greatest-hits collection of film and TV clips, and then cover his slow decline from the disease, with a coda to contribute funds to support the foundation that bears his name. As Fox himself says in the film, “That’s boring.”

Clearly, he’s not the only person who thought so, and thank God for that. 

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“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” Leaves Our Heroes and the MCU in a Better Place

1 May

Spider-Man: Far from Home wasn’t just the last film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s so-called “Phase Three,” it was the last MCU film that could reasonably be considered great.

Alright, fine. Could be considered very good.

Since then, the MCU’s big-screen output has been fair, at best, but mostly underwhelming, with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever among the highlights and Eternals among the lowlights of Phase Four. Things have been better on the small screen, but no other series has been as good as WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier were.

After the not-very-good Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, not to mention a less than inspiring The Marvels teaser trailer, it’s been more than fair to say that Marvel’s best days are behind us. MCU movies just aren’t as exciting as they used to be.

So, what a relief it is to report that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 stops the downward slide. While not a top-tier movie like, say, Captain America: Winter Soldier or Civil War, not to mention the original Black Panther, the conclusion of this offbeat trilogy is generally one of the better post-Endgame releases and an emotionally satisfying film for longtime fans.

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“Renfield” Is a High-Concept Comedy That Doesn’t Suck

13 Apr

Poor Robert Montague Renfield.

For hundreds of years, he’s been in a dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship with his boss, someone who takes advantage of Renfield, summoning him from wherever he is to demand food and other assistance. Renfield gave up his life to work for this man, abandoning his wife and child, and all these years later, his boss has never shown him any appreciation. He just keeps on being more and more demanding.

You might say Renfield’s boss is a real monster — and you’d be right. That’s because his boss is the Prince of Darkness himself, Dracula. Renfield is Dracula’s familiar.

Suffice it to say, all these years later, Renfield has finally had enough, and he’s decided he wants out of this relationship. He just doesn’t know how to do it. And that’s the high-concept premise of the new horror comedy Renfield, a film that doesn’t suck. Really.

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Catching Up on 2023 Movie Reviews

4 Apr

More than a quarter of 2023 is now in the rear-view and suffice it to say, it’s been a busy time for movies. Is Hollywood catching up after a slower 2022? Maybe. But regardless, it’s meant a more-than-average amount of movie-watching and moviegoing — for me, at least — after some “off” years. 

So far this year, I’ve seen 16 new films (12 in a theater, and four via streaming). That may not be much to some people, but for me, it’s a lot. Especially for the first three months, which is usually a quiet time and one typically filled with less-than-appealing options — or holdovers that received a limited year-end release for awards consideration and are only now available to a wider audience. I’ve shared my thoughts about most of what I’ve seen on Twitter, but have neglected to write longer reviews. 

To correct that somewhat and get some of my reviews more “on the record,” allow me to share some quick thoughts about all the 2023 releases I’ve watched this year, in reverse chronological order.

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“Air” Never Quite Reaches Championship Heights

3 Apr

Air, Ben Affleck’s simply titled origin story of the Air Jordan, is not a sports movie. It’s a sports marketing movie. The film tells the story of how, in 1984, Nike sports marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) worked to convince both his colleagues and Michael Jordan’s parents (Viola Davis and her actual husband, Julius Tennon) that a Jordan-branded basketball sneaker would be a slam dunk.

It’s easy for viewers now to dismiss this as an obvious idea. But remember: It all happened before MJ’s rookie NBA season, back when he was an unproven player, and Nike was the number-three sneaker brand (behind Converse and Adidas), not the corporate behemoth we know today. Also, athlete-branded shoes just weren’t a thing back then. But against all odds, and the wishes of the company’s board of directors, Nike went all in on this deal — one that, if it failed, likely would have ended the fledgling brand altogether. 

All these years later, we know how that gamble turned out.

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Let’s Go, Golden Girls

30 Jan

Believe it or not, 80 for Brady is a bit of an underdog movie. And that’s appropriate, given that it’s centered around Super Bowl LI, the game where the New England Patriots took on (and beat) the Atlanta Falcons.

The film stars Hollywood legends Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Sally Field, and Rita Moreno as a group of friends who, for years, have gotten together every Sunday to cheer on the Patriots, and who are particularly fond of the GOAT himself, TB12. They’re a spirited and superstitious bunch, as devoted to each other as they are their favorite quarterback. (And yes, Tom does play himself in the movie — as do Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and Julian Edelman.)

When the Pats beat the Steelers in the AFC Playoffs, the women hatch a plan to get down to Houston for the big game — and wouldn’t you know it, they score four tickets. What happens next is a series of far-fetched scenarios and sitcommy twists designed to show our gals a good time and get them to the stadium to see Tom and the team live and in person.

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You People Are Really Going to Enjoy This Movie

26 Jan

They say good movies aren’t released in January, but Kenya Barris’ You People is the rare exception.

The debut feature from the creator of Black-ish is, what else, a comedic take on modern-day race relations. It tells the story of white, Jewish Ezra (Jonah Hill) who meets Black, Muslim Amira (Lauren London), when he mistakenly gets in her car thinking she’s his Uber driver. The two opposites attract and fall in love, and soon it’s time to meet the parents. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t go well.

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A Forgettable Year for Hollywood Still Had Its High Points

26 Dec

A lot of movies were released in 2022. But how many of them do you remember?

It’s a valid question, because few 2022 releases seemed to be all that memorable — not to mention, have true staying power or any lasting pop culture impact. Not the multiple Marvel movies. (Not even the Black Panther sequel.) There was no underdog crowd pleaser like CODA. Sure, there was Top Gun: Maverick. And a case could be made for Everything Everywhere All at Once, too. But good luck finding anything worth getting excited about this awards season.

Heck, it’s hard to believe a new Jurassic World movie came out just six months ago. It feels like much longer than that.

Yes, in 2022, it felt like movies were more disposable than ever. They came and went, disappearing into the ether or into the vast collection of some streaming network, never to be heard from — or spoken of — again.

Many of them were fine. Just fine. Not awful, but not as good as hoped, either. A bunch were disappointing. And so, now, at the end of the year, even those of us who see a lot of new releases are struggling to remember what we’ve seen.

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