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47 Meters Down: Deep Shit, by Tyler Smith

15 Jun

It would be wrong to talk about Johannes Roberts’ film 47 Meters Down in terms of more serious fare, like Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea. It’s not that kind of film. It is a shark movie and should thus be compared to other shark movies. So, based on that criteria, I’ll say that 47 Meters Down makes The Shallows look like Open Water, Open Water look like Jaws, and Jaws look like the absolute pinnacle of all human endeavor. The film takes a decent premise and, appropriately, drowns it in clumsy exposition and truly horrendous dialogue. It wasn’t just bad; it was astonishingly bad. 

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Churchill: The Wrong Side of History, by Tyler Smith

1 Jun

A great performance is a terrible thing to waste. And Brian Cox’s towering portrayal of Winston Churchill in Jonathan Teplitsky’s Churchill is indeed great. At this point, it would appear that playing Churchill is a sort of rite of passage for aging British actors, with some faring better than others. With his ability to stay in the moment and often simply exist as the charismatic Prime Minister, Cox crafts a lived-in performance that ranks up there with the best (which, in my view, is Albert Finney in The Gathering Storm). With an actor so willing to put aside vanity and self consciousness, it is a shame that the movie around him is so misguided. There are moments of immense power in this film, but they are always undercut by scenes that cast Churchill in the worst light possible, making him seem abusive, petulant, and out of touch. If Teplitzky’s goal was to make the audience slowly come to hate this bellowing, insecure ogre, then he has certainly reached it. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that Teplitzky and his writer, Alex von Tunzelmann, think that they are merely humanizing Churchill, adding complexity to a titanic figure, giving the audience a deeper appreciation for an otherwise-admirable man. If that was their goal, then they have failed miserably, squandering Cox’s committed performance in the process.

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Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: Awesome Remix, by Tyler Smith

2 May

I was not a big fan of the first Guardians of the Galaxy. While many people praised its offbeat tone and crazy characters, the whole thing seemed surprisingly conventional to me, especially when one considers director James Gunn’s previous work. The film certainly had the distinction of changing the way superhero movies would be marketed, using classic rock and witty banter to show that these films could have a sense of humor about themselves, but that hardly redeems it (in fact, it might actually condemn it all the more). So, as I walked into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I was trepidatious. It seemed to me that Marvel would have a hard time not doubling down on the successful elements of the first film and simply serving up more of the same. Thankfully, the studio seemed to see the success of the first film as license to allow James Gunn to cut loose and tell a truly unique story, realized with some genuinely gorgeous visuals and several exciting action (and comedy) sequences.

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Home Video Hovel: Firestarter, by Tyler Smith

13 Apr

How anybody can adapt a noted novel by Stephen King, people it with respected actors like George C. Scott, Louise Fletcher, and Martin Sheen, and then churn out a movie so uneventful, so inconsequential as 1984’s Firestarter is a bigger mystery than anything that occurs in the film itself. But, of course, the moment we see the name Dino De Laurentiis pop up in the opening credits, we really shouldn’t be so surprised by the mediocre schlock that follows. A producer with an obvious love for dumb spectacle, De Laurentiis’ involvement with Firestarter pretty much guaranteed that whatever deep material might have been found in King’s original novel would be cast aside in favor of a bunch of stuff bursting into flame, again and again.

And again and again.

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The Case for Christ: A Minor Miracle, by Tyler Smith

7 Apr

Jon Gunn’s The Case for Christ manages to accomplish what so many Christian films have failed to do. While so few of the characters found in modern Christian films ever really register as real, flesh-and-blood human beings, The Case for Christ is peopled with flawed, struggling characters who live in the same world as the rest of us. That combined with the investigative journalistic nature of the story, and we arrive at a film that, while certainly imperfect, is often effective and occasionally even powerful.

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WonderCon 2017: Midnight, Texas Pilot Review, by Tyler Smith

1 Apr

To refer to Midnight, Texas as “Twin Peaks-lite” wouldn’t be particularly insightful. This isn’t because it’s unfair, but because  the comparison – and inevitable shortfall – is so obvious that to even use that as a shorthand could be considered lazy. Yes, the show is similar in structure and sensibility, but it definitely wants to be its own thing, rather than just a Twin Peaks clone. Unfortunately, the other elements of the show are also derived from other sources, such as the X-Men comics. By combining these elements – to make a show about a small town of supernaturally gifted people – the creators of Midnight, Texas try to distinguish themselves through tone and a unique Western setting, but the similarities to other properties are just too great and we can’t help but compare the show – unfavorably – to the countless other books, movies, and TV shows that came before.

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Prevenge: Baby Bump In the Night, by Tyler Smith

24 Mar

Alice Lowe’s Prevenge is the latest in a recent line of horror movies about women attempting to navigate the difficult paths of motherhood and loss. Films like The Descent and The Babadook explored the emotional terror of trying to hold oneself together in the midst of agonizing grief. Prevenge seems to pay homage to these films – along with a heavy dose of Rosemary’s Baby, for good measure – but adds in a big helping of glib humor that doesn’t always land, but always keeps the film interesting.

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Logan: Lone Wolf, by Tyler Smith

2 Mar

It’s hard to know exactly where to start with James Mangold’s Logan, the latest and possibly last film to feature Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. On one level, it’s a bold and unflinching character study, with an honest, vulnerable performance at its center. On another level, however, it is a run-of-the-mill action movie with an ever-so-slight superhero twist. The film reminds me of any number of modern thrillers featuring Liam Neeson, in which an older man with a violent past must tear through an army of opponents in order to protect an innocent. Only when the film allows Hugh Jackman the space to really inhabit the character does the film become something truly special. If only the film around those moments were more inspired, Logan could have been a superhero film on par with The Dark Knight or Spider-Man 2. Unfortunately, it often comes close to superhero greatness but ultimately falls just short, working much better as a character study.

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Split: Schlock Treatment, by Tyler Smith

20 Jan

M. Night Shyamalan’s Split is so silly, so trashy, so unabashedly schlocky that one really can’t resist being remarkably entertained while watching it. It helps that Shyamalan employs all of his best visual and editing tricks – along with a fair amount of storytelling charm – to help sell the central concept. The story of a young man with 23 distinct personalities and the young women he abducts attempting to navigate those personalities to freedom requires commitment on the part of all involved, and this film is nothing if not totally committed. By the end, I had been won over and was able to revel in the pure wacky earnestness of it all, which may sound like an insult, but is actually a testament to the power of a filmmaker to transcend his conceptual limitations.

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Home Video Hovel: The Squid and the Whale, by Tyler Smith

12 Dec

How do we react when life kicks the chair out from under us? A loved one passes away, we lose our job, we get sick; there are dozens of scenarios that would change the dynamic of our lives were they to happen to us. Examining our reactions to unexpected suffering is a staple of all different forms of art. What many books, plays, songs, and films often depict is a certain nobility in suffering; a person learning to find their inner strength and persevere in the face of adversity. This is all well and good, but not every story can end like that. Sometimes the specific details of our loss, or our own frailty, prevent us from handling things in a healthy way, and we can become virtually intolerable to deal with. This is the stuff of good drama, too, as we see from Noah Baumbach’s domestic masterpiece The Squid and the Whale.

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