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Misfire, by Bob Connally

5 Mar

In the years since his final appearance as Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe has made interesting and admirable career choices. Steering away from other big franchises, he’s taken chances with live theater as well as smaller films and television shows. In one of the more unique films of the past several years, Swiss Army Man, Radcliffe played a talking corpse who becomes a suicidal castaway’s new best friend. Radcliffe’s performance is truly wonderful and one of the better and more memorable film performances of the past decade. Now he stars in Guns Akimbo, a new film with a premise almost as bizarre as Swiss Army Man’s, though it sadly lacks that movie’s imagination.

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Classically Good, by Bob Connally

4 Mar

Some novels hold up as such classics that one adaptation just isn’t enough for film or television studios. Just a few months ago, Greta Gerwig’s wonderful big screen interpretation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women became a critical and box-office success, although there have been numerous adaptations- some in different languages- produced dating back to the silent era. Gerwig’s success was due largely to her finding a way to speak to modern audiences with material that was first published 150 years ago. Her Little Women doesn’t feel like it could have been made quite that way before now, which is what makes it such a deeply worthwhile venture in a world where so many other films and mini-series’ based on the novel already exist. Now, director Autumn de Wilde is delivering the seventh adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved Emma. (There are even more if you count Clueless and its Indian remake Aisha). So does it find a way to break through as strongly as Gerwig’s Little Women? Not quite, but it still has plenty to enjoy.

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Old Dogs, by Bob Connally

27 Feb

In 2010, Sylvester Stallone assembled a collection of big name action stars for The Expendables, what turned out to be a kind of sad attempt to reclaim ’80s glory. 2018 saw the much quieter release of Black Water, a film that trotted Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren onto an unconvincing submarine for one of the most boring action movies I’ve ever seen. Also, as of this moment Harrison Ford nears the beginning of production on a fifth Indiana Jones film and his 78th birthday. Expectations are not high. So why then does VFW work so well? It’s in part because, unlike The Expendables or Black Water, it doesn’t attempt to protect the vanity of its stars. Their ages are not only acknowledged but essential to the mentalities of the characters.

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Dropped Call, by Bob Connally

21 Feb

Jack London’s 1903 novel The Call of the Wild is the story of a dog torn between life as a pampered companion to humans and a life in his natural state as a wild animal. Chris Sanders’ new film adaptation is torn between the sensibilities of an animated kids movie and a dramatic live-action adventure that appeals to adults. This film’s inability to commit to one or the other leads to an ultimately dull movie that falls into that category of “Who is this for exactly?” It’s not a movie that will make you feel upset for having watched it, because you really won’t feel anything at all.

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A Long Way to Go, by Bob Connally

9 Feb

The first episode of VidAngel’s biblical television series The Chosen is a mostly dull approximation of a cable prestige drama. To the show’s credit, there is an attempt at production value but it doesn’t do much to draw us in over its first hour.

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Cinematic Panic, by Bob Connally

12 Jan

As a child, Sam Mendes was told the story of a messenger surviving through No Man’s Land during World War I. The story was told to him by his grandfather, Alfred Mendes who was in fact that messenger. In his autobiography, Alfred stated, “The snipers got wind of me and their individual bullets were soon seeking me out, until I came to the comforting conclusion that they were so nonplussed about seeing at seeing a lone man wandering circles in No Man’s Land, as must at times have been the case, that they decided, out of perhaps a secret admiration for my nonchalance, to dispatch their bullets safely out of my way.” Aside from being potentially the most dryly British sentence ever written, it serves as the inspiration for Sam Mendes’ new film, 1917, which presents a far more harrowing view of a trip into No Man’s Land.

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Saving the Universe, by Bob Connally

6 Jan

Three episodes into the new Disney+ series The Mandalorian, I wrote, “Given how divisive the films have become, Star Wars needs something that unites the fans in a positive way. Right now it looks like The Mandalorian could end up being just that.” Now that the first season of the series is complete and The Rise of Skywalker has been released, it appears that The Mandalorian is indeed the thing that has united the Star Wars fanbase more than anything else in this Disney era. There have been a few bumps here and there, but overall series creator Jon Favreau’s dive into the seedy underbelly of the Star Wars universe has focused on character while telling relatively small scale stories well. Compare that to the noisy, busy, and unfocused The Rise of Skywalker and it’s practically night and day. As much as J.J. Abrams’ film is an attempt to appeal to fans of the original trilogy, it’s Favreau who has made something that actually feels like those films in the ways that truly matter, which is in regards to character development, tone, and pacing.

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Good Choices, by Bob Connally

29 Dec

Twenty years ago, Adam Sandler was famous for playing a variation on the same character in virtually every movie he was in. Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Waterboy all existed as vehicles for Sandler to play a man who never matured past the age of 8 and who could be given to sudden bouts of unbridled rage. Even in movies such as The Wedding Singer or Big Daddy, the characters he played never strayed far from his comfort zone and the writers and directors who tailored those films to his style never challenged him. Enter Paul Thomas Anderson in 2002, coming off of his 3 hour, 8 minute operatic ensemble drama Magnolia

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Killing It, by Bob Connally

5 Dec

Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is the beloved author of numerous murder mystery novels. He’s just celebrated his 85th birthday with his children and grandchildren. His housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson) is making her morning rounds through his palace of a home… when she finds him dead, his throat slit. Her reaction to this discovery is a comical one. Thus the tone is set for Rian Johnson’s Knives Out.

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Bountiful Hunter, by Bob Connally

25 Nov

The first time the Star Wars universe extended to the world of television was in November of 1978. The Star Wars Holiday Special remains one of the most baffling TV programs ever produced. Between several minutes of Wookiee growling, the bizarre and misguided scene with Diahann Carroll, and, “Stir, whip, stir, whip, whip, whip, stir,” it’s like watching a train crash into an orphanage that was already on fire. There is, however, one part of the show that those of us who have subjected ourselves to it must admit isn’t entirely a disaster. While the cartoon short that introduced Boba Fett a year and a half prior to The Empire Strikes Back has strange and unpleasant looking animation – what’s with the chins? – it’s not a bad story. It gave fans their first look at the Mandalorian armor of the bounty hunter who would go on to capture Han Solo before dying in the most embarrassing way possible. (Yes, I know that according to the extended universe he climbed out of the Sarlacc pit but, to anyone watching Return of the Jedi in 1983, Boba Fett was dead. In the most embarrassing way possible.)

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