Christopher Nolan’s films are always a bit hit-or-miss for me. When they work, I enjoy his dramatic tendencies and his sense of scale and spectacle. But when they don’t work, they really don’t work. To this day, Inception remains one of those films that I can watch repeatedly without growing bored. But I haven’t liked a Nolan film since The Dark Knight Rises. It’s with this level of trepidation that I approached Tenet. With movie theaters in my state closed for the foreseeable future, I can’t see the film anytime soon. But I can read its recently published screenplay. Based on the writing, alone, Tenet is weak. It’s devoid of any meaningful characters, hampered with a premise that never fully makes sense, and reads less like a film and more like a collection of loosely related set pieces. (2 out of 5 wands)
(NOTE: There are mild spoilers for Tenet ahead. Read at your own risk.)
Tenet: The Complete Screenplay (written by Christopher Nolan) Tenet is a global thriller whose action stretches across time zones, and stars Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and John David Washington. The film displays Nolan’s preoccupations, especially how Time can shift from one moment to the next.
I’m going to be blunt. I’m not much of a Superman fan. There’s nothing wrong with the character or anything, his stories just don’t do much for me. That said, there is something about a story that intrigues me. He’s an alien refugee from a war-torn planet who dedicates himself to protecting the Earth. So, I’m open to finding a Superman story I enjoy. That’s partly why I decided to watch Superman: Man of Tomorrow, the newest animated film from DC Comics. The other reason is that Darren Criss, whom I’ve been a fan of since his early Starkid days, was voicing Superman and I was curious to see how that turned out. Well, having seen the film, Superman: Man of Tomorrow is deeply enjoyable. It might even rank among my favorite of the recent DC animated films. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: This review contains mild spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Superman: Man of Tomorrow (written by Tim Sheridan, directed by Chris Palmer Meet Clark Kent. Sent to Earth as an infant from the dying planet Krypton, he arrived with as many questions as the number of light-years he traveled. Now a young man, he makes his living in Metropolis as an intern at the Daily Planet – alongside reporter Lois Lane – while secretly wielding his alien powers of flight, super-strength and x-ray vision in the battle for good. Follow the fledgling hero as he engages in bloody battles with intergalactic bounty hunter Lobo and before fighting for his life with the alien Parasite. The world will learn about Superman…but first, Superman must save the world!
I love a good twist on a familiar trope. We see so many superhero movies these days that it’s hard for any of them to feel particularly unique. It’s not as simple as just making a serious one or a comedic one; you have to find a new twist to explore with superheroes, otherwise, it just feels like more of the same. This is where Project Power comes in. Premiering recently on Netflix, Project Power is a superhero movie that focuses less on the super-heroics of the story and more on how individual characters might react to living in a world where superpowers are not only common but easy to obtain. It’s a new spin on a familiar genre that prioritizes the voices of characters often underrepresented in the world of superheroes, and it’s well worth a watch. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: There may be mild spoilers for Project Power. You have been warned.)
Project Power (written by Mattson Tomlin, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman) On the streets of New Orleans, word begins to spread about a mysterious new pill that unlocks superpowers unique to each user. The catch: You don’t know what will happen until you take it. While some develop bulletproof skin, invisibility, and super strength, others exhibit a deadlier reaction. But when the pill escalates crime within the city to dangerous levels, a local cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) teams with a teenage dealer (Dominique Fishback) and a former soldier fueled by a secret vendetta (Jamie Foxx) to fight power with power and risk taking the pill in order to track down and stop the group responsible for creating it.
Better late than never, eh? There’s something about alien stories set during the 1940s-1960s that appeals to me. Maybe it’s that whole “things were simpler back then” trope or the fun that comes with watching or reading an alien story set during the height of the nation’s obsession with UFOs. Whatever it is, I often enjoy stories set during this period. And I also enjoy stories that focus on old-timey radio/TV production. In this context, it should be no surprise that The Vast of Night immediately appealed to me. I hadn’t heard much about it, but the moment Amazon Prime suggested it to me, I was eager to watch it. In theory, it touched on a lot of things I love and it looked pretty darn good. Having seen it, it is pretty darn good. The Vast of Night is easily one of my favorite films of the year. It’s both modern and retro and is filled with charm, great performances, great direction, and a solid story. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: Mild spoilers for The Vast of Night may follow.)
The Vast of Night (written by Andrew Patterson and Craig W. Sanger, directed by Andrew Patterson) In the twilight of the 1950s, on one fateful night in New Mexico, a young, winsome switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and charismatic radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) discover a strange audio frequency that could change their small town and the future forever. Dropped phone calls, AM radio signals, secret reels of tape forgotten in a library, switchboards, crossed patchlines, and an anonymous phone call lead Fay and Everett on a scavenger hunt toward the unknown.
I don’t normally review screenplays – and I especially don’t normally review screenplays that were never produced. But I am making an exception here. Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman has had a long road to being adapted for another medium. A film version languished in development hell for 20-some years before finally getting turned into an upcoming Netflix TV series and an Audible audio drama. One of the writing teams attached to the film was Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, most famous for writing Shrek and the Pirates of the Caribbean series. In 1996, they wrote a draft of a Sandman film. That draft is publicly available for reading on their website, Wordplayer. It is for this reason that I feel comfortable reading and reviewing the script – the writers have put it out there and, at that point, it’s fair game to be looked at. And, in all fairness, I actually think their attempt at adapting The Sandman is a relatively good one. Obviously, those comics are better suited for a TV series, but as far as film adaptations go, it’s pretty solid. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)
Anyone who knows me knows that I went through a pretty hardcore Hamilton phase when that musical first hit Broadway. I played the album all the time, I knew the vast majority of the lyrics. I adored that show. And I still do, even if I think In the Heights is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s superior show. So, naturally, when the news broke that Disney+ would be debuting the live capture of the show, recorded just before the original cast departed, over a year earlier than expected, I was devilishly excited. I’d only seen bits and pieces of the show, having never had a chance to see it in person, and I was so ready to finally see this show that I loved. Well, now that I’ve seen the film, how do I feel? I mean, it’s Hamilton and I love Hamilton. But, to be honest, this capture is a bit of a mixed bag. (4 out of 5 wands.)
Hamilton (directed by Thomas Kail, written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda) An unforgettable cinematic stage performance, the filmed version of the original Broadway production of “Hamilton” combines the best elements of live theater, film and streaming to bring the cultural phenomenon to homes around the world for a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience. “Hamilton” is the story of America then, told by America now. Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B and Broadway, “Hamilton” has taken the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton and created a revolutionary moment in theatre—a musical that has had a profound impact on culture, politics, and education. Filmed at The Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway in June of 2016, the film transports its audience into the world of the Broadway show in a uniquely intimate way.
Who doesn’t love a good mystery? I feel like I say that every time I set out to review a mystery story, but it remains true. I just love mysteries. There’s something really enjoyable, though, about mysteries aimed at kids. It’s charming how simple those mysteries are and how they’re often used as a frame through which some kind of moral can be taught to children. Which is exactly where Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy comes in. An English dub of a Danish film, Nabospionen, Next Door Spy is a weird little film. Ostensibly aimed at kids, I’m unsure exactly who the target audience is. It features a pretty simplistic plot, some surprisingly less-kid-friendly language, some uneven vocal performances, and some beautiful animation. It’s a mixed bag, but an enjoyable one. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)
Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy (written and directed by Karla von Bengtson) The film follows ten-year old Agathe-Christine, who dreams about mystery from her new family’s basement, where she’s established a little detective bureau. But while solving the first mystery, she soon finds herself involved in a much more complicated case, bigger than she ever imagined.
1955’s Damn Yankees, with a libretto by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, music by Richard Adler, and lyrics by Jerry Ross, is iconic in its own right. It is a retelling of the classic Faust story, with Joe Boyd selling his soul to Mr. Applegate in order to play for his favorite baseball team – the Washington Senators. It marked the first collaboration between Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, leading to their multi-decade relationship and partnership. It ran for 1,019 performances on Broadway and spawned a reasonably successful film adaptation in 1958. So, why is Damn Yankees revived so rarely? Aside from a short, but successful, run in 2008 as part of the City Center Encores! Series, the last major American production of the show was its 1994 revival – a revival that ran for over two years, itself. If the show is as popular as it seems, why is it so rarely done outside of schools and other smaller theatres? Perhaps it has something to do with its subject matter and how well it has stood the test of time? That is certainly true for other Golden Age musicals. But is it true for Damn Yankees? Maybe not. In fact, Damn Yankees is one of the rare Golden Age musicals that holds up relatively well. However, there are certainly things that can be done to make it more appealing for a modern audience – most notably an update in its depiction of women. (more…)
I love Scooby-Doo. I’m way out of the age range for the show these days and I haven’t regularly watched anything from the series since the mid-2000s, but it still holds a special place in my heart. I grew up on those direct-to-VHS movies and re-runs of the old series (especially A Pup Named Scooby-Doo) on Cartoon Network. So, it’s one of those things that will always be special to me. However, I tend not to be one of those fans who get upset by changes made to the franchise. I really enjoyed the live-action Scooby-Doo films from the early 2000s and when I first saw the trailer for Scoob!, the latest theatrical reboot of the series, I was intrigued. The animation style was neat, it seemed to be teasing a pretty enjoyable story, and I was interested to see what some new talent could bring to the material. Thankfully, even with most movie theaters around the country closed, Scoob! was able to make its initial release date – just on PVOD instead of in theaters. So, having seen Scoob!, how is it? In short: it’s surprisingly solid. It’s a decent-if-predictable story with some good jokes, some beautiful animation, and a lot of heart. (Mild spoilers follow!)
Scoob! (written by Kelly Fremon Craig; directed by Tony Cervone)
“SCOOB!” reveals how lifelong friends Scooby and Shaggy first met and how they joined with young detectives Fred, Velma and Daphne to form the famous Mystery Inc. Now, with hundreds of cases solved and adventures shared, Scooby and the gang face their biggest, most challenging mystery ever: a plot to unleash the ghost dog Cerberus upon the world. As they race to stop this global “dogpocalypse,” the gang discovers that Scooby has a secret legacy and an epic destiny greater than anyone imagined.
Among the artistic industries suffering the hardest during the COVID-19 crisis is the Broadway community. Unlike with film and TV, Broadway has nearly nothing “in the can” that they can roll out to fill the time all of their theatres are shut down. No shows can be performed while all the theatres are closed and nobody can gather to see them. So, what is Broadway to do? Answer: release some of the musicals they’ve professionally filmed over the years. Which is where Bandstand enters. Directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler and featuring a book and lyrics by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor and music by Richard Oberacker, Bandstand tells the story of a group of PTSD-suffering World War II veterans who, after returning home from the war, form a band and compete in a nationwide songwriting competition. The show opened on April 26, 2017, and closed on September 17, 2017, playing only 166 performances. The musical was filmed towards the end of its run and shown in movie theaters in November 2018. Yet most of the public, even the theatre-going public, probably haven’t heard of it. With its early closure, its mixed reviews, and its lack of any major Tony nominations, Bandstand would seem to the definition of a flop destined to rot in obscurity. But does it deserve that reputation? From a financial standpoint, sure. But from a creative one? I’d argue the opposite. I’d argue that Bandstand is one of those forgotten treasures that hit Broadway at exactly the wrong time. It’s a show filled with captivating characterizations and excellent music and is well worth a watch. (Spoilers for Bandstand follow.)
Bandstand (directed by Andy Blankenbuehler, lyrics by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor and music by Richard Oberacker)
1945; as America’s soldiers come home to ticker-tape parades and overjoyed families, Private First Class Donny Novitski, singer and songwriter, returns to rebuild his life with only the shirt on his back and a dream in his heart. When NBC announces a national competition to find the nation’s next great musical superstars, inspiration strikes! Donny joins forces with a motley group of fellow veterans, forming a band unlike any the nation has ever seen. Along the way, they discover the power of music to face the impossible, find their voice and finally feel like they have a place to call home.