(On TV, May 2017) Innocuous but likable, Music and Lyrics manages to exceed the familiar average for romantic comedies, largely based on the strengths of its lead actors and the interesting backdrop in which the familiar rom-com situations occur. Hugh Grant stars as a washed-up popstar eking a living through royalties and small concerts in dismal places. When he’s asked to pen a song for a young and impulsive signer (Haley Bennett, playing a character that now seems like a slightly demented blend of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry), he comes to rely on an eccentric woman (Drew Barrymore, less bland than usual) to break through his creative block. The music-industry backdrop adds a lot to the film, especially in its high-comedy moments. Meanwhile, Grant and Barrymore work effectively together despite the fifteen-year age difference. Given those assets, it’s somewhat disappointing that the film can’t do anything else beyond relying on stock rom-com situations and false conflicts to juice up the drama. Even a mildly intriguing subplot about the female lead being the inspiration for a popular fictional antagonist eventually peters out to nothing much. Still, the film can coast a long time on its lead and backdrop, which helps make Music and Lyrics slightly more interesting than most of the other rom-com of the time. Give it a shot if you’re in that kind of mood.
(On Cable TV, June 2014) Just about the only noteworthy thing about The Hole is that it’s directed by Joe Dante, a veteran whose influence in the eighties and early nineties has faded to nothingness ever since. His professionalism certainly shows through this minor production: Despite an imperfect script and a family-friendly focus, horror film The Hole is handled professionally, has a pleasant rhythm and doesn’t let late-script disappointment get the better of its presentation. The 3D motif feels silly on the small flat screen, but the direction is clean and polished throughout. The story of three teenagers who discover a bottomless hole in their basement reflecting their deepest fears, The Hole is decidedly a horror film for young teenage audiences: it’s barely gory, low-key in its scare sequences and plays off childhood fears more than deep-set adult trauma. Nonetheless, the quality of the production holds it aloft even if the script doesn’t quite manage to hold together: not only does it spend its time on the symptoms of the hole rather than its root, it squanders some promising leads when it devolves to fairly standard “confront your deepest fears” messaging, along with a suddenly-bizarre finale that literalizes too many metaphors with sub-standard special effects. Chris Massoglia is a bit dull in the lead role, whereas Haley Bennett easily steals her scenes with a bubbly girl-next-door portrayal (although, typically, later script revelations contradict her early-movie reactions). There is, frustratingly, a lot of untapped potential in the initial set-up that is nowhere nearly fulfilled by the rest of the film. Still, it’s handled fairly well, can be watched without too much trouble and generally holds interest until the end. As far as horror movies go, it’s not too bad, and considering the wretched horror films aimed at younger teenagers, The Hole eventually ends up feeling like a welcome throwback to the kind of movies that Joe Dante himself was directing in the eighties.