Category Archives: Streamed only

Godzilla: Singular Point

[3 stars]

Who would have thought they could find a new Godzilla tale to tell rather than remake after remake (however clever)? Singular Point is an amusingly complex tale of hyperspace, quantum physics, cryptology…and Kaiju. What more can you want in an entertaining anime? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it does have fun getting there and trying to explain it. And it has the one of the best weapon names every put forth in this genre.

I will admit that I watched the first episode and walked away for several weeks. There was something intriguing there, but I was worried it was going to just devolve into silly, overdone tropes. After I came back, they proved those assumptions very wrong. This is a very different tale of Godzilla, and a very different sort of battle for the planet.

This first series is fairly self-contained. If you watch through the final credits, there is a coda that opens it up for a follow-on story. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but given this last round, I’d give them a chance to pull me back in again.

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The Voyeurs

[3 stars]

The Voyeurs is a movie that demands your trust, but it doesn’t really do enough to earn it, even if it eventually pays off. And because of that, Michael Mohan’s dark trip down a twisted rabbit hole never quite attains the credibility it needs to get you from event to event.

The real weakness here isn’t the story, it’s the casting. It aspires to be Rear Window with a dash of Eyes Wide Shut. But that cocktail requires a certain level of maturity and depth of character. We have to believe in each of these people and their choices. It isn’t that we haven’t all been in the position of choosing whether to keep watching something we shouldn’t or not, it’s that we have to believe in the obsession that builds for the main couple we’re watching (who are watching others…love the meta yet?).

Justice Smith (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) holds his own in this respect fairly well. So does Natasha Liu Bordizzo (Wish Dragon). But neither of their partners are, frankly, old enough to be believable. Sydney Sweeney (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood) is literally too young to have the position her character holds. She has nice range, if a bit shallow, but she’d have to have been a tween in college. And Ben Hardy (6 Underground) has the needed ego and frenetic energy, but none of the magnetism and maturity to help ground the character and set him apart from those around him. And it makes the dynamic between him and Sweeney somewhat frat-boyish rather than with more levels.

I did appreciate Mohan’s approach to the story and the complexity he engineered, but the casting issues really diminished the impact. Though the addition of Katharine King So (Transplant) as a grounding voice in the midst of it all helped. Still, the movie is filmed and edited well, and the story will pull you along, even if you cringe at a few particular moments. But Mohan crafted the journey nicely. I just wish he had cast it to better meet his goals.

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Motherland: Fort Salem (series 2)

[ 3 stars]

I can’t say the first series of this show did more than intrigue me. The ideas were interesting, if illogically constructed at times, and the writing spotty, at best. But they had gathered a good bunch of talent and there was an inkling of complexity that brought me back for series 2.

Fortunately they upped their game in this second round and reworked some of their logic (without apology) to create a topical and suspenseful story. The writing still isn’t perfect, but the character development expanded considerably and several mysteries are explained. However, to be honest, the writing still has some real problems, including a “surprise ending” that is anything but. However, there is also plenty to chomp on and commit to.

When the usual offerings on the use of magic are something more soapy like Discovery of Witches, this more action-and-suspense oriented storyline is welcome. Like Warrior Nun it also puts women at the center of power and story. Of course, like that it’s also referencing a clear threat of patriarchy, but that’s unavoidable. And, fortunately, it is all subtext rather than direct.

If you haven’t tried the show out yet, give a crack. The improvements in the second series give me hope for the upcoming third, which promises to be full of even more action and intrigue.

Brand New Cherry Flavor

[3 stars]

It’s hard to turn away from this unexpectedly magical, dark, and twisted Hollywood-meta horror ride. It not only echoes so much of what has come before (and current affairs), but builds its own mythos and little corner of hell. And Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel) and Catherine Keener (Incredibles 2) are wonderfully matched as they share and spar.

It’s also easy to see why both of these women took on their roles. Salazar gets to grow up and command the screen. Keener (Incredibles 2) took the challenge of trying to make the truly weird and fantastical into something accessible and believable. And she rides that line beautifully.

There are a few men playing in their world. Jeff Ward (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as a naif pulled into the maelstrom and Eric Lange (Wind River) as the catalyst and Weinstein stand-in. But one of the more unexpected, though his role is rather small, was Manny Jacinto (The Good Place, Nine Perfect Strangers). Jacinto proves again what a chameleon he is; every role his sense of age, even of height, seem malleable.

If you like the weird and dark, The ride of Cherry Flavor is worth every minute you get to spend with it. It’s sense of dread and magic, power and control as it all shifts and is explained is compelling. The ending…well, let’s just say they wimped out. Yes, it sort of completes, but they left it wide open for a sequel. Honestly, I would have preferred a solid ending. But that is only the last few minutes of an 8 episode dark epic that grabbed me and pulled me along, even against my will at times. It isn’t for everyone, but it is very well crafted and wonderfully acted.

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He’s All That

[2.5 stars]

This movie didn’t really need a write-up, but I’m a completist. Put simply, it’s a bit of utter (remake) fluff is aimed at the 14-year-old romantic in everyone. It’s depth rises to the level of a Nickelodeon after-school distraction or Disney+. There is little to nothing surprising or challenging in the story. But it is done in earnest and, despite a rushed and surfacy script, executed without any major bumps.

You should feel free to skip it or, if you really just need some mindless optimism and sense of young possibility, go for it. I won’t judge…I was there already.

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SAS: The Rise of the Black Swan (aka Red Notice)

[3.5 stars]

Sure, this is a standard action/suspense thriller in most ways. But from the start it suggests a question that pulls you along wondering who it is going to focus on. While that becomes clearer as the story progresses, it is by no means simple…in fact, in some ways Laurence Malkin’s script is more than a little subversive in his attempt to show something a bit (just a bit) closer to the reality of mercenary and professional killer mentality. But that’s all the subtext.

Generally, this is just rockin’ good actioner with some solid talent and some clever surprises. It is cold and violent, however it also has a little bit of everything for almost everyone; even humor and romance.

Sam Heughan (Bloodshot) and Hannah John-Kamen (Brave New World), along with Tom Hopper (Umbrella Academy) are on one side of the line. Ruby Rose (The Meg, Batwoman) and Tom Wilkinson (The Happy Prince) are on the other while Andy Serkis (A Christmas Carol) gets to straddle the space in-between. The interplay between them all is understated and honest, if sometimes a bit ‘managed.’  But while this is probably the biggest project director Magnus Martens has tackled, he’s done a credible job keeping it all moving and clear.

One of the better aspects of this movie is that you can come to it just wanting to be entertained, or think about aspects of the world it takes time to expose. It doesn’t dwell on any of that…it is very much of its genre, but it does help set it apart just enough. It helps it feel new in a sea of similar thrillers. Certainly the script helped, but the actors also found just the right delivery. They aren’t acting evil, they are just acting as the sociopaths/psychopaths they need to be–on both sides of the line. This ended up being a solid launch to a possible franchise and I’d definitely be back to see where they could take it.

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The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf

[3 stars]

It’s been a while since Witcher came on the scene. And we’re still awaiting December’s launch of the next season. In the meantime, we’ve got this surprisingly entertaining animated movie to provide some background and to give us a new story. And while the script attempts to make this work as a standalone story, it is probably best viewed after seeing the first season of the show rather than as an entry point.

There is some nice voice talent carrying along the tale and filling out the complicated world. Theo James (Divergent Series: Allegiant), Mary McDonnell (The Closer), and Lara Pulver (Legacy: Black Ops) are the ones that rise to the top. Each of them has some wonderfully subtle moments to navigate and depths to expose.

Nightmare of the Wolf is definitely not aimed at kids. For all intents, and even in structure, it’s very much of the Witcher brand and approach. Expect blood, betrayal, sex, and innuendo. And, of course, a lot of fighting, death, and violence. But the chaos and story builds to a final point and, sadly, much of it feels disturbingly relevant to the real world and its current state. Yet it remains entertaining and intriguing…and definitely whets the appetite for the upcoming continuation of the live action show.

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Intergalactic (series 1)

[3 stars]

You might have missed this bit of British scifi that dropped recently. It would have been easy to as it only appears to be on Peacock at the moment. And having seen it I can say that I so wanted to like this more than I did. There are some great ideas in Intergalactic, but it is also more than a little forced and generic and just a bit cliché. Though, honestly, it got better as it went along. You really just have to grit your teeth through the first episode and go along for the ride.

What helps is that the actors really give it their all, committing to the world and the relationships, which helps carry it through. There is no sense of a nod-and-a-wink about the genre. Savannah Steyn (The Tunnel) is our connection into the story, and while everyone has a plot to follow, hers is the core. Among the motely crew, Eleanor Tomlinson (War of the Worlds, The Nevers) is the real standout. However, the brutal and brutalized Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Years and Years, Sex Education) certainly throws down and has an unexpected arc. New comers Diany Samba-Bandza and Imogen Daines add in quite a bit as well, especially as they bounce Thomas Turgoose (Terminal). Wild cards in the crew are Natasha O’Keeffe (Misfits) and Oliver Coopersmith who are both tacked onto the gang in uncomfortable ways.

Running things from the home planet are Parminder Nagra (Five Feet Apart) and Craig Parkinson (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch). Both recognizable and capable, but not really with much to do here beyond gnawing furniture. I will say that Nagra gets to play a rather deeply cold security head, however.

The production, sadly, is so intensely claustrophobic and Doctor Who-quarry level design at times that it gets a bit wearying. Which isn’t to say there aren’t some nice effects as well. But everywhere other than the ruling class is filthy to the point of absurdity in a high tech universe. And the elements driving the plot are just a little too buried and take a while to come into focus. All that said, should they get another round I’d like to see where they could take it now that they’ve laid the foundation and the bigger tensions bare. However, that doesn’t appear likely anymore. A shame they didn’t have better writers to help launch this potentially rich universe.

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Sweet Girl

[3 stars]

This one surprised me. I went into it expecting just a bit of action escapism and got a bit more than that. Unlike some of its comparisons to Taken, this story of corruption, power, and family starts morally gray and ends up in a blender of ambiguity that is unlike most movies of its ilk. And what starts as a standard sort of anti-hero action flick, it evolves into something more interesting by the end.

Jason Momoa (Aquaman) is the headliner here. He does fine and gets to have a range of emotions in between his fights. Nothing spectacular, but he’s good enough and feels more right as the story unfolds. As his daughter, Isabela Merced (Dora and the Lost City of Gold) gets to walk more interesting lines even as she follows in his wake. She is rapidly growing up into an actor with some real range.

One rep from each side of their battle is interesting to watch as well. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (6 Underground) for his cold calculation and Lex Scott Davis (Rebel) for her attempts, however unlikely, to gain control of the situation and help Merced. I’d have liked to see more from Amy Brenneman (Words and Pictures), but she served her purpose in the tale well enough.

The script by Gregg Hurwitz (The Book of Henry) and Philip Eisner (Event Horizon) is clever even with its procedural and logic flaws (and they are legion). But the story keeps moving along with nice riffs on tired tropes. For a first feature directing gig, Brian Andrew Mendoza does a credible job with the story and the pacing. It doesn’t always feel like it, but it remains on point and moving forward constantly. When you’re in the mood for a slightly dark and violent story about revenge and comeuppance by the little guy that’s more than just a little different, this will do.

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Home Before Dark (series 1 & 2)

[3.5 stars]

Though based on a real story, this is the Nancy Drew update that we really needed and deserved, as opposed to the silly supernatural weirdness the CW served up. And Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project) is the perfect embodiment of that literary staple. She balances a truly adult drive with the inexperience and naiveté of a young tween who sees the world as the simple place we all wish it were. And through that, and despite her struggles, comes away with a resolve that provides an example for all those around her.

There are some wonderful supporting roles around Prince. And without them, she could not have succeeded, but this is her show through and through, despite the subplots and deep personal tragedies that unfold over the first two seasons.

Among those adding the scaffolding, Michael Greyeyes (Rutherford Falls), Jim Sturgess (Hard Sun), Reed Birney, Abby Miller, Aziza Scott, and particularly her young, fellow detectives Deric McCabe (A Wrinkle in Time) and Jibrail Nantambu stand out over the 20 episodes as her drivers and supporters.

Series creator Dara Resnik never loses sight of the core of what makes this series work: it’s unending optimism in the face of opposition and complacency. Which isn’t to say it’s Pollyannaish, it most certainly is not. Though some of the plot jumps along a bit too easily and quickly, it does so in service to the wide audience it is aimed at and to be able to cover as much ground as possible in each 10 episode series.

The first two seasons are a nicely interlaced diptych. And, at the end of it all, there is an indication of the way forward. I went into this show with a huge dollop of uncertainty, but it won me over almost instantly and carried me with it through to the end of this most recent season. I definitely recommended it for older kids, but there is plenty in there for adults, especially parents, who have many plotlines of their own running in parallel.

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