Tag Archives: 2stars

Space Force

[2 stars]

OK, I’m throwing in the towel on this one.

Up front, I am not and never was an Office fan. The humor just never worked for me…not that I hadn’t lived the cube-life at points, and not that I hadn’t seen a good deal of the truth in the satire. However, mean humor just doesn’t entertain me, it angers me. So, sort of counter-productive. Because of that, it was with trepidation that I entered into the world of Space Force. And it was pure stubbornness that I delayed and delayed this write up trying to watch more of the show even though it left me empty of joy.

What made The Office work was its core truth and that its audience knew, and had internalized, that truth. This satire has none of that advantage. It needed to find something more human for us to latch onto. Frankly, it reminds me of a lot of the issues Avenue 5 has.

The fact is, at least in this household, that despite a cast packed with talent, the show feels surprisingly lifeless. It has moments, but because it isn’t in a familiar setting, and because its inception itself feels like a national joke (something they lean into), it’s hard to relate to or support the characters. We may understand the military, but most of us don’t live it, unlike office life. In other words, we can’t quite grasp all of the intent and, frankly, based on some of the people I know, I know they got a lot of it completely wrong.

With all that said, I couldn’t make it past the second episode, even with John Malkovich (Velvet Buzzsaw) chewing up the scenery in a most satisfactory way. I tried. You may find it more to your liking than I did…humor is highly individual, afterall.

Les Enfant Terribles

[2 stars]

I know it’s a classic, but it no longer (if it ever) works. It comes close, but refuses to gel. Generally, the world agreed that director Jean-Pierre Melville and writer/adapter Jean Cocteau’s collaboration yielded an imperfect translation to screen. It made “classic” status as part of their bodies of work, not this particular work itself.

In all honesty, this wasn’t the movie I had intended to see. Way back in 1995 I was lucky enough to see Indiscretions on Broadway. That was an adaptation of Cocteau’s earlier tale and film, Les Parents Terrible.  A story that was a much more interesting, funny, sad, and dark tale of familial life and emotional incest. Over the intervening years, somehow the two titles got munged in my head and I ended up queuing Les Enfants. The two are not comparable.

None of the cast in this film really had much of a career. There is the nice curio that Cocteau himself provides the narrator’s voice-over. But nothing much else about the movie stands out as a reason to recommend it. Save your time and find some other french cinema of the era to sate your education and/or curiosity. Or, if you want, something newer that reflects that era, like The Dreamers.

Les Enfants Terribles Poster

Plus One (+1)

[2.5 stars]

There is a definite How to Talk to Girls at Parties gone very dark here. Rather than a sweet, if odd, tale of self-discovery begun at an epic house party, this edges into horror. And not particularly satisfying or scary horror at that. It is more suspense and mystery horror, leading to a real moment, but somewhat ponderously getting there.

The cast is relatively untried. Only Logan Miller (Being Frank) stands out. But, I will admit, that Colleen Dengel (Damsels in Distress) and Natalie Hall get some unexpected moments. However the main action is driven by a rather weak Rhys Wakefield. The story is very much on his shoulders and only works if his path makes sense and if we have any sympathy for him. We don’t. Not at all. And without that, the whole house of cards collapses at the end.

To be fair to Wakefield, director Dennis Iliadis (Last House on the Left) took Bill Gullo’s (The Quitter) script and followed its lead, but left it stilted on screen. He didn’t help his actors find their truths in the way he needed to sell what could have been a wonderfully creepy and psychologically challenging tale. He did, at least, keep the story clear in the midst of a complicated concept.  And the script, while clever in idea, doesn’t quite go all the places it could have to make it richer and more interesting.

I can’t say I recommend this one, but some may find it satisfying. It has moments if not a completely satisfying delivery. If you gravitate to teen splatter horror (which this isn’t, per se, but it bumps against those tropes) you’re more likely to find it fun.

+1

The Great Upload on Avenue 5

Here are a few more streamers. Two worth your time and one that is entirely up to your sense of humor. Then again, I suppose they all depend on your sense of humor, but let’s just say I found the first two to have more of an easy entry and wider appeal, but that may just be me…

The Great (Hulu)
If The Favourite had spawned a series, in style and concept, this would have been the result. I know it is actually based on different IP (a play) but you can’t help but see the parallels, especially with Nicholas Hoult (The Current War) in one of the leads.

But this is really Elle Fanning’s (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) moment, her chance to take the reins and reign as an adult. Watching her navigate her world, and the absurd situations, is a riot and, at times, terrifying. Helping her along in her conspiracy to bring sanity to Russia are Sacha Dhawan (Doctor Who) and Pheobe Fox (Eye in the Sky). And Belinda Bromilow (Doctor, Doctor) and Sebastian De Souza (Medici) add a wonderful counterpoint and humor to it all. Even Charity Wakefield (Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio) and Adam Godley (Umbrella Academy) add a sort of caustic and clever nastiness. Honestly, there are too many good performances to call them all out. If you’re up for some (sort of) period comedy, this one is worth the effort.

The Great

Upload (Prime)
A little bit science fiction, a little bit rock-n-roll… ok, more a little bit Sleeper with a huge dash of Her, though both with backflipping twists on the approach. Robbie Amell (ARQ) and Andy Allo (Pitch Perfect 3) drive this show wonderfully. Allo, in particular, skips through emotional changes like a quick-change artist. Creator Greg Daniels brought his Parks and Rec comedy chops, but with a bit more restraint, to sell this entertaining satire that also comes with a nice mystery embedded. The first series is a solid start, but while it gets to a pause-point, it definitely ends on some serious cliffhangers. Fortunately, it is already renewed, so you won’t be left hanging forever.

Upload

Avenue 5 (HBO)
Yeah, I’m sorry, I just don’t get the appeal of this one. And it’s not because Hugh Laurie (The Night Manager) isn’t great fun. Nor is it that Lenora Crichlow (Collision) doesn’t manage to balance out the craziness. It’s that the writing and, particularly, Josh Gad (Little Monsters) just don’t know how to set limits that keep it all fun.

What could have been the black humor counterpart to Aniara, turns into a broad comedy mess without much to say for itself.

Avenue 5

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divu)

[2 stars]

Sometimes you dig back into film history, particularly with The Criterion Collection as a guide, and find undiscovered gems to fill the gaps in your understanding of film. Valerie, clocking in at 50 years old, is not one of those. This hackily made vampire tale is, at best, confusing.

Director and adapter Jaromil Jires created a fractured tale of sexual awakening wrapped in a fable-like sensibility. Not unusual for the time and not off the mark for the analogies. But the presentation is a jumble of scenes that are often separated by hard cuts that provide little sense of relationship between them.

Jaroslava Schallerová in her first role as Valerie is the picture of confusion and innocence with a sense of longing. But it isn’t a breakthrough performance and it has no lasting impact. In fact, the film had no impact at all on me. Even in an historical context I found it overwrought and self-conscious to the point of annoyance; it was trying to commit art. And yet, I finished watching it as I kept hoping it would resolve into a story. It almost did.

Frankly, I’d skip this, but you may feel differently or have an interest in where it fell in cinema. At least the restoration is fairly good and it’s only about 75 minutes long, so your investment isn’t much if you decide to check it out.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Saint Laurent

[1.5 stars]

When you watch a biopic, you come to it with two main objectives. First, you hope to learn a bit about the subject themself, their life and personal drives, successes, and demons. You also want to know more about how they impacted the world and people around them.  Bertrand Bonello’s painful Saint Laurent focuses very much on the first, but neglects just about everything else.

To begin with, you have to care about fashion to even approach this movie. Why else would you care? I’ve seen many such biopics on the fashion industry and was tangentially involved in it for many years as well. But even with my more-than-average knowledge I had trouble following the plot and points Bonello wanted to make. He structured the film using multiple time frames, always jumping ahead to an inflection point in Yves’s life and then rewinding to show us how he got there, and then setting the next point and doing it all over again through to his death…sort of.

The point is that we just don’t care about the man. We don’t really see anything positive from his actions, only his debauched and depressing spiral trying to find himself while somewhere offscreen, somehow, he builds a fashion empire. We have no sense what he really contributes to that empire, other than his name, nor what made it so important to world fashion. I can’t even tell if Bonello did it from love or loathing.

Honestly, this is a movie to avoid regardless of your interest, unless it is entirely puerile for either the main actor Gaspard Ulliel, who does a lot with what he was given to work with, or for the gay clubbing world of Paris fashion in the 70s-90s. Ulliel is backed up onscreen by Jérémie Renier (Frankie), Léa Seydoux (The Lobster), and Aymeline Valade (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), not to mention the suitably weird and creepy Louis Garrel (The Dreamers). Well “backed up” is a little of an overstatement. They provide some local color and framework, but very little substance.

In the end, Bonello does bring it to a point/comment: regardless of Laurent’s life, it didn’t affect his art and impact on women’s fashion. In other words, love the art not the man or, perhaps, an artist’s personal life shouldn’t be part of the equation. Either is a legitimate point to argue, but it didn’t require 2.5 hours of descent into disaster (if it is to be fully believed) that was his life.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

[2.5 stars]

Such promise and such lost opportunities. And what a waste of wonderful production design. I had such hopes for this, but Harley Quinn is a sidekick and she works best as a foil and commentator. As a main character, she is a challenge. A challenge the filmmakers failed to meet.

Christina Hodson’s (Bumblebee) script starts off appropriately hyper-frentetic, but never really finds a focus. And director Cathy Yan was very much out of her depth, taking this on as her first feature gig. The main issue doesn’t even quite become apparent till the final moments of the film, which plays into the title and the effort. But it is at that point that the issues crystalize.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Margot Robbie (Bombshell) isn’t entertaining. She isn’t brilliant, but she’s fun. And Rosie Perez (The Dead Don’t Die), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Gemini Man), Jurnee Smollett-Bell (True Blood), and newcomer Ella Jay Basco all deliver entertaining, if disconnected, performances to support Robbie and the movie. (Though I do have to call out that, though not an actor in her retinue, what a total waste of a hyena!)

However, the men are a bit less helpful. Ewan McGregor (Doctor Sleep) as the main big bad just never quite worked. His performance was forced and without the tense terror that Joker brings to his mayhem (pick your actor for that one). As his sidekick, on the other hand, I must admit that Chris Messina (Ira & Abby) surprised. He is barely recognizable as the bleach-blond Zsasz, and is suitably creepy as evil gopher and knife man. But their story, both together and as plot drivers, is nebulous and unclear at best. We get the bones of it all, but there is no sense of the power dynamics in the city, especially given what we know of Gotham.

So, if you really must see this, do it for the design (costume, sets, and cinematography are all wonderful) and for the one-liners or moments. Run with that and call it a win. But, honestly, you can put this way down your list and wait till its free.

Damsels in Distress

[2.5 stars]

Damsels is full of the dry, pseudo-intellectual humor you’d expect from a Whit Stillman (Love & Friendship) movie. However, I honestly don’t know how to describe this movie. It’s entertaining in its way, and highlights some real talent, but isn’t really a story. It is a series of wry vignettes with some fun dialogue. But it is so self-conscious and absurd , by design, that there is no reality to cling to in order to care about the characters.

And the characters are populated by quite the cast. Greta Gerwig (Little Women),  Analeigh Tipton (Golden Exits), and Megalyn Echikunwoke (Almost Family, Vixen) are the primary clique and point of view. But there is a host of people they interact with. Aubrey Plaza (Child’s Play), Billy Magnussen (Velvet Buzzsaw), and Adam Brody (Ready or Not) among others.

But without a connection to any of these you get to the end and scratch your head. It isn’t clever enough to be social satire, and it isn’t personal enough to be revelatory or in any way a commentary. So, I say again, what is it? I can’t answer. If you like Stillman’s early work, this will probably resonate with you. If you don’t, you may enjoy it as a bit of sketch comedy that is loosely bound together by themes and characters. But if you want a full movie, look elsewhere.

Uncut Gems

[1.5 stars]

Sometimes you’re just not the audience for a film, whether due to timing or timbre. This latest Safdie brothers (GoodTime) offering is clearly done with ability and Adam Sandler (Murder Mystery) delivers an amazing performance, but I just couldn’t watch it.

Sandler’s character is on a collision course with disaster from the opening moments, not because of circumstance, but entirely because of his own self-destructive nature. Honestly, at the best of times I find that hard to stomach or invest in, but at this particular moment, I found it impossible.

So, if you like the Safdies’ work, you’ll likely love it. If you can handle a dark rumination on the nature of addiction and wonders of the universe in the microcosm, you’ll probably find it engrossing. If you’re looking for something just a bit more positive or less self-inflicted…look elsewhere.

Uncut Gems

Color Out of Space

[2.75 stars]

Tackling HP Lovecraft is an act of hubris most of the time, especially if done in complete earnest rather than humor (such as Cast a Deadly Spell).  But what do you expect when you’re dealing with subjects like elder gods that can make you insane just by looking at them? It isn’t easy to make that serious and genuine without a nod and a wink.

Despite the risk, Color Out of Space tackles the material head-on. And there are some good aspects to the result. The cinematography and production design of the landscape are exceptional. However, the script and direction by Richard Stanley (Hardware) lacks credibility for almost every character. The only one even close to believability is Elliot Knight (Life Sentence). However, I will admit happily that the script doesn’t talk down to its audience. There is a lot of subtle and unexplained action where the answers are in the background or obvious when paying attention.

I can’t say I understand why Joley Richardson (Emerald City) agreed to join this adventure, but credit to her for committing to it utterly. And Tommy Chong (Zootopia) adds a certain sort of meta fun to it all. The two young adult actors, Madeleine Arthur (Magicians) and Brendan Meyer (The OA), tackle what they can with what they’ve got. Sadly, poor Julian Hilliard (Haunting of Hill House) is only allowed to stare emptily most of the time rather than exercise any real craft. And despite a lot of chatter likening this to Nick Cage’s recent Mandy, this film at least has an understandable and semi-logical plot (as logical as Lovecraft ever was). It does, however, allow Cage to cut loose again as he loses his grip on control and reality.

Perhaps the best way to think of this is as a horror version of Annihilation since it shares some ideas at the root. Color Out of Space, however, veers away from Annihilation’s intellectual path and quickly devolves into a slaughter-fest once it gets going. I can’t say that the resolution and implications are exactly clear, even with some of the explanation, but at least it tries to wrap it up into something complete. Ultimately, this is going to depend on your personal taste. I would have been fine if I hadn’t seen it, even having appreciated some of its better qualities, but if you love Lovecraft or enjoy purely grim slasher events, this may fill the bill at a reasonable level for you.

Color Out of Space