Tag Archives: 3stars

Dead Pixels

[3 stars]

If IT Crowd had been purely about gaming, it would have been something like this riotous look at the sub-culture of dedicated players.

Though Alexa Davies (Spaceship) and William Merrick (Poldark) are the indisputable center of this absurd comedy, it wouldn’t work without Charlotte Ritchie (McDonald & Dodds) providing a normal center for them to bounce off of. David Mumeni (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) and Sargon Yelda (Strike) round out the comedy chops of the digital gang.

For 22 minutes of silliness, that mirrors real life a bit too much at times, this is a great choice. It manages to be both funny and sad while defending and skewering its characters.

Now the real question is why in Atari’s name did the CW ever purchase this show when they have to bleep it every few seconds? They don’t even offer an uncensored version online. Honestly, it was unwatchable on broadcast, but worth finding online or on disc elsewhere.

Underwater

[2.75 stars]

From three minutes into this movie it’s just a suspense run. Not a particularly surprising one, but fairly well engineered to keep you on the edge. Of course, that’s often mucked up by the challenge of figuring out who’s in trouble when and where since so much of the time they’re in heavy gear, but that’s a different aspect to discuss.

Certainly, at least, Kristen Stewart (Charlie’s Angels) provides a relatively strong lead. She’s even somewhat believable as the mechanical engineer “sciencing the shit” out of stuff to survive. OK, really more Macgivering it, but you get the idea. The others… well, you do have to wonder why the hell the company even allowed them on their multi-billion dollar rig in the first place. I couldn’t figure out their value-add or purpose even by the end of the movie.

Her colleagues are a diversity panel’s dream, for no particular reason. They all do fine with what they have, but what they have isn’t a lot. Vincent Cassel (Jason Bourne), Mamoudou Athie (The Front Runner), Jessica Henwick (Iron Fist), and even the cypherish John Gallagher Jr. (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) create characters with some depth and sympathy, if not credibility. Only TJ Miller (Deadpool) is less than a complete person, serving entirely for comic relief that feels very out of place and makes him seem a fool.

Basically, this is a bit of Abyss meets Cloverfield meets Alien meets, oh, figure it out for yourself if you dare. It’s a 90 minute romp with a  lot of fun effects, some good scares, and an absurdly thin plot. Director William Eubank (The Signal) didn’t really bring what talent of his I’ve seen before, other than the pacing. And the script by Brian Duffield (Insurgent) and Adam Cozad (The Legend of Tarzan) just didn’t hold together well. But it may be enough to get you through.

And, yes, my rating is splitting a lot of hairs, but I just couldn’t live with giving it three stars given all the plot and other issues. What I will say, however, is that it’s certainly a story of heroism and drive; for that it got to survive. And the “Live Bunny Montage” on the extras is definitely worth the viewing after the flick.

Fantasy Island (2020)

[3 stars]

It’s easy to forget that Fantasy Island wasn’t all 80’s kitsch and sweetness, it had a dark side. This remake tries to capitalize on that aspect. And, for the most part, it’s successful, even if the logic is stretched and the plot falls apart near the end. But up till then, director and co-writer Jeff Wadlow, along with the rest of his previous Truth or Dare? team (Jillian Jacobs and Chris Roach), is somewhat clever in how he helps it embrace both aspects of the classic show.

Much like the original, this is a collection of stories. In the wide-ranging ensemble, Lucy Hale (Truth or Dare?), Maggie Q (Priest), and Jimmy O. Yang (Space Force) stand out by force of charisma. They’re joined by a number of other good players that bump the plot along, such as Michael Rooker (Brightburn), Portia Doubleday (Mr Robot), and Parisa Fitz-Henley (My Spy). The rest of the cast serve simply to fill out the story; not poorly, just not memorably.

However Michael Peña (Dora and the Lost City of Gold), in the pivotal Mr. Roarke roll, feels utterly wrong. You have to be both pulled to the man and terrified of him. Peña has neither the presence nor the menace necessary.

What I will grant the movie is that it is a movie, not just an overblown TV episode. But while it can stand on its own, I suspect it has much more impact as a retcon of the series. Were it not for the wobble near the end, it would have been much more satisfying. But it’s a pretty big wobble as it tries to wrap it all up. Fortunately, the final moments are a bit more fulfilling. As to whether you should book a trip here…well, that’s up to you.

Irresistible

[3 stars]

There is little subtlety to this latest outing by Jon Stewart (Rosewater). But, then again, did you expect any?

Steve Carell (Vice) and Rose Byrne (Instant Family) are the core of the movie. They are both absurd in their presentation…partly to make a point, but partly because Stewart just couldn’t resist hammering it all home. It’s a shame as pulling them back a little, to make it feel a bit more real, would have been more interesting. I wonder if he wasn’t trying to get a broader audience by making fun of the DC pundits with impunity. But, frankly, it only worked for the first few scenes of it… after that it became an SNL skit (with admittedly better writing and timing).

While there is a pile of really solid talent backing up and propping up the rest of the movie, it’s Chris Cooper (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) and Mackenzie Davis (That Awkward Moment) that carry it all home.

The best moments are, frankly, the pre-credit scenes and the end sequences, but you need the middle to get there, even if you have a sense of what’s coming; it is a comedy afterall.

I understand this doesn’t feel like a glowing review, and in ways it isn’t. But the movie is funny. And, more importantly, its points, which carry through the credits, are a call to action. It’s both a love letter and indictment of the current political system. One thing Stewart did very well was to edit it down to a swift 100 minutes so that it rarely overstays its welcome. But, even if you decide to bail on it, watch the short interview that runs during the credits. Understand that the absurd is not only possible, it’s legal. And while this doesn’t have the punch of All In: The Fight for Democracy as a call to action, it should urge you to your feet regardless.

Freaks: You’re One of Us (Freaks: Du Bist Eine Von Uns)

[3 stars]

I love that we are looking more and more at the dark side of superhero-dom. Mind you, we’re in danger of getting as swamped with those kinds of movies as we are the more earnest versions. But it’s nice to have some balance.

And Freaks is a bit more than just an anti-superhero tale. It’s a bare philosophical metaphor for mental illness and otherness in general. The argument can be made that almost all superhero stories are about otherness, but they often bury it or ignore it entirely in their stories, leaving it to critics to make the case. Freaks makes it front and center.

Though it is played for honesty, particularly by Cornelia Gröschel in the lead as a struggling, young parent, it drifts into a rather arch confrontation and events. Her counterpart, Tim Oliver Schultz, in particular, spirals pretty far afield from the grounded beginning. The result ends up being more like a TV pilot than a movie. That doesn’t make it bad. It’s very entertaining and relatively well thought-through. The approach does, however, make it less than it could have been.

The TV feel to the overall shape is partially due to director Felix Binder, who’s spent most of his career in the smaller venue and pushing shows. He made a lot of choices that were reflections of that experience. On the other hand, some of the success to the result also goes to writer Marc O. Seng, who wrote several of the episodes for Dark.

Basically, Freaks is a fun distraction for an evening. It trods well-known ground, but finds a way to keep it feeling fresh and provides characters to keep us interested.

Red Dwarf: The Promised Land (series 13)

[3 stars]

Way back in 1988, an outrageous show began with the spilling of a bowl of gazpacho. 32 years and 13 series later,  it’s still carrying on with a fan base to help it stay on its feet.

In their latest series, much like series 9’s Back to Earth, it’s a single, movie-length story rather than a bunch of episodes. Is it brilliant? Well, no, but it is a solid callback to its roots and with their particular vein humor that you’ll recognize.

Sure, you can write some of the dialogue before it’s even spoken, but that’s part of the comforting charm if you’re a fan. And comfort comedy is something very necessary these days. So heat up a vindaloo and pull up a seat for an evening of fun and silliness; if you’ve been looking for a Red Dwarf fix, this will scratch that itch. And if you’ve never found Red Dwarf, go back to the beginning and enjoy the ride… this will be waiting for you when you’re ready.

Red Dwarf Poster

Lucifer (5: penultimate series)

[3.5 stars]

I’ve said it before, but getting off broadcast was one of the best things that ever happened to Lucifer. And this season continues to get even better. In fact, they’re getting more inventive and having more fun than ever, while still building on the story and characters.

While this fifth series was originally going to be its last, Netflix granted them a sixth in order to pull together all the threads they’ve been stringing out. It makes for a much more focused and complex set of interactions, and a real sense of forward motion for the characters.

I admit that it’s still not brilliant writing, but the character work and humor continues to keep me coming back. And over these last couple seasons there has been a lot of growth for each of the characters as well. Lesley-Ann Brandt, especially, has an interesting path to tread, and continues to improve her chops in the process.

Lucifer Poster

 

Biohackers

[3 stars]

Germany is really producing some fun TV lately (think Dark). This newest, high-concept scifi conspiracy tale really works well… till near the end, when it’s a bit rushed and predictable. But up till then, the plot is nicely pushed along organically and without too much manipulation.

Luna Wedler, in the lead, manages to convey an intelligent adversary to her target, the coldly manipulative and driven Jessica Schwarz. And, of course, there’s a band of misfits helping it all along. And while Jing Xiang and Sebastian Jakob Doppelbauer are hopelessly silly through part of it, they are also entertaining as heck. Xiang, in particular, handles piles of monologue wonderfully. On the other hand, the more serious connections for Wedler are bit less clear in their motivations. Though they have depth, neither Adrian Julius Tillmann nor Thomas Prenn are entirely believable in their actions.

On the upside, this story was renewed, so we’re not to be left hanging on the final moments of the 6 episode wind-up. Suffice to say, it’s a pretty good ride, told in a way that didn’t put my teeth on edge with people being willful-stupid about those around them, or not speaking up when they should. In other words, most of the characters had some clear intelligence and lived in our world (science aspects aside). Definitely worth an investment of your time if you like these kind of shows.

Bloodshot

[3 stars]

For a distracting bit of action silliness, with some potential, this isn’t awful. It isn’t great either, but that has much to do with Jeff Wadlow (Truth or Dare?) and Eric Heisserer’s (Bird Box) somewhat bumpy script more than anything else.

This movie is the poster child for the challenge of where to begin a story. It has a 13 minute lead-in before the credits, which was an immediate alarm bell. Ultimately, I understood their choice, but it didn’t help the credibility of the movie. However, they did manage to get it to hold together, even if the flow of it (and some of the dialogue) were rough. Frankly, given their talent, I was little surprised by the end result.

The center of it all, as if you couldn’t tell, is Vin Diesel (The Fate of the Furious), who’s been searching for a new franchise and chasing the ghost of his first action-(anti)hero Riddick since he broke out. He’s never quite nailed another character that well, even taking Fast and Furious into account. He has the charisma and the attitude to carry this story, but he’s surrounded by uneven performances that range from mustache twirling to outrageous.

In the former group, Sam Heughan (Outlander) is the major offender. Guy Pearce (A Christmas Carol) comes in a close second, but his performance is more nuanced at times. In the latter, though he works in a weird way, is Lamorne Morris (Game Night) thanks to his comedy chops.

I imagine that first-time feature director Dave Wilson (Love, Death, & Robots) thought he could afford the extremes at the edges with Diesel and Eiza González (Paradise Hills) holding it together calmly in the center. He was wrong. It almost worked, but comic book adaptations are a challenge to start, and they only work in earnest. The second you give into the crazy, you distance the audience…unless that is the entire style of your flick.

All that said, I had fun and was entertained. It isn’t brilliant and won’t ever be the franchise Valiant or Diesel hoped for, but it isn’t a total waste of a night if you want a new story or enjoy the actors involved. Just keep the popcorn handy and be prepared to groan a bit till you understand the story… and then groan some more as it tries to wrap it all up.

An odd assortment for many tastes

Here’s a potpourri of material for all kinds of tastes. Though, admittedly, not all are easy to get your hands on.

Mysteries:

Ultraviolet
Not the movie (which isn’t so good), nor the vampire series (which isn’t so bad), but a Polish mystery series. It’s not quite a cozy series, but it isn’t a deeply effective procedural. The mysteries drive it along, but it’s just as much about the band of misfits solving crimes as it is the criminals. They also take a nice sharp left at the end of first season and into the second that shows they were working hard to keep it going. And while the second series isn’t a complete cliff-hanger, we’re still waiting to hear if it is renewed to continue the tale. Even so, there is enough closure that it is entertaining and gets better as it goes along.

Van Der Walk
A 2020 reboot of the 1970’s series, with Marc Warren (Revengers Tragedy, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell) in the title role. The mysteries are interesting, but not brilliant. It’s the characters and the interplay that keep it intriguing.

McDonald & Dodds
Another amusing detective odd couple story, with a few overwrought characters thrown in. Dodds, played by the wonderful character actor Jason Watkins, is the absolute center of these stories…all by being quiet and steady in the midst of chaos. Paired with relative newcomer Tala Gouveia, the two navigate a strained relationship into something quite a bit more interesting. Were it not for their Super, James Murray (6 Underground), being written like an outright fool, the show could really fly. As it is, the two episode inaugural series is fun, and I look forward to its return, but I hope they get the writing more under control.

YA Science Fiction: 

The Cul de Sac
This is a far from perfect Kiwi YA fantasy/sci-fi adventure, but with a nicely evolving mystery and characters. It’s still written for tweens, so don’t expect brilliant plotting and complex emotions, but do expect some amusing dialogue. The first two series built on each other nicely. I’m hoping the third series will wrap it all up nicely, though I suspect it won’t entirely. It will likely be a year before it is available to stream or buy as they seem to be being trickled out after their wrap in NZ a couple of years back. As a short distraction, at 6 ep. seasons/22 min. each, it’s entertaining.

Documentary:

We Are Freestyle Love Supreme
Do you know who Freestyle Love Supreme are? Well, this will tell you something of them, but not really showcase their talents. It’s a docu best seen by fans of the improvisational rap group or, individually, like Lin Mañuel Miranda (Mary Poppins Returns). It is really more a tale of how  show comes into being, with some insights into what it’s like to be a performing theatre creative in NYC.

The Go-Go’s
On the other hand, this music documentary is really very good and engaging. I wouldn’t have thought that the rise, and fall, and rise of the Go-Go’s would be able to keep my attention. But Alison Ellwood’s documentary is cleverly edited, and and the band are very open about their journey. In addition, Ellwood puts it all in great, historical context, following these young women and their influences and influence. This is a story about young women as well as about the music industry. It also is surprisingly reflective of Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains–or, perhaps, not so surprising, though that movie was completed before The Go-Go’s even hit their peak.