Tag Archives: 4stars

War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes is the first of this rebooted series that I actually went to the theater for. Like many, I was massively dubious when Rise of the Planet of the Apes hit screens back in 2011. Why bother remaking what was a wonderful, if campy, bit of social science fiction from the 70s? And, like many, I was massively surprised by the result (even with its one really huge leap of logic).

Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback’s  script for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continued to build on the world and characters, while improving the writing, and I got a bit more hooked. So I was willing to gamble on this third in the series, which had another Reeves/Bomback script, especially as the reviews were coming out massively positive prior to the release. And they’re not wrong.

This may be an action movie, but it is a movie first and action second. It is an intense piece of commentary on what it is to be human, what the value of war is, and how fundamentalist and biased beliefs, of any kind, on any side, only lead to destruction. Despite its 2.5 hour running time, it doesn’t feel long. And the final hour leading to the climax fairly bolts along. But without the heart beneath the skin of this film, it wouldn’t have worked.

Andy Serkis’s (Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens) Caesar is interesting to watch. Technology aside, it is about the directing by Matt Reeves and Serkis’s efforts. Caesar’s voice is practically flat through the film. His emotion is all in the eyes, mouth, and gestures, which is an interesting choice. It keeps him alien but accessible. We understand his emotions even if we don’t necessarily understand how he thinks all the time. It was a clever choice. It is also in direct opposition to Steve Zahn’s (Captain Fantastic) highly recognizable, and entertaining performance as Bad Ape. Or Karin Konoval’s emotive turn as Maurice.  

Wood Harrelson is the lone performance in this movie that I had trouble with. He isn’t quite intense enough, and yet also not laid back enough to feel believable. It is just a shade off, but it made him more a stock character, despite his rich backstory, than the charismatic leader he needs to be. It works, but I think they missed an opportunity for something truly impactful with him.

But this isn’t just about what’s new in the Apes universe. The movie is loaded with nods to the original series, which are fun to spot. The script never forgets it is a riff on something we might know well and it manages to reference major points without pulling you out of the tale they are telling. And their riff is a clever one indeed.

Something else to realize is that the film is definitely crafted for the big screen. It is loaded with wide, beautiful shots for both background and action scenes. It is also the kind of film that deserves to be supported because it is good; it isn’t just a hollow summer film. You’ll definitely have fun, be entertained, and even a bit touched. It completes the story begun in Rise, but allows for there to be future tales as well. Apes has everything you need and it is a step above a lot of the drivel summer usually throws at us. So get out and see this on the big screen. It is definitely worth the time and effort.

War for the Planet of the Apes

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2015)

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Really, yet another Midsummer Night’s Dream?” Or, perhaps, “Shakespeare? Honestly, why do I need to see this?” The answer to both is: Julie Taymor (The Tempest).

Taymor is one of the most visionary stage directors of our time. She employs simple techniques to create magnificent effects. Think the puppets in The Lion King, which have become her trademark. Midsummer certainly leverages that aspect of her talent, but also her ability to distill a play to its essence and manifest it. The opening moments of this filmed performance will grab you and make you wish you’d been in the audience. She takes several minutes before the first piece of uttered dialogue to visually create the world and your expectations, to invite you into a magical realm, to escape for a while into the silliness of this comedy.

There are a number of solid performances, but chief among them in Kathryn Hunter (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). Her Puck is brilliant and carries the show well through acting, voice, and movement. As Oberon, David Harewood (The Night Manager) brings both a power and heart to the self-important ruler, though it is still rather hobbled by the plot he must walk.

The Mechanicals, led by Max Casella’s (Jackie) Bottom, are suitably absurd, and each has their moment. But it is Zachary Infante (Carrie Pilby) as Flute that really shines in one of the play’s most important moments near the end of the film.

The approach to filming the play is done rather well, capturing both an audience feel and “in the action” keeping it from feeling too static. There are a few moments that I’d rather have seen from long shots, to really appreciate the staging, but generally, the cameras floated among the characters like the fairies in the play.

So here’s the truth: The play isn’t perfect. Frankly no Shakespeare is. Sensibilities have moved on and the plays tend to be a bit longer for their purpose than modern times tends to care for and, clearly, a little too forgiving of cultural mores that are well out of date. In the case of Midsummer, the opening scene and the overlong wrap-up probably will grate a little. You are also forgiven for wondering why the heck we have to sit through the mechanical’s presentation while the Duke and co. heckle them. The Mechanical’s play is funny and, really, it is used to get to the single moment with Flute, whose declaration of love is one of the most heart-felt in the entire play, which is full of overblown histrionics by design. That moment brings it all back to earth. More generally, in today’s terms, Shakespeare had written himself into a corner and needed to wrap up the threads and entertain the cheap seats. However, to be a little more fair, the original intent of the play was about (and for) the wedding.

If you’ve never seen Midsummer, this is a great one to start with. If you have, it may well become your favorite interpretation on a broad scale. There have certainly been better and more memorable individual performances of characters in this play, but as an overall delivery, this version is truly extraordinary and wonderful to watch.

A Midsummer Night

Speech & Debate

If you ever spent time in a fringe club in High School or, in particular, worked for the school paper, in drama, or on the forensics team, this movie will ring many bells for you. Even if you haven’t, it captures the frustration and sense of awakening that everyone goes through at around that age, and, for some, the need to act. It is on that point where the reality of this tale gets delightfully stretched…but only a little.

The three young leads that carry the film are an unlikely crew thrown together by need. Their surety and fearlessness tested at every turn, they simply move forward until they can’t.

Sarah Steele (Adult Beginners), reprises her role from the original stage production while Liam James (The Way Way Back) and Austin P. McKenzie (When We Rise) join her to complete the group. They are all endearing and frustrating in their ways, and each has their own challenges outside the main plot to overcome. Together they find a sense of strength and belonging, as you’d hope.

This film began life as a well-received Stephen Karam play before he adapted it for this film version. As a credit to his writing, you’d never know it started in a different medium.

The adults in this story are definitely secondary characters with small, implied storylines of their own. Kal Penn (Designated Survivor), Janeane Garofalo (Wet Hot American Summer: First Days of Camp), Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect 2), suggest rich, unseen interactions in particular.

This is a funny and painful romp through old memories and the new ways of the world (and how they haven’t really changed). Or, if you’re contemporary to the characters, a reminder that everyone is struggling through the same junk and can do so in quiet or with style. Regardless, watch through the end of the credits for an amusing coda.

Speech & Debate

Doctor Who (Series 10)

I have to say, despite how much I liked Sherlock, I’m glad to see Moffat quit of it so he could concentrate on Who and his final season of show-running here. While series 9 acquitted itself reasonably, and Doctor Mysterio was amusing, series 8 has still left a bad taste in my brain. Mind you, he is still not a great show-runner, but 8 suffered so badly from his distraction that having him focused was a better option.

Generally, there were a lot of echos from the first season of the reboot through the first half or more of this series. In some cases, clear steals and references, which was an interesting choice. There was also a clear purpose building through the season… though some of it was spread out rather frustratingly and sparingly. Given that The Doctor and Nardole are supposed to have been in their current positions for decades at the top of the season (which has some odd implications) the slow burn of the bigger arc is understandable.

The addition of our latest companion, Bill, was a nice choice on a lot of levels. She has attitude and smarts and, most interestingly, a life outside the Doctor in a way we’ve not seen before. But it isn’t a series that feels very complete, by the end. Despite some nice structures and some fabulous moments, as a whole it is middling. Peter Capaldi (World War Z) seriously attempts to elevate it all with his talents, which are considerable. But he was handed some very weak scripts, so he could only do so much. He and the, basically unknown, Pearl Mackie make a nice duet, with the returning and redoubtable Matt Lucas (Alice Through the Looking Glass) at their side. But there is an unfocused energy between them all that never quite finds its target.

Overall, it is an enjoyable season, but not brilliant. It tries very hard to be so, but falls short do to its ultimate trajectory. What follows are my reactions as the series ran, rather than as retrospective. As noted, they are spoiler rich, so watch the season first if you don’t want to know anything.

By the Episode (with spoilers)

The Pilot
A strong and interesting opening with a lot of potential. The introduction of relative newcomer, Pearl Mackie, to join Peter Capaldi is not a bad one. She comes in whole cloth, but with enough mystery to drive stories and interest. She is energetic and intelligent. Interestingly, it also unabashedly echos a lot of Rose, the first of the series reboot from 12 years ago.  Perhaps the title is a subtle wink to that as well? Pearl Mackie as Bill has a lot in common with Piper’s Rose; primarily class, sass, drive. The use of the alarm clock sequence, in particular, evokes that launch explicitly. Adding some diversity to the new story was good, even if it feels a little forced (not just female, but black and lesbian). I think the most fun of the episode is the nods all the way back to the show’s roots with Susan’s photo making a prominent appearance (and doesn’t that raise possibilities).

The tale of the episode itself is minimal and, typical of Moffat, thin on reason, but it is clearly all about setting up the series arc. I can live with that if they pay it off. I’m certainly interested to see where it goes and what the heck is in that vault and why. Eventually, it would be good to know why the Doctor singles her out as well (wild guess is that she is Susan’s descendant). For the moment it has been dismissed, but I suspect it has a more pivotal aspect to it. And, one hopes, we’ll understand the reason for the retention of Matt Lucas’s Nardole as having a continued role in the Doctor’s life as the series continues.

Smile
Continuing with allusions to the original Rose arc, we are now in the far-future of humanity after starting with near term. However, with this episode, something new becomes clear. Where previous seasons were episodic, this series appears to be a single, long, unending story. Each, at least for now, tale picks up from the last moment of the previous. The original series did this often, and even some of the reboot, but usually as bridges into the new tale, not like they’ve just moved to the next line in the script. It will be interesting to see if this continues and how it develops. It certainly will affect the pacing.

The story of Smile is intriguing and fun. But another aspect of this series is exposed in how the tale is told. We aren’t really meeting the affected parties and getting to know them much. We are just focused on Bill and The Doctor. Sure they are trying help others, but in the first two episodes, no secondary characters really become important or take shape. It makes the stories feel thin and the pace feel rushed. It may still even out, but it is an interesting change from the recent past (classic often did this). Those secondary characters fill out each new world for us. We also seem to be back to the TARDIS is lost in space in time again, but that may be a short feint.

Thin Ice
With this episode, the series seems to be hitting its stride. We get a nice balance of secondary characters to invest in, and a bit more of the overall mystery of the vault, or at least a tease about it. Bill also gets to fast-forward through a lot of the Doctor’s reality regarding his past and the spectre of death that does seem to dog him thanks to the situations he puts himself in.  This aspect has been a main plot driver for several of the companions, stretched over a season.

The episode is still oddly locked to the Rose season, however. Rather than Dickens (in person) and ghosts for its third episode, we end up with Oliver Twist and monsters. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this quite yet, but I’ll keep tracking it. But there are certainly resonances with previous seasons, down to the last moment with the knocking (think The Sound of Drums and the final Tenant episodes).

Knock Knock
Wow, really? The only thing of value in this episode, other than getting to see David Suchet (Poirot), was the final tag back at the vault. But to the episode first. It is a bit of a stretch to claim the parallels with Rose’s first season continue. While they are tracking to time period (we’re back in modern London with Bill bringing the Doctor into her life as Rose did in Aliens in London), the tale is somewhat different, though the personal fallout might not be. The episode itself was a weird cross between The LodgerThe God Complex, with a bit of Ghost Light (from the Classic series). Really didn’t much care for the whole haunted-house-but-really-aliens thing. Far too overdone at this point and they brought little new to it. More importantly, this episode didn’t much advance Bill and the Doctor’s relationship, though he dropped some hints on regeneration and such for her sake. Not an unwatchable episode, but not a memorable one either. It makes me wonder why they bothered with the enhanced sound release of it… though interesting and well done, I can’t say it made it particularly better.

Back to the vault…So, guessing at this point at Missy or Susan in the vault (both for reasons unknown). We shall see.

Oxygen
There is some solid stuff in this episode, though it really all about working toward a rather hard to earn a solid (if cringe-worthy) pun: working for the suits. It is another, literally, breathless episode with the terror and danger starting near the top and driving through… mostly so you won’t think too much about the facts. In the midst of all that, we get some good moments, particularly with the blue alien, but we don’t really get to know any of the secondary characters (again) and the faked death of Bill was cheap, even if it was obvious. The episode is really more about Nardole and The Doctor debating about and sparring over the vault and his “duty.” Honestly, I’d prefer little end tags to pull this along as the embedded bits are feeling rather forced and tacked on to stories pitched in a vacuum to the larger arc.

We are drifting more from the direct season one framework, which is good. The essential of this episode is for Bill to realize just how dangerous it all is (about on par with when Rose comes to the same discovery). Of course, if you realize that this season will have only 12 episodes rather than 13, we are in direct sync (as this would map to Dalek). Perhaps I’m stuck too much on this idea, but it was such a strong parallel at the top, I’m not quite ready to give it up. Sound continues to be a challenge for me… between the speed of the dialogue and the timbre of their voices, a lot of what the Doctor and Bill say is getting lost. BBC sound mixing has always been a challenge for my ears, it is just more so with this series.

Extremis
Well, first: Yippee, yes it was Missy! Not that I’m overly thrilled to have the Mastress back in the game (though I do like Missy quite a bit) but I do like being right even if I prefer to be happily surprised. As to this set-up/reset episode, I guess I can’t blame Moffat for doing exactly what Davies did on his last run: put everything at stake. As we’ve drifted off the Season 1 structure fairly completely now (unless Bill is somehow a Bad Wolf surrogate and this new enemy is stands in for the Daleks which hit series one at this point) we are seeing more the compression of Davies first 4 seasons forced into a single series.

I do have to say that I object to the ongoing blinding of the Doctor. Feels like Moffat is trying to do a Death of Superman thing, but suspect it is more about redeeming Missy unequivocally through some form of major sacrifice or merging of the last two time lords (though they aren’t any more, are they?). In any event, it is a good and creepy sort of premise. Nothing new, but interestingly laid out even if the baddy allowed the Doctor to monologue and send his email (sloppy writing).  And I have to admit the opening teaser was a beautiful misdirect, though ultimately a cheat (it was just a dream… sort of). We’re halfway through and now we have what appears to be the major arc. We’ll see what comes next.

Pyramid at the End of the World
We’re finally into something new in this series. The vampiric Monks (or that’s how I think of them at present) are intriguing and creepy. The rules around them aren’t well known yet and this episode is very much incomplete, leaving Nardole dying, infected, on the Tardis floor and, of course, Bill having made a deal with the devil. And to that latter bit…it didn’t feel very real to me. One of the disadvantages of the pace of this season is that we aren’t getting the relationship building time and appreciation between the Doctor and Bill. She’s been very much on the outside of things due to the vault, etc. So for her to sacrifice not just herself, but the entire world on the assumption that the Doctor will get them back out of it? Nope, not buying into it right now. At least the Doctor can see again (somehow) but guessing Missy is gong to be necessary to free the Earth. All that said, there are some clever bits to the story, we’ll just have to see how it plays out and for how long… are they really going to stretch this to the finale? Or is Moffat saving Missy for something bigger down the road?

The Lie of the Land
This episode gets a huge pass for many of its faults for the climactic “Welcome to Fake News Central,” nailing home unequivocally its political agenda and commentary. Absent that, it is the few, spare moments with Missy that sell this tale (and the small tipoff to the series finale in the teaser), because the rest is rushed and so hand-wavy as to frustrate the heck out of me, though I did like the setup of Bill’s mum being paid off.  There is no real logic or good explanation of how the Monk’s machine works or how it is defeated. There is no explanation as to why or what the Monk’s get from conquering a world. There is no reason given why, after investing so much time watching the “threads” of possibility that they would stop doing that and be so easily defeated. I was expecting this thread to carry forward a bit longer, so now I’ve no clue what comes next, other than more Missy and the possible redemption of the Mastress. Clearly Moffat is going big for his final series…  With only four to go, I’m looking forward to seeing if he can pay it all off.

The Empress of Mars
I never really felt the need to revisit The Tomb of the Cybermen, but this Mark Gatiss (Denial) take on the idea with the Ice Warriors has its moments. Few, admittedly, but a few. One of the nicest aspects is the guest spot of Anthony Calf (The Man Who Knew Infinity). With very little screen time, he provides you a complete character and story. Frustratingly, no one else really does, including the Doctor and Bill. The final moment, and the return of Alpha Centauri (including the original voice of Ysanne Churchman), was a nice nod to the Peladon sequence, though I do wonder if this didn’t break that bit of history in some way. However, really the whole excuse of this episode is to get Missy out of the vault… and perhaps next week we’ll know why the Tardis went nutty when Nardole went into it. This is the breath before what I expect to be the final run to the series and Moffat finale. We’ll see if they can redeem Missy and give the Doc a good send-off (cause, even if you didn’t know it, it has become obvious he’s about to regenerate — nicely tipped at the top of the previous episode).

Eaters of Light
Easily the best episode of the season so far. It had characters, scope, depth, humor, and sure the crow thing was wonderful, surprising, and silly all at once, but it worked. And, yes, the time sense of in the portal and out got a bit mucked, but loved the idea and resolution. They even got the full regeneration statement in this time; so even if you didn’t know what was coming, you know what is coming now. This is the Doctor I miss. Great stories and characters. And even though the Missy bit was a little squeezed in, it was a wonderful scene. With only two left to go, I’m really hoping this is indicative.

World Enough and Time
Seriously, did you need any more hint than the title? OK, then the opening moments should have sealed it. How those moments relate to the story that followed…I’ve no idea yet. In fact, I was somewhat annoyed that we started there and then looped back. Again. OK, annoyance aside, the setup of the tale with the time dilation is fabulous. Great idea and it starts off wonderfully. Wasn’t crazy about Missy’s dialogue, funny as it was, because she just didn’t feel ready, so why would the Doctor have sent her out there with his companions? But conceptually it was great.

John Simm’s (Doctor Who 6) as, initially, the Zathras-like character is a hoot. Also, pulling off the reveal like the old Classic Master (the ripping away of the disguise) was also a nice touch. I do have to admit I was waaaaay ahead on where it was generally going having recognized the face coverings from the first incarnation of the Cybermen. I feel like this rewrites the history of Mondas, but I honestly don’t recall what the genesis story of them was. I’m sure some geek will dig it out and call Moffat out on it if it exists.

Of course, the top-line story here now is the 2 Masters. Not sure how I feel about that yet. Probably necessary to get Missy redeemed. She literally has to battle herself. And the fate of Bill is very much in the air as we know of no way to reverse the process she’s been through (based on 50+ years of the show).

So, we know what’s coming now, without question, in the next episode. These new elements raise the stakes and muddy the waters all at once. We are no longer just worried about Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor…the focus is primarily about the Doctor and the Master.  Certainly there were enough speeches about who Time Lords could be friends with over the last season (even if that is a feint). Hoping Moffat doesn’t pay for his surprise by blowing his final season by losing track of the heart of the Doctor. We shall see…

The Doctor Falls
And if the last titled show wasn’t enough, this makes it clear from the outset what is coming. And yet it wasn’t. I’ll come back to that. First I do want to say it was nice to see The Pilot come back, even if making her a Deus Ex Machina to save Bill was cheap and not provided enough foundation…and they’ve set up the Doctor to have a similar possibility. The rest of the episode, however, was so rushed.

We start again with a tease (different to the previous episode), loop back, and ultimately find ourselves unsatisfied and without an ending. There is no basis for Capaldi’s wonderful speech of “not wanting to change anymore.” The Masters, though they have a fun confrontation, don’t resolve Missy’s plot-line nor her redemption. The final moments of the Hartnell look-alike are just painful. And I’m pretty damned sure that the evolution of the Cybermen and the storyline violate galactic history as we know it.

Basically, it was a confused mess, even if it had some nice moments. You can’t keep teasing an audience with a regeneration and then not deliver. It is bad entertainment and breaks the contract. Now it seems we have to wait for the Holiday episode to see what and (W)ho happens next, which is a change as well. The holiday was usually used to bridge the series and, when needed, the new Doctors. I can’t say I felt fulfilled by this finale, but I will be glad to be quit of Moffat next year. He has never understood how to run an uber-arc in a story, even if his individual scripts can be quite good. And now he has really ticked me off and lost the last of my trust.

Doctor Who

Okja

I have to say, I was glad I had a meatless dinner before seeing this movie, and I suggest you do the same. Like his previous Snowpiercer, Joon-ho Bong has written and directed another ecological warning, and done so with style and a critical eye on both sides of the conversation. In many ways it is the perfect melding of Snowpiercer and his previous The Host. Okja is one part Disney animal adventure, one part E.T., and one part Delicatessen.

Unlike Snowpiercer, however, Okja takes place pretty much in our world, with a mild twist, which makes it all the more disturbing when it wants to be. It follows a young girl, Seo-Hyun Ahn, as she fights for her friend with a bit of outside help from Paul Dano (Swiss Army Man), Steven Yeun (I, Origins), Lily Collins (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones), and others.

Driving the plot, Tilda Swinton (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) creates another unusual character, but not one as outlandish as some of her previous roles. Her twins are just this side of normal, though clearly at the edge of sane behavior. On the other hand, Jake Gyllenhaal (Life) creates a broken ex-star struggling with his choice of survival. It isn’t his most compelling turn, though it is an hysterical send-up of Geraldo Rivera. There is also the irrepressible Shirley Henderson (Bridget Jones’s Baby) as Swinton’s assistant trying to tread water in an ever-changing environment.

The movie is full of fun and adventure, but it pulls no punches about its targets. It is also willing to beat up its leads with a bit more realism than you may be used to for a film with a child lead. You are never quite allowed to just sit and relax, but the messages are all buried in the story. By the climax, which hits hard and unapologetically, you are on board and seriously considering what to do about it all in your own life. The story even continues to unspool through the final moments and one bit after the credits, but it doesn’t provide any easy answers.

Okja was every bit worth the wait. Beautifully filmed, it will deliver on small or large screen, but finding it on the large screen is unlikely. So tuck in with Netflix and enjoy this newest Joon-ho Bong adventure.

Okja

Get Out

Wow. Just, wow.

Probably the best horror film I’ve seen in ages. It has only one open question (resolved about 2/3 through) and one surprise; it derives its horror from how real it all feels. It is honest and rarely keeps you waiting when you’ve gotten ahead of it. That allows you to feel the tension of Daniel Kaluuya’s (Sicario) character to the fullest. He never comes off as dumb. He unpuzzles the plot as fast as the audience and acts. Part of what makes it so scary is the feeling that he really can’t avoid the inevitable. It is a powerful and compelling performance.

Helping that along are some equally solid performances by Bradley Whitford (Saving Mr. Banks) and Allison Williams (Girls). The rest of the family is a bit less believable with Catherine Keener (Begin Again) being marginal, but intriguing, and Caleb Landry Jones (Stonewall) just feeling out of control. I think that was writer and first-time director Jordan Peele’s intent, but I wish he had reined it in more to keep it just a bit less obvious.

However, as the horror of the situation unfolds, we are swept along. It is uncomfortable and frustrating, embarrassing and angering. And, yes, pretty terrifying, but not in a monster-going-to-eat-your-face way, but more in a this-feels-almost-like-it-could-happen way. It makes Peele a great choice for the upcoming series adaptation of Lovecraft Country, which also has to walk that line. (Also a book I highly recommend.)

But Get Out goes beyond just the typical horror movie/teen angst level. There is a sociological aspect to this movie. It will be taught in years to come in universities and high schools by those brave enough to do so. The resonance of the tale, both as personal nightmare and social commentary is loud and disturbingly clear.

If this had released even 8 years ago (maybe less), it would have felt like propaganda or blaxploitation. In today’s times of stress and fear it comes across more as object lesson and metaphor. What is white privilege? What is it to abandon your own culture or have it co-opted? We get a complete spectrum of the latter with LilRel Howery (Carmichael Show) at one extreme end, Kaluuya as a middle ground, and Lakeith Stanfield (War Machine) at the far extreme end, with two painful touch-points by Marcus Henderson (Pete’s Dragon) and Betty Gabriel (Good Girls Revolt) as the family help. It isn’t, of course, that straight forward, but from an academic standpoint it is ripe for debate and examination. Add to it the realities of the plot itself, once revealed, and it is even more powerful.

This film had a huge reception in theaters, earning $250M worldwide. And while $$s aren’t always the best way to judge a film, in this case it is a great measure of the chord it struck. This isn’t an easy film to watch, but it is well done, well conceived. Like Hell or High Water, it is a movie of its time, though with frankly much more meat to the bone. If you somehow missed Get Out, make time for it. It is a great ride that also happens to comes with a message. If nothing else, it is guaranteed to start a conversation.

Get Out

Cardinal

Apparently, the new Norwegian substitute is Northern Canada. In this case, north of Toronto. Like Bellevue, Cardinal is a serial murder procedural in the thinly populated, icy north of Canada. Billy Campbell (Helix) and Karine Vanasse (Revenge) deliver nicely conflicted detectives in the introductory series (based on Forty Words for Sorrow) to what could be a good run of stories to come.

It is a dark tale, and a tad graphic, but all in service to understanding the characters. A good part of that darkness, and its effectiveness, is down to Brendan Fletcher (The Revenant), who has a ridiculously long cv for his career. Along with Allie MacDonald (Stories We Tell), the two are a twisted pair who we can’t help but want to watch, even if we don’t root for them.

Originally aired on CBC, it appears to be difficult to find, so the best I can say is watch for it when it airs elsewhere (and it will).

Cardinal Poster

This Film is Not Yet Rated

Even I’m appalled that it has taken me 11  years to finally see this documentary about an industry that I’ve been part of most of my life. Especially so as I’ve always felt the ratings system was bogus (at best). Despite its early, stated intentions to end the censorship era, the advent of the MPAA and the rating system simply shifted and made shadier the efforts to control content by a minority band of self-appointed moralists. If that statement left you in the dust, then you definitely need to see this movie.

The sad truth, however, is that even after 11 years nothing has really changed since this Kirby Dick (The Hunting Ground) documentary hit screens. The MPAA hasn’t changed tactics or efforts at all. They are still beholden to the same masters (studios) and are secretive and capricious (and even bigoted) in their decisions. (See 3 Generations for a recent example. )

On the up side, the lay of the land around the industry, in particular with the rise of Netflix and Amazon Prime, has provided distribution avenues that didn’t exist at the time this docu was made. Also, the rise of “Director’s” and Unrated editions of films, only just coming to prominence when this docu was made, allows for the intended vision of films to find their audience. All of this doesn’t nullify the very real concerns or issues raised, but it points to potential ways around the gatekeepers from an artistic point of view. It would be a great follow-up to see how the financial landscape and decisions may be changing (though even Netflix is starting to scale back after years of risk).

Not Yet Rated exhibits Dick’s devotion to the truth as well as his sense of humor and commitment to his subject. It is a set of qualities that has garnered him several awards and nominations. This particular documentary struggles with its narrative, but not its entertainment nor its ability to inform. Which is to say that while it all comes together and there is a lot of information and revelation, the focus is a little soft. However, if you’ve ever wondered where the heck those letters come from on your entertainment, how they are selected, and how we compare to the rest of the world, you need to see this film.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Wonder Woman

Ok, yes, this is the best DC has done since The Dark Knight. There a story with shape and a kick-ass XX chromosome in the lead and behind the camera. It definitely exceeded my expectations that were weighed down by years of DC misfires and almost-rights, like Suicide Squad.

That said, it ain’t perfect. The script is still a bit too dour and it treats the audience like idiots at times (seriously obvious stuff they pretend are big reveals). Given Hienberg’s previous credits, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised on that point. But the result is something that only passes the Bechdel test on a technicality, from my point of view (in the beginning there are no men on the island). I bring up the test because the film, frankly, wouldn’t work without Chris Pine (Hell or High Water); his character, sense of humor, and his charisma. Gal Gadot (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) is pretty, but honestly she doesn’t have the same level of magnetism nor more than few inches of depth of emotion to share.

There are a host of supporting characters that have great fun: David Thewlis (Anomalisa), Danny Huston (Paranoid), Elena Anaya (The Skin I Live In),  and Saïd Taghmaoui (American Hustle) chief among the cast. There are also some smaller roles worth noting: Lucy Davis (Shaun of the Dead), Robin Wright (Everest), and Ewan Bremner (Poet in New York) who each have some nice moments.

An interesting insight came from my movie partner (a woman) who likened the whole thing to The Fifth Element in basic storyline. I like the idea of that and see what was likely intended, but here I diverge from her in agreement. I don’t think that is what I saw on screen because of the inclusion of a single scene that blurs the personal v. universal love drive. And I have to shut up at this point to avoid spoilers. But I discuss this and other points here.

Here was the most telling aspect for me. When I left Captain America: The First Avenger, a movie I really had little interest in, I was soaring and laughing and sad and ready for more. When I left Wonder Woman, I was entertained, but it wasn’t sticking with me on an artistic or pure popcorn level and honestly didn’t care if I saw another Wonder Woman storyline outside of the Justice League. I could be swayed, but I’m not chomping to see what comes next.

Interestingly, they’ve recast the Wonder Woman story by dropping it back to WWI from WWII, I suspect to give some distance from Captain America, whose echos are hard to shake given the war-time venue. It is a jarring change if you don’t immediately recognize the outfits, however.

I love strong female characters, but what I love more is great scripts and movies and this just wasn’t that. It was the best DC has had to offer in a long time though, and I am glad young girls have an icon to look up to, both in Wonder Woman and director Patty Jenkins (Monster), but as a movie it could have been crisper and so much more.

Wonder Woman

Samurai Jack (series 5)

After a 13 year hiatus, there was definite trepidation around how this magnificent series would revive; the dead so often don’t return with their souls intact. I needn’t have worried. Despite the gap in time (appropriate in some ways) and the move to computer graphics, Samurai lost little, if any, of its original sense and sensibility. Its minimal graphics were very much in its favor, and the return of Genndy Tartakovsky to oversee and run the result kept it on track. Even the loss of Mako as the voice of the great evil Aku didn’t slow it down.

In some ways, this is the best of the series. Before it was very episodic without much of a trajectory other than the increasingly scaling fights with Aku. The universe always expanded with new characters and ongoing interactions, but seasons never felt like they had a shape. This final series has a very definite shape and a eye to its ultimate ending.

If you like Samurai Jack, you have to see the end of the saga. If you somehow missed it before, discover it now and not have to wait over a decade to have your hunger sated for an ending. Samurai remains as good as ever and as beautiful and as poetic as it began.

Samurai Jack