Tag Archives: Action

The Watch

[3.5 stars]

Sir Terry Pratchett’s humor was a gift to the world. Silly, yes. Dark, most definitely. Wry? Always. Hogfather is still one of my annual favorites. Adaptations of his books didn’t always go great, but I was always happy to give them a shot. The Watch is inspired by his world, if not directly extrapolated from it.

Creator Simon Allen has the wide ranging background to bring it all to life as the primary writer. The result is significantly darker than other adaptations, both in plot and character. And it goes down like a shot of tequila, harsh at first but slowly warming as it settles. It is very, very English in terms of its style, but not unapproachable. Admittedly, though, some of Richard Dormer’s (Rellik, Game of Thrones) lines can bend your ear between the mumbling and the accent. But his rubber face rivals that of Jim Carrey at times, which helps meaning and entertainment even when specific words get lost.

The rest of the Watch’s squad is a motely mix to be sure. From Marama Corlett, Adam Hugill (1917), and Jo Eaton-Kent to their adjunct Lara Rossi, they are, to a one, broken and looking for redemption. The show follows the band of misfits as they coalesce and try to win the day against impossible odds in a city where crime has been legalized. Yeah, chew on that a while.

Arrayed against the Watch are a slew of fun characters. Samuel Adewunmi, Bianca Simone Mannie, Jane de Wet, and Paul Kaye (Anna and the Apocalypse) are among them, but there are so many more. The world is rich with outlandish technologies, magic, and commentary.

The story is layered and complicated and open to a next series. Actually, it sort of demands it, though it does so through a coda rather than leaving you hanging on the main story. However, as of now, BBC hasn’t yet decided whether to renew the show. I really hope they do. I want to know what more they can do with this group and world.

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What If…?

[4 stars]

There is no doubt this show was highly anticipated by fans of the MCU, and generally worth the wait. Mind you, if you haven’t watched the whole phase 1-3 sequence you would be completely lost on the references and import of what you’re watching. This is a gift to fans from fans. Period. And that’s a truly rare thing at this level of quality and production. A fully non-canon set of stories that tackle those powerful thoughts of “What if…” that allow for stories that never happened but might have been fun to see.

But how much fun comes down to this: why do you want to watch What If…? There are different answers to the question, and the reactions I’ve seen to the show tend to be fed by which of the two main camps that question creates. Either you’re just interested in being entertained and seeing what fun and silly stuff might come out of mashing up the characters and events, or you want to see something a bit more interesting in terms of how a story really might unspool in a meaningful way thanks to a single change. Up front, I’m in the latter camp. I’m all about the power of “what if” in stories, but I want it to have a purpose and satisfying result. It can get silly, but it still has to satisfy my main criteria: purpose. And after a wandering path, they got there. But that meant seeing it all chronologically and experiencing the stories individually first.

Launching with a riff on the Captain America origin story was a brilliant stroke. It sets up the tone and possibilities. More importantly, it was a story with a change that had impact in its difference. But then it quickly stumbled for me in its second outing as it took on Guardians of the Galaxy, almost instantly breaking the reality by having events out of order in a way that could not work, even in the universe they created. Any fan would have spotted it immediately. The gaff set off alarm bells for me as it meant no one was watching carefully enough to keep it above the realm of bad fan fiction. Because, let’s face it, this series is fan fiction…that is its only purpose to exist.

I had fewer issues with the Avengers Assemble riff. Though, other than shock value, it didn’t manage to really grab me. Part of that may have been the voices; several main characters didn’t voice their avatars.

But Doctor Strange was clever and cut to the bone in a way that most of the episodes don’t. Though I fully admit the run at Infinity War (which sadly spoils the opening surprise with its title) was a riot. And while Iron Man’s alternate journey was interestingly thought through, Thor’s only-child tale lost it’s credibility early on for me. It could have been fun, but it tried too hard and, like the Guardian’s episode, included too many characters that shouldn’t have been mixing.

And then there was the Ultron finale…well, dang. I have to hand it to the series for that storyline along with its repercussions and impact. But it was a long slog to relevance in some ways. Without that finale, I’d have a had a much lower opinion of the series.

Overall, the clever reuse of movie audio, which helped to bring back in original voices in many places that might not have otherwise been possible, and the sense of fun and whimsey amid the dark really pulled it all together nicely.  And now I’m actually looking forward to the next season.

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Q-Force

[4 stars]

Yes, it’s outrageous. Yes, it’s absurd. Yes, it crosses the borders of cliché and travels well into country that could be taken as insulting. But it is all done as matter-of-fact and with an embracing sense of love. It turns everything up to 11 (or maybe 1100) and lets the freak flags fly. And, to top it off (no pun intended), it develops a solid arc pulling the first series together.

The voice cast lean into every aspect of the story and situations. There are no hesitations or apologies as they solve outrageous, Bond-like crimes and neutralize the bad folks, foreign and domestic. And there is a long list of recognizable names giving those stories life, but you can discover them easily enough. We aren’t talking Oscar level work, just solid delivery and respect for the scripts and story which is where the series thrives.

Because you’ll see, there is a sort of quiet genius to the show. Even with the painful acknowledgment of prejudice that launches the show, it offers up the reverse mirror of what the LGTBQ+ community has to deal with all the time in entertainment: worlds full of non-gay people acting like that’s all there is in the world. It is a reaction and a statement. It’s also hilariously funny at times.

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Babylon 5 (rewatch n)

[5 stars]

TL;DR: If you’ve not rewatched Babylon 5 recently, you should. If you’ve never seen it, make the time. Forgive its faults and revel in its incredibly intricate and intentional plotting that no one other than Dark has even come close to in the intervening years since its release. And gawk at its unexpected relevance 30 years after its original airing.

And, yes, I started this effort before the recent reboot announcement: https://deadline.com/2021/09/babylon-5-series-reboot-j-michael-straczynski-development-cw-1234845022/

There are some genre shows I come back to on a regular basis. No matter how many times I rewatch them, I find new moments or surprises…or simply enjoy certain stories so much I never get bored with them. Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Stargate SG-1, Star Trek (OS, TNG, DS9)…and Babylon 5 which is probably the least widely appreciated of that list, but which had a most outsized influence on the genre and all that followed.

I am more than willing to admit that some of the writing and directing of B5 is painful at times. But the fact that it remains rewatchable despite that and, more importantly, still relevant and impressive all these years later is a testament to what it was. B5 changed the landscape of genre TV. By creating a pre-planned 5-year arc J. Michael Straczynski (Sense8) was able to thread through clues and foreshadowing with intent rather than retconning them into plots conceived down the road. Not that the latter can’t be done well; Buffy and Angel did it all the time, as did Game of Thrones. But no one has come close to the beautiful construction of B5 through its first four seasons. And no show has purposely evolved in style, focus, and design from season to season the way B5 did. Only The Expanse comes close, and possible Farscape before it.

The simple truth is that if B5 had been birthed in the streaming world it would have been a smash. Its huge gamble was to have an ongoing tale rather than reset, episodic adventures. They kept losing audience and weren’t able to easily pick up new viewers since the earlier shows weren’t available. Joe was ahead of his time…but his influence reshaped entertainment and set a high bar.

But what is amazing to me is how relevant the story remains. Presented in the early 90s, I was glued to the TV every week watching the story reflect the world of politics and society…with a lot of grand adventure, humor, and action to boot. Decades later I was somewhat worried it would have gone threadbare. But no, the mirror still works for today, even with its faults (let’s face it, Joe really didn’t write women well, though he tried).

In fact, the first season or two are disturbingly accurate for today. Politics, in the era of 45, are even closer to the horror story B5 lays out. There are pandemics, which once reflected the AIDS crisis but today are a perfect extrapolation of COVID. Stories of media suppression and control in the age of Fox news and Murdoch. Endless wars and generational hate have moved from the Soviet Union to the Middle and Far East, but still echo in our reality. Honestly, you’d think it was written recently.

Up through most of season 3 and into the start of 4, Babylon is one of the most beautifully, tightly constructed shows ever put to screen. It would have been even better if they weren’t forced into 21 episode seasons; some of the pointless stand-alones could have been dropped. But if you’ve seen it more than once, you start noticing phrases and moments that wouldn’t originally pay off for, literally, years in air-time. The level of conviction and trust involved in that is breathtaking. Because of the history of the show (it wasn’t going to be renewed for broadcast and then had a last minute save for its final season on cable) the fourth season is a bit rushed at the end. And then the fifth season had its own struggles with budget and cast changes…and the fact that Joe did his fans a favor and gave us finale ahead of what he’d planned in case the fifth season never came.

The result is that the fourth season becomes more about falling dominos as the intricate clockwork of the plots spins down. Which isn’t to say that the fourth and fifth season don’t have their moments, but it is more about action and result and less interesting as a modern mirror. But it is still a great ride to the multiple conclusions of threads, revelations about moments we’d been promised and had misinterpreted for years, and harsh and honest commentary on world politics, religion, war, but most of all: humanity.

The real question now, after a recent announcement, is whether the story can be retold better than the original? I wasn’t expecting this when I started my rewatch. Will Joe and the studio allow more writers to be involved and more up-to-date world views (particularly around gender) to have traction? Is the CW really the best home for a show that is this adult? Frankly, I would have looked at streamer like Amazon, HBO Max, or Netflix where the grittier aspects would have been welcome, and where people could have jumped in at any time and started from the beginning. And I’d have pitched it more as an update and rethink than a reboot. But, regardless, I’ll certainly be there to find out if it can fly. If nothing else, perhaps we’ll finally get an HD version of this story since some idiot at Fox deleted all the digital originals to save disk space (no, I’m not kidding).

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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.

Love and Monsters

[3.5 stars]

There was something quite fun in taking the action-hero oriented Dylan O’Brien (Infinite) and making him into a somewhat inept, but able to learn, heartsick dweeb during the apocalypse. It also helps that the script was wickedly funny and unpretentious. By combining the raw sarcasm of  Brian Duffield (Spontaneous) and sweet sensibility of Matthew Robinson (Dora and the Lost City of Gold), the result is an unexpectedly humorous and entertaining action romance.

The story is unabashedly absurd from the start, but not without heart. In fact, if anything, that is the point of the story: family and love (in case the title wasn’t enough of a clue). But it’s all done with a wry wink. Michael Rooker (Vivo) and Ariana Greenblat (Awake) add to that considerably. And Jessica Henwick (On the Rocks) provides a suitable and believable focus for our hero.

This isn’t brilliant comedy or action, but it is totally entertaining and never takes itself too seriously. And, even amidst the absurdity, there is a real base of emotion and intention. It’s a flick that fulfills many needs for an evening and will have you laughing and jumping. Had it not released during the pandemic, it may even have found a wider audience on the big screen, but now it will just have to grow it from a smaller one; and it should.

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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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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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Beckett

[3 stars]

There is something wonderful about Hitchcockian suspense/mystery films. By design and structure they entertain and they amuse. Kevin A. Rice’s script (his first) is definitely in that vein. It’ imperfect in plot and lacking the trademark humor, but it really captures the old master’s approach to the everyman caught in the web of deceit and without any context to what’s going on.

After a brief interlude to set up the adventure and the emotional foundation, we follow John David Washington (Tenet) down a rabbit hole of international intrigue where he’s about as clueless as we are…at least near the top. Frankly, the audience gets way ahead of him rather quickly, but it isn’t entirely unfair that he’s left baffled for as long as he is. Also, it’s becoming clear that Washington really likes to get the crap beat out of him in movies; and he’s good at it.

Washington’s character slowly makes he way across Greece to save his skin, not to mention others. Though the movie isn’t shy about leaving a wake of innocent bodies in his wake either. The bad folks here are cold and, mostly, efficient but without much depth. During these adventures, he crosses paths with a few that last more than a short scene and who we get to know a little such as Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) and Boyd Holbrook (Predator). But we never really connect with anyone in the story, including Washington, who can’t even manage a “thank you” to anyone into whose lives he introduces chaos until late in the film.

Director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, who is better known for his 2nd unit directing than his first, gets to really stretch his wings and talent. Keeping this movie rolling like an avalanche was no small feat. A slightly better script would have helped elevate the film, but the framing and story (which he has credit for) are solid.

If you need a bit of adventure with a mystery thrown in, and you don’t mind some cold violence, this will work for you. It is definitely a mixed bag emotionally and without a clean and simple ending, but I have to admit, I prefer them that way generally. And the gritty reality of it all is often very compelling.

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