Tag Archives: craft

Young Wallander

[3.5 stars]

This continues a trend of reinventing and revisiting established mystery icons and tracing their genesis. Young Montalbano or Endeavour come immediately to mind, and they are both good touchstones for considering this latest entry into the “Young” phase.

There are some interesting and unique aspects to this series. First, much like Casino Royale, it is a contemporary prequel to its original. And, like Casino Royale, it somehow works. Honestly, an approach which tackled similar character issues, but made them time period appropriate, would have been fine too. But I can see the beauty of setting it now and tackling the issues in more familiar terms.

Adam Pålsson (Before We Die) takes on the title character well… he even has two Wallenders to draw from, Krister Henriksson and Kenneth Branagh, which is another unique aspect to this series. It isn’t entirely clear which he focused on, though I think it leans more heavily to the Swedish version. Certainly the initial season arc is very Wallander in its structure and resolution. You know that from very early on in the first episode.

However, the show is less about drawing the early years for the later man than it is about just setting up some good mysteries, at least so far; but that’s OK too as long as they keep up the quality. Which isn’t to say we don’t see the initial threads of his rumination and dark sensibility. It’s there, as are some of the threads of his family issues.

There are a number of good roles around Pålsson. The standouts are primarily the women in his life: Leanne Best and Ellise Chappell (Yesterday). They are very different from one another and yet both buffet Wallander through his leap to detective-hood. Of the men in the cast, the standouts are Richard Dillane and Charles Mnene. Again two very different influences, and both essential to Wallander now and the Wallander to come. How they go forward from this initial foray is going to be interesting to see, assuming it’s renewed.

I really should have gotten to this sooner, but I didn’t realize it was in English and not Swedish. I was in the midst of three other subtitled shows; I just couldn’t add another at the time. But now that I have, I can definitely recommend it to lovers of the original series and those just looking for something new to feed the beast.

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.

The Burnt Orange Heresy

[4 stars]

Unreliable narrators can be brilliant or frustrating. Having one is risky enough, but when you’ve four of them driving a movie, you’re really pressing your luck. But Scott B. Smith’s (Siberia) script adaptation is smart, crisp, and a delight in its story-telling.

Claes Bang (Dracula) is the main focus of the story, and from near the top we know there’s something off with him. He’s charismatic, smarmy, and quite full of himself, while being obviously desperate and damaged. Elizabeth Debicki (Widows) provides a wonderful foil and secondary locus as she dives into his orbit. The two are slowly revealed and challenged by Donald Sutherland  (Ad Astra) and Mick Jagger while the story takes shape.

And that is one of the wonderful aspects that sets this film apart: it is more than a third in before you’re even sure what the story is. For his first feature, director Giuseppe Capotondi took on some serious challenges, but he knocked it out of the park.

Burnt Orange Heresy is a deeply engrossing film that has as much to say about art and the artist as it does about human frailty and desire. To get a sense of the delivery of that message, imagine a Mamet play, without the cursing (think House of Games) or even Hitchcock with an elevated sense of philosophy.

If you enjoy intense, clever, and verbally dexterous tales, make time for this one. It isn’t a talk-fest, but practically all of the dialogue is a sparring match between the characters involved. It’s a dark joy of a movie.

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Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary

[3 stars]

If you loved Galaxy Quest, this is a special gift for you. It isn’t full of fascinating, little known tidbits, nor revelatory insights, it is simply a glorious celebration of a movie that has won the hearts of so many.

If you’ve yet to see Galaxy Quest, go forth now and do so. Not so that you can watch this docu and enjoy it (though not a bad reason), but because it is just so nearly perfect it shouldn’t be missed.

If you didn’t like Galaxy Quest, well, we probably don’t have much in common to discuss anyway.

I remember when Galaxy Quest was released. Frankly, the ad campaign had so turned me off, I had no interest. However, our neighbor and friend saw it and called us immediately after exiting the theater and said we had to see it…right now. He came, picked us up and he went to see it again with us. And, though we don’t always agree on flicks or humor, he was so right about this one.

Now, as docus go, this isn’t brilliant and I don’t really need to see it again, thus the rating. But I definitely enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone who meets the right criteria above.

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A Life Less Ordinary

[2.75 stars]

Even with my enthusiasm for the collaborative efforts of director Danny Boyle (Yesterday) and  writer John Hodge (Trance), I somehow had missed this movie. For their third feature outing, the duo brought us this dark romantic fantasy that blended Heaven Can Wait with a bit of Sid & Nancy. Honestly, even taking into account the 23 years between, the result doesn’t entirely work though there are some fun moments.

What makes this worth seeing, other than Boyle’s crazy ability to direct the bizarre, is the cast. The list is led by Ewan McGregor (The Impossible) and Cameron Diaz (Gambit). McGregor was, as usual, fairly solid and full of vulnerability and guilelessness. Diaz was less effective and credible, and is the main reason for the failure of the movie overall. The story depends on the reality of these two so that we not only believe them but can also cheer them along.

The leads are accompanied by a massive list of recognizable faces, some of whom had yet to become well-known. They’re mostly all credited, so it’s less spot-the-actor as it is just enjoying the sea of talent. In the primary supporting roles are a young, though not untried, Holly Hunter (Incredibles 2), and a semi-young Delroy Lindo (Point Break). Neither is particularly brilliant, but they are the main comic relief through the story and play their absurdist, dark clown parts well.

Overall, this isn’t one of my favorite Boyle’s. It doesn’t quite have his signature control and he hasn’t quite learned yet how to slip between the fantastical and reality in fully satisfying way. That he pulls off this bizarre tale at all is a credit to the abilities he did have. You come back to this out of nostalgia or a need, like mine, to fill in a gap in the opus of the folks involved. Otherwise, there are better stories out there, and better performances by all involved.

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Caramel (Sukkar banat)

[4 stars]

Writer/director Nadine Labaki loves people, and all their facets; and she puts those truths into her movies. Her pile of nominations and wins speaks to how much that resonates with audiences and critics. Every one of her movies, starting with this first feature of hers (and continuing with Where Do We Go Now? and Capernaum…even Rio, I Love You), builds upon this idea. Each movie expanded her ability and her recognition as a director, writer, and actor. Basically, her films are a joy to watch because they feel true and celebrate people, even when the circumstances are less than wonderful.

Caramel follows the lives of several women in Beirut. Each has a compelling story to share, but in many cases never even speaks to it. Their stories are on display, but we are granted the point of view and freedom to understand them. The movie is also very lo-fi, but Labaki makes you forget that by sucking you into the world of these women.

Adding to the interesting aspects of this film are that it was finished just days before war descended on Beirut. We get to see the city before it was ravaged (again). And, on a personal note, I watched it a day after Beirut was back in the news when a factory blew up, levelling a good part of the city again and killing 150+ people.

What comes through her films is how much she loves her country, in all its contradictions and flaws. But what makes the stories work is how much she loves and celebrates life. She doesn’t pick happy subjects, but the stories always feel hopeful. Her sense of the human condition is one of possibility, a sensibility that goes a long way in today’s world.

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State of the Union

[4 stars]

When Nick Hornby (Juliet, Naked, High Fidelity) and Stephen Frears (Victoria & Abdul) decided to tackle the meaning and humor of marriage in ten 10-minute segments, you can be sure it will be both insightful and biting. Now make it, generally, a two-person show with Rosamund Pike (Radioactive) and Chris O’Dowd (Juliet, Naked) and the delivery is guaranteed to entertain.

To be fair, O’Dowd was a bit of an easy choice here. He’s playing into all his strengths, and is somewhat reprising his role in Juliet, Naked. Pike, however, has created a woman taut with guilt, doubt, and bound by her own upbringing.

Each segment is a week apart, covering a 10-week course of therapy for the couple. And each segment manages to provide mountains of information about their relationship and each other. It is a credit to all four that so many levels can be exposed with subtext, looks, and smart dialogue.

Admittedly, the longer you’ve been married, the more there is to get from the 100 or so minutes of the whole series. It hits on truths and fears that only 10+ years of living with a spouse can manifest. Absent that, it’s a simply a fun tale that is easy to digest and satisfying to laugh with and at. And probably a show worth coming back to at different points in your life.

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The Rhythm Section

[3 stars]

As a follow-up to his quirky I Think We’re Alone Now, director Reed Morano brought us this contemplative actioner. That may seem a contradiction in terms…and it sort of is…but he stuck to his intent throughout, and I give him props for that. But it does make for a slow kind of assassin film. Think The Tourist rather than Taken or even Atomic Blonde.

Since Gloria proved it was possible, the number of tough female killers has been multiplying; particularly lately. They aren’t all home runs, but it is great to see so many more female driven actioners these days. Blake Lively (A Simple Favor) tackles the role with intensity and humility. It is, in some ways, reminiscent of Cameron Diaz’s turn in Being John Malkovich, when she allowed herself to be, well, completely unattractive in order to serve the part and movie. But, unlike Diaz, Lively drives this movie.

Jude Law (Vox Lux) and Sterling K. Brown (Waves) provide the higher profile support to Lively. Law is actually surprisingly credible in his role. Brown is as well, but it is less of a stretch role for him.

The real challenge for this movie was it’s script by first-timer Mark Burnell, who adapted his own novel for this outing. The story itself isn’t quite credible, though it is also clear it is intended as an origin story for a potential franchise; not one that will probably ever get made given movie’s results. And, more importantly, Burnell couldn’t let go of the internal dialogue moments from his book. The script lingers over Lively’s past long after it was necessary anymore to establish motive and struggles. Basically, he shouldn’t have adapted his own book…and Morano should have been more brutal during the edit. Had the movie been about 20 minutes shorter, its pacing might have pulled it together better.

It isn’t that I don’t want depth in my action leads, but this movie kept repeating the same moments and footage. Those efforts added nothing that a brief moment on a good actor’s face wouldn’t have been able to convey. And Morano had good actors in the leads.

So the short answer to this movie is that it is good, but slow, entertainment. The path and results of the adventure are somewhat easy to get ahead of, thanks again to the pacing, but the resolution is satisfying. If you’re looking for another female led story with a woman who is, ultimately, in control, you could do worse. I just wish it had been a bit tighter to energize it more.

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Radioactive

[3 stars]

What saves this oddly structured biopic from falling apart, like The Current War did, is the sheer will and power of Rosamund Pike (A Private War) and Sam Riley (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil). Their performances, particularly Pike’s, are endlessly fun to watch and feel raw and honest rather than forced. This is no small feat as Marie was driven and blunt; but Pike finds all the layers of that drive, making her focus only an aspect of her character and depicting this strong woman as a whole person. Too often historical women are shown in wildly different moments just to bring out their “womanhood” in order to appease the audience. Not so here…Pike is a complete person all along; abrasive at times, but in a way that feels like there’s someone real underneath it rather than just a mask or a different human each time we see her in different situations, for instance: family vs. work.

There are also a couple of nice, smaller performances. Anya Taylor-Joy (Emma.), Simon Russell Beale (The Death of Stalin), and Katherine Parkinson (Humans) are the ones to note. And I will add that Riley is practically unrecognizable in his role of Pierre Curie, whom he imbues with a fierce intelligence and a complicated approach to the mores of the time.

Admittedly, depicting the lives of complex people is always a challenge. Just look at the recent biopics of Freddy Mercury and Elton John. Both movies were by the same director, but each had utterly different approaches in an attempt to capture the men and their impact. Jack Thorne’s (Wonder) script of Marie Curie’s life, in its attempt to do the same, is both fascinating and baffling. Fortunately it was smoothly tackled by Marjane Satrapi (The Voices), who is adept at slipping back and forth between wildly different aspects of a tale when she directs.

The challenge with the story is that it attempts to show the long-term impact Curie’s discoveries had. Since some of the most impactful applications and issues didn’t even begin to become common till 20 years after her death, it presented a problem. The solution Thorne and Satrapi settled on was to intercut future scenes with the contemporary.

This had two effects. First, it forced commentary around the Curie’s efforts that wasn’t there at the time and blurs the their truth. And, second, it creates an odd fantasy during the end of M. Curie’s final moments that felt wrong to me. In other words we’re forced to see her life through historical eyes and lose a good deal of the contextual reality.

But despite any issues these choices caused, the performances of the two leads is truly wonderful and worth the time to see the film. Also, while some of the Curies’ life is taught to children, a lot of it is missed in school. The family is truly extraordinary, and the story they were a part of is both inspirational and horrifying.

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Animal Crackers

[2.75 stars]

Calling this a fractured fairy tale is being kind and does a disservice to the reference. Despite how many fun moments it has (and it does) and how inventive it is at times (and it is), the story is a complete mess without a focus and with an unclear audience. But whatever that audience is, it isn’t really young kids. The story is too dark and mean for really young kids. At least to my mind.

The thing is Scott Christian Sava adapted his own graphic novel for this movie and co-directed it as well. But he wasn’t urged to edit the story down. It’s a full 7 minutes before we’re even given the title of the film and another huge chunk of time before the main plot really gets going. In a movie for adults that’s sometimes OK, but for kids, it’s challenging. However, even once it gets going, it flounders amid several plot lines. They do all come together eventually, but not all were necessary.

I will admit they got a range of great voice talent to bring it all to life. With Ian McKellen (The Good Liar) and his cronies, including Gilbert Gottfried and some of Sava’s family, arrayed against our main characters, there is a lot of fun to be had. And power couple John Krasinski (A Quiet Place) and Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns) work great together, and can even boast the ubiquitous Tara Strong as their on-screen daughter.

But it doesn’t end there. Smaller roles abound. Danny Devito (Jumanji: The Next Chapter), Harvey Fierstein, Wallace Shawn (Admission), Patrick Warburton (Ted 2), Raven-Symoné, and even Sylvester Stallone (Creed II) all bring their talents to bear. Mind you, some are a little out of control, but that’s as much the story’s fault as it is the director’s and actor’s at times.

This isn’t a wasted part of your day or evening, but it isn’t what it could have been. Animal Crackers had a torturous path to screen…it sat in the can for ages, lost its distribution, and ultimately got rescued by Netflix. I had hoped for something a little more crafted, but it was entertaining enough as a distraction and clever enough to keep me intrigued. I just wish someone with more will had helped shape it and focus it to make it a better movie.

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