Tag Archives: Dark Comedy

Two hits and a miss on Netflix

Three new Netflix series dropped in the last couple weeks. For a change, I had a chance to sample them near to their release. It was a mixed bag, but quite the range in material.

AJ and the Queen

Sweet and entertaining, without the extreme intensity of Pose and with just enough Drag Race to keep it all moving.  Which isn’t to say it doesn’t get a bit broad but it’s approach is generally very down-to-earth to keep it feeling real. That does make the pacing a little slower than some may like, but I’m finding it cozy. And while RuPaul is his wonderful self and driving the show, newcomer Izzy G. is making quite the impression as AJ with some serious chips. And, as you find out at the top, it is AJ’s story, not his. Hoping they can continue the effort and build on the characters.

Messiah

This is certainly not the first show to posit the Second Coming…in fact, squint a little and the opening episode echos Dune, among dozens of other stories, shows, and movies. But Messiah is intense and fascinating, with multiple threads all being woven into an intriguing tapestry.

With Mehdi Dehbi  (The Other Son) in the title role and Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) watching from the CIA side, the clashes are inevitible, but the message and the commentary are well educated and non-denominationally specific (so far) and intended to challenge. And with James McTeigue (V for Vendetta, Sense8) at the directing helm of more than half the episodes, I’m feeling confident about the show’s ability to navigate the divisive material in an intelligent and entertaining way.

Medical Police

Yeah, couldn’t even get through the first episode. Not my humor, though it could be yours (Reno 911 anyone)? The pacing is off and the wry humor just falls flat more than hitting the mark. I’m out…you can decide on your own.

The Angry Birds Movie 2

[3 stars]

OK, let’s be honest, the first Angry Birds movie was awful. I only came back for the sequel because there was something about the trailer that gave me some hope. And it wasn’t unwarranted, though it wasn’t fully rewarded either.

The first movie tried to leverage the game that spawned the characters far too much. It was a confrontational movie between birds and pigs, and creepy and unsatisfying on many levels (not to mention a really bad script). But they learned from those errors.

This sequel is more about “pranks” between the birds and pigs (rather than omnivorous emnity). The plot requires them to work together. The humor has a lot of levels, from the slapstick to the more subtle. And the main characters have some arc to them.

Don’t misunderstand, this is still children’s fare to be ingested with lots of sweets or popcorn, but it isn’t a painful affair to spend time with. It’s simply a silly distraction stacked with an impressive voice cast list (though nothing worth calling out). Up to you if you want to spend time with it or simply need to distract some youngsters while you do something else. Either way, it was nice to see that they learned from their errors and put more creativity into this sequel.

Being Frank

[2.5 stars]

This odd, black comedy has just enough heart to sell its premise, but not quite enough story to sell the movie.

Part of the problem is that Miranda Bailey selected her her first fiction feature to be one with a very challenging plot. It wasn’t helped by the fact that it was also a first feature script by by writer Glen Lakin. Negotiating through to an ending was never going to be for the feint of heart nor the light of experience. I’d really like to see what Bailey could do with a better script, given her relative success with this one.

There are some funny moments and some nice work by the cast. Jim Gaffigan (Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation), as the titular character, is affable and bumbling. But while he’s the framework for the story, he isn’t the lead. That belongs to his screen-son Logan Miller (Escape Room) who is coming into his own and uncovering secrets. There are several other good performances, but Isabelle Phillips, in her first major role, is the one standout. She brings a light and charismatic performance into the midst of the dark chaos Gaffigan’s character has wrought.

This is far from a great film. To be honest, it is, ultimately, unsatisfying. But there is some good work to enjoy and some nicely contained broad comedy to keep it together. I wouldn’t go out of your way to see it, but if you enjoy this kind of comedy or any of the actors, it isn’t a total loss of time.

Cold Pursuit

[3.5 stars]

Coal-black comedy against a snow-white landscape. If only this movie had remembered what it really was, it could have been great. Despite the trailers you may have seen, this isn’t the standard Liam Neeson (Men in Black: International) revenge romp…it is something more like Boondock Saints in the Arctic. But as much as it wants to be a black comedy, it can’t quite commit to that path, though it punctuates the movie through to the very end.

Neeson is surrounded by a cadre of criminals, a bit of family, and a couple law enforcement officials. But they’re all just foils for the story. Most have no real life to go with them other than the immediate motivations needed to drive the tale. Emmy Rossum (Beautiful Creatures) is a marginal exception to that, having one of the more complete backgrounds and story of her own. Domenick Lombardozzi (Bridge of Spies) had an implied story, but without much depth. Even Tom Bateman (Murder on the Orient Express), despite being the big bad, never really fleshes out, though a good deal is implied.

For a first script, Frank Baldwin showed considerable bravery in the direction he set for this satirical revenge romp. Unfortunately, director Hans Petter Moland just couldn’t find the rhythm and style to quite sell it to general audiences.

[This write up has languished for months while I kept promising myself I’d also screen the original, In Order of Disappearance – Kraftidioten. Sadly that hasn’t happened but it clearly has an equally capable, if very differently energized, lead in Stellan Skarsgård (Our Kind of Traitor, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote). At some point I will get to that as well, but for now, at least you get to hear about the remake.]

I Lost My Body

[4 stars]

There’s nothing more romantic than a severed hand making its way back to its body, right? OK, the whole thing is meant as metaphor, but this film takes the idea of soulmates and makes it literal, not to mention loss. Through the travels and adventures of the hand as it wends its way through Paris, we learn about the life and relationships the young man at the center of it all has experienced.

And somehow it works beautifully. Creepy as some of it can get, particularly for those of us who grew up watching horror films like The Beast with Five Fingers (or any number of others over the years), Jérémy Clapin’s first full-length anime somehow stays sweet and hopeful. As far as movie magic goes, this is amazing (and forgive me) sleight of hand.

Clapin delivers the story in an understated way, forcing you to pay attention, to evaluate and think about what you’re seeing. The animation is wonderful and simply falls away, leaving you with its reality. Unlike its probably awards competitors, this is a wholly adult film, with themes and statements that will resonate for anyone who ever had a romantic bone in their body, hands included. But while focused on that aspect, there are also oblique reflections on society today that make it a richer tale. That Clapin co-wrote this with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s oft-time partner and font of source material, Guillaume Laurant (The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet, A Very Long Engagement, City of Lost Children, Amélie, Micmacs), should give you a sense of the core and scope of the film.

There is a reason I Lost My Body has been sucking up awards, and will continue to into the Oscar race this year. It may not be your typical fare, but it’s a magical and unexpected journey that never quite goes where you expect it to. More importantly, it sticks with you as you internalize and digest it long after the viewing. And, if you’ll forgive me one last bad reference, it is the visual equivalent of one hand clapping: creating the beautiful from the impossible.

 

Mysterious Witchers Lost in Space

Each of these streamers deserves to be seen and to have their own write up. But that felt like overkill and, I suspect, many folks will have been ahead of me already. However, all are enjoyable, intelligent, and all are very different.

Witcher

Henry Cavill (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) was a perfect choice for the lead in this entertaining, if not brilliant, series. He captures the sarcasm and dry wit of the game character, not to mention he is the physical emodiment of Geralt of Rivia. He’s backed up nicely by Joey Batey and Anya Chalotra. There are other, more recognizable faces, such as MyAnna Buring (In the Dark) and Anna-Louise Plowman, but it is generally a lot of semi-familiar and unknown faces.

The series is challenging thanks to its narrative form (which is part of the secret of the first season, so I really can’t discuss it here). I think it could have been handled more clearly, but it ultimatley comes together in interesting ways and I appreciate that they didn’t treat their audience like idiots. Much like Watchmen, it lends itself to rewatching once you understand it all. I’m definitely on board for the next season, but that isn’t coming till 2021, so you’ve plenty of time to watch the series and/or play the games if you want beforehand.

Lost in Space 2

The first season reboot of this show surprised me completely. Netflix transformed the silly Saturday morning show into something richer and darker, if still with a child’s sensibility of adventure. And if you thought Dr. Smith was complex and dark in the first series, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Parker Posey (Cafe Society) has definitely found a role she’ll be remembered for.

This season is incredibly well constructed, even if some of the writing still takes too many character and plot short-cuts. Still, I admire the risks they were willing to take even if getting there has some flaws. And every major character gets their moment to grow and expand in some very nice ways. The new season pulls you along with barely a chance to breathe, making it a great binge show, but also means it is over too soon. Series 3 isn’t officially confirmed, but expect it to take another year, if for no other reason to complete all the f/x needed for the show.

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated

This wonderfully self-aware reconception of the cartoon classic is more Buffy than kid’s show. Conceived as a complete 2-season arc, and loaded with adult nods and layers of mystery, it is both wonderful nostaligia and entertaining distraction in 20-minute bites. It’s also loaded with surprise voice talent in major roles and guest roles. Give it a shot, you’ll know in a few minutes if it is for you or not.

Toy Story 4

[4 stars]

The first Toy Story had surprise going for it, both technologically and in the script. But I never found the series all that gripping or effective. However, this installment and (one hopes) resolution to the tale of motley toys is the best all around. Like the previous movies, it takes on adult themes beneath the surface of the silliness, but this script is richer and more subtle as it tackles growing up on several fronts.

It’s an even more impressive feat when you realize that it’s director Josh Cooley’s first feature and that the script and story had 9 different sets of hands stirring the pot. For a cohesive and interesting story to come out of that stew of sensibilities is pretty amazing, even if several had been involved in the series over the years.

There is also a huge list of voice talent involved. Many retuning voices will be familiar, as well as some new ones as guests. I’m not going to laundry list them all and, frankly, no one really stood out as brilliant. They all serve their purpose, which is the most important point.

This is the first of the series I actually recommend whole heartedly. It is certainly in contention for awards this year, including the yet to be announced Oscars. And, for a change, I agree it should be.

Bombshell

[4 stars]

When Rupert Murchoch comes off as the good guy in a story, you really have to wonder about the base you’re starting from. There is a lot of surprising and disturbing information in this film, much of which was already known, but it is given life and context by director Jay Roach (Trumbo) and Big Short writer Charles Randolph with a frenetic energy and tight-lipped humor.

The most surprising aspect of this (as a movie), to me was that though the events are driven by Gretchen Carlson’s story, in the guise of Nicole Kidman (The Upside), and the core thread is pulled through by Margot Robbie’s (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood) fictional Kayla Popisil, it is Charlize Theron’s (Destroyer) Megyn Kelly who owns this movie. That isn’t just because she frames the story narratively, it is because she uttlerly disappears into the character in a terrifying way and owns the energy of it all.

That isn’t to say that Robbie isn’t, yet again, brilliant nor that Kidman isn’t believable and effective (though less so for me). It is simply to say that Theron has turned in another career setting performance that proves again her abilities. To be fair, part of the reason for this focus is likely because Carlson is still under a gag order and wasn’t even allowed to talk with the filmakers, so they had to be rather circumspect in their portrayal.

Sprinkled liberally throughout the movie are other good performances, such as Brigette Lundy-Paine’s (Atypical) assitant, Allison Janney’s (I, Tonya) NYC laywer, Kate McKinnon’s (Yesterday) liberal-out-of-water reporter, and, of course, John Lithgow’s (The Tomorrow Man) repugnant but self-righteous Roger Ailes. But these are all supporting roles to Theron’s drive.

And now a confession: I had no interest in seeing this movie. I didn’t want to support Fox in any way or provide it attention. OK, I was wrong. Though the subject matter is challenging, the message is important and the delivery entertaining. Whether you like the women involved, this story is universal (particularly for women, but also for more men than will ever admit it). I still don’t respect the on-air personalities of these people, but Bombshell makes them more into people and lifts the veil of entertainment from their public personas.

Bombshell should be seen by everyone…but by women and young girls in particular.

Hello I Must Be Going

[3 stars]

When you feel like your life’s fallen apart, and you’ve nowhere to go, what do you do? Most go home, regardless of how challenging that may be. Now, admittedly, Melanie Lynskey’s (Girlboss) story is culturally narrow, but it is still emotionally effective.

Lynskey is recovering from a divorce, the story of which we get over the course of the movie. In the meantime, she has to deal with her parents, Blythe Danner (The Tomorrow Man) and John Rubinstein. Danner and Lynskey are very much at odds, but in a way that eventually makes sense. No one’s family makes sense until you understand it better and, like the divorce story, we learn more as the movie unspools.

In the middle of all this is Christopher Abbott (Catch 22) as the catalyst. He is a believably earnest 19 year old whose hormones and sense of privilege allow everything else to come into focus for Lynskey.  Their story is both entertaining and a little disturbing (though nothing like her turn in Perks of Being a Wallflower). But they manage to make it all very sweet, in its way.

Director Todd Louiso is better known for his acting ( and occassional writing (Macbeth), but does a nice job with Sarah Koskoff’s first script. It isn’t a particularly universal setting and set of characters, but the core of the story will resonate more widely. If you want a lighter tale of awakening and growing up with a bit of humor and pathos, this will do.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

[2 stars]

I know I’m going against the common response and reaction, but I just didn’t think this was a good movie. It is self-referential, self-indulgent, slowly paced, poorly constructed, and with only the barest of throughlines. Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s previous alternate history offerings, were equally as expansive, but also had pacing and humor and, well, a point. They deserved discussion and rewatching. This long, meandering tale of a failing actor finding his way through against the tangential (though intersecting plot) of Charlie Manson is neither engaging, encouraging, nor in the least enticting.

But, more importantly, how can you take seriously putting the Manson murders on the same stage and scale as Hitler and Slavery?

Tarantino’s script is a broken series of short scenes and flashbacks that never quite gel. Even the final, bloody and violent confrontation, which is quintessential Taratino, has little entertainment value. It is simply a lot of blood and chaos serving no point at all. Or maybe that was his point, but it didn’t need almost three hours of film to get there.

Because the story is so fractured, the performances are, frankly, beside the point. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) and Brad Pitt (Ad Astra) have some levels and moments, but no story. There are hints of a story, particularly for Pitt, but they’re never really explored. Even Margot Robbie (Mary Queen of Scots) is, frankly, bland and empty. She ends up neither as tragic nor as hero.

I don’t get all the hype for this movie. Admittedly it is probably building on the echo chamber of Hollywood and for those die-hard fans of the three main characters, but it simply and honestly isn’t a good movie. You’re welcome to disagree, but I wouldn’t waste my time if you haven’t already.