Tag Archives: Dark

Inheritance (2020)

[2.5 stars]

There is only one reason to see this rather predictable, if nicely tense, movie…and that’s Simon Pegg (Slaughterhouse Rulez). His complete transformation and performance is really quite amazing.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast isn’t quite so engaging. Lily Collins (Tolkien) is completely miscast as a highly respected and tough NYC DA. She just doesn’t have that gravitas…and her reactions through much of the story are, well, not from a woman who should be more  prepossessed. Chace Crawford (The Boys) is fine, but sadly typecast in his role; there are no surprises there.

And then there’s the story. To be honest, as director Vaughn Stein’s follow-up to his more stylish and satisfying Terminal, I was rather disappointed. His handling of the script is fine, but he should have pushed for something beyond the obvious. There was an opportunity for a more interesting conclusion that was completely missed. By taking it just one more step to complete Collins’ journey, a bland and obvious ending could have been elevated; but that isn’t what’s on offer.

Certainly, there is some good tension and by-play in this piece, but I can’t really recommend the cost of nearly two hours. However, if you do tune in, Pegg alone may keep you nailed to your seat to stick it out. Just don’t expect revelation at the conclusion, merely an ending.

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.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

[4.5 stars]

Simple, calm, honest, and heartbreaking. Writer/director Eliza Hittman follows up her breakout Beach Rats by tackling a young woman’s challenge, making it an interesting companion piece even if they aren’t at all related.

Newcomers Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder take us on a journey that suggests more than it explains their lives. It is like the worst and best kind of voyeuristic observation. We never feel we’re intruding, but we also get to follow these young women where we shouldn’t.

This isn’t an easy film to describe. Basically, you should see it. It is a window into a world many will not have experienced, and an exposé of reality that far too many others have. That is done as art only heightens the effect and allows for some moments that will impact you unexpectedly…not because they are horrific in themselves, but because they are honest and imply ever so much more.

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Ju-on: Origins

[4 stars]

Japanese horror is a unique and dark corner in the genre. It’s sense of what is evil is very different from Western stories of ghosts and monsters. Evil is a thing that can be attached to places, people, animals, elements…just about anything. It is without conscience and not always with a particular purpose, though it often is brought forth from or echos real-life events.

Ju-on, the movie, was terrifying. Even its American remake was solidly creepy and disturbing. This series makes them both seem tame. It is darker than dark, twisted, and asks the question: where does evil begin (if the title wasn’t enough of a clue).

The series is told with interleaving/overlapping time-periods to lay out the story, ultimately with it all coming together in the final episodes. But it never quite fully defines what is happening and why; not unusual in Japanese horror. It does provide events and suggestions, but there would seem to be a bigger tale to tell, and, perhaps, an as yet unrevealed purpose behind the hauntings. And, yes, though it resolves a good deal of the threads, it left open the story in a way that allows it to continue if it gets renewed. Actually, it kind of demands more episodes to resolve it all. Much of the credit to the creepy goes to the writers. Hiroshi Takahashi worked on some of the Ju-on sequels and Takashige Ichise on Ringu and its sequels. But director Shô Miyake found a great visual language to depict their story, even if the edits and clarity weren’t always the best.

Do not go into this series lightly. I am not a squeamish sort. I enjoy Japanese horror in all its bloody and gooey splendor. But this embraces that and adds a layer of truly uncomfortable imagery and events that left my skin crawling. And yet, I’d be back if they continue it, just to see how they pull it together.

Ju-On: Origins Poster

Corpus Christi (Boze Cialo)

[4 stars]

The story of this movie, by first-timer Mateusz Pacewicz, is intense and uncompromising in many ways. It is reminiscent of Sweet Hereafter in both its pace and issues, but all in a very different frame. Playing on the idea of Corpus Christi, this is as much a personal tale as it is an allegory. But those overtones only come to you post-film thanks to its powerful presentation. Jan Komasa (@Suicide Room) took Pacewicz’s script and created a film that has been celebrated around the world.

And within those efforts by Pacewicz, Bartosz Bielenia owns this film; we spend almost the entire two hours watching Bielenia struggle and rejoice in life. There are a number of good performances around him, but they are all supporting in nature. If I were to call out anyone, it would be his two hosts in the lumber town, Aleksandra Konieczna and Eliza Rycembel, who both have several, quietly complex levels.

The film is inexorable and wonderful and painful all at once. It is aspirational and unflinching. It is a mirror to our best and worst selves. And it’s a reminder of what we can all be, and sometimes what we all are. I don’t mean to wax overly poetic, but while the experience of watching the movie is very down-to-earth, in trying to explain it, a string of superlatives just naturally comes to mind. The ending takes time to absorb and, no doubt, stirs reactions both good and bad. Not everyone who sees the film will agree it works, but, on reflection, I think it does.

Pacewicz continues to impress me with his choice of material and his ability to navigate the darker side of humanity with heart. This is film worth seeing, but it is intense enough that I don’t know if I’d watch it again more than once down the road. But I’m certainly glad I saw it at least this once.

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Snowpiercer (the series)

[3 stars]

This is a series, thanks to all its delays, who’s timing should have been perfect. It’s all about inequality, authoritarianism, prejudice, and governance based on lies. But the show didn’t quite have the courage it needed to really attack all that. It kept getting blunted by a slightly soapy mentality. Which isn’t to say that relationships aren’t a necessary underpinning of good drama, but the balance wasn’t quite right.

But let’s wind this back just a little before diving in. The source movie of this series was dark, funny, fascinating, and complete. There wasn’t a reason to have to go back. More, it isn’t a world you want to spend a lot of time in. Not only is it restricted in scope, the fantastical aspects are outlandish…fine for a single movie, harder to support in an ongoing tale. And, as this is a prequel (only 7 years into the ride), we already know what happens or the extent of what can happen in many ways.

Fortunately, Daveed Diggs (Velvet Buzzsaw) and Jennifer Connelly (Alita: Battle Angel) are solid actors, and they are supported by many other good performances. Connelly, in particular, is a study in control and nuance. She navigates the complex position she bears at the helm with amazing grace and poignancy. Diggs has layers, but, frankly, they’re nothing we haven’t seen before by him or similar characters. It’s thanks to these two that the show has any real legs at all. However, that doesn’t overcome the base challenge.

I struggled to watch through to the end to see if they could find a rhythm and momentum. It didn’t even get intriguing until the fourth episode, when they smartly decided not to draw out the initial mystery, only to reveal another. But the pacing and motivations and decisions were often all a muddle, though it picks up pace as it goes along, with the final three episodes being an almost continuous run. In addition, their bible is sloppy on some things; for instance, distance is fungible based on their needs. Either the train is 5 mi long or it isn’t. That  is a lot of distance to cover and can add to plot tension, but they seem to be able to do it in a couple minutes of walking when the plot demands.

There is a lot of potential buried in Snowpiercer. More, I will admit, than I thought they’d be able to find. But I’m not sure it hit its moment nor will be able to catch it on the back-end of their return. And, honestly, I was rather frustrated with their huge cliffhanger of an obvious ending. But, perhaps, the happenings of the last six months will more completely inform the storyline going into series 2 coming next year.

Snowpiercer Poster

Perfect Blue (Pâfekuto burû)

[3 stars]

OK, I know this is considered a classic, and I’m ashamed for not having seen it sooner. I’m even more disappointed because it is also so dated now that it diminished the experience. While it captured the early-mid 90s relatively well, particularly riffing on police procedurals of the time, other aspects now clash. For instance, the long explanations of how the internet works were probably necessary at the time fora portion of the audience, but ring hollow and annoying in 2020. That isn’t the fault of the movie, but certainly had impact.

What sets Perfect Blue apart from much of anime is the story. I think there are better reality-based anime out there, most by this same director, Satoshi Kon, who wrote and directed some of them: Millenium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika. But this was his first attempt. And none of what followed quite dives into the darkness of the human psyche quite like this first movie does. Of course, sometime Kon collaborator Sadayuki Murai (Knights of Sidonia) adapted this story, not Kon himself. But it clearly opened a path for movies that followed.

That sets it in context, but is it really a good movie? Yes and no. It’s a challenge to watch at times, particularly for the first third. But as it comes together and it reveals itself, it becomes intriguing and then fascinating. The freedom of animation allowed Kon and Murai to explore the mental disconnection of a person in distress and make it as real for us as it is for them. It isn’t a perfect end result, but it is impressive as it whips through the final third of the story. As part of your anime education, this does have to be seen, but know it is fraying a bit around the edges thanks to time.

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Dark (series 3 – finale)

[5 stars]

I’ve been talking up Dark for a while now. And having rewatched it from front to back again, I plan on continuing.

The series starts as a fairly standard mystery and then rapidly evolves. By episode 1.3 you have some sense of the complexity. By the end of the first series your brain is likely bleeding. In the second series it only gets more complex and convoluted and yet…. either it was all planned brilliantly or retcon’d seamlessly because on every major point it holds together. There are some minor bits and pieces that are left hanging or glossed (and yes, I look at you episode 2.4). And I admit there is one choice in the series 2 finale that makes me grind my teeth as it wasn’t necessary for plot, but simply contrived to get a visual and then they got stuck with it. Then, at the end of series 2, you’ve taken a hard left turn.

But the big events, the important confluences, all work as one.

And here we are at the completion of the tale, series 3; it makes the first two runs look simple…in fact, the penultimate episode left me exhausted. More importantly, the finale brings it all together in a fair way, given the story that’s been laid out before us–the clues are all there. Even the title finally gets an explanation.

Ultimately, this is one of the best attempts to both philosophically attack and support a deterministic universe. There are characters on both sides fighting to defend and break it. And not a one of them is telling the truth. We know that early on, but never actually find solid ground till the end, when their intentions are truly revealed. Sure the science is, at best, fantastical at times, but not all of it. Some is well-established theory, and the mix of the two allows you to swallow the conceits in full; even when they get it horribly wrong.

One of the aspects that makes this series work is their, mostly, amazing casting. Only This is Us has come close to the need and quality of finding actors to portray characters at different ages. And, honestly, Dark has done it better. Some of the actors you will swear are the same person, just aged. It helps tremendously with keeping track of the story and the credibility of the plot. They also weren’t afraid to try new ways to work with the audience visually. Each series experiments with new visual cues and approaches to help you navigate the insanity. Series 3 even uses more than one approach over the eight episodes.

Dark lives comfortably with some of the great time-travel tales of the last few decades, including Timecrimes, Primer, Edge of Tomorrow, Predestination, Doctor Who (Blink), Looper, Safety Not GuaranteedWatchmen, The Magicians (ep 5.6: Oops..I did it Again), Babylon 5, and even (despite its flaws) Terminator: Genisys. If you haven’t tackled it yet, make the time…and watch it from start to finish in a straight go (no more than two episodes a night). There are so many subtle and wonderful moments and echos that will get missed if you stretch it out too long.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels

[4.5 stars]

City of Angels is a richly appointed and complex tale of murder, espionage, love, and religious devotion (as well as religious hypocrisy), with a good helping of prejudice and capitalism thrown in.  It is also topical and historically well done, resulting in a beautiful and brutal series.

Natalie Dormer (Patient Zero) is a revelation in 3 of the 4 characters (she really can’t pull of the white Mexican well). It is obvious why she took the role. Likewise Nathan Lane (Carrie Pilby), who gets to play to all his strengths from wry humor to deep pathos. Bouncing between them is Daniel Zovatto (Lady Bird), who serves as the main spine for the series. From the opening scene, he is the man in the balance trapped between outcomes. But until the moments, he is stuck in the gray. We watch him struggle to be part of some world, any world, where he fits and can live with the choices. And it is a compelling tension.

A number of driving roles keep it all moving as well. Rory Kinnear (Years and Years), in particular, has a many layered story to navigate. Through him we see duality in detail: humanity and the inhumane. It is done without any nod and wink, nor any apology. And Michael Gladis (Extant) provides a suitably vile and craven political climber in a world that he wants to crush before it crushes him. Even Zovatto’s screen brother, Johnathan Nieves (See You Yesterday), brings in a set of layers born of hopelessness and anger. It’s a little one-note, but it doesn’t lack credibility even when his ultimate choices are a little forced. There are some nice treats along the way too, like Patty Lupone (Last Christmas) in concert and Brian Dennehy’s (The Seagull) final effort before his passing in April (though he may have other footage still to come in a couple projects).

This time in LA, the lead-up to WWII, has been often visited, but rarely with the kind of scope this series pulls off. Usually you get hyper-focused stories, like Zoot Suit, or Chinatown, or any number of mystery/suspense/noir stories that pull apart the high and low of society, or the gay and straight. City of Angels navigates all of these aspects, and then some. And it does so in a way that makes sense and shows the connecting threads. For that alone, it is worth seeing.

However, while I loved seeing a different take on the era, I have to admit that I was also somewhat upset that it removed primary responsibility for the horrors from the humans. Dormer’s character, as the sweet-tongued devil in many guises, becomes the main impetus for all the action. She really does much more than talk to make it all happen, which is where the trouble lies.

In addition, there is a challenge with the plot decisions that bothered me. While the presentation of how LGBTQ people were treated and viewed in the era is relatively, sadly accurate, the series also has no LGBTQ character who isn’t, for lack of a better word, evil. Not just tragic, but actively doing wrong. That feels a shame in a story as big as this and one that has so many levels of detail. And particularly wrong during Pride Month. It isn’t that the characters aren’t human, they just all feel irredeemable.

But, ultimately, this show is so on target for the current situation across the country, the awakening and mobilization of frustration and anger, that it’s uncanny and upsetting. All in an intentional way. City of Angels marks a brick in the path that leads to its own historical volatile times, but it is also a reflection of the powder keg that is today. It insists we look not only at the past but at how we want to navigate the future. And it also forces us to admit the perils of not paying attention to those lessons. Despite its slightly rushed wrap-up and some of the dangling threads, this is a definite must-see for our times and, should these times move on, a must-see for the historic scope and lessons of the past; and yes it’s entertaining as well.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels

Les Enfant Terribles

[2 stars]

I know it’s a classic, but it no longer (if it ever) works. It comes close, but refuses to gel. Generally, the world agreed that director Jean-Pierre Melville and writer/adapter Jean Cocteau’s collaboration yielded an imperfect translation to screen. It made “classic” status as part of their bodies of work, not this particular work itself.

In all honesty, this wasn’t the movie I had intended to see. Way back in 1995 I was lucky enough to see Indiscretions on Broadway. That was an adaptation of Cocteau’s earlier tale and film, Les Parents Terrible.  A story that was a much more interesting, funny, sad, and dark tale of familial life and emotional incest. Over the intervening years, somehow the two titles got munged in my head and I ended up queuing Les Enfants. The two are not comparable.

None of the cast in this film really had much of a career. There is the nice curio that Cocteau himself provides the narrator’s voice-over. But nothing much else about the movie stands out as a reason to recommend it. Save your time and find some other french cinema of the era to sate your education and/or curiosity. Or, if you want, something newer that reflects that era, like The Dreamers.

Les Enfants Terribles Poster