Tag Archives: Dark

iBoy

Every story is allowed one really big lie. I’ve said it before, but it is really necessary to restate for this movie because it has one really big leap you have to make in order for it all to happen. Happily, once it does, it is actually a reasonable tale of teenage heroics and recognition that the world, very often, just sucks.

Director Adam Randall’s sophomore outing of writer, Joe Barton’s (Humans) adaptation is definitely aimed at a younger audience, but is willing to (lightly) tackle some tougher subjects.

Bill Milner (Broken) carries the film well. We watch him come into his own as a young man, though not quite adult. His story, as a physical metaphor for adolescence, is actually pretty good. Silly at times, but good. In the other young lead, Maisie Williams (Doctor Who)  continues to broaden her cv away from Game of Thrones. Her performance here is compelling, but is certainly held back by the material from exploring all aspects and reactions to her situation. But, again, this is for a younger audience, so I gave her a pass on that.

Thrown into this mix of young folks surviving the projects are two main adults: Miranda Richardson and Rory Kinnear (Man Up). Without them, the story would have ended up feeling  like a comic book. They add just enough from the real world to make the story feel almost possible.

For a fun distraction with action, humor, and a some fanciful leaps of faith, it really is a good distraction by some solid talent.

Miranda Richardson in iBOY

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

Wiener-Dog

Seriously, WTF? I watched this entire film in the hope that it would eventually come together as something…anything. I was to be disappointed and annoyed.

Director/writer Todd Solondz had no sense of when to stop a joke (and I use that term loosely) nor much humanity. Because he is also the writer/director of the brilliant Welcome to the Dollhouse and equally brilliant, but horrific, Happiness, perhaps I shouldn’t have been too surprised with the darkness of it all. But in this case, I have no idea what he was hoping to get across, whereas his earlier work was challenging (to say the least), but ultimately with substance.

I think the intent was dark humor with the dog as the forced thread for the vignettes. However, the first half of the film is about the same dog going from owner to owner (a lot like a cruel A Dog’s Purpose). Then we get an amusing and jarring “intermission” followed by stand-alone tales that have similar dogs in them, but with almost no purpose. It is even somewhat weirdly self-referential regarding film. Add to this the flat delivery of the dialogue, clearly consistent and a choice, and I’m left bereft of a clue. Perhaps it was intended as a post-modernist take on Brecht? Still, it just didn’t work.

Honestly, this is a waste of your time and of any film or hard disc it was filmed to. I honestly don’t forgive Solondz for wasting my time on this one.

Wiener-Dog

Sleepless

Unlikable people doing unlikable things in stupid ways doesn’t add up to a good movie. We don’t even get an anti-hero to latch onto. Jamie Foxx (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Michelle Monaghan (Pixels) are simply just bad at their jobs, whether or not they are also bad/dirty cops.

To balance that, as inept bad guys we get Dermot Mulroney (August: Osage County) and Scoot McNairy (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), neither of which seems to deserve the empires they lead.  The only truly likable character in the entire film is Gabrielle Union, but she also pulls some stupid moves. Octavius J. Johnson (Ray Donovan), is mostly just a hot potato used to drive the action; his portrayal of the son has little depth and generates little sympathy.

To be fair, all these choices and lacks are the fault of writer Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton) and director Baran bo Odar (Who Am I). The script is ill-conceived and poorly researched while the acting is relentlessly dark with few positive hooks for us to want to hold onto. Even an anti-hero needs to pull our sympathies in some way if we are to commit to them.

The cast was unable to rise above a bad foundation of this film. The idea that it could have a sequel (and boy do they set it up) was simply the bitter icing on the unpalatable cake at the very end. Basically, skip this one.

Sleepless

Thale

Aleksander Nordaas’ award winning bit of cinema is one of those rare films that lives in the horror genre but manages to transcend it as a story. This tale lives somewhere between suspense, horror, and fantasy by focusing on the characters, mystery, myth, and story. Most horror forgets that good story is based on characters, not just about setting up mildly interesting characters so they can be killed off in spectacular ways.

This is a very short film (81 minutes). While there is certainly some carnage (and perhaps a bit too much vomiting at the top) most of the film is dialogue and relationship work. You get to know the four main characters and, to some degree, understand and sympathize with all of them. It is, in some ways, reminiscent of Spring in its feel and approach. It is, at time, beautifully filmed, but also quite good at stretching the tension to provide a good ride.

Thale

The Girl With All the Gifts

You have to respect a horror film that really considers the biology and implications of their conceits. Zombie films, in particular, tend to be rather silly, even when fun. It has been a long while since I’ve seen a world where the science was derived from real life and thought through to give us a plot. Think 28 Days Later or Pitch Black (or even to some degree The Great Wall). Girl is a plague story with planned and realistic motivations, and with a script that doesn’t insult the viewer. In fact it goes places and considers issues with an incredible intelligence that belies its gory genre.

At the head of it all is the diminutive Sennia Nanua in her first major role. Expect to see more of her. She is confident and layered in her performance in a way that few young actors can achieve. She is supported by a talented adult cast as well. Paddy Considine (Miss You Already), Gemma Arterton (The Voices), Fisayo Akinade (Cucumber), and Glenn Close (The Great Gilly Hopkins) round out the main cast and become Nanua’s way to understand her world.

I have to believe that part of the reason for the success of this picture is the wide range of material under the directorial belt of Colm McCarthy. He does a great job of revealing the world and focusing the performances for Carey’s adaptation (of Carey’s own novel), navigating the genre without losing its humanity. McCarthy also understands the rhythms needed, keeping the emotional intelligence and human moments suitably calm so that the explosions of violence have impact. Even where it is predictable it is often unpredictable or satisfyingly complete; it never feels cheap. It is a rare that a director doesn’t give in to the histrionics and clichés in established horror tropes.

If you are looking for something fun and intelligent, this is your bowl of popcorn. It is full of action as well as thought and is every bit as good as you may have been hearing. If it weren’t for the genre, you’d probably have heard a whole heck of a lot more about it.

The Girl with All the Gifts

Some new and some lost TV

These are very different shows, but both boast strong female leads. In the case of Emerald City, several strong female leads.

Emerald City (lost)

I wish I had poked more people about this sooner, but I wasn’t confident it could hold my interest (or even hold together) as much as it did. Unfortunately, now, it is not likely to see a second season and I’m bummed. Baum’s Oz was never the happy-go-lucky place Judy Garland convinced folks it was, but neither was it quite as dark and twisted as director Tarsem Singh (Self/less) brought to our screens. But I liked it. It was a re-imagining, sure, but with enough love to the original material and with a sense of modern politics and tastes. And, like all Singh’s efforts, it is gloriously visual.

Adria Arjona (True Detective) is a solid lead, tough and intelligent, but lost enough to keep it interesting. She is joined by a host of women: Joley Richardson (Snowden),  Ana Ularu (Inferno), Gina Bellman (Leverage), Jordan Loughran (The Infiltrator), Gina McKee (The Borgias), and Stephanie Martini (Doctor Thorne, Prime Suspect 1973). Each is strong in their own way and each is fighting their own particular battle. This many female leads in such an expansive series alone should qualify it for renewal.

Vincent D’Onofrio (The Magnificent Seven), Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Dracula), and, amusingly, Gerran Howell (Young Dracula) are the primary male figures in the story. And, interestingly, each is under the shadow of at least one woman in their lives. I can’t think of another drama where that is case across the board. Even if broadcast television doesn’t pick it up, there is always hope that one of the streaming services will see the value and continue the story which was clearly a prologue to a much larger canvass.

Bellevue (new)

Anna Paquin (True Blood) has finally started to grow up. This Canadian detective series (on CBC) isn’t perfect, but it is interesting. Its pacing and tenor are like a slightly more  contained and energized Da Vinci’s Inquest.

The season is following two seemingly unconnected crimes that are somehow intersecting after 20 years. Paquin is playing a strong, but damaged police detective in rural Canada who is investigating one of the threads, but is embroiled in the other. There is enough mystery and character here to pull me in, though time will tell if it works or not. For now, it is definitely working well enough to keep me coming back every week.

Nocturnal Animals

Feel what you want about writer/director Tom Ford’s (A Single Man) films, the man can compose a shot as well as he could design a suit. As his Sophomore delivery to screen, Nocturnal Animals is rich, moody, and gripping as it weaves together three narratives of past, present, and fictional. It also garnered many nominations, though few wins.

The movie, as a whole, is an interesting piece of psychological noir and certainly an intriguing harbinger of what may come from Ford next. He doesn’t tackle easy stories, nor does he flinch from the darker sides of relationships and people. Mind you, he also always finds a way to dress pretty people well, but that is his world; it isn’t a huge surprise and it is always part of the story. Nocturnal Animals is worth your time, but expect to be wading through some seriously dark muck to get to the end. It is complicated and dark (did I mention that already?) and I really can’t discuss it without exposing it, so I have to stop here. Suffice to say that whatever you’ve seen in the trailers and heard in the ads isn’t even really what the film is about.

Driving the story, Amy Adams (Arrival) turns in yet another quiet, intense performance. She is a woman filled with regret and longing and we feel it all keenly. The focus of all that emotion is Jake Gyllenhaal (Demolition) in two roles: one real, one imagined. He pulls off both well.

Within the fictional world, Michael Shannon (Elvis & Nixon), nominated for an Oscar, provides us yet another Western law man with a history and an agenda. If I sound weary of these kinds of characters, I am. Much like the performances by Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones I recently discussed, despite being well done, there isn’t much new. To be fair, Shannon’s character is fictional, even within the movie, so some of the predictability is a feature of the structure. The role does allow Shannon to continue to add to the facets he puts on screen nicely, however.

Then there is Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron), who embodies a truly nasty character. Gone, utterly, is the sweet, well-meaning kid from Kick-Ass. Taylor-Johnson is a the metaphorical embodiment of evil and capriciousness. Again, his character is inflated by the conceit of the film, but he manages to make it feel disgustingly and terrifyingly real.

In a much smaller role, as Adam’s mother, Laura Linney (Genius) encapsulates an entire life and relationship in the space of a couple minutes. It is a wonderfully simple performance, but loaded with subtext. Without this short on-screen battle with Adams, the story would have been much weaker.

As a side-bar, I watched this as a self-made double-feature with Trolls. Can I recommend that for anyone else? Well, Trolls was a good pallet cleanser after this much darker tale. But, surprisingly, they do work together. Both films are stories of trying to define and find happiness. Yes, it is a bit of a stretch, but it was one of the more bizarre pairings I’ve ever tried and it only proves that almost anything can be put together and unexpected relationships will be exposed.

Nocturnal Animals

John Wick: Chapter 2

Stylish, brutal, and a great object lesson in inflexible rules and unchecked power. Oh… and wonderful counter-programming for Valentines Day!

This is that rare event where the sequel is actually better than the first movie.  The first chapter of this soon to be three part tale was a rocky start. After the initial brutality of the opening, it was really just a violence fest (however creative). Still it was fun and creative enough to bring me back for round 2.

Director Stahelski and writer Kolstad ran with what they started and built on it. The violence remains matter-of-fact. You don’t get to revel in it (with one exception). Killing is a necessity but not necessarily entertaining like we’re used to in films. Most movies use the fight choreography as a reason to cheer or show how clever the hero (or antihero) is. Jack Reacher, for instance, has pauses and moments so you can enjoy the fight and support the cleverness and prowess of the violence. It is a form of catharsis, but one that diminishes the reality of actions. Wick, on the other hand,  just keeps going, putting bullets and knives in bodies as he wades out of the shark tanks he keeps finding himself in. It isn’t something he is proud of, it is something he just has to do to survive. He even actively attempts to avoid killing if he can by giving people choices. On this point Reacher and Wick are similar, but it really more the way the fights are directed that sets Wick apart from most action films.

This chapter of Wick’s saga picks up pretty much from the end of Chapter 1. The short opening act brings that previous story to a close while providing the necessary background and reminders to re-illuminate the world. Then there is a brief respite. Hey, it’s John Wick, of course it is brief. This is where the new movie leaps ahead of its predecessor. We have a real, believable reason for Wick’s jumping back into the fray. And it is quite the fray. Keanu Reeves (The Neon Demon) is back full-force.

Intersecting with him for various reasons and in various ways are  bevy of interesting characters. Ian McShane (Hercules), Lance Reddick (Bosch), and Common (Suicide Squad) on sort of the side of right, and Riccardo Scamarcio (London Spy), and Ruby Rose (Resident Evil: The Final Chapter) aligned against him (or against him moreso?). However you slice this it is Wick vs. just about everybody thanks to the rules of the trade and a lack of flexibility to those rules when someone abuses them.

There are two obvious moments that could have easily defused or changed everything in this script, but they were avoided. One is a scene with Common and the other McShane. Each could have changed the tide but neither could see beyond the rules as they had always applied them.

Admittedly, these issues could be seen as flaws in the script, or they could be seen as the point. I prefer the latter. This is a society in decay and impending ruin brought on by its own choices and issues. The rot at the core of it are the shadowy, powerful folks at the high table. As Chapter 3 comes along, I expect to see a razing of the landscape and a new order rise, but that’s just a guess.

The thing you need to really understand about John Wick is that while the movies are great rides, they aren’t gleeful at all. You leave breathless but a bit put off and yet rooting for Wick all the way. I respect that the violence isn’t directly celebrated, even if it actually is and we do. The movie is a conundrum, but I think in a positive way. Violence and actions have consequences in Wick’s world. And he takes a serious beating trying to navigate it all; we just get to ride it out, arms in the air and screaming gleeful, bloody murder.

John Wick: Chapter 2