Tag Archives: Foreign

Dead Pixels

[3 stars]

If IT Crowd had been purely about gaming, it would have been something like this riotous look at the sub-culture of dedicated players.

Though Alexa Davies (Spaceship) and William Merrick (Poldark) are the indisputable center of this absurd comedy, it wouldn’t work without Charlotte Ritchie (McDonald & Dodds) providing a normal center for them to bounce off of. David Mumeni (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) and Sargon Yelda (Strike) round out the comedy chops of the digital gang.

For 22 minutes of silliness, that mirrors real life a bit too much at times, this is a great choice. It manages to be both funny and sad while defending and skewering its characters.

Now the real question is why in Atari’s name did the CW ever purchase this show when they have to bleep it every few seconds? They don’t even offer an uncensored version online. Honestly, it was unwatchable on broadcast, but worth finding online or on disc elsewhere.

Sometimes Always Never

[4 stars]

Let’s face it, just about anything with Bill Nighy (Emma.) is worth watching just for him. Often it is only a taste of Nighy as a smaller side character. But in this film he and Sam Riley (Radioactive) share this story of family and survivorship. Both men play against their typical type, though Riley is a bit more consistent at it; Nighy’s accent kept slipping. However, both provide endearing and riveting performances as they verbally spar and converse.

The cast is also gifted with Jenny Agutter (Call the Midwife) and Alice Lowe (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) who swirl around the two men with funny and poignant moments. Neither is given full rein, but both have impact and are part of why the film works so well. Even the young Louis Healy helps fill out the film nicely with minimal time.

As a first feature, Carl Hunter directs the tale with a confident hand and a delightfully playful vision. Despite the intense emotions of the story in Frank Cottrell Boyce’s (Goodbye Christopher Robin) script, Hunter keeps it all quietly real and funny. Also, the design of the film is breathtaking, from the wide vistas, to the distortion from the lenses, to the odd greenscreen and paper puppetry, it’s a unique combination of visuals that serve to amplify the story. Even the color pallet is retimed in order to make it, to put it mildly, bilious.

I didn’t know what to expect going into this story, and that was fine. I’d suggest you do the same. Go for the comedy and the sweet sense of family it creates. Stay for the performances, message, and the wonderfully odd presentation; but make time for this.

Freaks: You’re One of Us (Freaks: Du Bist Eine Von Uns)

[3 stars]

I love that we are looking more and more at the dark side of superhero-dom. Mind you, we’re in danger of getting as swamped with those kinds of movies as we are the more earnest versions. But it’s nice to have some balance.

And Freaks is a bit more than just an anti-superhero tale. It’s a bare philosophical metaphor for mental illness and otherness in general. The argument can be made that almost all superhero stories are about otherness, but they often bury it or ignore it entirely in their stories, leaving it to critics to make the case. Freaks makes it front and center.

Though it is played for honesty, particularly by Cornelia Gröschel in the lead as a struggling, young parent, it drifts into a rather arch confrontation and events. Her counterpart, Tim Oliver Schultz, in particular, spirals pretty far afield from the grounded beginning. The result ends up being more like a TV pilot than a movie. That doesn’t make it bad. It’s very entertaining and relatively well thought-through. The approach does, however, make it less than it could have been.

The TV feel to the overall shape is partially due to director Felix Binder, who’s spent most of his career in the smaller venue and pushing shows. He made a lot of choices that were reflections of that experience. On the other hand, some of the success to the result also goes to writer Marc O. Seng, who wrote several of the episodes for Dark.

Basically, Freaks is a fun distraction for an evening. It trods well-known ground, but finds a way to keep it feeling fresh and provides characters to keep us interested.

The Whistlers (La Gomera)

[4 stars]

Oddball films that really work are hard to find. Corneliu Porumboiu’s Whistlers certainly falls into that category as a delightfully dark comedy that doubles as one of the odder mobster love stories you’ll get to see. It isn’t perfect…in fact I want to slap him around just a bit for not following through on the main conceit, even though he does use it. And, before you ask, yeah, it’s real.

What sets this story apart from so many similar stories of betrayal, dirty cops, and semi-honorable thieves is how the tale is told. Porumboiu fractures the story and tells it with parallel chronologies to make the story as much one of mystery as it is suspense.

Vladimir Ivanov (Toni Erdmann) and Catrinel Marlon (Tale of Tales) are at the center of the story. Ivanov’s even temperament, despite any circumstance, is both amusing and amazing as he sells it every time. And Marlon’s femme fatale approach is both cold and spot on; her sharp intelligence always on display.

The couple are surrounded by a host of interesting supporting characters. Rodica Lazar, in particular, as Ivanov’s boss, is a fascinating and quiet portrayal.

Basically, this is a romp, with dark, Romanian overtones. But is also a comedy, which keeps it all from getting too weighty and uncomfortable. If you haven’t found it yet, and are looking for something a bit different but not too fluffy, this is a good way to go.

The Whistlers Poster

Biohackers

[3 stars]

Germany is really producing some fun TV lately (think Dark). This newest, high-concept scifi conspiracy tale really works well… till near the end, when it’s a bit rushed and predictable. But up till then, the plot is nicely pushed along organically and without too much manipulation.

Luna Wedler, in the lead, manages to convey an intelligent adversary to her target, the coldly manipulative and driven Jessica Schwarz. And, of course, there’s a band of misfits helping it all along. And while Jing Xiang and Sebastian Jakob Doppelbauer are hopelessly silly through part of it, they are also entertaining as heck. Xiang, in particular, handles piles of monologue wonderfully. On the other hand, the more serious connections for Wedler are bit less clear in their motivations. Though they have depth, neither Adrian Julius Tillmann nor Thomas Prenn are entirely believable in their actions.

On the upside, this story was renewed, so we’re not to be left hanging on the final moments of the 6 episode wind-up. Suffice to say, it’s a pretty good ride, told in a way that didn’t put my teeth on edge with people being willful-stupid about those around them, or not speaking up when they should. In other words, most of the characters had some clear intelligence and lived in our world (science aspects aside). Definitely worth an investment of your time if you like these kind of shows.

An odd assortment for many tastes

Here’s a potpourri of material for all kinds of tastes. Though, admittedly, not all are easy to get your hands on.

Mysteries:

Ultraviolet
Not the movie (which isn’t so good), nor the vampire series (which isn’t so bad), but a Polish mystery series. It’s not quite a cozy series, but it isn’t a deeply effective procedural. The mysteries drive it along, but it’s just as much about the band of misfits solving crimes as it is the criminals. They also take a nice sharp left at the end of first season and into the second that shows they were working hard to keep it going. And while the second series isn’t a complete cliff-hanger, we’re still waiting to hear if it is renewed to continue the tale. Even so, there is enough closure that it is entertaining and gets better as it goes along.

Van Der Walk
A 2020 reboot of the 1970’s series, with Marc Warren (Revengers Tragedy, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell) in the title role. The mysteries are interesting, but not brilliant. It’s the characters and the interplay that keep it intriguing.

McDonald & Dodds
Another amusing detective odd couple story, with a few overwrought characters thrown in. Dodds, played by the wonderful character actor Jason Watkins, is the absolute center of these stories…all by being quiet and steady in the midst of chaos. Paired with relative newcomer Tala Gouveia, the two navigate a strained relationship into something quite a bit more interesting. Were it not for their Super, James Murray (6 Underground), being written like an outright fool, the show could really fly. As it is, the two episode inaugural series is fun, and I look forward to its return, but I hope they get the writing more under control.

YA Science Fiction: 

The Cul de Sac
This is a far from perfect Kiwi YA fantasy/sci-fi adventure, but with a nicely evolving mystery and characters. It’s still written for tweens, so don’t expect brilliant plotting and complex emotions, but do expect some amusing dialogue. The first two series built on each other nicely. I’m hoping the third series will wrap it all up nicely, though I suspect it won’t entirely. It will likely be a year before it is available to stream or buy as they seem to be being trickled out after their wrap in NZ a couple of years back. As a short distraction, at 6 ep. seasons/22 min. each, it’s entertaining.

Documentary:

We Are Freestyle Love Supreme
Do you know who Freestyle Love Supreme are? Well, this will tell you something of them, but not really showcase their talents. It’s a docu best seen by fans of the improvisational rap group or, individually, like Lin Mañuel Miranda (Mary Poppins Returns). It is really more a tale of how  show comes into being, with some insights into what it’s like to be a performing theatre creative in NYC.

The Go-Go’s
On the other hand, this music documentary is really very good and engaging. I wouldn’t have thought that the rise, and fall, and rise of the Go-Go’s would be able to keep my attention. But Alison Ellwood’s documentary is cleverly edited, and and the band are very open about their journey. In addition, Ellwood puts it all in great, historical context, following these young women and their influences and influence. This is a story about young women as well as about the music industry. It also is surprisingly reflective of Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains–or, perhaps, not so surprising, though that movie was completed before The Go-Go’s even hit their peak.

RoboGeisha

[2.5 stars]

Every bit as silly and bloody as you expect from the title…and, yes, it is bat-shit crazy. It is, in fact, so bizarre that it was even more fun to watch with the badly dubbed English 5.1 track (rather than the original Japanese stereo with subtitles).

Truthfully, I can’t defend this movie on any level. It isn’t quite “so bad it’s good” like the old Ed Wood films. But it isn’t so full of itself that isn’t also punching itself in the face consciously. Writer/director Noboru Iguchi is clearly a prolific, gonzo creator. He has no boundaries and an evil sense of humor.

So, I admit: I laughed a lot. I hope it was in places Iguchi intended. But I can’t say I’d seek out any more of his work. One was enough. You may find him more to your liking.

RoboGeisha Poster

Dripping in Chocolate

[3 stars]

Yes, I had to see this, or at least try it, just for the name. As it turned out, I stayed for the full meal. It’s TV mystery vibe aside, David Wenham (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) and Louise Lombard (Grimm) make it worth the watch. Well, that and the wonderful sequences of Lombard making chocolate.

Imagine Lewis meets My Life is Murder and you have a sense of this (what I suspect) was a pilot for an unpicked-up series set in Sydney. A shame, really, as the main characters are fun, though it would be hard to sustain the formula. Another way to think of this is to focus on Lombard’s desire to heal the world with word and cocoa, which makes it oddly reminiscent of Chocolat…if that had included murder as part of its theme.

Wenham and Lombard have a great chemistry and say volumes with silence as they spar. And each has a rich backstory, of which we get at least some of during this movie. And there are other folks you may recognize, depending the amount of Aussie and Kiwi productions in your diet. Rick Donald (Dr. Blake Mysteries), Caroline Brazier (Rake), and Geoff Morrell (The Code), for instance.

Overall, this is an entertaining, and even somewhat well constructed mystery that will keep you re-evaluating suspects from beginning through to near the end.

Dripping in Chocolate Poster

 

Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage)

[3 stars]

Sixty years has not dulled the impressive sensibility of this classic French horror. Beautifully filmed and quietly acted, it manages to make a shock movie (for its time) and an existential statement. I mentioned it was French, right?

This doesn’t make it a great movie in 2020, but it was still interesting and fun to watch. Some of the effects are also rather impressive for the time…and some even hold up now. Certainly the mask design is a piece of creepy beauty.

But it’s the bona fides of this film that make it most interesting. It was adapted, in part, by the duo Thomas Narcejac and Pierre Boileau, who had also given us Vertigo and Diabolique. They try for quiet tensions that build to the inevitable finale. They don’t explain everything, but allow you to fill in aspects from your own imagination.

In addition to the writer bones, it is directed by Georges Franju, who is better known for founding the Cinematheque Française with Henri Langlois. While certainly capable behind the camera, his contribution to cinema is certainly more permanently engraved in the industry by that involvement.

It’s also worth noting that Criterion produced a beautiful transfer of the movie. It is clean and crisp with plenty of shadow where intended. Don’t expect to be shocked or surprised by this story, but it will carry you along and, perhaps, surprise you with its approach and delivery. Coming out of the 50s monster era, this is a shift into more contemplative, modern horror.

Eyes Without a Face Poster

Loveless (Nelyubov)

[4 stars]

When I finally had a chance to see Andrey Zvyagintsev’s (Leviathan) latest movie, albeit late, I wasn’t disappointed. I was, however, left drained. While Leviathan was harsh, it was also darkly funny. Loveless is completely upfront, from title and opening credits to the the story itself, about the emptiness and harsh, sad reality the characters share.

The script, also by Zvyagintsev and his Leviathan collaborator Oleg Negin, is generally minimalist. A joy for a subtitled movie (I could actually concentrate on the visuals). But the spare dialogue doesn’t reduce the information provided. Zvyagintsev crafts his moments with great care. They are dense with detail, subtext, and implication. But the interesting aspect of the family is that while the story revolves around the parents, Maryana Spivak and Aleksey Rozin (Leviathan), it is the outsider, Aleksey Fateev (Proxima), who has the most interesting character. Fateev, without ever having an “emotional” scene manages to impart a world of understanding and response. But to give him his due, Matvey Novikov, as the son, has some wonderful and intense moments as well…and they’ll tear you apart.

Loveless isn’t a fun film. I’m sure that’s not a surprise. But it is honest and directed in such a way as to pull you through. There are parts of every character that you can identify with, even if, in their entirety, you just want to slap them. But, much like Leviathan, while there is a surface story to engage in, Zvyagintsev and Negin are telling you another story of their country as well. It is nested in their choice of era and in the background news that suffuses the film, as well as the metaphor of the plot itself. It isn’t heavy-handed, but it is there ready to fizz to the surface as you think about it all later.

Zvyagintsev continues to impress me. I hope, like Leviathan, Loveless continues to find an audience. It certainly found awards joy when it released, though it somehow lost to The Square in its Oscar bid that year. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get to it; it’s a powerful film, and a very well crafted one. Definitely worth your time when you’re feeling resilient.