Tag Archives: Political Drama

Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness

[2 stars]

Resident Evil, the franchise that never fails to disappoint…or at least hasn’t since near the end of the second movie. There are actually two series of this adapted game, one live action and the other anime. Though they heavily overlap, they are from different sources and have different continuing storylines that run roughly in parallel.

Infinite Darkness continues the Leon thread of the anime sequence. And it continues to use the photorealistic style to mimic the game interstitials. And, aside from really bad plotting, that is its biggest weakness. While the landscapes and objects look amazing, and even the characters (when at rest), the second a character begins to move or talk, you sink rapidly into the uncanny valley. The lips don’t even mildly sync well to the voiceovers.

And why is it that all women look the same in these entries? The men are diverse in shape, size and visage. The women are all built on the same thin, lithe template only differing in hair color and slight facial distinctions. Honestly, I kept confusing the two main women in the short series and finally just had to memorize their hair color. What’s worse is that one of the character is a recurring character there to balance out Leon and I still couldn’t keep her straight.

Suffice to say that this series is for the die-hards only. Though, you may be happy to hear that I have heard rumors that the live action reboot that is on the way is somewhat credible and could revive that aspect of the franchise. So perhaps there is yet hope for the story that would not die about the virus and monsters that would not die.

RESIDENT EVIL: Infinite Darkness Poster

Bosch (series finale)

[4 stars]

There is nothing more wonderful for a show than to go out on a high, and Bosch most definitely did. In many ways, this was their best season yet, though it stood and relied on all the underpinnings of the previous 6.

Titus Welliver (Escape Plan 2: Hades) embodied Connelly’s detective. He created a tough, thoughtful man, driven by justice more than rules, but very specific about when he’s willing to color outside the lines.

Supported by Jamie Hector as his slightly messed up partner and Amy Aquino (The Lazarus Effect) as his strong but besieged Captain, he’s navigated multiple crimes and corruption, joy and tragedy. Lance Reddick (Sylvie’s Love) as the Chief of Police certainly contributed to both sides of that equation over time. And, as comic relief (often with more than a little edge) Troy Evans and Gregory Scott Cummins as the OG detective partners in the room make the best old married couple on TV.

Madison Lintz grew with the show as Bosch’s daughter. We got to watch her find her feet as an actor and a character. By the end, she has found her footing, with the surprising help of Mimi Rogers, and has blended the best of Bosch and her mother.

There is little doubt where the series had to end, given some of the changes that were made when it was adapted. Both readers and watchers will feel a sense of completion with the arc, regardless of how they came to it. Despite a number of parallel threads running through the season, all are tied up nicely (and one perhaps a bit too conveniently, but was necessary for dramatic effect). And there is still room for it to go forward if they execute on the rumors that are circulating. Suffice to say, if you enjoy police procedural, this is one of the best done in a long time. It is, in some ways, the male counterpart to Prime Suspect, but with a very different perspective and a very different set of flaws.

Bosch Poster

Black Widow

[3.5 stars]

Preface: It has been 18 months since I last saw a movie in the theater. The last film I saw before lockdown was a dual weekend of Bad Boys for Life and Dolittle. I have wide tastes, what can I say? It wasn’t until the beginning of June I was even considering the possibility of returning thanks to finally being able to be vax’d in my state. But it wasn’t until this movie I was even motivated to try again.

So why did we even need this movie? It’s a reasonable question given what we know of Black Widow’s path. This movie nestles between Civil War and Infinity War for Scarlett Johansson’s (Marriage Story) character. We know where she ends up. So why? The simple answer is that she was always an enigma. It was part of her allure and charm. But we also had hints of her past and how it haunted her throughout Phases 1-3. There was never time to explore those tales because they would have been distracting to the main plots. This movie focuses solely on her and gives us the depth and some of the answers we had been looking for: who was Natasha and what was all that red ink she was on about for so long?

Basically, Johansson got the send off her character deserved in this gap-filling flick. But that is, of course, also part of the problem. We know a good deal of who lives and who dies because, well, we know what came next. It sucks some of the tension out of Eric Pearson’s (Godzilla vs. Kong) script which is, otherwise, an action and suspense-filled story. Though Director Cate Shortland did her best to keep us distracted from those facts with lots of clever fights and a mostly great cast.

As Johansson’s sister, Florence Pugh (Midsommar) is more than up to the task. No real surprise there either given her range and previous showings. And as her “parents,” Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) and David Harbour (Extraction) are comically and nicely cast. Harbour is doomed to be a sidekick the rest of his life, but he does it well.

If there is a flaw in the cast, it is Ray Winstone (Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains). He just comes across as absurd and uncredible. Even if you buy into what he appears to have achieved, his demeanor and how he uses it feels wrong. From his accent to his posture he feels fake. Certainly, we enjoy his wrap up to this tale, but I would have liked to see someone else in that role who could have carried it with a bit more gravitas and truth.

Another aspect to this movie is that it was delayed almost 18 months. It should have come out before Falcon and Winter Soldier (which, in turn, should have been out before WandaVision). The only real connection is the tag to Black Widow, which is echoed at the end of Falcon and Winter Soldier, but it is also about the shape of the stories and information. Someday I may rewatch it all in the right order to see what that’s like, but it is interesting seeing the all the intended bits finally. And there is still plenty left untold about Black Widow…some of which I think we might see in the forthcoming Hawkeye. But if not, I’m OK with that too.

And to the last and most important question: is it worth seeing in theaters? That answer is mixed. It is certainly filmed for the big screen (I did go see it in IMAX). It’s gorgeous at times. But the pandemic has accelerated a trend that was already bad before the lockdowns: people think the theater is their living rooms. Talking, phones, etc were all on display. And, on a personal note, having folks right next to us (they opened the seats that morning unbeknownst to me) wasn’t very comfortable.

The truth is, a good movie is good on the big or the smaller screen, because it is about the story, not the spectacle. Black Widow will certainly be less breath-taking at moments on a home setup, even with a large TV, but the story should hold up and be engaging if you have interest in the MCU.

To be honest, I haven’t decided if I’m going back to the theater any time soon. My recent experience has left me a tad nonplussed on the idea, but we’ll see. And given the rise of variants, it may not even be a choice I have in a couple weeks, cause that’s just the world we live in now. Part of the reason I pushed for this outing was that I saw a window of opportunity and wanted to take advantage. It was certainly interesting to be packed in with the public again after so long. It also helped me realize just how nice my own home setup is now, having enhanced it a bit during the pandemic.

Black Widow Poster

Lupin (parts 1 & 2)

[4 stars]

In an entertainment landscape where we’ve been trained to want and expect chases, explosion, and gunfights, it’s so nice to have a high-concept mystery show again that is about tension and cleverness. I know there are others out there, but this feels new and different, even if it’s based on 100 year old books.

I will admit, the main core of the fight that Omar Sy (Inferno) wages against the truly repellant Hervé Pierre got a little tiresome at points during the sequence. But I also admit that by the end of the second part, it all paid-off wonderfully.

Where the first part focuses on the crime and revenge, the second focuses more on the people around Lupin and the bonds that hold them. Getting to see some of the backstory and expansion of characters like Antoine Gouy and Clotilde Hesme (The Returned) was great fun. And the continued development of Soufiane Guerrab’s (Moloch) put-upon detective becomes a wonderful evolution in the tale.

Much like the original books, the story feels very “managed,” for lack of a better word. It is relatively easy to get ahead of it all well before the end. The clues are there in both the script and structure. But, honestly, it didn’t matter. Lupin is about the pay-off and the fun; it has both. And a third part on the way that I am hoping will help it break free of the current main story and move on to a new mystery. Honestly, this one has played out and continuing it would devolve into bad telenovella territory, regardless of how interesting the characters are. In the meantime, if you haven’t discovered or tried Lupin yet, queue it up.

Lupin Poster

Promised Neverland

[3.5 stars]

There are so many secrets in this series that it limits what I can comment on. So, instead, it’s really a matter of whether it’s worth your time or not. It is.

Generally, Promised Neverland is a fascinating, if somewhat genre-standard, tale of children in an orphanage who discover nefarious plans. There are lots of narrow escapes and “big moments.” But it is also infused with that kids anime silliness in the characters that I find challenging to watch. At least when it is a constant stream of it. And it means most of the voice work is serviceable, but not brilliant. I did stick with the dub version on this one after trying both sub and dub. Honestly, the original voice work was no better, so I gave my eyes a break to concentrate on the gorgeous art and tale in front of me.

The story will carry you along. The second season already out and I can’t imagine that you could watch the first and walk away. The second season builds on the revelations of the first, and introduces some intriguing new levels to the story overall. I loved that the world kept expanding, but it also got a little unwieldy and just a bit illogical. Choices didn’t always flow naturally (on either side) and some of the character changes felt a bit forced. Had they split the action into two seasons to build up the background info, it may have felt less manipulated.

However, it does, for all intents, completely wrap up by the end of season two thanks to some very rapid fast-forwarding. In this case (unlike Trese), that approach worked as it was all lined up and it was really just watching the dominos fall rather than filling in gaps. It could have been pushed into a third season, but that isn’t the story they wanted to tell, so I felt comfortable with the choice.

The resulting story is definitely worth your time and will likely manage to surprise you. It has even inspired a live-action version that is in the works. So, clearly, it also has a following and I count myself among them now.

The Promised Neverland Poster

Hard to Be a God (Trudno byt bogom)

[2.5 stars]

There’s nothing quite like a 90 minute tale told in 180 minutes. And while that’s probably a bit too quippy, it is certainly the effect this Russian sci-fi had on me by the end. That and a lingering sense of nausea from the wealth of filth and bodily fluids being bandied about.

But Aleksey German’s final film has an ethereal and hypnotic quality to it. The camera work is glorious and simply floats along. It is in black & white, but filmed with ability and care. And the camera has its own presence in the story as well, though it never really seems to be for a reason.

The tale, set up at the top, is that a group of scientists have landed on a planet similar to Earth but about 800 years behind in development and where the Renaissance never took place. It’s a grim and awful world indeed. One of the scientists has set himself up as the son of a local god. And that’s about all the story you get.  The rest is mayhem and casual violence and abuse. It is a long tale that has multiple interpretations, I’m sure, but the one that is loud and clear is that god doesn’t exist and the awfulness that we have in the world is of our own making…and even if god existed they couldn’t prevent man from screwing it up. (Don’t try to parse the paradox that, in theory, god made man as he is.) Oh, yes, and Jazz is an acquired taste (which is as close to humor that the movie gets). It didn’t need 3 hours to make all that clear.

And while German and his wife adapted the classic novel by Arkadiy Strugatskiy and Boris Strugatskiy, my understanding is that it is a rather loose interpretation on the order that Jodorowski or Fellini might do. Whether you want to dive into this or not is really up to you. There is something in it that kept me going for the full run, but I can’t rightly say I enjoyed it or that it left me surprised or shocked or enlightened. I simply went for the ride and came out the other side wondering how I might have better spent my time as a shorter version of the story was not on offer.

Hard to Be a God Poster

Trese

[3.5 stars]

Tired of the same old monsters and myths? Been looking for something dark and different? Trese may be it. While anyone who’s been into anime has learned all manner of mythology, folklore, and monsters in the Japanese and Chinese mythos, Trese takes on the Philippine book of creatures and spirits. Admittedly, it is all a bit self-conscious with a monster-of-the-week feel to it as the world is unveiled (and they’ve not even gotten to some of my favorites yet). But they only have six half-hour episodes to play in and a larger arc knitting it all together to cover, so there is some cramming-in going on.

And, because of that short season, the ending is also a bit rushed. It needed 8 – 10 episodes to build up the finale naturally. Instead we get a mountain of exposition explaining the connections and plans to the ending. This story really deserved better. Fortunately, it is open-ended. If it does well enough, perhaps they’ll give it a bit more room to breathe in a follow-on season. But with or without additional episodes, if you’re a fan of supernatural anime, this one should be on your list. It is different, well acted, and most definitely not for kids.

Trese Poster

Lucifer (The end, sort of…)

[3.5 stars]

This has been a delayed post because there just wasn’t any rush to get it out there. It isn’t like it was the end of the series or anything. In fact, it’s become a bit of a joy and a joke that Lucifer keeps getting a series finale reprieve. First on broadcast, and now multiple times on Netflix. This latest series (#5, part 2), was originally intended to bring a final close to our anti-hero’s story…before, again, it was granted a final 10 episodes coming later this year. And you can see the shape of the season shift a little as they realize they’ve more to say and are going to be allowed to say it. At least if you know what you’re looking for.

All that said, Lucifer continues to find its real venue on Netflix. Had it started there, rather than languishing on broadcast for a few seasons, it may have found a larger audience as they could have explored more and been truer to the original characters and situations. This second half of the season barrels to a clear ending that still manages to surprise in both delightful and shocking ways. While some characters are seeing their stories finally explored, like Kevin Alejandro, others are being slightly rewritten to meet the new goals, particularly Aimee Garcia, but nothing that doesn’t seem to work.

Overall, the wrap-up to the season is a great ride and with an interesting (if inevitable) springboard for the (maybe) series finale coming soon.

Lucifer Poster

Raya and the Last Dragon

[3 stars]

There is something wonderful about Raya and it’s message. It’s timely and important. Sanitized and simplified to be sure, but a message that is needed right now in a way that it hasn’t in decades. However, with 8 writers and 4 directors it is hard to provide credit for the results to any individuals (at least while looking from the outside). I do wonder just how much more focused it might have been had there been fewer cooks in the kitchen.

Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) gives voice to our hero with a fierce energy, despite some of the less-than-mature choices in the script. She is surrounded by great talent as well. Daniel Dae Kim (Stowaway), Gemma Chan (Captain Marvel), Awkwafina (Paradise Hills), and Benedict Wong (Gemini Man) rise to the top in that group. Every one of these characters hints at depths that never really get plumbed, but it does help provide some weight and tension to the story.

Of course the animation is often gorgeous, but it is also odd. I was often dropped into the uncanny valley, not because of human characters, but because the water effects have gotten so photo-realistic that the choice to keep human and animal characters clearly nonrealistic was often jarring.

The movie itself is definitely worth checking out, at least once. Had the story had been a bit more brave and bit less managed, it could have been a classic. But by focusing on the cute too much, and avoiding real cost and pain, it ends up as more typical Disney fare regardless of the non-typical character design and casting.

Raya and the Last Dragon Poster

The Astrologer

[2.5 stars]

So why write about a 1975 film that has no one recognizable and a director/writer, James Glickenhaus, not really known for his quality material? Because, despite the illogical leaps, racist overtones, and odd story telling, there is something intriguing about this thinly veiled metaphor for the CIA and its ilk. And something uncomfortably appropriate to today’s situations around the world as well.

Set 8 days before the “second coming” the story posits a world where astrology has been turned into a precise art. Well, that’s the opening voice-over, but as it turns out it is more about potential than precision, but let’s not mince details (the movie certainly doesn’t). The idea is both amusing and intriguing. But the real focus of the story is the arrival of the baby messiah and whether it will be a force for good or evil. It isn’t like this is a new concept, but this movie has more philosophical overtones than horror.

However, it should be noted that it is also prone to making assertions…which it promptly violates or otherwise invalidates. And while there are a few credible performances, most are in that painfully 70’s, almost porn stilted delivery. I will grant Glickenhaus one thing: the cast is actually quite diverse, even for its time.

Now, I’m not recommending this without severe reservations, but it somehow came to my attention (how, I can no longer say) and got onto a long list for days when I had 90 minutes or less to burn uselessly. This certainly qualified. I actually found myself intrigued and curious, though ultimately disappointed, by the plot. But when it’s that short and the historical lookback alone is fascinating, I didn’t chock it up to a complete loss or even unentertaining. Though, I suspect, it would work better when slightly mentally altered, if you go for that sort of thing.

The Astrologer Poster