Tag Archives: Political Drama

The Watch

[3.5 stars]

Sir Terry Pratchett’s humor was a gift to the world. Silly, yes. Dark, most definitely. Wry? Always. Hogfather is still one of my annual favorites. Adaptations of his books didn’t always go great, but I was always happy to give them a shot. The Watch is inspired by his world, if not directly extrapolated from it.

Creator Simon Allen has the wide ranging background to bring it all to life as the primary writer. The result is significantly darker than other adaptations, both in plot and character. And it goes down like a shot of tequila, harsh at first but slowly warming as it settles. It is very, very English in terms of its style, but not unapproachable. Admittedly, though, some of Richard Dormer’s (Rellik, Game of Thrones) lines can bend your ear between the mumbling and the accent. But his rubber face rivals that of Jim Carrey at times, which helps meaning and entertainment even when specific words get lost.

The rest of the Watch’s squad is a motely mix to be sure. From Marama Corlett, Adam Hugill (1917), and Jo Eaton-Kent to their adjunct Lara Rossi, they are, to a one, broken and looking for redemption. The show follows the band of misfits as they coalesce and try to win the day against impossible odds in a city where crime has been legalized. Yeah, chew on that a while.

Arrayed against the Watch are a slew of fun characters. Samuel Adewunmi, Bianca Simone Mannie, Jane de Wet, and Paul Kaye (Anna and the Apocalypse) are among them, but there are so many more. The world is rich with outlandish technologies, magic, and commentary.

The story is layered and complicated and open to a next series. Actually, it sort of demands it, though it does so through a coda rather than leaving you hanging on the main story. However, as of now, BBC hasn’t yet decided whether to renew the show. I really hope they do. I want to know what more they can do with this group and world.

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Q-Force

[4 stars]

Yes, it’s outrageous. Yes, it’s absurd. Yes, it crosses the borders of cliché and travels well into country that could be taken as insulting. But it is all done as matter-of-fact and with an embracing sense of love. It turns everything up to 11 (or maybe 1100) and lets the freak flags fly. And, to top it off (no pun intended), it develops a solid arc pulling the first series together.

The voice cast lean into every aspect of the story and situations. There are no hesitations or apologies as they solve outrageous, Bond-like crimes and neutralize the bad folks, foreign and domestic. And there is a long list of recognizable names giving those stories life, but you can discover them easily enough. We aren’t talking Oscar level work, just solid delivery and respect for the scripts and story which is where the series thrives.

Because you’ll see, there is a sort of quiet genius to the show. Even with the painful acknowledgment of prejudice that launches the show, it offers up the reverse mirror of what the LGTBQ+ community has to deal with all the time in entertainment: worlds full of non-gay people acting like that’s all there is in the world. It is a reaction and a statement. It’s also hilariously funny at times.

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Lapsis

[3 stars]

Science fiction, at its best, reflects on the world to deliver both entertainment and a message (usually a warning about where we’re are now or are headed). Noah Hutton, using an absurdist, near-term sci-fi world, has delivered on both aspects of that declaration. More disturbing still is how possible it feels, despite the unlikely way the world itself works.

Through the desperate efforts of Dean Imperial to provide for himself and his brother, we learn about the new economy and how it abuses the growing underclass it’s leaving behind. Along with Madeline Wise, the two navigate the situation trying to find solutions to problems both very personal and very large. And a surprise cameo by Arliss Howard (Mank) added a nice dimension.

Lapsis isn’t perfect, but it overcomes its humble underpinnings to make you listen. It isn’t as complex as Primer, nor as slow, but in some ways it reminded me of that wonderfully surprising indie. The ending of Lapsis may well leave you scratching your head; it certainly did me. The message, however, is probably as simple as it seems to be. I wish Hutton had been a little more explicit, but he certainly made me care enough to ponder and discuss it, so he did something right.

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Motherland: Fort Salem (series 2)

[ 3 stars]

I can’t say the first series of this show did more than intrigue me. The ideas were interesting, if illogically constructed at times, and the writing spotty, at best. But they had gathered a good bunch of talent and there was an inkling of complexity that brought me back for series 2.

Fortunately they upped their game in this second round and reworked some of their logic (without apology) to create a topical and suspenseful story. The writing still isn’t perfect, but the character development expanded considerably and several mysteries are explained. However, to be honest, the writing still has some real problems, including a “surprise ending” that is anything but. However, there is also plenty to chomp on and commit to.

When the usual offerings on the use of magic are something more soapy like Discovery of Witches, this more action-and-suspense oriented storyline is welcome. Like Warrior Nun it also puts women at the center of power and story. Of course, like that it’s also referencing a clear threat of patriarchy, but that’s unavoidable. And, fortunately, it is all subtext rather than direct.

If you haven’t tried the show out yet, give a crack. The improvements in the second series give me hope for the upcoming third, which promises to be full of even more action and intrigue.

SAS: The Rise of the Black Swan (aka Red Notice)

[3.5 stars]

Sure, this is a standard action/suspense thriller in most ways. But from the start it suggests a question that pulls you along wondering who it is going to focus on. While that becomes clearer as the story progresses, it is by no means simple…in fact, in some ways Laurence Malkin’s script is more than a little subversive in his attempt to show something a bit (just a bit) closer to the reality of mercenary and professional killer mentality. But that’s all the subtext.

Generally, this is just rockin’ good actioner with some solid talent and some clever surprises. It is cold and violent, however it also has a little bit of everything for almost everyone; even humor and romance.

Sam Heughan (Bloodshot) and Hannah John-Kamen (Brave New World), along with Tom Hopper (Umbrella Academy) are on one side of the line. Ruby Rose (The Meg, Batwoman) and Tom Wilkinson (The Happy Prince) are on the other while Andy Serkis (A Christmas Carol) gets to straddle the space in-between. The interplay between them all is understated and honest, if sometimes a bit ‘managed.’  But while this is probably the biggest project director Magnus Martens has tackled, he’s done a credible job keeping it all moving and clear.

One of the better aspects of this movie is that you can come to it just wanting to be entertained, or think about aspects of the world it takes time to expose. It doesn’t dwell on any of that…it is very much of its genre, but it does help set it apart just enough. It helps it feel new in a sea of similar thrillers. Certainly the script helped, but the actors also found just the right delivery. They aren’t acting evil, they are just acting as the sociopaths/psychopaths they need to be–on both sides of the line. This ended up being a solid launch to a possible franchise and I’d definitely be back to see where they could take it.

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Baptiste (series 2)

[3 stars]

The first round of this spin-off mystery was satisfying but left our title character in a dark place. Tchéky Karyo returns in a second round to wrap-up his story in this evil and bitter little confection to more properly send off his weary detective. Which isn’t to say that the way isn’t open for more stories at the end, but it rounds out his arc very nicely and wouldn’t be harmed by being left alone from here on out.

But, that said, he has at least one more missing person to find. And Fiona Shaw (Ammonite) joins Karyo to drive the story as an immensely flawed and broken human. Her missteps are often frustrating, but they are at least consistent. The story itself is both timely and profoundly disturbing. Told primarily in French, English, and Hungarian, we navigate the rising tide of the far right in Hungary as the backdrop to this case.

Joining the main duo, the Hungarian actors Dorka Gryllus, Gabriella Hámori, Miklós Béres and the well-known English character actor Ace Bhatti provide background and side plots.

Baptiste lives in a world of trafficking, hate, drugs, and loss. If it weren’t that challenging, anyone could do what he does. But at what cost? And that is the crux of this second series. What has he sacrificed and what can he recover of his life with Anastasia Hille (Pembrokeshire Murders) after the last case and because of this current? This is the focus of the latest six episodes and, with some minorly frustrating choices, it navigates it all quite well.

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Intergalactic (series 1)

[3 stars]

You might have missed this bit of British scifi that dropped recently. It would have been easy to as it only appears to be on Peacock at the moment. And having seen it I can say that I so wanted to like this more than I did. There are some great ideas in Intergalactic, but it is also more than a little forced and generic and just a bit cliché. Though, honestly, it got better as it went along. You really just have to grit your teeth through the first episode and go along for the ride.

What helps is that the actors really give it their all, committing to the world and the relationships, which helps carry it through. There is no sense of a nod-and-a-wink about the genre. Savannah Steyn (The Tunnel) is our connection into the story, and while everyone has a plot to follow, hers is the core. Among the motely crew, Eleanor Tomlinson (War of the Worlds, The Nevers) is the real standout. However, the brutal and brutalized Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Years and Years, Sex Education) certainly throws down and has an unexpected arc. New comers Diany Samba-Bandza and Imogen Daines add in quite a bit as well, especially as they bounce Thomas Turgoose (Terminal). Wild cards in the crew are Natasha O’Keeffe (Misfits) and Oliver Coopersmith who are both tacked onto the gang in uncomfortable ways.

Running things from the home planet are Parminder Nagra (Five Feet Apart) and Craig Parkinson (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch). Both recognizable and capable, but not really with much to do here beyond gnawing furniture. I will say that Nagra gets to play a rather deeply cold security head, however.

The production, sadly, is so intensely claustrophobic and Doctor Who-quarry level design at times that it gets a bit wearying. Which isn’t to say there aren’t some nice effects as well. But everywhere other than the ruling class is filthy to the point of absurdity in a high tech universe. And the elements driving the plot are just a little too buried and take a while to come into focus. All that said, should they get another round I’d like to see where they could take it now that they’ve laid the foundation and the bigger tensions bare. However, that doesn’t appear likely anymore. A shame they didn’t have better writers to help launch this potentially rich universe.

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Sweet Girl

[3 stars]

This one surprised me. I went into it expecting just a bit of action escapism and got a bit more than that. Unlike some of its comparisons to Taken, this story of corruption, power, and family starts morally gray and ends up in a blender of ambiguity that is unlike most movies of its ilk. And what starts as a standard sort of anti-hero action flick, it evolves into something more interesting by the end.

Jason Momoa (Aquaman) is the headliner here. He does fine and gets to have a range of emotions in between his fights. Nothing spectacular, but he’s good enough and feels more right as the story unfolds. As his daughter, Isabela Merced (Dora and the Lost City of Gold) gets to walk more interesting lines even as she follows in his wake. She is rapidly growing up into an actor with some real range.

One rep from each side of their battle is interesting to watch as well. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (6 Underground) for his cold calculation and Lex Scott Davis (Rebel) for her attempts, however unlikely, to gain control of the situation and help Merced. I’d have liked to see more from Amy Brenneman (Words and Pictures), but she served her purpose in the tale well enough.

The script by Gregg Hurwitz (The Book of Henry) and Philip Eisner (Event Horizon) is clever even with its procedural and logic flaws (and they are legion). But the story keeps moving along with nice riffs on tired tropes. For a first feature directing gig, Brian Andrew Mendoza does a credible job with the story and the pacing. It doesn’t always feel like it, but it remains on point and moving forward constantly. When you’re in the mood for a slightly dark and violent story about revenge and comeuppance by the little guy that’s more than just a little different, this will do.

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Reminiscence

[3.5 stars]

For her first feature Lisa Joy (Westworld) has delivered a dark and deliberately pace noir mystery. It also has the melancholia and rumination of Blade Runner, as Hugh Jackman (The Front Runner) falls down the rabbit hole of trying to help the femme fatale that drops into his life.

Reminiscence is expansive in its world building, but generally very intimate in its cast and focus. The story really revolves around only three characters. Thandiwe Newton (Solo: A Star Wars Story) provides Jackman an anchor to reality while Rebecca Ferguson (Doctor Sleep) is the chain around his neck and heart. The three form an emotional, if not romantic, triangle that shifts and evolves as the story unfolds.

There are plenty of side characters to keep the action going as well though Only Cliff Curtis (Hobbs & Shaw) and Daniel Wu (Tomb Raider) really have enough time and depth to be of notice. Both of these antagonists help flesh out the world and provide a wider view of what’s gone on and what’s gone wrong.

While Joy hasn’t made a perfect flick, it is one that will stick with you, bouncing around your head as you consider the points. She had the guts to deliver exactly what she tells you she will in the film. And while the plot unravels a bit toward the end and is a bit forced and unlikely, it’s still effective. The journey getting there is just complex enough to keep you engaged and satisfied. It’s also a complete story without any intention of a sequel (a nice change of pace these days). And, finally, despite the pall of the dystopia she sketches out for you, Reminiscence is a highly romantic film, even as it questions that concept as part of the story.

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Beckett

[3 stars]

There is something wonderful about Hitchcockian suspense/mystery films. By design and structure they entertain and they amuse. Kevin A. Rice’s script (his first) is definitely in that vein. It’ imperfect in plot and lacking the trademark humor, but it really captures the old master’s approach to the everyman caught in the web of deceit and without any context to what’s going on.

After a brief interlude to set up the adventure and the emotional foundation, we follow John David Washington (Tenet) down a rabbit hole of international intrigue where he’s about as clueless as we are…at least near the top. Frankly, the audience gets way ahead of him rather quickly, but it isn’t entirely unfair that he’s left baffled for as long as he is. Also, it’s becoming clear that Washington really likes to get the crap beat out of him in movies; and he’s good at it.

Washington’s character slowly makes he way across Greece to save his skin, not to mention others. Though the movie isn’t shy about leaving a wake of innocent bodies in his wake either. The bad folks here are cold and, mostly, efficient but without much depth. During these adventures, he crosses paths with a few that last more than a short scene and who we get to know a little such as Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) and Boyd Holbrook (Predator). But we never really connect with anyone in the story, including Washington, who can’t even manage a “thank you” to anyone into whose lives he introduces chaos until late in the film.

Director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, who is better known for his 2nd unit directing than his first, gets to really stretch his wings and talent. Keeping this movie rolling like an avalanche was no small feat. A slightly better script would have helped elevate the film, but the framing and story (which he has credit for) are solid.

If you need a bit of adventure with a mystery thrown in, and you don’t mind some cold violence, this will work for you. It is definitely a mixed bag emotionally and without a clean and simple ending, but I have to admit, I prefer them that way generally. And the gritty reality of it all is often very compelling.

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