Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) is not only a gifted storyteller and filmmaker, he is incredibly astute at finding young talent. And while this second feature didn’t get the same kind of attention his first movie did, his abilities are on raw display.
The story, by Zeitlin and his sister Eliza, is a clever retelling of Peter Pan evoking, yet again, their Louisiana roots. The story takes the fantasy and and the desire to never grow up and makes it even more magical that the original Barry tale in some ways.
Part of that success is down to new-comers Devin France and Yashua Mack, in the roles of Wendy and Peter. They are near spooky in their ability to be both children and to seem to carry the wisdom of years behind their eyes. Some of that is, no doubt, Zeitlin’s ability to direct them, but much is their own innate talents.
The film is fluid and unexpected in the way it deals with reality. It provides a framework, but not many answers. And, ultimately, it lands on a joyous metaphor that is both positive and bitter-sweet. The largest failing of the story is it’s climax, mirroring “clap if you believe in fairies.” It is a moment that will work for most audiences, but which I found distancing and demanding in a way that was not embracing. It threw me out of the flick entirely in a very bad way. I understand the choice and assumptions, but it was a shame, after so much else before and after that moment worked, that he and his sister couldn’t see the issue they had tripped on with their choice.
That aside, the movie and its ideas are really special. Zeitlin continues to be a filmmaker to watch, with a unique and powerful vision of the world and an ability to nurture talent that might otherwise go missed.
A few of the new shows have dropped. It feels rather thin for this Fall, but then again, the pandemic hobbled production more than a little.
If you love This is Us, this may be for you. Riffing on some of the same ideas, but in a very different format, Ordinary Joe follows three potential futures for a man from an inflection point back in his college days. Suffice to say that once you grit your teeth through the opening scenes which has the 30-something James Wolk (Watchmen) pretending to be in his early 20s, the story is mildly intriguing. And he definitely has some talent and charisma to pull off the role. It is also particularly clever how the timelines intersect in unexpected ways and how the production keeps them all crisply defined. But is it gripping enough to survive? I’ve no doubt it will find its audience and, if the writing can sustain the story, it will last at least the season. For me, however, it’s a bit too, well Lifetime movie. I enjoyed the unexpected aspects of the tales, but the core piece of it just tries too hard.
If you’ve never seen either iteration of Primeval/Primeval: New World you’re missing out on a better version of this idea. OK, the earlier shows were aimed younger, but the writing wasn’t nearly as annoying as this supposedly adult, current-world attempt. Logic holes and character stupidity are on high display through the first episodes, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the series. That was the best they could do? There is potential in the setup and the idea, so perhaps they can pull it together, but I have to say I’m less than convinced given that they’re going to get much better.
While this reboot hadn’t quite found its voice in its first ep, it is wickedly funny and poignant in a non-sugary way. Don Cheadle (Space Jam: A New Legacy) manages to amp up his vocal engagement in the voice-overs as the series continues to help sell it a little more. But the cast, the setting, and the broad historical honesty (at least so far) are very, very compelling. And as a mirror to its earlier namesake, it’s a pretty important show. If the quality continues, it has real potential for a long run.
While Nine Perfect Strangers and Fantasy Island aren’t exactly direct competitors or even exactly in the same wheelhouse, there is a shared sensibility and sense of location that has me putting them together.
The reboot of Fantasy Island cleaves a lot more to the original series than the recent movie did. It manages to walk the line of light entertainment with an edge (well, a slight edge), and a slurry of emotional baggage from our hosts as well as the guests. In fact, the show is more a flip of the original, with the guests’ stories reflecting on the hosts’. Which also means that none of the stories are particularly deeply examined, there just isn’t time since the new Roarke and her assistant Ruby are eating up a good portion of the story time with their own issues. But even without the depth, the ideas of the stories are enough for you to enjoy without having to get too wrung out. But they are more snacks than meals. That probably isn’t enough to keep me coming back to it, even with the nicely nuanced efforts by Roselyn Sanchez and Kiara Barnes. But as a distraction with some interesting moments it may, on occasion, suffice.
Nine Perfect Strangers, on the other hand, is a darker and deeply diving examination of personal traumas, relationships, and revenge. It, too, manages to stay somewhat at the surface, or at least enough to keep from ruining your evening. But the performances are a lot more intense. Starting with Nicole Kidman (The Prom) and her crew, Manny Jacinto (Brand New Cherry Flavor) and Tiffany Boone (The Midnight Sky) who run the place and run at each other. And then there is the all-star cast of guests. The reteaming of Melissa McCarthy (Thunder Force) and Bobby Cannavale (Jolt) was one of my more favorite nods. But there is plenty to chew on with the others as well, from Michael Shannon (Knives Out) and Asher Keddie to the solo struggles of Regina Hall (Little) and Luke Evans (Pembrokeshire Murders). Even the simpering of Samara Weaving’s (Ready or Not) becomes something interesting over time. By the time the wheels come off (in an episode aptly named “Wheels on the Bus”) you’re committed to finding out how it can all resolve and you forgive some of the more outlandish choices. Be warned, the finale is improbable and can be interpreted in a couple different ways. It’s somewhat Fantasy Island in that respect, but in a more complete way.
Nine Perfect Strangers also has the advantage of being a short commitment rather than an ongoing series. Sometimes a short vacation is more desirable than an ongoing appointment. And certainly Fantasy Island is more an empty calorie snack than the other offering. Wherever you decide to vacation, neither will tax you too much, and both resolve enough to not feel frustrating.
This movie didn’t really need a write-up, but I’m a completist. Put simply, it’s a bit of utter (remake) fluff is aimed at the 14-year-old romantic in everyone. It’s depth rises to the level of a Nickelodeon after-school distraction or Disney+. There is little to nothing surprising or challenging in the story. But it is done in earnest and, despite a rushed and surfacy script, executed without any major bumps.
You should feel free to skip it or, if you really just need some mindless optimism and sense of young possibility, go for it. I won’t judge…I was there already.
Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that I was just curious to see why and what Kevin Smith (Tusk) would guide the classic cartoon into I would never have turned it on. The fact is that Masters of the Universe is one of the most unapologetically chauvinist and absurd stories out there…and like many kids, I loved it growing up. But watching it now is just painful in so many ways; the character names alone! What was there to save here? Why bother?
And through most of the first episode, none of those opinions changed or were challenged. And then Smith turns the whole thing on its head in an instant. I don’t always like Smith’s work, but I trusted him enough to get through the setup to the meat of what he wanted to do, and then explore the remaining episodes of the very short first season (or part 1 of the first season).
By the end of the 5 episode run, Eternia, her politics, and her secrets have all been remade. And, yes, it’s worth it. Can they pay it off going forward? I don’t honestly know. But I am looking forward to seeing if they can.
Noël Coward is known for his witty dialogue and comedies of manners. He thumbs his nose at society while embracing it utterly as a goal. Pulling off a Coward script requires an open-eyed love of what all that means, and rapid fire repartee with a dry wit.
Dan Stevens (Solos), Leslie Mann (Welcome to Marwen), and Isla Fisher make a wonderful trio to tackle that challenge. Each embodies the 1930s pre-war sensibility nicely, as well as the broad comedy of the story. But even with the assist of the wonderful Judy Dench (Staged), the movie lacks any chemistry between the characters. And without that chemistry it becomes only a collection of performances…it just doesn’t quite work.
The end result isn’t the Twentieth Century or Thin Man it needed to be. It isn’t even Death Becomes Her (with or without all its flaws). Somewhere, shortly into it all, director Edward Hall lost the rhythm and energy. The bottom falls out of the movie and it all just drifts along to a funny, but not punchy ending. Of course much of that has to go at the feet of the new adaptation by the collective that brought us such varied comedies as St. Trinian’s and Finding Your Feet. In their attempt to update the story so it was less arch, they lost the focus and the point. The ideas were great, but they never went quite far enough.
The movie makes for a shortish distraction, with some really nice locations and costumes. And none of the individual performances are bad; there are some truly laugh-out-loud moments. However, while the parts all work, the flick fails to impress on the whole. But with the kind of talent it has on screen, it was certainly worth the attempt even if the end-result fell short. Ah, but what it might have been in better hands or a better matched cast.
I wanted to like this a lot more than I actually did. In no small part that was due to Thaddea Graham’s (Letter for the King) solid performance and presence. She’s at the center of this dark reinterpretation of Holmes that is dominated by its younger cast. Jojo Macari (Cursed), McKell David (iBoy), and Darci Shaw (Judy) work well together and with Graham to form the famous street gang who know or can find anything in London. And Harrison Osterfield (Catch-22) adds an interesting spin to their collective.
But the adults don’t fare as well. One of the main detractions was the choice of Royce Pierreson (Line of Duty) as John Watson. Pierreson just never felt comfortable in the role, the choices, nor in control of the scenes. He was just too unlikeable and unbelievable, pulling me out of the story every time he spoke for 6 of the 8 episodes. (To be fair, I wasn’t particularly happy with aspects of his character’s journey as written either.) It’s as much the fault of the script as it is the directing, but it was an irritant in an otherwise entertaining collection of main characters. Henry Lloyd-Hughes’ (The Pale Horse) Sherlock and Eileen O’Higgins (Mary Queen of Scots) help, ultimately, balance out both Pierreson’s choices and the story’s.
Mind you, most of the adults have the same issue as Pierreson. For instance, the utterly vile Lestrade, played by Aidan McArdle, is pushed so far as to be questionable. Again, a story and directing choice, but it sets a consistent tone for the adults, none of whom seem trustworthy or pleasant, other than Clarke Peters (Harriet). But Peters is unique in the series.
In the end, this latest Holmes remake isn’t going to top the lists of those already out there…even the Guy Ritchie features are better rounded (if so not Holmes)…but it is a fun ride of a show with a lot of potential to come. This set-up season has a lot of promise and some solid new talent to help it grow. Give it some time and see if it doesn’t pull you in as well.
UPDATED 04 May 2021: Well, while this does hold together as a stand-alone, now that it’s cancelled it may leave you feeling a bit hanging. Still worth giving it a shot, but know you won’t get to see it find its full footing and potential.
Well, damn if they didn’t get it more right than they had yet with Godzilla, Skull Island, or Godzilla: King of Monsters. And while Max Borenstein has been a consistent thread in the scripts, the addition of Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok) no doubt provided the extra energy and humor that really sells the remake of this story. And director Adam Wingard (Death Note) knew how to bring it all together.
Well…mostly. This is still a Godzilla flick with some truly painful moments and decisions. But it is also full of misdirects and enough surprises to keep it interesting and moving along without distracting from the two kings who dominate the flick.
And rule they do. The fights and interactions between the titans, including the sly and subtle expressions they flash, make the movie. Even when the plot becomes inevitable, watching them is one of the best popcorn fixes in a long while. Even seeing it on a smaller screen it manages to stay completely entertaining.
You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned any of the humans. There’s a reason for that: humans don’t matter in this movie. They drive the plot and fill in the gaps, but human life is super-cheap in this latest installment and no one, let alone our monster friends, seem to notice (unless it’s one of the very few they care about). Wingard knew this and played into it.
Even with their demoted status in the stories, the cast is generally pretty good and knows their purpose in the tale. Rebecca Hall (Mirai), Alexander Skarsgård (The Hummingbird Project), and Millie Bobby Brown (Enola Holmes) really help drive the story but never take focus. Even the over-the-top Brian Tyree Henry (Superintelligence) and Demián Bichir (The Midnight Sky) add something between the cringing moments of pulling furniture from their teeth; I really do wish the more extreme moments of their performances had been smoothed over.
If you enjoy watching Kaiju in a battle royale, this is for you. It may be the best fight scenes in the genre; certainly among the top. The effects and choreography are really impressive and well thought out. And, of course, there is room for more movies after this, as there always is. But this story wraps up the overall series comfortably and with a great deal of fun.
Timing is everything in entertainment and The Stand, well, it couldn’t have picked a worse time. Despite the long anticipation, and the desire to see this epic tale told with the breadth it deserves, watching a story of a pandemic (even if it is just a McGuffin) doesn’t quite ring right at the moment.
But timing isn’t its only issue. The show suffers from all that was good in the book and all that was bad. Some of the casting works nicely, like Amber Heard’s (Aquaman) Nadine, Odessa Young’s (Shirley) Frannie, and even James Marsden’s (Sonic the Hedgehog) Stu. Other characters like Owen Teague’s (It: Chapter Two) Harold Lauder, and Nat Wolff’s (Admission) Lloyd, aren’t credible…and, in fact, Lauder isn’t even afforded some of his evolutions from the book despite the available time in the series.
Other changes to the story, like making Flagg the actual devil and Mother Abigail potentially an angel (though really more of a prophet) removes too much of the interesting aspects and struggles. Part of the real suspense in the book is that people have to choose (including Flagg and Abigail). That Flagg actually has a supernatural hand in causing the pandemic is just so frigging cheap a choice and shows no imagination on the part of the writers. It’s too easy and lets people off the hook. I do admit that Alexander Skarsgard (The Hummingbird Project) is a near-perfect choice for Flagg. Whoopie Goldberg is a bit less perfect as Abigail, but that felt more like the writing than her efforts.
There are also some nice smaller appearances that work nicely. Natalie Martinez (Self/less) gets to have a nice arc. And Brad William Henke (Bright) delivers within the limitations of Tom’s boundaries nicely. Even Ezra Miller’s (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald) Trashcan man, for all its outlandishness, works for the need and the part. But Nadine’s story gets rushed at the end. And the Vegas crew, generally, is just so over the top as to be entirely ridiculous. You never wonder about the outcome. Only the Colorado side feels real and sustainable (which has its own commentary and point eventually).
When the book came out 40+ years ago, it was something really new. That just isn’t the case anymore. And, worse, it feels culturally old. Despite having been updated in time the characters and situations haven’t been updated for a 2020 sensibility in politics, identities, nor culturally. That gap is squarely on the writer’s and directors. While a lot of the plot is sadly timeless, how we deal with one another has changed and the rhythm and language just feels off.
Ultimately, I wish the writers had been willing to really rework the story without losing its main premise and tension. Good vs. Evil doesn’t have to be extremes. In fact, some of the biggest impacts on both sides are often small gestures or choices that ripple out. Sure, we want it to build to a great crescendo, but the series even pulled that moment from us in an odd throwaway, supernatural event that doesn’t even really fit with the rest of the tale. In fact, the choice utterly cheapened all the efforts of the people involved because, ultimately, they didn’t matter. I do like that they had a coda episode that shows that stories just continue, that they don’t end just because of a plot milestone. Using it to create a second climax, another Stand, was clever. However, again, it cheapened everyone else’s choices and lives by forcing the God/Devil fight directly into it all rather than done at a distance. Deus ex machina is not a satisfying solution for a 9 part series, even if it can be used as a point in shorter fare.
Despite some good performances, incredible scope, and solid production values, this version of The Stand still isn’t the one we deserved after so long. Much like Dune, it struggles to find an artist who can breathe life into its rich and complicated world without making it feel like a farce.
I’ve not written up some of the new and returning shows over the last few months, so dropping them together in a bunch here. More will be coming in the next few weeks, but this was getting long enough already…
Call Me Kat
This odd offering by Mayim Bialik (Big Bang Theory) is a unique and not entirely comfortable show. It may eventually find it’s feet, but it’s best to think of it as a sketch show or comedy half-hour rather than a story so far. And the abuse of the great Swoosie Kurtz is near criminal. By way of context, this show is based on the UK’s Miranda, adopting the quasi-stand-up nature of the original but trying to push it more toward ensemble…. BTW, if you haven’t caught Miranda, it’s a fascinating to compare the two and it boasts Tom Ellis (Lucifer) in the wish-he-were-my-boyfriend role.
If you loved The Office, this is probably a show for you. I didn’t and it isn’t for me. It’s just too broad and full of, well, stupid people who aren’t supposed to be stupid or, worse, couldn’t be that stupid and be where they are in life. Given the talent involved in this show, it’s a real shame.
Call Your Mother
This is a show on the bubble. Kyra Sedgwick (Ten Days in the Valley) manages to walk the line between very broad humor and honest emotion. Whether the writing can keep up with that challenge and create storylines we care about long term…the jury’s still way out on that one, but I’ll give it some more time.
Oh, god, just no. Awful, unbelievable, absurd, insulting, frustrating, and painful.
The Expanse (series 5)
Twenty years ago, the end of the first season of Farscape was termed “the multipart cliffhanger from hell” by its creator. And it was…and it took a good part of the next season to resolve and cover what happened. The current season of The Expanse reminds me a lot of that structure. After bringing things to a huge climactic pause at the end of the previous season, the various characters are scattered across the solar system pursuing various storylines that will, by necessity, be intertwined and eventually bring them back together. As the show preps for its final season, this is level-setting and putting all the pieces in place for the final confrontations to come. A good season with revelations and some resolutions, especially for Dominique Tipper’s (Mindgamers) Naomi and Wes Chatham’s (Escape Plan 2) Amos, but mostly it serves as set-up for the end.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (series 2)
After its heart-rending and brilliant opening season, I was worried the magic wouldn’t last. It has. And the show, at least so far, continues to build on its characters and conceit. If you’ve yet to try this one out, you absolutely must…and start at the beginning. Yes, it gets heavy, but it builds to one of the most beautiful finales you’ll ever see. And it never loses its sense of humor or love of its characters.