Not long ago, the 1927 Theatre Company recorded and aired their brilliant new take on the Golem tale. It is an astounding piece of stage craft that incorporates live talent and animation with a bit of music and movement thrown in. The story, in this conception, is about the control of media and commerce over humanity. The troop tell the story in a closed loop, spinning around the story of Robert, played engagingly, and with spare irony, by Philippa Hambly.
Along with four other on-stage performers (Dunne Genevieve, Nathan Gregory, Rowena Lennon, and Felicity Sparks), the troop begin a story that you think you know, but which turns on you even as it makes your eyes and brain dance. The duality of what is happening on stage and how they are keeping you entranced is no accident. It is mesmerizing and pointed.
I have no idea if this will ever stream again or if it will be available on disc, but make time for it if you get the opportunity. Honestly, there are few stage productions that can really blow me away. This one had my jaw dropping constantly at the illusion, the humor, and the message. It’s not perfect, but it is darned close, and it is worth every minute you get to spend with it…and sadly that is ephemeral.
I haven’t written Voltron up recently due to the uneven aspects of its story and the odd rhythm of release. But the good runs have been pretty good and this finale season definitely raised the stakes about as high as they could go while also supplying an interesting story.
It isn’t often an animated series, especially one that bridges younger and older viewers, is willing to do a complete cycle and finale. They’re usually designed to keep going and generate revenue as a business model. It is more common for manga series or adult anime where an end was always intended.
Voltron has bridged these audiences by creating a long-form, more mature story with a lot of kids-style animation spread throughout. They also took some interesting chances stylistically occasionally. It isn’t on the level of Attack on Titan, nor is it purposefully adult like Castlevania, but has definitely stretched to make something beyond the typical Saturday morning style stories. If you’ve not found it yet, give it some time and let it reel you in. I have to admit, it surprised the heck out of me, and only a few episodes really put my teeth on edge as too juvenile for my taste.
Such anticipation and such disappointment. This adaptation of the classic novella by George R. R. Martin ended up as an unhappy cross between Event Horizon and 2001: A Space Odyssey; an embarrassingly and nearly unwatchable tale of space horror trying to be intellectual.
You can tell that the producers knew they were in trouble with this series from the start. In order to hook you, they had to start with the unlikely events near the finale. By doing so they kept you hooked trying to figure out how it happened, even though wading through the absurd plot and actions of the characters would have normally had you switching off the show.
There are some clever ideas amidst the really bad writing. Some are from Martin’s source material and some from the writer’s own expansion of that novella. But clever ideas alone can’t drive a show. You need at least one other element, good dialogue or good characters. Neither materializes despite some considerable talent in the cast and effects on the screen. And, to top it all off, the end of the season is far from a resolution, though I can’t say I’ll be back for a season 2 should it appear.
I wholly support the efforts to start bringing well known writing to the screen, large or small. But the results need to be as crafted as the original source in order to bring it to life.
Nightflyers is middling at best and, in my opinion, not worth 10 hours of your time to navigate.
It took Chris Chibnall all season 11 to get there, but with this first ever New Year’s episode (rather than a Christmas one) he has finally nailed the rhythm and feel of the series, making it his. With Jamie Childs directing, it all came together with humor, adventure, and emotion galore. And it was a beautiful thing to see, not to mention boding well for the upcoming series 12.
I won’t spoil it here, just know it is a nice holiday gift to the fans and a solid, special to bridge the seasons building off what we’ve already seen. The only sad thing is having to wait till 2020 for the next sequence to begin.
For anyone who thought Netflix was just an aggregator or simple studio, think again. They just created a whole new set of goal posts for the competition and for mass entertainment.
OK, I’ll admit, my rating is high here, in part, because of the technology and novelty of the piece, but Avatar got that kind of reaction as well, and let’s face it, that script and story were appallingly bad. But Bandersnatch has a good script, is very clever and fun…and I can’t wait to watch it again. My first time through, even with multiple loop-backs, I hit a 90min version, which is likely close to the happy path, even though that wasn’t my intention.
Fionn Whitehead (queers.) drives the movie with a bit more excess energy than is probably needed, but it is certainly consistent. As his father, BBC serial standard Craig Parkinson (Line of Duty) gets to ride a roller-coaster of a part, much depending on your selections moment to moment. Similarly, Alice Lowe (Sherlock) gets to have some fun as Whitehead’s therapist. But those two stabilizing beams in the story aside, a real special mention has to go to Will Poulter (The Little Stranger), who completely transformed himself for his role; he wears the accent and British intellectual toff rather well.
Of course this twisted piece of mental suspense came from the mind of the Charlie Brooker, creator and writer of the Black Mirror series. Brooker always puts technology at the center of his stories, though what makes them work is how the characters respond to that tech. Making tech part of the experience now is just a natural evolution of his approach. Director David Slade (Hannibal, American Gods) took Brooker’s vision, and its many branches, to create a series of paths and endings that all feel right for the story at hand and Black Mirror generally. I found three endings on my first watch, looping back each time to try something else. Each was satisfying, though there is clearly an intended ending that is very much in Brooker’s vein.
You can’t even think about Bandersnatch without thinking about how it was made and delivered. And, of course, the technology is bloody amazing. Sure it watches sort of like a high-end video game. But it plays like a movie and the transitions are visually seamless. Angel Devoid tried to do this years ago, but hardware quirks and other weaknesses left it working only marginally well. Bandersnatch is the payout on the promise of branching movies, and manages to do it at scale. That achievement is pretty astounding when you think of the number of concurrent watchers, each making their own choices, and no one seeing a break in the action. There are some drawbacks to how it all works. For instance, you have to watch it on a supported device and you are forced to break the wall between you and screen by being involved. However, neither overwhelms the piece and the latter works into your watching experience interesting ways given the plot.
But, tech aside, it is an engaging and interesting story. The mystery is thick and the stakes are high from near the very beginning. There are some obvious aspects to it all, especially if you’re a Black Mirror fan, but not so many or much that it ruins the fun. The story is highly rewatchable as well. I know there are huge chunks of info I’ve yet to unearth and I absolutely intend to go back and find them all. Once you see the movie, you’ll understand the delicious irony in that as well. I wouldn’t want a steady diet of this kind of entertainment, but an occasional, well-done piece would always be welcome.
Make time for Bandersnatch…it is history in the making, no matter how the eventual reception of it goes.
Under Michael Bay, the Transformers series of films had gotten bigger, louder, and thinner on story with each successive installment. By the release of The Last Knight, they were unwatchable. This reboot manages to rescue the franchise from oblivion, if they’re willing to take the lesson that character and story matter.
Hailee Steinfeld has the enviable position with this film to be driving two franchises this season, with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse also still strong at the box office. She clearly knows how to embody strength without losing track of humanity. Her semi-suburban-punk gearhead is nicely credible and engaging. With Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Love, Simon) in her orbit, but never overshadowing her, the two work together to save the world, as you do in this style of film.
And that is one of the cleverest aspects of the film, the style. Travis Knight’s (Kubo and the Two Strings) direction of Christina Hodson’s (Unforgettable) script is spot on. The two managed to set up and consciously deliver an 80s style family science fiction tale that still retains the big action of the Transformers but has all the silly heart and logic of 80s films, with some minor updates for the times. Think a less dark, bigger effects Stranger Things in style. It isn’t a perfect film, but it delivers on what it sets out to do with great pacing and fun sequences.
John Cena (Ferdinand), Pamela Adlon, and Stephen Schneider complete the main cast with some adult support to the story, each with some surprising moments. And Jason Ian Drucker, as the kid brother, completes the tableau.
If you’re a hardcore Transformers fan, you’ll probably find a lot to argue with in this story, and a lot to enjoy. It certainly explored aspects of the story, like Bumblebee’s voice, that I’d not seen before. I can say that as an adventure film for the holidays, it was great fun, full of humor, and solidly delivered. It certainly set itself up for a franchise as well, which, if they learned their lessons, could be good news. For now, at least, this was a worthwhile and fun romp on a lot of levels and for a wide range of ages. In other words, perfect for the holidays.
Beyond the series bringing us back to the sciencey end of the spectrum, it sets a new milestone with the first female Doctor in Jodie Whittaker (Venus, St. Trinian’s). Amusingly, and fittingly, that the Doctor is a woman really has no appreciable impact, at least no more than any new Doctor would. Whittaker has a good sense of the character historically and in energy. She is fun to watch, even if the series is slow to reveal her own particularly sensibilities and approach. In fact, a lot of the season is spent dealing instead with the new companions. With their three, overlapping stories, we lost time focused on the Doctor herself till well into the sequence.
Before the series kick-off, I rewatched the bittersweet finale of series 10 and Capaldi. It is a brilliant end to the cycle and Moffat’s vision. I didn’t always like his choices, but he pulled it together for his final go-round before Chibnall (The Great Train Robbery, Broadchurch, Torchwood) stepped in. With his arrival there has been a definite shift in sensibility. The show has returned to the darker and more of a science fiction feel. I, personally, prefer that mode of Doctor Who. It was always science-fantasy, but it was never really just fantasy. Moffat, by his own admission, disagreed with that and always pushed for the pure fantasy end of the spectrum. Forgetting his struggles with building seasonal arcs, it was that aspect of the last several years that tended to drive me bonkers.
As a whole, the series is fast paced and more political than in the past. There is much social commentary, but also lots of high adventure and humor. The individual episodes feel somewhat rushed and breathless, but definitely entertaining. I expect I’ll pick up more on rewatching some of them. And there is a complete arc holding it all together, which builds on the efforts the new Who has had in play since it rebooted in 2005. For Chibnall first season, it isn’t a bad indication of things to come and things to build on. My hope is that he’ll learn how to let the show breathe a bit more. The 10 episodes went by extremely quickly. The focus on the companions more than the Doctor herself also needs to shift a little so we understand and root for the Doctor more. She’s a bit mercurial during this introductory series; hard to pin down and sympathize with.
And now, as has been my tradition, an ep by ep set of responses, done as they were aired, to help keep me honest and to see how the series built.
Episode by Episode (with some spoilers)
The Woman Who Fell to Earth
Jodie Whittaker comes in with all the bravado and confidence you could have hoped for. The switch in gender is certainly commented upon, but hardly an issue. Who drives forward business-as-usual, as it should. This opener is an odd episode in that it breaks from tradition for the opening and it feels less like the Doctor finding his new crew than it does just an interesting story with that aspect eventually taking over. It may also be indicative of what’s to come as this opening show’s ending, much like its Christmas tale lead-in, is a cliff-hanger rather than a resolution. Of course, Twice Upon a Time left a lot of threads to clean up, so I’m glad Chibnall didn’t try to resolve them all in a rushed initial episode.
The Ghost Monument
Really, this is part 2 of the series opening. And it is a good one. Whittaker is really coming into her own and her posse is coming together. The delightful addition of Susan Lynch (Killing Eve) and Shaun Dooley (Misfits) to carry the storyline was great fun. Now that stuff is established, I’m ready for things to start happening (though a clear series arc has begun to form) from a Who point of view. Up till now, things are occurring, but are there as backdrop for the Doctor to get her feet under her. That’s fine, but I’m ready now so, allons-y!
A powerful and powerfully told story that resonated nicely with today. Though clearly with an agenda, it wasn’t overly preachy and with some solid impact. On a Doctor level, however, I’m ready to start to get to know the Whittaker Doctor better. She’s quick witted, but unlike previous versions, we aren’t really getting a sense of her yet, only a delightful patter and set of wins. I want to see what’s beneath the surface, not just hear about it. Still very much enjoying the season, but it’s time to get real with it since there are only 7 left to go.
Arachnids in the UK
This episode riffs on a number of classic and reboot Who. From the classic side we have the coal mine refuse causing havoc with the bug life (remember those maggots?). And from the new Who we have the turning point for the companions, who have to shift from being pulled into the circle of the Doctor to making a choice to be there. What we don’t have yet is enough of the Doctor herself. She’s active and entertaining, and clearly we’re leading to something, but I’m a bit weary of the “I’m still figuring myself out” thing that is continuing. Jump in and commit already! As a story, this one made my skin crawl nicely and did expose some emotional cores of the characters. It also got to take some very unveiled swipes at the US with Chris Noth as a reflected stand-in for Trump. I still really enjoy the sensibility of this new season, but I want to get to the meat now. I can feel it building, but not with the same sense of tension and fun that Davies managed in his first sequence of the reboot. I may yet revisit that statement when it is all said and done, but this is purposefully a running log, not a recap. I want to track how it works as it unfolds. And, so far, it is working ep to ep, but not quite coming together for me as a series.
The Tsuranga Conundrum
In some ways, this is the weakest of the series so far, despite being another Chibnall episode. It has a lot of action and some nice emotional lines for the side characters, but the monster in play isn’t realistic (and folks seem to know far too little about it despite having more than enough data to have gotten to the solution before the Doctor). Also, again, we’re not seeing a lot about the Doctor herself. It all feels very surfacey so far. Well executed. Entertaining. Just not feeling like a full meal yet. I expect that the main arc will reassert starting with the next episode. This was a hard left for the series as a whole with a new show runner, a new (and newly gendered) Doctor and crew. It needs some time to get its feet. I’m not disappointed, just not quite sated yet.
Demons of the Punjab What has become clear this series is that the focus is very much on the companions, even more so than the Doctor. However, with this episode we’re starting to get a little more of who she is. We’ve yet to have a story the focuses explicitly on her and we’ve yet to see the main arc come back, after two early hints, but things are coming together. Another aspect that is coming clear is that Chibnall is not afraid to reflect the current world in politics or comment on what is going on. Who has always had social commentary, but Chibnall has stepped it up a notch and made it a little more pointed. Tackling Partition was certainly brave…taking it on in such a personal way was inspired.
A clever and fun respite as the trajectory of the series bends toward finale. It is pretty much a standalone (or appears so), but with the focus, finally, mostly on the Doctor. Ultimately enjoyable, even though I got somewhat ahead of it (in the hope that they were going to go the interesting way). It was surprisingly devoid of strong emotion, however, even with a couple of really painful moments. It tried to make up for that with the show close and the reaction of main bad guy, but still was surprising. Curious to see where the last three eps. take us.
This season continues to beat the political drum loudly, and I’m all for it as Chibnall is using history to reflect on current issues. In this case, it is more subtle than Rosa was earlier in the run. The episode itself interesting and fun, if a little forced in the clues and resolution (which is about as hand-wavy as you can get). But we are starting to see more about this Doctor and that is welcome. This had a very stand-alone feel to it, so I’m guessing this is the breath before the wind up to a finale (2 eps left, plus the New Year’s show which replaces the traditional xmas day episode). At least I’m hoping so. There was clearly an arc being built at the top of the series, but we’ve not seen it built on much.
It Takes You Away Some nice emotional work in this episode. And some additions to the Who canon as well. This is a fast-paced tale with some nice twists, and a few shortcuts. It isn’t brilliant Who, but it is inventive and full of some great asides by several of the characters. It also has begun to bend the arc back to the beginning of this series, which is necessary given the proximity of the finale. It’s been a good ride getting here, but it isn’t feeling like a cohesive whole yet. There is lots of character work and some big milestones, but the shape is a little amorphous and Whittaker is still a little vague as a character, ceding focus to the companions a bit too much in my opinion. However, I still feel like it is headed somewhere, so willing to have faith. Even if I end up unfulfilled on that point, it has been a fun season and a fairly smooth transition of Doctors and show-runners.
The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
Wow, that was a fast season, but it definitely came full-circle, as expected. I’m not sure I felt as much a sense of completion as I’d have liked. The main arc was hard to hold onto and respond to since it didn’t get echoed quite enough to keep it fresh for me, even with the previous episode refreshing our memory of it, and Grace in particular. Still, a rich and complex story with a nice part for Mark Addy (Oasis, Game of Thrones) and button for the Tardis crew. I’d have liked something that felt like it came to more of a plateau, but it isn’t without a bit of bittersweet joy and an indication of new directions for the extended family in the blue box.
I have to admit, this movie was a good deal better than I expected given how badly it bombed at the box office. That doesn’t mean it’s great, but it was watchable…with occasional moments of yelling at the screen for dumb story choices. I’ll get back to the writing, but better first to compliment the cast who shouldn’t be overlooked for the weaknesses in the production.
Amandla Stenberg, who got her first big break as Rue in The Hunger Games, leads the cast of young actors through this latest hellish landscape of a dystopian future. She does so with a good deal of charisma and a nice emotional journey. Along with her companions, Harris Dickinson (Trust), Skylan Brooks (The Get Down), and Miya Cech, they battle their way to a potential future. And, of course, there’s the only slightly veiled, slightly creepy (and much toned down from book) Patrick Gibson (The OA) who joins them along the way.
The young cast hang onto control of the movie well, even when there are much more practiced adult actors sharing the stage with them. Among those, Mandy Moore (47 Meters Down), Gwendoline Christie (Top of the Lake: China Girl), and Wade Williams are the ones that pop. And then, of course, there is the amusing West Wing revenge of Bradley Whitford (The Post) who finally gets to sit in the President’s chair for this one.
Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda) managed her cast and the material she had well. But that is the problem, the material, which is solidly tween/teen in its maturity.
So, now back to the story itself.
Writer Chad Hodge (Wayward Pines) delivered a very un-adult script. Why things happen and how the world deals with them are lensed through the mind of a teen, with a teen’s understanding of how the world works. I’m not talking about perspective of the film, I’m talking about the writer and the amount of thought and research he put into their plot. If I’d known it was Hodge behind the keyboard going in I’d have been less surprised.
Dystopian stories are currently all the rage, but they are all riding the coattails of The Hunger Games. Hunger Games didn’t create YA dystopias, but it certainly set the expectation bar for how much money could be made by turning them into movies. The problem is, the studios have never understood why that movie took off and others (The Host, Divergent, Maze Runner, etc.) never really did.
Certainly there was a difference in the quality of the writing and, in some cases, the quality of the casting and/or directing. But really the answer is much simpler. Hunger Games, for all its futuristic framework, looks like this world and acts (mostly) like this world, and included adult thinking in its plot choices. It also took an important lesson from the Harry Potter series.
People who don’t read a great deal of science fiction or fantasy are not comfortable in thoroughly made-up worlds they are unfamiliar with. Hunger Games, like Potter, slowly acclimated a generation of readers into its world. Potter spent more than the first half of the first book in an English town and then only slowly opened the world around Hogwarts over the next 2 books. By the time they got there, most readers were completely unaware of the journey they’d taken and were willing to accept all amount of strangeness, because now it was familiar. Hunger Games managed a similar, if a bit more rapid, immersion.
Darkest Minds is a familiar world, but almost immediately has people with powers, which jumps the credibility line for a good deal of the viewing public. They’ll buy into it, but in fewer numbers and with a good deal of tongue-in-cheek nodding. It’s a shame, really, as almost all fiction these days is really genre based…Michael Crichton started that trend in spades decades back. But if the world is familiar enough to start, you can get an audience to go with you. This movie leaps too quickly into the weird and different to bring a large audience with it.
If you’re looking for distraction and some reasonable performances from up and coming young adults, it isn’t a bad afternoon. Certainly it is no more than a popcorn flick with grand intentions that are never achieved. Reaching for franchise had it stumbling. They should have gone for a standalone and hoped for the chance to take it further. The meat of a story was in there. The script let it down.
Back in 1976 Frederik Pohl wrote the classic Man Plus. Though unacknowledged (perhaps even unaware), The Titan leans heavily on this earlier tale. But while the film is engaging for the majority of the story, it ultimately loses its thread. So, if you like the idea, read Man Plus for a better sense of follow-through and completeness. But that is the fault of the script, not the cast who try to elevate the results admirably.
Sam Worthington (Hacksaw Ridge) is certainly the focus of a lot of the movie, but this is really more Taylor Schilling’s (Orange is the New Black) story. Add in Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place) and you have a nice atomic family from which to fission. The family also get some solid time to set up their relationships before the inevitable.
A couple of other performances worth calling out are Nathalie Emmanuel (Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) and Diego Boneta (Before I Fall) as additional volunteers for the experiments. Neither gets to fully realize their stories, but each tries to fill out their characters with more than your usual depth for this kind of film.
Running the program are Tom Wilkinson (Denial) and Agyness Deyn (Hard Sun).Both try to overcome their weak scripts, but only so much could be done. Wilkinson especially gets short-shrift thanks to the clumsy final third of the story. Up till then he was a driven man, trying to do well by humanity against horrible odds and near-despicable means. But he ends up being devolved into a pointless villain.
For a first feature, Lennart Ruff does a good job focusing the story on his initial intent: what do these changes mean to Worthington and his family. There are some clever visuals and nice moments to establish the story and the relationships, even if the production design feels off for the world he created and the science is, at best, wishful and often absurd. However, despite the nice emotional arc that Ruff builds, the last third of the film devolves into truly bad sf and action/horror. Also, the ending is forced, confusing, and unsatisfying thanks to losing track of their original point for the plot.
However, more important to recognize is that the film feels more like a book than a movie, especially in its pacing. I can enjoy that when it is done well, but this just felt like a clumsy but true adaptation, though again no acknowledgement of a prior work was made. This flick really did need to be more of a movie.
I will admit that I thought I knew where they would go, which may have been a bit derivative as well, but would have been more satisfying and more on point for the purpose of the Titan project. But I was wrong, for better or worse.
If you like near-term science fiction (even though this defies the likely possibilities) give this a shot. The effort is there even if the control isn’t. How you react to the finale will depend a lot on your own likes and dislikes. It certainly isn’t off from a lot out there, but it had real potential to exceed the common drivel and squandered it.
Bottom line: It’s not bad, but it’s so not Marvel Studios.
When Sony last attempted to bring Venom to screen it was one of Sam Rami’s misfires: Spider-Man 3. Their record hasn’t been the best with this universe from there forward (Spider-Man: Homecoming is really a Marvel film, so that doesn’t count). So, needless to say, I went into this movie with concerns but with an open mind and hope. There are some good aspects to what they delivered, but overall it is full of short cuts, almost unwatchable fight scenes (especially on IMAX), and comic-book logic full of science and plot holes, not to mention bad character choices. At only about 90 minutes of story (and 18 of credits) they didn’t take the time the story deserved. Entertaining? Sure, but not brilliant.
Despite this being a tent-pole flick, the entire movie spins around only three characters. Tom Hardy (The Revenant) toplines. He brings an interesting aspect to Eddie, but he isn’t very credible as a star investigative reporter. There is something just a bit dim about Hardy’s portrayal and the story has him just a bit too reckless to have gotten to such a height in his career.
Michelle Williams (I Feel Pretty) character holds her own better and has a bit more built in to make us respect her. Is she tough and judgmental? Yes, but with cause and she is anything but dumb.
On the other side of the coin is Riz Ahmed (Una), who presents a particular kind of sociopath impressively. He is a chameleon at the edge of social norms and, at this point in his life, often unconcerned about wearing his mask of normality. It isn’t a mustache twirling lord of evil, but he does borderline the geography. And, of course, it becomes a heavy-handed metaphor for the story.
A few smaller roles add to the mix, in particular Jenny Slate (Gifted). And, of course, there is the small cameo of Wood Harrelson (Shock and Awe) to hint at things to come. For the sharp eye, there is also Michelle Lee (Altered Carbon) floating around for a while.
Primarily used to TV, director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) has had mixed success on the big screen. Despite its record opening, I don’t think this is setting him apart. The script, though co-written by the Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle team, Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg, along with Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks), doesn’t really capitalize on any of their talents fully and devolves into easy things from the genre rather than breaking new ground or showing us something new. In fact, Venom doesn’t even acknowledge the rest of the MCU…no Spider-man, no Avengers, no aliens and alien tech. It is completely stand-alone and isolated, which just feels weird given Homecoming and the other 17 films that have built out that world.
Sony may have been mostly responsible for the comic-book Renaissance on screen thanks to the Rami trilogy they had the guts and vision to produce, but they’ve yet to learn how to do it well. The fear is that they will drive the Spidey universe into the ground yet again. And, given what they have planned on slate for the next several years, it is almost a guarantee. They are rushing to monetize the success of their partnership with Marvel without understanding why and how what they did with them worked. I will grant them the acting talent in the popcorner, they just have to get better scripts and someone solid to run the franchise with a longer vision.
All that said, this is a 90 minute romp with some good moments and some nice humor. It is far too short for an origin film of this complexity, but if you don’t care about the longevity of the series, it will probably do. I don’t suggest IMAX as it didn’t add much and some of the filming is too tight for the format.
Art, writing, life explained… or at least commented upon…