Tag Archives: violent

Umbrella Academy

[4 stars]

What a wonderfully weird and dark world. There are enough twists and turns amid the obvious and predictable to keep the inaugural 10 episodes of this series gripping. The production rides the line of comic book and real life beautifully, crossing back and forth between the natural and the absurd.

The ensemble is varied and impressive, much like the Academy was meant to be. And they all commit and deliver at every step, with their (eventually revealed) back-stories supporting their choices nicely. The core group is primarily lesser known talent with Tom Hopper (I Feel Pretty), David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, and Robert Sheehan (Mortal Engines) each having some great stories to tell. And then there’s Ellen Page (Flatliners) in a truly challenging role, who does well, but she is the least credible for me. Page delivers, but a lot will depend on the anticipated second season as to whether I fully buy into her choices. However, if there is anyone who really gets to dominate this series it is Aidan Gallagher as Number 5, who graduates from Nickelodeon to adult fare. Coming across believably as a 50-something year old man in a 15 year old’s body isn’t easy at the best of times, but Gallagher has an amazing energy and ability to pull it off.

The world of Umbrella Academy is much larger than its homebase. Kate Walsh (13 Reasons Why), Mary J. Blige (Sherlock Gnomes), Cameron Britton (The Girl in the Spider’s Web), Adam Godley (A Young Doctor’s Notebook), Colm Feore (Anon), John Magaro (Overlord), and stalwart Sheila McCarthy fill out the story and world with a mountain of award-winning talent, giving the show many levels and perspectives to latch onto.

Umbrella is first and foremost a comic adventure. Expect extremes and complexities. Expect the unexpected and the genuinely obvious. But mostly expect to be entertained and to have a rollicking good adventure that will have you trying to put the pieces together till the end. This sits in temperament somewhere between the Marvel and DC universes, delivering humor but also the gravitas and the dark. Think of it as a twisted, dark X-Men sequence by way of St. Trinian’s. It even echos a lot of the sensibility of Utopia (which is also being remade for US television). I had a great time with the result and, if you like these kinds of stories, you will too.

[And then there was this clever bit of launch event on Netflix’s part: https://deadline.com/2019/02/umbrella-academy-reigns-over-nyc-fans-wedding-with-times-square-parade-1202562593/]

Alita: Battle Angel

[3 stars]

There is a lot to like and a lot to hate in this epic adventure. It is packed with incredible visuals, a strong female lead, amazing fights, and some great moments. To dislike, with prejudice, are several chunks of the script and the non-ending (again, thanks to the script). Did I mention the script?

There was so much anticipation around this first big offering of 2019. The pedigree was solid with Robert Rodriguez (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), king of the low-budget high-impact green screen, at the helm. It even had James Cameron behind it as producer and co-writer along with Rodriguez and Laeta Kalogridis (Altered Carbon) with solid source material in a well-loved manga (Gunnm).

And, honestly, it starts off pretty well. Rosa Salazar (Maze Runner: The Death Cure) tackles Alita with a guileless honesty that manages to not feel stupid. Christoph Waltz (Tulip Fever) guides her journey with some actual depth and character. Even Jennifer Connelly (Stuck in Love), whose character is more than a little cliche, manages to broaden it out to something richer than what was provided on the page. Keean Johnson (Nashville) gives Salazar a reasonable foil and love interest, though he doesn’t quite have the experience to make the role much more than how it was written. Then, of course, there is Mehershala Ali (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), the man who’s everywhere this year. Ali gets to have some fun…if not blaze new ground or create a role of a lifetime. Jackie Earle Haley (Damnation Alley) and Ed Skrein (The Transporter Refueled) put together some fun, if unsurprising, villains as well. Even Ed Norton (Isle of Dogs) has a small and, unremarkable, appearance.

But the story is incomplete. It literally ends on an ellipsis without a sense of completion. That is entirely on the script. This film was clearly intended as a first installment in a franchise…one that will never get made (at least for the big screen). But rather than help it stand on its own with a possibility of a future, it simply gets through some stuff and ends without any feeling of resolution. Some slight edits at the end might have helped avoid that feeling by moving some of the final action into or after the credits, but that isn’t what Rodriguez did. After bringing the story to a rather nice climax emotionally, he drops the ball and speeds directly through to the final moments and images.

And then there are the eyes. Alita’s eyes, a weird homage to its anime roots and attempt to make her look different, are, well, distracting. I think there was some intent there to highlight her uniqueness. But in a world where cyborgs and body mods are common, no one there seems to notice them and, as viewers, we just keep getting put off. Salazar’s acting was more than enough to get across the point, the eyes were overkill. It doesn’t ruin the performances or film, but it was the one serious production mistake.

The truth is that if you have any interest in this story or movie, you should see it on the big screen (3D or not is up to you, I saw it in Dobly and was suitably impressed) because it really won’t translate to small screen. Like Valerian, this is a sprawling visual feast with a lot of story that feels pretty common since its release (almost 20 years ago in this case). It is worth supporting for its attempt to do something new, despite its weak script. On the other hand, if you aren’t living to see this or desire some visual acrobatics for a relaxing couple hours away from the world, there are plenty of other choices out there.

Luther (series 5)

[3.5 stars]

This is either an ignominious end, or a brave new platform from which, to relaunch what has been one of the most shocking and strong suspense/mystery series to come out of the BBC. Brutal, dark, and fun as always, this fifth series of Luther really got back on its feet, at least for the first three-quarters and a bit of it.

Luther has evolved over time. From the dark and twisted first season, into the hyper-violent second tale, the maudlin third and then the odd, bridging fourth, which was interesting but not particularly satisfying. This new, four-part installment gives us a story we are more familiar with, while adding some new faces.

Idris Elba (The Mountain Between Us) and Ruth Wilson (Mrs. Wilson) continue to drive most of the action, along with Patrick Malahide (Mortal Engines). But Wumi Mosaku (The End of the F***ing World), coming in as a wet-behind-the-ears detective under Luther’s wing, really gets to show her range as well. Mosaku has been typically cast as the jaded copper of late, but this fresh persona has lost none of her sharp intelligence or strength, providing an immediate and interesting focus in the story. And, of course, Dermot Crowley (Hard Sun), is still there to helm the ship in his odd and MI-6 sort of way.

The wonderful counterpoint of Hermoine Norris (Outcasts) and Enzo Cilenti (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell), both with each other and Luther’s cadre, is great fun to watch. The two are a dark dance of fun with many currents running below the surface.

As I implied, up till the final half hour, this is a great series. It isn’t at all clear where the story is going to go or how it will all go down, though you’ll have strong suspicions. The question, at the very end , is whether writer/creator Neil Cross wimped out or if it was simply easy set of choices to bring it all to a close. As of a few days ago, there are rumors it will continue into a series six, but in a very new direction. However, nothing has been confirmed.

If you like Luther, this is a must-see continuation of his and his department’s tale. If you haven’t discovered the series yet, start at the top and see if you can handle the oppressive weight of Luther’s world. This is not a light series, but it is wonderfully acted and, often, intriguingly written.

Blindspotting

[3.5 stars]

Blindspotting joins a growing group of scathing social satire and commentary, from the outrageous Get Out, Sorry to Bother You, and Assassination Nation, to the truth-based BlacKkKlansman, The Favourite, and Vice. This is on the more realistic side of that collective, which only makes it more powerful when it comes down to its final moments.

The movie is written by and stars Daveed Diggs (Wonder) and Rafael Casal. They’ve crafted a script that is both naturalistic and lyrical, bordering on Shakespearian at times. Diggs and Casal are also a great acting team that dominates the film with their energy and emotions. Janina Gavankar (Sleepy Hollow) and Jasmine Cephas Jones (Mistress America) have impact and each provide important sounding boards for the men and their journeys, but remain in the background.

Blindspotting isn’t the most fun ride, though it does have humor, but it is a well crafted ride with some truly unforgettable moments and a very strong message. Definitely worth your time when you’re up for their approach, which pulls no punches but which also very much loves its characters.

Nightflyers

[2.5 stars]

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.

Assassination Nation

[3.5 stars]

This is a hard film to watch, but probably not for the reasons you think. Yes, it is full of violence and it will anger and disturb you, that is true. But the hard part of this film is that it feels all too real and possible.

Writer/director Sam Levinson pulls off a neat magic trick by taking vulgar mayhem and making it into an honest-to-god statement about society and people. It takes a while to get there but when it does, it is a solid gut-punch. But even the journey is unexpectedly intriguing thanks to the cast.

Led solidly by Odessa Young, a small group of friends navigates high school and life as it all crumbles around them…literally. Abra, Suki Waterhouse (Future World), and Hari Nef (Transparent) back up Young nicely, and each has their own plotline to spin out. These four, young women each embody different aspects of the challenges of growing up in a world saturated with social media.

The adults around them are at turns clueless and, at turns, active in the unavoidable disaster that begins as the credits roll. Joel McHale (The Happytime Murders) is the only one with any real plot to work with though Anika Noni Rose (Ralph Breaks the Internet) does get her moment. Jeff Pope (Hap and Leonard) and Colman Domingo (The Kick) don’t really have any story of consequence, but each creates a recognizable character to push it all along.

Like I said, this isn’t an easy film to watch, but it is worth your time if you have a high enough tolerance for violence. You get a reminder and warning at the top of the movie as well, to give you one last chance to bail. But as a piece of social commentary, this is an effective and solid film. If Levinson can continue to develop that aspect of his voice and continue to match his stories to the need, he’s going to be a director and writer to watch.

Patient Zero

[2 stars]

The term “patient zero” is overused in bad science fiction and horror.  It comes from epidemiology and is an important concept in figuring out where a disease started from and how it spread. When method of transmission isn’t obvious, it is useful in identifying the cause of the spread (like a contaminated water pump). But when you’re just trying to find a cure, any old infected individual (or group of individuals for sample size) will do. And, should you have anyone that is resistant handy, you’re way ahead of the game.

So why do bad movies always try to find “patient zero” in the midst of zombie Apocalypse to find a cure when they’ve got 100s of zombies to sample for tests? I have no idea. There are ways you could write around that to try and make it necessary, but I’ve not found a solution in practice that makes it believable.

The cast tries, but really doesn’t succeed, in making the story credible. Matt Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), along with his bad American accent, tries to make the most of his role. Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) tries, but the script does its best to make a smart woman seem dumb. Fellow Game of Thrones-er John Bradley fares way better in a comic role. Stanley Tucci (Final Portrait) sinks his teeth, no pun intended, into his role more than the rest, but he was given the words to do so. His character is still only a shadow and with limited motivation and value to the story. And Clive Standen (Taken) is just embarrassing as a character and as an actor.

Basically Stefan Ruzowitzky took a weak script by Mike Le and didn’t manage to make anything of it. What you’re left with as an audience is a silly story with a lot of splatter, growling, and yelling. Hey, if that’s your thing, this is your movie. So, despite a potentially interesting cast, this movie is truly something to avoid.

If you want something a bit, ahem, meatier, but with way better results, see The Girl With All the Gifts. That, at least, has a complete story and some solid choices to carry you through.

Inferno (1980) and Mother of Tears

[2.5 stars]

Let’s talk horror.

What makes a movie scary? Disturbing sound effects? Gore? Twisted sets? Violence? Creepy music? Dark scenes? Surprises? Sure, all of that can add to the atmosphere, but if you don’t have characters and a story to tell you might as well just make paintings with some ambient sound to accompany it. You also need to be able to identify and engage with the characters. Part of what has brought horror into the mainstream with massive blockbusters like Get Out and It is the characters we could connect with, not just the situations and the events. Even those that rely more on humor, like Cockney’s vs. Zombies and Happy Death Day, or even those that rely simply on cleverness like the Saw or Final Destination series, provide both shock and character with the laughs…but they would fail without the characters.

OK, with all that in mind let’s dive into the last two parts of The Three Mothers trilogy by horror icon Dario Artento (Suspiria).

Inferno

A lot happens in this midsection to the trilogy, but it doesn’t have any real impact. There are no characters to latch onto, no real story to tell, just exposition that explains a bit of Suspiria and what potentially may come. There are some interesting visual moments but the script is painful at times; so is the acting. It is also very much a film of its time, 1980, in look and feel.

What Inferno does do is set up an interesting framework for the bigger story of the Three Mothers…and it would take Argento another 27 years to attempt it in The Mother of Tears, but I’ll get to that shortly.

I can tell you that, as a curio, sure you can give Inferno time. Just don’t expect a good movie. Go for the splatter and the explanation. Honestly, some of that information may be in the original Suspiria, but I saw it so many years ago, I can’t recall. I can say that the remake of Suspiria certainly included some of the background supplied in Inferno.

Mother of Tears

This is probably the most polished of the trilogy. That isn’t a complete surprise as it was made in 2007, 27 years after Inferno; you’d hope that Argento had improved his abilities in that amount of time. Mother of Tears does complete the trilogy in much the way you’d expect given the previous two installments. Building on the information in Inferno, but tying it back to Suspiria, we get a suitable climax to it all. 

But no, it isn’t a wonderful film. There are moments and there are surprises (sound familiar?). There is also gratuitous violence at times, as well as story-serving violence at others. The gore gets extreme and characters, such as they exist, are sometimes just, well, stupid. In fact, the entire impetus that frees the Mother of Tears is based on actions that just wouldn’t occur. Sadly, it could have been easily worked around, but Argento simply took the easy way and decided that truth should be as damned as the world he creates.

At least some of the acting was slightly more believable than the other two films. Asia Argento isn’t brilliant in the lead, but Valéria CavalliCristian Solimeno and Adam James added some credibility to the cast (given the direction they were given). And a small role by Udo Kier (American Animals) was a gift to his fans.

Overall, am I glad I completed this sequence? Yes, but more from a filmography point of view rather than feeling entertained. My time could have been spent on better choices. I am not a huge splatter fan, but when it is done well and to a purpose, be it humor or commentary, I can get on board. Argento seems to use violence for no purpose other than to purge his own demons or simply to shock. He has his followers, and if you are one then you certainly should fill in any gaps you have in his opus. For general or casual audiences of horror, or those who prefer the more mature approach, steer clear. There is little meat on the bones and too few moments of entertainment to make it worth your effort.

Hotel Artemis

[3 stars]

This had so much more potential than it achieved. The idea, an odd mash-up of The Purge and John Wick: Chapter 2, is loaded with talent, just not with a script or director.

The emotional core of the story, such as it is, rests with Jodie Foster (The Beaver). Her characterization and efforts are filled with promise, but don’t fully pay off even if they drive the tale. The fault here is the script, not Foster, who brings a lot of subtlety and physicalization to her Nurse.

Foster is assisted by an oddly devoted Dave Bautista (Escape Plan 2: Hades). There isn’t anything new on screen here from him, but he serves his purpose. Likewise for Jenny Slate (Venom), who swings into the story late, but with nice complications.

Staying in the hotel are an unsurprisingly motley crew. Sterling K. Brown (Predator) leads that list, continuing his breaking out onto the big screen by leveraging what he does best. Brown’s intensity combined with his ability to remain vulnerable always makes him interesting to watch and relate to. He helps anchor Foster’s storyline with his own. Brown is joined by a lithe, bitingly cold, but not particularly surprising, Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond), and an absurd Charlie Day (Pacific Rim: Uprising). Each has aspects to add to the overall plot, but neither feels entirely grounded or real (by choice or presentation).

And then there were the smaller, but linchpin roles by Jeff Goldblum (Le Week-End), Zachary Quinto (Hitman: Agent 47), and Brian Tyree Henry (Widows). Each one is a domino to fall in the interlaced tales that drive the Artemis. None is particularly believable, though Henry doesn’t really misstep so much as not have as much to work from in the script as the other two. They all try to wring what they can from their characters and situations despite the shortcomings.

Like I said, loaded with talent. So what went wrong? Director and writer Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) never quite gets the pacing right, nor was he able to balance the emotions in a way that sells the situation and the characters. From the outset, the movie is off on the wrong foot with stupid choices made by supposedly practiced criminals. Setting it against a city-wide uprising was an interesting choice, but that reality was a story convenience that never did more than force the plot rather than enrich the tale or issues. When you start with something as obvious as naming the hotel for the goddess of the hunt (and, to a degree, chastity), you sort of know where you’re headed and where you’re not.

I’m not saying this is entirely a waste of time. Some of the performances, Foster for instance, are interesting to watch. There are some good fight scenes. The cinematography and production design are engaging. It just isn’t what it could be and it isn’t particularly good. Depending on your mood and what you’re looking for, it may work better for you than it did for me.

Mandy

[1.5 stars]

Often when I use the tag and term “unique” I mean it as a compliment. This is not one of those times. This is a misguided, lost, often laughable attempt at horror surrealism, with a nod to gaming, anime, and heavy metal cultures. In fact, it does come across as an uncomfortable mashup of Hellraiser, Heavy Metal, and Reefer Madness. It is not a pretty result.

While Nicolas Cage (Snowden) is a love him or hate him kind of actor, he certainly put his all into an impossible role. So did the rest of the cast. Andrea Riseborough (Disconnect) and Linus Roache (Non-Stop) are of the better heeled talents in this outing that try to do what they can with their scripts.

Director and co-writer Panos Cosmato had a vision. He probably got it on shrooms, or some similar hallucinogen. And that’s fine and has worked for plenty of artists in various media. However, if the result isn’t something that a greater audience can follow or connect to, they have failed. Admittedly, this film has a following, it is what got me to watch it and stick with it to the end…I had to see why it had such strong supporters. I still don’t know. It is, quite frankly, juvenile, predictable, absurd, and full of issues in plot and logic. Even the surreal has rules and awareness; this did not.

Honestly, if you are looking for a head-trip horror, see Suspiria (either version) or Hereditary. Or, if you’re looking for a movie about cults or charismatics, try MarthaMarcyMayMarlene. Otherwise, skip this ham-handed effort.