Tag Archives: violent

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels

[4.5 stars]

City of Angels is a richly appointed and complex tale of murder, espionage, love, and religious devotion (as well as religious hypocrisy), with a good helping of prejudice and capitalism thrown in.  It is also topical and historically well done, resulting in a beautiful and brutal series.

Natalie Dormer (Patient Zero) is a revelation in 3 of the 4 characters (she really can’t pull of the white Mexican well). It is obvious why she took the role. Likewise Nathan Lane (Carrie Pilby), who gets to play to all his strengths from wry humor to deep pathos. Bouncing between them is Daniel Zovatto (Lady Bird), who serves as the main spine for the series. From the opening scene, he is the man in the balance trapped between outcomes. But until the moments, he is stuck in the gray. We watch him struggle to be part of some world, any world, where he fits and can live with the choices. And it is a compelling tension.

A number of driving roles keep it all moving as well. Rory Kinnear (Years and Years), in particular, has a many layered story to navigate. Through him we see duality in detail: humanity and the inhumane. It is done without any nod and wink, nor any apology. And Michael Gladis (Extant) provides a suitably vile and craven political climber in a world that he wants to crush before it crushes him. Even Zovatto’s screen brother, Johnathan Nieves (See You Yesterday), brings in a set of layers born of hopelessness and anger. It’s a little one-note, but it doesn’t lack credibility even when his ultimate choices are a little forced. There are some nice treats along the way too, like Patty Lupone (Last Christmas) in concert and Brian Dennehy’s (The Seagull) final effort before his passing in April (though he may have other footage still to come in a couple projects).

This time in LA, the lead-up to WWII, has been often visited, but rarely with the kind of scope this series pulls off. Usually you get hyper-focused stories, like Zoot Suit, or Chinatown, or any number of mystery/suspense/noir stories that pull apart the high and low of society, or the gay and straight. City of Angels navigates all of these aspects, and then some. And it does so in a way that makes sense and shows the connecting threads. For that alone, it is worth seeing.

However, while I loved seeing a different take on the era, I have to admit that I was also somewhat upset that it removed primary responsibility for the horrors from the humans. Dormer’s character, as the sweet-tongued devil in many guises, becomes the main impetus for all the action. She really does much more than talk to make it all happen, which is where the trouble lies.

In addition, there is a challenge with the plot decisions that bothered me. While the presentation of how LGBTQ people were treated and viewed in the era is relatively, sadly accurate, the series also has no LGBTQ character who isn’t, for lack of a better word, evil. Not just tragic, but actively doing wrong. That feels a shame in a story as big as this and one that has so many levels of detail. And particularly wrong during Pride Month. It isn’t that the characters aren’t human, they just all feel irredeemable.

But, ultimately, this show is so on target for the current situation across the country, the awakening and mobilization of frustration and anger, that it’s uncanny and upsetting. All in an intentional way. City of Angels marks a brick in the path that leads to its own historical volatile times, but it is also a reflection of the powder keg that is today. It insists we look not only at the past but at how we want to navigate the future. And it also forces us to admit the perils of not paying attention to those lessons. Despite its slightly rushed wrap-up and some of the dangling threads, this is a definite must-see for our times and, should these times move on, a must-see for the historic scope and lessons of the past; and yes it’s entertaining as well.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels

Blitz

[2.5 stars]

Despite a lot of potential, this is a middling action film masquerading as a police procedural…and not with a very good costume. The result is somewhere between a BBC mystery drama and Taken. And the problem is that neither is entirely believable, though the violence is definitely visceral and the cast fairly well put together (which is what got me here in the first place).

Jason Statham (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) is at center stage. He’s surrounded by serious talent here. And he needs to be the way he’s written. There is almost no real emotion to his character, who’s circling the drain as a burned out detective. In his nearest circle, he has Paddy Considine (The Death of Stalin) as his partner and Zawe Ashton (Velvet Buzzsaw) as his suffering mentee.  But a step away you have Mark Rylance (Ready Player One), Luke Evans (Murder Mystery), and David Morrissey (The City & The City). And then there’s Aiden Gillen (Bohemian Rhapsody) aligned against them all.

That is a pile of possibility…all of which director Elliott Lester, on the whole, squandered. To be fair, the script wasn’t particularly great, which was a little surprising. Adapted by Nathan Parker (Equals), I expected, or at least hoped, for more. I will grant that the pacing is pretty relentless.

Up to you on this one. I watched the whole thing, but would have happily missed it to rewatch the equally flawed, but way more fun, Transporter for my Statham action fix.

Blitz

Rim of the World

[3 stars]

Kid’s films are hard. Getting the balance of humor, action, language, not to mention age appropriate plot is a delicate balance. Zack Stentz’s (X-Men: First Class) script delivers a tween-level tale and language. Just enough action and language and challenge to sate a 13-year-old’s sense of adventure. Director McG (Three Days to Kill) pushed a bit hard on the broad humor, as he often does, but for this audience, he probably did good.

The result is an amusing, if utterly improbable, kids save the world adventure, with some nice bends in the typical characters. For example the main kick-ass in the group is the miniscule Miya Cech (The Darkest Minds). She also delivers almost all the best lines and keeps her wits about her to keep the group going.

The rest of the gang is the typical rag-tag Goonies-like group. Jack Gore (Ideal Home) takes the main focus. He has the only fully realized character in the movie, and the fullest arc, but it isn’t the most sparkling (which is Cech). He’s joined by Alessio Scalzotto, in a thin role covering the LatinX community, and Benjamin Flores Jr. covering the Black community. Flores, in particular, should slap McG silly for how he had him attack his character. It’s beyond painful at times.

But all of the weaknesses aside (and they are legion) the movie somehow remains entertaining and engaging. It has good production values, a high octane plot, big stakes, and makes adults look helpless. What more does a tween want in an adventure film where they get to be heroes? What’s a shame is that it could have been so much more if they’d approached it in earnest rather than in satire.

Rim of the World Poster

Motherland: Fort Salem

[3 stars]

I wasn’t looking for this one. I tend to find alternate history shows more than a little frustrating as so few really find a good hook in or follow through with their logic. Motherland is sort of a grown up Charmed (or rebooted Charmed if you prefer), though still aimed at the younger, and particularly female, set. But it is more empowering and with significantly more grit than the CW show.

One of the things that sets this show apart is the complexity of the magic and the depth of the rules. Eliot Laurence (Welcome to Me) spent time on his creation to be sure it remained consistent rather than just inventing rules as he needed them to support his plots. This is what makes great fantasy, and it’s a rare commodity. It is building to be as complex as Buffy, though without that level of dialogue and cast chemistry (but what does?).

That doesn’t mean to say the cast is bad. Taylor Hickson (Deadly Class), Amalia Holm (The Girl in the Spider’s Web), and Ashley Nicole Williams form the primary triumvirate and center of the show. They’re not an entirely balanced ensemble, but they slowly come together over the season and each has a particular charisma. With the help of Jessica Sutton (Escape Room), Demetria McKinney (House of Payne), and Lyne Renée (The Hippopotamus), among others, the world is filled out and made complicated.

The inaugural season as a whole starts strong, but does make one huge and cheap leap to take the turn to the finale in the final episodes. It is only one major miss-step, so I’ll give it to them, but it was unworthy writing compared to what had come before. And it was completely avoidable and lazy. The finale was also rushed, pulling together a number of threads, not entirely satisfactorily, and leaving you with multiple cliff-hangers rather than a comfortable pause. In other words, it was sort of cheap. Those two aspects, more than anything, are why I dinged its rating. That said, I’m glad they’re renewed and I’m looking forward to seeing where the series may go. I just hope the quality that I can see in there is nurtured more in the next round.

Plus One (+1)

[2.5 stars]

There is a definite How to Talk to Girls at Parties gone very dark here. Rather than a sweet, if odd, tale of self-discovery begun at an epic house party, this edges into horror. And not particularly satisfying or scary horror at that. It is more suspense and mystery horror, leading to a real moment, but somewhat ponderously getting there.

The cast is relatively untried. Only Logan Miller (Being Frank) stands out. But, I will admit, that Colleen Dengel (Damsels in Distress) and Natalie Hall get some unexpected moments. However the main action is driven by a rather weak Rhys Wakefield. The story is very much on his shoulders and only works if his path makes sense and if we have any sympathy for him. We don’t. Not at all. And without that, the whole house of cards collapses at the end.

To be fair to Wakefield, director Dennis Iliadis (Last House on the Left) took Bill Gullo’s (The Quitter) script and followed its lead, but left it stilted on screen. He didn’t help his actors find their truths in the way he needed to sell what could have been a wonderfully creepy and psychologically challenging tale. He did, at least, keep the story clear in the midst of a complicated concept.  And the script, while clever in idea, doesn’t quite go all the places it could have to make it richer and more interesting.

I can’t say I recommend this one, but some may find it satisfying. It has moments if not a completely satisfying delivery. If you gravitate to teen splatter horror (which this isn’t, per se, but it bumps against those tropes) you’re more likely to find it fun.

+1

RocknRolla

[?? stars]

It’s all a question of style. This 2008 Guy Ritchie (Aladdin) comedy-heist film is pure Ritchie. His natural voice and approach have a clear signature. It is a dark sort of comedy, with a lot of quick cuts, dry delivery, and violent action. And, for whatever reason, and despite its relative success and following, I just could not make it through this one at this time. Perhaps it’s the pandemic, perhaps my tastes have shifted, but people being that awful to each other for no other reason than greed, and no character having truly redeemable qualities, just isn’t an escape for me right now…it’s a horror show.

I realize this probably says more about me than the movie. And normally I wouldn’t even have written this up because I don’t believe this is a fair reflection on the effort…but that’s why I also didn’t actually rate it. If I were being paid for this effort, I’d have forced myself through and found a way to be unbiased, but since this is purely a labor of love, the hell with it. Life is to stressful and short right now to waste time on something that isn’t engaging me in any kind of positive way (which isn’t to say it has to be a positive movie…I love dark comedy).

So, with apologies to the most excellent cast and even to Ritchie, I’m passing on this one. I wish I’d seen it long ago when my mood may have allowed me to enjoy it, the way I have many of his earlier films. Maybe someday I’ll come back to this and be willing to take the ride. But not today.

RockNRolla

First Love (Hatsukoi)

[3 stars]

Ah, the bloom of young love. Takashi Miike (Blade of the Immortal) is one of the few directors who could take a sweet romance as the spine of a black comedy drenched in blood and make it work. And he took Masa Nakamura’s (The Bird People in China) script and did it in style, giving us real characters and drive amid the battles between Yakuza, Triad, and various other elements.

Masataka Kubota is caught up in the center of the storm that Shôta Sometani starts in motion, and which kicks Becky into overdrive. The plot goes somewhat as you expect, if you expect a farce resolved in sword and gunplay rather than the slamming of doors and marriages. But Miike takes his time with the quieter moments as well, which makes this a bit more than you might expect, even if it is solidly between the lines of its genre.

If you like Miike, you’ll enjoy this romp. If you’re not familiar with his work, this isn’t a bad place to start. This is one of his modern settings, and less fantastical, but it definitely retains the dark heart that beats in everything he puts to screen. And if you are new to his work, just know it’s OK to laugh. In fact, it’s intended.

First Love

6 Underground

[2.5 stars]

Has there ever been an  explosion, car chase, quick-cut, battle, or inappropriately stupid joke Michael Bay (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) didn’t like? The answer is “no” to all these (again) in this hyper-charged action/adventure that went straight to Netflix.

Now the truth is that you’ve likely already seen this one…I know I’m way behind the curve. As much as I was looking forward to Ryan Reynolds (Pokémon Detective Pikachu), having Michael Bay in the driver’s seat was not encouraging me. And, as I expected, the result was uneven and beggared credibility at just about every turn. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining, particularly if you just wanted to turn off your brain and watch some very long and spectacular car chases and fights, but it wasn’t a great movie or one that required more than a single viewing.

The sign of a good action/adventure is that you want to see it over and over again, not just for the visuals, but for the personalities (if not also the story). Compare this to the even more recent Extraction on the same streamer. Sure it was action-heavy, but even with a less complicated plot, it has more complete characters; people we want to see again. And, in fact, that movie has a sequel in the works.

Adding to 6 Underground’s challenges, forgetting how it was handled by Bay, the script was surprisingly weak given that it was from the same team that brought us Zombieland: Double Tap and two Deadpools, Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese. Then again, they also brought us Life. Bay’s primary weakness is that he doesn’t recognize issues in the scripts he’s using because he’s just focused on the next big visual. He creates a pastiche rather than a story, from which he hopes we’ll knit together a narrative in our own minds while he worries about the pretty pictures.

Reynolds, though the binding thread of the story, is really part of a ensemble. Mélanie Laurent (Now You See Me), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Bless Me Ultima, Widows), Ben Hardy (Bohemian Rhapsody), Adria Arjona (Good Omens), Corey Hawkins (Kong: Skull Island), and Dave Franco (The Little Hours) complete their gang. While each, generally, has an amusing and entertaining character, there is little connection between them, even when they are being physically intimate. They’re just “types” and sounding boards for the plot and action.

Against them are a pair of brothers. Lior Raz plays a suitably horrid dictator, with his moderate brother Peyman Maadi (A Separation) as the semi-willing pawn being pushed into place.  These two probably have the richest characters in the entire movie. They have levels, conflict, and history. Heck, they even get actual endings and evolution, which is more than I can say for the good-guys team.

For a night of empty entertainment with some very expensive action gags to carry it along, this could be your go-to. If you want an actual movie, you probably want to look somewhere else.

6 Underground

I Am Not Okay With This

[3.5 stars]

This odd, 7-episode season inhabits a fun place in the streaming pantheon somewhere between Heros and The End of the F***ing World. Frankly, if it had done more than just barely set things up for the next series I would have rated it quite a bit higher, but little is resolved by the end and far too little really happens to make it feel complete.

That said, the journey is really quite a bit of unexpected fun. Sophia Lillis (Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase) continues to expand her range and work on her delivery. She is magnetic and quirkily charismatic as she negotiates her High School and evolving powers. Joined by fellow It alum, Wyatt Oleff, we see well into the lives of their families, often without having to see it explicitly. The work by creator/director Jonathan Entwistle (The End of the F***ing World) to expose by inference and off-screen action is one of the more powerful aspects to the show: the implied, the hidden.

Sofia Bryant (Birdboy: The Forgotten Children) adds both bridge and irritant to the relationship of the main characters, and access to the other cliques at the school. The three, together, form an odd set of bonds and uneasy relationships that typify late teen years…especially those who are more self-aware.

Entwistle has a solid vision and ability to navigate  heightened truth and make it feel utterly imperative and real. In other words, he can tap his inner teen really, really well. This slightly less offensive (by typical standards) series show he’s also getting more savvy in his content pics without compromising his desire to live at the edge. I’m curious to see where he takes this, as his follow-up series to The End of the F***ing World really didn’t sustain its impact and unique qualities. But this has more potential and more of an open-ended tale, so I’ve hope.

I Am Not Okay with This

Extraction

[3 stars]

If you’re looking for a nearly pure action distraction with just enough story to fig-leaf it as a movie, this isn’t a bad choice. It has high production values and solid, if somewhat repetitive, fight choreography. Think Black Hawk Down meets Taken or an alternate version of Mile 22. Basically, the movie is a nearly real-time view of a hostage extraction from overwhelming odds.

Stunt coordinator turned director Sam Hargrave does a fair job for his first feature outing, especially given the scope. But the adapted script from Joe Russo, who is better known as a director (Avengers: Endgame), is just too predictable and thin to support the two hours of action.

Chris Hemsworth (Men in Black: International) toplines this movie and brings a number of layers to his broken-down mercenary. He has both motivation and emotion between his bursts of necessary violence. There are only a couple other characters of note. The young victim is nicely played by relative new-comer Rudhraksh Jaiswal. It isn’t a breakthrough performance, but he gets a few beats are impressive…but he’s otherwise there as a foil/prop for Hemsworth’s battles, internal and external.

Two smaller roles are add some depth to the mayhem. Golshifteh Farahani (Paterson) has a small supporting role from which Hargrave manages to wring a good deal of information with her just looking silently. But David Harbour (Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein), delivers what he can with a ham-handed character; the script did him no favors.

Is this worthwhile as a film?…well, it isn’t a great film, but it is a well-made distraction if you’re in the mood for what it has to offer. It does show what Netflix is starting to become capable of as they start putting lots of daylight between them and their nearest competitors while we’re all locked away. Enjoy it for what it is. There are much worse of this genre out there, but it still hasn’t quite reached the quality on all levels I’d like to see the streamer achieve in the feature category. But it is getting closer.