Tag Archives: violent

Squid Game

[3 stars]

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are at least aware of Squid Game. It has had even bigger viewership numbers than Bridgerton and has made the news and even a song on SNL. Everything everyone has said is true. It is hyperviolent. It is dark as hell. It is a bizarre lens and commentary on capitalism, life, and society. So no need to go there. I want to talk about what people aren’t mentioning.

To start off, I had spotted the show very early in its release, but the description/warning that pretty much just said that it was “hyperviolent” had me put it off. And then the hype grew and so I gave it a shot. The first episode was numbing and depressing. There were no obvious characters worth investing in, based on their actions. I knew who we were supposed to root for, but frankly couldn’t find a way in to do so. So I paused my return to the Korean spectacle.

And then the hype grew more. I just couldn’t grasp what was causing all the hoopla. So, I went back…and that’s where it all got interesting.

The storytelling in Hwang Dong-hyuk’s Squid Game is odd and non-linear. It starts us at a dark nadir for Lee Jung-jae as our main character. But then, with the second episode, we start getting backstory for him and the other players. None of it forgives their actions, but it provides context. And there are lots of stories to tell in this cast, though Park Hae-soo, Jung Hoyeon, and Oh Yeong-su have some of the more interesting. No one in this story is blameless and they all, essentially, accept the reality that they are where they are thanks to their own actions. But the context allows for some amount of empathy and, ultimately, some devastating moments. Unlike, say, Battle Royale, it definitely pays off with a purpose.

Add to all this the amazing production design and you have a show you can’t seem to look away from…unless of course you can’t handle hyper-violence, in which case what the heck are you doing watching this anyway? Ultimately, the story is allegorical and not a little absurd. It jumps the shark near the climax with the arrival of the VIPs for me, and the ending was neither overly surprising nor satisfying. It simply happened to allow for a second season. And, to be fair, I want to see what they do with it, even if I don’t forgive the character manipulation that brings us there.

This isn’t an easy show. It won’t raise your opinion of humanity. But, in a weird way, it leaves you feeling hopeful and with some faith in the individual. It will also put some questions in the back of your head that will rattle uncomfortably as you contemplate them in private. Should you watch it? Again, see hyperviolence. It is brutal at times. If you can’t deal with that, the answer is a flat: no. If you can tolerate the intensity and blood, yeah, it’s something you should see.

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Halloween Kills

[2.5 stars]

Buckets of blood? Check. Surprises and jumps? Close enough. Story? Well…not so much.

David Gordon Green’s second installment of the new Halloween trilogy is not so much a movie as it is a commentary on society and reflections on the franchise going back to 1978. There isn’t even any teen angst or hijinks. It is almost all from the perspective of the survivors (guilty and not) of the previous films. While the previous film capitalized on that and flipped the script in nice ways, this one is simply out of control and can in no way stand on its own.

Perhaps the real issue is that Green knew he had three films. This installment is simply a bridge to the third and (promised) unexpected finale. But if you don’t know the series and haven’t seen the lead-in story, you’d be lost. This movie picks up literally from the moment the last ended. But it has no real purpose. No rich stories to latch onto and care about (it tries, but fails). It is violent as hell on all sides, and that is its biggest mistake.

For the statement that Green wanted to make, Meyers should have had the lowest, or even zero, bodies added to his list. All of the death should have come purely from the chaos he inspired. That would have made a statement. As it is we simply go from death to death, one squishy over-the-top moment to the next. And while I can enjoy a good splatter film, this just didn’t engage me.

I am, without proof, hopeful that next year’s Halloween Ends will justify this middling release. But we’ll have to wait to see. For now, whether you see this now or later is entirely up to you.

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Voyagers

[2 stars]

Short version: it’s Lord of the Flies in space but without any of the weight of the original allegory.

Longer version: The world is dying so a group of scientists send a bunch of teenagers into space without much personal or automated supervision for 86 years. What could go wrong?

Honestly, the premise of a generation ship could have worked had they not already admitted they had both invitro fertilization and extra-utero gestation solved. Why the heck did they need more than a few adults to get the ship where it needed to be? Bring a seed bank of humans; the rest could have been made later either in waves or all at once near the end so they were useful. Would have saved a ton of supplies and space.

But that wasn’t the story Neil Burger (The Upside) wanted to tell. He wanted to show the horror of mankind unbound. Except he didn’t. He showed what a couple of psychopathic teens could accomplish when adults were too stupid to take precautions like monitoring their charges physically, chemically, or some other way. The pitfalls of the plan are obvious to anyone and the results inevitable. So the movie is really about the spectacle.

Unfortunately, while there are some nice design an visual effects, there isn’t a lot of good spectacle on display either. Not in terms of fights, skin, or anything else that might qualify. Burger couldn’t really commit to his vision, or the studio kept scaling it back. Frankly High Life or even the nearly unwatchable Climax took on these themes better. And Passengers, for any flaws it may have or others thought of it, looked at long space flight better as well.

What is a shame is that he had some talent there waiting to tackle the problems. Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Dark Phoenix), Fionn Whitehead (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch), Lily-Rose Depp, not to mention Colin Farrell (Ava) all have chops. But Burger’s script and direction did them no favors. While they all start at a good place and are good at the understated base from which it all launches, none of them really have an arc we care about emotionally.

So, yes, skip this. My pain should not be yours. Burger is a capable filmmaker, but this was not one he will be remembered for. And none of the actors will admit to this down the road unless under duress.

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Brand New Cherry Flavor

[3 stars]

It’s hard to turn away from this unexpectedly magical, dark, and twisted Hollywood-meta horror ride. It not only echoes so much of what has come before (and current affairs), but builds its own mythos and little corner of hell. And Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel) and Catherine Keener (Incredibles 2) are wonderfully matched as they share and spar.

It’s also easy to see why both of these women took on their roles. Salazar gets to grow up and command the screen. Keener (Incredibles 2) took the challenge of trying to make the truly weird and fantastical into something accessible and believable. And she rides that line beautifully.

There are a few men playing in their world. Jeff Ward (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as a naif pulled into the maelstrom and Eric Lange (Wind River) as the catalyst and Weinstein stand-in. But one of the more unexpected, though his role is rather small, was Manny Jacinto (The Good Place, Nine Perfect Strangers). Jacinto proves again what a chameleon he is; every role his sense of age, even of height, seem malleable.

If you like the weird and dark, The ride of Cherry Flavor is worth every minute you get to spend with it. It’s sense of dread and magic, power and control as it all shifts and is explained is compelling. The ending…well, let’s just say they wimped out. Yes, it sort of completes, but they left it wide open for a sequel. Honestly, I would have preferred a solid ending. But that is only the last few minutes of an 8 episode dark epic that grabbed me and pulled me along, even against my will at times. It isn’t for everyone, but it is very well crafted and wonderfully acted.

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

[3.5 stars]

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

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

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

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

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Baptiste (series 2)

[3 stars]

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

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

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

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

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Intergalactic (series 1)

[3 stars]

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

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

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

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

Intergalactic Poster

Sweet Girl

[3 stars]

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

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

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

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

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War of the Worlds (series 2)

[3 stars]

The first series of this reimagining was interesting, but ended on a rather obvious set of possibilities…that takes most of the second season for the characters to realize. And while some of that is fair, as we know more than they do in many cases, other aspects should have been obvious to them almost immediately.

The entire cast returns for this continuation. But life is cheaper now that there are fewer humans; there isn’t as much fodder to deflect attacks. In other words, blood will be spilled.

This second season also wraps up the story comfortably…with an opening to continue. And continue it will as the third season is due next year. Where they will take it, I have no idea. Well, I have some idea, but it could just get silly and exhausting and drawn out given that some of the logic is questionable as it stands.

On the other hand, Howard Overman is a writer I trust enough to give it a shot. He has a way of finding the truth in situations that spin out of control. War of the Worlds isn’t his best dialogue work…and it’s all a bit too unrelentingly dark and without humor. He works best when allowed to include the whole of human emotion and reaction. But it isn’t unengaging and the take on the theme is fresh enough to draw you along through this season’s resolution. I suspect, however, that it will be the third season that really pulls this all together with a punch, not unlike aspects of his earlier Misfits which had nice three and five season arcs that you wouldn’t have spotted as they initially unrolled.

I do appreciate the feeling of near completion in this second season. Whether that was done to hedge against an unknown renewal or part of the plan, I can’t say. However, it balances a need to know and the potential for continuation in a deft way. Only the third season will show if it is also fair.

War of the Worlds Poster

The Suicide Squad

[4 stars]

Now, let us first admit making a better Suicide Squad than last time was a fairly low bar. But James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) went beyond doing it better, he found the balance. Margot Robbie’s (Birds of Prey) Harley Quinn certainly plays a central role again, but she doesn’t bulldoze the entire story this time. Everyone on the crew can not only hold their own, but each also has their own story for us to follow.

So let’s talk story for a moment. There is a sub-genre of genre fiction called “gonzo.” Basically it means anything goes. If there is a gonzo-style director out there that can really pull it off in a popular delivery it’s Gunn. He has no shame and he has few limits on his imagination. And Suicide Squad as a base for a story was made for him.

And that’s the heart of it all. Gunn found the story. With Idris Elba (Legacy: Black Ops) at the core and the primary support of Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian (Ant-Man), and digitally hysterical Sylvester Stallone (Animal Crackers) the crew blasts its way through challenge after situation. And the returning and nicely altered characters for Joel Kinnaman (Altered Carbon) and Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) add some unexpected aspects to it all. There also are plenty of other fun performances, including a bevy of cameo gifts Gunn gave to his old Guardian’s crew, not to mention an odd opportunity for Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who).

The only weak spot in the cast for me was John Cena (Bumblebee). Yes he was intended to be a big douche bag (per the script), but his byplay with Elba never really works. They don’t connect or repel one another in any visceral way, only in a lightly and predictably comic exchange. If there is a place Gunn fell short, it was that casting and that relationship.

But the ride, overall, as predictable as it is at times, is unrelenting and full of great moments as well as an overall arc. And, yes, there are also two tags during the credits that clearly help set up a sequel. If Gunn were to tackle that, I’d definitely be back, but I’m sort of hoping that they just leave this silly and wonderful little gem as a standalone. Whether you see this on large or small screen (and I saw it on small quite happily) you should see this if you’re a fan of comic anti-heroes. It’s a fast 2.25 hours and it will leave you smiling.

The Suicide Squad Poster