Tag Archives: Writer

Wendy

[3.5 stars]

Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) is not only a gifted storyteller and filmmaker, he is incredibly astute at finding young talent. And while this second feature didn’t get the same kind of attention his first movie did, his abilities are on raw display.

The story, by Zeitlin and his sister Eliza, is a clever retelling of Peter Pan evoking, yet again, their Louisiana roots. The story takes the fantasy and and the desire to never grow up and makes it even more magical that the original Barry tale in some ways.

Part of that success is down to new-comers Devin France and Yashua Mack, in the roles of Wendy and Peter. They are near spooky in their ability to be both children and to seem to carry the wisdom of years behind their eyes. Some of that is, no doubt, Zeitlin’s ability to direct them, but much is their own innate talents.

The film is fluid and unexpected in the way it deals with reality. It provides a framework, but not many answers. And, ultimately, it lands on a joyous metaphor that is both positive and bitter-sweet. The largest failing of the story is it’s climax, mirroring “clap if you believe in fairies.” It is a moment that will work for most audiences, but which I found distancing and demanding in a way that was not embracing. It threw me out of the flick entirely in a very bad way. I understand the choice and assumptions, but it was a shame, after so much else before and after that moment worked, that he and his sister couldn’t see the issue they had tripped on with their choice.

That aside, the movie and its ideas are really special. Zeitlin continues to be a filmmaker to watch, with a unique and powerful vision of the world and an ability to nurture talent that might otherwise go missed.

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Reservation Dogs

[4 stars]

As a Kiwi, co-creator and writer Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) is both the most unlikely match for this new series about Oklahoma reservation life, and the perfect choice. If you’ve ever seen his first film, Boy, or even his more recent Hunt for the Wilderpeople, you can see how the same experiences and sensibilities inform this new series. (And if you haven’t seen these earlier films, you should.) Along with Sterlin Harjo the two have created a devastatingly funny and honest look at reservation life. That there should be that much commonality across the globe for indigenous populations is a sad matter for a much longer discussion. Though, to be fair, Waititi’s name is how this show probably got done and most of this show is from Harjo’s experience. But Waititi’s influence is hard to miss.

The story of Native American/First Nations/Indigenous peoples is starting to get more screen time in varying forms. Where Rutherford Falls tries to provide a somewhat split view of life both on and off a reservation, Reservation Dogs dives deep on the reservation side. So deep it barely comes up for air. And unlike Mohawk Girls it’s all a bit more serious, though neither show shies away from some of the deeper truths. And Reservation Dogs tackles growing up on the res rather than the result of that as an adult, giving it a very different viewpoint.

At the core of the series is a collection of young actors, all of whom manage to grab you and make you care. Devery Jacobs(Rutherford Falls), D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Lane Factor, and Paulina Alexis are an unlikely group thrown together by circumstance, but devoted to one another until an event starts to fracture their friendship. Entry into their world is difficult to watch at times, but as the series continues it becomes less bleak. And there are plenty of more seasoned faces throughout the series as well helping buoy it along.

Another wonderful aspect of the series is how it incorporates the culture both in storyline and on screen. It isn’t all strictly mundane, but the magical/mythical aspects aren’t seen as anything but part of the world. Part of the series’ real success is how deeply it drops you into this culture and dark realities (and inferred causes). This is a series really worth investing in and it’s already been renewed, so it won’t be a lost investment either.

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Dating & New York

[3.5 stars]

Like Broken Hearts Gallery, this first feature by Jonah Feingold delivers on almost all levels. They both aim at Millennial love connections and struggles. And both made me realize how much things have changed about dating… and how much they’ve really stayed the same. Dating & New York is a bit less polished than Broken Hearts, and it’s more unapologetically aimed at a younger audience, but there is plenty there for all ages to sympathize and recognize and laugh with (and at).

From the moment it starts we know we’re about to enter a sort of satirical view of old romance films, but done with both love and affection. It isn’t making fun of those fantasies so much as updating them. And the main couple in this modern romcom comes to wonderful life with Jaboukie Young-White and Francesca Reale (Stranger Things). The energy and easy nature of both are completely engaging. And their friends, Catherine Cohen (The Lovebirds) and Brian Muller, bring some framework and balance to what we know just has to get messy eventually, no matter how civilized and above-board it all starts.

Feingold keeps the pacing unrelenting…exhausting even, at times. The story is entertaining. The ending is honest and romantic. The gender flips he does are nicely turned. And, OK, absent one character, I never had any idea how any of these people supported themselves, but that wasn’t the focus of the story. Having found out he filmed it all in 15 days, this movie is sort of amazing.

This is a romantic comedy for both those that like romantic comedies and those who scoff at them. It’s an honest romantic comedy. Well, mostly honest. Mainly, it’s believable where it needs to be and wry where it threatens to get too syrupy. Above all, it’s fun and funny.

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Love and Monsters

[3.5 stars]

There was something quite fun in taking the action-hero oriented Dylan O’Brien (Infinite) and making him into a somewhat inept, but able to learn, heartsick dweeb during the apocalypse. It also helps that the script was wickedly funny and unpretentious. By combining the raw sarcasm of  Brian Duffield (Spontaneous) and sweet sensibility of Matthew Robinson (Dora and the Lost City of Gold), the result is an unexpectedly humorous and entertaining action romance.

The story is unabashedly absurd from the start, but not without heart. In fact, if anything, that is the point of the story: family and love (in case the title wasn’t enough of a clue). But it’s all done with a wry wink. Michael Rooker (Vivo) and Ariana Greenblat (Awake) add to that considerably. And Jessica Henwick (On the Rocks) provides a suitable and believable focus for our hero.

This isn’t brilliant comedy or action, but it is totally entertaining and never takes itself too seriously. And, even amidst the absurdity, there is a real base of emotion and intention. It’s a flick that fulfills many needs for an evening and will have you laughing and jumping. Had it not released during the pandemic, it may even have found a wider audience on the big screen, but now it will just have to grow it from a smaller one; and it should.

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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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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.

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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.

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Masters of the Universe: Revelation

[3 stars]

Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that I was just curious to see why and what Kevin Smith (Tusk) would guide the classic cartoon into I would never have turned it on. The fact is that Masters of the Universe is one of the most unapologetically chauvinist and absurd stories out there…and like many kids, I loved it growing up. But watching it now is just painful in so many ways; the character names alone! What was there to save here? Why bother?

And through most of the first episode, none of those opinions changed or were challenged. And then Smith turns the whole thing on its head in an instant. I don’t always like Smith’s work, but I trusted him enough to get through the setup to the meat of what he wanted to do, and then explore the remaining episodes of the very short first season (or part 1 of the first season).

He also, as exec producer, lined up some fairly recognizable voice talents. In primary roles, Sarah Michelle Geller (Veronika Decides to Die), Lena Headey (Gunpowder Milkshake), Justin Long (Live Free or Die Hard), Stephen Root (Uncle Frank), Liam Cunningham, and Mark Hamill (Brigsby Bear) make regular appearances. And there are more. It isn’t so much that these actors give brilliant performances so much as a testament to the scripts that they wanted to do them.

By the end of the 5 episode run, Eternia, her politics, and her secrets have all been remade. And, yes, it’s worth it. Can they pay it off going forward? I don’t honestly know. But I am looking forward to seeing if they can.

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Beach Rats

[4 stars]

I was a long time getting around to this first film by Eliza Hittman . In fact, I found her second, first: Never Rarely Sometimes Always. But it was the empathy and craft of that story that sent me back to her debut with Beach Rats. I’m late to the game to say she is someone to really watch, but it is still worth saying.

Hittman didn’t give us a likeable hero in her first film. Harris Dickinson (The Darkest Minds) is flawed in both endearing and truly ugly ways. But he is also trapped by circumstance and his own struggles. And Dickinson committed to all of that without reservation on screen. So much so that you aren’t sure if the movie is a coming of age story or a tragedy. And, frankly, you still won’t be by the end.

Hittman puts you so deeply into the point of view of Dickinson’s character that you completely inhabit his world. At points you even forget you’re not just watching through hidden cameras at his life. But despite being steeped in a sort of macho hell, Dickinson’s Frankie has two strong female influences in his circles: his mother, played by Kate Hodge and his girlfriend, Madeline Weinstein (Mare of Easttown). Both are quiet but strong influences, though whether they can break through to him is all part of the story.

And the tension of the story is drawn so taut that the ending is almost a release on its own. It’s clear this isn’t going to be a happy tale from the beginning, but it also isn’t without sparks of hope.

For a first film Eliza Hittman packed it with subtlety and power. It has been living on my list since its release in 2017, but I hadn’t had the nerve to spin it up. If you’ve been avoiding either of her films for fear of the subject, well, suck it up and make the time. These aren’t easy characters to love, but they are so very human and real as to encourage our commitment.

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The Nevers (series 1)

[4 stars]

The Nevers is probably the most complex and dense new world created for genre TV since Game of Thrones. The six episodes are so packed as to be, at times, exhausting to keep up with. But it is worth every gasp and bit of effort. If I have any real criticism of the show it’s that it should have had at least 8 episodes to get started, but I loved every minute we did get.

Originally put together by Joss Whedon, but then carried forward by other ex-Buffy crew Douglas Petrie (Daredevil) and Jane Espenson (Jessica Jones, Husbands), the show will constantly keep you guessing as to motive and plot. No mystery is held back too long and the overall story is wonderfully unique, on television at least.

The story is led by Laura Donnelly (The Fall) with amazingly controlled intensity and depth. She’s surrounded by a group of wonderful performers, some known and some less so (at least in the States). In the latter category, Ann Skelly, Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s DemonsSt. Trinian’s: Legend of Fritton’s Gold), Rochelle Neil (Terminator: Dark Fate), and Amy Manson (Being Human) rise to the top, but are far from the list that should be acknowledged.

And then there are the better known faces. Among them James Norton (Grantchester), Olivia Williams (The Father), Nick Frost (Truth Seekers), and Pip Torrens (Roadkill, and so much more) are the ones that immediately come to mind. And then there is a great smaller role by Claudia Black. Again, that is far from the full number of recognizable faces and great characters there are to enjoy and revile.

I will admit, the show isn’t perfect. Particularly some of the sound mix, which tends to mask the dialogue which is often tossed off so casually as to be too quiet or so heavily accented as to be a challenge (and I watch a LOT of British TV). And as I said, the story is dense and, at times, hard to track all the various threads when you’ve a week between drops. This last problem can be averted by binging (or rewatching) which I will certainly be doing at some point. Some of the plot is inscrutable until later in the season because…secrets. And that one I can live with. And some of the plot is just left hanging due to the lack of time to resolve all the threads.

All that said, it’s worth the effort. Especially true if you like watching strong women (in all kinds of ways) in surprising roles. The society very well mapped to the history we know when England was doing everything in its power to maintain an Aristocracy in control, an Empire cowed, and women in their place. And the finale (reminiscent of Dollhouse’s two season finales) which reveals and confirms much while it whipsaws you in wonderful ways.

I have no idea where the second series of this show will go, but I can’t wait to see what they do with it. The finale raised at least as many questions as it answered. But the main point is that if you haven’t dived into this world yet, make time for it.

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