Tag Archives: YourChoice

Cursed in Arcadia Ego

[4 stars (Tales of Arcadia) or 2.25 stars (Cursed)]

Two very different Netflix shows currently tackle the Arthurian myth. And, surprisingly, the children’s show does it better and more interestingly. Arthur is rich in myth and history with enough room in it to allow for many types of retellings. And these two shows couldn’t have done it more differently nor with such different levels of success.

Tales of Aradia was created by Guillermo Del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone), based on his co-written books. It’s an interconnected collection of series that began with Trollhunters. Then came 3Below, followed by the most recent: Wizards. But the threads that lead to Wizards begin in the first episode of Trollhunters. And, yes, these are really aimed at older kids and young teens, without question, particularly the first couple series. However, I jumped into Wizards without watching the others and it hooked me. It was inventive with the myth, stretching it like crazy, but not breaking it in a way that felt wrong. And while it was clear I didn’t know the backstories of a lot of characters, I was never entirely lost; a credit to the writing of the show.

When I went back to the beginning of the inter-connected series, I was surprised to find references to events I’d just witnessed, and which would have gone unanswered for viewers for three years. In other words, I don’t think it matters which end of the time stream you start, it all comes together in fun ways.

The show is loaded with voice talent, and won several Emmys as well. Most notably in the cast is Anton Yelchin (Thoroughbreds), who began as the lead, and stayed with it through his untimely death near the beginning of season 3. And then the series made some great choices to both continue, and to not dismiss his loss when they changed the character voice to Emile Hirsch (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood).

When you’re looking for some distraction, some fairly solid animation, and a clever tale, this set of shows will work for you. And, more importantly, they don’t insult your sense of the underlying material they plundered to create their world.

Now, on to Cursed

Where to start with where this series went wrong… How about the desire to rewrite the Arthurian tale rather than just do a true prequel? How about mucking up Roman/Britannia history so badly as to be embarrassing? How about having people make stupid choices and dialogue that was utterly painful at times? How about an unrelenting dirge of a tale with barely a respite? Well, it’s a start.

I will admit I soldiered on through to the end of this story, though I almost completely bailed about half-way through the second episode. It was close and I did turn it off at that point. But I came back to see if they could rescue it. They sort of did. Sort of. But I was still let cursing (appropriately) at my screen in the final 15 minutes of the series.

Aspects of the reimagining are clever…but they’re also contradictory in their set-up, implying it is way before Arthur’s time, when in fact is is contemporaneous with it. That just threw it all into disarray at the outset. And then there is the religious war aspect, which was half-true, though massively shifted time-wise to feed their hungry beast of a plot.

The cast does what it can with the painful scripts and choices, but they are left hanging on the screen, more often than not, looking less than comfortable with the results. Katherine Langford (Knives Out) and Devon Terrell (Ophelia) bumble around the countryside having to deliver mouthfuls of bad dialogue, and strained protestations of affection. And Gustaf Skarsgård (Vikings) has created an outrageous Merlin, that tries to resurrect Nicol Williamson’s unforgettable turn in Excalibur. And then there’s the sadly miscast Sebastian Armesto (Tulip Fever) as Uther Pendragon, whose been shrunk to a fool and wisp of a man. And that doesn’t even touch the psychotic nun, Emily Coates, who does OK, but who we never get enough about to understand what drives her. At least the young Billy Jenkins (Humans) gives us a full character, even without all the backstory.

Honestly, if we’re looking for strong, female-led tales of the time, and Arthur in particular, can’t we just finally adapt Mists of Avalon or Parke Godwin’s Firelord series? The characters are way more interesting, and the story much more credible and fascinating (and closer to true history and embraced myth).

The point is that if you’re going to do a re-imagining, do it with a purpose, not just changing things for shock value or convenience to muck with people’s expectations. Ultimately, that’s all Cursed does as it slogs through its torturous existence, and without even the courage to finish the story.

Inheritance (2020)

[2.5 stars]

There is only one reason to see this rather predictable, if nicely tense, movie…and that’s Simon Pegg (Slaughterhouse Rulez). His complete transformation and performance is really quite amazing.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast isn’t quite so engaging. Lily Collins (Tolkien) is completely miscast as a highly respected and tough NYC DA. She just doesn’t have that gravitas…and her reactions through much of the story are, well, not from a woman who should be more  prepossessed. Chace Crawford (The Boys) is fine, but sadly typecast in his role; there are no surprises there.

And then there’s the story. To be honest, as director Vaughn Stein’s follow-up to his more stylish and satisfying Terminal, I was rather disappointed. His handling of the script is fine, but he should have pushed for something beyond the obvious. There was an opportunity for a more interesting conclusion that was completely missed. By taking it just one more step to complete Collins’ journey, a bland and obvious ending could have been elevated; but that isn’t what’s on offer.

Certainly, there is some good tension and by-play in this piece, but I can’t really recommend the cost of nearly two hours. However, if you do tune in, Pegg alone may keep you nailed to your seat to stick it out. Just don’t expect revelation at the conclusion, merely an ending.

Underwater

[2.75 stars]

From three minutes into this movie it’s just a suspense run. Not a particularly surprising one, but fairly well engineered to keep you on the edge. Of course, that’s often mucked up by the challenge of figuring out who’s in trouble when and where since so much of the time they’re in heavy gear, but that’s a different aspect to discuss.

Certainly, at least, Kristen Stewart (Charlie’s Angels) provides a relatively strong lead. She’s even somewhat believable as the mechanical engineer “sciencing the shit” out of stuff to survive. OK, really more Macgivering it, but you get the idea. The others… well, you do have to wonder why the hell the company even allowed them on their multi-billion dollar rig in the first place. I couldn’t figure out their value-add or purpose even by the end of the movie.

Her colleagues are a diversity panel’s dream, for no particular reason. They all do fine with what they have, but what they have isn’t a lot. Vincent Cassel (Jason Bourne), Mamoudou Athie (The Front Runner), Jessica Henwick (Iron Fist), and even the cypherish John Gallagher Jr. (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) create characters with some depth and sympathy, if not credibility. Only TJ Miller (Deadpool) is less than a complete person, serving entirely for comic relief that feels very out of place and makes him seem a fool.

Basically, this is a bit of Abyss meets Cloverfield meets Alien meets, oh, figure it out for yourself if you dare. It’s a 90 minute romp with a  lot of fun effects, some good scares, and an absurdly thin plot. Director William Eubank (The Signal) didn’t really bring what talent of his I’ve seen before, other than the pacing. And the script by Brian Duffield (Insurgent) and Adam Cozad (The Legend of Tarzan) just didn’t hold together well. But it may be enough to get you through.

And, yes, my rating is splitting a lot of hairs, but I just couldn’t live with giving it three stars given all the plot and other issues. What I will say, however, is that it’s certainly a story of heroism and drive; for that it got to survive. And the “Live Bunny Montage” on the extras is definitely worth the viewing after the flick.

Fantasy Island (2020)

[3 stars]

It’s easy to forget that Fantasy Island wasn’t all 80’s kitsch and sweetness, it had a dark side. This remake tries to capitalize on that aspect. And, for the most part, it’s successful, even if the logic is stretched and the plot falls apart near the end. But up till then, director and co-writer Jeff Wadlow, along with the rest of his previous Truth or Dare? team (Jillian Jacobs and Chris Roach), is somewhat clever in how he helps it embrace both aspects of the classic show.

Much like the original, this is a collection of stories. In the wide-ranging ensemble, Lucy Hale (Truth or Dare?), Maggie Q (Priest), and Jimmy O. Yang (Space Force) stand out by force of charisma. They’re joined by a number of other good players that bump the plot along, such as Michael Rooker (Brightburn), Portia Doubleday (Mr Robot), and Parisa Fitz-Henley (My Spy). The rest of the cast serve simply to fill out the story; not poorly, just not memorably.

However Michael Peña (Dora and the Lost City of Gold), in the pivotal Mr. Roarke roll, feels utterly wrong. You have to be both pulled to the man and terrified of him. Peña has neither the presence nor the menace necessary.

What I will grant the movie is that it is a movie, not just an overblown TV episode. But while it can stand on its own, I suspect it has much more impact as a retcon of the series. Were it not for the wobble near the end, it would have been much more satisfying. But it’s a pretty big wobble as it tries to wrap it all up. Fortunately, the final moments are a bit more fulfilling. As to whether you should book a trip here…well, that’s up to you.

RoboGeisha

[2.5 stars]

Every bit as silly and bloody as you expect from the title…and, yes, it is bat-shit crazy. It is, in fact, so bizarre that it was even more fun to watch with the badly dubbed English 5.1 track (rather than the original Japanese stereo with subtitles).

Truthfully, I can’t defend this movie on any level. It isn’t quite “so bad it’s good” like the old Ed Wood films. But it isn’t so full of itself that isn’t also punching itself in the face consciously. Writer/director Noboru Iguchi is clearly a prolific, gonzo creator. He has no boundaries and an evil sense of humor.

So, I admit: I laughed a lot. I hope it was in places Iguchi intended. But I can’t say I’d seek out any more of his work. One was enough. You may find him more to your liking.

RoboGeisha Poster

I’m A Porn Star

[3 stars]

Through interviews, and copious amounts of often graphic footage, writer/director Charlie David introduces us to a range of adult film/web performers, gay and straight, and delves into their lives and drives. Thanks to the subject matter, this docu also makes a wonderful adjunct to Circus of Books.

The result is, admittedly, a bit raw in many respects. However, you can see promise in David’s early attempt to share a story through non-fiction; especially his sense of humor and whimsy. On the weaker side, the footage is often repetitive and reused; but the stories themselves are probably not what you expect, which makes the movie a bit stronger. And, unlike Rocco, these are not self-congratulatory or even celebratory stories, generally. Not that any of these performers are embarrassed by their choices, but neither have they tried to build cults around their bodies. Instead, they are focused on making a living and enjoying life. And, seven years after its release, some of the men have also achieved their goals and exited the industry.

As interesting as some of the conversations are, it’s David’s abbreviated history that introduces the film that really sets up the stories and makes it more relevant. In addition, his ability to keep the subject entertaining without turning it into porn on its own (graphic yes, but not porn) that normalizes it for critical viewing. Though, to be fair, David would likely argue that wouldn’t have been a big deal if it had crossed the line in any case.

If you ever wondered about the people on the other side of the lens, both performers and crew, this is a brief visit with some insight. It isn’t a great movie, but it does show off David’s budding abilities.

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A Life Less Ordinary

[2.75 stars]

Even with my enthusiasm for the collaborative efforts of director Danny Boyle (Yesterday) and  writer John Hodge (Trance), I somehow had missed this movie. For their third feature outing, the duo brought us this dark romantic fantasy that blended Heaven Can Wait with a bit of Sid & Nancy. Honestly, even taking into account the 23 years between, the result doesn’t entirely work though there are some fun moments.

What makes this worth seeing, other than Boyle’s crazy ability to direct the bizarre, is the cast. The list is led by Ewan McGregor (The Impossible) and Cameron Diaz (Gambit). McGregor was, as usual, fairly solid and full of vulnerability and guilelessness. Diaz was less effective and credible, and is the main reason for the failure of the movie overall. The story depends on the reality of these two so that we not only believe them but can also cheer them along.

The leads are accompanied by a massive list of recognizable faces, some of whom had yet to become well-known. They’re mostly all credited, so it’s less spot-the-actor as it is just enjoying the sea of talent. In the primary supporting roles are a young, though not untried, Holly Hunter (Incredibles 2), and a semi-young Delroy Lindo (Point Break). Neither is particularly brilliant, but they are the main comic relief through the story and play their absurdist, dark clown parts well.

Overall, this isn’t one of my favorite Boyle’s. It doesn’t quite have his signature control and he hasn’t quite learned yet how to slip between the fantastical and reality in fully satisfying way. That he pulls off this bizarre tale at all is a credit to the abilities he did have. You come back to this out of nostalgia or a need, like mine, to fill in a gap in the opus of the folks involved. Otherwise, there are better stories out there, and better performances by all involved.

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Ju-on: Origins

[4 stars]

Japanese horror is a unique and dark corner in the genre. It’s sense of what is evil is very different from Western stories of ghosts and monsters. Evil is a thing that can be attached to places, people, animals, elements…just about anything. It is without conscience and not always with a particular purpose, though it often is brought forth from or echos real-life events.

Ju-on, the movie, was terrifying. Even its American remake was solidly creepy and disturbing. This series makes them both seem tame. It is darker than dark, twisted, and asks the question: where does evil begin (if the title wasn’t enough of a clue).

The series is told with interleaving/overlapping time-periods to lay out the story, ultimately with it all coming together in the final episodes. But it never quite fully defines what is happening and why; not unusual in Japanese horror. It does provide events and suggestions, but there would seem to be a bigger tale to tell, and, perhaps, an as yet unrevealed purpose behind the hauntings. And, yes, though it resolves a good deal of the threads, it left open the story in a way that allows it to continue if it gets renewed. Actually, it kind of demands more episodes to resolve it all. Much of the credit to the creepy goes to the writers. Hiroshi Takahashi worked on some of the Ju-on sequels and Takashige Ichise on Ringu and its sequels. But director Shô Miyake found a great visual language to depict their story, even if the edits and clarity weren’t always the best.

Do not go into this series lightly. I am not a squeamish sort. I enjoy Japanese horror in all its bloody and gooey splendor. But this embraces that and adds a layer of truly uncomfortable imagery and events that left my skin crawling. And yet, I’d be back if they continue it, just to see how they pull it together.

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Step Up

[3 stars]

I know this is the movie that launched both a franchise of many movies, a series, and, probably most notably, Channing Tatum (Smallfoot), but as a movie is it only just OK.  And, yes, I know this is Fame-like fantasy. The formula is intentionally predictable and obvious. The relationships, banter, and tragedies foregone conclusions. They only left out sexual confusion and discovery from the standard mix. So perhaps my expectations should be set on acceptance rather than a desire to be impressed. But for all its silliness, the original Fame had a lot more heart and impact because the characters were that much more real.

But, clearly, the focus on street dance and music hit a chord with audiences that continues to last. I can’t say I was bored, and I certainly laughed many times at intended points; I just wasn’t transported. Part of the problem was that the movie was unbalanced, the focus being pulled by Tatum’s character rather than as part of the equilibrium.

Even the  director, Anne Fletcher (The Guilt Trip), knew that the real star, or at least find, of this movie was Tatum and not his co-star and eventual spouse Jenna Dewan. Not that she isn’t a solid dancer and a good actor, it’s just clear that the movie is Tatum’s. Need definitive proof? During the final, climactic scene of the performance that Dewan’s character has been striving toward, and around which the entire movie pivots, not only is she not center stage, the follow-spot is always on Tatum and never her…unless she’s in Tatum’s arms. Forgetting the fact that Fletcher didn’t know how to film dance, it was the most distracting element of the movie for me because it was so blatantly wrong for the story and the moment. She didn’t even really use Rachel Griffiths (Hacksaw Ridge) to her full extent, though perhaps that was fair, if disappointing. And even with little screen time, she does make an impression here.

It’s worth noting that, in addition to Tatum, several others got a boost from this flick. Writer Melissa Rosenberg went on to create, among other things, Jessica Jones. Co-writer Duane Adler went on to do several more in this series and other dance films, having found his niche. Damaine Radcliff leveraged this to go on to several industries and interests. Of course Heavy D and Mario already had careers, but it gave them some nice moments. Mario, in particular.

When you’re looking for some thin romance, and some romanticized stories of the “street” and having it tough but being able to succeed, this may do. It isn’t realistic, it isn’t brilliant, but it is entertaining enough to carry its weight. At this point, I’m probably far too jaded to just give in to the fantasy of it all. For its intended audience of tweens and teens, it’s going to be much more effective.

Step Up Poster

 

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

[3 stars]

I really, really wanted to like this more than I did, but I’m not sorry I spent the time with it. Billed as the “Historic farewell performance of the King of Glitterock” it was anything but. However, it was the retirement of Bowie’s Ziggy character from the touring stage. The concert isn’t filmed particularly well, though the sound isn’t bad. And it isn’t even the complete show. However, it is as curious for what songs are included as which aren’t, given this was in 1973 a few months after the release of Aladdin Sane. For example, we do get Watch That Man, but not The Jean Genie. Go figure.

What is interesting is seeing Bowie prepare and perform when he was still somewhat raw. His control of the audience was still developing. And his cult of personality had just begun to grow, though he certainly had some chops for this tour.

Generally, this isn’t going to be of interest to anyone who isn’t a huge fan and who many not have been old enough to see him live way back when. This isn’t on the scale of Glass Spider or even with the simplistic polish of his Sound and Vision tour, but there is a raw rock’n’roller joy and energy and it’s filmed very much in the style of the era (and with suitably grainy stock thanks to the low light).

There are plenty of docus about Bowie that include archival footage and put it in context, if you want to see more performances and his evolutions. Five Years is one of the best, if you’re looking particularly to learn about his genesis. So this one is up to you. Concert films are rarely brilliant (Stop Making Sense aside) but they are rare moments in time to be enjoyed if you enjoy the artist.

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