Tag Archives: YourChoice

The Stand (2021)

[3 stars]

Timing is everything in entertainment and The Stand, well, it couldn’t have picked a worse time. Despite the long anticipation, and the desire to see this epic tale told with the breadth it deserves, watching a story of a pandemic (even if it is just a McGuffin) doesn’t quite ring right at the moment.

But timing isn’t its only issue. The show suffers from all that was good in the book and all that was bad. Some of the casting works nicely, like Amber Heard’s (Aquaman) Nadine, Odessa Young’s (Shirley) Frannie, and even James Marsden’s (Sonic the Hedgehog) Stu. Other characters like Owen Teague’s (It: Chapter Two) Harold Lauder, and Nat Wolff’s (Admission) Lloyd, aren’t credible…and, in fact, Lauder isn’t even afforded some of his evolutions from the book despite the available time in the series.

Other changes to the story, like making Flagg the actual devil and Mother Abigail potentially an angel (though really more of a prophet) removes too much of the interesting aspects and struggles. Part of the real suspense in the book is that people have to choose (including Flagg and Abigail). That Flagg actually has a supernatural hand in causing the pandemic is just so frigging cheap a choice and shows no imagination on the part of the writers. It’s too easy and lets people off the hook. I do admit that Alexander Skarsgard (The Hummingbird Project) is a near-perfect choice for Flagg. Whoopie Goldberg is a bit less perfect as Abigail, but that felt more like the writing than her efforts.

There are also some nice smaller appearances that work nicely. Natalie Martinez (Self/less) gets to have a nice arc. And Brad William Henke (Bright) delivers within the limitations of Tom’s boundaries nicely. Even Ezra Miller’s (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald) Trashcan man, for all its outlandishness, works for the need and the part. But Nadine’s story gets rushed at the end.  And the Vegas crew, generally, is just so over the top as to be entirely ridiculous. You never wonder about the outcome. Only the Colorado side feels real and sustainable (which has its own commentary and point eventually).

When the book came out 40+ years ago, it was something really new. That just isn’t the case anymore. And, worse, it feels culturally old. Despite having been updated in time the characters and situations haven’t been updated for a 2020 sensibility in politics, identities, nor culturally. That gap is squarely on the writer’s and directors. While a lot of the plot is sadly timeless, how we deal with one another has changed and the rhythm and language just feels off.

Ultimately, I wish the writers had been willing to really rework the story without losing its main premise and tension. Good vs. Evil doesn’t have to be extremes. In fact, some of the biggest impacts on both sides are often small gestures or choices that ripple out. Sure, we want it to build to a great crescendo, but the series even pulled that moment from us in an odd throwaway, supernatural event that doesn’t even really fit with the rest of the tale. In fact, the choice utterly cheapened all the efforts of the people involved because, ultimately, they didn’t matter. I do like that they had a coda episode that shows that stories just continue, that they don’t end just because of a plot milestone. Using it to create a second climax, another Stand, was clever. However, again, it cheapened everyone else’s choices and lives by forcing the God/Devil fight directly into it all rather than done at a distance. Deus ex machina is not a satisfying solution for a 9 part series, even if it can be used as a point in shorter fare.

Despite some good performances, incredible scope, and solid production values, this version of The Stand still isn’t the one we deserved after so long. Much like Dune, it struggles to find an artist who can breathe life into its rich and complicated world without making it feel like a farce.

The Stand Poster

Earwig and the Witch

[2.75 stars]

There’s 2/3’s of an entertaining movie here. Sadly, that last act is missing. Honestly, what you get is really just the first installment of a series…but there doesn’t seem to be another one in the works. And, besides, it’s a cheat to end mid-tale rather than to have a coda that can expand the story for later. In other words, every movie needs to stand on its own, even if it feeds into a bigger arc. Director Goro Miyazaki (From Up on Poppy Hill) knows this, so I don’t quite understand the choices, unless they were driven by cost or other factors.

Added to the challenge is that Studio Ghibli is clearly trying out new tech with this film. The result is very cold, losing all the warmth and subtle artistry the group is famous for. The look of the characters is very plastic-y and the lips don’t sync well at all. Some of that may have been the voice talent, but it was more noticeable than I’ve seen before in a Ghibli release.

And the voice direction was only middling. So much so that only a couple of the smaller characters really stood out. Neither of them were the women at the heart of the tale. Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and Dan Stevens (Colossal, Legion) were either given more leash or put in more effort, but it was their deliveries that were the most memorable.

Goro’s father, Hayao Miyazaki (The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness), apparently helped with the planning of this story. You can see his influence in some of the interesting flows and the general joy and humor of the film, but I can’t believe even he was happy with the ending.

Ultimately, assuming the story is continued, this will be an intriguing first installment. But if it ends up just standing on its own, it is somewhat pointless. Frankly, I’d hold off till there is the promise of more, or you’re either prepared to be left hanging, or know the original books enough to know what’s going on.

Earwig and the Witch Poster

Life Like

[3 stars]

I’m recommending this flick based on its potential, not its delivery. Josh Janowicz’s first feature script and film is full of ideas and style choices, but it doesn’t quite work for all its effort.

For example, the choice to have James D’Arcy (Hot Zone) costumed to suggest him being a priest. Or to have Addison Timlin (Odd Thomas) and Drew Van Acker (Pretty Little Liars) speak in a very forced, shall we say robotic way by design (at least I hope it was by design), while Steven Strait (The Expanse) speaks more “humanly.” I get the points, but it’s a lot to sustain for a feature film.

Life Like plays in the same area as Humans, though with its own points and twists on the subject. But the human core of it all is very distanced. The main couple are uber-rich. Timlin’s character acts like the worst kind of white, middle-class, suburban privileged idiot you can imagine. While some of her clunky choices are intended to show the cracks in the relationship, both spouses come off very unsympathetic and unlikeable. That is not the position you want the audience in given the main points the movie intends. And while Strait actually delivers a subtle performance, it also doesn’t quite get you where you need to be with him by the end. However, while the resolution of the story is a bit rushed and forced, it isn’t uninteresting. It is also a little contradictory if you listen to all the sides, which makes you wonder about the world at large that these people live in…and you don’t get that explained.

As a bit of a side bar, the story also feels almost dated, because of  the locations and choices (like not using cell phones, connected devices, or tablets for, well, anything). This too may have been a design choice, but it lands oddly.

So why recommend this at all? Well, as I said, the ideas are there. The acting, within the constraints of the script, has its moments. Janowicz manages to buck general trends when it comes to whose skin he shows the most of. The boundaries of the relationships are nicely fluid, even if not quite as complex as they could have been. In other words, I wasn’t sorry I watched it even if I wish it had done so much more. As a first feature, it isn’t without impact and merit. And, at 90 minutes, it isn’t a huge investment to make if you’re curious on any level. But, in the end, it’s basically, your call whether you want to invest in it.

Life Like Poster

2067

[2 stars]

You’re allowed one big lie in a story to get it going. This is especially true in genre fiction. 2067 decided to go for three…starting with an absurd premise about “synthetic” oxygen. And I might have bought into that without the misunderstandings about fusion or the biggest McGuffin of them all: time travel (and, in this case, a conscious decision to create a paradox).

And OK, maybe I could have even gone along with all of that if Kodi Smit-McPhee (X-Men: Dark Phoenix ) hadn’t whined through so much of the action that he sounded like a 5 year old. At least Ryan Kwanten (The Hurricane Heist) balanced out the shrill noise, but he didn’t have much to work with. Smit-McPhee just didn’t have any chemistry with anyone, including his supposedly devoted wife, Sana’a Shaik, who seriously tried to make it all look believable.

Writer and director Seth Larney, who is more commonly behind the camera, stepped a bit closer for this release. Unfortunately, he really just didn’t have the story under control. There was no sense of pacing and no real tension after the first scene (which was rather well done, science aside). There are some interesting ideas and conundrums in the tale, and a reasonable resolution. However, it would work better as a short story than it does as a flick because so much of it relies on clearly the internal struggle of Smit-McPhee’s character.

I honestly can’t recommend this, despite the effort, ideas, and the production values. It’s overlong and just not particularly engaging. Larney has some ability, however. If he can learn from this, I’d be curious to see what’s next.

2067 Poster

One Night in Bangkok

[3 stars]

Despite the title and description, One Night in Bangkok is not an action flick. Wych Kaosayananda’s latest is, instead, an uneven revenge film with often questionable morals. The rough nature of the final product is in the pacing, the acting, and, to a degree, in the plotting. But this story still manages to keep interest and tug emotions thanks to the more verbally intimate scenes between Mark Dacascos (John Wick 3: Parabellum) and his driver. The louder, more confrontational moments between Dacascos and others are often just painful.

I’m used to seeing Dacascos centered and focused, even intimidating when needed. But this story gives him the opportunity to bring his Crow sensitivity to a new, mature level. At times, almost spiritual. We see his pain, his memories, his conflicts. And as the story slowly unwinds, we better understand them all. Though, to be honest, the script never really affords us a full picture of who the man is.

Ultimately, this isn’t a great film, but it has its moments and its value. There aren’t any really great fights or chases, but there is tension and resolution. If the acting had only been better across the rest of the cast, it could have been something more. But it manages to survive and not entirely embarrass itself. Sometimes that’s the best you can ask when making a film in a non-native language for the majority of the cast, some of whom have minimal experience.

One Night in Bangkok Poster

The Nest

[3 stars]

Sean Durkin’s (Martha Marcy May Marlene) latest pondering on human relationships and identity uses the go-go 80’s as its backdrop. Jude Law is the quintessential 80s trader chasing his sense of fulfillment and dragging long suffering (and occasionally insufferable) Carrie Coon (Widows) in his wake along with their kids.

There is a quiet intensity to this story, with layers slowly peeling back as it unwinds. But there isn’t much to like in any of these characters. Certainly there is empathy for their kids, but the adults are all, well, all those people you disliked in the 80s that brought the financial world to its knees in the first of several crashes to follow. In other words, it feels like we’re being asked to understand some really rather shallow and reprehensible people and feel sympathy of some sort. Sorry, no.

Even the ending of this story, which does bring the characters to the brink of change, never quite feels like it’s completed or paid off. It ends on a moment of potential…and that may be enough for some folks, but not me in this case. While it felt earned, it didn’t feel complete or satisfying. The children, in particular, are left in pain and without real support. So, up to you on this one. The performances are solid and the flow is good, pulling you along despite the low key of it all.

The Nest Poster

American Swing

[2.75 stars]

While focused on the infamous rise and fall of Plato’s Retreat, this docu is really about Larry Levenson, the man behind the bedsheet. Because of that, the historical and psychological aspects of the phenomenon end up ultimately getting sidebarred. The story is eventually overtaken by Levenson’s tale rather than truly examining the sex club’s impact on society in general and NYC in particular.

It’s unlikely you never heard of Plato’s if you’re over 30. But you may not know its history or even it’s reality, though the myths continue to circulate. What American Swing does is try to put a human face to it all. It isn’t entirely without judgement, but it tries to stay balanced within the framework it constructs. There are some interesting interviews, some by recognized names but also many just regular members. As a documentary, I’m not sure what story it has to tell. I get the impression that when Jon Hart and Matthew Kaufman set out to expand on Hart’s article, they didn’t realize they had no more than a history report until part way through production. Than they shifted to a focus on Levenson to provide it an arc and some structure.

As a bit of history, American Swing is interesting. Not perfect and not particularly insightful, but it is a glimpse into a part of NYC’s past for those who were only vaguely aware of the club.

American Swing Poster

The Witches

[3 stars]

Welcome to the weird and wonderfully dark work of Roald Dahl’s children’s stories. The Witches is cut from the same cloth as Charlie and the Chocolate factory, though without quite the same pizzazz. At least not in this incarnation.

Director and co-writer Robert Zemeckis (Welcome to Marwen) certainly picked up the weird in this tale, but it has an uneasy truce with the wonderful. The production design nicely captures the dark and nasty side of Anne Hathaway’s (Becoming Jane) grand high witch and her twisted coven. Their costumes and prosthetics are delightfully creepy, but also probably a bit too scary for a really young audience.

And Octavia Spencer (Onward) provides an adult ally to the young Jahzir Bruno. Her warmth and parentship are solid, but it never feels entirely right. Meanwhile, Stanley Tucci (A Private War) and his cadre of hotel workers provide the broad humor and pratfalls attempting to keep the chaos and danger on the lighter side.

This isn’t a brilliant film, but it’s well executed. Part of its struggle is that it is a story out of time. As told, it only really works set in the past, but it is also afraid to truly tackle that past as part of the story. Had Zemeckis and his co-writers, which included Guillermo del Toro (Tales of Arcadia), were happy to take the backdrop, but not confident enough to fully acknowledge the implications.

For a little light entertainment that is a few shades darker than treacle often offered young viewers, this may do. It is diverting and has its moments as the three adult leads certainly know how to deliver physical humor. It just doesn’t fully come together as a classic or even strongly rewatchable fare.

Roald Dahl's The Witches Poster

Wonder Woman 1984

[2.5 stars]

I’ll admit that I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first Wonder Woman. Outside of its message and positive example, it was a middling movie. This sequel makes that original film look like a timeless classic. How it got greenlit with such a sub-standard script astounds me. It isn’t just that the mechanics and dialogue that director Patty Jenkins co-wrote, are awful, and that the rules of the magic involved aren’t explained for far too long, it’s that Jenkins couldn’t even get credible and sympathetic performances out of her very talented cast.

Pedro Pascal (Prospect) and Kristin Wiig (Ghostbusters) are presented as just fools, not misled or flawed people. While each clearly has a backstory that might have tugged at our hearts or allowed us to understand them, Jenkins pushed them both to be clichés as regular people, and absurd as super-villains. Without that initial grounding, we can’t even feel any triumph or joy at their final endings.

Even the core love story falls flat. Our main couple, Gal Gadot (Ralph Breaks the Internet) and Chris Pine (A Wrinkle in Time), don’t really connect and their second chance doesn’t feel like either a win or a loss. In fact, their final scene together is practically a throw-away. Worse, the climax of the movie, while guided by Gadot’s Wonder Woman (and somewhat flimsily related back to the opening of the movie) is really up to Pascal’s actions. The whole thing just sort of happens without a lot of satisfaction for the viewer and without a real sense of it being Wonder Woman’s effort. For that matter, we don’t even get a complete resolution for Wiig, who’s core to the challenges.

Even the simple mechanics of the movie were weak with time confusions as the story found itself poorly anchored with clues and guidance. Honestly, this could be a franchise killer. The movie had nothing new to say, no interesting way to say what it wanted to say, and no emotional connection to make us care either way. The only true gift was the extra scene about a minute into the final credits.

But DC, in its mainstream superhero films, has never really had great scripts as compared to Marvel. The oversight and vision just aren’t there. But even my low expectations were crushed by the result of this movie. View it if you must, but go in with low expectations.

Sidenote: This was not the triumphant film with which HBO Max had hoped to launch it’s theatrical co-releases. And then there was the issue that their servers were overloaded and their streams had massive problems. How that bodes for the service and the resurrection of the theaters, I don’t know. If this had been released, it would have likely made a bunch of cash, but it wouldn’t have fared well critically nor had the legs of the original. So, perhaps, they made the best decision by pulling it and using it as bait to lure folks into subscriptions. We’ll see how the next 6 months go…

Wonder Woman 1984 Poster

7 Spinters in Time

[3 stars]

This time travel story is a bit earnest and tries a little too hard to cover its well-worn tracks (think Predestination, though not as twisted) with style. Lots of style. It expands on writer/director Gabriel Judet-Weinshel’s shorter work exploring the approach of auteurs such as Felini. In this case he’s crafted a feature length mystery/suspense about an incomplete man seeking answers in a world that is fractured around him.

Well-known character actors Austin Pendleton, Lynn Cohen, and Al Sapienza add a bit of depth and help anchor this swirling mass of fantasy that Edoardo Ballerini navigates. But none manages to elevate the result which is muddled at best. And over-the-top word salad spewed by Greg Bennick may be a feat to behold at times, but it doesn’t help the cause or anchor the story. If anything, it takes it even further into the realm of Style over purpose.

There are interesting aspects to the movie, but it is ultimately too self-conscious to sustain its own weight and never provides a purpose to excuse that effort. On the other hand, if you’ve some good drink or other consciousness-altering support, it may work a lot better for you.

7 Splinters in Time Poster