TED LASSO s02

It’s back!

We actually let the season mostly play out before binging it all in the week leading up to the finale — it’s the kind of show that brings such a good mood with it that you want to savour its short run but also hook as much into your veins as you can manage at once.

How to adequately describe Ted Lasso? From the outside it looks like a fairly boilerplate sports dramedy, but it very quickly reveals itself to be fundamentally about caring, support and growth. Season one was such an absolute burst of sunshine for 2020, and earned all the praise it received for its smart, brilliant character work while retaining a wonderfully high degree of emotional intelligence and a refreshingly blunt approach to conflict.

And this season doesn’t disappoint.

Interestingly, this actually marks something of a slightly darker tone than season one. Jason Sudeikis has described this as the Empire Strikes Back before we get to Return of the Tedi for the third and final season next year.

The infectious sincerity and kindness is still present, but it’s not trying to sell you something saccharine or hollow. There are plenty of big emotional moments and they always feel true and genuine, even to a bitter old cynic such as myself.

Honestly, if you haven’t gotten on board I can’t push it on you strongly enough. From someone who couldn’t give two shits about football, I am incredibly invested in this wholesome show.

Highly recommended!

CANDYMAN (2021)

A modernisation/continuation of the 1992 original, but lacking any of its iconic tone or atmosphere.

Tells its themes rather than showing, and kinda wastes a great idea for connection to the first film that really only materialises in the final minutes.

A couple of cool looking kills, but let down by a disappointing absence of Tony Todd in the title role.

Ultimately, it feels more defined by what it lacks in comparison to the original than by what it brings as a reimagining of the legend.

Sadly, forgettable.

NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

Flat.

Some beautiful shots that prop up a meandering narrative that’s a full hour too long, without any really distinct thrills of its own in a franchise that usually defines itself by unique thrills. There’s no memorable sequence that compares to anything from Casino Royale through Skyfall. There’s nothing here that holds a candle to the more recent Mission Impossible films.

And that’s the problem, really. Skyfall felt like a very natural conclusion to Craig’s James Bond, but now we have another film having to re-tie things up, unfortunately now including loose threads from the terrible Spectre. It feels anticlimactic and played out, especially since we kind of already did this dance already, and better.

The highlight is a brief Knives Out reunion with Ana de Armas, who blusters in to kick ass and be absurdly charming for about 15min before vanishing from the film entirely.

All the classic Bond tropes are present: a gadget car, a transforming vehicle, a fancy trick watch, a henchman with a gimmick, a villain with a visual hook, a stylish island lair, and a monstrous global plot.

But it keeps forgetting to have fun and just be a Bond movie, rather choosing to focus on lackluster relationships with Léa Sedoux and Christoph Waltz. It’s making the same mistake as Spectre of trying to force engagement by tying things together retroactively, but that’s not what a Bond film is meant to be.

The fourth best Craig Bond film, or the second worst depending on your perspective.

FREE GUY (2021)

It’s fine.

The best jokes are things that were clearly thrown into the background by a VFX crew who’ve spent a lot of time in GTAV or Saint’s Row, but otherwise it’s a pretty boilerplate action/comedy/romance that asks you not to think too hard about any of its pretense.

Some good throwaway cameos, visuals absolutely nail the aesthetic, cast is charismatic.

Writing’s flat, and even Taika Waititi can’t make some of the dialogue sound good. Lots of the jokes don’t really land. Pacing is all over the place, making it feel both too long but also like it doesn’t have the time to do anything more than lip service to its more interesting ideas.

It does that weird trope movies do where they show a lot of people around the world all simultaneuously watching a livestream and yelling encouragement that just feels entirely false, like they’re trying to artificially inflate investment in the stakes that people don’t really have. Stop cutting away to people who aren’t involved in the action.

Overall, an extremely medium movie. Better than Ready Player One, with about 90% less cynical brand recognition. Not sure how much that says though.

Watch it or don’t.

MIDNIGHT MASS (2021)

Mike Flanagan has definitely picked up on Stephen King’s skill with small town communities and horror, giving this the feel of a King tale, though it’s not an adaptation.

The trick, of course, being to centre the emotional core each character around the theme of the series — in this case, faith and fanaticism versus morality; the absolute of God versus actual, practical right and wrong.

And, of course, guilt.

There’s a supernatural hook too, one that’s very easy to pick up on early and that thankfully reveals itself quickly enough to get on with the important business of the consequence of it’s premise, rather than any sort of cheap shock. It’s the type of creeping, human horror that Flanagan absolutely excels at, and even still the later episodes have some brilliantly executed terror.

On theme, it was refreshing to have a series centred around Catholicism take the time to sit with the atheist and Muslim characters too, and to show them as not being definitively in opposition to the church. The show, after all, isn’t about any religion specifically, but rather about faith, and allowing these outsider perspectives to be poetic and beautiful in their own right does a great service to the character drama at the heart of it.

There are some great extended dialogues, fantastically shot sequences, and yes, excellent horror. Better still, it took what could have very easily been a trite and worn concept, and wrung some genuinely compelling, tragic storytelling out of it.

If you enjoyed Hill House/Bly Manor you’re unlikely to be disappointed here. Mike Flanagan has fast gone up the list of people to watch whenever they drop something new, as he always has something distinct and thoughtful to show.

Highly recommended.

MALIGNANT (2021)

Starts out seeming like THE GRUDGE before taking a couple of left turns into campy, ridiculous, and absurd. Your mileage may vary.

It’s definitely entertaining, fantastically shot, and will either intrigue or baffle with its originality.

It’s also strangely melodramatic, frequently silly and the actual twist is so hilariously weird that you’ll either find this to be a work of genius or throw the whole thing out.

Feels like modern day 80s horror trash, a solid three-star film. You already know by now if this is your jam.

So, recommended. Or not. Your call.

But if you just HAVE to know the twist:

Continue reading “MALIGNANT (2021)”

PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND (2021)

An absolutely baffling Japanese-American neon Western wherein Nicolas Cage is strapped into a bomb suit to rescue a governor’s daughter who has gone missing and maybe ghosts did it or maybe it’s a curse?

There has to be a fascinating story behind the production. This is a hot mess. It’s weird and surreal, disjointed and kind of hilarious, but not entirely clear how much is intentional or how much is the result of some insane catastrophy.

There are no establishing shots so the whole geography of the world feels about a hundred feet from anything else. Things appear and disappear without motivation or explanation.

At one point Nicolas Cage has a ball blown off and screams “MY. TESTICLLLLLLE!!” with the strangest delivery of any line, possibly in any film. This is what you come for in a Nicolas Cage film.

And yet, it’s still wildly boring for long stretches and even its most absurd moments and creative shot work only manage to sporadically elevate it to actually compelling.

Is it good? Almost definitely not.

Was I entertained? Absolutely.

Do I recommend it? Uuuuuh… I don’t know?

SHANG CHI & THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021)

It’s great!

The best fight sequences in the MCU spiced up with a real kind of classical martial arts film flavour. Bucks the usual Marvel first-movie formula and takes a hard right turn in wild Asian mysticism and fantasy in the back half which was a pleasant surprise.

Compelling villain (the legendary Tony Leung!) and a solid emotional through-line. Simu Liu kills it in the title role, Awkwafina brings a great levity without falling into comic movie bathos. There’s some significant deviation from the source material but it’s all for the better.

And I mentioned that the fight scenes are great fun, right? Choreography feels frantic and snappy and the editing doesn’t get in the way. Sure, the climax turns into an insane CGI party, but it feels fitting for the high fantasy turn.

A little bit Hong Kong martial arts flick, a little bit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a little bit classic MCU. Very promising for the future direction of Marvel, they’re setting the bar high for Phase Four.

Recommended!

Whatcha been readin’?

Since the pandemic started I’ve been leaning harder into setting wind-down time in the evening aside specifically for reading, and as a result have made my way through around twenty-seven books in the last eighteenish months. A couple of these were re-reads, but of the new ones I’ve compiled a couple of highlights below:

THE NAME OF THE WIND / THE WISE MAN’S FEAR — Patrick Rothfuss

Wonderfully written “traditional” fantasy with one of the best modern voices in the style, imbued full of wonder, intelligence and a deep love of the genre by its author. The only problem being that the third book is close to a decade past due with no release date in sight so while I highly recommend the first two books they come with the caveat that you’ll be joining the ranks of disappointed fans stuck waiting for a conclusion.

CIBOLA BURN (THE EXPANSE) — James S.A. Corey

The best modern sci-fi series, hands down. I read this, the fourth book, as a refresher for season five of the show last December. Book five will be the same for season six at the end of this year and then I’ll be able to read the last three without fear of spoilers. It’s less complicated than it sounds. I rave about this series a lot, it’s got everything.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE — Kurt Vonnegut

One of my all-time favourite books got a graphic novel adaptation that both serves its source beautifully while also bringing its own flavour and style. Probably better appreciated if you’ve read the original novel, but nonetheless a worthwhile pickup.

THE THREE BODY PROBLEM — Cixin Liu

Heady, cerebral sci-fi that’s both wildly imaginative and coldly mathematical. Considered one of the greatest novels of the modern era and for good reason — a slowly unfolding scope puts its vision on timescales akin to masterwork Foundation while making the human elements much more compelling. Currently reading the sequel, The Dark Forest.

RAYBEARER — Jordan Ifueko

African magical realism via YA, with political intrigue thrown in for good measure. The world is incredibly distinct and well realised, and this is just the first in a series well worth following.

THE DISPOSSESSED — Ursula K LeGuin

An anarchist physicist is brought to a Capitalist society so that he can realise his great unifying theory, but quickly becomes disillusioned with the falsity and exploitive nature of their culture. Hard biting political commentary draped in planetary science-fiction and social satire. It’s dense, but it’s faaaaaaar ahead of its time.

DAWN — Octavia E Butler

After the world ends, aliens abduct a small handful of surviving humans to help them rebreed and repopulate, but this also means intermingling their DNA with their new benefactors. Very strange, and also the first in a trilogy. I plan to come back to see where it goes, this first one was great.

DOCTOR SLEEP — Stephen King

How do you follow up something as iconic as The Shining? With pretty much exactly this book. Explores other creatures from King’s multiverse, while tying it back to the Overlook and the Shine in new and satisfying ways. Adult Danny might not have the same problems as his father but hooboy does he have troubles of his own.

HOUSE OF X / POWERS OF X — Hickman, Larraz, Silva, Gracia

Fantastic recalibration of the X-Men universe by way of a looping time cycle, a living island and multiple possible realities (most of which end in some variation of terrible apocalypse). Makes mutantkind feel fresh and new again, full of big ideas, which is an impressive feat. The main problem is that it immediately sprawls out into half a dozen plotlines so I have no idea how to follow up from this collection, but as a standalone “reboot” of the X-Men this was great.

THE IMMORTAL HULK — Ewing, Bennett, Garbett, Hotz

Similarly, this run takes the concept of the Hulk and turns it into a Cronenbergian body horror nightmare. See, Bruce Banner can die, but the Hulk is immortal and no matter what you do to the man the monster will always come back. It was a brilliant move to take this character and make him terrifying, and the series looks like it’s only getting darker.

JURASSIC PARK / THE LOST WORLD— Michael Crichton

Pulp fiction at its best. I first read these twenty-five years ago and somehow still remembered every detail like I’d read them just last week. Quite a tonal departure from the first film and far more critical of the Capitalist aspects of genetic patenting. The second book and film are almost completely unrelated aside from a few character appearances. Still, easy to understand why they were so popular, I blew through the two of them inside a week.

BRAND NEW CHERRY FLAVOR (2021)

Part Cronenberg body horror, part Lynchian psychological trip, part weirder-bits-of-TrueBlood.

Incredibly well shot and put together with a great specificity of vision that conjures a distinct and uniquely nightmarish take on 90s L.A. drenched in neon and black magic.

Some truly disgusting visuals anchored by a fantastic cast of strange, funny and rich characters.

Not for those with weak stomachs, but horror fans should definitely find a lot to love here.

Wonderfully weird, highly recommended.