YELLOWJACKETS // s01

Brilliant.

Kicking off with one of the strongest pilots in recent memory, Yellowjackets splits a narrative between a girls’ soccer team whose plane goes down in the mountains during the 90s, and the lives of the survivors in the present day.

It’s ominous, foreboding, and gives you enough information upfront to know that things are going to get bad, before expertly dancing back and forth between the time periods.

The soundtrack is fantastic, the production value is top-notch, the editing is masterful.

The performances too deserve special mention — the cast are excellent, but Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci are bringing career-best character work to their roles.

There’s a tonne more intrigue left, with plenty of clever misdirects and setups. Some of the gore is not for the faint of heart.

An absolutely stellar first season, here’s hoping it can maintain.

Highly recommended.

Happy 2022!

Wanted to kick off with a fresh painting, so here’s something from my time in the Yukon over the New Year’s break.

Best wishes to all, I have some exciting things in the works for this year!

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (2021)

Sadly, no good.

Starts out interestingly enough, but the instant it becomes so meta that you expect it to elevate into something wild, it just… stops evolving.

The rest of the (very extensive) runtime is filled with dull exposition and mediocre action. Familiar characters return, with some of them swapped out for younger counterparts (with wobbly in-world explanations) since it seems unlikely Hugo Weaving or Lawrence Fishburne were going to get back into fighting shape for another go around the block.

Action films have come a long way since the original Matrix, and it’s disappointing that there’s nothing here that comes even remotely close. It’s unremarkably shot, and there’s not a single iconic setpiece, which is odd in a franchise that exploded to fame on the back of its iconic setpieces. We all thought, apparently foolishly, that the return of The Matrix meant some grand, mind-bending new evolution of action films again. Hell, Keanu’s still on his A-game with the John Wick franchise.

Instead, Resurrections chooses to go down this strangely self-aware and self-referential path, but then doesn’t really capitalise on the ideas at all. One of the earliest bits of dialogue in the film literally goes: Our parent company, Warner Media, was going to make another Matrix anyway, at least this way we get to do it on our terms.

Kind seems like “on our terms” meant taking everyone’s interest in the franchise out the back and shooting it.

Don’t bother.

DON’T LOOK UP (2021)

Your standard Adam McKay biting satire that’s so uncomfortably close to reality as to hardly qualify as satire.

This time around, it’s a comet headed for Earth with a 100% guarantee of a planet-wide extinction event, and the absolute trainwreck of a circus that ensues from the media parade of misinformation, disinformation, corporate interest and general political fuckery.

It’s frequently infuriating in its accuracy, playing for comedy what could be modern headlines with only a few small tweaks.

If the pandemic hasn’t yet completely soured your appetite for laughing at this sort of thing, then it’s a solid comedy with a stacked cast and a black heart.

Recommended.

FOUNDATION // s01

It’s long been held that Isaac Asimov’s titanic science fiction book series Foundation could not be adapted. As it stands, it still hasn’t been.

There are ten fairly short novels comprising Foundation, the bulk of which are made up of anthologised tales of men in rooms discussing historical events in extraordinarily dry fashion. They’re fascinating reads, absolutely, but they don’t make for exciting television.

The Apple+ series counterbalances this by altering the characters and the narratives to focus on some of the action of the various conflicts, however in doing so it fundamentally alters what Foundation is.

The problems come when the cold, clinical narratives about predictive models of mathematics and “psycho-history” from the novels are adapted somehow into storylines that border on mysticism and the supernatural, while handwaving away what should be hard explanations as simply fatalism cloaked in “very fancy maths”.

In the novels, the moral is that individual actions are essentially meaningless against the tide of culture and time. Humanity as a large-scale movement in eminently predictable in its behaviours, and individuals are not be able to alter this course, only adapt and prepare for its eventualities.

In the show, individuals shift and alter events, and talk of mathematical predetermination on granular scale. They have visions and talk about fate and higher individual purpose. It’s a complete inversion of the point and emphasis of the books, and as such, Foundation still cannot be said to have been adapted.

There is certainly some fantastic work going into this. The cast are excellent, the effects and designs are extremely well executed. Some of the concepts presented are fascinating.

As an original, standalone sci-fi series, it’s pretty decent for the most part. But as an adaptation, it fails, and it fails hardest when it deviates furthest from the source material.

Read the books instead.

SUCCESSION // s01-03

Arrested Development, if it wasn’t a comedy.

Of course, Succession is still actually billed as a comedy, though it’s so massively steeped in its satire while it plays totally straight. The humour comes from just how nightmarishly awful this family is—doubled again because it feels like it could be a biopic series about the Murdochs or the Packers. Even the Trumps are more comical in real life than the fictional Roy family.

We follow the Roys during a time of upheaval at their massive media conglomerate. It’s a family affair, so the question is: which of the three children (the fourth is so blissfully useless as to be entirely out of the question) will come to take over the top job.

Problem is, Logan Roy is an absolute c***, and nobody is more aware of this than Logan Roy. Each season becomes an exercise in seeing him psychologically twist and ruin each of his children in turn as they vie for his favour and position.

The real masterwork is in seeing how the writing can make you loathe each of them, but then come to pity them, until it wants you to remember that not a single one of them actually has any redeeming qualities they wouldn’t sell out in an instant.

And they frequently. It’s non-stop scheming, manipulation and power plays. In three seasons it has never once been made clear what any of them actually does in their job.

It’s absolutely compelling, fascinating, and blackly hilarious.

Highly, highly recommended.

ENCANTO (2021)

Simple and charming little story about a family who are granted magical boons on their coming of age day.

Music is unmistakably Lin Manuel Miranda, animation is colourful and lush, characters are fun.

Not quite as intensely charsmatic as this year’s Luca, but is still an easy and incredibly endearing watch, and a wonderful sort of magical fantasy for kids.

Recommended.

SPIDER-MAN: No Way Home (2021)

A brilliant conclusion to the Tom Holland/Jon Watts “Home” trilogy, that is almost impossible to discuss without severe spoilers for the back half of the film.

Best appreciated knowing as little as possible beforehand, but I’ll still keep from spoiler discussion until after the click-through below.

The shortest spoiler-free review is: it’s bloody great, go and see it.

Fundamentally, this is taking MCU Spidey and directly addressing the criticisms levelled at this incarnation (Iron Boy Jr, a lack of Uncle Ben, too many advantages compared to the traditional depiction) and playing hardball with them to set up what may well prove to be the most wonderully accurate cinematic Spider-Man we’ve ever seen. Personally, I’ve always loved this Spider-Man, but to see how they’ve maneuvered the franchise into what it will be going forward is an absurdly impressive feat. Everyone gets their cake.

Some CG is a little wonky, but it’s balanced out by some fantastic Dr Strange sequences (Multiverse of Madness hype!) and wonderful character work. I genuinely believe Tom Holland will win over a lot of his haters with this one.

Look, spoilers are all over the internet, try and get out to see it as soon as you can. Otherwise, I’ve barricaded spoilers behind the jump.

Highly recommended.

SPOILERS BELOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Continue reading “SPIDER-MAN: No Way Home (2021)”

THE EMPTY MAN (2020)

A pretty solid horror/mystery/thriller with a creepy pretense, good cinematography and an intriguing plot.

This is one of those ones that benefits from knowing very little going in and just seeing where it takes you.

Not altogether scary, but has its moments all the same. Not sure how strongly it all sticks together by the end, but for a long, slow sort of mystery it does more than enough right to maintain an eerie tone and try for something seldom seen in horror films.

A cult favourite waiting to happen. Worth checking out.

COWBOY BEBOP (2021)

It’s not bad!

Look, it’s missing a bit of the punch and slickness of editing and action that made the anime series so memorable, but the cast is great, the soundtrack bops and it’s mostly a fun, silly scifi romp.

Not without its criticisms, however. The extension of the villain’s story does little to establish him as a credible threat, and some of the VFX look very unfinished. Action can be kind of stitled, which is a shame because it has glimmers of real creativity and excellence that shine through and unfortunately serve to highlight the flaws.

But mostly the characterisations are fun, albiet slightly different takes to the original. If you want slavish dedication to the source material, just rewatch the anime. The prime three (John Cho, Daniella Pineda and Mustafa Shakir) are all totally on point for this interpretation.

My main disappointment was that the show didn’t adhere to the brilliant sylisation of the promotional segments, or at least leaned harder into some kind of hyper-realism to make it pop. That could have been truly special.

If you’re willing to take this on its own terms, it’s a totally serviceable space action adventure.

Good, not great.