MS. MARVEL (2022)

Among the better Disney+ Marvel series.

Super sweet and charming, plus it’s refreshing to have a completely different perspective in the MCU.

Strong emphasis on culture, history and family from a Pakistani/Muslim perspective, made accessible by an extremely charismatic performance from Iman Vellani.

There’s a bit of a change-up in her powers compared to the comic, but I kinda get why. It makes her a bit more unique in the MCU, since Reed Richards is due to arrive in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, and Marvel seems pretty much allergic to using The Inhumans for anything. It works here to tie them back to her heritage, and by the end of the season she’s using them in a way that’s practically the same idea, only done with sparkly gemstone type effects instead of stretchiness/Embiggening.

The villain arc is a bit weak, but it’s got youthful energy to spare, and a lot of fun production design.

Young Avengers lineup is looking promising!

Still, it’s fair to feel fatigue with the endless parade of superhero stuff, and it’s nice to have something lighter on the roster.

Recommended.

SHINING GIRLS (2022)

Excellent thriller series with … a twist.

The cast is fantastic, the pacing is perfect, the mystery is strange and intriguing without overcomplicating itself.

To say much more about it would quickly step into spoiler territory, and it’s definitely worth experiencing firsthand.

If you have any interest in unconventional procedurals, this one is highly recommended.

Another banger from AppleTV.

… On a related note, WHY has nobody cast Jamie Bell and Tom Holland alongside each other? They’d make perfect brothers, or older/younger versions of each other. The similarity is uncanny.

OLD (2021)

Absolutely lives up to its reputation … as one of the worst movies ever made.

The writing is staggeringly awful, with characters introducing themselves by name and profession, entirely unprompted. Not a single line of dialogue feels natural, it’s all hilariously stilted and weird, even coming from notably excellent actors. Characters are so badly written and shot that it’s easy to forget they even exist when they’re not in frame.

Plus, the coverage and camera choices are baffling. Frequently the person speaking will be blocked or half out of frame. Important plot points are delivered off-screen as if hastily added as an afterthought (“The dog has died!”) and then never brought up again. Sometimes the camera will do these long, 360deg tracking shots with literally zero motivation. Nothing is happening that the camera is capturing. Maybe the cinematographer wanted to spice things up, after being sick of shooting the entire thing in mid/closeup.

There’s several shots that just slowly track or zoom into nothing! Three characters talking and the camera just drifts off to empty sky like it can’t be fucked paying attention to them. And why would it? The idea of a beach that makes you old is hilariously dumb in its own right, and the “explanations” never add up to anything.

People rapidly aging—the entire premise of them movie—is wildly inconsistent. Two six year olds rapidly mature into teens, get pregnant and have the child (yes, it’s a weird and gross as it sounds because they’re mentally still basically six) before one man who has been on The Beach That Makes You Old for hours ahead of them even shows a single wrinkle. Oh, and then the baby dies a minute later and is dust by nightfall. Note again that this happens to someone that was literally a child themself barely six hours earlier. Old seems to think hiding people off camera is a clever way to disguise their changes, but all it does is make for a confusing, disjointed mess. The only saving grace is that it’s so bad that it becomes fascinating.

Maybe they could have improved things by having the twist (because of course there’s a twist) be interwoven throughout, ala Cabin in the Woods, but really that’s just putting a bandaid on a whole pile of bandaids. The idea that the beach is inescapable begs the question: well then how do people know it exists?

But asking questions of Old just opens the floodgates of questions on questions on questions. Why doesn’t their food rot immediately? Is the kid autistic? Does he just grow out of it, then? Wouldn’t the rush of hormones into a teenager’s body cause hair to spring up everywhere? How does a cop on holiday somehow mount an international investigation based on some random book he’s given? What happens to the survivors, who have now had 50 years of life taken from them and have to reintegrate into the world with no identification, record of their existence, and what are functionally and experientially the minds of children? How does M Knight get reputable actors to be in this insane trash?

It also continues the tradition of Shyamalan casting himself as an important genius in his own films. It’s really hard to tell if he genuinely thinks he’s making something clever, or if this was just an excuse to write off a trip to the Dominican Republic during the pandemic.

Falls firmly into the category of awful films that are incredibly entertaining for being grossly incompetent at everything they set out to do. A perfect movie to drunk-watch and heckle your outrage at with mates.

Otherwise steer clear.

THE SEA BEAST (2022)

Excellent seafaring adventure, kind of in the same tonal vein as How To Train Your Dragon.

Animation, performances and production design are all top-class, with great action and colourful creatures for the kids, and elements of historical revisionism and imperialist undertones for the adults.

Would be genuinely surprised if this didn’t turn into Netflix’s flagship animated film franchise, since there’s plenty of room to grow from here.

Recommended.

SANTA CLARITA DIET // s01-03

Finding this post-cancellation was a damn shame, since it fairly abruptly comes to an end while it has so many balls still up in the air.

As a comedy, it’s perfectly written. There’s an expert balance with saccharine tone and dark subject matter that really works here — it’s a champion of the “yes, and” ethos in that it’s continually building off itself and reintegrating throwaway gags into the overall plot.

But, as mentioned, it died an unceremonious Netflix death while it still had a comfortable season or two worth of steam left in it, which is a damn shame. Not a lot of shows manage this level of sharp dialogue without feeling overwritten or trying too hard.

The practical effects are horrifyingly over the top, but it’s all anchored by Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant’s brilliant comedic timing (the whole remainder of the cast is pitch perfect too).

If you can handle the fact that it doesn’t have a satisfying conclusion, this is a really fun one and well worth your time.

Two severed thumbs up.

THOR: LOVE & THUNDER (2022)

Good, but inconsistent.

I think this is the first time that an MCU film has been soundtracked by a single band, and Guns ‘n’ Roses fits the 80s Flash Gordon heavy metal kinda vibe perfectly.

Probably the most symptomatic of the Marvel “pandemic” phase, where things feel rushed to fit with unreasonable scheduling pressures.

Messy in tone, writing and pacing, BUT it’s also a lot of silly, irreverent fun. It’s choppy on both the micro and macro level — could have been improved with another pass on the script, less reliance on improv, and a bit more time given to the villain.

Still, it’s a light, campy escapade. Jane Foster gets a cool power set and a tragic arc, the production design is excellent, and the villain is creepy (even if Christian Bale is underused).

A good time, despite being undercooked and feeling like it was assembled too quickly.

Worth a watch.

STRANGER THINGS // s04

The best the show has ever been.

Everything on show is bigger, wilder, more ambitious… and dammit if they didn’t manage to pull it off. It’s crazy that they can put together what is essentially an entire season of mid-budget movies and not have the thing collapse into itself like a dead star.

Of course, the performances and production design do a lot of heavy lifting, along with some incredible VFX and makeup work.

It’s always worn its influences on its sleeve, but more than any other point in its run, it really feels like its cohering into something more than just slick aesthetics and a stack of well-executed homages. Finally, it’s leaning confidently into itself, and is all the better for it.

If you like the show but thought the last two seasons were lacking somewhat in direction and growth: good news! It’s great.

Highly recommended.

UMBRELLA ACADEMY // s03

Keeps going from strength to strength, and this was the season that finally tipped me over from just really liking the characters to loving them.

Yet again there’s an apocalypse to avert, so yet again the Academy has to work together to save the world. Only this time, they’ve managed to erase themselves from the timeline so there’s another family of dysfunctional heroes with weird powers to contend with as well.

Everyone’s grown and changed in some way, and so having the season remain relatively static in terms of locations allowed for more focused character work, dressed up in probably the best that the already-great production design has been for the show.

Casting and performances are pitch perfect, VFX are fun and creative, story’s weird and fun.

This is up there with Stranger Things and Dark as the more consistent Netflix fare, so hopefully we’re getting at least one more season, since it really feels like it’s moving towards another big shakeup going forwards.

Recommended.

UNCHARTED (2022)

Who is this actually for?

It’s middling as an action film in its own right, and alters so much about the characters and lore from the games that it’s certain to irritate its established fanbase.

CG is wonky, performances don’t fit, characterizations are wrong, plot is so full of holes and leaps that it limps from one sequence to the next. Almost everyone is miscast, and those who aren’t are wasted.

Steals a few famous sequences from the games, but forgets that the joy of them comes from the interactivity, so having badly chopped recreations slapped together completely fails to capture any of their kinetic excitement or snappy writing.

The Uncharted games exist as a way of modernising classic Indiana Jones-type movies, which themselves were modernisations of pulp adventure serials. Taking the games and putting them back on film feels like a copy of a copy of a copy.

Apparently this was successful enough to declare it a franchise, so look forward to a bunch more utterly benign movies completely missing the point, I guess.

Watch something good instead.

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE (2021)

There’s not a lot to say, really. It takes a leaf from Stranger Things (literally, if you factor Finn Wolfhard’s casting) by putting the focus on kids chasing a supernatural mystery.

It’s most interesting when it’s doing this, and kinda loses steam in the back half when it more or less becomes a beat-for-beat recreation of the original film, but with a few creative spins.

It’s weird to think of “how tasteful is the fan-service?” as common consideration in modern filmmaking, but here we are. And it’s fine. Lots of callbacks and cameos and references, nothing too egregious or eye-rolly.

Perfectly servicable legacy-quel, and not much more. Worth a watch, don’t think about it too much.