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.

DEATH ON THE NILE (2022)

It’s fine.

Sure, the CGI is distracting, the cast is a mix of flat and overused or charismatic and underused, and the mystery is eminently guessable from the first few scenes, but…

…well, there is no “but”. Much as I like Branagh, his Poirot is at his best in the opening flashback before being largely set aside until it comes time to start throwing around accusations in the final act.

Honestly, I worked out the guilty before the murder had even taken place, and was only briefly diverted from my confidence by thinking maybe there was a meta-twist that I wasn’t considering. Solving the mystery early isn’t in itself problematic—it’s arguably the point of a mystery thriller—but unfortunately there isn’t any real sort of tension or curiosity drawn out.

Passable light entertainment, but there are far, far better whodunnits out there.

ATLANTA // s03

Another cracking season from one of the best shows on television.

It’s surreal, hilarious, meandering, thoughtful, unexpected, harsh and subtle, often all at once. Whenever you think you have a handle on things, it just zags around you in really wonderful and creative ways.

This season has the primary cast (Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakieth Stanfield, Zazie Beetz) on tour in Europe — this time tackling new success and the same old bizarre tics of humanity. There seems to be even less of a focus on Glover’s Earn this time around, which only gives the rest of the cast more time to shine.

Every episode is its own self-contained story, every one of them is a strange little gem. There’s no real moral lessons: it’s just odd and messy and human.

Oh, and there are some fantastic unexpected cameos throughout.

Really, the worst part about this show is that there’s only one season left.

Highly, highly recommended.

RUSSIAN DOLL // s02

Unfocused but nonetheless enjoyable followup to a stellar first season.

Natasha Lyonne puts in an absolutely killer effort to a strange, meandering season of an overall great show. She’s a treasure.

The emotional through-line resolves itself much later and less clearly than the first season, choosing instead to reach for a broader scope and losing some of it’s razor edge as a result.

Still, it’s quick and punchy and all the performances are excellent at holding up a messy time-travel concept.

Loved it, even if it didn’t have the same kick of the first season. Third season welcome.

Recommended.

THE NORTHMAN (2022)

Strap in boys, new hypermasculine ideal just dropped.

A bloody, visually stunning Nordic revenge epic.

As much as Eggers’ previous masterpiece (2019’s The Lighthouse) was a thesis on masculinity, this is all of that dialled up past eleven. This particular time and place in the world is more brutal and cruel, and so the protagonist must match it on all fronts in order to exact his revenge.

Alexander Skarsgård is a terrifying presence throughout; absolutely enormous, animalistic and violent—not so much a human as he is an archetype, an icon.

While it’s mythic and blunt, there is still an elegance and economy to The Northman that sets it above and beyond a standard action flick. It feels incredibly tangible and authentic, even when dabbling in mysticism and legend.

Astoundingly well shot, brilliantly performed, exceptional worldbuilding. A definitive modern “historical” epic.

Recommended.

THE ADAM PROJECT (2022)

Above average family action film, but never quite rises to truly exceptional.

All the individual elements are well done: the cast is charismatic, the VFX are top notch. But there’s something in Shawn Levy’s execution, same as with Free Guy… they’re kinda flat?

A bit too polished and clean, so that all the real quirk and personality has been buffed out of them. They feel like products. Products with heart and charm, sure, but never truly unique enough in their own rights to elevate them above pretty good.

My hope is that having the Molyneux sisters (Bob’s Burgers) handling the script and Kevin Feige doing his Marvel overlord thing, the next Levy/Reynolds collab on Deadpool 3 will really click.

As for The Adam Project, it won’t stick with me longer than the next big action film I see.

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.

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.

FORTITUDE // s01-03

Starts out as a prestigiously cast Scandinavian Noir mystery before taking a left turn into body horror, then another left turn into a supernatural conspiracy thriller, and then running right through the wall of credulity and off a cliff into the sea.

By the end of the third season it’s lost its plot so thoroughly and bafflingly that it’s hard to know exactly what the overarching intention had been. Was it always going to devolve into Twin Peaks wannabe territory, without the coherence of vision at David Lynch can manage?

The sudden third act introduction of de-aging billionaire strangers, BDSM jokes, absurd changes in characterisation across the board and a saxophone score that feels ripped right from the hammiest 80’s soap opera all stands in stark contrast to the self-serious dramatic tone of the first season.

Thing is, that first season is an absolute banger. It’s got all the atmophere and mystique you want in a small town murder mystery, propped up by the likes of Stanley Tucci, Christopher Eccleston, Michael Gambon and The Killing’s Sofie Gråbøl.

Season two sees Dennis Quaid, Michelle Fairley and Robert Sheehan join the cast, but things start losing their way. You’ll probably be able to ride the goodwill from the first season’s execution right through to the end of part two—a bizzare conclusion involving weird swings at both shamanism and Russian life-extension experiments.

Still sounds kind of fun, right?

Problem is, none of this is leading anywhere. Season three is mercifully short at only four episodes. Half of the primary cast is dead or moved on by now, and those who remain are trapped in a bizzare exercise in removing any likeability from their personas and having everyone behave entirely out of character for no reason.

At least Richard Dormer looks to be enjoying himself, chewing scenery as he goes from grizzled sheriff to reindeer-juice tripping madman to utterly unhinged, monologuing murderous lunatic.

Shame it’s not nearly as much fun for the audience as it clearly was for him.

Check out the first season, skip the rest.