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 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.

THE WITCHER // s02

Solid fantasy/action, benefitting from a more coherend (read: linear) arrangement of timelines than the first season.

Interesting spins on all sorts of legendary monsters give it a distinct and grounded flavour of high fantasy.

Cavill proves again he’s the perfect casting, and the love he has for the role oozes off the screen.

Nice to revisit painting the charater too, since the illustration I did for the first season kicked off the habit of adding them to reviews.

If you enjoyed the first season, you’ll enjoy this one. If you weren’t totally sold but thought it had potential, this season might change your mind.

Recommended.

THE SILENT SEA (2022)

There’s been a boon of films lately that feel like they would have been better served as a limited series. The Silent Sea is the opposite.

A pretty serviceable sci-fi B movie that is unfortunately stretched too thin over an eight episode runtime. Doesn’t have enough material to stop the back half from retreading the same beats without adding any clever new twists or stakes.

Once its premise is established it doesn’t have anything more to show besides a pretty standard, drawn out story you’ve seen half a hundred times.

Well produced, just not that compelling. Decent, not great.

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.

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.

ARCANE // s01

A high water mark for animation, bringing fantastic art design and execution to a rich and detailed fantasy world.

From my understanding, knowledge of League of Legends (the game franchise this is based on) is unnecessary, and it certainly seems interested in making itself both accessible and engaging.

Action is kinetic and complimented by exceptional VFX work. Characters are complex, and their relationships shift and change to keep you wondering who will survive, ally, betray. It’s a big cast, but it’s very well balanced, even when it occasionally feels like it’s spreading itself thin across too many threads.

Plenty has already been said about the stunning visual style, and it’s all warranted. Better though, the story feels like it barely scratching the surface of a huge world.

Already renewed for a second season, and incredibly promising.

Highly recommended.

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.

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.

VIVO (2021)

A colourful celebration of Latin American music, soundtracked by and starring Lin Manuel Miranda as the titular kinkajou.

Skews to a younger crowd, with bright colours and high antics. Some of the designs are honestly pretty ugly but the story has heart and the songs are all original Mirandas, including some great performances from Gloria Estefan.

Good for the kids, but lacking that extra layer of depth that makes an animated film truly great and memorable.