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.

OB-EWAN’S KESHOWBI (2022)

Nice to look at, fundamentally pointless. The embodiment of all the the things wrong with modern Star Wars.

Rather than take this opportunity to tell smaller, self-contained stories within the broader universe (ala the first season of The Mandalorian), we’re instead given the same tired runaround of connecting every arbitrary object and event to something that already existed in the other films. It’s fan-service at its flattest and most uninspired.

VFX are excellent, but performances are mixed, some of the action sequences have absolutely horrible geographic logic and choreography, the plot meanders and then goes nowhere important.

How can it?

Given that this takes place between Episodes III & IV, nothing of the conflicts it chooses to explore can have any consequence, and therefore there are zero stakes. Why have Vader and Obi-Wan meet and fight now, since we all know that both will survive? Why have Obi-Wan and Leia go on adventures when they’re barely acquaintances years later?

If anything, forcing all these characters to meet up now undermines any of the impact of the later films, and in many ways directly contradicts pre-established story beats. They actively make the good parts of Star Wars worse by this incessant need to only ever revisit the same handful characters and locations.

For a franchise with this much (very much strained) goodwill and financial backing, it’s a shame that it’s so utterly allergic to doing anything interesting with itself.

Honestly, I wouldn’t bother with it, and would be highly skeptical of anything Star Wars yet to come.

A waste.

SEVERANCE // s01

Brilliant.

Four people work in an existentially unsettling office, following a procedure that severs their mind into two separate personas: one that exists within work and one that only exists outside of it.

A paranoid thriller that absolutely nails impersonal, hyper-polished corporate aesthetics and culture. The person who made this has clearly worked some awful office jobs—the satirical element feels horrifyingly true even at its most absurd and strange.

It’s nightmarishly calculated in concept, sleek and precise in execution. Surprisingly stacked emotional stakes, fantastic production design and cinematography.

AppleTV is really coming out ahead as the streaming service with incredibly high caliber projects, and this is one of the most intriguing, darkly hilarious shows in years.

Highly recommended.

THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT (2021)

It’s fine?

Weirdly drops its title character entirely in the back half to become The Mandalorian s2.5, and then pulls back to the main plotline in the finale.

Star Wars is kind of its own worst enemy — the best parts of it are the things that aren’t really connected to the original trilogy, yet it constantly finds itself afraid to stand on its own without somehow tying back into the same handful of characters.

TBoBF unfortunately succumbs to these bad instincts, going for recogniseable and familiar places, tropes and characters instead of really doing something all its own.

It’s a mixed bag of great and terrible design choices, excellent VFX and horribly shot/staged action.

Finishes up not really doing much more than setting up the next Mando season, which is itself straying away from the self-contained vignette style that made it so appealing.

Maybe Obi Wan will be better, but I don’t have high hopes.

Watch it or don’t.

STATION ELEVEN (2021)

Post-apocalyptic fiction with a theatrical slant.

Switches back and forth between the first hundred days of a world-ending flu virus, and twenty years after the fact—following a troupe of actors circling the Great Lakes of Northern America.

For all its waxing lyrical about the power of performance and the pretensions of art, it ultimately places its value on human relationships and the ties that bind us.

Tied together with a series of Shakespearean performances, some people will likely find it too high-minded and slow. But for those willing to stick it out there’s a unique, self-contained story about stories here.

More, it’s refreshing for once to see a civilizational collapse story about the slow, protracted death of the modern world. Among post-pandemic media, it’s distinct for not retreading the same beats you’ve seen a thousand times.

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.

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.

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.