THE MIDNIGHT SKY (2020)

A decent enough sci-fi drama trapped in an identity crisis.

There’s two tales happening in parallel and it takes a long time to become apparent how they’re linked, and only in the final ten minutes or so do the two threads really twine together. Problem is, George Clooney’s story is where we open the story and spend significant time before swapping to Felicity Jones’ imperiled space mission.

Something certainly got messed up in the edit here, and to some extent it seems like a marketing problem. Clooney is the bankable star and a decision was made to put his part of the story at the forefront of scene sequencing and this damages the story by relegating Jones’ arc to a B plot when it’s arguably the more important of the two.

And this is a shame! There some solid drama and well-executed action sequences that are overall held back by the story being told out of a better order.

You could still find plenty to enjoy here, but don’t be surprised if you find your attention flagging because the focus is scrambled.

Solidly medium movie, could have been very good with a few changes.

TENET (2020)

What a mess.

Ok, positive first: The soundtrack slaps. The performances are all excellent. The execution of the practical effects and the stunts are great.

But…

The sound mixing is, BY FAR, the worst I’ve heard in a blockbuster, possibly ever. Action scenes are thunderously loud even with the volume turned way down, and the dialogue is so quiet we needed subtitles so we weren’t yo-yoing the volume constantly with the remote.

The editing and pacing are an absolute mess. A basic two-shot can cut back and forth to the point where it’s distracting from the dialogue. Which is often a mercy because there’s zero wit or subtext to anything anyone says. The dialogue is mostly flat and purely functional. It’s not fun or engaging.

The first 45min could easily be cut and the same information much more effectively and interestingly disseminated in the rest of the film. Even still the plot moves at a breakneck pace: out of the gate four characters dump five bursts of exposition on you from six locations, none of which especially clarify anything, and things don’t improve from there.

We jump from location to location so fast and characters make decisions that change direction within a sentence of one another with no clear purpose. Nothing breathes, nothing coheres, it feels like someone trying to talk so fast that you won’t notice the huge gaps in the logic of what they’re saying and all the while you’re being told “Keep up! This is very smart!”.

The so-called mechanics of time inversion are wildly inconsistent and unclear. It’s a cool hook of an idea drunkenly explained on the back of a coaster. It’s like someone saw the Hong Kong reverse-time battle in Doctor Strange and thought “Let’s do that but louder, less fun and deliberately much more confusing for some reason”.

There are some good gimmicks here but there’s never any tension to anything. The stakes vary wildly from scene to scene, sometimes even within a single sequence, and at a certain point it’s hard to care because all the cool flashy stuff doesn’t really serve the clever narrative trick Nolan thinks he’s playing. There are MUCH better ways to use all its better elements and not have it feel like a jumbled, convoluted mess.

Hard to tell exactly where in the production line this went off the rails, but at two hours long and absolutely failing to convey anything meaningful besides a few cool shots you can spend your time better elsewhere.

Definitely not worth potentially getting Covid at a cinema for, barely worth sitting through at home.

LEGION (s01-03)

It’s hard to pin Legion down, since it’s very proudly one of the least superhero-y comicbook-based TV series of the past decade despite being populated by very comicbooky characters and ideas.

It’s more of a psychedelic mind trip through gorgeous production design, S-tier cinematography and a plot and cast of characters that absolutely delight in and embrace all the weirdest things that the genre has to offer.

The cast is clearly having a ball, and it goes to show yet again how underutilised Dan Stevens is in the broader scheme of things.

Sure, there are action sequences and the like, but more often the central conflicts are resolved by compassion and strange conversations and a few times by psychic dance-battles. Oh, and a hippy cult smokes happiness from the udders of a gigantic pig at one point.

Yeah. It’s weird.

And that’s all to the benefit, because it’s not trying to be a regular sort of X-Men show, it’s a character study of a persona fragmented by trauma, wrapped in a dream-like 1960s aesthetic and often a very Lynchian desire to be willfully obtuse.

It’s unsettling and dark at times, gorgeous and strange and wonderful at others. The pacing overall is fairly off-kilter, but if you’re willing to forgive its self-indulgence you’ll find a tonne of reasons to fall in love with it.

It runs just long enough to tie itself up nicely without overstaying, but I wish more shows were this willing to embrace the absurdity of their own premises.

Highly recommended.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY (s02)

Now that introductions and an initial conflict in the first season are out of the way it’s much more fun just to let the characters be themselves… while scattered across the timeline of 1960s Dallas, Texas.

Of course, there’s another apocalypse looming and a trio of time-hopping Swedish assassins to deal with, but really the show shines when it’s letting the family play off and support each other.

Feels a bit more loose and creative this time around, and the soundtrack is bangin’, the whole cast puts in great, hilarious, dysfunctional performances.

A case could be made for spreading the show out over weeks instead of dropping the Netflix binge model all at once, since something like this is fun to keep in conversation rather than to burn through and promptly forget about, but that’s a broader conversation on streaming strategies.

All up, better than the previous season even if the pacing is a little strange at times. If you liked the first one you’ll have a good time again here.

THE BOYS (s02)

Just as bloody, cruel and pointed as season one, but a bigger shift to the humanity of all the characters makes it feel much less nihilistic, and as such it’s more engaging.

I liked the first season plenty, but was curious to see if they slid towards the kinda offputting edgy-for-edgy’s-sake takes on superpowers that the comic does. Glad to say it swings hard in the other direction and improves on its source material in every way.

The whole cast are great, though special credit has to go to Antony Starr’s Homelander — an absolutely terrifying narcissist power-mad Superman analogue, a psychological trainwreck and an absolute monster. There’s good reason why everyone is scared of him.

Otherwise, all the usual crass humour, crude gore and body horror is still present and accounted for, only it’s using also its social satire to actually make points and draw parallels to current headlines.

There is also an extentable, prehensile penis and a whale explosion.

If you’re looking for something light and breezy filled with likeable characters who make good decisions and get happy endings… well… I’m sure you worked out in the first 20min season one that this wasn’t for you.

Otherwise, enjoy the ride!

DARK (s01-03)

An elegant, intricate knot. The sort of story that screenwriters all wish they were clever enough to pull off this effectively.

It’s just the right length, brilliantly self-contained and full of endearing characters and so much mystery that you’ll be going right back to the start to figure out where that thread you lost went.

Yes, it’s complex and can be labyrinthine and hard to follow at times, but the creators have done an incredibly impressive job of leaving breadcrumbs in everything from casting to production design. Seriously, the casting of actors as older/younger counterparts of themselves is frequently astounding.

And the plot. Ooooooooh the plot. Young boys start going missing around a small German town, thirty-three years to the day after a similar rash of disappearances happened and we see the effects of this ripple through a small community being affected for a second time in a generation. But what is actually going on is truly best left to be discovered yourself.

While the third season threatened to keel over with another burst of complexity, ultimately I felt it stuck the landing and was genuinely disappointed when we reached the end to find there was none left to be revealed, when the knot showed how thoughtfully it had been tied right from the start.

Haunting, moody and engaging. Truly, one of the great modern mystery/sci-fi shows. Highly recommended.

THE LAST OF US: Part II (2020)

What a ride. Brutal, bleak and uncompromising in its determination to make you feel every twist of the knife and to question your part in how far Eillie is willing to go for revenge.

It’s significantly longer than I was expecting, which at first I thought was a fault, but the back half actually contains and surpasses much of the emotion and spectacle of the first, and of the original game, and I found its bolder choices always backed up its thesis statement that violence begets violence.

This is an unpleasant lesson, of course, and Naughty Dog’s stubborn refusal to sway from making you truly feel that these are almost exclusively terrible people while investing significant time and effort into making you empathise with them is a large part of what will make this game stand out long after the naysayers have gotten over the fact that this is not a fanservice sequel but rather a direct continuation of the consequence of the choices that very flawed people made in the first game.

Yes, it is at times tropey. Yes, it is at time quite ham-fisted in what it is trying to convey. Yes, it seems like it could have ended cleanly in more than a few places. But ultimately it’s unafraid to shy from the sort of harshness that makes something like The Road both miserable and incredible at once, and that lingers long after the credits.

It is staggeringly well crafted, beautiful and horrifying to look at, emotionally draining and tense throughout.

Ignore the hate, make up your own damn mind. There’s an incredible, one-of-a-kind journey into darkness to be found here.

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD.

Continue reading “THE LAST OF US: Part II (2020)”

THE VAST OF NIGHT (2019)

A nice, simple little scifi thriller with the look and feel of an early Cold War-set episode of STRANGE TALES or THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

Does a great deal with very little, and has some really creative camera work that beautifully describes the distances around a small town somewhere in 1950s America.

Some incredibly long and seamless shots and two extremely charismatic lead performances, but to say anything of the plot would be to ruin the tone and the expectation it so wonderfully builds with steady, thoughtful pace. Could have perhaps gone a little further with some of its more creative reaches to really elevate itself it greatness, but I’m not going to hold that against it since restraint stops it tipping over into gimmicky and helps it feel authentic.

Recommended — don’t read anything up about it!

REVIEW SPECTACULAR 7: Revenge of the Medium Movies

Every once in a while I remember a bunch of films that I’ve recently watched which didn’t leave enough of an impression to want to paint them, so I compile them into a single post. This is one of those posts:

GUNS AKIMBO
BLOODSHOT
JUMANJI 2
DOLITTLE
DOLEMITE IS MY NAME
FANTASTIC BEASTS
A WRINKLE IN TIME
WRECK IT RAPLH 2
RAMPAGE

Continue reading “REVIEW SPECTACULAR 7: Revenge of the Medium Movies”

FUTURE MAN (s01-03)

A slacker janitor beats an impossible videogame that turns out to be a recruitment tool from time-travelling warriors that need him to be their saviour.

What ensues is a ridiculous romp across multiple timelines, the most callous disregard for the dangers of time-travel, a whole episode dunking on James Cameron and some of the funniest, wildest character arcs in recent memory. The cast is great too!

It’s really silly, really fun, really entertaining. Season three was the last as well so you’re not on the hook for too big a ride and it’s constantly changing itself up in new and bizarre ways.

Definitely worth your time.