“Locke & Key” Review!

Netflix’s Locke & Key opens a doorway into an expansive world of dark, cosmic magic that can only be described as deep: there are keys that lead to other keys, which open doors within doors, which then lead to puzzles, which connect back to clues, which are all supposed to interlock(e) – the problem comes toward the middle of the ten-part series, when it becomes clear that there’s no good way for everything to come together, because of a single plot point that splits the series’ focal point in two rapidly diverging directions, which never reunite (and never seem likely to, assuming there is a second season – there’s certainly set-up for one).

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Without getting into spoilers, I’ll explain it like this: after a couple of really strong episodes, Locke & Key introduces an idea that immediately forces the adult characters – including the series’ most compelling character, recovering alcoholic and traumatized widow Nina Locke (Darby Stanchfield) – and the teen or young adult characters – specifically her children, Tyler (Connor Jessup), Kinsey (Emilia Jones), and Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) – to pursue two very different paths. The adults are left with many of the hard-hitting emotional and dramatic moments, but the kids have to awkwardly carry the horror/fantasy plotline to its conclusion. This divide is…uncomfortable, to say the least, and it also makes both parties look bad: the adults seem naive and negligent for barely ever interfering in their kids’ lives; the kids come off as idiotic and downright mean for never going to the adults for help or advice. And again, this is all because of one plot-point that is never even properly explained: this particular plot-point also seems oddly kiddish in a series that tries to be more edgy, dark and mature than it probably needs to be.

That darker vibe, while inconsistent, does allow for a somewhat memorable antagonist: the beautiful, haunting demon lurking in the well, whose actual name – “Dodge” – is far less threatening than either of her nicknames, “Well-Lady” or “Echo”. Portrayed by Laysla De Oliveira, the ancient demonic entity is able to do a fair bit of damage and wrack up an impressive kill-count, all with style and grace, even while being restricted by another very specific plot-point that forbids her from murdering absolutely everybody in her path towards…whatever it is she’s fighting for (it’s never actually explained what that is, making her sudden shift from “haunted house ghost” to “immortal Lovecraftian shadow goddess” inexplicable, yet still entertaining).

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Like Dodge, the entire series gets an upgrade about halfway through – which is both a blessing and a curse, as it simultaneously raises the stakes for all the protagonists while also closing the door on the fun, spooky treasure-hunt adventure that made the first few episodes so unique. The central trio of Locke children splits up, with the two older kids pursuing the main plot with their rapidly expanding group of high-school friends and enemies, while Bode (the most interesting of the three by far) is left at home, shoved to the sidelines, and kept in the dark…despite being the one who initially found the keys and unleashed Dodge. This series has a hard time remembering who its main characters are, at times. The high school story is intermittently dull, with subplots related to clam chowder, charity fundraisers, poorly-developed love triangles and generic bullies. It’s no coincidence that this coincides with the sudden, strange decision to make the story all about Tyler Locke, the most boring, familiar, and downright annoying of the main trio (he seems to have a smoking addiction in the first episode, yet turns on his mother for drinking later in the series: hypocritical much, Tyler?) and the one who seems to have the least interest in the plot.

I might sound like I’m coming down hard on this show. But the series does have moments – sometimes even scenes – of true greatness: especially when it comes to the many inventive or witty ways in which the characters use their magic keys, either for good, evil, or stupid pranks. Kinsey using the Head Key to step inside her brain and battle it out with the personification of her own fears and insecurities? Excellent stuff. Dodge using the Anywhere Key to order breakfast at a small-town diner, go shopping at a high-end fashion mall, pull off a diamond-heist and attend a nightclub party all within a few moments? Fantastic. Anything involving the Ghost Key? Brilliant.

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Unfortunately, the scenes involving magic often require…magic, a.k.a. a CGI budget that this show clearly does not have at its disposal. The fight scenes with monsters, ghouls and demons are often all too brief, and darkly-lit (probably for the best, as the notable exception to this rule, involving a zombie-type creature attacking someone in broad daylight, looks painfully fake), while keys like the Matchstick and Ghost Key are used sparingly. This wouldn’t even be a problem if the series didn’t try to make itself larger than it had to be – when you’re just running around a spooky mansion, you don’t really need a whole bunch of special effects: when you’re on the brink of unleashing primordial powers from beyond the edge of the world into your small coastal town, that’s something else entirely.

Another issue with the magic system is that it never gets explained: why does it exist? Who made the keys, and why? What is Dodge? What is she doing? Who are the Lockes, and where did they come from? These are questions that are not only never answered, but never get raised in the first place. It’s not like there’s no reason to bring up any of these very important points: the Locke family are fighting to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, yet they never even seem to question how freaky and terrifying their lives have become. By the end of the series, they seem to have all nonchalantly settled down into a daily routine of nightmares, monstrous encounters in the woods, murderous escapees, demons breaking-and-entering, and a weirdly high number of people attacking each other with hammers (I mean, I get it, Nina is a carpenter and all, but are there no other available weapons in Keyhouse? They’ve got not one, but two wicked-looking swords mounted on the mantelpiece, and yet they choose hammers and plastic lightsabers to vend off intruders? Seriously?)

The series is fairly progressive, though fans of the original Locke & Key graphic novels will be disappointed to hear that Duncan Locke (Aaron Ashmore), an openly gay, happily married character in the comic, has a very small recurring role, and is nowhere shown to be gay, as he’s conveniently separated from his husband (whose name is, to be fair, mentioned once or twice) throughout the series.

All in all, Locke & Key has an amazing premise, and a couple of really good episodes: but it doesn’t take long before the plot, the characters and the entire series get lost in the dark. Will you find what you’re looking for amid the Gothic splendor of Keyhouse? I certainly hope so, because I feel like there’s potential somewhere in this story: potential that could be unlocked in a second season.

Series Rating: 5.9/10

“Lost In Space” Season Two Review!

In its second season, the family-friendly Netflix sci-fi drama Lost In Space takes our gallant team of heroes on an invigoratingly suspenseful new mission across the galaxy, searching for a planet to call home – preferably a planet that’s not about to be sucked into a black hole, but hey, sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got: and nobody is better at that than the Robinsons, a family of five plucky, over-achieving geniuses each armed with their own specific arsenal of unbelievable skills.

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After the Season 1 finale that left the family stranded in an alien region of the universe far from their spaceship, the Resolute, and even farther from their planned destination, the supposedly-peaceful human colony of Alpha Centauri, the Robinsons are forced to take shelter on a tiny beach somewhere on a vast ocean planet. There, they set up a base-camp and settle down – for seven months. And there we find them in the Season 2 pilot, as their collective restlessness is once again spurring them into action, forcing them to move quickly to escape the planet and find their friends onboard the Resolute – if they still can.

In Season 1, the narrative focus was largely on the characters of John (Toby Stephens), Maureen (Molly Parker) and Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins), who mostly shared the responsibility of trying to get the family off the aforementioned black-hole planet: all three had big hero moments, leaving little room for their supporting cast to develop into strong, well-rounded characters. The second season does manage to fit in a pretty decent character arc for the eldest daughter, medical student Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell), but its attempts to try and find a narrative purpose for aspiring author Penny Robinson (Mina Sundwall) feel forced and unconvincing – especially since the attempt is half-hearted, and simply fizzles out halfway through this ten-episode series, leaving the younger daughter with no conclusion to her arc (back in Season 1, a lot was made of the fact that Will Robinson didn’t feel special compared to his more naturally talented siblings, and that he was the only one in the family who had actually failed to make the cut to go to Alpha Centauri, before his mother cheated the system to get him through – but can someone explain to me why Will, with his advanced knowledge of mathematics, geometry and geology, feels like the odd one out, when Penny’s entire personality consists of making unnecessary jokes during dramatic moments, and the brief snippets of her writing revealed in this season seem half-baked, to say the least? Though I’m willing to cut her some slack if it’s just a first draft).

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The Robinsons’ ally, mechanic Don West (Ignacio Serricchio), has evolved into something of a brusque, headstrong antihero between seasons: some might call him a Han Solo type, but I actually see more similarities to Poe Dameron, a similarly trigger-happy flyboy with a humorous nature, rugged Latino charisma, a shady past, a tendency to disobey superiors, and a strong devotion to a diminutive sidekick (in this case a lucky chicken called Debbie, but the point remains). He doesn’t have a whole lot to do in this season, but I’m hopeful that he’ll have much more time to shine in a third season of the series – which we had better be getting, considering that this season leaves us with a few gut-punch revelations and more than a couple of unanswered questions.

But Season 2’s real star, and the woman who deserves to be the face of this series just as much as The Robot (Brian Steele), is comedian Parker Posey as the Robinsons’ unwilling ally?/friend?/antagonist? Dr. Smith – or Jessica Harris, or June Harris, or whatever name she’s going by at any given moment. Posey’s interpretation of the beloved character is a master manipulator, capable of twisting anyone around her finger with the help of what seems to be a legitimate background in psychology. I don’t think it’s unpopular or controversial to suggest that she’s even a better liar and sneak than, say, Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and she’s cheated death just as many times. It’s impossible to ever fully trust her or guess at her motives, but the show has a fantastic job of giving the other characters logical reasons to place her faith in her – even if it continuously backfires or places everybody in more danger. Posey was brilliant in Season 1, of course, but here she also has a slightly more zany, vibrant personality: from her slouchy, casual attire to her sudden nautical expertise.

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The true emotional core of the show is still Will’s relationship with The Robot, who went missing in the Season 1 finale and to whom Will feels telepathically connected. While their subplot (or, well, I guess it’s technically the main plot) is certainly compelling, it’s also a bit more confusing than the other characters’ relatively simple arcs: there’s a whole bunch of new robots, and new questions about the robots, and about the humans’ connection to the robots, and about the robot culture, and about that weird-looking alien engine that the robots are looking for, and about a million other little things that just show up without any explanation. And while, yes, the story of Will and The Robot has a couple unique complexities, it largely follows the same general structure as any story in which a young child encounters an alien that the powers-that-be would want to hide or abuse, making it the most well-worn of Lost In Space‘s tropes.

Overall, though, the series has largely avoided predictability, and continues to throw curveballs at the Robinsons, masterfully blending wholesome, family-friendly whimsy with darker, more mature themes and genuine thrills, scares and moments of suspense – though, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure any of the most suspenseful moments in Season 2 quite equal the sensational tension of Season 1, the pilot episode of which opened with Judy trapped under the ice of an alien lake with a mere five hours of oxygen left to breathe, Maureen weaving in and out of consciousness while Penny performed amateur surgery on her wounded leg, Will stuck in a forest fire, about to be killed by The Robot, and John forced to choose which of his children he could save without dooming the others to death. There are a couple moments in this season that come close – but, obviously, they’re sort of spoilers.

So if you’re looking for some wildly exciting science-fiction to dive into, I strongly encourage you to set sail for the stars and get lost in all the emotional drama, CGI spectacle and jaw-dropping action of Lost In Space, Season 2. Unless Netflix doesn’t renew the series for a third season, leaving us with no resolution to this season’s epic finale (unlikely, but you never know), then I can pretty much guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

Series Rating: 8.7/10

“The Witcher” Review!

Netflix’s hotly-anticipated adaptation of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy novels and short story anthologies hit the ground running yesterday, quickly gathering a tightly-knit fan community and garnering praise from viewers. Its low Rotten Tomatoes score suggests disapproval from critics, but for my part, I have to say I’m one of those who simply can’t get enough of the “grimdark” fantasy world that Sapkowski created, and showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich has lovingly brought to life.

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The world of The Witcher is a twisted, messed-up place filled with hostile countries and city-states tenuously held together by the secret machinations of royal mages. In this world, mutated men called Witchers roam the violent backwoods corners of The Continent, hunting monsters for a price and carving out brutal, lonely lives for themselves. Our protagonist, the semi-heroic Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) is one of the most legendary, but also the most feared and reviled: where he goes, trouble follows, and people are eager to chase him away whenever he comes close.

Cavill, despite playing a brooding, hulking warrior devoid of human emotions, is surprisingly charismatic and endearing – his enthusiasm for the source material is evident (Cavill has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of both the novels and the accompanying video games), and that same enthusiasm shines through most clearly in his action sequences and fight scenes, all of which Cavill himself performed without the help of stunt doubles. And even though many of us worried that his long, silvery locks and bright yellow eyes made him look like he was wearing a Halloween costume, Cavill rocks the strange but unique style – except in Episode 2, for whatever reason: possibly because it’s the most brightly lit in the entire season, and it accentuates how unnaturally yellow and inexpressive his contact lenses really are. I understand that Cavill doesn’t want to give up the coveted role of Superman in the DCEU – but after watching The Witcher, I think it should be clear that, with his gruff voice and intense physicality, the actor was born and bred for roles like these, where he can let loose and be a feral, ferocious, demon-slaying mercenary. It’s impossible to even imagine him going back to the squeaky-clean Superman persona after this.

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But while Cavill is getting a lot of attention for carrying the show, the talents of his female co-stars Anya Chalotra and Freya Allen are just as worthy of praiseworthy ballads (speaking of which, I’m going to have “Toss A Coin To Your Witcher” stuck in my head for weeks). Chalotra, especially, does a fantastic job as the troubled sorceress Yennefer of Vengerburg, whose journey begins in a town full of bigots who mock her for her physical disabilities – her own father eventually sells her off to a mage for a bargain price. But Yennefer rises above the haters and becomes one of the series’ strongest and most iron-willed characters, as she trains to become The Continent’s most powerful mage. Her story would be especially fascinating no matter what, because it brings us, the audience, into contact with the various guilds of magicians and sorcerers who command The Continent’s destiny, but Chalotra manages to elevate every scene she’s in and make Yennefer our eyes and ears in the show’s most obviously fantastical subplot. She doesn’t get as many fight scenes, but those that she does have (especially in the finale) are epic. Freya Allen portrays Princess Cirilla, or “Ciri”, of Cintra, a stubborn and resilient young girl who is forced to flee from her grandmother’s sheltered palace after the walls are breached by invaders from the shadow lands of Nilfgaard. Alone, and surrounded by people who want to kill her, Ciri sets out into the wilderness with only a name to guide her: the name of Geralt of Rivia, who is supposedly destined to help her. Allen is very good, and possesses a cheerfully expressive face, but her character is rather enigmatic, even by the end of the season, making it ever so slightly more difficult to relate to her in the same way as the older, wiser Yennefer.

The series is structured as something of an anthology, so many of the supporting cast only make a handful of appearances – but even so, there are several highlights. Jodhi May as Ciri’s grandmother Queen Calanthe is a complex and divisive character who is alternately loved, respected, feared or hated – and her unpredictability keeps her friends and enemies on their toes at all times. Anna Shaffer’s Triss Marigold is the show’s most traditionally “witchy” witch, and does a very good job of it; while Mimi Ndiweni is utterly terrifying as the Nilfgaard mage Fringilla Vigo, a callous, sadistic conqueror. The male cast includes Geralt’s on-and-off traveling companion Jaskier (Joey Batey) who has a surprisingly modern vocabulary and a tendency to very nearly break the fourth wall at times (“There I go again, just delivering exposition” he comments at one point), and daredevil Vilgefortz (Mahesh Jadu), who’s stunts and unique brand of magic are incredibly entertaining to watch.

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At its heart, the show is a cunning blend of subversive fantasy and horror – and the horror elements are particularly strong, mostly because they’re intricately tied up in the world’s magic system. It’s never explained exactly where many of The Continent’s monsters, ghouls and demons come from, but it’s fun enough bracing yourself for the jump-scare moments when they burst from the ground, or from tombs, or lakes, or tall grass, etc, etc. Probably the best of the lot is the demon princess living in a crypt below a Temerian castle that seems to have been pulled straight from a Dracula adaptation (Temeria itself seems to be obviously based on Transylvania), but other highlights include a malevolent shapeshifter that eats children, and a dragon with a peculiar secret – I’m sure Sapkowski’s novels have plenty of material to draw from in the second season, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a Witcher take on the character of Baba Yaga, who I think would fit in perfectly with the assortment of other creatures on the show.

This is a non-spoiler review, so I won’t say too much about the series’ conclusion, or its various twists, turns and surprises – but I can at least assure you that almost all of them are legitimately exciting, and there are a number of storytelling devices employed that shake things up in an intriguing and often suspenseful fashion. Netflix is often criticized for making their original series’ too long, but The Witcher is a perfect length – in fact, by the end of it, you’ll probably be left hungry for more (not to mention angry at Netflix for concluding this first season on a moment that isn’t quite a cliffhanger, but definitely sizzles with palpable tension).

So if you’re looking for a new, dark, twisted fantasy tale, or if you’ve been left disappointed by Game Of Thrones and want to fill the gaping void in your life, try out The Witcher (Thrones fans, in particular, will be pleased to know that the series has many of the former series’ same hallmarks, such as gritty realism and brutal fight scenes, while including things HBO’s long-running fantasy drama never dared to add, such as unmistakable magic). It’s a show that will leave you thrilled, a little scared for your life, and eager to see more of Sapkowski and Hissrich’s world.

Series Rating: 7.9/10

“The Witcher” Final Trailer Review!

The final trailer for Netflix’s new, completely unhinged, absolutely massive dark fantasy epic The Witcher is – all of those things, times ten. But with Star Wars dominating the news cycle and releasing in theaters on the same day as the first season of The Witcher becomes available, will the series be able to find an audience? I think it’s got a strong chance, but it needs to have a hook that will intrigue viewers who haven’t necessarily read a Witcher novel, played a Witcher video game, or ever heard of The Witcher before in their lives. So far, it’s mostly been directing its marketing toward disillusioned Game Of Thrones fans – you want something a little violent, a little dark, a little edgy? This clearly has all of that.

But the final trailer leans more heavily on appealing to fans of the source material, throwing in a bunch of new concepts we really haven’t seen much of in previous trailers and teasers: concepts that don’t mean a whole lot to me, but sound pretty awesome anyway. The focus here is on the “lion cub of Cintra”, Princess Ciri, whose character appears to be the show’s central plot-point – the people of Nilfgaard want her dead, and Geralt of Rivia has been assigned with finding and protecting her. The powerful sorceress, Yennefer of Vengerburg, presumably fits in somehow, but I honestly don’t care what her purpose is – she’s fighting bad guys while wearing a gigantic, heavy fur coat: a skill-set I thought belonged solely to Jon Snow. If we get more of that Yennefer, and less of the Yennefer who just seems to be hanging around at the palace, whispering about death and destruction, then you can count me in. I may be jumping to conclusions, but I think I like what The Witcher is doing with its female characters: they look powerful, strong (in many different ways), and cool. There are also women of color in prominent roles here, something Game Of Thrones never had.

So what’s the hook? Is it Henry Cavill in a platinum-blond wig (I will never stop making fun of that thing, even if it does actually look pretty decent)? Awesome heroines? Magic? Even as the day of Witcher‘s release draws ever closer, I’m still not sure I can identify anything that will be able to pull in non-fantasy fans. Hopefully, this will be a surprise hit, but I’m nervous to make any assumptions yet.

Trailer Rating: 7/10

“The Irishman” Review!

Martin Scorsese insists that you should not watch The Irishman on your phone – if you absolutely cannot find a way to see it in a theater, then, in his opinion, you’re doing something wrong (though he does make an exception if you have a very large iPad). Why? Well, I assume it has something to do with the fact that Martin Scorsese is probably keen on being nominated for an Oscar or two at the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony, and he doesn’t want any voters to be deterred by the idea that his grand masterpiece of mobster cinema is, in any way, shape, or form, a TV movie. After all, this is a historical epic – not something you can watch while you’re just lounging around on the couch. Netflix has had to deal with this image-problem many times before – just this year, in fact, the dramatic Roma was snubbed in a few crucial categories at the Oscars partly because of the fact that, well, it’s not a “real” movie. And for that reason, Scorsese will do everything in his power to make sure Oscar voters and critics get the message: The Irishman is credible, and most importantly, cinematic. It’s the same reason why he’s going around saying that the film would never work as a TV series (the mere suggestion probably made his blood boil), and that a traditional studio would never have greenlit a movie in which the protagonist ends up in a wheelchair at the end (I strongly encourage Scorsese to go watch Rogue One, a Disney movie in which every member of the main cast dies by the end of the film).

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But he doesn’t have to – because The Irishman speaks for itself. It is a cinematic masterpiece (and it would be whether or not it played in theaters, because, no matter how vehemently Scorsese may disagree, cinema is defined simply as “the art or technique of making motion pictures”). It is, perhaps, less timely than other landmark films of 2019, but that’s because its message is timeless. Some films don’t need to be ripped-from-the-headlines commentaries on society in order to be relevant. And so, without intending to, Scorsese has crafted the darker, more atmospheric cousin to the modern superhero movie – an original movie that simply exists to entertain. The Irishman has plenty of messages (don’t distance yourself from the people you love, karma always catches up with you, killing people for a living is probably a bad idea), but none of them are groundbreaking; none of them are even that deep, or thought-provoking. I don’t think The Irishman is going to linger in peoples’ minds because of its themes, or its weighty analysis of the concepts of regret and remorse – it’s going to be memorable because it’s a fun movie to watch. A really fun movie.

And that’s actually the film’s most impressive achievement, because at three and a half hours long, The Irishman really shouldn’t be as entertaining as it is. But in all that epic runtime, I was only bored twice – during the first and last thirty minutes of the movie. The film starts out very slow, and there’s a few jumps in between different parts of the timeline that are difficult to follow at first (you’re supposed to be able to tell when is when with the help of the various stages of de-aging technology on the lead actors’ faces, but, well…we’ll get to that). But after what feels like an eternity of watching Robert De Niro driving a meat delivery-van, the movie abruptly takes off like a bullet – and then it gets good, when Al Pacino arrives onscreen like the divine, ice-cream devouring presence he is (no, literally, he eats a lot of ice-cream in this movie: so much so that he did an interview about it).

Al Pacino is what makes this movie great, and I have no qualms about saying it. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are obviously incredible actors, legends of the screen, if you will – but Pacino instills the role of notorious labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa with a fiery charisma.  Just as Robert Pattinson recently infused an otherwise drab medieval drama, The King, with his signature brand of insanity, much to that film’s benefit, Pacino here makes Hoffa larger-than-life, ridiculously charming, and more than slightly terrifying. Hoffa’s quirks, from the ice-cream addiction to his long list of pet peeves (he actually tries to kill someone for wearing shorts to a business meeting), are all exaggerated just enough to make them humorous. Yes, The Irishman is actually an incredibly funny movie – something the film’s marketing campaign ignored, perhaps deliberately. But ignoring it is a disservice to Pacino, who uses those laugh-out-loud moments to make Jimmy Hoffa a truly sympathetic character – one whom we don’t want to see get hurt. It’s not historically accurate, but neither is most of this movie.

The lead character, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), whose real-life testimonials about the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa are the primary basis for the movie’s plot, has had his reliability questioned many times over the years, and his account of the events of July 30th, 1975 is regarded by many as untrustworthy, to say the least. However, in an effort to preserve the film’s secrets for those who don’t know a thing about the Hoffa case (such as me, before I researched the film’s dubious claims), we’re not going to talk about all the minute details of the disappearance and ensuing investigation – or Sheeran’s even more controversial claim about the JFK assassination. The latter is only briefly touched upon in the film, but is bound to become a major talking point for those who have seen it. As for De Niro’s performance – it’s good. Very good, even. But despite (or perhaps because of) all the stony solemnity and brow-furrowing, he simply didn’t affect me on an emotional level the same way Pacino did. Same with Joe Pesci, who has a sizable role as mob boss Russell Bufalino (though I do admire Pesci’s performance for the way he was able to convey, without a single line of dialogue, when his character wanted somebody killed: just a mere side-eye, and you could immediately tell someone was going to get shot dead).

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All three men – Pacino to a lesser extent than De Niro and Pesci – do have to act around the iffy de-aging technology that attempts to smooth out their faces into weirdly plastic masks for the first half of the movie, and that’s a huge problem that the film’s lighting crew clearly struggled with: thankfully, so much of The Irishman takes place in shadowy Italian restaurants that it’s often too dark to see the de-aged faces – but even in a scene lit by bright daylight, the World War II flashback in which Sheeran is supposed to be in his early twenties, somehow the shadows of De Niro’s helmet manage to hide almost his entire face from the camera.

I could probably ramble on and on about the film’s beautiful cinematography and production design, and the way that each decade of American history was lovingly brought to life (well, except for the early 21st Century, which looks like a lifeless gray wasteland compared to the vivid vitality of the 50’s and 60’s). But I probably can’t explain it better than cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. I would be shocked if The Irishman doesn’t win in some technical categories at next year’s Oscars – it deserves a lot of wins, except for special effects.

And then, of course, there’s the music. The main theme of the movie actually wore on me after a while, and I was tempted to ignore the score entirely if it weren’t for the absolutely brilliant instrumental piece, entitled Remembrance, that composer Robbie Robertson stuck in the movie’s end-credits (but not even the first half of the credits, where some people might be sticking around to listen: it’s shoved right in the middle, somewhere around the point where they’re thanking the medics and food catering service). I might be so eager to forgive the movie’s faults, just because the payoff, that one end-credits musical composition, is so fantastic.

The Irishman does have faults – I mentioned earlier that it’s not great until Al Pacino shows up. It’s also not great once he leaves the film, with half an hour still to go of everybody basically just sitting around and reminiscing about how great it was when Al Pacino was around. Then we get a little bit of trademark Scorsese bitterness about modernity (there’s a scene late in the run-time where Sheeran is shocked to discover that young people these days don’t even know who Hoffa was). But the vast majority of the movie in between Pacino’s arrival and disappearance is an absolutely enjoyable whirlwind of emotions that I think you won’t want to miss out on.

And, just so you know, it’s perfectly okay to watch The Irishman on your phone. I did, and far from missing out on the film’s cinematic subtleties, I actually loved it. Yes, I might disagree with Martin Scorsese on…virtually everything about the definition of cinema, but that has nothing to do with the fact that he’s a masterful director with a keen eye for carving out a powerful and entertaining story from one of the most convoluted and controversial stories in the history of the American mob.

Movie Rating: 9.5/10

“The King” Movie Review!

In the eyes of history buffs, The King will probably be a decent, if boringly conventional retelling of a fascinating story from the vaults of Medieval history. For fans of Shakespeare, this interpretation of the bard’s work, watered down in the telling, will probably be a bland disappointment. But in my opinion, the movie, while not particularly fresh or exciting, is worth a watch merely for the performances from Timothée Chalamet and Robert Pattinson, accompanied by Nicholas Britell’s beautiful score. And if you find yourself drifting off in the first half of the movie, with its interminable gray color palette, dreary dialogue and half-hearted brutality – simply fast forward to when Pattinson shows up about an hour in, at which point the movie finally sheds some of its solemn trappings, develops a faint splash of color, and actually gets interesting.

The story itself is classic: the brief, tumultuous reign of King Henry V (Timothée Chalamet) of England, who stormed and nearly conquered France in 1415. But with two versions of the story out there – the historical account, and Shakespeare’s heavily fictionalized version – the film goes for the least interesting option: trying to blend the two into one coherent whole, using historical realism to set the scene, but sticking faux-Shakespearean dialogue into the mouths of its actors, who, to their credit, actually make it sound halfway decent – up to a point. Director David Michôd and writer and star Joel Edgerton haven’t made anywhere near enough additions or alterations to the story, and as a result The King often feels like it’s treading on well-worn ground – or rather, sinking in the muddy field of Agincourt, weighed down by plate armor and brooding plot. To put it simply, the movie isn’t particularly fun, and it doesn’t have much room to breathe. But what it lacks in originality of voice, it makes up for with the casting of two stellar performers.

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Chalamet embodies the young king of England with a stone-cold solemnity that sets the tone for the whole movie – the rest of the movie, however, fails to achieve the same balance of neutrality and watchability as Chalamet does consistently. Rather, the movie itself begins to fall away and fade into fog, while Chalamet’s Henry becomes more clearly defined with each passing minute, until, in its closing scenes, he is the only life it has left. And what life he possesses! Typically seen as a dewy-eyed Hollywood heartthrob, Chalamet is here a gaunt, pale figure with leering eyes that disguise a heart longing for peace in his time – he is at times inspiring (as when he rallies his men for battle on the morn of Agincourt, using dialogue that is nowhere near as impressive as the St. Crispin’s Day speech his character utters in Shakespeare’s play but still sounds good because it’s Timothée Chalamet), or terrifying (as when he confronts his dying father in the latter’s bedchamber, ripping the sheets away from the bed, letting the old man shiver and tremble as the life slips from his body). But he is always a commanding presence onscreen, never rivaled by any of his castmates until Pattinson enters the picture, challenging Chalamet’s calm with a startlingly zany performance that turns The King into one of 2019’s most unexpectedly weird movies.

Pattinson, another actor trying to reshape his image in the public conscious, is a terrifying/hysterically funny revelation in his role as the Dauphin of France. Other reviewers are conflicted about his portrayal of the character, saying he ruins the serious nature of the film, or, alternatively, is its one saving grace. A callous, sadistic idiot, the Dauphin somehow manages to seem like an absolutely credible and formidable force even while being an unabashed peacock, strutting about in fancy black armor, laughing like a maniac and grinning dumbly at his own offensive jokes. But while I personally loved Pattinson’s portrayal, I can easily understand why critics can’t decide whether they love him or hate him – his performance is so deliberately exaggerated that it feels like it must be saying something, or attempting to: but what? If he’s merely trying to insult the French, then at least he’s made Shakespeare happy.

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(Something that struck me in Pattinson’s first scene in The King, while he was busy talking about how he wanted to drain Henry’s body of its blood and bury it under a tiny French tree, was how happy I am that he will be soon be the DCEU’s new Batman: immediately after thinking that, Pattinson turned his head in such a way that it almost appeared that he had elf-ears for a fleeting moment – and that, coupled with his long blond wig, impressive eyebrows and sinuous physicality, made me gasp, pause the movie and go on Twitter to express my regret that Pattinson had not been cast as Sauron in Amazon Prime’s upcoming Lord Of The Rings prequel series. I’m sorry I have to bring everything back to LOTR, but this is something that I cannot now unsee and cannot ever forgive Pattinson or Amazon Prime for: just think of the beautiful young Sauron that might have been, gifted with Pattinson’s charismatic craziness! It would have been perfect).

The supporting cast is okay, though the only other standout is Ben Mendelsohn as the aging King Henry IV. Joel Edgerton’s Falstaff is made out to be the film’s Everyman archetype, but the character is boring and lifeless (and Edgerton’s performance is so tired that it’s hard to tell whether his yawns are in-character or not). Then there’s the Archbishop of Canterbury (Andrew Havill), who I feel deserves a dishonorable mention simply because of how insufferably annoying he managed to be in the five minutes of screen time he possessed. As for female characters – there are a grand total of three. Lily Rose-Depp is merely okay in the role of Catherine of Valois, who only appears in the film’s last twenty minutes and has one scene of importance; her performance is most notable for the fact that Catherine claims at the outset that she can’t speak English and then proceeds to do so anyway for the rest of the scene.

The film suffers greatly from its muted color palette, and cinematography that is, for the most part, drab and uninspiring. The sole exception is the scene in which Henry V’s forces besiege the castle of Harfleur, using massive trebuchets to launch flaming missiles over the fortress walls: who doesn’t love a good trebuchet? They’re far more interesting than catapults, in my honest opinion. And filming them in action also allows for plenty of interesting camera-work, as The King proves beyond a doubt. Beyond that, the film has nothing going for it in terms of visual splendor – there just isn’t any. The splash of somber green we get from the field of Agincourt is a brief respite from the damp grays and browns of Merry Old England – but even that is quickly transformed into a melee of upturned mud, and the filth of violence.

For history buffs (myself included) the legendary battle of Agincourt is what will keep you watching until the end of the movie: and it’s teased in a big fashion, with a single line of dialogue delivered by Pattinson’s Dauphin in one of the most hilariously exaggerated French accents you’ll hear outside of a Loony Tunes sketch, guaranteed to make your skin crawl in anticipation of the inevitable – “Let us make famous that field out there, this little village of Agincourt that will forever mark the sight of your callow disgrace.” I’m glad I watched The King for that line alone – and thankfully the ensuing battle delivers exactly what the film needs: it’s brutally epic, chaotic, and realistic. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to drown in mud, then The King is the film for you!

An additional incentive to watch the movie (beyond mud-drownings) is the score by Nicholas Britell, which is stirring and appropriately ominous.

All in all, did I have fun watching The King? No, not exactly. I don’t think it tells the story of Henry V better than any history book can – certainly not better than Shakespeare (and I don’t typically praise Shakespeare). But I do think it’s worth a watch if you’re a fan of either Chalamet or Pattinson, or want to check out a “highbrow” sampling of their work. Just don’t expect too much from the movie itself – it may be called The King, but its crown belongs firmly to its stars.

Movie Rating: 6.9/10

“The Witcher” Main Trailer Review!

Henry Cavill is intent on making us believe that he’s rocking that silly silver wig – and you know what? He’s actually doing a pretty good job of that.

That may be, at least in part, because he actually has dialogue and substantial scenes in this trailer, as opposed to the first teaser for this hotly-anticipated Netflix release – which now has a release date of December 20th. Netflix obviously hopes that The Witcher, with its fast-paced action, alluring premise and tons and tons of magic, will appeal to fantasy fans – especially that crucial contingent of unhappy Game Of Thrones ex-fans who might be too impatient to wait for HBO’s upcoming Thrones prequel, House Of The Dragon. It would be a big win for Netflix as the streaming wars heat up and HBO prepares to launch its own streaming platform, HBO Max.

Henry Cavill himself has a personal stake in Netflix’s war against Warner Brothers (and, by extension, HBO), having been unceremoniously ousted from the role of Superman – a bit of a thankless role these days. Cavill is clearly having more fun chewing on the dramatic, darker material he’s been granted with The Witcher than he ever had with the goofy glasses of Clark Kent – speaking of chewing, we learn in this trailer that Cavill’s character, protagonist and anti-hero Geralt of Rivia, had his fangs filed down, which is…cool, I guess? Creepy? By Cavill’s line-reading, it would seem he intended it to sound vaguely seductive (hey, am I going to sit here and say he’s the greatest actor to ever walk the planet? No, but I do think it’s admirable that he’s landed himself a big role and is clearly taking it seriously, even though his performance does occasionally appear a bit counter-intuitive to that goal, at least based off these trailers – trailers which also do nothing to convincingly sell the idea that Cavill is a natural platinum-blonde).

Cavill’s co-stars are a diverse and intriguing cast of characters: Freya Allen as Ciri has a charming, ever-so-slightly hobbit-y look to her; and Anya Chalotra is every inch a sorceress in the role of Yennefer – both characters, whose backstories have only been hinted at before in Witcher novels and video games, will be major players in the Netflix series. And, considering how cool and powerful they seem to be, that’s probably not a bad thing: Yennefer especially seems to have a great deal of dark magic up the sleeves of her impressive fur-coat.

All in all, the series looks good – with a definite focus on delivering a dark blend between horror (sort of: I don’t know about you, but the CGI monster we catch a glimpse of at 0:22 isn’t all that terrifying), nonstop action (with magic!), and political intrigue (okay, I love political intrigue stories, so sign me up for ten hours of palace drama, royal squabbles, and stunningly beautiful costume design).

What are your thoughts on The Witcher trailer? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 7.9/10

“Shadow And Bone” Assembles Its Cast!

I only just recently discovered the Six Of Crows series of novels of Leigh Bardugo; and I’m glad that I did, because reading them has given me the ability to speak with some knowledge on the new casting announcements for the upcoming Netflix series, Shadow And Bone, based on her collected works. The series, which will be faced with the daunting task of condensing or combining elements from her Shadow And Bone and Six Of Crows novels, is shaping up pretty neatly, and has me hopeful that, along with The Witcher and Narnia, Netflix could be developing their own fantasy empire to challenge the likes of HBO and Amazon Prime in the near future.

So who’s been cast? Several of the major characters from Bardugo’s novels are present in the group photo released today by Netflix, with a handful conspicuously absent. Among those gathered we have the master thief and strategist Kaz Brekker, the assassin Inej Ghafa, and the sharpshooter Jesper Fahey, all from Six Of Crows, alongside the powerful Grisha sorceress Alina Starkov, the mysterious “General Kirigan”, and Alina’s best friend Malyen Oretsev, from the Shadow And Bone series.

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The biggest name among the cast is undeniably Ben Barnes (Kirigan), who previously portrayed Prince Caspian in the Chronicles Of Narnia – but that’s not saying much. Freddy Carter (Kaz) is probably going to be one of the show’s leads, but he is a mostly unknown actor, whose previous work includes Wonder Woman. Amita Suman (Inej) is best known for a guest role on the latest season of Dr. Who. Jessie Mei Li (Alina) has some experience in theater, but only a handful of acting roles in film. Kit Young (Jesper) has no acting credits. Archie Renaux (Malyen) will appear in next year’s Morbius, but has no other acting credits. So, with the absence of any real star power, we just have to hope that these six actors have a lot of talent between them.

We have yet to hear casting announcements for the other major characters of Bardugo’s series, including Wylan Van Eck, Matthias Helvar, and Nina Zenik. But this adaptation will clearly be playing around with Bardugo’s established timeline for her books, so it’s possible that those characters may not be introduced until later seasons of the series.

So what do you think? Are you happy with the casting announcements? Are you familiar with any of these actors? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Netflix’s “Umbrella Academy” Adds To Season 2 Cast!

While the second season of Netflix’s gritty superhero drama Umbrella Academy is still at least a year away (at best), the show has begun filming in Toronto, Canada, with the main cast returning to their instantly-iconic roles. But alongside the Hargreeves siblings, there are three new faces to add to the mix.

Netflix has just cast Ritu Arya, Yusuf Gatewood, and Marin Ireland for what appear to be large roles on the show. So let’s break down who they’re playing, and what their inclusion could mean for the series, and the future of the Umbrella Academy.

First of all, are they playing new members of the Academy – a.k.a. any of the thirty-six other supernaturally-gifted children all mysteriously born on October 1st, 1989? Well, it’s most likely that Arya and Gatewood, who are both around the same age range as the other Hargreeves, could be some of those long lost kids.

Additional confirmation of this could come from the character descriptions released by Netflix: Arya’s character, Lila, is an unpredictable “chameleon who can be as brilliant or as clinically insane as the situation requires”. To my mind, that suggests she has the ability to either shape-shift or, more interestingly, drastically change her personality in such a way that she becomes an entirely different person to any but the most discerning eye. Lila also has a macabre sense of humor: this suggests a villain at first, but pretty much everybody in Umbrella Academy has a macabre sense of humor, so it’s not very telling.

As for Gatewood, his character Raymond sounds more than a bit like Emmy Raver-Lampman’s Alison Hargreeves – a “born leader” with the “innate ability to disarm you with a look”. He’s married, and devoted to his spouse, and seems to have a wide social circle who love and adore him. But what does it mean? Is he, like Alison, creating a perfect life for himself by mind-controlling his friends and family? Or is he just a really great guy? That seems way too good to be true on a show like this, where everyone is hiding a secret.

Marin Ireland’s “no-nonsense Texas mom” Sissy doesn’t seem as much like a possible Umbrella Academy child to me, but she sounds interesting: at forty, Ireland will be portraying a “fearless”, free spirited woman who seems to be getting past a stale marriage and moving on to the next chapter of her life with fervor. She probably lives in Texas, and she obviously has kids: other than that, we don’t know too much about her, but she sounds like she could be the moral compass of the next season, like Agnes (and, to some extent, Hazel) were in the first.

All in all, this sounds like a great deal of fun, and the characters each seem to have a lot of depth and layers already: we’ll just have to wait and see whether they turn out to be long lost siblings, time-traveling assassins, or maybe even more donut-shopkeepers.

“The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance” Review!

Right up front, I’m going to express my disappointment that my review of Netflix’s new original series is not quite as glowing as certain others are. Not only do I disagree with Rotten Tomatoes’ 89% Fresh rating, but I don’t understand it. I do notice, though, that the series is not rated Certified Fresh, which is some relief to me, writing this ballad of a sadly underwhelmed audience-member. Audiences across the world seem to be greatly enjoying The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance, but it’s rather hard to figure out whether that excitement comes from hardcore Dark Crystal fans or mainstream Netflix-watchers. I’m going to guess the former, because this show seemed, at least to me, to have very little mainstream appeal. Let’s discuss.

Firstly, puppets. Puppets can be wonderful fun, and, if done right, with charm and humor, they can even be fun to watch onscreen: countless Muppet movies (great Muppet movies, at that) and the huge success of Sesame Street prove that. But unfortunately, charm and humor are two noticeable absences in the Dark Crystal franchise, which is both grim and serious, and incredibly macabre – even nightmarish, but we’ll get to that. Where Jim Henson’s other movies had fun and dance, musical numbers, cameos from human actors and a general atmosphere of carefree recklessness, his original Dark Crystal was an attempt to pivot away from that image. It deserves praise for the fact that it was one of the first big fantasy epics, and its creation was a huge undertaking. However, when it released in 1982, it was not the massive success that Henson had hoped for, receiving a mixed response from both critics and audiences. Those who did fall in love with it, however, never fell out of love, and so the new Netflix prequel has a small, but loyal niche fanbase that it wants to attract. As for me, I have never loved the original movie: I hated it, in fact. The puppets, with their strange, glassy eyes and grotesque rogues gallery of bird-like Skeksis, all living on what was supposed to be a barren alien planet – not my thing.

That’s probably at least partly why this new series just wasn’t for me. The puppets haven’t changed in the decades since the original movie was released. I am not an expert on puppet technology, but as far as I can tell, an effort has been made to use the same sort of techniques as Jim Henson did all those years ago: over-zealous loyalty to a project is not unheard of, and can be understandable, if said project doesn’t really require major changes for modern audiences to enjoy it. Dark Crystal, however, is outdated, and makes no effort to change that: the story is still a huge, intricate mess of mythology, religion, philosophy and fantasy cliches; the puppets are still obviously puppets, and their glassy-eyed stares remain their signature feature.

I intend no disrespect to the series’ puppeteers, who do an excellent job: their work is incredible, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must be. I also have huge respect for the amazing voice cast: many of the actors are quite good in their roles, though there are more than a few who only show up once or twice and have barely any dialogue: Alicia Vikander, Natalie Dormer, Hannah John-Kamen and Mark Strong are some of the latter – of the former, we have Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nathalie Emmanuel, Donna Kimball and Lena Headey to thank, for making this show ever so slightly more entertaining than it would otherwise have been. I’ll spare some praise for Sigourney Weaver, who gets to narrate the opening of the first episode.

As for the characters these hugely-talented actors and actresses are voicing, well…watching their individual stories isn’t always quite as interesting as playing Who’s Who with the voice cast, but there are a few I can think of: Mother Aughra (Donna Kimball), the benevolent but cranky guardian of Thra, is especially fun to watch, and the puppeteers gave her enough quirky little traits, from facial movements to her distinctive style of dancing, that make her seem like an actual character, rather than some of the thin, underdeveloped cardboard cutouts that pass for protagonists in this series. Tavra, Seladon and Brea, the three sundered daughters of the All-Maudra (Helena Bonham-Carter), are also especially interesting, and the way that their stories diverge and reunite is imaginative. But of these, only Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a main character: for the most part, we’re stuck watching Rian (Taron Egerton) either walking from place to place, or stopping to share his memories with literally everybody he meets (after the third or fourth of these long, redundant, dream-sharing encounters, I was ready to turn off the show). Deet the Grotten (Nathalie Emmanuel) is somewhat more interesting, but her story takes a bizarre and unexplained twist in the last few episodes. As for Maudra Fara, she’s actually quite likable, which is somewhat conflicting, considering that she speaks with the villainous voice of Lena Headey, who portrayed the evil Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones.

Talking of villains, it’s time to discuss those which dwell in Thra, and present the main threat to our Gelfling heroes. The Skeksis, repugnant vulture-people from another world, who have subjugated the Gelfling people and enslaved the Crystal of Truth to their will. I want to take a moment to point out that, somehow, the Gelflings, who are shown to have vaguely-human aesthetics and personalities, are completely oblivious to the fact that gigantic, hulking anthropomorphic vultures living in a claw-shaped Gothic castle might be evil. The Skeksis are absolutely revolting and repulsive, with zero redeemable qualities, and no actual personalities to speak of – so why, then, do we spend about fifty percent of the show’s screentime watching them squabble pointlessly, in a boring parody of Game of Thrones‘ layered dynastic rivalry and wars for the throne. There are so many pointless scenes of Skeksis eating, I thought I might lose my mind: if not my appetite. This is a personal preference, but I cannot stand two types of villain: (a) the CGI-construct with no personality who yells “Kill them all!” and dumb stuff like that (Azog from The Hobbit fits the bill), and (b) pompous, swaggering, disgusting buffoons (such as the Master of Lake-town from The Hobbit). The Skeksis combine the worst elements of both of these villain cliches, and take them to the next level. Only The Hunter even came close to being an intimidating antagonist, but his supporting character-status was undeserved and infuriating.

All this is truly saddening, because the Skeksis could have been excellent. If I had been the showrunner, I would have probably changed their appearance, first of all: wouldn’t resplendent peacock-feathers or gaudy, glorious plumage have done the trick of showing Skeksi greed and avarice just as well as bald, wrinkly faces and harsh, raspy evil laughter? This is a prequel, for Thra’s sake – they could have done anything with the Skeksis! The possibilities were endless. There were themes and shades of some of the great fantasy villains at work here, but none ever reached full potential: the Skeksi fear of death and their desperate attempts to evade it, for example, resembled the actions of Tolkien’s Numenoreans, clinging to life at all costs, warring on the earth and the gods in the faint hope of winning immortality.

It’s not the only Tolkien theme glimpsed in Age of Resistance: in the very first episode, while a Skeksi narrates about the inevitability of evil and how the strong will always conquer the weak, we watch a montage which proves otherwise, showing various Gelfling heroes starting out on their individual quests for justice and truth, in a reverse of Sam Gamgee’s “stories that really matter” speech at the end of Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers (which is also on Netflix, now, by the way). The series has very Tolkienesque ecological messaging, and the Gelflings, bound up with the fate of Thra, are nothing if not a hybrid between Tolkien’s hobbits and elves. But sadly, these themes get buried under so many fantasy plot points (magic sword! prophecies! mystic arts!) that it’s hard to find them at first.

All in all, the series is far too long. I flew through the first three episodes, even if they were rather weak, and the fourth through sixth episodes were actually quite good: seven through ten, however, drag the story out far too long. The eventual finale lands with a resounding thud: a more disappointing climax, I could not envision. That might be because the series tries too hard to make you want to go watch Dark Crystal after it’s finished, which is something I do not want to do, and don’t ever want to do again. So many things are left unanswered, and the final showdown between Gelflings and Skeksis is so underwhelming – was it because full-out puppet war is rather hard to manage? Did the budget not allow for it? I don’t know: all I can say for certain is that I was hugely disappointed.

It’s unfortunate. I really wanted to like it. The trailers showed off stunning visual beauty, Gelfling heroics, and epic warfare: unfortunately, in the actual series, these things are few and far between. If you’re a puppet nerd, a hardcore sword-and-sorcery fan, or a Henson completionist, I urge you to watch this series, since you might enjoy it far more than I did. But all that I’m left with is the feeling that I wasted time on this series, when I could have been…oh, I don’t know, watching The Two Towers instead. It’s all the same stuff, but it doesn’t have creepy vulture-puppets.

Series Rating: 5/10

“Falling Inn Love” Movie Review!

Cute and classy, Netflix’s new late-summer love story, Falling Inn Love, is decent enough fare for an end-of-August afternoon, but might not do much to satisfy audiences craving bold new content with unexpected plot twists or subverted expectations. This really is the sort of movie that should be watched on a couch, preferably while wearing pajamas, when there’s nothing else to do. That’s not an insult, just a reference for when and how you should go into this film in order to get the desired effect. It’s sleepy comfort-food for the soul.

The romance at the heart of the film is charming enough, and relies on the Opposites-Attract formula. Gabriela (Christina Milian) is a stressed out architect from San Francisco who’s bored with the corporate hamster-wheel of her busy life: finding no comfort in either yoga sessions or her over-eager boyfriend, she flies out to New Zealand after she wins a charming little bed-and-breakfast inn in a contest. Once there (literally, as soon as she arrives), she runs into Jake (Adam Demos), the town’s most eligible bachelor/contractor, who decides to help her renovate and remodel the place. That’s basically it. Both stars are likable, but Milian more so: perhaps because Demos’ charming Kiwi handyman takes on the Moody Brooding Leading Man™ persona about halfway through, which then leads to some severe misuse of the Misunderstanding™ trope, followed by some of that good old “I Can’t Fall In Love Because [Insert Past Tragedy]”™ cliche. I won’t spoil too much, but the story basically devolves into a series of well-worn story beats a little more than halfway through.

As for the scenic backdrop of New Zealand and its culture, which wows Gabriela, well…it’s barely ever seen. In a small-budget film like this, that’s not really surprising, but it does make one wonder why the script focuses so heavily on Gabriela’s constant surprise at the Kiwi way of life, when almost everything we see in the rural locale of Beechwood can be found in any American town. I say almost because there are a few Maori phrases in the cast’s vocabulary, as well as a few Maori extras and supporting characters. But really, this film could be set anywhere and it wouldn’t make much difference.

So, if you don’t plan on going anywhere for an hour and a half, why not relax on the sofa, grab some snacks, and give Falling Inn Love a chance? It’s cute, it’ll pass the time, and it doesn’t require too much thought. But in a world where rom-coms are becoming increasingly more thought-provoking (looking at you, Last Christmas), it just might not be enough.

Movie Rating: 6/10

“Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance” Final Trailer!

The Darkening is upon us in the final trailer for Netflix’s Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance, the prequel series to Jim Henson’s cult-classic Dark Crystal. Personally, I never knew we needed a prequel to that film. But then again, I also never knew I would actually be interested in that prequel.

This series looks…good. It still looks kind of terrifying and weird, because it still relies on puppets – and these aren’t the types of puppets you see on Sesame Street: they’re slightly more realistic, in a weird, distorted sort of way, and some of them are huge lurking vulture-creatures called Skeksis, who want to control the magical world of Thra. None of them are particularly adorable or endearing, which could end up being a turn-off for some people. I’m trying not to get freaked out by them, though, because the story looks insanely epic. There’s amazing visuals, an incredible voice-cast, and a compelling message of hope, inspiration, and courage. At least, I think the message is one of hope – I can’t really remember anything from Dark Crystal except that there were lots of vulture Skeksis, so I’m going to assume that the resistance in Age Of Resistance possibly doesn’t eradicate them entirely? Honestly, I don’t know, so I’ll be going into this series pretty much blind. And yes, I will be watching it, no matter how frightening it is.

I was already sold when Lena Headey joined the cast, but this trailer has done a lot to cement my hopes for the show: this trailer is everything I needed it to be – the stakes are high, the thrills are intense, the range of emotion coming from these puppets is disturbing. I feel invested in the arcs of our protagonists, Deet, Rian and Brea…even  if I don’t know which is which yet. Maybe it’s the stirring music, or the beautiful narration about the fragility of hope, which “catches the light, splitting the darkness, revealing your destiny”. Maybe it’s just because I still feel shell-shocked and I’m not even realizing that I’m seriously considering watching an entire series about creepy puppet-people.

While I sort out my emotional trauma, I’ll pose the question to you: are you planning to watch Age Of Resistance when it debuts on August 30th? Are you scared of the Gelflings and the Skeksis? Are you totally comfortable with the idea of watching scary Muppets fight to the death for the freedom of their alien world, and if so, do you think you should seek help?

Trailer Rating: 8/10