Netflix Film Review “Time Trap” (2017)

A group of adolescent friends go on a jaunt to a hidden cave in the woods in order to find their missing teacher. It’s an accident waiting to happen, something the characters themselves point out several times. And yes, they inevitably do end up getting lost in the cave network themselves. But this Goonies gone awry quickly becomes The Descent-with-teens; what they find down in the dark is beyond any of their imaginations and will change their lives forever in ways they couldn’t conceive.

Time Trap is basically a B-movie which was shot on a limited budget of $1,000,000, a paltry amount — especially for a Sci-Fi flick. Yes, this is a sci-fi movie. However, the special effects weren’t bad at all, and the make-up was impressive, too. The acting wasn’t amazing. But despite being a bit teen movie, it worked.

The film felt like an over-extended episode, perhaps the pilot, of a 1990s Sci-Fi show. Which is both good and bad. Action, drama, thrills, but a total reset by the end of the episode. Which was a bit of a let-down.

Despite a lack of budget and a ’90s TV vibe, it was an absolute mind-bending pleasure. It dealt with huge themes, which totally shocked me. As pretentious as it sounds, I was reminded of Olaf Stapledon’s magisterial 1930 novel Last and First Men, an aeons-spanning epic like no other which inspired many, including the great Arthur C. Clarke. That really does sum up the themes hit upon in this movie. Awesome stuff. However, the film starts out with no hint of such a direction. It begins as a kind of teen adventure movie in the mould of the Goonies (which was meta-ly referenced by the characters themselves), but transforms into a truly terrifying science fiction horror. This tonal shift worked quite well; much better, in fact, than the campy tonal shift back to adventure comedy at the very end. This ending, a happy ending of sorts, felt like it thoroughly undermined the true mind-melting horror of what happened in the caves. Hence the “90s Sci-Fi show” vibe.

B movie, yes, but a true delight.

3/5

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Netflix Film Review “Calibre” (2018) #150WordReview

Two 30-ish year old childhood friends, Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and Marcus (Martin McCann), meet up for the first time in a few years for a weekend away in Scotland to celebrate Vaughn’s impending fatherhood; a kind of paternity stag do. Ironically, to hunt stags — all at Marcus’ expense. But when an incident happens, their trip is turned into a nightmare that which will change their lives forever.

There’s an awful sense of inevitability from the very start of the film, even before the truly shocking and gut-wrenching inciting incident. We know something awful is going to go down. The film gripped me with a suspense I haven’t felt for a while.

The cinematography was beautiful and the countryside oozes Britishness and is both beautiful and haunting.

A true gem. Watch it.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Bird Box” (2018)

read the 150 word review here

Bird Box is a The Happening (2008) and A Quiet Place (2018) mash-up where an evil presence blown on the wind is causing people to kill themselves (or, in the rare case, become homicidal maniacs).

Five years after an unseen and malevolent presence caused the majority of the world’s people to mysteriously commit suicide or else turn into blood-thirsty maniacs, mother Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is desperately trying to navigate a safe path through this post-apocalyptic landscape to a fabled safe haven for her two young children. The evil force manifests itself as a shimmer and a rustling breeze which seems to instantly infect people who gaze towards it. Therefore, the only way to avoid being infected is to stay indoors, or only go outside with your eyes covered at all times.

We join the story with Sandra Bullock rowing her children up a certain creek, and it might as well be without a paddle as they’re all blindfolded, to a fabled haven. The film is two narratives at the same time, cutting between her river-based journey and recanting the tale of how she got to be on this perilous solo mission cut

For years I wondered to myself how M. Knight Shyamalan could have got it so woefully wrong with his The Happening, based as it is on the absurd concept that nature is out to get revenge on mankind by infecting us with suicide blown on the breeze(!), but Bird Box‘s set-up and premise is what The Happening could potentially have been. We don’t know the source of this evil presence, nor are the details made clear. Why do some people merely become homicidal lunatics whereas the majority immediately kill themselves? Why can the evil force not enter into buildings? But these questions do not matter as the technicalities of this blight are not the focus of the story; rather, the human drama is. And the film excels. Man versus himself, man versus man, man versus time, all three classic dramas are well-played to maximum tension.

At times, The Road-style post-apocalyptic road trip (well, river trip), at times an alternative reality good version of The Happening, at times “the enemy within” dramatic plot thread of 28 Days Later, this film delivers a tense and thrilling horror ride. The cast are all wonderful in their roles. However, this film surely deserves an award for the most bizarrely random cast of all time: Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, rapper Machine Gun Kelly (or should I say, ex-rapper, RIP, after Eminem (metaphorically) killed him in their 2018 diss battle), British comic actor from The Thick Of It Tom Hollander, jovial comedian Lil Rel Howery, and Bend It Like Beckham‘s Parminder Nagra. But despite this motley collection of all sorts, the casting never jarred: there was no Ed-Sheeran-in-Game-Of-Thrones-WTF moment. I was particularly impressed with Machine Gun Kelly’s supporting turn.

Scary, emotionally terrifying, thrilling, the blight feels real even though the full details are never spelt out. A wonderful movie, what M. Knight’s The Happening could have been.

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Bird Box” (2018) #150WordReview

read the long review here

Take 2008’s The Happening and 2018’s A Quiet Place, pop them in a blender with a pinch of Oscar (Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich) and a dash of randomness (British comic actor Tom Hollander, rapper Machine Gun Kelly, Bend It Like Beckham‘s Parminder Nagra), and voilà! An evil presence blown on the wind is causing people to kill themselves or each other (The Happening) when they look towards it (swapping A Quiet Place‘s sound for sight).

We follow Bullock as she paddles her two young children up a certain creek to an alleged haven. The film interweaves with the tale of how she came to be on this river.

Bird Box is a human drama of survival against odds.

Scary, emotionally terrifying, and thrilling, the blight feels real even though the full details are never spelt out. A wonderful movie, what M. Knight’s The Happening could have been.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard S1E10 “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

Star Trek: Picard‘s season one finale, “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2”, sees our heroes hatch a daring plot to prevent the destruction of all biological life at the hands of an advanced god-like artificial lifeform whilst also preventing the destruction of the android planet whose denizens are the ones summoning the aforesaid god-like synths. Classic Trek quandry!

“Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2” had a lot of action, fight scenes, starship battles, enemies temporarily allying, faces from the past, moral dilemmas, betrayal, a defence of the Federation’s sacred principles, and a whole lot more beside. Unlike some other episodes, such as episode one, this installment was packed with action and certainly had me engaged from beginning to end. On paper, it was an amazing season-ender. Unfortunately, the entire season’s main storyline was neatly resolved. A little too neatly. Boxes were ticked, and the whole season’s payoff felt flat and without effort. Everything was too easy in the end. For example, despite being a huge, long-time Trek fan, I just did not feel any emotion at the death of a key character which the show’s producers clearly felt was the “emotional” showpiece of this episode. It lacked weight because we already knew that this person wasn’t going to really be dead after all. Everything was too easy.

Forget logic, let’s just resolve away! Huge and absurd plotholes, such as the magical deus ex machina energy-to-matter device. Made no sense whatsoever and was used merely to set us up for an episode which just concluded everything — because it just had to!

The complexity of this season deserved a more complex and subtle set of resolutions. Furthermore, everything was wrapped up. Not even the hint of a cliff-hanger. I cannot imagine how Season Two will carry on the storyline, as there isn’t much of anything left to resolve or carry on. This gives the effect that season one was merely an extended single episode and that the universe is going to effectively reboot with season two. Instead of having an ongoing show arc, are we going to have merely one season arcs? Have the producers figured out a way to stretch the classic Trek double episode into a season-long fare? Will we end up with ten seasons, each compromised wholly of one over-extended and massively fleshed out single episode?

The weirdest thing about the episode is something whose full significance only hit me later when mentally sifting through this episode: the characters in the show have basically discovered a way for people to become immortal. The greatest discovery ever. Yet the significance of this seems to be not recognised by anyone. Truly baffling stuff.

All in all, “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2” was one of the more action-packed episodes, but it was also one of the weakest. Indeed, I think was bested in the weakness states only by Episode One which was an incomplete episode by necessity (as it sets everything up). All’s well that ends well. Sadly, although this season finale wasn’t bad, it was weaker than the show merited.

A frustrating and disappointing, albeit not bad, end to what has been a frustrating, if promising and exciting, first season. Not the final episode the season deserved.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard S1E9 “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 1” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

I hate plot spoilers. I try my best to avoid them. Unfortunately, when reviewing episodes of a series, it’s almost inevitable that you give certain things away. Even the very act of no longer mentioning a character in itself tells you something. This is unavoidable and acceptable plot spoilage. But what is not acceptable is to smack a massive plot spoiler in the credits sequence. Episode 9, “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 1”, plants a massive spoiler flag in the opening credits by declaring “special guest star: so-and-so”. So now we know that that actor is in it and, of course, we know what character they play in the Star Trek universe, so… surprise ruined! Can you not have the cast list at the end of the episode, please?

Leaving meta-considerations aside, this was a disturbing episode which thoroughly upsets our moral compass. We finally arrive on Sojo’s homeworld, our crew making landfall in a less than conventional manner. We arrive as aliens ourselves on a brightly-coloured world with an almost Star Trek: The Original Series vibe about it. It’s full of life yet slightly off-kilter, a realistic and disturbing portrayal of some kind of reverse Eden: I was left unnerved and frightened by what appears to be coming up. Many new important characters are introduced, and it really feels as though the final episode will totally shatter the world we’ve come to know. The stakes have never felt higher.

Picard says in this ep that “it seems these days that all we do is say goodbye” and this episode indeed features two goodbyes. Sadly, they were robbed of some of their emotional value due to, once again, trying to cram everything into one episode. For the umpteenth time, the Game of Thrones Season 8 model doesn’t work; someone let the writers know.

“Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1” was stronger and felt more complete than last week’s showing, and we are being propelled towards what promises to be a truly terrific finale. We are made to face the sickening possibility that we, and our heroes, might be on the wrong side of this battle. Consequently, the sadism and fanaticism on the part of the show’s supposed baddies, the Romulans, is beginning to feel less and less consequential next to the threat that the androids are convincingly portrayed as having the potential to pose. However, the rush to the end robbed many moments of a sufficient sense of gravity. None-the-less, this episode did just enough to nudge a four star review.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard S1E8 “Broken Pieces” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

Episode 8, “Broken Pieces”, thrillingly sets up the season finale two-parter. We are told a lot about a secret Romulan sect and why they are so hell-bent on destroying the androids. And the previously alluded to plot within the Federation dramatically shows up again. We are also tantalised by the prospect of visiting Soji’s homeworld, a prospect set-up in episode 7.

Our fellowship is crumbling before our eyes because our mole aboard La Sirena has been found out. But the most compelling aspect of this episode is that we are reminded that the baddies of the show, those fighting against our heroes, themselves do have very legitimate reasons for what they believe in — they don’t want to see the destruction of all life by synthetics, which is portrayed as a frighteningly realistic possibility. The viewer is suddenly, horribly aware that the heroes and synths we have been rooting for might well be on the wrong side. If only our baddies didn’t seem quite so sadistic, we would want to side with them. To facilitate this end, we see a weak, vulnerable side to Hot Sexy Space Elf, A.K.A., Narissa (Peyton List).

To save us from all this crushing bleakness, comedy relief was much appreciated. This week’s turn at playing the joker was Rios (Santiago Cabrera): all the different holograms who “man” ship look like Rios but all have different personalities, and accents. Honestly, goofy but funny.

Demons of the past rear their heads. Rios struggles with the traumatic moment that led to his leaving Starfleet, and Seven of Nine resists the seductive power of the one true ring, that is, the chance to be a Borg queen. Sadly, whilst Rios’ story convinced, enhanced by a powerful pep talk from Picard, Seven’s was played out with insufficient real peril and thus was robbed of any weight it should have had. Picard has returned to form: rushing the conclusion to plot threads and leaving us with no real emotional pay-off.

After the previous three excellent episodes, this felt like a return to inconsequentialism and exposition. However, it zips along so fast, and we’re so involved in the characters and central storyline, that we almost don’t care. This was tightly written, which is meant both as a compliment and as a criticism; “Broken Pieces” felt like a means to an end rather than also being an end in itself, like the second film in a trilogy. And thus, despite its strengths, it was notably weaker than our more recent outings.

Much intrigue and some fascinating plot developments, but in the rush to the season finale, “Broken Pieces” incompletely tells a story of its own, this episode serving more to structurally set up the series ender. Only juicy action is left to paper over the cracks in the incomplete and fragmented plotting.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Look Away” (2018)

Maria (India Eisley) is a quirky and lonely teenager, bullied and suffering a barely-fleshed out eating disorder, her only friend is merely using Maria as a personal side-kick and as a kind of depressive foil to make herself look good. A depressed mother (Mira Sorvino) and a philandering plastic surgeon father (Jason Isaacs) make home life equally unbearable. But everything changes when Maria looks in the mirror to see that her reflection is alive. The reflection is called Airam (because, ya know — I mean, work it out for yourself!) and claims to have Maria’s best interests at heart. But does she/it really? Things take a turn for the dark when they swap places.

There’s no real tension regarding who or what the reflection is, the very first shot of the movie spells it out: Airam is Maria’s twin sister who died at birth. There also isn’t any real tension to the way Airam gets justice for Maria. Justice would be served, and I would just go, “Oh, okay, so that’s happened, I guess.” There felt like minimal pay-off. There could have been a slow build-up to key scenes of “justice”, there could have been a creepier tension built between Maria and Airam. Jason Isaacs does steal the movie, however, with his off-kilter and complex portrayal. The film missed another pay-off with certain revelations regarding Airam’s true fate/identity; this twist was shocking, but I was more shocked at how poorly the film played this strong card. There’s an awkward aggressively sexual scene between Maria and her Dad, but this, too, felt like it could have gone in a more interesting direction.

This was an entertaining film, but it kept me wondering why they didn’t explore the concept more. What happens to Maria when she’s in the mirror? Is there a whole other dark world in there, like ours but the opposite? Or is it happy and light, making her not want to come back while Airam is unhappy in Maria’s world? Why wasn’t justice performed more ironically; for example, why was Maria’s school tormenter not, despite having a secret crush on her, punished in a way fitting his relationship with Maria? He just gets kyboshed. And why isn’t Maria made to be more likable? Self-deprecating sense of humour, perhaps. An interesting hobby, maybe. She’s just pathetic and characterless.

Nice idea, some good acting, an entertaining albeit mindless way to spend 103 minutes, but devoid of tension. A Horror-thriller without much of either. The ending also felt incomplete. This film is a wasted opportunity.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Surrounded” a.k.a. “Frenzy” (2018)

A group of young friends run a travel vlog, but on their next trip, their plane crashes into the ocean; the survivors find themselves adrift in the ocean and Surrounded by a pack of great white sharks who are in a feeding Frenzy.

A film so good they named it twice? No. This film is truly awful. I was spellbound by its awfulness; like watching a car crash in slow motion, I wanted to scream out but was frozen by the sheer horror.

The CGI is beyond ropey; I have seen more impressive special effects on free iPhone apps. Quite literally.

The plot is beyond ridiculous. Nothing at all makes any sense. Why does a fragile raft protect them from sharks but a sturdy boat doesn’t? Why do people jump head first at the sharks and try to take them on with a small knife? How could they lasso a rock on an island and pull it off to crush a shark? Why do the sharks act less like sharks and more like slasher movie baddies? And why do the sharks… growl?(!!) I could go on and on.

The acting is embarrassing; I’ve seen far better in GCSE drama. Really, I’m not overdoing this; the worst actors I’ve ever seen in GCSE drama were more accomplished thesps. Unbelievable reactions to everything. Not a thing was good.

Editing is a mess. Things appearing and disappearing. Sharks becoming further away for no reason at all.

There is no tension or sense of horror, and the island and the deep blue itself seem very fake.

I cannot understand why they bothered to make this film. It is so clearly without any value. I’ve seen better things by YouTubers. It doesn’t even work if watched as a spoof. This is one of those rare films that really has nothing to recommend it, nothing at all, not even the “so bad it’s good” factor. Even for a TV movie, this is dire stuff. It’s actually hard for a film to be quite this worthless.

The only good point of this film is that if you are a budding actor/writer/director/producer who’s having an existential crisis and moment of self-doubt, you can look at this and be like, “I mean, that got made, so I at least stand a chance, right?”

Abominable.

1/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8805150/mediaviewer/rm2363059456

 

Netflix Film Review “In The Tall Grass” (2019) @Netflix #Horror

In the Tall Grass is based on the novella co-written by one-man-novella-industry Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. It’s a high concept mystery-horror-thriller that seems like it would have made a cracking little episode of The Twilight Zone.

We meet a dilapidated and forsaken church, as much a character in this story as any of the humans, whose carpark is a de facto layby for weary travellers. This is the only thing for miles around apart from motorway and countless acres of thick, tall, grass. When heavily pregnant Becky (Laysla de Oliveira) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted) stop to rest, they hear a small lost boy (Tobin, Will Buie Junior) stuck within the thick growth pleading with them to help him get out. So far so simple. But when they enter the tall grass, they find themselves trapped in a nightmarish and constantly-changing maze where the very grass seems alive with an evil presence which is determined to keep them captive.

Such a high concept could backfire (see M. Knight Shyamalan’s The Happening). But In the Tall Grass initially worked quite well, particularly since it seemed like we were watching the marvellous Triangle (2009) but rebooted on a farm instead of the open sea. A silent, evil presence at the centre of the shifting grass maze had serious shades of King’s own The Tommyknockers and was quite convincing.

Unfortunately, what wasn’t convincing was some of the acting, particularly that of the usually great Patrick Wilson. Wilson hams it, chewing up the scenes like a demented Ash from Evil Dead III. Unfortunately, that acting did not sit tonally at all well with the rest of the film. As my wife put it when Wilson cracks open the can-o’-ham, “This is just silly now”. She left the room.

From this point onwards, the film really struggles with its own lack of source material, although this needn’t have been a problem: King’s own novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption proves that a novella can be weighty enough for a magnificent film treatment. Sadly, this novella just didn’t have enough to it. The whole venture descends into a shlocky slasher movie. There is some surreal and disturbing body horror, however, which was gruesome and great!

The film does manage to just about pull itself together for the conclusion which is satisfying. And, Wilson and Whitted aside, the acting is compelling and convincing. But the whole thing just about careens off the tracks as it finishes. It would have benefited greatly from curtailing its length from 101 minutes to an old school 90, maximum; 81 would have done fine. Even if Wilson hadn’t channelled Army of Darkness, there’s no escaping that this film was a Twilight Zone episode spread too thin. A very uneven, albeit enjoyable, result.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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