Category Archives: 3/5

Star Trek: Picard S1E3 “The End Is The Beginning” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

Star Trek: Picard Episode 3, “The End Is The Beginning”, ups the stakes with a Romulan prophecy, plenty of juicy action sequences, and the forming of a kind of Fellowship of the Ring led by our Frodo-cum-Gandalf lead, Jean Luc.

In general, we warm to our motley collection of newly assembled ring-bearers. However, there were some slightly forced moments, such as Raffi (Picard’s former first officer) constantly calling Picard “JL”; we got the point that they’re close the first fifteen times she cracks out this cutesy name. It seems we’re often supposed to care about the characters for no good reasons other than such quirks and hints at history; sometimes it works, sometimes not.

The introduction of Cristóbal Rios, a cynical old space dog who’s swallowed a fermented case of sour grapes, is a great moment. I’ve been waiting for a big character to emerge in this show, and it might be him. Plus, his ship has an EMH (Emergency Medical Hologram) and an ENH (Emergency Navigation Hologram) who are both, despite being identical in appearance to our Cris, completely different and hint at being great characters in themselves, recalling one of the few high points of Star Trek: Voyager: Robert Picardo’s great portrayal of the EMH.

A disturbing scene with an ex-Borg Romulan provides much suspense and tension going into the next episode. We really get the sense that things are now set up nicely and are about to kick off in episode 4.

“The End Is The Beginning” was solid, just like episodes one and two, and it was incrementally better than episode two, which itself was incrementally better than episode one. But despite much intrigue, Star Trek: Picard has yet to really explode. But the future looks bright; the fuse appears lit, the explosion imminent. I would like to give it three-and-a-half stars, but half-stars are for fence-sitting, “not sure” fudgists.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

FILM REVIEW: 12 Years A Slave

note: review originally published 2014

12 Years a Slave is the third film from young British director Steve McQueen. Adapted from the diaries of Solomon Northup, the film is set before the American Civil War and tells the true story of a free black man from the northern United States who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south, subsequently spending 12 years trying to get back to his family.

There’s a big buzz around 12 Years a Slave. It seems to be this year’s in vogue film, dealing as it does with controversial subject material (blacks, slaves, impregnated black slaves). But let me tell you a secret, dear reader, something nobody dares speak, that nobody even dares think: the film, err, isn’t that great.

So it’s bad, then? Not at all. It’s actually fairly solid. But the glowing praise and universal acclaim that it’s garnered, along with the multiple Oscars that it will land**, have simply not been earned. Sadly, this film is exactly the kind that the lovies and wannabe intellectual journalist-types adore. Nobody wants to say the Emperor has no clothes because they’re scared it might make them look insensitive or, worse, uncultured(!) Gulp. But the film just doesn’t work. And how I desperately wanted it to work, how I crave to say this blew my mind.

So what is wrong with it?

It all comes down to one thing: you just don’t care what happens to Solomon. He’s clearly a good man, but his struggles and the eventual conclusion of the film leave you feeling rather cold. Crescendo, big moment, obstacle overcome at last, tears on screen – and yet I was left unmoved. Time after time. I thought: Am I bad? Have I become desensitised? Do I not care enough because he’s not white? Am I secretly heartless and/or a racist? Some of my best friends are… I looked around the cinema to see if someone, anyone was crying. But thankfully, my white middle-class liberal angst was for nothing, because nobody in the cinema cared either. All I could see in the half-light were puzzled faces looking around as if to say, “Oh, okay…?”. It’s not that the film’s bad – it’s not. It’s more that we simply don’t give a monkeys what happens to Solomon. He’s a good, upstanding man, sure, no real evil in him. He doesn’t deserve his plight. And he doesn’t do a single bad thing in the whole film. But then again, he doesn’t do a single good thing either. Indeed, he doesn’t do a single thing at all.

The film can be summarised thus: Solomon gets kidnapped, sold into slavery, keeps his head down and does a whole lot of nothing for two hours, Fin. Sad fact though it may be, a heart-rending true story does not a heart-rending drama make. Drama isn’t life, and we the audience need more reasons to emotionally invest in the guy and his journey other than, “he’s a normal bloke who gets kidnapped”. What kindness does he show his fellow slaves? What friendships does he make along the way? And, if you can forgive me a wanky film critic moment, how is the drama of the piece advanced in any way whatsoever by his actions be they instigating or reactive? Answer: it isn’t.

True story or not, the screenwriter and director needed to give us a reason to cheer for Solomon even if that means not being “true” to what really happened. The film presents Solomon with many opportunities to show his kindness, to forge relationships with others that we can really emotionally invest in, and yet he doesn’t. And no amount of understated performances, subtle plays on the material, or beautiful cinematography can disguise the fact that the central narrative of this film violates one of the fundamental rules of drama uncovered as long ago as by Aristotle: things shouldn’t just happen to the characters, but it should be through the characters’ actions that drama unfolds. Unfortunately, in 12 Years a Slave, stuff just happens to Solomon, and he just doesn’t do anything about any of it except occasionally to serve his own ends (and even then, in the most undramatic and inept fashion). The effect is we sit through two hours and thirteen minutes, and we just don’t care. A commanding performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor is nowhere near good enough to rescue the material.

But it’s not all bad. Indeed, and here’s the real tragedy: it’s most fairly good.

The film features relative unknowns in the lead roles, but also some heavy hitting A-listers in support: Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, and Benedict Omnibatch (I mean Cumberbatch: sorry, didn’t you know? New Hollywood rules state that a film is not allowed to go ahead unless Benedict Cumberbatch is cast… in any role… somewhere).

Fassbender in particular is mesmerising as slaver Edwin Epps. He’s a borderline alcoholic with conflicted emotions about his slaves. Yeah, they’re his property, but he doesn’t delight in brutalising them. He seems more a victim of his alcoholism and his henpecking wife (played well by Sarah Paulson, despite a lack of material to work with). And slave girl Patsey is richly portrayed by newcomer Lupita Nyong’O. The film is worth watching for her performance alone. Yet Brad Pitt’s cameo was slightly jarring: I couldn’t stop thinking, “Look! It’s Brad Pitt doing a Brad Pitt!”

Much to the film’s credit, it also does not slide into the predictable tropes of the slave genre. No, the slavers are not all evil; no, the blacks do not all form loving bonds with each other and sing Kumbaya round a campfire; no, the pretty black slave girl does not get knocked up by the white slave master. And for this, the film is to be commended; it gives us a fresh take on a familiar story. It shows the shades of grey that the situation engendered whilst still leaving us in no doubt as to the brutality and unspeakable wrongness of slavery. And yet it also doesn’t show caricature slavers joyfully lashing slaves for the yeehaw of it, nor does it go for sensationalism.

The direction was gripping. A reveal of one character’s whip wounds early on produced a collective gasp from the screening room. And there’s one particular shot in the field where the camera is locked on the scene for what seems an age without moving: the effect is disturbing and brings home the evil of slavery better than a thousand lashes ever could.

In short: I desperately wanted to say “best film since Schindler’s List”. But this “one of the best films ever” [Telegraph] isn’t fit to tie the emotional and dramatic boots of Toy Story 3, and was, sadly, much, much less than the sum of its mostly majestic parts.

**The film did indeed go on to win three Academy Awards.

3/5

review originally published in 2014
featured image from http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1329181/images/o-12-YEARS-A-SLAVE-REVIEWS-facebook.jpg

© 2014-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

Star Trek: Picard S1E2 “Maps and Legends” Review #100WordReview @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

A Romulan plot appears to be afoot within the Federation which, if confirmed, would constitute an act of war. Duty and principle compel Jean-Luc Picard to tackle it head-on — with or without the support of the Federation. Episode two, “Maps and Legends”, is compelling and involves much more show and far less tell than episode one, although it does kick off with a long Dan Brown-style expository scene. Such moments are missed opportunities to build suspense. None-the-less, “Maps and “Legends” was riveting.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9420276/mediaviewer/rm2076017665

Star Trek: Picard S1E1 “Remembrance” Review #150WordReview @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

It’s been twenty years since Jean-Luc Picard retired from active duty. Haunted by dreams of his friend Data, who gave his life to safe Picard’s 20 years before, and the destruction of the planet Romulus, Jean-Luc has retired to the sanctuary of his idyllic vineyard to ponder the past. But his attempts at a peaceful existence are disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious guest.

There are a couple of very nice action sequences, and a lot of Patrick Stewart sitting around staring into space and smiling like an avuncular but semi-senile philosopher. And an old foe is hinted at. But nothing much happens. Episode One, “Remembrance”, felt like the first 15 minutes stretched to fill 46.

Is this your typical Trek? No. Does “Remembrance” hint at great things to come? Yes. Did it seem slightly pointless. Also, yes. A solid and entertaining, albeit uninspiring, opener.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9381924/mediaviewer/rm1820753921

Netflix Film Review: No Good Deed (2014) @Netflix @thefilmreview @KermodeMovie @idriselba

check out my film review and Netflix blog at https://filmmovietvblog.wordpress.com

Idris Elba is Colin, a charismatic and violent sociopathic criminal on the lam and winner of the Most Unbefitting Name Ever Award. Whilst making his escape, he totals his car into a tree and legs it through the forest. The first house he stumbles upon is that of all-alone Terri (Taraji P. Henson) who is just putting her young kids down for the night. This charming stranger works his charisma, asks for help after his “accident”, and talks his way from the porch into the living room. Soon Terri is putty in his hands. But as they say, No Good Deed goes unpunished.

No Good Deed is a fairly standard crime thriller, but I mean that in the best way. It is gripping, entertaining, keeps us on the edge of our seats, but doesn’t really show us anything we haven’t seen before. Great performances from the small cast really sell this film and keep you engaged to the end.

There is one stand-out moment, however, an unexpected plot twist that made me choke on my coke and splutter, “Ohmigod, whuh!?”. The twist is really neat. But it isn’t so much clever, as the rest of the film is so run-of-the-mill, that you kind of don’t expect the twist at all. The twist is particularly effective as it isn’t done merely for the sake of it, as so often is the case, but actually has a punch which makes sense and gives an underlying logic which holds the picture together. I’ll stop there before I plot spoil.

All in all, a standard but very well-made and well-acted crime thriller which is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend 84 minutes.

3/5

review originally published 14 September 2018

© 2018-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

Film RE-view: Crash (2004) [SPOILERS!!!]

This RE-view has spoilers

WHY RE-VIEW?

Crash is about racism in America today and the different forms and faces it takes. Institutional, white-on-black, black-on-white, conscious, unconscious bias, rich, poor, and all between: the film was awarded three Oscars for its in-your-face message. It confronted racial tensions in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Various story strands are interwoven in what I can only call a Love Actually ensemble stylee — although the film seems to think itself more Pulp Fiction. Yes, a whiff of self-satisfaction, self-righteousness, and self-congratulation emanate from this flick. And that’s why I gave it 2/5 when it came out. But a friend kept begging me to give it a second look. So finally I did.

THE GOOD

It’s true, there are some great moments. The sweet story of the protective cloak that a father tells his daughter stands out as genuinely touching and believable. The film is well directed and the plot well structured. You can’t fault writer-director Paul Haggis for his mastery over the craft. And despite the large cast, there is good character development, and the film is well paced and zips along nicely. Despite this, some characters are completely extraneous and should have been cut. Particularly, the roles played by Sandra Bullock and her on-screen husband.

THE BAD

The film is also very funny in places. Although I strongly suspect that was unintentional. Either way, it’s certainly odd. The two African American car-jackers provide much of this unintentional comic relief. They drive around procrastinating on race and racism, like a crap Travolta-Jackson Pulp Fiction rip-off duo, whilst their actions confirm the negative stereotypes that they rail against.

This is the worst thing is that nobody reacts normally. Everybody is ready to fly off the handle over the slightest thing. It’s this constant hysteria that jarred so badly thirteen years ago and jars so badly now. And in these sobre days, where 9/11 is now history, we can see this film for what it is. Over-the-top characters and cartoonish racism are par for the course. Everyone constantly make shouty outbursts laced with racial slurs that seem shoe-horned in and never genuine. Example: “So tell me, who gathered these remarkably different cultures together and taught them all to park their cars on their lawns” says a black man whilst hanging out of the back of a Hispanic woman…. Another example: a moronic, obnoxious Iranian shopkeeper — driven to rudeness by post-9/11 hysteria and racism, we are meant to think — does not do what his locksmith told him to, consequently gets robbed, and then does what anyone would: get a gun and go shoot a child… I mean, seriously, we never see him get pushed to that breaking point. By opting for pure melodrama at every turn, the message that racism comes in many forms, not just the obvious KKK lynch ’em kind, is completely undermined.

IN CONCLUSION: OVER-HYPED

I still think the hype and the three Oscars were overboard. Right after watching this again, Midnight Express came on the telly. So I watched that — also, for the first time in ten years or so. Wow, that is what a multiple Oscar winner is all about (despite an equally dubious portrayal of race), not this melodramatic, unrealistic portrayal of racism designed to exorcise middle class white America’s racial and 9/11 demons. Crash was the kind of film America needed in 2004, but that doesn’t mean it lived up to the hype. Crash‘s ideology and surreal histrionic racism are just as jarring as ever. But I have a renewed appreciation for the craft of this film and the moments when it is believable. For that, it earns an improved mark: 3/5.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://image.tmdb.org/t/p/original/x0zz5XjT9FkZqoktcb7zGdbx8la.jpg

Film Review: Cabin Fever (2016) @thefilmreview @KermodeMovie

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Ah, the great tradition of the horror film remake: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, 2003), The Last House on the Left (1972, 2009), Carrie (1976, 2013), Poltergeist (1982, 2015) and now… Cabin Fever. When I first heard they’d be rebooting the thirteen year old Eli Roth flick, I thought it was an actual joke. The 2002 original was hardly a classic, and surely thirteen years was just too soon. At least with those dodgy English language remakes (Ring, Let Me In), there’s some vaguely-justifiable kind of point: more familiar actors, setting, language. Cabin Fever version 2016 might just be the most pointless remake ever.

I was at least hoping writer Randy Pearlstein would take Eli Roth’s concept in a completely different direction, give it a different spin: do a number like the Scissor Sisters did to Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb. But instead they’ve done a Madonna American Pie.

It really is the same film. A bunch of young adults go to a cabin in the woods but they all start getting mysteriously ill with a flesh-eating sickness: hence the punny title, Cabin Fever. The same horror shocks as the original (the razor scene, anybody?), the same OTT humour (violent hillbilly locals). But at least the lead characters in the Travis Zariwny directed reboot are not annoying. In fact, they’re quite believable — by horror movie standards, at least. I mean, one character does try to get help by peering in the window at a love-making couple, and promptly gets chased away for being a pervert, instead of just, y’know, knocking on the door. The slightly (like 10%) heightened realism affects the humour, too: the jokes just aren’t quite as zany and funny as the original (for example, there’s no sign of everyone’s favourite line “shootin’ niggas”).

All in all, I thought 2002 Cabin Fever was entertaining if pretty poor. I gave it two stars. 2016 Cabin Fever is still pretty funny, though not quite as much, and it’s still pretty horror-ish, yet slightly more believable. Good fun. A slight improvement over the original. But seriously: no more remakes of decade old non-classics, please. What next? A remake of Osunsanmi’s 2009 The Fourth Kind? Another Hitcher Reboot?

3/5

© 2016-2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

review originally appeared on my other blog here: https://doggerelizer.com/2016/02/19/film-review-cabin-fever-2016-thefilmreview-kermodemovie/

featured image from http://www.tribute.ca/images/videos/cabin-fever-trailer-14806-large.jpg

Netflix Film Review: Victoria #100WordReview @thefilmreview @KermodeMovie #Victoria @VictoriaFilmUK @Netflix #Netflix

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Victoria (2015) is the latest film by German actor-cum-writer/director, Sebastian Schipper. It generated a lot of hype because, unlike Iñárritu’s Birdman, Kovcheg’s Russian Ark, or Hitchkock’s Rope, Victoria’s 138 minutes really are one tracking shot.

The technical mastery: undeniable. The effect: to suck you in with unparalleled realism to the single most believable drunken night out ever committed to film.

Unfortunately, the plot is thin. Loner girl meets dodgy guys, gets roped into their illegal hijinks. The first hour is completely pointless with no hint of direction or plot, though there is some foreshadowing. An all-time classic, scuppered.

3/5

© 2016-2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

Post originally appeared on https://doggerelizer.com/2016/10/20/netflixfilmreview-victoria2015/

featured image from http://www.firstshowing.net/2015/watch-first-trailer-for-award-winning-one-shot-german-film-victoria/