Category Archives: film review

Star Trek: Picard S1E6 “The Impossible Box” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

“The Impossible Box” (S1E6) zipped along at a terrific pace. Picard and Soji are face-slammed directly into moments from their past that they had deeply repressed. Soji’s world begins to unravel as she is confronted with the disturbing reality of her situation, although we end the episode with her still not having had time to fully understand or internalise the situation. There’s some great Borg-based body horror, disturbing scenes where Picard struggles with the memories of his time being assimilated by the Borg. The flashbacks seem to smash through his, and the viewer’s, skull. This episode reminded us why the sci-fi/horror baddies that are the Borg are one of the greatest in all pop culture. And we finally get to see the show’s two storylines merge together.

All of this horrifying action hurtles along while in the background the equally horrifying situation from the last episode, where one of our crew isn’t quite what they appear, gut-churningly, slowly, steadily, threatens to explode at any minute.

All of this darkness is counterbalanced with a bit of sassy Raffi comedy. Thankfully, the comedy has been dialled back to warp factor one and appropriately served to break up what was an action-packed and terrifyingly dark story.

The genius of this episode was not discovering what happens, as we have known what the characters haven’t since episode one, but watching how it unfolds. A truly thrilling episode, and definitely the best so far from a dramatic point of view, although from a general entertainment standpoint I slightly preferred last week’s episode. My only criticism is that Star Trek: Picard really needs to knock its tendencies for exposition and introducing and/or resolving storylines in one scene/episode on the head.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

 

 

Star Trek: Picard S1E5 “Stardust City Rag” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

This week, on Star Trek: Picard.

In “Stardust City Rag” (S1E5), our fellowship sets up a meeting on a dodgy planet to take part in an exchange: one life for another. This place, Freecloud, could have been lifted straight from Star Wars‘ cantina scene, where all sorts of criminals and smugglers and crimelords and aliens mingle in an anarchic power-vacuum region of the galaxy. Fascinating, but I’m not sure it totally sits within the Star Trek universe.

We find out why Raffi, who I’m now very fond of, wanted to leave Picard’s crew and go her own way when the team reached Freecloud. Just like Picard in the previous episode, she has a very weighty personal matter to resolve, a matter that has been hanging over her for years. Unfortunately, whilst Michelle Hurd’s (Raffi) acting more-or-less convinced, that of her counterpart in this scene distinctly did not (Gabe, Mason Gooding). Very disappointing. A big moment with a character I’ve come to care about, and yet I did not care much. Once again, Picard rushes and resolves an issue within the space of a scene or two. The writers do realise that this model, let’s call it the “Game of Thrones Season 8 Model”, is not a fan favourite, right?

This episode was full of zany comedy, including Rios dressed as a kind of intergalactic pimp, Jean Luc Picard putting on the most unbelievable French accent since Ewan McGregor in Beauty and the Beast, and Picard’s manservant-cum-bodyguard-cum-protégé establishing himself as the series’ light relief rather than broody angst merchant (as he appeared in the last episode) — and he seems to be acquiring an increasingly strong Antipodean accent as time goes on (think: the reverse of Deanna Troy in Star Trek: TNG). The writers and actors really pushed the boundaries of tone and good sense here, and they just stayed onside. The result? Back of the net! I loved it. I just hope they don’t camp it up too much; Picard has established itself as tonally distinct from some of the other, campier entries in the Star Trek canon, and it would be a shame to backslide from that or, worse, become tonally confused.

There’s a huge moment towards the end where one of our fellowship unexpectedly acts horrifically. Big drama to follow from this in future episodes, undoubtedly. I’m also starting to notice a pattern more generally: those who have served Star Fleet either get burnt out, go mad, or become numb in order to maintain their commission. The campy, intergalactic comedy romp belied this much darker core.

A lot happened. Great moments. Wonderful developments of some characters through their actions rather than through talking, as has sometimes characterised this show so far. The lightest and, paradoxically, also the darkest episode, this was an excellent outing and without a doubt the most entertaining so far.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.dailydot.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/star-trek-picard-episode-5.jpg

Star Trek: Picard S1E4 “Absolute Candor” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

In Star Trek: Picard, “Absolute Candor” (S1E4), Jean-Luc Picard must face an unresolved personal issue from his past. It seems that Picard has apparently spent most of his life crashing around the cosmos, leaving his mark, and running away, leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces, like some kind of intergalactic lothario. Our other storyline, set on the Borg cube, is also becoming compelling, marked by increasingly nuanced character interactions between Soji and Narek. This was very much an episode delving into the past and how it shapes the future.

An exciting episode, better than the previous ones. I really felt absorbed in the world, like I’d known our merry band of explorers for ages — yet they only came together at the very end of the last episode. Our fellowship even has two new members, with the addition of a face from Star Trek‘s past, and the other from Picard’s past. I like how our crew feels like it has grown almost organically, giving us a chance to spend a little time with all of them first, instead of just dumping them all on us in the pilot. There was also some compelling racial tension on a de facto apartheid world which Picard refused to accept.

“Absolute Candor” wasn’t flawless, though. The meant-to-be emotional scenes with Picard facing his past seemed a little contrived and poorly acted, which is a shame as the characters involved all seem very interesting in themselves. Furthermore, this seems to be becoming a pattern in Star Trek: Picard; deep backstories, with years of emotional weight and angst behind them, are introduced, developed, played out, and resolved within the course of one episode, thereby robbing them of their full emotional impact. Why not settle these things over the course of several episodes?

Was this episode perfect? No. But there was a good balance of all parts — talk, action, characters being developed through their deeds.

This episode just nudges four out of five, by a nose.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9420280/mediaviewer/rm1594395137

Netflix Film Review: The Hole In The Ground (2019) @SeanaKerslake @Netflix #HorrorMovie

100 word review here

The Hole In The Ground is the remarkably well-accomplished debut feature from Irish writer-director Lee Cronin. Single mother Sarah (Seána Kerslake) has upped sticks to the remote Irish countryside with her eight year old son Chris (James Quin Markey). After Chris goes for a mysterious midnight stroll in the nearby forest, Sarah begins to notice disturbing changes in his character. Is this even her son at all? Cleverly, rather than Cronin have Chris’s behaviour deteriorate, the opposite occurs; where once he was sullen, withdrawn, and shy, he becomes calmly positive, controlled, and popular at school. But there’s just something off about this change of character, something that only a mother would notice, and I have to say wonderfully sold by young actor James Quin Markey. Seána Kerslake also convinces.

A gut-churning slowburn, this horror-thriller reminds me distinctly of 2014’s equally nerve-shredding The Honeymoon. It also shares DNA strands with The Babadook; has her son really been replaced, or is it all in her own mind? Just as in The Babadook, we start to fear for what this tormented mother might do to her own child, whilst also fearing that she is right.

The dank forest is beautifully shot and feels ancient, like nefarious creatures from Celtic myths might indeed dwell there, every tree seeming to have its own personality. The sinkhole in the centre of the wood projects an eerie and malevolent presence.

We are kept guessing until the very end: has Chris been replaced, or is his mother losing her mind? Credit again to Lee Cronin for eschewing any of the tempting and obvious potential twist-endings that the film could suggest. Rather, I found the ending befitting and equally horrifying. Without giving the game away, I can say that this family will never be quite the same again.

Genuinely disturbing, the psychological horror builds slowly but powerfully. How does it compare to other “forest horror” films? Fans of The Honeymoon should definitely watch this, fans of The Blair Witch Project might like it, and fans of Cabin Fever could probably give this movie a miss.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://image.tmdb.org/t/p/w1280/wTnFy6B5QCeRgjgCGBGlZaDESJ1.jpg

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

Netflix Film Review: The Hole In The Ground (2019) #100WordReview @SeanaKerslake @Netflix #HorrorMovie

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

The Hole In The Ground is the remarkably well-accomplished debut feature from Irish writer-director Lee Cronin. Single mother Sarah (Seána Kerslake) has upped sticks to the countryside with her eight year old son Chris (James Quin Markey). After Chris goes for a mysterious midnight stroll in the nearby forest, Sarah begins to notice disturbing changes in his character. Is this even her son at all?

A gut-churning slowburn, this horror-thriller recalls 2014’s equally nerve-shredding The Honeymoon and shares DNA with The Babadook. Convincing central performances and potent sound design and cinematography.

We are kept guessing until the very end: has her son really been replaced, or is it all in her own mind? A true delight.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://image.tmdb.org/t/p/w1280/wTnFy6B5QCeRgjgCGBGlZaDESJ1.jpg

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

Netflix Film Review: The Secret @Netflix #NetflixReview

I don’t normally review films that aren’t new. But I just saw a film that was so outstanding, so unbelievable, and which moved me so profoundly, I just had to share it with you. I had to share… The Secret.

To coin a word, awfulsome: awesome in its awfulness.

Wow. Just… wow. Incredibly bad. I mean, what the heck!? I watched this at the behest of a colleague, and, sorry — WTF????? The fact that I’ve been reduced to the untermensch language of initialisms should show that no human words can express what this “film” is. A bestial scream of agony would probably articulate it well.

Firstly, how on earth did they manage to stretch literally one sentence into an entire ninety minute production???? “Whatever you think about will happen”. I kept expecting them to follow this sentence up with something, anything, but by the fifth minute I had already given up hope. Unreal how little substance there was. A 90 minute exercise in paraphrase. But people vehemently swear by The Secret, claiming it really works. Perhaps they believe this garbage because they’ve been brainwashed by hearing the same phrase, paraphrased, around six thousand times. Simple psychology; repeat the same thing over and over (and over) again, and you tend to start to believe it.

Secondly, how has this become a “phenomenon”? It’s very badly made, and totally ridiculous. I mean, where do I begin?

  • Laughable special effect “whoosh” flourishes every five seconds. Twinkly sounds, soft lighting that looks like it was added on Windows Movie Maker.
  • Talking heads/Experts who all look beyond insane: wild stare-y eyes, incredible haircuts, ridiculous teeth, and so on. It’s like the guests are meant to be a spoof. I’m surprised they didn’t just get Armando Ianucci, Peter Serafinowicz, and that guy from Garth Merenghi to play the parts instead.
  • And who are these guests? I mean, Google some of them and you’ll see what I mean. What. The. Eff!??! Crooks and fringe lunatics.
  • And what is with those titles: “metaphysician”, “visionary”!?!?!

WTF!!?! Sorry I keep saying that, but — WTF!?

The writers are surely having us on and rolling around in laughter behind the scenes, rubbing their diamond-encrusted ring-wearing hands, and spluttering “schmucks!”.

Some additional lowlights:

  • If you visualise cheques in the mail, you will literally receive cheques in the mail. No need to set up a business or get off your arse at all! But just so you don’t get carried away, the film-makers sagely advise us that we may still get the occasional bill apart from the cheques.
  • Medicine is useless. But chanting “cancer, cancer, go away” will surely destroy all metastasized growths.

I mean, sorry, The Secret was so cheap, so badly made, so idiotic, so ridiculous in every respect, the only thing this “film” deserves is the following sentence from me: whatever you do, please do NOT use “the secret” to attract free copies of “The Secret” to you…. (‘cos then they wouldn’t make money out of you) Deary me.

One fellow reviewer (on Netflix) said the following, and I think it’s hard to argue with him:

Sadly I wasted an entire 4 minutes of my life watching this utter tripe, before my own senses started to shut themselves down. Licking wasps or poking a massive bear in the face would result in less pain than having to sit through anymore of this new age, mumbo jumbo, hippy hokum. To Netflix: Can we introduce a rating system which allows us to score garbage content lower than 1 star? We could use this waste of hard drive space as a bench mark. For example, a terrible film would awarded 3 “The Secret” Turd Piles??

So why not one star, why two? Because it was so genuinely insane in every respect that it was actually marginally entertaining. And, despite the triteness of it, there is a nice core message: positivity of mind breeds further positivity. But it’s still turd.

2/5

featured image from https://readingraphics.com/uploads/2015/06/The-Secret_book1.jpg

review first published 8 October 2014

© 2014-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

Netflix Film Review: P.S. I Love You (2007) @Netflix #NetflixReview @HilarySwank @GerardButler @LisaKudrow @MsKathyBates @Cecelia_Ahern

read the 100 word review here

P.S. I Love You is a romantic comedy based on a quirky and compelling idea. A terminally ill husband, Gerry (Gerard Butler), arranges for ten surprise packages to be delivered to his wife Holly (Hilary Swank) in the months after his death. Think: posthumous and vicarious Bucket List. Based on Cecelia Ahern’s 2004 novel, the packages are Gerry’s way of helping his wife move on and live again.

Great idea, some genuinely moving sequences — all utterly undermined by the fundamental unbelievability of the acting and set-pieces. The husband’s better-than-Ed-Sheeran serenade is a stand-out moment of absurdity. Hilary Swank’s behaviour is more indicative of someone who’s just lost their cat — or a heel on her favourite shoes. And the kooky humour is far less charming and funny than it thinks it is. The best friend who suffers from self-diagnosed “rudeness” supplies most of the alleged comedy and gives us a not-in-the-least-bit tantalising “will-they-won’t-they” hook up with our grieving widow. Lisa Kudrow’s character (close friend Denise), whose whole shtick is kissing random guys to decide whether she’ll marry them or not in a kind of “does the tongue fit” twist on Cinderella, provides yet more flat comedy.

A disappointing effort from writer-director Richard LaGravenese whose previous screenplays include the wonderful The Fisher King and the beautiful The Bridges of Madison County. Perhaps he just isn’t as suited to working behind the camera as he is to working in front of the keyboard.

An odd film: it made me both tear up, and reach for the zapper. A flawed but potentially great film, P.S. I Love You‘s self-satisfied smugness, unbelievability and misplaced zaniness ruin it.

2/5

© 2017-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://www.waitsel.com/actors/gerard_butler/ps_i_love_you-1.jpg

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