southdavid

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Reviews

The Night Before
(2015)

Yule have seen it before.
Another Christmas movie added to Amazon was "The Night Before" and my selection rules meant that I watched it next. I didn't see this when it came out in 2015 and though I'm usually a fan of Rogan's comedies and whilst this has its moments, ultimately I wasn't missing out on much.

Three friends, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogan) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have spent every Christmas eve together partying in New York, since Ethan's parents passed away in 2001. With Isaac about to start a family and Chris now a successful football star - they decide to end the tradition, but not before one last blowout, which is made extra special when Ethan scores tickets to the Nutcracker party, a legendary shindig that they've been hunting down for years.

The film sees Rogan's stoner comedy age up a little bit - as it's acknowledged that drug fuelled nights out can't really continue into your thirties and so this night is special. The occasional gross-out moment remain - mostly centred around Rogan's aspect of the story. Gordon-Levitt has to come to terms with splitting up with his girlfriend, played by Lizzy Caplan - as well as the upcoming separation from his friends and the memories of his parents. Chris is dealing with his success that has come late and is built on using steroids. He loves the spotlight though, as isn't prepared to give it up.

It's amusing, rather than funny - and I suppose that's the biggest problem for the comedy, I didn't hate it, but barely an hour after watching it I'm struggling to remember anything that made me laugh, apart from the scenes involving Michael Shannon - he's the films MVP. It's not particularly original either, lessons learned over Christmas has been done before and the film homages "A Christmas Carol" a little. There's just too much going on, too many subplots and characters, too many diversions and sidetracks and it makes the film feel long.

I didn't hate it, but nor am I going to start watching it every Christmas.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
(1989)

Brace your elf.
Get your downvotes ready people, because I don't like this one.

With Amazon Prime now cycling on from Halloween Horror films towards Christmas, the irrational rules I set up to decide what I watch meant that reluctantly sat through "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" - a film I might have liked when it was released, as I was nine - but now couldn't wait for the witless, tedious, pratfalls to be over.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wants to have the ultimate family Christmas, like the ones he remembers from his youth. Unfortunately, disaster befalls him at every turn as his Christmas tree is too big, his lights won't turn on and his extended family arrive to argue and snipe at him. He's also reliant on an incoming Christmas bonus from his job, which he's already spent on a Swimming pool.

I just don't like slapstick comedy that much and that's all "Christmas Vacation" is, there's no wit or jokes - there's nothing intelligent about it. It's just Chevy Chase falling over and his grandfather blowing himself up (I swear he does that the same way three times). This even extends to his neighbours (one of whom is played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus!) who must do the worst scene of 'comical' falling over that I've ever seen in my life.

It doesn't help that we now know that both the male leads of the film are terrible people in real life. Nor the scenes when Clark lusts after a shop assistant despite already having a wife that is several times out of his league. Ultimately though, I just didn't find it that funny, I say again, it's just falling over and explosions. I'm not going to suggest for a moment that all these people giving the film a good review are wrong but I just wonder if their history with it is clouding their objectivity.

Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds
(2020)

Polar-Roid Camera
Another documentary on Apple TV, shamefully this is the first Werner Herzog documentary that I've seen. If they're all as enjoyable as this one, I'll start hunting down a few more.

The Documentary sees Herzog and his scientific collaborator Clive Oppenheimer travel the world looking at the impact, physically, culturally and spiritually, that Meteors and Comets have had on the Earth. From scientific studies, both low and high tech, to the effect that Meteors have had on the storytelling of remote Pacific tribes, they explore with a sense of wonder and with Herzog's deadpan delivery of the voiceovers.

As Documentaries go, "Fireball" takes rather a scattershot approach to investigating all the ways that Meteorites and Asteroids have affected our planet, it's never less than beautiful though - as our heroes circumnavigate the globe meeting scientists, theologians and tribesman to hear stories, theories and facts about the subject. We see a wide range of vistas and landscapes all wonderfully caught on camera and occasionally with the excellent use of a drone.

A little of the documentaries style takes some getting used to. Herzog likes to hold uncomfortably long shots on the interview subjects, whilst he explains in voice over who they are and why they went to see them. Oppenheimer actually conducts most of the interviews, in a light chatty fashion which I think helps to put a few of the more awkward subjects at ease, there's also a lovely moment towards the end when he finds a large Meteorite in the polar icecaps. Herzog's Bavarian brogue takes a little getting used to, but once I was, I really loved it and he's really very funny, with odd little asides and descriptions of the action that genuinely made me laugh out loud a few times.

It's not quite as deep in some areas as I might have liked, but it's as enthusiastic and enamoured with its subject as any documentary I've seen in a long time.

Beastie Boys Story
(2020)

Triple Trouble
Another documentary on the Apple Plus network is "Beastie Boys Story" a recording of a stage show in which the two remaining members of the band tell their story. Though I'm not a big Beastie Boys fan (I know the hits and that's about it), the show was touching and funny - if a little contrived at times.

Mike Diamond, Adam Yauch and Adam Horovitz, three friends form a band in New York in the early 1980's. Initially Punk inspired - the boys are then heavily influenced by the growing Rap scene - and have immediate success with their first album "Licenced to Ill". By learning instruments and how to sample and mix, the band enjoy thirty years of success and friendship which is cut short in 2012 when Adam Yauch passes away. This stage presentation has 'Mike D' and 'Ad-Rock' tell their story, mixed with footage displayed on a cinema screen behind them and was put together with long-time collaborator Spike Jonze.

The documentary is a rather straightforward recording of that stage show that ran for a few nights. A few of the more esoteric moments, heckles from the crowd by Ben Stiller, Steve Buscemi and David Cross, as well as a performed scene with Michael K Williams, are left for moments within the credits. The bulk of the show is live narration by Diamond and Horovitz interspersed with historical footage. Mostly this works OK and is quite honest and open, particularly about how bad they were to former friends and bandmates after they blew up and how they feel about losing their brother so early. Occasionally it's less successful though, there are moments of spontaneous "banter" and reactions to a mistake that Jonze makes that feel rehearsed and don't look natural at all.

I'd say I enjoyed it overall but can't help but feel like a more traditional documentary, with the guys as edited talking heads would have made a better one.

Fantasy Island
(2020)

Tattoo out of Tatten.
Though their low budget approach means that virtually every movie they make is guaranteed to be a commercial success, that doesn't protect Blumhouse from critical savaging and the 2020 reimagining of the 1970's series "Fantasy Island" as a horror-lite IP feels like the company taking a step away from their comfort zone and misfiring badly.

Five contest winners, Gwen (Maggie Q), Melanie (Lucy Hale), Patrick (Austin Stowell) and brothers Brax (Jimmy O Yang) and JD (Ryan Hansen) arrive on a luxury island resort and are told by the operator Mr Roarke (Michael Pena) that their deepest desires will come true here. Though they are soon indulging in their fantasies each takes a dark turn and make them question whether what they thought the wanted, was their true wish.

The trouble with "Fantasy Island" is all in the writing. The cast are fine, nobody is doing anything amazing, but at the same time, nobody lets the side down. The island looks welcoming and isolated in equal measure. The visual effects are OK, again nothing spectacular but nothing so strikingly awful it ruins the film. On a technical level, the film is solid if uninspired.

However, the story sets up rules that the film doesn't then follow through on. It establishes that certain characters within the fantasies aren't real but created by the island. Why then does one notable participant in one of the fantasies need to be really drugged and kidnapped in order to appear on the island, why couldn't they be created too?

It's later revealed in the film (I'll try and keep this as spoiler free as I can) that one of the characters has another agenda based on something that happened that each character was involved in. You'll likely piece all this together before the films reveal but it unravels the whole premise of the film. We (the audience) see this character, on their own, interact with things in a way that doesn't make sense, if they are behind it all. It means that this character has two "wishes" too, which we're told is forbidden. Also it means that this character found their way to the island before somehow, to start their true fantasy, then left and returned with the rest of the characters. It also would all unravel if, at any point on their flight across, the people had started to talk about where they lived.

It's not the worst idea for a film, and I'd be OK with the premise used for another film - but this one unravels the more you think about it.

Dexter: Born Free
(2006)
Episode 12, Season 1

Season One Review
The announcement of a "Dexter" revival has inspired us to go back and watch the series again. I watched three or four seasons the first time, before stopping as I moved house and didn't have the channel any more. I remembered a lot about this first season, including the identity of the Ice Truck Killer and why, but things get much vaguer for me from here.

Dexter Morgan (Michael C Hall) is a serial killer, but one with a code embedded in him by his adopted father, to only take the lives of other killers. He maintains a normal life, working as a blood splatter specialist for Miami PD alongside his Police Officer sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) and even has a girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz) and the makings of a surrogate family. Miami though is plagued by a new serial killer, one who leaves exsanguinated body parts for the police to find but also one that seems to know Dexter's secrets.

Watching "Dexter" again, the first thing that struck me was how grainy the opening episodes and especially the pilot looked. I guess I'm just used to the high definition of today and take it for granted. Either my eyes became accustomed to it, or this didn't last though, and the visuals reached a higher standard as the series ran on. I like Michael C Hall as Dexter. He narrates the story in voiceover, in an often-deadpan style. He's very good at keeping Dexter's emotions skin deep, until the aspects that really affect him towards the end of the run. The rest of the cast is pretty solid, perhaps Erik King takes Sgt Doakes a little far at times, he gets so close to Dexter it feels like they should kiss rather than argue.

It's unfortunate that I remembered so much about the Ice Truck Killer storyline going into this series as that rather took the wind out of a lot of the run, given that there are a couple of red herrings across the season. Looking forward to less familiar stuff going forward though.

Marvel's 616: Japanese Spider-Man
(2020)
Episode 1, Season 1

Web Honshu-ters
Marvel's 616 is a new series of short form documentaries about various aspects of Marvel's organisation or output that are somewhat underappreciated. The first episode is about "Japanese Spider-Man".

In the 1970's, Gene Pelc, an American living in Japan realises that, though comics are a big business there, the Marvel ones he knows from home are having little impact. He works on a number of deals between Marvel and local companies to change that. One of the most high-profile is a deal with toy manufacturer TOEI to produce a television series and range of toys based on the Spider-man licence. With the addition of toy friendly elements like a car and giant robot, the series is very different from the version western audiences know, but those elements help to establish a genre of entertainment that still resonates with the Japanese audience.

I really enjoyed this episode. They did a great job of interviewing the major players, the actors who were in the series, the creative forces behind the show and Pelc himself. It helps that it's a good story, Pelc has to convince Marvel to let him try again, in an area they've been unsuccessful. They trust him with one of their principle characters, which he radically changes, much to the bemusement of nearly all the executives. But the show finds its audience in Japan and then helps establish that martial arts/giant robots genre of TV that would find the most worldwide success with the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers".

So it was a very detailed documentary, but also quite emotional. It's probably not the last time that I'm going to see Stan Lee in this series, but his mid-credits scenes here felt poignant. A couple of the actors shed a tear about their time filming too.

If the rest of the series can maintain this standard, I'll be very impressed.

A Tale of Two Critters
(1977)

More than I could bear, or reccoon with.
An alphabetical run through Disney Plus leads me to "A Tale of Two Critters" one of a number of docu-dramas that Disney produced that pushes a story, told in voice over, onto footage of real animals interacting in the wild. Originally the film went out as part of a double header along with "The Rescuers".

Narrated by Mayf Nutter, the film tells the story of a bear cub and a young raccoon who are separated from their families by an accident. They band together, initially to try and get back to their kin, but later just to survive. As Winter comes, they stay nearby to each other until the years and their natures push them apart.

I really didn't like this. Maybe it's just that tastes have moved on since 1977, but I didn't find the narrative thrust onto rather generic animal footage particularly interesting. Mayf Nutter's narration is fine, in fact I quite liked the timbre of his voice, but a connection between his story and the footage didn't materialise for me.

Maybe it's just a level of audience sophistication nowadays but, though some shots are surprising, it's easy to see when the animals aren't actually interacting - rather than it's footage from somewhere else entirely. The footage of the tree, where the animals live "together" for example is clearly not the same place. I know that it was a couple of decades earlier, but Disney doesn't have the best track record when it comes to the welfare of animals in their documentaries, after the "White Wilderness" controversy. I can't find anything online about issues with this film but the footage of the bear cub and racoon floating down river on a log together seems really specific to have been gotten by accident.

Despite my uneasy feelings about some of the footage, ultimately, even at just 48 minutes my primary feelings about this film was that I was bored.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special
(2020)

Let Qui Gons be Qui Gons
I've never seen the original holiday special, but the legends of "Life Day" have made their way to my consciousness somehow. In a similar, gently mocking, way as their other output, the Lego Star Wars team create a new story that is not entirely successful, but has some good moments.

Rey (Helen Sadler) is disappointed with her inability to successful teach Finn (Omar Miller) the ways of the Force. Learning about a secret "key" she and BB8 head off to search for it leaving behind the rest of their friends to celebrate life day on board the Falcon. The key allows Rey to travel through time, and she begins to interact with other Star Wars characters at key points in their lives, until a meeting with the Emperor (Trevor Devall) who demands a still loyal Vader (Matt Sloan) retrieves the key for him.

So, produced by Disney, this was never going to scathing demolition of any aspects of the Star Wars Universe. Instead it takes some affectionate shots at a few of the more comical aspects of the series - Kylo Ren not wearing a shirt and how Star Killer Base is essentially Death Star 3. I struggled a bit with the pratfalls of the opening sections, but it did get more amusing as it got further along. Vocally though, it's not great. Only Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels and Kelly Marie Tran return to voice their characters, most of the rest of the vocal impressions I'd classify as just indistinct, i.e. Omar Miller doesn't sound like John Boyega and Jake Green doesn't sound like Oscar Isaac. However, given that we hear so much of it, Helen Salder's overly nasal Rey is quite a bit too far and doesn't sound very flattering to Daisy Ridley.

Visually, it's not quite up to the standards of rendering that you see in say "The Lego Movie", presumably as they didn't quite have the budget but there are some interesting scenes - particularly a large-scale battle that takes place towards the end.

It's a decent family friendly Star Wars comedy, but not quite clever enough to live long in the memory.

Vintage Blood
(2015)

Black-More please.
Having just finished "Tales from the Lodge" I thought I'd hunt down the short film that Abigail Blackmore wrote and directed prior "Vintage Blood" I found it, watchable in its entirety on the Screen Anarchy website.

Two friends, Liv (Abigail Blackmore) and Charlotte (Ruth Syratt) are looking out over a small shopping arcade to the rear of a house that Liv has just moved into. Noting that one of the shops has "evil" graffitied onto the door, Liv then recounts the story of the shops owner, Izzy (Indira Varma), who was tricked into purchasing a Ouija board hidden amongst some curtains she's bought. Believing herself cursed, Izzy is given an ultimatum, someone must die in the shop, or her fiancé will the sacrifice.

I quite enjoyed "Vintage Blood". It's only 14 minutes long, which is long enough to tell its story and its story within a story and without outstaying it's welcome. There are plenty of recognisable faces, Indira Varma obviously, but Finlay Robertson plays her fiancé and Michael Rosen her fellow shop owner. Sophie Thompson is the most obvious acting crossover with "Tales from the Lodge" but a few little story moments cross over, most notably the issues with the front door and the idea of characters within a story visually filling time, whilst the narrators talk about something else for a moment.

Clearly a step on the way to "Tales from the Lodge", "Vintage Blood" might not have much for the horror purist, but is funny and clever and worth hunting down.

Tales from the Lodge
(2019)

Oh Miki, You're so fine. . .
"Tales from The Lodge" is a British Horror Comedy that I found on Amazon Prime. Not quite a portmanteau film, as the overarching story is more involved than just a framing mechanism, the film still tells a number of shorter horror tales within the runtime.

Six friends, Married couples Joe (MacKenzie Crook) and Martha (Laura Fraser) and Emma (Sophie Thompson) and Russell (Johnny Vegas) as well as Paul (Dustin Demri-Burns) and his new girlfriend Miki (Kelly Wenham) come to a remote farm house to commemorate the passing of another friend, who drowned there three years early. As the friends get drunk and tell each other ghost stories, the increasingly isolated Miki decides to leave but then returns a few hours later having been attacked in the woods by a stranger.

Generally, the film is more successful as a comedy than it is a horror film. Five of the six stars gets to direct their mini-stories and though there's not a particularly spectacular one amongst them, they all work in the context of the film. I really liked how those stories interacted with the voice overs telling them, with the characters pausing or changing actions depending on how the narrator changed the telling. The best is probably Johnny Vegas' Zombie/Lost Boys one, which includes animation and visual effects - as well as some fourth wall breaking Zombie make up moments.

I don't like spoilers in my reviews, so I'll dance around the details here. I felt the resolution of the overall story let the film down a bit. I did see some of the twists coming and when you look back on it, the stories that the characters tell are often revealing about themselves. This whole final section doesn't quite nail the right tone, getting the mix of comedy and violence a bit wrong.

On the whole it's a bit slight and has a few missteps, but to say this was Writer/Director Abigail Blackmore's first feature, I'd say it shows some promise.

The Void
(2016)

The Null and . . .
Having recently watched the low budget horror "10/31" and the Lovecraft adaptation "Colour Out of Space" on Amazon, the algorithm naturally combined the two for me today and selected "The Void". A 2016 crowdfunded film, that whilst not a straight adaptation of Lovecraft, owes much to the old gods style mythos, as well as nods to the body horror of David Cronenberg and John Carpenters "Prince of Darkness". It is, unfortunately, not as well done as any of the other movies mentioned.

State Trooper Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) discovers a young man crawling for his life by the roadside. He delivers him to nearest hospital, that is in the process of being closed down following a fire, and where Allison (Kathleen Munroe), his ex-wife, works. The hospital is then surrounded by a number of cloaked figures, each brandishing a knife. As Carter and the skeleton crew look to barricade the doors, it becomes apparent that group aren't trying to get it, but rather keep them inside with the otherworldly evil that is already present.

For a low budget film, the performances here's aren't that bad. There are a few recognisable faces, perhaps none more so than Ellen Wong of "Scott Pilgrim" fame. The many gory visual effects are mostly done practically, and sometimes work well - the bonded flesh creatures though, that populate much of the ending of the film are a bit of a ill-defined mess. Everything on a technical level is pretty solid though.

It's the story where the film lost me. I liked its Macro elements, if you like. The portals, the ancient tentacled evil, the human sacrifice, guilt and shame personified - but its more specific story elements were so ill-defined that they undercut the film. There are several times that it's implied that what we're seeing is someone's delusion, but those are inconsistent with secondary characters present in the scenes. We're never really told what the deal is with The Father and The Son, how they stumbled across what's happening, or what their goal is.

What I want is a remake, with a little more funding and a better, more logical version of the story, this one, whilst occasionally promising, doesn't deliver.

A Goofy Movie
(1995)

Goof Will Hunting
The next film in my alphabetical trawl through the movies on Disney Plus was "A Goofy Movie" which I don't remember having seen before but was perhaps the most nineties film imaginable.

Max (Jason Marsden) is a bit of a loser at school, but an elaborate last day prank unexpectedly raises his profile and lands him a date with Roxanne (Kellie Martin) the following evening. Unfortunately for him, his father, Goofy (Bill Farmer) hears from the school and concerned about his son's behaviour, and the growing distance between them, insists on taking him on a cross country fishing trip. Increasingly resentful, Max spies an opportunity to turn the holiday around by diverting them to Los Angeles and to a concert by the most radical performer of the time, Powerline.

The most striking aspect about "A Goofy Movie" was how 90's it was and specifically the early 90's. Pauly Shore is in it, Powerline is some dreadful hybrid of MC Hammer and Prince and the language and styles have all dated the film. This relates to the animation style too, as we're in a time before computers could be used to smooth the edging of animation. Which is not to say that it's not up to par, just perhaps lacking the polish of say a "Beauty And The Beast".

Whilst I wouldn't claim that "A Goofy Movie" is some secret lost gem in the Disney Archive, I did think that it had some moments, particularly with things going on in the background, that were fun. Storyline wise it's a little basic and I did find myself drifting off occasionally. I don't regret my time with the film, but it's hard to actively recommend it to anyone.

The 'Burbs
(1989)

Butcher of Suburbia
Another film that I'd seen before, but not in a while, "The 'Burbs" showed up on Amazon Prime and I decided to give it a rewatch. If I'm honest, I found it a bit light on comedy to make it a worthwhile recommendation.

A group of neighbours in the Suburbs of an American town come to believe that their mysterious new neighbourhood family are murderers. Led by Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks) and supported by Army Vet. Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) and actual idiot, Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommun) the group bind together to investigate the house and are speared on when another neighbour, Walter (Gale Gordon), disappears.

"The 'Burbs" is a very 1980's film, in terms of fashions, sensibilities and the fact that Corey Feldman is in it. Tom Hanks is ridiculously young looking but is already a decent leading man and has nice chemistry with Carrie Fisher, who plays his put-upon wife. They are the sensible grounded pair in the film, with Dern playing the ex-military man who has somehow snagged a beautiful wife who is twenty years younger than him, played by Wendy Schaal. Rick Ducommun is someone who I didn't really know, despite being in dozens of films that I enjoy. I found his character here though to be more annoying than funny.

Despite some amusing moments, generally I found "The 'Burbs" to be a comedy that wasn't very funny. Too many pratfalls and too light in jokes completely in the second half. I don't believe in the world either, by which I mean nobody reacts to anything in this with any degree of believability and I have to admit that I was bored by the story well before it's conclusion.

I do like Joe Dante films, and I was around in the 80's to see these films the first time, but reassessing this one now I'm afraid it doesn't do much for me.

Greyhound
(2020)

Torpedo Moscow
Another movie on Apple TV and another one that I watched on my phone, in stages over a few days, which is not the ideal way to watch anything. It was a tense and entertaining experience, if a little familiar.

Tom Hanks plays Captain Krause, Captain of the Greyhound, a ship that leads and defends a convoy of Allied ships across the Atlantic on a dangerous two-week crossing, much of which takes place without any form of air support. Soon into the journey, the crew discover that a German Submarine Wolfpack is stalking them and waiting for the right opportunity to attack. Krause relies on his crew's expertise, as well as his personal faith, to guide their decisions and fight back.

"Greyhound" is another film that shows the horrors of war and though admittedly it is in an arena of Combat we haven't visited as much as the fields of mainland Europe, does feel like it's something that we've seen before. It's tense, rather than action packed, as the crew know that the U-boats are there somewhere and that they are being stalked, not least because the crew of the Grey Wolf are all too happy to try and put their prey on edge, howling over the radio at them.

I do feel like the crew could have been fleshed out a little more, Stephen Graham is really the only other recognisable face apart from Rob Morgan, who prepares Krause's food. Were some of the faces a little more established then it might have help sell things like the passage of time or the fluctuations in crew shifts. I feel like I came away with a better understanding of what WW2 sea battles were like, even if occasionally I didn't quite follow what the specific problem was, or, for example, the differences between the specific types of sonar.

Tom Hanks is good, the score is good and I wasn't bored by it, but ultimately it's rather a familiar story that I can't imagine I'll be looking to revisit again.

Dads
(2019)

The Dad-Vinci Code
Another documentary on Apple Plus, "Dads" is the directorial debut of Bryce Dallas-Howard.

Starting with her own father, Bryce Dallas-Howard interviews a number of actors and comedians about their thoughts and feelings on being a father. Those soundbite style interviews intersperse with several longer stories from various fathers around the world, about their lives and how parenthood has changed them.

I am a dad, so some aspects of the films did really speak to me - especially the stories about the difficult birth and having children with complex needs, as I've experienced both of those. I liked the soundbite interviews, the humorous anecdotes and the moments of touching honesty when the various celebrities broke down a little. It was nice to see some family stuff related to the Howards, the (slightly weird) videos they made for each child and the interviews with her brother as he was preparing to become a dad for the first time. There was a diverse range of situations from the different subjects, but perhaps showing a universal theme of it being time for Dad's to take a more central role in bringing up children and that there shouldn't be any more taboos about that situation.

I say all this, because ultimately, I felt that as a documentary it was a bit slight. It was charming, and funny but didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know. I've no regrets about watching it, but I can't imagine I'll ever have the inclination to watch it again.

A Ring of Endless Light
(2002)

The O-Sea
Another film that my alphabetical trawl through Disney Plus saw me land on was "A Ring of Endless Light" a Disney Channel TV movie from 2002 starring young Mischa Barton and Jared Padalecki before their respective TV shows would make them stars.

Vicky Austin (Mischa Barton) heads for a summer with her grandfather (James Whitmore) along with her younger siblings, child genius Suzy (Scarlett Pomers) and Bug obsessed Rob (Soren Fulton). Her grandfather lives on an island that has a Dolphin research facility which she's invited to by Adam (Ryan Merriman) who works there. Vicky has an instant kinship with the dolphins, to the point that she seems to be able to understand what they are saying.

It was interesting to read in the other reviews that this is a poor adaptation of an apparently well-liked book. For the record, I didn't even know this was a book prior to watch it and can happily report that it stands as a terrible movie all on its own merits. Some people have laid blame on Mischa Barton's performance, which I feel is pretty harsh as she's just 16 at the time, and the movie IS ABOUT A GIRL WHO CAN TALK TO DOLPHINS ! It's a pretty ridiculous premise, that's padded out with a dull love triangle and an earnest but tedious ecological message.

It's a bad film because it's a cheaply made TV movie, the dolphin interaction is minimal and is often increased by badly merging stock footage of dolphins around the kids. I appreciate that I'm not the target audience, but it was so boring it was the first time going through the movies on Disney Plus that I thought I wouldn't make it to the end.

Horrible.

Greyhound
(2020)

Torpedo Moscow
Another movie on Apple TV and another one that I watched on my phone, in stages over a few days, which is not the ideal way to watch anything. It was a tense and entertaining experience, if a little familiar.

Tom Hanks plays Captain Krause, Captain of the Greyhound, a ship that leads and defends a convoy of Allied ships across the Atlantic on a dangerous two-week crossing, much of which takes place without any form of air support. Soon into the journey, the crew discover that a German Submarine Wolfpack is stalking them and waiting for the right opportunity to attack. Krause relies on his crew's expertise, as well as his personal faith, to guide their decisions and fight back.

"Greyhound" is another film that shows the horrors of war and though admittedly it is in an arena of Combat we haven't visited as much as the fields of mainland Europe, does feel like it's something that we've seen before. It's tense, rather than action packed, as the crew know that the U-boats are there somewhere and that they are being stalked, not least because the crew of the Grey Wolf are all too happy to try and put their prey on edge, howling over the radio at them.

I do feel like the crew could have been fleshed out a little more, Stephen Graham is really the only other recognisable face apart from Rob Morgan, who prepares Krause's food. Were some of the faces a little more established then it might have help sell things like the passage of time or the fluctuations in crew shifts. I feel like I came away with a better understanding of what WW2 sea battles were like, even if occasionally I didn't quite follow what the specific problem was, or, for example, the differences between the specific types of sonar.

Tom Hanks is good, the score is good and I wasn't bored by it, but ultimately it's rather a familiar story that I can't imagine I'll be looking to revisit again.

Truth Seekers: The Shadow of the Moon
(2020)
Episode 8, Season 1

Season One Review
"Truth Seekers" - the first output from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's production company arrived on Amazon Prime in October of 2020. Though never quite becoming the show I wanted it to be, "Truth Seekers" was enjoyable enough, and I'll watch another season if one is forthcoming.

Gus Roberts (Nick Frost) is a broadband installer for SMYLE, a mobile network. Good at his job, he's his boss Dave's (Simon Pegg) best employee, but is initially hesitant when he's asked to take on apprentice Elton (Samson Kayo). In his spare time (and sometimes on company time) Gus likes to explore paranormal situations for his small Youtube following. Together Gus and Elton fix broadband issues and investigate mysterious circumstances.

I reviewed "Slaughterhouse Rulez" not that long ago. I said then that expectation was a bit of a killer for the film, as you anticipate something nearing the Cornetto trilogies excellence when you see Pegg and Frost in a film together. With "Truth Seekers" the spectre of "Spaced" casts a shadow over the show but, truth be told, "Truth Seekers" is much more interested in it's science fiction plot than it is in just being funny. Personally, I felt that was a little to the shows detriment - when it had finished, I felt myself wishing that the show had allowed us to spend a little more time with the characters as characters - rather than pushing the season story so hard.

Just to be clear, it's not that the show isn't good. It is. Frost is always great and his interactions with his team including Elton's agoraphobic sister Helen, played by Susan Wokoma, who is fantastic in everything; the mysterious Astrid, played by Emma D'Arcy and his father-in-law, Richard, played by Malcolm McDowell are fun and entertaining. I just wanted more of that team having adventures before the plot kicks in.

Again, in and of itself it's fine. But it could do with being a little funnier, or scarier, or slower in order to hit that top tier - that said, I'll be back if there's a second season.

Color Out of Space
(2019)

Missing me, Missing "U".
With "Lovecraft Country" in my recent memory, it seemed like a good time to watch an adaptation of one of his actual stories. "Color Out of Space" is a modern retelling of the short story of the same name and I genuinely can't decide if I hated or really liked it.

A Meteorite crashes on the grounds of the Gardner family's woodland homestead. Though it quickly disappears it appears to have a profound effect on both the nearby organic life and localised electrical fields. The effects eventually reach the family affecting their perceptions of time, colour and in some cases reality. Are these changes really happening, or has something leaked into the groundwater and is slowly poisoning the Gardeners?

So many Lovecraftian stories aren't adapted into films and shows because their narratives, and in particular their resolutions, in which characters, and often the narrators, descend into madness is difficult to translate. "Color Out of Space" works (or perhaps doesn't work) because it decides to show that spiralling confusion and psychosis. The producers landed on the natural leading man for showing this, and Cage doesn't disappoint. Initially a slightly bland protagonist, the meteors effect on him is demonstrated by him doing a dead-on Donald Trump vocal impression before locking his family in various rooms, shouting at them, insisting that everything is OK and talking to people who aren't there.

As the story runs on, aspects of Cronenberg or perhaps early Peter Jackson body horror come into the film, these are some of the most successful moments in a film that is visually striking all the way though. The effects appear largely practical and a game Joely Richardson must have wondered what she'd signed on for at certain points.

Those looking for convention, either in horror or just storytelling, are likely to be disappointed and I can't help but thinking I too would have been more satisfied with just a little more understanding of the rules of the film, i.e. what the color can actually do as opposed to just "everything" - but I was certainly never bored and am still thinking about the film a couple of days later.

Undone: The Halloween Night
(2019)
Episode 8, Season 1

Season One Review
Debuting on Amazon Prime in 2019, I finally caught up with "Undone" over the last couple of weeks. It's a rotoscoped animated series - filmed performances that are then animated on top of and with backgrounds that are entirely animated. It helps to sell the fantastical elements of the story, which is largely good stuff.

Following a car accident, Alma (Rosa Salazar) begins to see her late father Jacob (Bob Odenkirk). He tries to convince her that she can project through time and that she should investigate his death, as he had research that made him a target. Whilst attempting to learn how to project, Alma tries to maintain her familial relationships, which her honest, forthright nature has always made difficult. However, there is a history of schizophrenia in her family and this all may be the start of it manifesting within her.

The art style of "Undone" is striking at first, especially as it feels so unnecessary in the opening episodes when the show is quite a straightforward comedy drama. As it runs on though, and the fantastic time hopping elements become more apparent, then it does start to make sense as a creative choice. The acting performances are really good, there's a host of recognisable faces in the show, all of whom do well in grounding their characters in real life. There's something authentic in the interactions between the characters and it's an enjoyable funny element of the show.

So why not a higher score? Even with just eight episodes it feels like there's a bit of padding to fill the run time. Though I quite liked the ending, I can see that other people have found it a divisive one - as I write this, a second season was commissioned, but how far that got in the COVID landscape is unclear. Though I liked the actual last scene, the resolution of the show's mystery element is a little underwhelming.

Assuming that season 2 eventually does arrive, I'll be back.

Nocturne
(2020)

It's Steinway or the Highway.
The second of Amazon's Blumhouse collaborations I watched was "Nocturne", a debut feature from writer/director Zu Quirke which, not unlike "Black Box" eschews conventional horror, this time for more of a psychological thriller.

Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) lives under the shadow of her twin sister Vivian (Madison Iseman). Though both are talented pianists, Juliet's demeanour means that Vivian is graduating to Julliard but she is not. Moira (Ji Eun Hwang), their current schools most gifted student, takes her own life, which means the final concerts solo is vacant. Vivian seems the natural person to claim it, until Juliet finds Moira's notebook, a cryptic and dark series of notes, markings and illustrations. The book has an effect on Juliet, increasing her confidence, but how far is she willing to go to claim that solo.

As with "Black Box" I feel that there's lots to admire with this film, but little to love. It does feel like a budget version of "Black Swan", with its story of pressure are the higher end of artistic achievement. The performances from the two leads, Iselman and Sweeney, are really good. Art direction and cinematherapy are decent, the effects - such as they are - aren't bad - though it does help that they often aren't looking for realism, rather part of a fantastic dream type sequence. I do feel like I'm prepared to give the film a whole point for the final shot (to say anything more is a bit too spoilery).

But plot wise it's a bit too humdrum and predictable. You'll be well in advance of Juliet in terms of what is happening and you'll probably see the ending coming a mile off. There are a couple of minor twists that the film doesn't do a great job of disguising and it's all just a little too flat, and lacking in originality and invention to recommend it as worthwhile.

Negatives ultimately outweighed the positives for me, but at least there were positives.

Into the Badlands: Chapter VI: Hand of Five Poisons
(2015)
Episode 6, Season 1

Season One Review
Finally decided to start "Into The Badlands". A show that is available in it's entirety on Amazon Prime in the UK. The first season is just six episodes, which given its campy performances and wire fu fight scenes seems about right for not outstaying it's welcome.

Set in a future where, for unexplained reasons, technology is in short supply, the only safety in this world comes from an uneasy alliance between seven regional barons, each of which gained their power through violence and maintain it through control of a needed resource. Sunny (Danie Wu) is the head assassin for one of the Baron's but who wishes to escape with his lover Veil (Madeline Mantock). He sees an opportunity when he meets MK (Aramis Knight) a young man with a medallion that links to Sunny's past but who also has a mysterious and dark power.

There is a little bit of having its cake and eating it too about "Into The Badlands", specifically its set up. Not wishing to set itself in feudal style Japan, but looking to restrict it's characters to that sort of world, most technology has gone. People fight either in hand to hand combat, or with edged weapons and to facilitate that there are no guns - but at the same time, Sunny has a motorbike and when fast travel is required, trucks are available. The fight scenes are pretty good, a lot of work has gone into the co-ordination and the wire work to make as spectacular as you'll see on TV.

The acting in fairly standard, utilising a reliable range of British and Irish performers like Orla Brady, Sarah Bolger and Emily Beecham. Daniel Wu is an engaging lead, the pairing of Stephen Lang and Lance Henrikson begin to take things a little more over the top, but chewing the most scenery with his wildly accented, alluring and menacing turn is Marton Csokas, as the current Baron and Sunny's Boss, Quinn. Mostly the story revolves around alliances being created and destroyed surrounding Quinn's home base, and his poppy fields that supply the worlds opium.

It was entertaining enough stuff, if a little lightweight and campy - I'm prepared to stick with it but I know that the number of episode per season is going to increase and that concerns me a little.

Boys State
(2020)

Gloomy Rose of Texas
Another documentary on Apple TV was "Boys State" about a Texas Government themed Summer camp (for the want of a better term) that seems so alien to me, from the other side of the Atlantic and was in not quite equal parts both depressing and optimistic.

A thousand boys, from across Texas come together with the aim of building a representative Government. This involves various elections for the roles and organisational work as the boys have been split into two arbitrary teams. They then "vote" on state leadership. The documentary follows several key characters who make up the campaigns.

Its important to try and distinguish the documentary itself from the subject matter. In which case directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss did a great job in picking some of the key characters in this early on and staying with them as they went through their journey. The subjects open up to the camera about their true feelings, so they can be juxtaposed with their actions. There can be issues of bias, with a documentary and you never really know for sure, but here it feels like the stories natural heroes and villains come from their actions and not who they were before.

Turning to the subject matter, it's depressing how quickly the young men in this film abandon any thought of achievement, or betterment of the state (however hypothetical) in favour of "winning". How rapidly compromise and debate is cast aside for memes and racism, and how successful they can be. Conviction in your beliefs can be a wonderful trait, but there's something scary and sad about the way some of these kids speak about their opinions, given their relatively little life experience. There are moments of hope though, mostly revolving around Stephen Garza, a second-generation Mexican American who speaks to the difficult audience about immigration issues and gun control and wins some consensus and support.

Rather than wanting to change the world, it appears the majority of these kids just want to know how to beat it. It's not the documentaries fault, but it is depressing.

10/31
(2017)

Slash and Burn
"10/31" is a portmanteau style horror film, made as a showcase for five independent writer/directors and largely crowdfunded. It's hard to be too harsh on the films, given the budgets, some of which look decent and occasionally have good effects, but generally it's a collection that includes performances that are too amateurish and stories that are confusing. I've detailed more about each episode below.

The Old Hag - Two aspiring filmmakers, Tyler (Nick Edwards) and Kevin (Mitchell Musolino) arrive at Kathy's (Cindy Maples) bed and breakfast to produce a promotional video. Though the hotel specifically doesn't have any guests - Tyler has an interaction with an elderly guest on the third floor. Performances are a little amateurish and the prosthetic for said old hag are a little too clean and over lit to convince it's anything other than prosthetics. Story is a sadly predictable and the only scare is the cheap one right at the end.

Trespassers - After an underwhelming Halloween date Stephanie (Sable Griedel) takes new in town Jeff (Chad Bruns) to a local farm where, legend has it, decades ago the farmer went mad and killed his family after a scarecrow was put up on his land. Performances are a little better in this one and shooting in a cinema helps production value - but the creature at the end looks like a shop bought mask and the story is muddled. Better, but not good.

Killing the Dance - On her last night before leaving home, Ashley (Bailey Ingersoll) takes her brother Mikey (Noah Howland) to work at a roller-skating rink. After dark, the rink switches to a roller disco and secrets are revealed. Then a masked character begins to attack the other patrons with a straight razor. This felt much longer than the previous two entries. There were some nice early moments, including a tracking shot that was more ambitious than anything seen so far, and shooting on the rink is well done. Storyline wise though it's a little obvious, way too long and the budget betrays the effects somewhat.

Halloween Blizzard of '91 - During a snowstorm that seemingly cancels trick or treating, a family is visited by three small characters in old style costumes. After giving them candy, they leave, but not before leaving a sleigh bell on the porch. This was the worst episode of the four. Really amateurish performances, with the exception of the mother Katie (Katie Walgrave), bad choppy cutting and a story that didn't make much sense.

The Samhain Slasher - Peter McNeely (Greg Fallon) is haunted by horrific dreams. His daughter Mary (Jordan Phipps) goes to a Halloween party but both have ignored TV reports about an escaped murderer in the area. Performances and effects were a lot better this time, but the story was confounding mixing supernatural and slasher elements but never making clear what was what.

Provided you accept this for what it is, it's not the worst collection you'll ever see - but go in expecting anything more and you'll be sorely disappointed.

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