Category Archives: 3/5

Netflix Film Review “Awake” (2019) #NetflixReviews #150WordReview #AwakeMovie #Awake2019

Please ignore the 5.0 IMDb and 14% Rotten Tomatoes scores.

A man wakes up in a hospital bed, bandaged from head to toe, and with no memory or who he is. But when our nameless protagonist (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) learns that he is a wanted serial killer, something just doesn’t sit right, and he won’t stop until he finds out who he really is and what happened to him.

Awake is a tense, fast-paced crime mystery with twists. Rookie writer Elana Zeltser makes a solid if not ground-breaking screenplay debut. The script, whilst not as clever as Memento (1999) or as taut as Taken (2008), is well-written with believable plotting and dialogue. Our leads, Meyers and Francesca Eastwood, also really sell the film, although the acting from Malik Yoba (detective Frank Ward) had a tendency to veer off into TV movie territory.

Please ignore the 5.0 IMDb and 14% Rotten Tomatoes scores. This film is much better than that. Riveting, fast-paced, not overly obvious albeit not earth-shakingly original, this is a lovely little movie to spend 92 minutes with.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Devil” (2010) #NetflixReviews @MNIGHTSHYAMALAN

When the Devil’s near … Toast falls jelly-side down

Devil is a murder-mystery concept piece set mainly in the confines of a lift. Five strangers enter said lift together only to get stuck between floors. Bad enough, you might think. But when one of the five is murdered during a momentary blackout, all Hell breaks loose. Meanwhile outside, our intrepid damaged-goods Policeman tries to solve the unfolding lift-based mystery whilst keeping his shit together.

Devil could have made a good episode of The Twilight Zone (albeit, without the scenes outside the lift). As it was, Devil made for a tense and entertaining horror-mystery. Coming from the mind of M. Knight Shyamalan, there is of course a twist ending, which is reasonably effective, although not totally unforeseeable. And being an M. Knight movie, we can play some Shyamalan Bingo™:

  • there was some flabby and ridiculous dialogue (“When he’s [the Devil] near, everything goes wrong. Toast falls jelly-side down, children hit tables, and people get hurt.”),
  • a somewhat awkwardly shoehorned religious aspect (handled clumsily with the gibbering Mexican Catholic expositor),
  • cheesiness (the awkward mattress salesman and his banter),
  • and a damaged protagonist suffering from a traumatic loss.

Despite this, the story was lean and tightly plotted. The characters were fairly believable. The performances were all decent. The movie had a kind of Eli Roth vibe to it, which is good or bad depending on your viewpoint, and a TV serial feel. Perhaps the film benefited from M. Knight sharing the writing duties.

Very enjoyable, albeit not Oscar-worthy. A middling Shyamalan movie: no Sixth Sense, but thankfully no The Happening, either.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “The Invisible Guardian” A.K.A. “El Guardián Invisible” (2017) #NETFLIXREVIEWS #150WORDREVIEW #DoloresRedondo #ElGuardianInvisible #TheInvisibleGuardian

nature itself almost seems a character

A female inspector, Amaia (Marta Etura), battles both her own demons and against a religiously-inspired serial killer whose lust for murder shows no sign up letting up.

Set in the haunting, rain-sodden countryside of the Basque Country, nature itself almost seems a character in its own right as embodied by the mythological “Invisible Guardian” of the forest. But Pan’s Labyrinth fantasy this is not; The Invisible Guardian is gritty, and gut-punchingly real.

The beautiful cinematography brings alive the unique culture and atmosphere of the Basque Country. The acting is first rate. The story was tightly plotted and interesting with shades of the Wallander books. This is the first of three films based on Delores Redondo’s books. Crime fiction fans should give it a go, it might be mildly entertaining for the general viewer.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard Season One Review @SIRPATSTEW @STARTREK @STARTREKCBS #STARTREK #STARTREKPICARD

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the writers need to stop introducing deep story threads … and then resolving them … in one scene or through exposition.

Star Trek: Picard promised much, returning as it would to some of the franchise’s most beloved characters, notably Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself. The eponymous series starts with Picard in semi-comatose retirement, whiling his time away on his vineyard, when, suddenly, his retirement-cum-autoeuthanasia is rudely disrupted by a gatecrashing stranger with an extraordinary story.

The excitement of spending time with Picard and co again was mildly tainted by the stench that this was just an easy paycheque for Patrick Stewart. Plus, his rants on Brexit and Trump, even if you agree, boded badly for this series executive produced by the man himself; would this merely be Stewart in soapbox mode? However, these fears were unfounded. Picard got off to a slow but steady start, before launching into warp nine in the season’s second act, before stumbling and tripping in act three. Did it come off the rails? Not at all. But the ending was unworthy of the journey. The old characters were of course nice, but it’s the new characters that were refreshing: all the hallmarks of classic Trek characters, without feeling derivative. A great new batch of characters for the Trek canon.

If Game of Thrones is the yardstick (bar season eight) for streaming series, then ST:P isn’t quite the full 36 inches. But it’s not bad, either. Far from it. There was no single episode that you could call “poor”, although some were distinctly weaker than others. The worst episode was solid and serviceable; the best: first rate exciting television. This show could go far. But the writers need to stop introducing deep story threads and backstories and then resolving them within the very same episode, worst of all, in one scene or through exposition. This show seems more accessible to non-Trekkies than any other Star Trek series, including Discovery, but still seems Trek enough for Trekkies; maybe it’s found that Goldilocks zone that much of the franchise has failed to find.

All’s well that ends well? Yes. And if the finale had been stronger, season one would have gained a four star rating. But the box-ticking logic-chucking way the first season ended somewhat soured the thing. All in all, I am cautiously optimistic for season two. A good show for Trekkies and a good show for newbs.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW “THE SON” A.K.A. “EL HIJO” (2019) #NETFLIXREVIEWS @JOAQUINFURRIEL @MARTINAGUSMAN @CIANOCACERES @HEIDITOINI @LEODAGO_ @LEOYSUBRAYO

there is a line between teasing the viewer and being a pricktease … frankly, this movie will leave you with blue balls.

Lorenzo is a middle-aged artist who is about to have a baby with his much younger, sweetly vulnerable wife Sigrid. But as soon as she falls pregnant, her behaviour becomes more and more distant, sinister even. Or– is it all in Lorenzo’s head? It’s only when the baby is born that Lorenzo and the viewer truly plunge headlong down the rabbit hole.

The film starts with a hot sex scene. Usually a bad sign. However, not so here: The Son was a tense psychological thriller, brilliantly acted by all. Lorenzo’s headspin into wretchedness and/or madness is masterfully constructed by Joaquín Furriel who is almost unrecognisable. Heidi Toini, who plays his Norwegian wife Sigrid, gives a brilliant performance which, like the candlestick-silhouette illusion, could equally be read in two completely different ways depending on perspective; is she an innocent and worried mother or is she a sinister evil plotter? Lorenzo’s best friends Julieta and Renato are equally magnificently played by Martina Gusman and Luciano Cáceres.

Candlestick, or silhouettes? The Son masterfully plays with our perception of reality.

I couldn’t breathe throughout I was that spellbound.

This is honestly one of the best movies I have seen in the last year or two.

It could also be one of the worst.

Why?

Despite being almost perfect, the ending lets it down. But not because it was obvious or forced or too twisty or too straight-forward. Rather, the film just ends. Abruptly. You’ll understand when you see the film, but it’s like it’s missing the last two minutes. All the plot threads are pulling together when the final incident happens and — we don’t get to see the resolution. I had to think about the ending. That’s not a bad thing, the old thinsky ambigui-ending. And I think I know what happened. No spoilers, of course. But then again, judging from other people’s comments, everyone seems to have interpreted the ending differently. There is a line between teasing the viewer and being a pricktease, and with The Son we’ve crossed it; frankly, this movie will leave you with blue balls. It’s actually unacceptable that a movie this brilliant in so many ways should end with the cheap, “We’re not gonna show you!” shot at ambiguity. The writer and director should have had the balls to pick one of the possible outcomes and go with it. I have to warn you: this film is magnificent, but the bad ending — no, actual lack of an ending — is pretty disgraceful and will be, for many a viewer, film-destroying. Perhaps the book on which it is based can shed some light.

So, four stars out of five, or two out of five? I’ll have to give it a three, the weirdest and most atypical three star movie ever.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review: The Boy Next Door (2015) #100WordReview #NetflixReview @TheBoyNextDoor @JLo #TheBoyNextDoor @ryanAguzman @Netflix @thefilmreview @ianmnelson95 @Lex_Atkins @KermodeMovie

a paint-by-numbers thriller-stalker ideal for playing cliché bingo

Having recently separated from her philandering husband, lonely teacher Claire (Jennifer Lopez) has a night of passion with her new next door neighbour: young, sexy-but-smart Noah (Ryan Guzman). Yet when Claire tells Noah she made a mistake, Noah won’t accept it and starts his reign of stalking terror.

Despite The Boy Next Door being a paint-by-numbers thriller-stalker ideal for playing cliché bingo, it’s very entertaining. Great pacing, logical follow-through, and the acting is mostly convincing — although Guzman increasingly hams as the tension rises.

A good film? No. Entertaining? Undoubtedly. Unoriginal and sometimes absurd, The Boy Next Door is a guilty pleasure.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Time Trap” (2017)

… Goonies gone awry quickly becomes The Descent-with-teens …

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

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

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

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

B movie, yes, but a true delight.

3/5

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

Boxes were ticked …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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

… in the rush to the season finale, “Broken Pieces” incompletely tells a story of its own …

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9420290/mediaviewer/rm365279489

 

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

 … would have made a cracking little episode of The Twilight Zone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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