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bob the moo
(list no longer kept up-to-date....sorry)
S1: Surprisingly messy good performances throughout, but the focus is not there, and it doesn't build well
The strength of the names in front of camera and behind it was what brought me to watch this series, despite not knowing much about the story. Our focus is a group of young people who break a political prisoner out of jail, forming a terrorist cell, and fighting directly against the Government and Police's attempts to quash any black power uprising in the UK in the 1970s. As a world it sounds interesting, and it is all delivered with high production values and a sense of time. However it doesn't hang together tonally or in terms of content and I'm not sure why.
We jump around with characters and tones for the whole 6 hours. At times it is almost playful, others tragic; it focuses on messy romantic relationship and affairs; but it doesn't manage to produce a sense of things building as a whole but rather it remains fragmented across characters, situations, and tone. It does do enough to be engaging, but it is never really compelling or gripping, and I think this is down to its construction as a drama. As I say, cast and production values are all good and plenty to comment on, but they are mostly well served in the moment rather than the sweep.
That said, for all its faults, it is too well made to be bad; I enjoyed it while also wanting more from it and the conclusion felt like a cop-out to get a second season, while also getting rid of its biggest scheduling challenge if it did go ahead.
S7: Delivers in the big picture, but the sacrifice of space, time, and pace, does undercut how satisfying it is (SPOILERS)
I don't think that I'm alone in thinking that this truncated seventh season of Game of Thrones is not as good in many ways as those that have gone before. In previous seasons I always enjoyed how they kept so many plots going, so many plates spinning, and were able to create engaging threads/characters with comparatively little screen time. They seemed to be able to make big things happen with short but meaningful interactions, while also allowing plenty of breathing room for some scenes or set pieces. That situation is very much reversed in this season, although it does have a lot to help balance it.
The examples of this are numerous. They range from threads that don't really work because they lack detail of the character motivation, through to the 'fast-travel' element where characters seem to jump all around the map in hours rather than months (an element made more obvious by all of the previous seasons playing out most journeys over many episodes or seasons). Enough has been said about this, and I do sort of agree with those that question why viewers can suspend disbelief in dragons and undead armies, but can't just go along with the timelines but for me it is that it undermines a solid base on which the fantasy show was built, and makes it broader and weaker.
This broader and weaker elements do at least have plenty of good to counter it. The base of previous seasons, and investment in characters do help of course, but the compression of events has been used to cram a lot of large set pieces into the 7 episodes. These big moments are as memorable as they are narratively weak; again there are many examples, but the one that stuck with me was the field of fire a brutal battle which does a great job of flipping us emotionally to feel for the Lannisters, but then ends with Jamie somehow surviving and then swimming underwater for miles to pop up at the start of the next episodes (and seemingly nobody thought to try to capture him or check if he was dead). This sort of thing is common in big moments and small interactions in the bigger picture it is still good and engaging, but there is also something, or some omission, that undercuts how effective it all is.
I don't see the problem going away soon; the final season will only be 6 episodes, although I hope they will not all be limited to 60 minutes. Looking at the scale of what remains to be played out and resolved, it looks impossible (unless they use the same 'on-screen text' device that Quantum Leap used to tie it all up). Of course I will be there to end the story and enjoy the scale, spectacle, and drama of the bigger picture but the years in-between will also send me back to watch previous seasons again, where characters had more time, and drama played out at a more satisfying pace.
Fortitude: Episode #1.12 (2015)
S1: Tries too hard from the start, and can't control the tone and content well enough to make it work beyond the moment (SPOILERS)
I think maybe we are spoilt a bit with how much good television there is at the moment (the 'moment' defined by the last decade or so), with smart writing, risks being taken, and plenty to engage that works. I say that because I think in another mindset Fortitude probably works better than it did for me, but as it is its weaknesses seemed too starkly presented. It is a shame because in a way the show is perfectly fine, and deserves credit for what it tries to do. It is set in a small isolated community of people who have washed up there for one reason or another, opens with a memorable moment of violence, plays out relationship and crime dramas, while at the same time having an odd horror element (which is related to something at the root of the town). All of this sounds good, and being presented with such a strong cast only adds to that; but it is the writing that doesn't make it work.
It starts early, as the first episode has far too many expositional scenes which come over as clunky in the way that it wants to bring the viewer up to speed as fast as possible, or to flag future issues. It is understandable in some ways, as it is trying to grab an audience, but it did feel forced. This continues into the rest of the show, where it consistently lacks that feel of naturalism or organic plot growth. As a wholly non-creative person, I struggled to put my finger on what is wrong with it, but it does seem like it couldn't get the control of all the moving parts, and ends up focusing on whatever it is doing at that moment, and can't make it a seamless whole. This is most apparent in the lack of embedding of themes.
Perhaps I am stretching for something not really there, but there should be more than gore to the idea of a town such as Fortitude being a place threatened by things long buried that start to come out due to specific revealing actions. This seems like an obvious connection, where both elements could strengthen the other, but the script seems to fumble it and not bring it out. As a result of this and other weakness, it is never what it could have been and I felt that frustration throughout. The cast and location help it; it looks great in its white isolation, and the performances are mostly delivering on what they are given or more. In particular Tucci, Dormer, and Echegui all do good work, but others are not as engaging, or seem to have as much presence. Few of them manage to produce great characters though, only good performances, and as a result the various twists and turns of later episodes do not really have the impact they should have done.
In the end it is a show that is worth a look for what it tries to do, but one that frustrates in how it doesn't deliver on its promise. It constantly feels like it is trying too hard, pushing all its elements, when really it needed a more balanced touch to bring out more in an organic way. I'm not sure if it did enough for me to rush to the second season, or if at all.
S17: Nightmare on Eden: Plenty of good ideas in the plot, but a fair amount of weakness in the serial too (SPOILERS)
Watching Doctor Who in retrospect is an odd experience, because I am remote from context of time and place. So at times it is easy to see it as a silly throwback to a time when sci-fi was men in suits trying to frighten children but then a serial like this comes along. In Nightmare in Eden we have the men in suits of course (and very silly suits they are), but we also have a plot from a 1970's show that features drug use as a negative, leading to slaughter of innocents while those addicted cannot do anything but focus on their own desire. This is Nightmare on Eden then, a serial which is full of ideas many of them pretty dark and challenging.
The ideas are what drive the serial, and it is a shame then that they do not sustain it as much as they should. There are plenty of moments where you can see a lot going on behind the basic plot, but it mostly remains there, and as the serial goes on it becomes more about the monsters themselves. The Mandrells are pretty basic 'men in suits' in their design although they reminded me of the much better creatures in the UK film Attack the Block. It is their use that makes them lesser though; essentially they just lumber around and are very easily dealt with by the Doctor it is only the moment where a drug addict releases them into a contained room of people that I found them to be a threat.
The cast is pretty good throughout; some don't really make a mark perhaps but mostly the main roles are well played out. Baker himself handles some of the silliness as well as could be expected, while Ward is solid. K9 has some nice flat floors to move around on, so is a good presence too. Nothing on-location in this serial, but the sets are decent enough. On the whole, Eden is an interesting serial with plenty to like, but has weakness that comes out as it goes on, and as the Mandrells play more of a role.
Dear White People: Chapter X (2017)
S1: Engaging and thoughtful, but not wholly successful and a bit too arch for its own good
I heard of this show via the so-called alt-right, who, as is their way, took any opportunity to form an extreme and unshakable opinion with only the barest of facts on which to base it. Cancelling Netflix was the cry, along with the usual 'what ifs' of reversing the race in the title, about this being why Hillary lost etc. I had seen the film prior to this, so I knew at least the film was not what the title suggested, plus it was not a great film even if it was an interesting one.
In the same way the show is interesting but doesn't all come together. The narrative structure is smart, but it highlights the episodic nature of it, making it feel like contained dramas within a loose frame which of course is what it is. This is fine for the most part, until near the end when it realizes that it needs to have a proper thread to justify a second season, and it is really clunky to see it suddenly try to reach that gear. Within the episodes though, there is a lot going on of interest. Those that decided it was an anti-white / anti-straight / anti-male piece will certainly find plenty to point at and be outraged, but at the same time the show has lots of targets for satire and mockery. From the dry and droll narration that opens each episode, there is a tone of absurdity below the surface that is shared equally. The choking identity politics of campus life, the self-importance of those not yet in the real world, the SJW's fighting for the death of gender- specific pronouns, all of these are ripe targets and certainly not given a free pass.
The absurdity is countered by realism though, and the show does well to have the real issues in there, even if the reactions and positions are gently mocked due to their extremes. Identity politics, racism, sexual politics all get covered and in smart ways. As much as r/T_D will assume it is one note, the writing draws on politics between races, but also between those who are light or dark within the same group. We get the character of Gabe, who is able to bring out the element which the alt-right would empathize with, which is the feeling that the feeling of having to be ashamed, or silent, because of the color of his skin, while also knowing that he does have advantages because of it. I've read some who got angry at the show for making Gabe a villain in the eyes of the black students, as if this was the show making a point however to me the point being made (voiced clearly by Lionel) is about misplaced anger, and the damage it does in creating division and mistrust.
Just like the film then, it has plenty to like, plenty of interest, plenty of sharp humor, and yet it doesn't come together in a total package that convinces. The characters have heart but are broadly written (one critic described each character as a walking op-ed piece, and you can see that). I enjoyed it for what it did well, and enjoyed seeing it show up those that hated it without seeing it, but it is a flawed series.
Interesting dual approach that works well
If you had to give up one of your senses, I think the vast majority of people would probably end up going for smell. Not to say it is not necessary, but just that most of us take it for granted. The strength of this film is that it relates how hard it is to actually lose it, and what is lost by it happening. Mostly the film is talking heads, but they are sharp, come across well on camera, engage with their subject, and are genuine in whatever they are saying and how they are saying it. This aspect of the film is the most interesting, and I was held by this.
Structurally the film mixes in scenes and images to avoid just showing people in a room talking. These image though are scenes that immediately capture a smell grass being cut, for instance. They are beautifully shot, are so rich in color and movement, that the viewer can almost smell them or at least are reminded of how great it would smell to be there. This is a simple device, but it is very effective because it pushes us to appreciate smell, while at the same time hearing the loss of those that don't have it the mix of these two things increases the impact of the documentary.
It isn't earth-shattering perhaps, but it is engaging, looks great, and makes it point well.
Richard Twice (2017)
Gently engaging little animation, but it is too gentle and detached as a whole
This is a very slight short film; it doesn't deal with big moments but rather the opposite. A man gets a recording contract and tells the story of how everything feel apart when his first live performance essentially ended his career. Told in narration, the film doesn't have a talking head as its focus though, but instead has line drawing animation of the subject's dream, and the performance in question.
The music is gentle, and the film seems to match that; it drifts across the character and moment with a certain sense of detached reflection. The narration leads this I guess, as the subject comes across the same way. In this sense the animation works well as the 'simple' (to look at) animation bends and flows to fit the descriptions and feelings of the narration. I liked it for the way it did this, but in the end I think it was maybe too gentle. It asks a lot to engage with it given how detached it presents itself, and at the same time it doesn't make much of an impact. The career ending moment doesn't hit the viewer, and is presented in a way that makes you wonder why it ended the guy as much as it did.
It is a gently engaging little animation, but it is too gentle and detached as a whole.
The overly provocative nature of it makes it hard to see deeper than that
Approach this short film from the inside and it is one worth seeing. The lead character is confronted with a man masturbating in the public showers at a swimming pool. After initially reacting with revulsion, he joins the moment and is lost in it. When they are disturbed, whatever it was roused from within him is shocked back into the shadows, and he violently beats the man with whom he was just sexually engaged. As a character journey it is interesting, and the nudity matches well with the exposed desires of the man.
That said, the film doesn't leave much space for this, because it is mostly content to play it all out in a way that is overly provocative. The nudity, the public masturbation, the sudden violence all of it is fed with tension and is a bit shocking, but it seems like maybe this is the point. On reflection, after watching, I liked it more than I did when watching but afterwards I'm doing the work. While watching I didn't get inside the character, and found myself just a bit put off by an act of public indecency being the catalyst for the moment.
It is interesting, but it has too much impact on the surface and doesn't easily allow the viewer in to get to more.
The good aspects tend to be in the shadow of what influenced them, while the weaker elements (plot, running time) stand alone
There has been a lot of very positive things said and written about The Villainess; from a standing ovation at Cannes (for all that that means), to the critics, even through to the commenters here on IMDb. Despite that I came to the film open to whatever it did, although of course I came to it because I had heard many positive things about it. Having seen the film myself, I am left rather bemused about the near universal positive commentary for The Villainess, because it didn't really stand out to me as being anything particularly special, even though it does have elements (or sequences) which are memorable.
As a whole, the film felt like a collection of bits from other films or works, pulled together to try to freshen up a plot which doesn't really flow, and characters that are never fleshed out to the point that we really care about them or invest in who they are. The action is where the focus is, although I was surprised how long periods of the film didn't have any. The action is worth a look, with the opening pov sequence, and the final sequences, being bloody, energetic, and enjoyable however they also represent the constant problem of the film which is that it all feels very familiar, but not as good as what it reminds you of.
For example, the pov stuff is directly from Ilya Naishuller's music videos (and then the feature Hardcore Henry), but it is not as slickly or smoothly delivered as those videos (not seen the feature). Within that, and particularly evident in the final road- based sequence, is the influence of The Raid and The Raid 2; in those films the camera is thrown around within the action, as well as making seemingly impossible transitions within the scene (specifically the chase sequence here and in Raid 2). It is good here, but never as good as in Evans' two films while also being totally 'influenced' by them to the point of being constantly in their shadow (in my opinion). The plot also heavily smacks of Nikita, but maybe would have done better to stick closer to it since here the plot is messy and too jumbled to flow. I liked the fragmented structure of it as an idea, and it works pretty well as a device but it is the content and delivery that limits it. The cast didn't seem able to lift the material, and although good in the action, they didn't find their characters outside of the moment.
The Villainess has enough about it in the start and end to be worth a look. It runs longer than it can bare though, and the plot doesn't work well enough to engage through some of the periods of no action. It is very much in the shadow of its many influences though, and while I enjoyed some aspects, mostly it felt too familiar and knocked-off.
Kimi no na wa. (2016)
Perfectly balances all the elements, providing plenty in all of them (SUGGESTIVE SPOILERS)
I came to Your Name only knowing that it was a body-swap film, and that it was supposed to be good. Beyond that I did not know much at all. I cannot remember if I was told it was a comedy, or merely assumed it was a comedy on the basis that all bodyswap films seem to play that element to the maximum. Regardless, I did not know much about it.
The film opens very much in the genre that I expected, and we spend the first half of the film in this vein; two teenagers in different parts of Japan swap bodies every so often a boy and girl. After a while it becomes a routine, and they leave each other notes on their telephones to help the visitor play out the lives correctly. In this half the film is lively, funny, sweet, and enjoyable for what it does with the characters in terms of establishing them but also swapping them around. The middle of the film sees a change to this direction, and instead the root of the jumping, and more detail of the situation, is laid out. At this point there is much more mystery, urgency, and drama to the story as it unfolds. It does this in a way that in no way discards what has gone before, but uses our charmed investment to make the second half work even better. It does this all the way to an ending which seems like nothing to describe it, but yet left me with tears in my eyes.
The character creation and the spot-on judgment of tone are two key elements in making it work, but of course not only. Animation is great throughout and the music, although a little corny perhaps, plays off the emotions in the story well again a factor in me having something in my eye at the end. I'm not sure a second watch will have quite the same impact on me as the first time did, but I will watch it again. It is a great little film worthy of the praise it received on release in Europe, and worth watching even if you have zero interest in subtitled or animated films.