Following the derivative self-indulgence of episode 1 of season 3 (which should have been entitled ‘The Michael Burnham Show’), it was a real relief to watch an episode that was actually an ensemble piece involving the wider crew of the Discovery. And it’s a proper old-school away-mission sort of episode! (Alright, it does steal its Wild West aesthetic from Firefly, but we can allow that, eh?) The Discovery crash lands on a mining colony and is in a race against time to make repairs before the ‘parasitic ice’ of the place can overrun the ship and snap it in two! Saru and Tilly head out to make contact with the locals, to see if they can scrounge some vital components… arriving in a Wild West sort of cantina to find that the locals really aren’t too friendly, and don’t really ‘believe’ in the Federation. Then, the system’s bad boy (Zareh) turns up, played ably by Jake Weber, no less. He’s looking to cannibalise the Discovery, especially once he learns there’s dilithium on board! Cue laser action and Georgiou finally earning her spurs! At last Michelle Yo is allowed to draw on some of her martial prowess (because, let’s face it, character-acting really isn’t her main strength)! I’m gonna stop there, so that I avoid any major spoilers. Suffice it to say, this episode restored my faith somewhat. Hurrah! (The only ‘lame’ plotting really was the stuff with Stamets in a Jefferies tube… but let’s chalk it up to homage and let them off on that.) I’d score the episode a solid 7.5 out of 10. Boldly go, Discovery!
Right, so episode 1 of the new season is called ‘That Hope Is You’ but, quite frankly, they should have called it ‘A New Hope’, given how much it borrows from Star Wars… not to mention Alien Mine, the BSG episode when Starbuck is marooned, and even Doctor Who! For all that, though, this season is all the better for borrowing from sci-fi that still has some credibility. If you recall, season 2 really lost its way… in so many, many ways. Spock was lost, the actors were lost most of the time, and the majority of it certainly left me at a loss… and bereft, too.
Season 3, sensibly, is a complete and utter departure from the universe that originally birthed it. Burnham (still painfully over-acting and emoting – she was meant to have been raised as a Vulcan, believe it or not, not that you’d ever know it from the way she’s constantly booing her eyes out) is propelled a thousand years into the future, along with the Discovery. Except Burnham hits a ship in the wormhole, crash lands on a nearby planet and loses all contact with the ship. Now, the whole series seems to be about her discovering the Discovery again! So it threatens to be the Burnham show throughout. Yikes. Remember your strengths Star Trek! It’s an ensemble show. Burnham is too annoying on her own to carry things!
Anyway, in the future, we learn, the Federation no longer exists. Gasp. Cue sobbing. You see, the Burn happened, during which all dilithium became unstable, or something like that, destroying all star ships in the universe! Ooops. So we’re in a post-apocalyptic junkyard future like Star Wars. Honestly, it’s so Tantooine it’s ridiculous. Still Burnham then sets about improvising a new crew for herself, based on people she meets along the way, like the cowardly lion, the tin man, the scarecrow, an animal whisperer called Book, a maine coon cat called Grudge (he COMPLETELY steals the show) and a Federation wannabe called Mr. Sahil.
This show isn’t perfect, and it does a bit of shameless flag flying at the end of the episode… but it’s timing feels right, as the US election nears and COVID closes in around us. Hope is exactly what we need. Well played, Discovery!
Watched the new comedy-horror Vampires Vs The Bronx on Netflix last night! A faceless corporation, Murnau Properties (a reference to the director of Nosferatu, presumably), is buying up real estate in the Bronx on the cheap, gradually dispossessing the underprivileged black and Hispanic community, forcing them out and generally gentrifying the place, so that the real estate is then worth far more. Here, then, is the story of modern America: the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Once we find out who’s behind Murnau Properties, we’re not surprised really: a privileged, white, parasitic elite (yes, vampires). The vampires in this movie, therefore, work on both a literal and metaphoric level – making the whole movie strangely compelling, despite its general lack of originality.
As you’ll detect from the above, there is a general satire of modern America going on. In keeping with this satirical vibe, there are a good number of visual jokes as we go, using Timberlands, mobile phones and skateboards. Indeed, this movie is authentically immersed in the modern black and Hispanic experience in the US as well as the genre of vampire fiction (Salem’s Lot, Blade, etc). It makes for a persuasive and well-informed mix.
Looked at from a female perspective, there is quite an interesting (albeit understated) debate concerning competing narratives around ‘beauty’. The Aryan white, blonde female vampire dominates the first half of the movie, but is slowly revealed as all manipulative artifice, and ugly, selfish demand, prepared to stop at nothing to win advantage over or destroy men and women alike. Zoe Saldana is actually sacrificed upon the altar of such contrived beauty in the movie’s first scene! By the end of the movie, however, the young black character of Rita (Coco Jones) wins out with a self-possessed and generous version of beauty that is ‘au naturel’, a beauty that cannot simply be owned by others (be they a vampire or the heroic male lead).
So, this film has social relevance and importance! Okay, okay, there’s a LOT of cliche, if you know the genre well. But it’s only 1hr25mins long, so not too much of a demand on your time. It gets a 7 out of 10 from me. Check it out!
In a contemporary USA, when a young person shows signs of magical ability, they’re whisked off to a military academy where they are trained as frontline troops for the Witchcraft Army. The first season of Motherland: Fort Salem is set in a female-dominated society (really!), due to the persecution of witches having ended three hundred years previously, on the back of the Salem witch trials when an agreement known as the Salem Accord was ratified by human and witch kind. (In addition, the world finds itself at odds with a terrorist organization known as the Spree, a group against the military conscription of witches.)
This brave YA series shows how the institution of society both entraps and sacrifices young people as much as it gives them any sort of guidance and discipline. Indeed, the fresh-faced head witch is over three hundred years old only because new conscripts magically sacrifice their youth to her!
At the same time, the series empowers females – allowing them more sexual licence than males and complete ownership of their own bodies. The series is never voyeuristic, however: it is body positive and the female cast comes in all shapes and sizes, all equally celebrated (give or take).
The series isn’t perfect, of course, as some of the plotting and continuity is a touch ropey. But the actors involved manage to carry things off, and the characterisation and world-building are compelling. I enjoyed a lot! So I’m gonna score it a slightly generous 8 out of 10 (cos it has chops and I’m up for series 2).
Oo, and if you like narratives about witches, check out The Book of Witches too!
No wonder Bird Box has been one of the most viewed movies in the world during lockdown! This scif-fi/horror film sees humankind struggling to survive when sight of the ‘monster’ outside causes insanity and a suicide pandemic. You can only get about with your eyes covered, and you must never open the front door when someone or something knocks! Don’t let it in! It’ll infect you! A pregnant Sandra Bullock(!) works with a groups of desperate strangers (including John Malkovich), and she gets to raise two young children in ‘the new normal’. But her group dies one by one, until she has to go outside with her kids to try and get them to some sort of safety. They have to deal with all manner of hazard and marauder!
Honestly, it’s a great great movie that plays with your mind. It’s utterly relatable. And the ending is a triumph. I flaming loved it. 9.5 out of 10. My missis doesn’t tend to like horror, but even she enjoyed it.
Six undying soldiers-of-fortune fight in one conflict after another, always trying to be on the side of right, so as to make the world a better place. After thousands of years of dying and resurrecting, it seems that all their effort has been for naught. Sucks, right? Pretty much. Their leader (Charlize Theron) wonders if they should call it a day. Worse, an ex-CIA operative has begun to track them down on behalf of an obsessed geneticist who wants to cage them and ‘harvest’ their DNA/immortality (not for the good of humanity, obviously, but to make plenty of money instead). The Old Guard are now on the run from dozens of baddies. The days of fighting for what’s right are ending.
The Old Guard is a good movie. Yes, there are the sorts of grisly battle scenes you might expect, but the plot is definitely not throw-away. There are strong contemplative character-development scenes. There’s philosophical rumination. It is not a mono-tempo movie by any means. It has dimensions. There are complex and moving relationships. There’s even a very poetic speech about the nature of love. Not what you might expect from your regular Netflix action movie? Well, that’ll be because the movie’s based on the Image comic book series, so there’s plenty of content. Well played, Netflix! It scores an admiring 8 out of 10 from me.
Started watching the new metaphysical fantasy series on Netflix: Warrior Nun. I want to hate it, but I can’t… cos the plotting is pretty tight (based on a Canadian combic book, init), the tempo is high, it understands its genre ‘beats’, there are moral dilemmas and problems to solve, and there’s just enough character development for us to care. Plus: it’s got some freshly original ideas in it. Oh and it’s easy on the eye! That’s a pretty good set of ingredients, all told.
Basically, there’s a Catholic order of female templar knights whose job it is to retrieve holy artefacts so that they don’t fall into the hands of demons and unleash hell. But the lead knight dies in an ambush and her power (her ‘halo’) has to be hidden, in a desperate moment, in the body of an incidental dead girl. Unexpectedly, the halo resurrects the girl and she goes out to enjoy her newfound life… with the forces of both good and evil out to claim her as their own. Neat, eh? It works philosophically and politically.
Watch the first episode and think ‘hmm, alright’. Watch the second and think ‘heh, this is getting quite good’. It scores a respectable 8 out of 10 from me.
Some critics have said that you can’t spoof Eurovision because it’s already so self-aware that it’s a satire of itself. Those critics are nitwits. Let me tell you: if you like anything about Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams or Eurovision, you’ll love this movie, and you’re guaranteed to cry like a baby at the end (unless you are hard-hearted, in which case you don’t like Eurovision anyway). The thing that works so well about the film is that the humour is affectionate rather than spiteful, and the film absolutely gets the ‘spirit’ of Eurovision.
Ferrell and McAdams play two musical Icelanders from a small fishing village who are obsessed with making it in Eurovision. They make offerings to the local elves, they play weddings to perfect their skills, and they suffer the mockery of everyone they know (including Pierce Brosnan, who wonderfully plays the role of Ferrell’s long-suffering father). The head of the Icelandic bank is dead-set on Iceland never winning Eurovision (as it will bankrupt the country and reveal he’s been syphoning off funds), so he sees to it that the worst possible Icelandic band wins the national competition: Ferrell and McAdams (who are the band ‘Fire Saga’), by hook and by crook, therefore win through the nationals and make it to the semi-finals in Edinburgh. Enter the conniving Russian act (played superbly by Dan Stevens, with his entry song ‘Lion of Love’) looking to split up our romantically innocent Icelandic couple!
What more could you want? Oh, yes. Costumes. Check. Cheese. Check. Extreme camp. Check, darlings, check! Look, it’s the most watched movie in the world right now (making Netflix very happy), and there’s a good reason for that. The lockdown really isn’t that much fun, and this movie reminds us that we might just have fun again one day.
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams give us some brilliant laughs in this new Amazon Prime movie. It’s a feel-good satire of middle-class rivalry (#FirstWorldProblems). A group of childless friends live for their Friday games’ night. They are ridiculously competitive. Then, Jason’s older brother comes to town and declares he’s gonna take games’ night ‘up a notch’! A real-time kidnapping and murder-mystery role play begins… and all too soon we’re not sure what’s real and what’s pretend. The stakes are raised when the older brother’s mafia friends start getting involved, closely followed by the FBI and so on. But our friends have brilliant ‘game skills’, including lateral thinking and problem-solving, meaning precious little can get the better of them. It’s the game of their very lives!
I’m a bit of a writer, and this is one of those movies I wish I’d written myself. There’s a laugh out loud joke every 5mins, and such a variety of joke-type that there’s something for everyone, including the hard-bitten viewer. Coming to the end of lockdown, this film is just what I needed. 8.5 out of 10 from me!
So, there was a nuclear war and a new ice age wipes out humanity… except for three thousand of us who managed to get on a train/arc powered by a perpetual-motion engine. The poorest of the three thousand end up in cattle class (called ‘The Tail’ of the train), then there’s third class, second class and first class. Segregation of the classes is brutally policed. Resources are scarce in The Tail, where it’s dog-eat-dog. Meanwhile, the decadent elites are drinking champagne at the head of the train. That is the way of things: the order and balance of things. Until there’s a murder in first class! Yikes. There’s only one murder detective on the train (played by the very cool Daveed Diggs, of Hamilton fame), and he’s stuck in The Tail. He’s taken out of there by Jennifer Connelly (who runs the train) and ordered to track down the killer. But our detective has some demands he wants met first!
This new Netflix show is great, great fun. If you’ve ever read (or seen) J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise (or A J Dalton’s Gateway of the Saviours), it’s sort of like that laid sideways and sent hurtling along rails. At the same time, there was a (rather superior) movie version back in 2013, apparently. Aaaanyway, there are neat ideas, great visuals, a decent mystery and interesting social commentary. What more could you want during lockdown? (Okay, okay, many things, but it’s a start.) Check it out. It scores 8 out of 10 from me.