Tag: Netflix

Pieces of a Woman (2020) Review 5

Pieces of a Woman (2020) Review

After watching Marriage Story (and Blue Valentine for that matter), I feel like one could be ready for anything a relationship drama throws at them. Pieces of a Woman — much like life itself — proves that there’s always something you can’t account for.

Vanessa Kirby has always been a sort of sleeping giant in terms of talent, and has been privy to higher profile but underutilized “gravitas action” roles. But The Crown really helped put her on the map, and she’s able to really show her chops in Pieces of a Woman, as the film’s namesake.

Pieces of a Woman (2020) Review 3
Pieces of a Woman

After an explosive opening act in which Kirby’s character loses her newborn, we get a slow burn of drama involving pretty much every facet of her life. The camera frequently focuses on Kirby, letting others talk while we get to linger on her reactions. She’s subtle when she needs to be, never overacting, and working with the material as best as she can. She’s also not domineering, as several other players have plenty to say on top of her brooding and mostly justified pangs of anger and despair.

Quiet pain is truly the crux of Pieces of a Woman. The script has some decent small talk peppered in, driving home how painful ignoring grief can be. Where the film starts to falter is the lengthy two hour long runtime, that doesn’t necessarily justify itself. Disparity and competition can be a dangerous game in certain relationships, and the Kirby/LaBeouf duo are wonderful at letting it show. They are the rock that holds it all together, with Kirby at the forefront.

Pieces of a Woman (2020) Review 4
Pieces of a Woman

It’s the supporting cast that often gets in the way, alongside some of the very contrived drama that is thrown at them. A few family members (Kirby’s mother) are mere caricatures that bring things down to a soapy level (or the depths below). Several could have been cut out entirely and the film would have been better for it. A handful of scenes are groan or cringeworthy, but then get back on track. Even still, amid several forced interactions and twists, Pieces of a Woman mostly gets it right and doesn’t stray too far from the overall message of healing; and how different people heal. Think of it like a stage play a la August: Osage County, albeit without the bloated star-studded cast. As a more intimate character study, Pieces of a Woman carves out a niche for itself.

The Prom (2020) Review 1

The Prom (2020) Review

Ryan Murphy has had a hell of a career since Glee. He’s dipped his toes in everything from full on high concept soap operas to gripping dramas; to everything in-between. Naturally it makes sense to tap him for a musical with tons of star power, though in the case of The Prom, not everything translates tonally.

Based on the Broadway original, The Prom’s spotlight is centered on a high schooler named Emma, who was denied access to her prom for being gay. As soon as four washed-up stars (a star-studded lineup of Meryl Streep, James Cordon, Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells) hear about it in the news, they seize the opportunity for good publicity.

The Prom (2020)

What commences from then on is an over-two-hour (and slightly too long) romp of loving, laughing, and understanding. You can pretty much see where the framework of the narrative is going around 15 minutes in, but it isn’t any less fun getting there. That fun, mind, is impeded a bit by bloat. This is Ryan Murphy we’re talking about: who infamously lets stories go on for far longer than they should, much to the chagrin of any sane editor. There are plenty of moments that could be cut with no consequence; but perhaps Murphy courts so many stars because they know all of their material will make it in the final cut.

With that in mind, one thing I really like about The Prom is that just about every character is given their moment in the sun. Quite frequently, even for ham-fisted reasons, the cast will break apart and get their own solo act. For cast members like Streep, Kidman, and Rannells, it’s a hoot to see them shine. And like Hairspray before it, there’s plenty of gag songs that are nearly as effective in live-action form as they are on the stage.

The Prom (2020)

The songs are rooted in Broadway classics, and for the most part, stick in your mind later that day; either due to the catchy tune or the laugh-out-loud lyrics. Seeing a few of these acted out before my eyes added a little something extra that a soundtrack couldn’t match: but conversely, a several didn’t match up to the raw energy of the original cast. It’s par for the course for musical adaptations, but an issue Murphy doesn’t skirt here.

The Prom isn’t for everyone. It’s saccharine. It’s camp. It also demands a reverence for the theater and for musicals that a lot of people simply do not have. But it’s also a ton of fun, and the songs mostly carry over from the original with some clever film-upgraded set pieces. If you’re already a musical lover, you’ll find something to like here.

Hilbilly Elegy (2020) Review 1

Hillbilly Elegy (2020) Review

Family dramas often walk a real fine line. Too much sap, it trips and falls into the soapy pits of despair. Too little, and it’s hard to really relate and care about any of the characters. Hillbilly Elegy really, really tries to balance the two, but ends up falling squarely into the former camp; despite the star talent involved.

I won’t beat around the bush: frankly, I’m kind of surprised this was helmed by Ron Howard, was penned by an award-winning screenwriter, and has two very respectable stars in it. I was completely dumbfounded fairly early on when the out-of-place voiceover started to sink in; wondering if I had accidentally started an early ‘90s made-for-TV film instead.

While you could argue the crux of the film is generational pain between Amy Adams and Glenn Close (who plays her mother, “Mamaw”), much of the screen time is actually centered around Adams’ on-screen son, J.D. That’s in part due to the source material (penned by the actual J.D. Vance), and it’s absolutely to this film’s detriment.

Hilbilly Elegy (2020)

Whenever J.D. is on-screen, the pacing and emotion grinds to a halt. That happens pretty much throughout the film actually, fairly consistently, but the combination of poorly written and delivered voiceovers alongside of J.D.’s issues make for one of the dullest stories of 2020. Pretty much every other decision, from the soundtrack choices to the editing, is questionable and Lifetime movie-esque. How Howard and company blew $45 million on this project is beyond me.

When Close, and to a lesser extent, Adams are on-screen, it can work. They do have a connection at times during the more explosive moments of the tale, even if some of them are so bombastic and absurd that they feel out of place with the rest of the tone. But as soon as the narrative shifts to college-age J.D., things grind to a halt.

 It’s completely all over the place, jumping to and fro between timelines with flashbacks like it was nothing; all to deliver heavy-handed faux emotional undertones or a ton of exposition. It’s messy and it’s unfortunate. The whole thing needed to be completely redone from top to bottom to truly fit as an adaptation, perhaps farther removed from Vance’s (frankly problematic) source material.

I bet when Hillbilly Elegy was being filmed, the cast probably had a good feeling about it. With tighter editing and a different lead (say Robert Pattinson), it could have been something great. As it stands, it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Hubie Halloween (2020) Review 1

Hubie Halloween (2020) Review

Look, Adam Sandler movies weren’t always guilty pleasures. Classics like Happy Gilmore had a certain art to them, before Sandler became an international superstar and basically took his friends on elaborate vacations masquerading as films. Hubie Halloween attempts to get back to those glory days, but doesn’t quite make it.

Sandler has his classic idiosyncrasies on display once again in Hubie Halloween, portraying a Bobby Boucher-like meek do-gooder who is constantly down on his luck and the joke of his town. Hubie is just the right amount of annoying so that he doesn’t become too cloying or outright awful: and his Dr. Who Sonic Screwdriver-like  thermos that functions as a multi-tool adds a little bit of extra oomph to the character. He does have help though, amid a fun little Halloween-fueled mystery.

Adam Sandler and Kevin James in Hubie Halloween (2020)

While a lot of Sandler regulars (Kevin James, Rob Schneider) are also floundering about as major characters, Hubie Halloween employs some top tier talent this time around; courting a few veterans in on the silliness. Seeing Ben Stiller in a completely hammy cameo at the start is a joy, and Ray Liotta has been really letting loose this past decade with similarly campy turns. Julie Bowen also adds some extra authenticity into the mix with a role that doesn’t require her to overact, and Steve Buscemi is delightful as a carefree elderly neighbor.

Against all odds, the plot doesn’t devolve into anything too zany or unbelievable. It mostly stays the course as a morality tale, centered on the kindness of Hubie and how pretty much everyone around him hates him. Again, Sandler doesn’t go too overboard with his Hubie performance, opting not to scream too loudly on a constant basis; so that the character has a little room to breathe and deliver some decent quick-witted comebacks.

Hubie Halloween (2020)

It’s also nice that the Halloween theme is present throughout, rather than an afterthought. The film gets its jabs in at the holiday, reminding you that yes, beyond the central spook-fest of the narrative; there is a point to this debuting in October during the fall season of scares. At the same time, a lot of the jokes range from groan-worthy or elicit little to no reaction, mostly a sin of the script.

Having seen all of Sandler’s Netflix flicks so far, this up there with Murder Mystery in the “watchable” category. It’s not a high bar! But if you’re looking for a fun little Halloween movie to watch this year, Hubie is not a trainwreck.

The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020) Review 2

The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020) Review

2017’s The Babysitter came out of nowhere and delighted horror fans everywhere. Sure it wasn’t perfect, but the flawed director McG helped craft a silly and universe that involved a killer cult led by a young boy’s part time caregiver. It had elements of comedy and the slasher genre, which blended together in harmony. Somehow, the sequel was able to re-capture a portion of that spark in another bottle.

Picking up two years later, Cole Johnson finds himself navigating the dangerous waters of high school: and another satanic cult. The Babysitter: Killer Queen’s strength is that it frequently plays up the comedy angle, with elements of surrealism. While it’s not always hitting high notes, it’s frequently interesting. Judah Lewis is able to show some growth as Cole, as he eases into his role of a more traditional hero. This, of course, sacrifices some of the franchise’s uniqueness.

But The Babysitter: Killer Queen isn’t preoccupied with making sense. McG really leans into horror history here, grabbing from grindhouse cinema and modern teen flicks to smoothly transition from decade to decade of homage. I never thought I’d use the phrase “smooth” and “McG” in the same sentence, but he nearly found his rhythm and calling with this franchise. Of course, there’s usually a caveat when McG is involved.

The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020) – Netflix

It can get a little too formulaic, despite those aforementioned quick and enjoyable interludes. While the original film was a brisk hour and 20 minutes, the sequel adds another 20 on top of that; causing a pacing problem about halfway through where it becomes a gauntlet of cult fights. I was much higher on it during the first half, especially when the weird surreal interludes felt fresh.

It’s very clear that McG needs to be reigned in, and was potentially given more freedom this time around as one of the four writers for the script. It meanders, many of the jokes just plain don’t land (or are taken too far down the cringe path), and there are too many people in too many locations for any of them to truly shine. Its start — and finish — are its strongest suits: something in the middle needed to get cut along the way. The original Babysitter was a modern classic, able to transcend its genre because of the way it effortlessly eased into its absurdity. The Babysitter: Killer Queen, by comparison, can feel like a “Scary Movie” parody at times, which will significantly lower its stock in the eyes of many. Sometimes, less is more.

Project Power (2020) Review

Project Power (2020) Review

We’ve entered an era where superhero and zombie films aren’t just novelties: they’re entire genres. They’re transcended the boundaries of “action” and “horror” respectively to become their own thing, with multiple creators pushing the envelope of what those genres can actually mean. Select superhero and zombie films often eschew action in the name of isolating the various nuances of the human condition: a virtue Project Power merely flirts with, but never achieves.

Project Power (2020) Review 2
Rodrigo Santoro and Jazzy De Lisser in Project Power (2020)

Project Power starts small and benefits from the more intimate nature of its premise: a pill that can give people their own unique superpowers for five minutes. We have the mysterious “Major,” a do-gooder cop and a young dealer in-over-her-head serving as our heroes, all fighting for a place in this crazy world. In reality, it takes over an hour for our trio (Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dominique Fishback respectively) to actually come together. Everything before that is entertaining table-setting of how the drug works and how it’s distributed.

The three leads are so very clearly the best part, as Foxx and Fishback are a treat together as a buddy-duo, with Gordon-Levitt injecting some levity when needed as the third wheel. For the better part of an hour, that’s what we get: witnessing them deal with the lower-key insanity the drug created. But beyond that, the film loses sight of the premise. Where everything starts to really crumble is when the script shifts to focus on a laughably bad “evil organization” overarching subplot.

Project Power (2020) Review 3
Jamie Foxx, Theodus Crane, and Christopher Winchester in Project Power (2020)

The actors put in charge of that side of the circus just aren’t up to par with the natural chemistry of the leads;  instead of providing overly campy mustache-twirling performances that clash with the otherwise carefree aforementioned trio. It just isn’t satisfying to watch a boring villain “pitch” the power pills to a boring crowd like it’s a big deal. Show us, don’t tell us.

The idea that someone only needs to survive five minutes in a fight with a “super” is pretty intriguing, especially for an action film: as is the concept that these powers usually come with a price. Yet, Amazon’s recent television adaptation of The Boys (in which normal people take on “supers”) upstages Project Power in nearly every way. A lot of the blame can be placed squarely on hokey low-budget CGI and a lack of compelling threats the core cast can go up against.

Project Power (2020) Review 4
Project Power (2020)

If Project Power was just centred on the three leads and nothing else, it could have been a tighter film that balances the fleeting nature of power and the imbalance it can create within society. Perhaps it would have made a great miniseries if they could have locked down the same talent. Instead, it devolves into another (albeit entertaining) schlocky action romp that somehow feels rushed and overlong at the same time.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020) Review 1

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020) Review

Will Ferrell enjoyed a long and prosperous career in comedy but has fallen under hard times lately (figuratively, he still has a boatload of cash to his name).

After the unbelievably awful Holmes & Watson sent his cachet into disarray, he also split from his longtime production partner Adam McKay. But after laying low for a bit he’s back in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, a very light comedy elevated by a spirited performance from Rachel McAdams.

Given the timelessness of Eurovision, this film could have come at pretty much any time in the past few decades. Ferrell and McAdams play two misfits from Iceland who dream of competing in the Eurovision Song Contest together, with varying degrees of chemistry and laughs.

One big issue is that Fire Saga is too reminiscent of classic brat pack comedies; even a few Ferrell has been in himself! The “dad that dramatically hates his son” trope is alive and well, including the “your son is on TV” line followed by “turn it off,” which is straight out of Zoolander.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020) Review 2
Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)

If I had to describe the tone, it would be “goofy chic.” It doesn’t ever go completely off-the-wall, and relies on elaborate costumes and exotic locales to help push it over the finish line. The music has a fun a Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping or Get Him to the Greek feel to them, with plenty of European star talent behind the scenes making it all run.

Will Ferrell’s Lars Erickssong is kind of an unfunny downer most of the time, gallivanting around as his standard “goon” archetype. He’s clearly meant to be the loser of the film, a stark contrast to McAdams’ charming (and cheery) Sigrit. Watching the way she prays to imaginary little elves for good fortune and always remains chipper is a treat.

Dan Stevens, who plays the antagonist, could have arguably been the lead! He subsequently compliments McAdam’s energy, but sadly comes in roughly an hour in. Normally I prefer actors providing their own singing voices, but for something as silly as this, having them be comically skilled and coming from real singers works.

When Fire Saga focuses on the music, it’s often joyous. But as you can imagine, two hours is a long time to sit through a slightly above average comedy with long bouts of average dialogue; it’s the heart that prevents it from crashing and burning.

Extraction (2020) Review

Extraction (2020) Review

Now that the Russo brothers have made their mark on the MCU and have tapped a host of Hollywood contacts, it’s time for them to venture off into the wide world of big budget blockbusters. They’ve made a lot of friends over the years, many of which are present in their first major post-Endgame production, Extraction. You have Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, at the helm, with MCU stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave giving it his all in his directorial debut. On paper it sounds promising; it’s just a shame that Joe Russo’s script couldn’t match the action.

The premise of Extraction is dead simple, though it spends an awful long time setting it all up and pretending that we care. One day Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the son of a druglord, is kidnapped by another druglord: enter Chris Hemsworth as…Tyler Rake (it’s okay to laugh), the mercenary with a heart of gold. You can probably see where this is going.

Rake is a ridiculous caricature; initially reluctant with a “mission first” attitude, before the curtain is peeled back and we see that he’s actually human inside. It’s the kind of thing that’s par for the course for an action film, but is far too much of a focus at the start and end of Extraction, to the point where it becomes jarring.  When Rake isn’t talking he’s very cool, as is his frenemy Saju (played by Randeep Hooda with more grace than Hemsworth), but we’re far too frequently brought into his psyche with the subtly of a mack truck careening into a fiery highway.

Extraction (2020)

When we’re in the thick of the action, Sam Hargrave really delivers with his stunt pedigree, and most certainly has a future as a director. He knows what he’s doing, as evidenced by an early marquee long take action sequence that serves as Extraction’s main calling card. Barring a few sequences with some overly frequent cuts, most of the action is spot on in Extraction, with some brutal choreography and wonderful on-location sets. Action fans owe it to themselves to at least see Extraction once.

But it also has the lingering mood of “I’m a young adult and this is deep” permeating throughout the script. Extraction so very clearly wants to be the next Man on Fire (there’s an action callback for you), but eschews any sense of emotional and philosophical gravitas in an attempt to provide very gamey checkpoints between new action sequences. The last 10 minutes of the film are probably the most pointed example of that trope.

Extraction is a great beer and chips flick. When it isn’t trying to be anything more than a technically sound action film, it soars. But then it attempts to build a world to no avail, or prop up its mostly uninteresting characters for another 10 minutes and falls completely flat. John Wick and Fury Road taught screenwriters that less is more: hopefully, Hargrave’s next picture grants him that virtue.

The Two Popes (2019) Review 1

The Two Popes (2019) Review

The Vatican and the papacy are always relevant. Whether you’re studying its glorious and sordid history or focusing on current events, you’re always going to get plenty of eyeballs. So when Netflix decided to explore nearly everything the position stands for with two very capable actors, you could say those very same eyeballs bulged out of their sockets.

The two actors in question? Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI, who needs no introduction, and Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis: who has been enjoying a career resurgence these past five years. That’s a hollow selling point all on its own, but the script from Anthony McCarten manages to keep things interesting, avoiding a preachy or overly historical tone, and allowing the humanity of these two individuals to really thrive.

At the end of the day, this is a film about two very powerful people having a mostly honest conversation with one another. There’s plenty of room for mental chess between the two titans (even if one is about to ascend to that honour eventually), but the film as a whole is not adversarial.  Equal parts character study and period piece; the film jumps around timelines to shed some light on Pope Francis’ backstory as he struggles to accept Benedict’s resignation.

The Two Popes (2019) Review
The Two Popes (2019)

Cinematographer César Charlone makes some interesting choices throughout, framing each pope in a way that really hammers the dichotomy between them. You can definitely see the limitations of the sets provided though, with the exception of the now-famous Sistine Chapel interior replica. As expected, the real heavy-lifting is done by both Hopkins and Pryce, neither of which over-act and provide powerful, subdued performances.

Over time, the film does lose its bite. The first half is a tour de force, as Pryce literally warms up to Hopkins and the two come to an eventual understanding. In the latter half the story sort of devolves into a buddy comedy, leaning far too hard into the light fare that Two Popes only flirts with before that point. It works to an extent, especially during some of the more emotional moments (mostly more backstory detours), but the tonal shifts can be jarring.

The Two Popes doesn’t really venture into new territory in terms of anything to say on the papacy itself but humanizes two larger-than-life figures in a relatable and fairly effective manner. It doesn’t accomplish everything it sets out to do, but further cements the career of the two leads and everyone involved in the project.

Final Trailer for The Witcher Brings Hype to the Table

Final Trailer for The Witcher Brings Hype to the Table

The sun rises over Cintra in the final trailer for Netflix’s new series The Witcher but not for long.

The Nilfgaard empire is poised for attack and it’s of utmost importance that the “lion cub of Cintra” Princess Cirilla (Freya Allan) finds everyone’s favourite Witcher, Geralt of Rivia. Henry Cavil looks the part of the Witcher and from what can be seen in the trailers, he has mastered the gritty attitude of Geralt that fans love. Soldiers clash and a city burns as the trailer progresses and Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra) tells viewers that Nilfgaard will “destroy everything.”

The series is based on the books written by Andrzej Sapkowski and has been adapted for film by Lauren Schmidt-Hissrich. Of course, many fans have come to the Witcher franchise through the games which also were adapted from the book series. For those who don’t know what a “Witcher” is, it’s someone mutated by magic at a young age to become a monster hunter – badass right?

This adaptation looks like it’s going to be amazing, we’re going to get to delve much deeper into character backstories than in-game. The final trailer is good in the fact that it doesn’t give much away about what’s to come in the series other than a lingering sense of anticipation after it finishes. If you’re looking for an epic fantasy to binge this holiday season, all eight episodes will be dropped on Netflix at once. You can catch The Witcher series premiere Friday, Dec. 20.