TV & Streaming

Two more from Blumhouse (reviews)

Two more from Blumhouse (reviews)

Earlier this week I reviewed the first 2 suspense films that Blumhouse has produced for Amazon (click here to read them). Here’s my take on the second set (one more pair coming soon).

 

 

Nocturne

Twin sisters are accomplished pianists who attend the same performing arts high school. Sibling rivalry turns dark when one of them discovers a mysterious book that changes their lives. This isn’t really a horror film, but a slowly-paced drama with an evil yellow light that causes occasional trauma. This type of haunting specter has been done before and with much more suspense. This version has virtually nothing to recommend it.  1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

 

Amazon Prime Video link

 

 

Evil Eye

The most interesting thing about this film is that it straddles 2 generations of Indian culture. The daughter is living in Seattle, while her mother in Delhi continually worries her about finding a husband. When the perfect mate appears, mom starts to believe that he’s related to her unhappy past. Much of this film is comprised of calls between the 2 woman, which gets tiresome and provides no suspense. When something starts to develop, it’s an hour into the film and the tiny climax is certainly not worth the time spent to get there. 1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

 

Amazon Prime Video link

The 40-Year-Old Version (review)

The 40-Year-Old Version (review)

Radha Blank wrote, directed and stars. She plays a New York playwright who had a promising career in her 20s. As she nears 40, her career is in crisis. She’s struggling with the producers of her new play who are gentrifying the production, while considering a new direction as a rapper. Blank has talent: She’s sometimes funny and somewhat charismatic. Her film has some enjoyable moments, but her plot too often selects the predictable options. This is truly a Blank-focused project, so if you find her personality appealing, her story will prove interesting. Otherwise, it’s a specialty product that’s mildly entertaining.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

Movieland link

Netflix link

Opening Night (review)

Opening Night (review)

Topher Grace heads this delightful ensemble as a Stage Manger for a Broadway show that’s opening. His continuously flappable charm helps him deal with all manner of mishaps and an assortment of quirky characters. Standouts are Taye Diggs going very gay, Rob Riggle as the over-the-top boss and Anne Heche as a washed-up diva. JC Chasez, formerly of NSYNC, plays an arrogant send-up of himself. There are also a few fun musical numbers featuring one-hit wonders. Anyone familiar with backstage at a play will find many things wrong with the details, but just ignore that and enjoy the cavalcade of crazy people and genuinely funny interactions.

 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

Netflix link

Welcome to Blumhouse (reviews)

Welcome to Blumhouse (reviews)

Jason Blumhouse is primarily known for producing an impressive string of low-budget, but successful horror and sci-fi films. This marks his first two of four thrillers for Amazon.

 

The Lie

Joey King plays the petulant teen daughter to Mireille Enos and Peter Sarsgaard. When she confesses to killing her best friend, her parents dive deeper and deeper in deceptions to cover it up. Writer/director Veena Sud’s script has sufficient developments to keep it interesting and the direction, while often compelling, never builds sufficient tension. Strong actors like Enos and Sarsgaard make the conflicts more compelling, even though the daughter’s character is continually frustrating and unsympathetic. The twists are usually a surprise and that’s what keeps the characters and the viewer on their toes.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Amazon Prime Video link

 

Black Box

Mamoudou Athie plays a dad whose wife died in an accident that also caused his amnesia. He meets a doctor (Phylicia Raashad) who conducts an experimental procedure to help him recover his memory and relationship to his daughter (Manda Christine). The pace moves slowly for the longest time, but eventually becomes a bit involving when the twists develop. Athie is intense throughout, Raashad is often flat, but it’s’ Christine’s plucky portrayal that’s the film’s most compelling performance. There’s never much tension, but the story eventually creates some interesting developments.

 

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

Amazon Prime Video link

Two new Netflix’s comedies

Two new Netflix’s comedies

Even though I’m not the primary audience for these 2 comedies, here’s my take.

 

Sneakerheads

The title refers to the people who collect valuable sneakers. This show’s quartet is formed when a quietly-married father (Allen Maldonado) runs into an old friend (Andrew Bachelor, doing a watered-down Chris Tucker). They get involved in several shoe schemes that continually backfire, each one upping the stakes. The other 2 members are a woman with inside info and a clueless guy who’s just starting the game. The episodes clip along with saucy banter, a few star cameos and a zippy pace. However, what starts out fun soon turns into more predictable interplays that lose some of the initial fun punch. (Six 30-minute episodes) 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

 

Netflix link

 

Emily in Paris

This is the latest from Darren Star (best known for Sex in the City). It stars Lily Collins as a wide-eyed social media expert who’s transferred to Paris. Her adjustments to a hostile, haughty work environment and lack of speaking French are ameliorated by a chummy new friend and several handsome men. It’s got a sparkling retro rom-com feel with regular montages of Parisian sites and Collins’ sweetly charming, continually-effervescent attitude. The supporting cast also boasts an assortment of entertaining types. Since it’s France, everyone’s outfits are fabulous. There’s no question that this is a signature Star project, which means it’s a lite confection with a winning cast and enjoyable situations. (Ten 30-minute episodes) 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Netflix link

Two sci-fi series from Amazon

Two sci-fi series from Amazon

Utopia

This conspiracy theory series revolves around an elusive comic book, which is full of clues about a diabolical scheme. As is typical for this genre, a ragtag group of comic nerds sets out to solve the mysteries and save the world. Star turns from John Cusak as the innovative leader of a drug conglomerate and Rainn Wilson as a frustrated scientist who may have the clue to the puzzle. The first 2 episodes are chocked with quickly-dispatched killings and one nasty torture sequence. After that, it’s more about the intrigue and interactions between the various personalities. While the plot offers expected twists, the pacing is solid and there are enough surprises to keep the puzzle interesting. (The final episode left it obviously open for another season.) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Amazon Prime Video link

 

The Boys (Season 2)

The first season set up the league of chemically-created superheroes, supported by the marketing power of a large conglomerate. Some of the good guys aren’t very good, which added some depth. And what evil empire would be complete without yet another ragtag gang out to expose its secrets? Season 2 focuses even more on this group, while expanding the personal interactions between the “supes.” There are occasional cool effects, but the conspiracy theory drags down the action with too much talk and frankly, I didn’t care much about the people. 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

Amazon Prime Video link

Two new from Peacock

Two new from Peacock

Noughts and Crosses

This British series is based on the YA novels that take place in an alternate world where the African continent colonized England, creating a servant class of the white natives. In an inevitable comparison to Romeo and Juliet, a young mixed-race couple falls in love, which is strictly illegal. The performers all create compelling characters and the switched take on the traditional racial divisions provides interesting insights. On top of that, the creation of this Afrocentric world is fascinating and the costume designs are beautiful. Although some might find it too intensely dark and dramatic, I found it captivating at times and riveting at others. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Peacock link

 

Departure

In the first few minutes, a transatlantic flight disappears. The remainder of the series has a team back in London trying to solve the mystery. It’s fascinating to watch the investigative work, but the inevitable conspiracy adds layers to the process. Performances are all strong and the plot continually adds twists to keep it interesting. There’s not a lot original here and some of it pushes credibility, but as a procedural with a disaster at the center (or in the water) it’s enjoyable. 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Peacock link

Sherlock’s sister and Elba’s mission

Sherlock’s sister and Elba’s mission

The Take

This was released in 2016 as Bastille Day, but didn’t get a wide play because it coincided with terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice. Richard Madden plays a pickpocket in Paris who becomes embroiled in a bombing plot. A CIA agent (Idris Elba) scoops him up and they tackle the villains who are out to create anarchy. There’s not much original in the plot and it sometimes stretches credibility, but the execution is solid. The fights and chases are well-staged, especially the opening rooftop pursuit. Nothing new here, but the actors’ solid turns and the well-paced action make it an enjoyable entry into the genre.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Netflix link

 

Enola Holmes

Aiming for a younger audience, the title role is played by Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) as the wily younger sister to Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin). After her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) disappears, Enola sets out to London to find her, meeting a young aristocrat along the way. The opening sequences offer a jaunty modern approach to the detective story, but things do slow down as the plot and the burgeoning romance develops. Still, the pleasant performances and lively attitude make for a mildly entertaining diversion.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

Netflix link

#ALIVE (review)

#ALIVE (review)

This Korean hit (dubbed in English) is the latest entry into the zombie apocalypse genre. A lone gamer is trapped in his Seoul apartment, while anarchy reigns in the streets below. Much of the movie has him coping with the threat from his isolation…until he meets a fellow strandee. Through the plethora of bloody attacks, there are lots of cool kills and narrow escapes: exciting but seldom suspenseful. Still, it’s fun to watch what clever ways the zombies are dispatched and what variations the filmmakers have designed to keep them “alive.”

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

Netflix link

The Jesus Rolls (review)

The Jesus Rolls (review)

John Turturro wrote and directed this film, which is based on the 1974 French comedy Going Places. He also stars, recreating the role he originated for The Big Lebowski (with the Coen Brother’s permission but not their involvement).  Jesus is a petty criminal who gets out of jail and is met by his close friend (Bobby Cannavale). Their travel spree involves a free-spirited French woman (Audrey Taauou), stealing cars, group sex and a few of the director’s New York friends in supporting roles (John Hamm, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken, Pete Davidson). The plot follows a similar trajectory to the original, but Turturro’s input lacks much charm or style (apparently the Coen’s influence didn’t help much). The trios ramble about, have brief encounters and blather a lot. The performances are all well-intentioned, but it’s more a curiosity to watch this ensemble have fun in their unusual roles.

 

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

On Showtime & Hulu

Ratched (review)

Ratched (review)

Ryan Murphy has outdone himself in his latest over-the-top creation! This Netflix series imagines the origin story of the mean nurse from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Louise Fletcher’s Oscar-winning role). Sarah Paulson takes up the role and she’s wonderfully evil one minute and sweetly kind the next (depending on which side of her favor you fall). Her most virulent opponent is yet another hardware-inspired namesake Head Nurse Betsy Bucket, played by Judy Davis, who provides the most fun villain in the lineup of evil characters. Speaking of, Sharon Stone is doing her best Jessica Lange, but doesn’t really stand out. Then there’s the writing, which is a glorious mélange of film noir misdeeds and delectable melodrama. Speaking of music, it’s so prevelant that it becomes a character, accompanying every scene with a pounding pean to Bernard Herrmann. Finally, the ramped-up Technicolor art direction is spectacular, especially the gorgeously designed period costumes. This is trashy sensationalism crammed with sex, brutality and malevolence, but in the best possible way!

(First season of 9 one-hour episodes with a 2nd season already announced)

 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

Netflix link

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The Devil All the Time (review)

The Devil All the Time (review)

This sprawling tale stars Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, and Bill Skarsgård. It’s packed with murders, corrupt characters and all manner of dark dealings. The narrative follows 2 generations as they deal with various unfortunate outcomes. The members of this impressive ensemble assume roles as relatives and sinister supporting characters, but it’s Holland and Pattinson who are the most impressive (with convincing Southern accents). The seemingly unrelated stories have interconnected characters…reminiscent of the Coens at their most sinister…without the depth of enthralling storytelling or humor. It moves slowly (2:18 running time) and even with all the unfortunate events, never achieves any powerful emotional effect. Still, it remains compelling for the performances.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

Netflix link

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