Tuesday, 17 July 2018

South of Nowhere, Season 1 (2005)

When the Carlin family move from small town Ohio to LA, the only one who (superficially at least) seems to make the adjustment easily is eldest son Greg.  He storms his way onto the starting basketball line-up, and snares a hot, albeit high maintenance, new girlfriend.

Meanwhile the parents are having relationship issues; adopted son Clay, who is African American, finds himself confronted with his own insulation from the experience of being black in America; and daughter Spencer is confronting the conundrum of her own sexuality, as she begins to process the fact that while she can find guys attractive, she prefers women.

Both helping and confusing Spencer in this process is new friend Ashley, a bisexual wild child with absentee parents and a habit of pulling Spencer toward her and then pushing her away.  Also of making impulsive decisions in general.

South of Nowhere attracted controversy when it came out (pun not intended, but I certainly wasn't going to delete it after I wrote it) for being a teen-oriented show that foregrounded questions of bi/homosexuality.  On the whole I think it does a decent job with the arc.  Making it about two conventionally attractive young women was probably a very conservative/safe choice, but the writers don't shy away from tackling the challenges and difficulties of teen life in general and of Spencer's journey of self-discovery in particular.

If you do choose to watch this show, be aware that the camera hops around like a ferret on amphetamines for the first 10 minutes of the opening episode, which I found quite irritating.  It stops after that, though, so if you find it as off-putting as I did, rest assured it's not an ongoing problem.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Friday the 13th Part II (1981)

Five years ago, Pamela Voorhees went on a murderous rampage against the counselors at a local summer camp.  She was finally cut down by the last of her intended victims.  But now, a whole new group of counselors are going to learn that her death hasn't actually made these woods any less dangerous ...

So if that sounds pretty much like a direct rehash of the first Friday, well, in most ways it is.  The mystery element of the first film (such as it was) is jettisoned, but otherwise you get exactly the same thing as before: a bunch of pretty young people being offed in creative ways before the last survivor(s) have a climactic showdown with the killer.

The guy from 1000 Misspent Hours has a theory that Paramount should have made this film first, before the film to which it is a sequel.  And if I squint a bit, I can kind of see his point.  It's a technically better film in a number of ways: the potential victims have more strongly defined characters, the cinematography is stronger, and of course it is the first appearance of the killer who would define the franchise (and to some extent, slasher films in general) in Jason Voorhees.  Plus it has a Chekov's chainsaw, and that's the sort of thing I can applaud.

On the other hand - and I am sure you expected there to be an other hand - they didn't make this film first.  In fact given how hard it leans on the original in setting things up (while at the same time having some major continuity issues with that film), and how thoroughly it appropriates the plot structure and sound design of the original, it's hard to see how they could have.  Plus it's not like the Jason of this film is anything like the unstoppable masked (sometimes undead) monster in the image above.  He's much smaller, much more human in his movements, and much less physically powerful.

Ultimately, Friday the 13th, Part 2 is a competently made slasher film that launched a horror icon, and it's worth a watch if you like this kind of stuff, but it's not a film that will change your mind about the genre it helped found.  Nor does it show any desire to be the kind of film that could.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Orphan Black, Season 5 (2017)

The long struggle between the Dyad Corporation and its clone experiments comes to a head in this final series of Orphan Black, as Sarah and her "sisters" fight to bring down their creators and have the freedom to live their own lives.  The true leadership of the enemy and their motivations are finally made clear, and the clones, as well as everyone who knows their secret, must all decide on which side of the struggle they will stand.

For the first few episodes of this season, I felt like this final season of Orphan Black was going to be muddled and unsatisfying, with a lot of activity that wasn't actually changing the status quo, but as things went on it clicked together much better than I was expecting.  It's by no means perfect - right up until the last couple of episodes I felt like the wrong characters were driving the story - but it does come together quite nicely in the final act, giving centre-stage to the right people and successfully driving a theme of sisterhood.

While not immune to the common flaws of "big mystery" TV shows - the three most obvious being a sometimes meandering story, the sidelining of certain characters, and a number of twists that seem to exist purely to be twisty - Orphan Black ultimately succeeds in delivering a satisfying multi-year arc with a good conclusion.  And man oh man, Tatiana Maslany is a marvel in her multiple roles.  The show's practically worth seeing just for that.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Knight and Day (2010)

June Havens is just trying to fly home with some classic car parts when she bumps into charming stranger Roy Miller.  Literally.  Twice.  The two immediately share an attraction, and perhaps they might have exchanged phone numbers or something by the end of the flight, if it weren't for the fact that Roy is a fugitive secret agent.  June finds herself plunged into a world of crashing planes, high speed car chases, and international conspiracy.  Which would be quite enough to complicate the relationship, even if June could be sure that Roy was actually the good guy in all this ...

Knight and Day is a very light, very silly action comedy with two personable leads.  Much as I don't care for Tom Cruise, he does this kind of stuff very well, and Diaz is solid even if the script spends rather too much time having June squeal while Roy does all the action stuff.  Yeah, I know the image above shows her waving a gun around, and shes does eventually do so, but there's a lot of squealing before we get that far, trust me.

Although the theatrical release of the film does have some rather awkward transitions (there's an extended edition that may address the worst of these), overall Knight and Day is a passably entertaining bit of cinematic fluff.  It's not likely to stay with you for very long after it's over, though, so definitely save it for a time when you want the lightest of escapism.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

The Americans, Season 5 (2017)

The Americans has always been about people living on the edge of disaster, but it's perhaps never felt more oppressive than it does in this, the penultimate season.  And I mean that in the best way: there's a palpable sense that the stresses of their lives, the failures of the past, and the fears of the future are ever more coming to bear on all the members of the cast, Soviet or American, "good" or "bad".

Or, as Sunsan Ivanova says in Babylon 5 ... "There's always a boom."

I've been singing the praises of this show for five seasons by now and I hope that my accolades for the taut writing, fantastic performance, and willingness to trust the audience have already born fruit and you've checked it out (all 30 or so of you who actually read this blog, anyway).  If not, then you can go back and read all the previous reviews I've done for the show and see all the nice things I've already said about it.

Or you can just take my word for it and go check it out right now.  I don't think you will be disappointed.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Carmilla: The Movie (2017)

Five years after the events of Carmilla season three, when Laura, Carmilla and their friends saved the world from apocalypse, Laura has got used to worrying about more mundane things, like how she seems to be stuck in a dead end job in local news broadcasting.  But then she starts having strange dreams about Carm being a vampire again, and it seems the gang has to get back together one more time.

The longer any media work continues, the more likely it is to make a misstep.  Seasons two and three of Carmilla made a few of them, mostly in over-complicating their plot-lines and trying to jam too much in, but they overall delivered a decent narrative arc and I finished the show feeling pretty content with it, overall.

This "sequel movie", alas, crashes and burns pretty badly on almost every front.  I deeply dislike the ending, for a start.  Also, the writers seem to have struggled with the move away from a strictly vlog format.  There's a strong tendency toward exposition-heavy dialogue that feels more directed at the audience than the other casts members, for instance, and the attempts at humorous byplay often feel rather forced.  And the less said about the embarrassingly awkward love scene, the better.

From a purely technical perspective there are serious issues with the volume of the audio, which varied up and down quite sharply at times.  It's not the worst audio I've ever experienced in a film, but only because I've seen Invasion of the Pod People, and it's certainly not of a standard that I would consider acceptable.

My advice is to let Carmilla go at the end of season three, and skip this entirely.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Carmilla, Season 3 (2016)

I was less engaged by season 2 of Carmilla than I was by season 1, and that issue continues here in the third and last part of the series, though there is a movie set five years later ... you can expect a review of that later this week.  Like season 2, season 3 feels rather too busy, to me.  There's a lot of activity that doesn't actually seem to result in any real change to the situation.  And then there's the cast of characters.  It's overly large for the format, to my mind, and several of the characters were profoundly altered by the end of season 2, so time has to be spent on re-establishing who they are and what they want.  It's a lot of plates to juggle and at times the writing can't keep them all in the air.

Speaking of the format, the vlog structure is still in place, though there's a growing degree of hand-waving as to why the characters would choose to broadcast particular moments (or in some scenes, why there would even be a camera there to capture them), at least from an in-universe perspective.  It's never as jarring as it gets in say Cloverfield, but it is an issue.

Then there's the story, which as I said sometimes has an awful lot of activity in it, without a whole lot of obvious progress being made, and a lot of "we thought all hope was lost but maybe there's an out after all!" revelations.  It all feels a bit rickety to me, at times.

On the other hand, I've given this a Qualified Recommendation, and it's not solely on the basis of "well, if you've got this far you're probably going to want to keep going".  Because however many wobbly bits I see in the specific events of the show - and I do see quite a few - the thematic arc is nailed pretty well.  The juxtaposition of our leading ladies against their nemesis, and the way each side handles their relationships and how that shapes them and their roles, is pretty good.