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The Circle (2017)
Dumber than a bucket of hammers
Good science fiction allows us to extrapolate from today's trends and hopefully prevent some of the negative consequences of them. This is NOT good science fiction. It's not good on any level. The big names involved with it -- Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega -- should have known better, just from reading the script. The fact that they didn't reflects badly on them.
Orange Is the New Black (2013)
The best episode of TV in decades is 13 hours long
The "rules" of creating a TV series are pretty clear, given television's "track record." For example, if you've had a *remarkably* successful four-season run, and chalked up some of the best reviews in history, well, based on history, what most series do at this point is "jump the shark" completely and create a season SO bad that hardly anyone cares or notices when they announce that it was the last one ever, and claim "We intended it that way...yeah, that's the ticket!" Jenji Kohan didn't do that with "Orange Is The New Black." Yes, she and her incredible team of writers ended season 4 with a bit of a cliff-hanger -- an ill-conceived riot breaks out in the minimum-security women's prison in which the series is set, and the season ends just as one of the prisoners picks up the gun that a dim-witted guard had snuck in and then dropped -- in spite of regulations saying no guard should ever bring a gun into the prison -- and holds it on him. Fade to red, and the season ends.
So, again based on TV history, we all know what to expect next. The writers will clear up all the questions left hanging in the air by the cliff-hanger in the first half of the first episode of season 5, and then they'll move back to Business As Usual and the same old same old and hope for the best.
Jenji Kohan and company didn't do that. They let the riot go on for three days and made the *entire season* about what happens during those three days.
With a lesser cast and a lesser team of writers, this would have been a disaster. Suffice it to say that instead they created 13 of the best hours of television I've ever seen in my life. We've had four years to get to know many of these characters, but in season 5 we get to know them and see them as fellow human beings in ways we didn't think were possible. OITNB, season 5 is a veritable maelstrom of emotions -- everything from humor to tragedy to pathos and back to humor again, and with more than a few dashes of social commentary thrown in. And what is arguably the best cast on television pulled it off perfectly.
I can't pretend to know what the creators of this fine series were *thinking* as they took a chance this big, but it might have had something to do with the following bit of dialogue in the finale: -- "So was it worth it? The riot?" -- "We can't know that yet. Maybe they'll still meet some of our demands. And maybe some Grandma in Kansas will read an article about this, and she'll see us as people instead of criminals. And then maybe she'll tell all her Grandma friends, and then they'll tell their kids, and then they'll tell their grandkids. I mean, isn't that how change really happens? Through Midwestern Grandmas having epiphanies? Maybe that will have made all of this worth it." I can't help but think that this speech is coming directly from the writers, explaining their motivation for making this series.
I have said for years that if one were to select the 25 best performances by actresses on television in a given year, for the last four years 5 of them would be from Tatiana Maslany in "Orphan Black," and at least 15 of the rest would be from the cast of "Orange Is The New Black." This year there may not be room for five other contenders from other shows.
Iron Fist (2017)
Loathsome -- if you watch this you'll lose 50 IQ points
This is beyond question the worst-written, most ill-conceived series I've ever been forced (because I agreed to review it for another publication) to watch. There are SO many things wrong with it I hardly know where to start, but because people who watched Netflix's "Daredevil" may be tempted to watch this just hoping for a little martial arts eye-candy, don't be deceived. "Get Smart" or the original "The Man From UNCLE" had better martial arts choreography. This is arguably the *worst* martial arts movie ever made.
Which is appropriate in a way, because the dumb action is accompanied by even dumber dialogue. It is difficult for me to even *conceive* of who it was who was stupid enough to write this trash. The only people I can conceive of being dumber than the writers and producers of "Iron Fist" are the IMDb users who gave this piece of trash good reviews -- they must have the lowest standards on the planet.
Big Little Lies (2017)
If no one else is going to say it, I will...
I feel as if I have to take a shower after forcing myself to watch the first episode of this dreadful piece of crap. SO many horrible, loathsome characters, SO much entitlement, SO little self-awareness. I look at some of the reviews here, and it seems to me they must be written by people with similar characteristics. It's the only thing that explains the high ratings. I think I get it -- the producers of this dumpster fire actually think that we'll be so dazzled by the pretty scenery and the "big stars" that we'll keep watching until after a few episodes they finally reveal who got killed and maybe in the last episode they reveal whodunnit. But WHO CARES how pretty the scenery is -- it's filmed in one of the richest, most entitled communities in America ferchrissakes -- of course it's pretty. WHO CARES if they're "big stars" when they're portraying people this shallow and this despicable? There is simply no possibility that I can tolerate these people that long. I leave the solving of this particular mystery to those who can stomach the characters.
Too Late (2015)
Remarkiably effective effort from Someone To Watch (Dennis Hauck)
I freely admit to having watched this film primarily because of Dichen Lachmann and Natalie Zea (who I'll see in anything), but it had a great deal more to offer than I was expecting.
Yes, Hauck steals freely from Quentin Tarantino when it comes to mixed-up timelines, and steals even more from the genre of L.A. Noir, but it has its own charms. It also has some really ballsy experiments, such as shooting each of the five acts in one single take (on 35mm film, which must have been a real bitch to pull off given the changing lighting conditions).
Good performances from a wide range of actors clearly pitching in and having a good time with a small Indie film in between better-paying gigs. Plus, there are some genuinely touching moments, the kind that make you (or at least made me) go back and re-watch a couple of early scenes at the end to see them at the end, after the context of them has been to some extent explained.
I like that the song "Down With Mary" has been short-listed for the Original Song Oscar this year. That shows that this film got more attention than might be expected for a supposed low-budget Indie flick. I look forward to Hauck's next effort.
People who 'didn't like the ending' weren't paying attention
"Passengers" is not intellectual scifi. As some have described it, thinking they were being insulting, it's "just a love story in space." But if you suspend disbelief and just go with it, it's actually a pretty good love story in space. It reminds me of some of the great classic scifi of the 1950s and 1960s, many of which, if you'll remember, were also "just" love stories in space.
The visuals were excellent, verging on stunningly beautiful. I read on the Trivia page that there was a time when Keanu Reeves was attached to this film to play the lead. He had to drop out, for some unspecified reason. Good. He would have ruined it. Chris Pratt, on the other hand, brought a truly human touch to being a human stranded in space. And although I am not always a fan (I *loathed* "Joy"), I thought Jennifer Lawrence was tremendous as well.
As for the ending, well in my opinion it was perfect. Each of them got what they set out looking for.
Roadies: Friends and Family (2016)
OK, I'll say it...the first episode that's a masterpiece
What is NOT to like about this episode of "Roadies?" It just *nails* the title, "Friends and Family," and how that manifests in the road crew of a rock 'n roll band.
I have to admit to loving so many moments from this episode. Bill invoking the holy essence of Led Zep while giving his morning circle jerk sermon. The Mike Finger character, who if you can't identify with him, you've clearly never "gotten" a rock 'n roll band. The setup to present Janine's back story, which sends Bill off on an odyssey to find Gram Parsons' old Nudie jacket, which in turn results in him having a cool "making amends" moment with his ex. Reg trying to figure out who Mike Finger is at the airport. Reg meeting Janine in front of the auditorium.
Especially the last moment. The character of Janine just ate the screen, from moment one. I could not take my eyes off of her. This love-at-first-sight reaction caused me to look her up on the IMDb and discover that the person who played her was Joy Williams, one half of a Grammy-winning duo called The Civil Wars, whose music I happen to love. I Googled further, and discovered interviews in which Joy talks about first meeting Cameron Crowe on Twitter, and then, when she met him in real life, having him tell her that she should be an actress. Joy laughed that off, but Cameron obviously didn't, and as far as we can tell, wrote the character of Janine FOR Joy Williams. Brilliant. A star is born.
Terrible, terrible, terrible film
Sorry to rain on the JLaw parade that seems to be going on out there among her fans, but this movie strikes me as if the director realized that all he'd have to do to create a film that would make a bunch of cash at the box office is point a camera at Jennifer Lawrence. He wouldn't need a script, he wouldn't need believable characters, and he certainly wouldn't need to do very much in terms of direction. Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly the approach he took to making the movie.
I found the first third of the film almost unwatchable. As a filmmaker, you know you're in trouble (or you *should* know, anyway) that when the intentionally-horrible soap opera characters in your intentionally-horrible soap-opera-within-the-soap-opera are more interesting and more sympathetic than your main characters that you're in deep trouble. The second third of the movie wasn't much better -- more soap opera family drama queenery. *Nothing* of any interest happened for me until about the 1 hour 37 minute mark. Sorry, but in a 1 hour and 53 minute movie, that's just WAY too long to wait to see if it's actually going to turn into a movie. BIG "thumbs down."
Minority Report (2015)
Soulless and not likely to last
Set 10 years after the events of the movie, the Precrime division has been abolished and the three precogs have been set free, but hidden away from society. Arthur, Agatha, and Dash still sense crimes before they are committed, but are not permitted to do anything about it. So Dash goes vigilante and tries to do it on his own.
Without Tom Cruise and the other big stars of the original film, this series looks like a one-season wonder, if that. It's wooden and devoid of interesting characters, which in a way is good because the actors they've chosen wouldn't be capable of portraying interesting characters. The series seems aimed at adolescent gamers who see a bunch of future-computer special effects and go Wow! and never ask for anything more. Like good writing or characterization.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Clearly, comic books really DO lower people's intelligence
Please bear in mind that the person writing this is a BIG fan of Joss Whedon's earlier work in TV and movies. It's the fact that I really AM such a fan that made going to see "Avengers: Age of Ultron" so upsetting.
I managed to sit through the whole film, but just barely. Instead of the "Wow! Look at that!" I was supposed to feel, all I felt was sadness that one of the best storytellers of our age had sunk so low. "Ultron" was 141 minutes of Biff! Zap! Pow! Boom! Zoom! CGI madness, punctuated with a few lines that clearly were intended to be funny but only could have been considered so by pimply-faced 14-year-olds whose standards for comic one-liners had been set by Beavis and Butthead.
In other words, I hated it. I wish Joss would wake up from his comic book-induced stupor and remember how to write characters and plots again. "Buffy" used to cost $1.1 million per episode. "Firefly" used to cost $2 million per episode. And they were great.
"Ultron" cost over $2 million PER MINUTE of running time, and it's crap.
There is a lesson here. When Joss is working with his own ideas, it doesn't take huge amounts of money to create wonderful entertainment. When he is working with other people's comic book ideas, it doesn't matter how much money the producers throw at it -- it's comic book-mentality crap.
Stop making crap, Joss. Tell the guys at Marvel to keep their money and keep their mediocre plots and characters. Come back to making entertainment based on your own ideas.