The Power Of the Dog – A Movie Review

I remembered The Power Of the Dog having quite a bit of buzz last summer, so now that it’s available on Netflix, I thought I’d give it a try to see what the critics liked so much.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, The Power Of the Dog takes place in 1925 on a ranch in Montana. Two brothers, Phil and George, run the ranch, but they seem to be drifting apart. Phil, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a supposed genius who prefers dirt and livestock, while George, played by Jesse Plemons, wants to settle down and join high society. George meets a widowed woman named Rose, played by Kirsten Dunst, and her nearly grown son Peter, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee. George and Rose marry, move into the brothers’ massive home with her son in tow, and Phil promptly makes everyone’s lives miserable because he is a malcontent in the truest sense of the word. However, though he once ridiculed Peter’s effeminate mannerisms, Phil soon befriends the young man, just as an older man named Bronco Henry once befriended him. However, Phil’s relentless bullying of Rose proves a real problem for Peter, one that he simply won’t let go.

If I used one word to describe The Power Of the Dog, it would be “subtle.” The audience is led to suspect many, many things about every character in this movie ranging from homosexuality to murder, but nothing is ever explicitly on display. And even though there is little to no action in the movie, and even though it moves at a slow, uncomfortable pace, I found myself mesmerized by both the acting and the fact that it forced me to watch and think from start to finish.

Of course, the real star of the movie is the beautiful scenery. Though it’s supposed to be Montana in the early 1900s, I’ve read that New Zealand served as the film’s actual location. The hills and countryside in this movie are simply breathtaking. I recommend the film for the cinematography alone.

But do I recommend the film in general? Not for the casual viewer, no. I don’t think those looking for a popcorn experience would find this particularly enjoyable. For those interested in character studies or filmmaking, though, I think The Power Of the Dog would prove quite thought-provoking.

Netflix’s Red Notice – A Movie Review

Red Notice felt very much like the excuse we needed to get Dwyane Johnson, Gal Gadot, and Ryan Reynolds together in a movie. It’s not especially good, but it’s fun to watch the three of these stars work together, so there you go.

Oh.

I guess you need a bit more than that, huh?

Okay, so Red Notice is about an art thief (Reynolds) trying to outdo another art thief (Gadot) as he’s being pursued by a profiler (Johnson) who is working with Interpol. Reynolds and Johnson eventually have to team up as Gadot outsmarts them both in regards to ancient Egyptian art pieces in the shape of eggs that Reynolds at one point refers to as MacGuffins. (Yes, you read that right.) Like any good MacGuffin, they serve as the motivation for all three characters even though nothing much ever really comes of them.

Reynolds cracks wise through the whole thing, Johnson tries to play his straight man, and Gadot takes a shot at being a femme fatale.

Honestly, there’s action, but it’s not great action. There’s fun quips from Reynolds, but we’ve heard much better from him in every other movie he’s done. Johnson seems to lack his usual charm for some reason. Gadot is fine though even she doesn’t particularly stand out.

Red Notice is a perfectly acceptable popcorn movie, but it never quite seems to figure out what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it a buddy movie, an action comedy, a self-referential satire, or a mostly serious heist film? It does not settle on any one of these, but instead dabbles in all of them.

While it was indeed fun to see Johnson, Reynolds, and Gadot on screen together, Red Notice did not work nearly as well as it should have.

Netflix’s Army Of Thieves – A Movie Review

Remember when Army Of the Dead came out and then, within days, it was revealed that another movie featuring Dieter was currently in the works? Dieter’s film would be the beginning of a shared universe built around Army Of the Dead. I remember wondering why they would start this endeavor with Dieter the safecracker. Sure, he was unique, personable, and fun in Army Of the Dead, but he didn’t really seem to embody the essence of that film.

So, Army Of Thieves came out Friday on Netflix and I watched it that night primarily to see what approach they would choose.

I have to say, while I didn’t LOVE the movie, I did appreciate their strategy. (Don’t come @ me – the movie was fine. I just didn’t LOVE it.)

Army Of Thieves picks up as the zombie outbreak is initially starting in Las Vegas. Dieter is a gifted, but unknown and unutilized safecracker, working a boring job and living a boring life. As expected, he has the opportunity to join an army of thieves (it’s more like a squad, really, but that wouldn’t make nearly as good a title), and then begins a quest that ultimately–no surprises here–leads him to Las Vegas and Army Of the Dead.

Directed by Matthias Schweighöfer (the man playing Dieter), and co-starring Nathalie Emmanuel, whom you’ll recognize and adore if you are a Game Of Thrones fan, Army Of Thieves is a fast-paced, entertaining, fun, largely inconsequential film. Yes, it does touch upon what’s happening in Las Vegas, but because it occurs in Europe, the Vegas outbreak is mostly out of everyone’s mind. (Kind of reminds me of America as China struggled with the Coronavirus.) There are a few lines hinting at Dieter’s ultimate fate, but, otherwise, it’s fairly disconnected.

However, if you love a good heist film about safecracking, Army Of Thieves is right up your alley. If you enjoy pretty European locations, Army Of Thieves is also for you. If you’re simply a fan of Matthias Schweighöfer, you’ll be quite pleased as well because he’s in almost every single scene.

I have to admit that I do like the approach Zack Snyder, the mastermind of the Army Of the Dead universe, is taking with said universe. Perhaps he recognizes how Star Wars is currently trying to find ways to avoid being so reliant on the Jedi/Sith central conflict in their universe. By showcasing a second movie that barely displays a zombie at all, Snyder can connect multiple points of his overall mythology without painting himself into a zombie-infested, blood-splattered corner. I do have to wonder, though, whether or not the audience will stick around for shows and movies relating to Army Of the Dead if they don’t primarily feature zombies. Time will tell, I suppose.

Which leads me to my final point: as already stated, I didn’t LOVE Army of Thieves. I liked it for all kinds of reasons. I certainly don’t regret the two hours I spent watching it. But, honestly, I wouldn’t currently deem it required viewing, especially considering what happened to Dieter in Army Of the Dead.

Unless …

Well, like I said. Time will tell.

Netflix’s Midnight Mass – A Few Thoughts

Though it took me a bit to find the time, I was very excited to watch Midnight Mass on Netflix. Midnight Mass is created by Mike Flanagan, who also created The Haunting Of Hill House and The Haunting Of Bly Manor. In fact, you’ll find several of the same actors in all three shows.

Like his previous work, Midnight Mass is a slow burn of a show that, in the end, is well worth your time. Flanagan deems it necessary to invest the viewer in his characters, but he can only do this by forcing the viewer to spend time with said characters. By the penultimate episode, we know these characters inside and out, which in turn makes the final two episodes all the more seismic. We care about them. We care what they do. We care about what happens to them. And trust me, a lot happens to them.

The premise is this: after spending several years in jail for vehicular homicide, an otherwise decent man returns to his hometown located on a tiny, isolated island near what I presume to be the east coast. Around the same time, a new priest arrives at their tiny church. This new priest replaces their ancient, regular priest, who is presumably ill after travelling to the main land. This new priest is charismatic, empathetic, and passionate. He incites a fresh religious fervor on the island, and before too long miracles begin to happen. True miracles. But why are these miracles happening, just who is this new priest, and why are so many stray cats being drained of blood?

You’re going to figure this show out quite quickly, and that’s okay–that’s totally okay. It’s okay because it’s not the traditional “horror” aspect of it that made it so great for me. For me, Midnight Mass explores those grey areas that infiltrate our lives on a daily basis. It examines what exactly it takes for otherwise good people to embrace heinous behavior. Best of all, it also dives into why some people, when they have every excuse in the world to do evil things, still hold tight to their personal morals.

Midnight Mass will absolutely offend many, especially Christians. (For the record, I identify as a Christian–Lutheran, to be precise. That last bit probably comes as no surprise.) The extended metaphor throughout the series reflects hypocritical Christian behavior during the last several years. I’ll leave it up to you to connect those dots.

The fact that Midnight Mass was willing to take on such controversial subject matter, to really, in some ways, flirt with sacrilege–I found it quite daring. For me, a story is a story. Midnight Mass in no way made me doubt or question my faith. I am able to experience it for what it is–a well-paced, well-executed, unique horror story that dared to call into question Christian behavior. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for we Christians to think long and hard about our actions, beliefs, and purpose.

Of course, were it not for Hamish Linklater, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed Midnight Mass so much. He plays the new priest in town, Father Paul. Linklater lights up the screen. He is frenetic, magnetic, deeply likeable, and burning with passion. I can’t believe I haven’t seen Linklater before, but he immediately struck me as an extremely talented actor.

Of course, Kate Siegel is in Midnight Mass as well. Mike Flanagan utilizes Siegel in most of his work. She plays a pregnant woman who has also recently returned to town. She moves into the home she hated as a child, took over the teaching job of the mother she hated, and is fully prepared to spend the rest of her life on that island. Little does she know the vital role she will soon play.

Other Flanagan favorites include Henry Thomas, Annabeth Gish, Rahul Kohli, Samantha Sloyan, and Alex Essoe. These are all superb role players who know how to make their characters shine. There’s a reason Flanagan keeps bringing them back for every project. This includes The Newton Brothers, by the way, who write some of the best scores out there.

In the end, I think Midnight Mass will divide its audience. I loved the acting, the boldness, the genre mashing, the characterization, and the entire premise. However, I certainly could understand if someone didn’t like it for religious reasons. In the end, there’s only one way to know for sure. Give it a watch, and let me know what you think.

Gunpowder Milkshake – A Movie Review

There’s a lot to like about Gunpowder Milkshake. It’s a star-studded action movie with plenty of style and pop. Karen Gillan has paid her dues since Dr. Who, and it’s wonderful to see her in a big-budget starring role. Let’s not forget about Hollywood stalwarts such as Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, as well as up-and-comer Chloe Coleman. (Seriously, check out this young lady’s IMDB page. She’s 13 years old.) Paul Giamatti is even in this thing!

Karen Gillan plays Sam, a prestige assassin who finds herself stuck in a moral dilemma when she takes responsibility for a young girl’s safety. Though she hasn’t spoken to her assassin mom or her mom’s … eccentric … friends in years, she reluctantly goes to them for help. They help her, there’s a ton of violence, we see huge action scenes, and we get plenty of chuckles along the way.

While I appreciate the film’s verve as well as the above actors giving it their all, the tone of the movie truly confused me. Sometimes it was very heartfelt, sometimes it seemed to be a satire, sometimes it wanted to be a pure action flick, sometimes it tried to prove itself as a hyper stylized piece of art, and sometimes it came off as a comedy. I’m all for bending genre, but Gunpowder Milkshake created a jarring experience that ultimately distracted me to the point I couldn’t settle in.

Honestly, there were moments when I felt as though I was watching a bad imitation of Quentin Tarantino.

It’s such a shame, because I wanted to like Gunpowder Milkshake so much more than I actually did. I was rooting for it to be great. However, there’s plenty of room for a sequel. I will definitely give it another chance if they keep the story going on the basis of the actors alone.

Army Of the Dead – A Movie Review

As far as zombie movies set in Las Vegas go, Army Of the Dead was more than entertaining.

I can’t claim this film was cinematic genius. I can’t argue it shifted the paradigm regarding zombies. I can’t even say it was the best zombie movie out there.

However, I can truthfully proclaim that, if you’re looking to sit around with a few friends and enjoy a popcorn action flick, Army Of the Dead won’t disappoint.

Yes, some of it didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t completely consistent in terms of tone. Much of it felt like it was setting up prequels or sequels. But, hey, the special effects were fantastic, the action satisfied, and seeing Las Vegas as a quarantined apocalyptic ruin filled with ravenous, undead cannibals proved a feast for the eyes.

And there’s no denying the stars had real charisma. Dave Bautista, believe it or not, really is a pretty decent actor, and a master thespian by action movie standards. There’s a reason big-time directors are casting him in their movies. Omari Hardwick, Matthias Schweighöfer, Ella Purnell, Raúl Castillo, and Ana de la Reguera all had a ton of charm. Of course, Tig Notaro delighted even if she did typically look like she was digitally inserted into the movie–because she was. In the end, this cast was simply a blast to watch.

You can perhaps argue that the director, Zack Snyder, was trying to comment on the greed of modern-day America. Maybe he was trying to say something about the inhumane treatment of detainees. He could even have been ripping on our politicians. But I don’t think any of that was the case. I think Zack Snyder just wanted to make a frenetic zombie movie that could entertain for two and a half hours, and, on that note, he most definitely succeeded.

Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy – A Few Thoughts

If you take a look at Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see that critics have quite a different take on Jupiter’s Legacy than does the audience. I’m here to tell you, in this case, the critics have it wrong.

I’ll admit, Netflix almost lost me on the first episode of Jupiter’s Legacy. It seemed a little too preoccupied with style, self-importance, and actors caught in waters too deep.

But then a funny thing happened.

Let me pause a moment and say that I enjoyed this comic book series several years ago. It was written by Mark Millar who is something of a Hollywood powerhouse in that Hollywood loves adapting his works into feature films. For example, Captain America: Civil War is based on a book by Millar. The Avengers largely borrowed from his real-world take on the Avengers called The Ultimates. Old Man Logan became the movie Logan. Wanted and Kick-Ass were also works by Millar. It just makes sense that Netflix would try to snatch up his original catalogue for screen adaptions beginning with Jupiter’s Legacy.

Okay, so I knew Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy would get better, and, in my humble opinion, it did.

For me, I had to adjust to the large cast of characters and invest in their personal relationships. The premise is that a closely connected super team, active since The Great Depression, are still alive and kicking, but now preparing to hand over the reigns to the next generation. Two of the most powerful young heroes happen to be the son and daughter of the two most iconic figures, and they both carry a lot of baggage as a result.

Though the original heroes now appear old and gray, there are many flashbacks to how they initially gained their powers, and that’s where the show really shines. The Great Depression era is a show-within-a show, and this aspect of the plot is where you really connect with the icons.

However, the younger generation also have their standouts, particularly the daughter. She wants nothing to do with being a hero, which results in her becoming more and more interesting as the series unfolds. There are also several younger characters who are introduced and then become more prominent as the series continues.

Josh Duhamel is the lead actor. He plays The Utopian. I’ve never thought of Duhamel as a particularly deep actor, but I have to say that as this series moved along, he really showed a lot of range. In fact, he very much changed my opinion of him as a performer. Watching both the young and old versions of his character proved fascinating. Additionally, I never realized Duhamel is so tall. He’s listed online as being six feet, four inches tall.

Furthermore, Matt Lanter amazed me with his performance as well. I only knew Lanter as the voice of Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars cartoons. He and Duhamel, along with their friendship, made this show special. I honestly can’t quite figure out why Lanter hasn’t had more live-action roles. He seems made for Hollywood.

Ben Daniels was completely unknown to me, and he plays Duhamel’s brother, Walter. Their troubled relationship struck me as very true, and I daresay Daniels is the best actor on the show. Walter is incredibly complex, as you’ll see, yet Daniels plays him with both arrogance and vulnerability.

As I mentioned, the two iconic heroes have a daughter, who is named Chloe. Elena Kampouris plays Chloe. Though she is very unlikable at first, her character, after being given some room to breathe, becomes one of the stars of the show. There are big things in store for Chloe, and I think Kampouris is more than capable of handling the evolution.

Finally, Ian Quinlan plays Hutch, and I think he may be my favorite character on the whole show. Quinlan is slowly introduced and, at first, doesn’t seem all that important. He becomes important, though–very important. Best of all, he easily captured the charm of his comic book counterpart.

Jupiter’s Legacy is definitely slow to start and perhaps initially too heavy on the gravitas. However, the pacing moves faster and faster with each episode and the stakes get higher and higher. There are two major plot lines developing, which, to me, were quite engaging. One of those plots mostly wrapped up and opened the door for the next phase. The other plot ends on a cliffhanger which, truthfully, makes me very excited for the next season.

Though there are definitely similarities to characters from both Avengers and Justice League, Jupiter’s Legacy dives deeply into the interpersonal relationships of these characters and all the messiness embedded within. Most of the characters are either related to one another, friends of several decades, or former friends with bad schisms. Yes, the show does take itself too seriously at times, but the fact that it feels as though all bets are off, that anything can happen at any time, makes it a captivating experience. Of course, I have the advantage of having read the source material. If season one surprised you, just wait and see what happens next.

Though the critics may disagree, I highly recommend Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy.

Derry Girls – A Few Thoughts

A friend once recommended that I give Netflix’s Derry Girls a try and, frankly, it didn’t do much for me. I watched the first episode and didn’t get it.

However, we then saw several of the stars appear on The Great British Baking Show, and they were hilarious. I decided to try the show again and, this time, my wife wanted to see it, too.

I don’t know if I was in the wrong frame of mind the first time I watched Derry Girls or what, but I loved it on the second attempt. In fact, my wife and I powered through the first two, albeit very short, seasons and can’t wait for the third.

The show follows five close friends, four of whom are girls, as they tackle their teenage years during the Nineties. The fifth friend is a male cousin from London who is allowed to attend their all-girls Catholic school for the sake of his own safety. As you can imagine, he is the relentless butt of never-ending jokes. The girls are flawed, misguided, mostly well-intentioned, and more than a little self-centered. However, all of them are, in their own way, extremely lovable.

Amidst the bawdy humor, foul language, and ludicrous plots, Derry Girls subtly tackles the very real conflict occurring in Ireland during the 1990s. Sometimes it is more overt than others, but the potential for violence is always there, always lurking, always on the adults’ minds. It is a fascinating juxtaposition, and one that is handled very well.

Not that those adults are any less humorous than the girls, by the way. The featured family’s grandpa, father, and mother are an absolute roar (especially the grandpa).

If you’re looking for a short, hilarious, mostly breezy comedy to enjoy, I highly recommend Derry Girls. You can find it on Netflix.

(By the way, the Irish accents are thick, so you might want to enable closed captioning.)

Broadchurch – A Few Thoughts

My in-laws recommended that my wife and I watch Broadchurch–we’re glad they did!

Originally a British mystery series, Broadchurch is a fictional seaside town where two detectives, Hardy and Miller, must solve three brutal mysteries over the course of three seasons.

David Tennant plays Hardy, a troubled detective who has moved to Broadchurch out of necessity. Olivia Colman plays Miller, a local detective who knows every nook and everyone in the small town. If that seems like an incredible pair of actors, you’re right. There is no doubt that they are the reason Broadchurch shines so bright.

The first season centers upon the murder of a child. There are eight episodes and they do a masterful job of finding a way to make many, many people possibly guilty of the crime. Jodie Whittaker brilliantly plays the child’s mother. I now understand why so many people were excited when she was cast as the new Doctor Who. Arthur Darvill, also a Doctor Who alum, plays a local priest who works hard to offer comfort to everyone involved. (I think the entire cast appeared in Doctor Who at some point in their lives. Must be a British thing.) Again, the actors in this series are excellent. The first season’s conclusion truly surprised us when they revealed the murderer.

The second season builds upon the first while introducing a new story line. It can’t quite match the novelty of the first season, but it does flesh out the first season as it also explores the very crime that sent Hardy to Broadchurch. The second season, in my opinion, is the best in terms of acting, story, and pacing.

The third season is largely disconnected from the first two with lots of new townspeople coming into focus. While I liked it well enough, it just didn’t compare to the first two seasons in terms of plot cohesion or pacing. I also didn’t care for some of the directions they took with established characters. However, Tennant and Colman are a FORCE in the third season. They are mesmerizing together with each also having a firm hold on their respective characters. Seeing them act so well more than made up for any of the third season’s shortcomings.

If you’re looking for a quick mystery series to watch, I absolutely recommend Broadchurch. It deals with very heavy plot points that can be frankly quite depressing, but the acting and the very (mostly) tight storytelling make for a thrilling experience. You can currently find Broadchurch on Netflix.

The Midnight Sky – A Movie Review

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of The Midnight Sky when I saw its title card appear on Netflix. The description and trailer didn’t totally captivate me, but they didn’t repel me, either.

In the end, I watched it because I generally like George Clooney and because I enjoy “realistic” science fiction movies about space travel–recent films like Moon, Interstellar, Arrival, The Martian, and Ad Astra immediately spring to mind.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the year is around 2049, a global catastrophe has occurred, and George Clooney’s character is one of Earth’s last survivors as he manages an observation station in the far north. He has taken it up on himself to try to contact a space crew returning from Jupiter in order to deter them from entering Earth’s atmosphere.

The good news is that I only intended to watch an hour of the movie before going to bed and, instead, I ended up watching the whole thing while staying up far too late. It is an interesting, exciting film that keeps the audience guessing and holds them in a constant state of anticipation.

I also appreciated that it suggested horrible tragedy and violence in many cases without actually showing anything terribly gory.

My primary issue with The Midnight Sky, however, is that I felt as though I’d seen bits and pieces of this movie in several other films. The Road seemed to be a heavy influence, as did those other science fiction movies I already mentioned, especially The Martian. It was made very well, it had great pacing, and it looked good, yet none of it struck me as original. Finally, George Clooney, who has made a career off of his charm, displayed none of that natural charisma. That–coupled with the David Letterman beard–made for a pretty dour character.

The Midnight Sky is fine. It’s not bad–not by any stretch of the imagination. After all, it kept me up an hour more than I intended. It’s a perfectly acceptable, enjoyable science fiction movie. But it’s also not necessarily a unique experience that will make you feel like you’ve seen something new.