A short review of “Bad Samaritan” (2018)

As I believe I may have mentioned, I have a love-hate relationship with David Tennant’s onscreen performances.  I find him inexplicably, positively grating whenever he plays a protagonist.  (See 2011’s “Fright Might” remake, or his cringe-inducing stint as “Doctor Who.”)  But it seems to me that the man is absolutely fantastic when he plays a bad guy.  (See his frightening and hilarious role as Kilgrave the first season of “Jessica Jones” in 2015.)

“Bad Samaritan” (2018) thankfully presents us with the latter Tennant.  He musters an intensity with his eyes and his voice that are incongruous counterpoints to his innocent-looking face, and this makes him a damned good antagonist in a thriller.  (He is a highly organized, sociopathic kidnapper in this film.  I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler, as all of the film’s marketing make it clear.)  He’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch — and listen to.

With that said, “Bad Samaritan” is an average movie — not altogether bad, but not awesomely good, either.  (I suppose I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.)  It benefits a lot from another very good actor in Robert Sheehan as its anti-heroic young protagonist.  (The plot setup here is interesting — a mild-mannered burglar discovers a psychopath’s captive while in his house, then struggles with how he can help the terrified victim of a far worse criminal than he is.)  The movie’s biggest sin seems to be that it borrows heavily from comparable genre-defining works from the likes of Thomas Harris and James Patterson.  But it’s still an enjoyable enough movie in its own right.

There’s someone else here that’s great fun to watch too — Kerry Condon as the kidnapee.  Her voice is amazing, and she’s a superb actress; I think she’s strong enough to carry another movie like this.  I just knew she looked familiar … it turns out she played Clara, the really weird woman that Rick found in the woods during Season 3 of “The Walking Dead.”  (He asks her the show’s signature “three questions.”)

She is also to voice of F.R.I.D.A.Y., Tony Stark’s on-board A.I. in several of Marvel’s “Avengers” movies.  Didn’t see that one coming.  Weird world.

 

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A short review of “It” (2017)

“It” (2017) succeeds on a number of levels; it’s both an excellent horror movie in its own right and a faithful adaptation of Stephen King’s incredible 1986 novel.  It’s rate it a 9 out of 10.

The movie works so well because it captures the book’s key juxtaposition of sweetness with horror.  There is a gentle innocence about the story’s circle of adolescent protagonists, who remain kind and good in King’s story — despite facing an incredibly powerful monster while being alienated by adults who are shifty, feckless, or monstrous themselves.  The screenwriters understand that juxtaposition, and successfully bring it to the screen.  The kids here feel real, three-dimensional, quirky and damned likable.  (My favorite was Eddie, the wisecracking hypochondriac, played by Jack Dylan Grazer.)  It adds great tension to the story.

And the monster itself is truly terrific, thanks to an inspired, menacing portrayal by Bill Skarsgard and startling visual direction that nicely summons summons both coulrophobia and grotesque (yet sometimes subtle) body horror.

The film might suffer just a little from something its makers couldn’t avoid — so many of its basic story elements are overly familiar tropes.  King wrote his novel more than 30 years ago.  “Scary” clowns are now omnipresent in popular culture.  (It’s something I’ll never understand.  Clowns are mysteriously and positively irritating to me.  They’re a lot like David Tennant before “Jessica Jones.”)  We’ve also seen more than a few alienated adolescents, period settings and shape-shifting monsters that impersonate our worst fears, in everything from “The X-Files” to “Stranger Things” to … other Stephen King adaptations.  We don’t want the filmmakers to neglect these key story components.  That would ruin the movie.  But they feel like overly common tropes in 2017.

Still, this was a great fright flick.  I can’t wait for Part 2.

 

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A review of Season 1 of “Jessica Jones” (2015)

Netflix’ “Jessica Jones” (2015) is easily one of the best things in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.  It’s smart, it’s funny and it’s extremely dark — I don’t want to spoil too much by revealing the modus operandi of Season 1’s villain, but his manner of destroying his victims is utterly disturbing.  (I’ve mentioned before how his powers seem like a plot device from a Stephen King novel.)  Although this series excellently retains a “comic book” feel (due in part to its episodic format), its story elements frequently feel like something out of a John Carpenter film.  And, although I know I’m repeating myself yet again, this Hell’s Kitchen niche of the MCU feels like its chosen stage for horror-thrillers.

The cast is excellent.  Krysten Ritter is perfect as the titular, hard-drinking, antihero private detective.  Mike Colter is nearly as good in the role of Luke Cage, another low-level hero in the Marvel universe.  Colter’s talent is evident by the fact that Cage could so easily come across as a one-dimensional character.  (And, Jesus, doesn’t the guy look the part?)

The story’s villain, Kilgrave, is played by fan-favorite David Tennant.  (Yes, the name “Kilgrave” is stupid and is lifted from the comic book source material.  Its silliness is lampshaded in the series several times by other characters making fun of it.)  Tennant is an actor I’ve abhorred in the past.  There was no logical reason for it — there used to be just something about his voice and his face that made me cringe.  It was a running joke for a while among me and my female sci-fi friends.  (Good Lord, how the ladies adore that man.)  My admittedly irrational dislike of the man even detracted from my enjoyment of the otherwise quite enjoyable 2011 “Fright Night” remake.

He’s phenomenal here.  He’s perfect for the part, as Ritter and Colter are for theirs, and he was alternately menacing and quite funny.  (He has perfect timing and line delivery, as Ritter often does.)  I really liked watching him.

“Jessica Jones” might succeed more than any other MCU property in terms of dialogue and character development — although the “Iron Man” and “Daredevil” series also do great work there.  (It’s a tough call.)  The show also seems to flesh out the MCU into a kind of “lived in” universe in a way that other Marvel properties usually haven’t — by creating detailed, three-dimensional protagonists out of characters that have no superpowers whatsoever.  They’re not “sidekicks” (a trope that the script that slyly winks at); they’re realistic characters that affect the plot.  When one or two actually appear to develop superpowers toward the end of the season, the consequences are unexpected and dire.  (There is a truly kickass Easter egg here that will please longtime readers of Marvel Comics.)  Furthermore, Jones, Cage and most of the other characters have power sets that pale in comparison to M.C.U. heavy hitters like Thor, the Hulk or the Vision. The result is that the MCU feels more … integrated and nuanced, with a blurrier line between superheroes and everyday people.  I liked that a hell of a lot.

The show is not entirely without its failings.  Despite what I said above about the show’s attention to ordinary characters, I still think it went a bit overboard here.  The character of Malcom (nicely portrayed by Eka Darville) began as a hugely interesting supporting character.  So, too, did other residents of the heroine’s apartment building.  It was a nice touch that expanded the show’s scope and depth … until the law of diminishing returns kicked in.  By the end of Season 1’s 13-episode arc, I felt that they’d received far too much screen time.  The support group that one character attends started out as an intelligent subplot, but then eventually grew tiresome.  (Again, I’m being necessarily vague here to avoid spoilers.)  Towards the finale, I actually felt that these minor characters were padding the plot and dragging down the narrative.

Which brings me to another criticism — the narrative’s length.  This is yet another show that I felt could be edited down a bit.  As much as I loved Tennant here and found Kilgrave to be an interesting villain, I’m not sure that Jones’s conflict with him warranted 12 52-minute episodes.  This could have been abridged to eight or ten, I think.

Another criticism I had of “Jessica Jones” was its fight choreography.  For a show that succeeds on so many levels, the action sequences were sometimes surprisingly poor.  Why do brawls between superpowered individuals include so much polite (and bloodless) grabbing and throwing?  Especially when a single punch or kick could easily kill or incapacitate an opponent?  The answer, of course, is that those kinds of melees are easy to film, with minimal training for the actors.  It’s especially noticeable here because this show’s sibling, “Daredevil,” has fight choreography that is some of the best I’ve ever seen.  (If you’re curious, then search for “Daredevil stairwell fight” on Youtube sometime.)

The rudimentary effects were usually even poor when depicting the title character’s “jumping” scenes.  (She has super strength, so she can virtually “fly” short distances by literally jumping.)  These shots looked like something out of a primetime 80’s action show.

All in all, though, this was indeed a great show.  Don’t shy away from it, as I initially did, because you’re unfamiliar with the title character.  It’s among the best that Marvel has to offer.

 

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“You call her Doctor JONES, Doll!”

God damn, Netflix’ “Jessica Jones” (2015) looks like a great show.  I finally got around to watching the complete pilot episode, due to my interest in the upcoming “The Defenders,” which features the character.  And “Jessica Jones” was frikkin’ terrific.  I’d rate the first episode a 9 out of 10.

At first, there were aspects of the pilot that annoyed me.  We’re told virtually nothing about the origin of the title character’s superpowers, and not much about the powers themselves.  They’re also a fairly generic power set, as far as I can tell.  She has enhanced strength and agility and … that’s it?  So she’s a low-grade Superman or Spider-Man, more or less?  We also learn somewhat little about what looks to be the series, antagonist, Kilgrave, played by David Tennant.  We see Kilgrave only briefly, in flashbacks that seem reminiscent of post-traumatic stress disorder.  (These are sometimes weirdly delivered, for a show that is otherwise well directed.)  He has mind-control abilities that resemble the “push” ability seen in Stephen King’s “Firestarter,” as well as my favorite short story of all time, “Everything’s Eventual.”

But … hell, this was just an extremely good show.  For starters, Krysten Ritter is perfect as the wisecracking anti-heroine.  She’s funny; she’s got great, dry line delivery; and she’s a decent actress.  (I know that the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s more powerful heroes rarely visit Hell’s Kitchen, but I’d love to see her trade quips one day with Tony Stark.  She couldn’t beat him, but she’d come closer than anyone else.)

The script is good enough to make her a likable character, and the story itself is scary and compelling.  Considering the plot-driving capability of the show’s villain this … looks like it could become a King-style horror thriller.  Between this show and “Daredevil’s” bloody second season (2016), I’m starting to understand that Hell’s Kitchen might be the MCU’s stage for more horror-type stories.  And I’m fine with that.

 

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Blogging my only review of a “Doctor Who” episode. Because I’m a masochist.

And I enjoy the sheer antipathy that is inevitably inspired by any criticism of this show (or, God forbid, actor David Tennant).

No, seriously — I actually really liked the horrorish episode, “Blink,” with the weeping angels.  I’m running this for my old friend David Bozic, who, it turns out, is another devoted “Whovian.”

Here’s the review I did on Facebook maybe two years ago:

*****

Doctor Who generally isn’t my thing.  But I have friends who are really diehard … “Whovians?”  Is that what they call themselves? And Alex Tirado-Snyder finally talked me into watching a particularly good episode – Season 3’s “Blink.”

I wasn’t disappointed.  This is actually a great little horror story, and you can enjoy it even if you’re unacquainted with the bizarre (and poorly delineated, in my opinion) rules for this unique sci-fi universe.  It honestly reminds me of something that Stephen King might have written, albeit for a general tv audience.  I was genuinely creeped out by the story’s adversaries, which I won’t describe because of spoilers.  The repeated line of “Don’t blink!” along with the episode’s closing shots, were nice and frightening.

It’s also a damned cool time-travel story – if you’re patient and pay attention, you’ll see that it works.  Carey Mulligan is a really good actress in a lead guest role, and parts of the story (featuring characters displaced in time) are pretty poignant.  I’m not sure this episode really merits its Hugo Award, but it was still a good watch.  I’d recommend it.  Thanks, Alex.

It’s easy to see why this widely venerated show has such a devoted fanbase.  It’s fun and quirky and smart.  Still, I can’t say that this franchise is quite my thing.  I feel the same why about this as I do about Joss Whedon’s work.  I know it’s well made, but it’s too high-camp for me.  Also … I can’t explain this, but David Tennant just gets on my nerves.  I remember being turned off by him in his role in 2011’s “Fright Night” remake.  I don’t know why … is he too chipper?  Too manic?  Is there an androgynous quality about him that I find unsettling?  There’s something about him that suggests an overeager British schoolboy that won’t shut up and just won’t leave you alone.  Whatever.  I’m sure the problem is me.  He’s a very good actor, and of course he’s well suited for this role.

Postscript: I had a lot of fun with this story because it brought back something from my childhood.  In the long ago pre-internet days when I was 11 years old, the kids on the street would huddle under Jason Huhn’s porch on summer nights and tell ghost stories.  I made up a monster a little like the one in this story, and it scared my best friend Shawn because I portrayed him as the victim.  He tried to make me stop telling the story, but the other kids insisted I continue.  He got pretty agitated.  So I was kind of a jerk when I was a kid, too, sort of.

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