Monday December 10

Binge Watchr Reviews “Doctor Who: It Takes You Away"

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by JD Phillips

 

By JD Phillips


Where the hell did that come from?

Before this season began, I had high expectations for this show to add a new sense of style and urgency. While there have been a few high notes that reflected my expectations this season, most of the episodes have been pretty standard as far as this show has been the last decade. Then there’s “It Takes You Away” which starts like an average horror episode of the show but then creates a completely new style that leads you into a labyrinth of fear and heartbreak. I want every sci-fi episode of the show to come from the same bizarre mindscape this episode came from because it was wild.


An episode about a blind girl all alone with a scary monster in the woods is a pretty normal plot for the show. Luckily, all of that was just a red herring for the strange journey that was to come. Once the Doctor, Graham, and Yaz stepped through that mirror, the show itself became a whole new entity altogether. The lighting, music, set design, and costume design were completely different from everything that’s been done before. It was like some strange mix of a moody Panos Cosmatos film and Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth”. It had a creepy troll, a magical balloon lantern that cast eerie red light, man-eating moth monsters, and a magnificently bizarre toad puppet. This is a far cry from the CGI gremlin we got in episode 5.


Eleanor Wallwork as Hanne in Doctor Who It Takes You Away


Our cast delivered another standout performance this week as once again every character was well utilized. This week though, it was Graham and Ryan who got the spotlight. About thirty-five minutes into this episode, it decided to drive a well-placed knife right into the audience’s heart when it seemingly brought Grace back from the dead. That character made such a great impression in the first episode that there has been a Grace shaped void in the following eight episodes. When she turned around, for the briefest moment I believed the show had found a way to bring her back. That maybe she’d join Team Tardis with her husband and grandson.


But that’s not how this show goes. This episode’s monster, the Solitract was a different kind of antagonist. Its evil plan wasn’t to destroy the universe or conquer a planet. All it wanted was to not be alone anymore. So it used people who felt horribly alone in their grief as a way of traveling to our world. It’s a beautifully tragic entity that’s made all the more so by how simple its effectiveness was. I felt a push and pull myself whether I wanted Graham to take Grace through the portal with him. It was a painful journey from Graham’s acceptance of the imposter Grace to realizing that the real thing would never put her grandson in danger. Bradley Walsh has given outstanding performances in every episode, but I do believe this was his best.


Graham and Grace in Doctor Who It Takes You Away


At the end of the episode, right when you feel the full weight of Graham’s pain and sacrifice they offer another beautiful moment. Ryan finally accepts Graham as his granddad. It was a heartwarming moment that was placed in exactly the right spot this season. Ryan’s character is starting to come to grips with the loss of his Gran and his father’s abandonment. He finally sees who his real family is. The show felt like it was moving towards this moment since episode one and when it finally arrived, they played it perfectly.


Not that everything was perfect in this episode, however. I find it to be very out of character for the Doctor to be outsmarted by a simple cave alien that makes Gollum look like a genius. We’ve seen this character outsmart so many enemies in the past that it was a really disappointing moment when Seven Stomachs pulled that second knife to the Doctor’s surprise. I feel like this Doctor is trusting to a fault. Hopefully, that’s a quality they are planning on exploiting at some point in the future and not just a character defect. It’s hard to imagine Peter Capaldi falling victim to the two knives swindle. The oldest trick in the book.

 

That’s not to say Whittaker didn’t still give an amazing performance for the rest of the episode. Her compassion and deep sense of empathy really distinguish her from the cold, distant Doctors we’ve had before. I would just love to see a scene where she has to come to grips with the fact that she cannot always be the nice Doctor. It would be interesting to see an episode where she is pushed to showing the darker sides she seems so hellbent on keeping at bay.


All in all, this was a fabulous episode of “Doctor Who” which hopefully sets a new style standard for the show. I hope the sci-fi episodes continue to be more like this one than most of the others this season.


9.5


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Tuesday December 04

Binge Watchr Reviews “Doctor Who, Witchfinders"

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by JD Phillips

 

By JD Phillips

In which the 13th Doctor finally faces the challenges of time traveling as a woman, “Witchfinders” was a decent if not exceptional episode.


Considering the fact that the last two historical episodes were some of the best episodes the series has done for years, I came into this week’s episode with high expectations. Unfortunately, the episode itself isn’t nearly as good as the two before it, but it still offers plenty of thrills on its own.


The biggest one is, of course, the Doctor realizing how limited she is time traveling as a woman compared to traveling as a man for over a thousand years. The show is continuing its trend of history itself as a monster in its own right. This time it’s the Doctor herself who is in history’s crosshairs. The show has had its titular character storm in and take charge of whatever situation he comes into so much that it is rather thrilling to see her nearly murdered for being a witch.


Its focus on mob mentality reminded me of the Davies era episode “Midnight” which is one of my all-time favorite episodes. It’s always great to see the Doctor face new challenges and I hope we get to see more of that in the future.


Doctor Who Witchfinders


That being said, the setting itself was pretty standard “Doctor Who” fare. It has a rather cliched witch trial storyline that almost every time travel show does (at least it isn’t in Salem this time) and had a decent low budget alien but none of it really reinvented the wheel.


That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The show has had a lot of trouble with its sci-fi elements this year and it’s nice that the show is finding its groove again with its low cost but high concept alien baddies. While the episode’s mud monsters won’t make it on any lists of favorite villains from the series, they proved scary in their own right, even if they weren’t incredibly memorable.


The only thing about the story itself that amazed was Alan Cummings portrayal of King James. Cummings is pretty dependable to give an interesting performance and he did not disappoint. His performance was equal parts flamboyant fop, evil tyrant, and pitiable victim. He managed to change between them with just a flick of the eyes and a small showing of vulnerability or sadistic glee.


Ryan and King James in Doctor Who Witchfinders


This episode also was another strong showing for the companions. Team Tardis is still running like a dependable locomotive of chemistry. Ryan had great interactions with King James, Yaz got to show off her analytical mind, and Graham got the best hat ever.


“Witchfinders” may have not redefined the show as the other historicals have this season but it proved a dependable example of the season’s new formula.


7.8


Also, can I just talk about how badass it is that Graham quoted a Tarantino line at King James? That’s just awesome.


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Tuesday November 27

Binge Watchr Reviews “Doctor Who” Kerblam!

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by JD Phillips

 

By JD Phillips

That’s more like it! I’ve been very disappointed with all of the sci-fi episodes this season, so I was very happy to see that “Kerblam!” was Who doing what Who does best. Allegorical sci-fi hijinks with a cool setting, creepy camp robots, and good character development. To me, this was the show getting back to basics. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend.


I’ve written about how great the cast is in every single one of these reviews and this week shows how well oiled the team dynamic has become. All of the characters had an integral part in the story. Whether it was Yaz’s life being casually saved by a coworker, Ry’s blue-collar job experience proving to be an asset, or Graham bonding with the episode’s unlikely villain, the companions were all out in force.


The Doctor also killed it again this week. It doesn’t hurt when the episode starts with a fun reference to my favorite Doctor. (That fez is still cool) She also dropped a fun reference to the Tennant era. The show may not want to use any of the classic villains or characters but it still has a lot of fun referencing its own history.


fez doctor who kerblam


The plot seemed like one pulled out of the Davies era. A trip to an evil Amazon factory was something Tennant would’ve been right at home with. That’s not to say that this episode didn’t have surprises of its own. It seemed to know that it was a formulaic set up so it uses our expectations to plot us out all of the standard villain fare only for it to pull the rug out from under us. Within seconds, every veteran DW fan knew that the Kerblam Men were killing people to power the factory and that management was covering it up. I’m sure others were just as surprised as I was when it turned out the Kerblam Men were the ones asking for help, management was trying to save people, and that the cute love interest was the baddie.


That brings me to my absolute favorite part of the episode. Most of the villains this year have left me disappointed but for the second week in a row, they red herringed the creepy sci-fi baddies in turn for disturbingly human ones. Instead of religious anger, this week they showed a Unabomber-esque disgruntled employee. In the wake of so many mass shootings from disgruntled ordinary men, so many make excuses for why things like that happen. So rarely are these men truly framed as the villains they are. It’s refreshing to see this show point a spotlight at how extraordinarily violent a lost person pushed to the edge can be.


leo flanagan doctor who kerblam


At no point was he portrayed as a mustache-twirling evil madman either. Most of the episode had him framed as the hour’s romantic lead. He was cute and instantly personable. Even the eventual reveal wasn’t shown to be an act of true evil but rather a deranged plan to change the status quo. While the sci-fi monsters and time traveling rogues continue to disappoint, this season is killing it with their heartbreakingly real bad guys that don’t shine the light on us instead of on some faceless robot or alien. It’s a brave choice and one that I hope the show continues.


“Doctor Who” finally found its science fiction voice again this week as team tardis got jobs at space amazon. It was a fun and surprising adventure that may not go down as the most memorable episode of the season, but certainly a big step in the right direction.


8.5

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Tuesday November 20

Big Time Movie Reviewr: “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” (2018)

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by JD Phillips

 

By JD Phillips

The Harry Potter movies are great but one of the main flaws of the original franchise was the struggle the films had condensing the lengthy novels into movies under three hours. Despite the Fantastic Beasts sequel not being based on a book, it still somehow feels like its stressing to condense a five hundred page book into a smaller narrative.


The movie runs from scenario to scenario so quickly that it’s hard to remember what all happened in its muddled story. That’s not to say the film is terrible at all, surprisingly. For a movie that has serious pacing problems throughout and has more interest in setting up sequels than it is at finding a memorable plot of its own, it’s actually very entertaining.


The returning cast members are all back and while none leave quite the impression they did before they’re all still entertaining in their own way. Newt is back but the movie doesn’t seem nearly as interested in him and his magical monsters than it is with all of the new elements. Redmayne is still terrific in the role, however, and makes the character much more interesting than the script does by itself.


Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindelwald


Jacob and Tina are back as well though both of their stories are shelved for most of the film and completely forgotten in the final moments.


The biggest surprise though is that Queenie gets the best arc of any character in the movie. She was one of the more interesting characters in the original and while many of the twists in the film fall flat, the one involving her character was my favorite moment of the entire movie. I’m more excited to see her story resolved than I am most of the other elements.


It shouldn’t surprise anyone who has seen the trailers that the new characters kind of take over the film from the returning players. Jude Law and Johnny Depp’s Dumbledore and Grindelwald are what this film is more focused on than any other plot element.

Both veteran actors shine so much that the movie loses energy when they aren’t on screen. Law effortlessly settles into Dumbledore’s twinkly-eyed wise, yet manipulative schtick.


Depp also kills it as Grindelwald. In fact, it pains me to say this because of how much of an ass the actor is in real life, this is the most I’ve liked Depp as a performer since his first time playing Jack Sparrow. He avoids most of the oddball antics he’s been milking for so many years and delivers a subdued, terrifying performance as Grindelwald. He more than holds his own against Ralph Fiennes, which is saying something.


Johnny Depp as Grindelwald


Other new players are a mixed bag. Zoe Kravitz’s Leta Lastrange is an interesting character but none of the others really stand out. Newt’s brother Theseus is a particularly big missed opportunity. The film never adequately explains what caused the rivalry between the two Scamanders and it all gets resolved before there’s a chance to go into it more. Claudia Kim’s Nagini may have caused a big stir when she was announced in one of the trailers but very little is actually done with her character. It feels more like a stunt than anything else.


The biggest stunt comes from the big reveal in the end featuring Ezra Miller’s Credence. There’s a huge twist that not only breaks established history but feels extremely forced. For one, the movie never really explains how Credence came back to life in the first place. It feels like Ezra Miller became a bigger commodity for DC since he is the Flash so now the franchise is committing more to him than initially intended. There was no hint at all in the first movie that he was secretly connected to existing characters in a big way, so it seems out of left field. Regardless, I love Ezra Miller and hope the twist gets him better material in the future.


The movie doesn’t feel much like a Fantastic Beasts franchise anymore but when it does focus on its titular magical creatures, it really shines. The design and concept of the creatures lead to some of the best visuals of the entire Harry Potter pantheon. In fact, it feels like a real shame that we can’t get a smaller franchise that is just about Newt’s magical zoological adventures. The quieter moments of the movies where Newt is just connecting with a magical animal on its own terms are truly beautiful. Unfortunately, these moments get overtaken by the larger story around them.


Fantastic Beasts Crimes Of Grindelwald Creatures


I feel like this franchise is straining to be two different franchises at the same time. It would almost make more sense to separate them into a smaller scale “Fantastic Beasts” franchise and a larger scale “Crimes of Grindelwald” franchise. This mishmash of different ideas is feeling a little too much like the Hobbit films.


Somehow though, despite all of the messiness of the movie’s screenplay, I still found myself entertained throughout. While it may never hit the heights of its legendary predecessors, this film easily proves that the Wizarding World still has lots of magic left. Maybe the executives at Warner Bros should consider other avenues like television or other films so that Newt’s film series doesn’t carry the weight of one of the most magical film series ever.


“Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald” may not rise to the levels one would hope for, it still proves itself to be worth your time, if even just for one viewing.


7.0


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Tuesday November 20

Big Time Movie Reviewr: “Overlord” (2018)

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by JD Phillips

 

By JD Phillips


If a film that’s equal parts “Inglourious Basterds” and “Resident Evil” sounds great to you, then this is something you’d love. Otherwise, you might not find a lot here of interest. The newest monster flick from Bad Robot may not be in the Cloverfield universe but it certainly would’ve fit right in.

The film begins with a group of soldiers preparing to jump from a plane into France. Pretty standard WWII film stuff. It introduces us to several underappreciated character actors that you will swear you recognize but can’t figure out from where. Jovan Adepo (“Fences”, “The Leftovers”), John Magaro (“Orange Is The New Black”, “Jack Ryan”), and Iain De Casestecker (“Marvel’s Agents of Shield”, “Filth”) are all serviceable in their soldier archetypes.


The real stars here though are Wyatt Russell (“Black Mirror”, “Ingrid Goes West”) who is milking the hell out of finally not playing a stoner millennial idiot and Pilou Abaek (“Game of Thrones”, “Ghost in the Shell”) who is playing the sadistic SS officer he was clearly always destined to play.

Pilou Asbaek in Overlord

Newcomer Mathilde Ollivier is the one who gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop here. Her character has a couple of badass moments but spends the majority of the film being sexually assaulted or just looking angstie.

The film goes through the WWII cliches you know it has to in order to get to the B-movie magic, but it never commits to the latter enough for it to be worth it. The Nazi zombie effects are appropriately awesome but the film never goes full zombie like you really want it to. If you’re hoping for a scene with hordes of nazi-zombies attacking our wayward soldiers in a tornado of blood in bullets, you will be disappointed. In short, it’s not quite “Dead Snow”.

Overlord


Most of the movie is spent slowly setting up the supernatural MacGuffin so that when they finally get to the meat of the movie it pretty much goes straight for the climax. It feels sort of like a movie without a fun middle part or a big ending twist. It’s fun enough but never quite enough to live up to the hype.

“Overlord” is a fun WWII B-movie gorefest that never quite lives up to its potential but proves to be worth your time (if you’re into that sort of thing). If nothing else, it proves that a proper “Wolfenstein” movie would be a hell of a good time.

7.5


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Monday November 19

Big Time Movie Reviewr: "Mandy" (2018)

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by JD Phillips

 

By JD Phillips


I think this is the strangest review I might ever write. Mostly because the film in question is a strange experience, unlike most others. It's simultaneously a brilliant piece of 80’s horror art and an overindulgent mess that never figures itself out outside its influences. Basically, it’s a film where it makes perfect sense for Nicolas Cage to scream, cry, laugh menacingly, and chug a whole bottle of vodka while on the toilet, wearing a tiger t-shirt and his tighty whities.


If that sounds horrible to you or if it sounds brilliant to you, you’re right.

You can tell within seconds that this movie is going to be a trippy arthouse ride like you’ve never seen before. Anyone familiar with director Panos Cosmatos knows his films are basically like falling through a portal on the side of a heavy metal album cover. It’s a dark 80’s grindhouse fantasy horror fest that is powerfully immersive in ways that most films don’t come close to.


Whether you are watching scenes that take place within the Charles Mansonesque Jesus Freak cult, the animated tripfests, or Nicolas Cage chainsaw fighting (yes, you read that right) with a Mad Max style BDSM demon, you will find it nearly impossible to take your eyes off the screen.

Nicolas Cage in "Mandy"

That’s not to say that what you are watching will entirely be worth that attention. In the end, the film definitely feels like it’s more style over substance. It never feels like it ever reaches the heights that it sets up. It relies too much on cliches from the genre it loves to ever truly be more than a beautiful homage. If you don’t have a special place in your heart for heavy metal music and grindhouse action, there just won’t be much here for you.

That’s not to say that the cast doesn’t give their all to prove themselves. Nicolas Cage gives his most insane performance to date. Fans of his from films like “Raising Arizona” or “Adaptation” won’t find that actor here. Fans who love to watch clips of him being a mad-eyed psycho in “The Wicker Man” or “Face/Off” will want to watch this film immediately. The man forges a battle axe and takes on the forces of evil with bloody rage as you’ve never seen before.

The film drives into the actor’s wackiness and this time it really works. This is definitely a film that needed Nicolas Cage. Maybe if “Ghost Rider” would’ve embraced the B-movie potential of its star, that film would be more memorable.


The rest of the cast is pretty excellent too. Andrea Riseborough shines as the titular Mandy. She brings a unique but grounded style to the character that makes you understand why these men fall in love with her so heavily. Speaking of, Linus Roache’s cult leader Jeremiah Sand might be the best part of the whole movie.


Fans of “Vikings” will be pleased to hear that Roache once again throws himself into a creepily sexual role with both feet. It’s hard to match the level of weird Nicolas Cage can bring, but Roache gives him a run for his money. It doesn’t hurt that Jeremiah Sand is the best-written character of the bunch.


Andrea Riseborough in "Mandy"

The rest of the cult members are pitch perfect in their roles. They all look like the director went to a bunch of real-life cults and picked his favorites. Each one brings a different kind of creep factor that really elevates the film.

In the end, “Mandy” is a wonderfully made love letter to its genre even if it fails to redefine said genre as much as it potentially could have. Its particular brand of artful bloody wackiness may not be for everyone, but those that love that sort of thing will have one hell of a good ride.


6.0 or 9.0
(Depending on which way your bread is buttered)


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Saturday November 17

Big Time Movie Reviewr: “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” (2018)

in geekr

by JD Phillips

 

By JD Phillips

David Fincher’s adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was one of the best (and underappreciated) films of 2011. I have been eagerly awaiting a sequel for years but the seven-year delayed sort of sequel, sort of reboot was not what I was hoping for. This take on the iconic Swedish hacker sanitizes down the character for a cliched action thriller that’s equal parts Bourne, Batman, and Boring.

The opening few minutes of the film are admittedly exciting, but that energy doesn’t keep going. The scenes on Lisbeth’s family origins, the continuation of Fincher’s cyberpunk Bond opening titles, and the trademark Salander feminist vengeance scene are all marvelous parts of a much different, much better movie. The film pretty much immediately ditches all of that style and character development potential for an over the top plot about a program that can hack all the world’s nuclear codes.

Claire Foy in The Girl in the Spider's Web

The movie then becomes all about fight scenes, car chases, and increasingly convoluted conspiracies. If that sounds a lot like a Bourne movie, it’s because it’s basically a Bourne movie. Not “Bourne Identity” mind you but more “Jason Bourne”. Forgettable action, forgettable plot, and no character development. All the interesting and timely themes of female vengeance are apparently too much for Hollywood now. Watching Lisbeth Salander try to save the world is eerily reminiscent of how weird it was to watch Jessica Jones fight ninjas in “The Defenders”.

That’s not to say the film is all bad. Claire Foy brings the intensity and vulnerability that is needed for Lisbeth. Unfortunately, the film itself doesn’t do much to help her performance become as memorable as the two actresses before her. The design teams for the other two Lisbeths helped make Noomi Rapace an instantly iconic punk rock badass and Rooney Mara an infinitely fascinating alien.

 

Foy’s Lisbeth, by contrast, looks like any lady you might see pouring coffee at a Starbucks. The designers were obviously looking for something that would be less off-putting for mass audiences. Instead, they end up taking away a lot of what made her interesting to mass audiences in the first place.


While Foy does her best to fill Mara’s shoes, newcomer Sverrir Gudnason fails entirely to bring the same level of charm to Mikael Blomkvist as Daniel Craig did. Trying to out charm James Bond is a nigh impossible task, but this version of Blomkvist doesn’t even bother attempting. The film doesn’t seem much more interested in him than the actor is as well. This is particularly strange considering that he is arguably the protagonist of the first one. This time around he contributes absolutely nothing to the plot. He could be removed entirely and the movie would play out the same exact way.


Blomkvist is not the biggest missed opportunity in play here. Sylvia Hoeks’ Camilla Salander had the potential to be just as interesting as her sister. Unfortunately, she barely has more screen time than she did in the trailers. She’s standard creepy Bond villain fare. What could’ve been a fascinating cat and mouse between the two Salander sisters turns out to be just another bad guy plot.


Sylvia Hoeks as Camilla in The Girl in the Spider's Web


Lakeith Stanfield is pretty great in his thankless NSA fixer role, but he’s not given enough to save the movie.


In the end, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is a massive disappointment to both fans of the franchise and potential newcomers. If you’re thinking of watching this, do yourself a favor and check out the original American or Swedish films instead. It completely fails to be as provocative, original, or as exciting as the franchise demands.

4.0


Fun story: My friend and I watched the original Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” knowing absolutely nothing about it. We thought it was some sort of superhero movie on Netflix. When the movie started taking its graphic turns, we were very surprised high school freshmen. Still less disturbing than watching Lisbeth Salander be a makeshift Batman.


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