Friday, September 29, 2017

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - Season 1

Spoiler free!

I haven't even finished watching season one at this moment, but I'm eager to describe this show because it's not what you might expect. It's not at all what I expected, and if I had expected what I got, I would have watched it a long time ago.

Well -- not a long time ago, since it only first aired in 2016, but you get the drift.

First of all, forget the title, because Dirk Gently is not a detective show. Yes, there is a character who describes himself as and aspires to be a detective, and yes, there is an element of mystery, but it's decidedly not that kind of a detective show. What you need to know is that it's based on books by Douglas Adams. If you know who that is you're a huge step closer to understand what the show is about. If not: he wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Now we're all on the same page. *glances up at my page banner*

Another thing I wasn't expecting was something I love to see happen with TV shows, and doesn't happen enough in my opinion: that the plot runs its course neatly over the whole season instead of being blocked off into episodic adventures that only loosely connect. It's basically an 8-hour movie, utilizing one of the best unique aspects television has going for it today. The new frontier for television! I assume there will be a definite end, but as I said I'm two episodes from finding out. If I'm wrong I'll come back and correct myself. (I was right, it wraps up cleanly. And then it gives a cliffhanger for the next season! Sneaky.)

Kitten!

I've never read Adams' Dirk Gently books, so I can't say as to how accurate this is to them, but the tone is in the right place. Maybe a bit modernized. And even though only one character is British, it has a British feel overall, (and it comes on BBCAmerica) with the same kind of wacky British comedy that comes out of nowhere that everyone loves about Hitchhiker's Guide. It's the kind of comedy where the punch line is so unexpected that you are compelled to repeat it in a high-pitched voice before you laugh -- or more accurately, guffaw -- at it. Also, I found, a lot of short bursts of shriek-laughter. I call it as I see it guys.

Probably the main reason I never gave the show a second glance until now (until my dad convinced me to give it a go -- thanks Dad!) is because it has in it -- as the main character no less. And no, he isn't Dirk Gently. Dirk is the title character but arguably not the main character. I have a history of not particularly caring for Elijah Wood. His being in things has always tended toward being a negative rather than a positive. But he's in this, and it took about to episode 4 for me to admit to myself that he belongs in the role, and he handles both the comedy and the drama well, and is enjoyable, and after all not terribly like Frodo Baggins.

I don't like to say I dislike Frodo. He's the lead character in my all-time favorite films after all. I'm just too familiar with his face. Here, the fur coat helps.

I keep wanting to call him Arthur because he comes across so similar to Arthur Dent, being all disbelieving and on the verge of mental collapse at every moment, yet still manages to be entertainingly casual about it all at the same time. But no, his name is... hang on... Todd! Yes, it's Todd. But no, in my head it's still Arthur. Dirk's name is easy enough to remember, and I have no baggage with the actor, , who I've only seen make appearances on British crime shows. He takes a minute to get used to since the character is super strange and campy and happy and we don't get to see his more human side immediately, but he grows on you eventually and reminds a little of Matt Smith's early days as The Doctor.

If the show where just those two doing their shenanigans I'd be happy, but it's not, and if it was, I wouldn't know what I was missing. (Much like I didn't know what I was missing before I watched the show!) Because the side and supporting characters are all such gems, and there's so many of them! There's a sister (), and an awesome bodyguard lady (). Then there's two cops spoofing crime dramas, a crazy woman hanging out with a random guy she kidnapped, shady military agents (one of which is hilariously dumb), four crazy dudes who go by "The Rowdy 3," and a whole lot of super strange and sinister people (led brilliantly by ) and they all run around in their own plot lines as the plots lines wind together in ways that only a show of this particular brand of meta could handle so humorously.

This is the awesome bodyguard lady. I love her so much.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency fills a hole in my entertainment soul that has been vacant for a while, since Doctor Who decided to be terrible. A pure-bred kind of sci-fi comedy that cranks up the enjoyment levels and is worth geeking out over. At least, I'm pretty sure. I have two episodes to go still, so I'll let you know when I'm done: Yep, geek away -- this one's a keeper!

Season 2 is coming in October!

Monday, September 11, 2017

IT

A bunch of kids in the 80s learn to face their fears as they fight an evil supernatural clown-monster who lives in the sewer and wants to eat them. It's the simple things that make the best stories.

I say that sarcastically, but honestly it's true -- even in this case.

Like with sci-fi, horror -- especially supernatural horror like this -- creates an impossible and heightened situation to put characters into, where they thrive. I like that side of the genre. Others prefer the side that puts weight on whether or not the movie is scary, sometimes to the detriment of plot and characters. In the balancing act, there's going to be disappointment on either side: the hardcore horror fans, who like the kids in Monsters Inc., are increasingly harder to scare, and the side I tend to, where the scares feel worthless if in the wake of unsatisfying character and plot. It's a hard thing to blend, and IT manages to be impressively balanced over a remarkably wide tonal range. Though personally, I was much gladder of the character development than I was the freaky bits.

On the character side IT is my cup of tea: the Pack of Boys™ character lineup is a classic. The quiet leader is Bill, , who keeps getting more impressive with each movie he does. Here, though there's plenty of interesting characters and crazy things happening around him, he doesn't let himself be overshadowed, and puts in the film's best and most enigmatic performance. The off-the-wall boy is Richie -- of Stranger Things (where he was the quiet leader of his own pack) -- and he impressed by comparison with his Mike Wheeler by being shockingly different from him. In spite of his potty mouth he wound up being a favorite, and was involved in many excellent moments.

Those two stood out to me, but even tiny moments of questionable acting from any of the kids were few and far between.

is Ben, the fat but incredibly lovable one. At his introduction I thought he was going to be a cliche, but from there he kept growing in endearment at an alarming rate. The rest stand out mostly because of their quirk: the Jewish kid Stanley ( (baby Star-Lord!)) the kid who's becoming his worry-wart mother, Eddie () and the outsider, homeschooled kid, Mike () -- represent! Then there's the girl, Beverly (). Her performance is up there with the best of them, and the character adds a ton to the dynamic of the story. She's exceptional -- but they all are. Each kid stands out in their own way, and each gets a solo scene of seeing Pennywise for the first time; that does make one section of the film repetitive, but worth it to get solid basic development in for everyone.

I found the character of Henry () extremely interesting too, but the character didn't have a real conclusion which mildly disappointing -- unless he comes back in Chapter 2. as Pennywise was of course excellent, ranging from disturbing to creepy to outright terrifying without coming across as too inhuman. And no, he's certainly not human, but he should still have character of some kind, and that he does. The makeup was top-notch, and his being naturally slightly wall-eyed was a fantastic detail. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention as Georgie, because my goodness. He was so young, and wasn't for a single moment unconvincing -- in any capacity.

The kids handle this dark fare excellently. It's amazing.

Plot draws the short straw -- such as it is. Individual scenes do a fine job blending horror with character development, but often do little to drive the story forward. You have the basic premise, and it moves along a straight path to the end with no twist or turns. Honestly twists and turns could have easily over-complicated things, and if only two were possible, complex characters and attention to horror thrills are the two most important, since plot can effectively work as a backdrop. The plot probably suffers from being compressed from that giant book into a two-hour-fifteen-minute runtime (even though only half the book was adapted!). You get the impression things are simplified and trimmed down to the bone, but the story does stay comprehensive, mainly held afloat by the solid characters.

IT dabbles in many types of horror which was a good idea. There's disturbing violence, edgy creepiness, suspense, gore, and jump-scares, but mainly it's good old-fashioned supernatural menace. The film's level of scariness depends on what scares you -- I felt scared only in the suspense, but many moments disturbed or surprised me, and overall the movie was tense, and yes, as scary as anything can objectively be. There's also a wonderful amount of effective comic relief, which I was monstrously glad to enjoy. And there were more than one or two moments that deftly pulled on the heartstrings.

Still not a horror fan, but I'll watch anything for something worthwhile -- and the heart here is definitely worthwhile.

To be completely honest, that's what I was there for. I understand that to make a good horror film you need certain elements, and to be effective in certain ways, while also creating a compelling story line, and sometimes the goals can conflict. This movie melds all its extreme elements as well as I've seen, and props to it for that, but I wasn't there for the horror and from my perspective the film succeeds almost in spite of the horror. Because the moments and elements that I loved about this story existed because of the horror-style premise, but were far, far superior to the thrill of a jump-scare. I loved watching the journey, struggle, and triumph of these characters, and I'm glad that's what mattered most to the filmmakers as well. IT is violent, dark, disturbing, and terrifying; effectively enhancing all the more the meager light that shines through.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Upcoming Movie Roundup - September

I didn't see a single movie in theaters in August, so I guess that means the summer season is over. I still want to see the indies I mentioned, but will have to wait for them. I did watch The Defenders on Netflix, and it was worse than my low expectations were expecting; absolutely pathetic, and the worst thing Netflix's Marvel has done, which is pretty incredible to me considering the long build-up the show had. Check out my review here.

As it stands, there's no big releases of September I'll definitely be seeing in theaters either, though there's plenty of interesting releases to keep an eye on, and hopefully at least watch at home. What looks good to y'all this month? I hope you all had a fantastic summer!


It
Sept 8th; R
For some reason I feel like this movie is capitalizing on the success of Stranger Things. Maybe because Finn Wolfhard is in it, maybe because it really does have that flavor. Of course, IT existed first. So I always say I'm not a horror movie person, but whenever something like this comes along I find myself interested. This isn't your average cheap scary movie, but the scarier something is the more "worth it" it needs to be. And this looks like the absolute most terrifying thing I've ever had even an inclining to watch! If I had to venture a guess about the quality right now I'd say it's going to be high -- really high. But it also look pretty freaking scary, so. It stars the talented Jaeden Lieberher, and Bill Skarsgard of the Skarsgard acting family as Pennywise.




Anti Matter
Sept 8th; NR
This one claims to be a scifi noir which immediately grabbed my attention, but the trailer is just... odd. It does have a strong mystery element to it, and there's definitely scifi too, but the style could be more appealing. The visual style seems to lean more scifi than noir, which is all too often the case I find, but it does have style at least, so that's already ahead of the curve. Anyway this is the sort of movie you watch because of the genre and premise regardless of what the trailer looks like. This is the sort of thing I'd love to watch at home out of pure curiosity if I ever see it streaming, with not a whole lot of expectation, either low or high.




The Limehouse Golem
Sept 8th(limited); NR
British period mystery yes please. A "before Jack the Ripper" tale in the 1800s, with Bill Nighy as the detective, with Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, and ever-fantastic Eddie Marsan who supports the heck out of everything he supports. This looks like a classic British mystery in a borderline typical way, but even if it is, I think I'd prefer it that way, especially if it's done well. Will keep an eye out!




Rebel in the Rye
Sept 15th; PG-13
Nicholas Hoult looks pretty strange with brown eyes. This is a biopic about J.D. Salinger, who wrote The Catcher in the Rye, and I haven't read The Catcher in the Rye. It looks like the sort of thing I'd enjoy as a writer, but based on the few reviews around, it's not worth much. A case of wasted potential, it appears. At any rate, I wouldn't let myself watch it before reading the guy's book, but it does have Kevin Spacey and Sarah Paulson besides Hoult, and looks like a good drama on the surface.




Mother!
Sept 15th; NR
Well this one's already been making waves ever since the trailer first dropped, but it's also one of those cases where I'm not in on the joke. Even if it turned out appropriate enough that I want to bother with it, which is unlikely, I still have no obsession with Darren Aronofsky, having never seen a single movie of his, and my like of Jennifer Lawrence is dwindling at best. It's a psychological thriller, which produces idle curiosity over what the twist is, but otherwise doesn't seem to promise anything worthwhile beyond an extremely memorable style. I expect the day I watch this is the day I had nothing better to do. Javier Bardem co-stars.




American Assassin
Sept 15th(limited); R
So I guess Dylan O'Brien wants to be an action star. Good -- because he's really good at it. The energy he brings to his action is extremely unique and entertaining. I'm not a fangirl, but I'd watch this guy play in action flicks all day long. And that's the main appeal of this film, though it does have Michael Keaton in it, and what looks like a fun-while-being-super-serious kind of plot.




Brad's Status
Sept 15th(limited); R
Ben Stiller's back. For some reason I like Ben Stiller, especially when he's in dramedies and indies. The appeal of this one really is just him and the rest of the cast. Austin Abrams of Paper Towns is his son, Jenna Fischer is his wife, and Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson and Jemaine Clement are his more "successful" friends. Sounds nice. Sounds like I don't even care what the plot is.




Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Sept 22nd; R
I gave a favorable review to the first one, but the last half bothered me. I re-watched it recently and now firmly believe that while stylish, and charming on the surface, it isn't nearly as smart as it thinks it is, and has little going on under the surface. That's not to say this one won't be good, or even that I won't see it. I'm not sure. It's just to say that I'm not head-over-heels, and won't be holding out much hope that this sequel will be any improvement. The success of the first implies this will be more of the same, which is hardly ever an improvement, and almost always a relative let-down. But Taron Egerton is still here and being charming so it can only sink so far. Mark Strong is back too. Colin Firth returning is far-fetched, but I suppose that's the whole point!




The Lego Ninjago Movie
Sept 22nd; PG
I'd be very surprised if this ends up being even in the same ballpark of quality as The Lego Movie or even The Lego Batman Movie, but it exists, so hey, you might as well watch it! That's maybe not the best thing to say. It is important that movies try to have good quality after all, and this one is probably mostly just banking on the success of the previously mentioned, but the trailer does provide a few giggles, so that's not nothing. Voice talents of Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, and Jackie Chan will be heard.




American Made
Sept 29th; R
This is the sort of movie that looks good, but I just don't care. Tom Cruise is making up for The Mummy apparently; the story is light and full of comedy but is also based on a true story so that different and fun; and it's got a unique style to it, maybe coming from the era. It looks like a worthwhile watch, but is the sort of thing I wouldn't ever see unless it was convenient. In short, it looks great, and forgettable. Dohmnall Gleeson is also in it though.




Realive
Sept 29th; NR
Pronounced "re-alive" not "real-ive" I assume. Overlooking the kinda bad title, this is an interesting scifi movie to me, because it takes an idea that is very popular -- cryogenically freezing yourself when you're dying until the science is invented to save you -- and applies it in the most realistic way I've ever seen in a movie premise. Like, why has no one thought of making a movie from this perspective before? From the trailer it looks like it's told from a realistic perspective, though who knows how it plays out. Tom Hughes stars, and the movie promises a bit of romance as well. Gotta watch those scifi movies!