Netflix Film Review “My Teacher, My Obsession” (2018)

Riley (Laura Bilgeri) moves with her father Chris (Rusty Joiner) to a new town for a fresh start. Struggling to make friends, she eventually joins forces with fellow loner Kyla (Lucy Loken). Things are going well as Riley’s personal life begins to blossom, until it becomes apparent that Kyla is obsessed with her father and will stop at nothing to have him.

My Teacher, My Obsession is a fairly standard obsessive stalker-seducer movie which brings little new to the game. Having said that, the plot is generally well constructed and the characterisation is relatively believable. However, Chris’ vulnerability and struggles to resist seduction by Kyla should have been set-up more convincingly. Also, Kyla’s mother’s naivety regarding her daughter’s true nature doesn’t quite ring true.

Rusty Joiner has a porn star’s name and a porn star’s body, and on this he was surely given the role. He isn’t a bad actor, but he was miscast. He was particularly unconvincing as a teacher and father, although he does grow into the role of tormented potential seducee later on in the film. The wardrobe department also flunked the exam; I found myself constantly distracted by the bizarrely ill-fitting clothing that Joiner was dressed in.

Laura Bilgeri and Jana Lee Hamblin (Kyla’s mother) were convincing, trying their best to find the throughline in this script which sometimes sagged.

All in all, this is an entertaining TV movie, bubble gum for the brain. Generally competent, if trite, though woefully miscast in the case of Joiner.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Calibre” (2018)

check out the 150 word review here

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Two thirty-ish childhood friends, Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and Marcus (Martin McCann), meet up after a few years for a weekend away in Scotland to celebrate Vaughn’s impending fatherhood; a kind of paternity stag do. Ironically, to hunt stags — all at Marcus’ expense. But when an incident happens, their trip is turned into a nightmare that which will change their lives forever.

There’s an awful sense of inevitability from the very start of the film, even before the truly shocking and gut-wrenching inciting incident. We know something awful is going to go down. The film gripped me with a suspense I haven’t felt for a while.

The countryside, almost a character itself, oozes Britishness and is both beautiful and haunting. Indeed, the cinematography is beautiful and effective throughout, never drawing attention to itself but is quite magnificent. I particularly enjoyed one shot of Vaughn’s dinner. The sound design is understated but truly powerful and sells the film magnificently. 

The writing is tight and fat-free but never feels shoehorned or with an inevitable end-point. The film is marked by highly convincing motives and actions and reactions from all of our characters throughout. This is sold by some truly phenomenal acting, including from supporting characters.

Vaughn, a shy but nice bloke; Marcus, his larger-than-life but slightly unbalanced friend. We get the impression that Vaughn had emotionally distant parents and was a bully victim; Marcus seems to have the self-confidence and slightly self-destructive side afforded by a more privileged upbringing. But almost all of this was subtly and carefully implied rather than being explicitly stated. It felt like our two leads had a lot of backstory to work with and were therefore able to deliver a very convincing throughline. The film’s first act sees them having a highly believable lad’s bonding session. If you’re a man, this kind of sesh will definitely be familiar, true man-on-man bromantic bonding.

The finale was satisfying and totally appropriate with a final shot which made us feel complicit.

Calibre reminded me of the excellent Eden Lake: a tranquil countryside retreat, an incident in a forest, local townsfolk who seems a little on edge and present a constant threat. But in recalling Eden Lake, a truly gritty and realistic movie, Calibre made me realise how theatrical Eden Lake was by comparison. I was fully gripped and absorbed, whereas Eden Lake now seems a little bit “horror movie”, emphasis on “movie”.

This was writer-director Matt Palmer’s first solo feature length film after several horror short films. So the title “debutant” seems a little inappropriate. None-the-less, this is a debut solo feature, and it a remarkable accomplishment.

This film was tense and boding from the outset. It’s hard to think of how this could have been improved. Everything was magnificent. I am sorely tempted to give this a five star rating, but I only give five star reviews to films that I immediately think, “Wow, this will go down as one of the greatest movies in history”. Calibre was too simple a story and too simply told to ever be classed as one of cinema’s greatest works. But even though Calibre may not have changed the cinematic game, it is, none-the-less, a phenomenal movie which I cannot recommend highly enough.

4/5

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Netflix Film Review: “Eli” (2019) #150WordReview

Eli (Charlie Shotwell) is a boy with a rare life-threatening autoimmune disease which effectively renders him “allergic to the world”, as one character puts it. His parents (played by Kelly Reilly and Max Martini) take him to a remote medical facility where renowned specialist Dr Horn (Lili Taylor) promises to save him. However, all isn’t as it appears, and Eli might not be in the safest place for him, after all.

This are-the-doctors-bad-or-is-it-all-in-the-boy’s-head thing worked very well for the first two thirds of the film. Sadly, the script not so much careens off the tracks in the final act, as it blasts into outer space with the most unlikely and film-destroying plot twist ever. A far less obvious twist, or no twist at all, would have rendered this film better.

Good acting, a tense film up until the last third, I can think of several endings that, whilst less twisty, would have been more in keeping with the tone of the film and done justice to it.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Time Trap” (2017) #NetflixFilmReview

A group of adolescent friends go on a jaunt to a hidden cave in the woods in order to find their missing teacher. It’s an accident waiting to happen, something the characters themselves point out several times. And yes, they inevitably do end up getting lost in the cave network themselves. But this Goonies gone awry quickly becomes The Descent-with-teens; what they find down in the dark is beyond any of their imaginations and will change their lives forever in ways they couldn’t conceive.

Time Trap is basically a B-movie which was shot on a limited budget of $1,000,000, a paltry amount — especially for a Sci-Fi flick. Yes, this is a sci-fi movie. However, the special effects weren’t bad at all, and the make-up was impressive, too. The acting wasn’t amazing. But despite being a bit teen movie, it worked.

The film felt like an over-extended episode, perhaps the pilot, of a 1990s Sci-Fi show. Which is both good and bad. Action, drama, thrills, but a total reset by the end of the episode. Which was a bit of a let-down.

Despite a lack of budget and a ’90s TV vibe, it was an absolute mind-bending pleasure. It dealt with huge themes, which totally shocked me. As pretentious as it sounds, I was reminded of Olaf Stapledon’s magisterial 1930 novel Last and First Men, an aeons-spanning epic like no other which inspired many, including the great Arthur C. Clarke. That really does sum up the themes hit upon in this movie. Awesome stuff. However, the film starts out with no hint of such a direction. It begins as a kind of teen adventure movie in the mould of the Goonies (which was meta-ly referenced by the characters themselves), but transforms into a truly terrifying science fiction horror. This tonal shift worked quite well; much better, in fact, than the campy tonal shift back to adventure comedy at the very end. This ending, a happy ending of sorts, felt like it thoroughly undermined the true mind-melting horror of what happened in the caves. Hence the “90s Sci-Fi show” vibe.

B movie, yes, but a true delight.

3/5

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Netflix Film Review “Calibre” (2018) #150WordReview

Two 30-ish year old childhood friends, Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and Marcus (Martin McCann), meet up for the first time in a few years for a weekend away in Scotland to celebrate Vaughn’s impending fatherhood; a kind of paternity stag do. Ironically, to hunt stags — all at Marcus’ expense. But when an incident happens, their trip is turned into a nightmare that which will change their lives forever.

There’s an awful sense of inevitability from the very start of the film, even before the truly shocking and gut-wrenching inciting incident. We know something awful is going to go down. The film gripped me with a suspense I haven’t felt for a while.

The cinematography was beautiful and the countryside oozes Britishness and is both beautiful and haunting.

A true gem. Watch it.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review: Bird Box (2018)

Bird Box is a The Happening (2008) and A Quiet Place (2018) mash-up where an evil presence blown on the wind is causing people to kill themselves (or, in the rare case, become homicidal maniacs).

Five years after an unseen and malevolent presence caused the majority of the world’s people to mysteriously commit suicide or else turn into blood-thirsty maniacs, mother Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is desperately trying to navigate a safe path through this post-apocalyptic landscape to a fabled safe haven for her two young children. The evil force manifests itself as a shimmer and a rustling breeze which seems to instantly infect people who gaze towards it. Therefore, the only way to avoid being infected is to stay indoors, or only go outside with your eyes covered at all times.

We join the story with Sandra Bullock rowing her children up a certain creek, and it might as well be without a paddle as they’re all blindfolded, to a fabled haven. The film is two narratives at the same time, cutting between her river-based journey and recanting the tale of how she got to be on this perilous solo mission cut

For years I wondered to myself how M. Knight Shyamalan could have got it so woefully wrong with his The Happening, based as it is on the absurd concept that nature is out to get revenge on mankind by inflecting us with suicide blown on the breeze(!), but Bird Box‘s set-up and premise is what The Happening could potentially have been. We don’t know the source of this evil presence, nor are the details made clear. Why do some people merely become homicidal lunatics whereas the majority immediately kill themselves? Why can the evil force not enter into buildings? But these questions do not matter as the technicalities of this blight are not the focus of the story; rather, the human drama is. And the film excels. Man versus himself, man versus man, man versus time, all three classic dramas are well-played to maximum tension.

At times, The Road-style post-apocalyptic road trip (well, river trip), at times an alternative reality good version of The Happening, at times “the enemy within” dramatic plot thread of 28 Days Later, this film deliver a tense and thrilling horror ride. The cast are all wonderful in their roles. However, this film surely deserves an award for the most bizarrely random cast of all time: Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, rapper Machine Gun Kelly (or should I say, ex-rapper, RIP, after Eminem (metaphorically) killed him in their 2018 diss battle), British comic actor from The Thick Of It Tom Hollander, jovial comedian Lil Rel Howery, and Bend It Like Beckham‘s Parminder Nagra. But despite this motley collection of all sorts, the casting never jarred: there was no Ed-Sheeran-in-Game-Of-Thrones-WTF moment. I was particularly impressed with Machine Gun Kelly’s supporting turn.

Scary, emotionally terrifying, thrilling, the blight feels real even though the full details are never spelt out. A wonderful movie, what M. Knight’s The Happening could have been.

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Bird Box” (2018) #150WordReview

Take 2008’s The Happening and 2018’s A Quiet Place, pop them in a blender with a pinch of Oscar (Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich) and a dash of randomness (British comic actor Tom Hollander, rapper Machine Gun Kelly, Bend It Like Beckham‘s Parminder Nagra), and voilà! An evil presence blown on the wind is causing people to kill themselves or each other (The Happening) when they look towards it (swapping A Quiet Place‘s sound for sight).

We follow Bullock as she paddles her two young children up a certain creek to an alleged haven. The film interweaves with the tale of how she came to be on this river.

Bird Box is a human drama of survival against odds.

Scary, emotionally terrifying, and thrilling, the blight feels real even though the full details are never spelt out. A wonderful movie, what M. Knight’s The Happening could have been.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard S1E10 “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2” Review

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Star Trek: Picard‘s season one finale, “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2”, sees our heroes hatch a daring plot to prevent the destruction of all biological life at the hands of an advanced god-like artificial lifeform whilst also preventing the destruction of the android planet whose denizens are the ones summoning the aforesaid god-like synths. Classic Trek quandry!

“Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2” had a lot of action, fight scenes, starship battles, enemies temporarily allying, faces from the past, moral dilemmas, betrayal, a defence of the Federation’s sacred principles, and a whole lot more beside. Unlike some other episodes, such as episode one, this installment was packed with action and certainly had me engaged from beginning to end. On paper, it was an amazing season-ender. Unfortunately, the entire season’s main storyline was neatly resolved. A little too neatly. Boxes were ticked, and the whole season’s payoff felt flat and without effort. Everything was too easy in the end. For example, despite being a huge, long-time Trek fan, I just did not feel any emotion at the death of a key character which the show’s producers clearly felt was the “emotional” showpiece of this episode. It lacked weight because we already knew that this person wasn’t going to really be dead after all. Everything was too easy.

Forget logic, let’s just resolve away! Huge and absurd plotholes, such as the magical deus ex machina energy-to-matter device. Made no sense whatsoever and was used merely to set us up for an episode which just concluded everything — because it just had to!

The complexity of this season deserved a more complex and subtle set of resolutions. Furthermore, everything was wrapped up. Not even the hint of a cliff-hanger. I cannot imagine how Season Two will carry on the storyline, as there isn’t much of anything left to resolve or carry on. This gives the effect that season one was merely an extended single episode and that the universe is going to effectively reboot with season two. Instead of having an ongoing show arc, are we going to have merely one season arcs? Have the producers figured out a way to stretch the classic Trek double episode into a season-long fare? Will we end up with ten seasons, each compromised wholly of one over-extended and massively fleshed out single episode?

The weirdest thing about the episode is something whose full significance only hit me later when mentally sifting through this episode: the characters in the show have basically discovered a way for people to become immortal. The greatest discovery ever. Yet the significance of this seems to be not recognised by anyone. Truly baffling stuff.

All in all, “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2” was one of the more action-packed episodes, but it was also one of the weakest. Indeed, I think was bested in the weakness states only by Episode One which was an incomplete episode by necessity (as it sets everything up). All’s well that ends well. Sadly, although this season finale wasn’t bad, it was weaker than the show merited.

A frustrating and disappointing, albeit not bad, end to what has been a frustrating, if promising and exciting, first season. Not the final episode the season deserved.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard S1E9 “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 1” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

I hate plot spoilers. I try my best to avoid them. Unfortunately, when reviewing episodes of a series, it’s almost inevitable that you give certain things away. Even the very act of no longer mentioning a character in itself tells you something. This is unavoidable and acceptable plot spoilage. But what is not acceptable is to smack a massive plot spoiler in the credits sequence. Episode 9, “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 1”, plants a massive spoiler flag in the opening credits by declaring “special guest star: so-and-so”. So now we know that that actor is in it and, of course, we know what character they play in the Star Trek universe, so… surprise ruined! Can you not have the cast list at the end of the episode, please?

Leaving meta-considerations aside, this was a disturbing episode which thoroughly upsets our moral compass. We finally arrive on Sojo’s homeworld, our crew making landfall in a less than conventional manner. We arrive as aliens ourselves on a brightly-coloured world with an almost Star Trek: The Original Series vibe about it. It’s full of life yet slightly off-kilter, a realistic and disturbing portrayal of some kind of reverse Eden: I was left unnerved and frightened by what appears to be coming up. Many new important characters are introduced, and it really feels as though the final episode will totally shatter the world we’ve come to know. The stakes have never felt higher.

Picard says in this ep that “it seems these days that all we do is say goodbye” and this episode indeed features two goodbyes. Sadly, they were robbed of some of their emotional value due to, once again, trying to cram everything into one episode. For the umpteenth time, the Game of Thrones Season 8 model doesn’t work; someone let the writers know.

“Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1” was stronger and felt more complete than last week’s showing, and we are being propelled towards what promises to be a truly terrific finale. We are made to face the sickening possibility that we, and our heroes, might be on the wrong side of this battle. Consequently, the sadism and fanaticism on the part of the show’s supposed baddies, the Romulans, is beginning to feel less and less consequential next to the threat that the androids are convincingly portrayed as having the potential to pose. However, the rush to the end robbed many moments of a sufficient sense of gravity. None-the-less, this episode did just enough to nudge a four star review.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard S1E8 “Broken Pieces” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

Episode 8, “Broken Pieces”, thrillingly sets up the season finale two-parter. We are told a lot about a secret Romulan sect and why they are so hell-bent on destroying the androids. And the previously alluded to plot within the Federation dramatically shows up again. We are also tantalised by the prospect of visiting Soji’s homeworld, a prospect set-up in episode 7.

Our fellowship is crumbling before our eyes because our mole aboard La Sirena has been found out. But the most compelling aspect of this episode is that we are reminded that the baddies of the show, those fighting against our heroes, themselves do have very legitimate reasons for what they believe in — they don’t want to see the destruction of all life by synthetics, which is portrayed as a frighteningly realistic possibility. The viewer is suddenly, horribly aware that the heroes and synths we have been rooting for might well be on the wrong side. If only our baddies didn’t seem quite so sadistic, we would want to side with them. To facilitate this end, we see a weak, vulnerable side to Hot Sexy Space Elf, A.K.A., Narissa (Peyton List).

To save us from all this crushing bleakness, comedy relief was much appreciated. This week’s turn at playing the joker was Rios (Santiago Cabrera): all the different holograms who “man” ship look like Rios but all have different personalities, and accents. Honestly, goofy but funny.

Demons of the past rear their heads. Rios struggles with the traumatic moment that led to his leaving Starfleet, and Seven of Nine resists the seductive power of the one true ring, that is, the chance to be a Borg queen. Sadly, whilst Rios’ story convinced, enhanced by a powerful pep talk from Picard, Seven’s was played out with insufficient real peril and thus was robbed of any weight it should have had. Picard has returned to form: rushing the conclusion to plot threads and leaving us with no real emotional pay-off.

After the previous three excellent episodes, this felt like a return to inconsequentialism and exposition. However, it zips along so fast, and we’re so involved in the characters and central storyline, that we almost don’t care. This was tightly written, which is meant both as a compliment and as a criticism; “Broken Pieces” felt like a means to an end rather than also being an end in itself, like the second film in a trilogy. And thus, despite its strengths, it was notably weaker than our more recent outings.

Much intrigue and some fascinating plot developments, but in the rush to the season finale, “Broken Pieces” incompletely tells a story of its own, this episode serving more to structurally set up the series ender. Only juicy action is left to paper over the cracks in the incomplete and fragmented plotting.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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