Friday, 18 February 2022

What I'm Watching: February 2022

A recap of my month in movies, media and games, featuring Peacemaker, Euphoria, Ozark, Murderville and the new Resident Evil reboot.

Peacemaker season one (Binge)

James Gunn continues to play in the DC sandbox in this eight-part series centred around John Cena's Suicide Squad character, Peacemaker. Looking to get his life back on track, Peacemaker is released from hospital and is assigned to a black ops taskforce.

Cena was one of the standout characters from The Suicide Squad, so much so that HBO Max greenlit this spin-off before the film was even in cinemas. Continuity is key here; with Gunn still at the helm (as writer for every episode and director for five), Peacemaker is imbued with the same wit, charm, irreverence and frequent vulgarity. Gunn's fingerprints are all over this, from the thematic motifs (father issues, flawed heroes) to the dialogue, characterisation and 80s soundtrack.

Cena is great too; he's a funny guy who doesn't shy away from the sillier sides of this character, but still has the range to sell the more serious moments too. The diverse supporting cast are a little hit and miss; Jennifer Holland is good as ARGUS agent Emilia Harcourt, but I found Freddie Stroma's turn as fellow anti-hero Vigilante to be a little grating (think Ryan Reynold's Deadpool, but dumb as bricks).

After the suffocating grimdark of Zack Snyder's Justice League trilogy of films, it's nice to see Warner Brothers lean into the narrative and thematic multitudes of the DC universe. Peacemaker is irreverent, loose and silly (I mean, have you seen the opening titles?), but Gunn manages to achieve this without sacrificing sincerity or genuine emotional stakes.

On the whole, I really liked Peacemaker – there's room in the DC universe for this kind of versatility, so let's hope WB and HBO Max use this as a template for smaller scale stories going forward.

Euphoria seasons one and two (Binge)

Look, I'm not exactly the target demographic for HBO's Euphoria. But the hype and 'discourse' around season two has been hard to avoid, so I decided to give it a whirl – so that I could both be part of the conversation and appreciate the memes.

Provocative, confronting and frequently hard to watch, this isn't your granddaddy's teen drama. Skins walked, so that Euphoria could run – and then jump and skip. Chock full of teen sex, drugs, violence, alcohol abuse and all manner of adult content, Euphoria really pushes the envelope when it comes to what it puts on screen.

The production value is incredible; every episode looks like it costs an absolute fortune to produce. It's stylistic and artistic like nothing else currently out there. From cinematography (saturated colour palette, dramatic and cinematic lighting) to editing (lots of crosscutting between flashbacks and fantasies), the work going on behind-the-scenes is some of the best on television today.

Zendaya gets to flex her acting chops as lead character Rue, but there's a wealth of talent across the board. Jacob Elordi makes for a compelling and detestable villain as fuckboi Nate Jacobs, Eric Dane is even more hateful as Nate's abusive and adulterous father, and Hunter Schafer is great as Rue's turbulent on again off again other half, Jules. In my opinion, the show's MVP is undoubtedly Sydney Sweeney as Cassie, a popular pretty girl who has made some poor decisions in her past and failed to learn from them. 

Season one is compelling and confident right out of the gate; whereas season two feels little contrived and lacks the same propulsion. It's still great, don't get me wrong, but it feels like the writing has taken a knock in the interim. Maybe I'll stick around for season three, maybe I won't – after all, there have been some who disparage Euphoria as just arthouse Riverdale. Make of that what you will...

Ozark season four part one (Netflix)

The Byrdes are back and their tangled web is getting even tanglier by the minute. The first half of Ozark's final season sees Marty and Wendy often at odds over what's best for their family and those around them, not to mention their youngest son Jonah choosing to forge out on his own and spite his parents.

Ozark is one of Netflix's surefire shows that has yet to hit a bum note, and that consistent quality continues into its home stretch. Season four part one manages to introduce some new players while retaining the show's laser focus, tight plotting and thick morass of motivations.

Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are great in the lead roles, with the latter gaining more urgency and depravity as the show delves deeper into its final chapters. Much like Walter White did in Breaking Bad, Wendy Byrde has officially crossed over the threshold and exists in antagonist territory, in my eyes at least. But Linney does such a good job of embellishing Wendy with nuance that you can't help but admire the character's sheer tenacity.

However, Julia Garner as Ruth Langmore was and still is the show's undisputed MVP. By the end of this short and sweet seven episode reprisal, Ruth is in an even more desperate and tragic place than she was at the end of season three, casting her in the Jesse Pinkman role going into the endgame. So long as she gets out clean, all is right with the world.

Murderville season one (Netflix)

Murderville is a six-episode Netflix show that mixes scripted comedy with improv, by thrusting a celebrity guest into a police procedural alongside a cast of characters. Each episode we're introduced to Terry Seattle (Will Arnett), a grizzled detective and that week's guest star, who serves as Terry's partner. By shadowing Terry and interviewing suspects, each celebrity must improv their way through each scene, piece together the clues and solve the murder mystery of the week – all without a script to guide them.

I'm a big fan of improv comedy, and the Murderville concept reads like a mix of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Thank God You're Here. So I went in with hopes, expecting something witty, weird and occasionally deranged, when the wayward guest derails the plot or breaks character.

The problem is, they're not given a lot of wiggle room to drive the story forward. The guests – comedians like Conan O'Brien, Kumail Nanjiani and Ken Jeong – are steered through each scene and given maybe one or two set-ups to act out. The preordained plot plods on with them in tow, rather than allowing them the leeway to have fun with the premise.

The lack of a studio audience to gee up the guests means a lot of the jokes are awkward too. I didn't gel with this at all, and after picking out the episodes I liked the look of, I didn't feel compelled to see out the rest.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (VOD)

From 2002 to 2016, Milla Jovovich and her writer/director husband Paul WS Anderson pumped out six schlocky Resident Evil films that were simultaneously critically panned but financially successful. 

With more than $1.2 billion banked, it came as no surprise when the studio, Sony Pictures, told us they were going to retool and reboot the series, stripping away some of the sci-fi elements that crept into the Anderson films and returning it to its blood-curdling horror roots.

The result is Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, a film that is true to form by being both entertaining enough, gory AF and pretty forgettable soon after. Kaya Scodelario fronts the cast as Claire Redfield, a wayward orphan who returns home to see her estranged brother Chris (Robbie Amell). The dilapidated Raccoon City is now little more than a shopfront for the nefarious Umbrella Corporation, and it isn't long before the place is crawling with crazed zombies. Along the way, Claire and Chris cross paths with other characters from the original Capcom games, such as Leon Kennedy (Avan Jogia), Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) and Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper).

I don't have a wealth of experience with the original horror games, but I imagine they're a lot like Welcome to Raccoon City; characters with big shotguns and bright flashlights creeping down dark hallways, shooting gruesome zombies and other nasty monsters in the face. On that assumption and that assumption alone, this rebooted film adheres very closely to the formula, in that there's a lot of dark hallways, big shotguns and gruesome zombies. 

Anderson brought a certain 'je ne sais quoi' to the franchise (it can be said that Welcome to Raccoon City lacks 'fun'), but it does pack a lot of punch. If it's scares and schlock you're after, this is for you.

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