Wednesday, 22 June 2022

What I'm Watching: June 2022

A recap of my month in movies, media and streaming, featuring Netflix's Stranger Things, Interceptor, Spiderhead, and Paramount's new Star Trek series, Strange New Worlds.

Stranger Things season four part one (Netflix)

Bigger, scarier, more tentacles. Stranger Things season four has been gestating in the tank for a while – and the bigger budget and subsequent step up in scale is evident right from the get-go.

The sprawling ensemble cast – which grows larger with every passing season – is now split across several states and storylines; Joyce, Jonathon, Will and Eleven have moved to California, Hopper is alive in a Soviet gulag, Dustin and Mike are members of a nerdy D&D club, Robin and Steve work at a VHS rental store, while Lucas is in the school basketball team and chasing after his ex-girlfriend Max.

As the plot unfolds, the characters crisscross and segment even further – to the point that the plot feels a little bloated or slow, like those early seasons of Game of Thrones that hopped back and forth. Some of these strands are great; everything back in Hawkins is stellar stuff, with serious scares, propulsive pacing and great interplay between the young cast. Sadie Sink's Max steals the spotlight in episode four, alongside Maya Hawke's Robin and Natalia Dyer's Nancy. New addition Joseph Quinn, as metalhead Eddie Munson, is fantastic too. 

But other storylines are a real slog; everything with Hopper in Russia is really dull and drab, while Joyce teams up with conspiracy theorist Murray to rescue Hopper from his Kamchatka prison. I always found myself checking the clock, itching to get back to the good stuff. 

It doesn't always work, but when it does, this season of Stranger Things is the show at its best – sentimental, spooky and schlocky at the same time, with sequences that homage everything from Nightmare on Elm Street to Silence of the Lambs

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season one (Paramount+)

I'm not a huge Star Trek fan; setting aside the JJ Abrams Kelvin reboot trilogy, I've only dipped a toe into the broader universe, with Star Trek: Nemesis and Insurrection, which are widely disliked by Trekkies.

So I fired up Strange New Worlds not knowing what to expect, aside from it being a good 'entry point' to TV Trek, according to some of the press around it.

Serving as a prequel of sorts to the original series, and seperate to the Kelvin films (I think?), Strange New Worlds picks up the crew of the Enterprise about seven years before the first episode with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. The show is centred around Captain Pike (Anson Mount), Number One (Rebecca Romijn), and includes familiar characters like Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), Spock (Ethan Peck) and Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush, pictured).

There's an overarching story of sorts, but the structure is similar to classic Trek – with a monster or foe of the week, a new setting, a theme or moral to share, and not all that much connective tissue week to week. It's fun and frothy, with a glossy aesthetic, slick design and some impressive visual effects for TV. From a production value perspective, it makes the Star Wars series over on Disney+ look cheap and crap by comparison. 

I'm about six or seven episodes in, and really enjoying it so far. The pilot episode is a fantastic hour of TV, and serves as a great launching pad for what follows. There's been some standout storylines – episode five ('Spock Amok') is good fun, while episode two ('Children of the Comet') is a neat character-driven story for Uhura. 

Line of Duty seasons four, five and six (Netflix)

Last year, my wife and I binged the first three seasons of BBC police drama Line of Duty, and somehow, despite loving it, got sidetracked by something else. It's been sitting in the Netflix queue ever since, until this month when we decided to dip back in and round it out.

Why we ever left it there, sitting idle, is beyond me – it's one of the best things the BBC has put on in ages. and showcases British telly at its finest. Short, sharp seasons, compelling drama, talented actors (Thandiwe Newton, Kelly MacDonald, Stephan Graham) and some deft, smart writing, each episode is packed with intrigue and the tightly-packaged plots reward viewers to sit up and pay attention.

I even liked the ending, which while downcast and a little doom and gloom, at least felt thematically resonant and authentic. 

Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Binge)

Much like the MonsterVerse movies, the Jurassic Park series is a firm favourite in our household. So it was only natural that we went back and revisited the first two films in the Jurassic World trilogy before Dominion hit cinemas. 

Colin Trevorrow's 2015 reboot slash legacy sequel is easily the stronger of the two. It wastes no time getting its audience up to speed, bridging the gap between the original film (skipping past the other two) and reintroducing us to a world where the park is open, guests are flocking through the gates in droves and a the billionaire owner has resorted to cooking up a lethal hybrid dino in a lab to hold everyone's interest.

It's a bold, bright reinvention of the formula – even if Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are no match for Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum. But the splashy visuals, updated story and thrilling action are what people were clamouring for, so it largely works. The escalation from the initial Indominous Rex escape all the way through to the finale, which pits the hybrid against both velociraptors and a T-Rex, is a satisfying and entertaining ride. 

Meanwhile, JA Bayona's sequel is less assured. It's a film of two distinct halves, with a traditional 'return to dinosaur island' first act and an odd finale, centred around a mysterious dinosaur auction at a reclusive manor house. Bayona displays an eye for interesting motifs – the dinosaurs stalking our heroes through the spooky manor is a new spin on the formula. But on the whole, this film doesn't click together and loses its way with strange subplots about cloning. 

Interceptor (Netflix)

Australian author Matthew Reilly makes the leap from page to screen with Interceptor, a tight 90-minute action flick starring Elsa Pataky as an American soldier who finds herself pitted against a team of turncoat terrorists whilst aboard a missile station in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Reilly has made a name for himself off the back of dozens of punchy, fast-paced novels that feature frenetic action and plenty of military terminology. So it tracks that his debut feature film – he serves as both director and co-writer – would be as an equally pulpy guilty pleasure.

The conceit is simple; Pataky is a one-woman army, stranded without backup and racing against a ticking clock. The terrorists have hijacked the rig and intent to fire a series of nuclear warheads at the United States – all that stands in their way is access to the rig's command centre, where Pataky holds the controls to 'interceptor' missiles that can shoot down the ICBMs.

So you've seen Die Hard and it's many imitators; Interceptor is the latest. It's basically Die Hard on a rig. It's safe to say that Pataky – best known for her ensemble role in the Fast and Furious films – isn't the best actress in the world, but she makes for a pretty good action hero. Muscular and steely, her character has an interesting backstory that gives Interceptor a shred of 'something to say', and Pataky is the perfect choice, someone who melds the look of a career solider with classic femininity.

Spiderhead (Netflix)

Since Top Gun: Maverick was delayed for its initial 2020 release date, Spiderhead marks the second Joseph Kosinski/Miles Teller film is as many months. 

A sci-fi thriller, Spiderhead sees Teller's character, Jeff, kept as a prisoner in a remote high-tech compound that tests pharmaceuticals on convicted criminals. The compound is owned and run by Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth), an enigmatic visionary who wears a smile on his face, but will seemingly stop at nothing to perfect his chemical concoctions. 

Spiderhead is the kind of film that ten years ago might notch up a semi-successful stint in cinemas, owing to its household name cast and intriguing conceit. Nowadays, it's relegated to a quiet debut on Netflix – which is a shame, because while it's a bit patchy, it deserves a better fate than being added to the streaming scrapheap after a single weekend in the spotlight. 

Hemsworth makes for an interesting villain; charming and dapper with a sinister edge underneath. Teller's character is quite sombre and sincere, which maybe doesn't play to his strengths as an actor. But there's a decent script tying all this together, even if the production feels a little hamstrung by the COVID world in which it was filmed (small cast, sterile interior environments, dialogue-driven story). 

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...