A lot of content on streaming platforms today will rely on star power – and we’re lucky when that star power can be about the director, and not just the main stars.
Men (Video on Demand) – This new movie is directed by Alex Garland. Formerly best known as a novelist, he wrote La Plage; he was also celebrated as a director, Ex Machina being the one admiring critics will often point to as the best introduction to his directing. While Ex Machina was a tense, psychological SciFi excursion; with this new one, Garland takes on the horror genre – but again, creates her own unique take on the genre, mixing a lot of psychological insight and fireworks. It stars excellent young actress Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear (son of Roy) in what should be a career-defining performance. More on this trick by Kinnear later; but let’s say this horror film carries a lot of emotional weight, and does so with confidence.
The biggest issue for the film would be whether cinema audiences are ready for such a slow-moving horror flick. A young wife, Harper (Buckley) is still recovering from the suicide her late husband committed to create the ultimate guilt trip for her seeking to divorce said husband. She supports a country house as a refuge and place of recovery. Upon arriving home, the sitter makes the required visit – and this is our first introduction to Geoffrey (Kinnear). At this point, the film functions as a pastoral/traumatized psychological portrait and it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that this alone is Garland’s intent. But in a beautifully staged sequence, Harper walks around, enters a tunnel, and it’s here that we see Kinnear’s second role – no spoilers here, but watch out for that and his successive appearances.
The Terminal List (Amazon Prime) – Directed by Antone Fuqua (best known for Training Day) and with co-producer Chris Pratt; this limited series has to do with the classic storyline of a veteran SEAL, who is the sole survivor of an overseas operation, now back in the United States and struggling to adjust to civilian life. It’s a storyline we’ve seen in countless movies, and my big criticism for this series is how, despite having Fuqua on board, there’s really nothing new to offer. And what I found particularly frustrating was how the story was stretched all over the place, to make it a limited series, not just a movie. I think that’s the biggest crime committed by these streaming platforms today – turning concepts and barely written material into a series.
Taylor Kitsch as the brother of the character played by Pratt is the only other character who is more than a rough sketch and makes the most of the opportunity. Pratt’s character’s wife and child are little more than shadows, and I really wonder why that’s so often the case. It’s as if the only thing the script wanted to achieve was to give Pratt as much screen time as possible, thinking that’s the formula that will keep audiences watching this. But as we’ve seen with content like Reacher, if the story is well-written and enough unexpected twists in the narrative are part of the script, an elated audience will watch. I realize Pratt is trying to prove he can do more than the Guardians and Jurassic franchises, but you’ll wish they were also investing in a storyline that may surprise and not be so predictable.
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