Altered Carbon

AlteredCarbon

Altered Carbon
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy, Martha Higareda, Tom Conner, Trieu Tran, Diechen Lachman, Ato Essandoh, Kristen Lehman, Renée Elise Goldsberry, et.al.
Rating: TV-MA
Network: Netflix
Grade: A

Altered Carbon, which takes place in a semi-dystopian future society in which human bodies are simply called “sleeves” and memories and personality are stored on hard drives located in place of one of our neck vertebrae and called “stacks,” follows Takeshi Kovacs, who was serving a prison sentence after being fatally shot, after he’s revived to solve the murder of the rich and influential Laurens Bancroft, and chosen because he’s the last remaining Envoy, someone trained to have intuitive abilities that border on being psychic. As he investigates, Takeshi comes into contact with Lieutenant Kristin Ortega, who’s conducting her own investigation into the killing.

This neo-nor/sci-fi series is perfectly suited to internet streaming services like Netflix. The characters are all well-developed and multi-dimensional, and the actors all work well together. Joel Kinnaman does well as someone needing to get used to the skin they’re in for the first few episodes. James Purefoy, somewhat of an expert at playing the borderline psychopathic person, is nearly perfect as Laurens Bancroft, and infuses a sort of bored menace into everything he says. Martha Higareda’s Kristin Ortega is a dedicated, but conflicted, police officer who abandoned her religion to pursue a career in law enforcement. The real standout, however, is Tom Conner, who plays the AI hotelier Poe, the character who runs/owns the hotel where Kovacs lives.

The special effects are very well done, showing the fictional Bay City (formerly San Francisco), as a crowded, claustrophobic, built-upon neon city. The AI and holographic renderings nearly perfect, as are the scenes on alien worlds.

I would definitely recommend this show to any sci-fi fan, or even those who prefer detective stories and don’t mind some sci-fi infusion. It does require a little bit of attention, but the storyline and the worlds it takes place in are intriguing enough to hold viewer’s interest.

Altered Carbon is only available to stream from Netflix, with no word as to whether or not they plan to make it available on video.

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Rough Night

RoughNight

Rough Night

Directed By: Lucia Anellio
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Zoe Kravitz, Ilana Galzer, Kate McKinnon, Paul W. Downs, Ty Burrell, Demi Moore, et. al.
Rated: R
Grade: C

Five friends get together for a bachelorette weekend in Miami. Just as the night is getting started, however, they accidentally kill the stripper hired for the party, and spend the rest of the night attempting to cover it up. All the while, their friendships are tested and truths are brought to light.

As hard as it tries, Rough Night just isn’t that funny. The moments that are supposed to show the women as wild and/or quirky, but mostly they come off as immature. Despite the fact that the actresses have a decent chemistry, most of the humor falls flat, especially since the characters are supposed to be in their 30s at the time. The few humorous moments that do appear are mostly courtesy of Kate McKinnon, who seems to be one of the few bright spots in the movie since she puts her all into her role. Scarlett Johansson, for all of her dramatic and action talents, doesn’t handle the comedy well, and she and Zoe Kravitz seem to wish they were anywhere but in the movie. Ty Burrell and Demi Moore phone in their performances as the oversexed, open-marriage neighbors, and seem to have put the majority of their time into making the other actors as uncomfortable as possible.

There are no obvious special effects in the movie, with most of it being used as background filler.

Unfortunately, Rough Night isn’t very good. It got a few bonus points for Kate McKinnon’s performance, and a sweet side story involving the main character and her fiancee, who mishears part of a phone call and, thinking she wants to break up, rushes down to Miami to win her back. However, it’s still not quite enough to warrant spending a significant amount of money on this one.

Rough Night is not available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Girls Trip

GirlsTrip

Girls Trip

Directed By: Malcolm D. Lee
Starring: Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Mike Colter, Larenz Tate, Kate Walsh, et. al.
Rated: R
Grade: A

When four estranged friends reunite for a weekend trip to New Orleans during the Essence Festival, they rediscover their old wild ways, and attempt to strengthen their failing friendships. Also on the trip, they discover new love, and find out that their lives and the lives of their friends aren’t as perfect as they seem.

Girls Trip is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a while. The comedy tends to shift between physical, situational, and actual jokes. Everyone handles the comedy well, and the actresses who play the four main characters have a decent chemistry. Tiffany Haddish definitely stands out, though. She has great comic timing, and manages to pull off some of the more outrageous comedic moments. There are a couple moments of bathroom humor, but the movie manages to avoid it for the most part. There’s also a little drama added in, and it works well for the storyline, with the more emotional, dramatic moments evening out the general, overall humor used.

There are no obvious special effects in the movie, with the most noticeable instances used in a couple of concert scenes, with the rest used as background filler.

Anyone looking for a laugh should like Girls Trip. The story is incredibly well done, and the actors all work well together. It doesn’t require much attention to follow the storyline, but it should hold your attention anyway.

Girls Trip is not available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Lady Bird

LadyBird

Lady Bird

Directed By: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Lois Smith, et. al.
Rated: R
Grade: A

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson wants nothing more than to be extraordinary and live a life filled with adventure, glamour, and art. Unfortunately, she feels like the way she’ll achieve that is to leave her hometown of Sacramento as soon as she graduates high school in the fall. She spends most of her senior year trying to figure out how to go to one of her dream colleges on the East Coast while attempting to navigate her family and friendships.

Lady Bird is an honest, earnest coming of age story told beautifully through the eyes of Saoirse Ronan’s titular character. A perfectly imperfect typical teenager, Lady Bird is selfish, self-centered, a bit more than slightly rebellious, and nowhere near as cool as she wants to be. Setting the movie in 2002 is a bit odd, especially since there wasn’t anything particularly special about that year, but it doesn’t detract from the story in anyway. It’s not really noticeable until you start hearing outdated songs since hair and clothing styles haven’t changed all that much since then. The acting is superb. Ronan perfectly captures that teenage desire to be accepted by everyone while trying to behave like she’s above it all, and Metcalf’s loving exasperation is spot on.

There are no obvious special effects in the movie, just typical background filler.

If you don’t mind a slow drama, then you’ll probably like Lady Bird. The story is incredibly well done, and the actors all work well together. And, while it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of attention to follow the storyline, it’s compelling enough that it grabs your attention anyway.

Lady Bird is available to stream with an Amazon Prime account, and it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

Winchester

Winchester

Winchester

Directed By: Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig
Starring: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Finn Scicluna-O’Prey, Tyler Coppin, et. al.
Rated: R
Grade: B-

Loosely based on the story of Sarah Winchester, who believed so firmly that her family was being haunted by the victims of the Winchester rifles, that she bought a house in California and had 24/7 construction done on it from the day she moved in until the day she died. In this movie, the firearms company board sends Dr. Eric Price to evaluate her mental stability and determine whether she is fit to maintain her seat on the board. Shortly after arriving, Dr. Price learns that there is more truth to Sarah’s beliefs than he originally thought.

More of a dramatic thriller than a horror movie, Winchester is spooky at times, with a few genuine jump scares. The real Winchester house is fascinating in and of itself, so I found that aspect interesting. The reasons behind the constant building and rebuilding (constructing the rooms where people were killed with Winchester rifles and tearing them down once the spirits have passed on) was one of the main plot points, which focused on a particularly vengeful spirit wanting to end the Winchester legacy. I actually found the dramatic bits more interesting than the horror aspect. The history behind the house is a point of interest, but the movie doesn’t have the time to delve into just how oddly-constructed the house was.

The effects are fairly decent, mostly dealing with creating ghostly effects, and haunting-type imagery, none of which are too terribly obvious as CGI and/or practical effects.

Winchester should appeal to anyone who enjoys dramatic horror movies, and doesn’t strictly watch horror for blood and gore. If a lack of gratuitous death scenes is a nonstarter, then you may want to avoid this movie. It’s not a bad movie to watch, but it’s also not fantastic either. It serves its purpose as a not-too-scary scary movie that one can enjoy with popcorn on a Sunday afternoon.

Winchester isn’t available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

The Final Girls

FinalGirls

The Final Girls

Directed By: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Ackerman, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Adam Devine, et.al.
Rated: PG-13
Grade: B+

After losing her mother in a car accident, teenager Max is convinced to attend a screening of the movie that her mother was most famous for. While there, the theater catches fire and forces Max and her friends to try and escape through a door behind the screen, and unwittingly end up in the movie they’re watching. Once there, the group rallies the film’s counselors (including one played by Max’s mom) and tries to defeat the film’s villain.

The Final Girls does its best to parody 80s slasher movies, and for the most part, it succeeds. One of the few places the movie falters is in its PG-13 rating. 80s slasher movies are mostly known for excessive amounts of blood and sex, and this movie doesn’t have much of either. There are a couple smatterings of blood, some kissing, and two watered-down stripteases. Despite the lack of defining elements from the genre it’s supposed to be parodying, the movie overall is enjoyable. The actors all have decent chemistry, and they seemed to be having fun while making the movie.

There aren’t a lot of noticeable effects in the movie. There’s a slight daylight over saturation when the teens enter the world of the movie, but that disappears once the sun goes down. There’s one explosion and a few practical effects, and anything else isn’t easily identifiable.

Since The Final Girls is PG-13 it should attract a larger audience, but horror/comedy is a tough genre to get right. For the most part, the movie succeeds, but the rating forces restraints on the horror aspect that may alienate hardcore horror fans. All in all, though, this is a good movie, and recommend it to anyone who can handle a horror in their movies.

The Final Girls isn’t available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

The Shape of Water

ShapeOfWater

The Shape of Water

Directed By: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Hewlett, et.al.
Rated: R
Grade: A-

At a government facility in the 1960s, Elisa, a mute cleaning lady, and her friend discover that their facility is housing amphibian creature. Elisa quickly becomes both fascinated by and enamored with the creature, and when she learns that it’s being tortured and will be killed simply so they can study it, she risks everything to set it free.

The Shape of Water is a rare movie. It’s a high-concept, high-art, science fiction film, and therefore won’t appeal to everyone. The actors all have decent chemistry, and Sally Hawkins does an incredible job playing Elisa, the mute woman. Her facial expressions are masterfully done, and you can almost hear what her character is thinking. Doug Jones, who plays the creature, also deserves special mention, since he manages to display emotion through the layers of costume makeup he wears.

The visual effects are beautifully done. Though there aren’t a lot of obvious CGI sequences, the creature makeup, as well as the color timing to give the film a slightly greenish tint, all add to the slightly fairytale-like feel of the film.

This movie is something of a passion project for director Guillermo del Toro, and as with most of his passion projects, this falls into a similar kind of niche. Not many sci-fi/fantasy movies involve a somewhat touching inter-species romance. As such, this movie won’t appeal to everyone. If you are willing to give it a try, you’ll likely be sucked in by the beautiful cinematography. I would definitely recommend at least giving the movie a try, unless you can’t stand sci-fi movies in any capacity. It won’t be for everyone, but someone might be surprised by how much they enjoy it.

The Shape of Water isn’t available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

Game Night

GameNight

Game Night

Directed By: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Billy Magnussen, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemmons, et.al.
Rated: R
Grade: A-

When hyper-competitive married couple Max and Annie let Max’s over-achieving brother Brooks hold a kidnapping mystery for their weekly game night with friends, they vow to finally outshine him. As the teams investigate the “kidnapping” they slowly realize that Brooks was taken by actual kidnappers instead of the actors hired by the adventure company. Their efforts to retrieve Brooks from his kidnappers send the friends on a chase across the city and puts them in increasingly wild and dangerous situations, and they soon realize that things are not what they seem.

Game Night is a fun, funny movie that should appeal to a broad audience, and there are some genuine surprise twists as the story progresses. The actors all work well together, and they all look like they’re having fun making the movie. Like with most broad comedies, the storyline isn’t that plausible, but that doesn’t really come to mind while actually watching the film.

There aren’t many noticeable effects in the movie, with only one or two sequences having anything obvious. Everything else seems to just be background filler.

As stated before, this movie should appeal to pretty much anyone looking for a laugh. There’s nothing too over the top, and it doesn’t rely entirely on bathroom humor for laughs. There’s an added bonus of an actual story to follow, so the movie doesn’t seem like a long setup to a punchline.

Game Night isn’t available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

Lost in Space (2018)

LostInSpace

Lost in Space

Starring: Molly Parker, Toby Stephens, Maxwell Jenkins, Taylor Russell, Mina Sundwall, Ignacio Serricchio, Parker Posey, et.al.
Rated: TV-PG
Network: Netflix
Grade: B

Lost in Space, a reboot of the 1965 series (and 1998 movie), follows the Robinson family as their vessel, the Jupiter 2, crash lands on an alien planet. As they navigate the alien planet while searching for survivors of other downed Jupiter vessels, as well as a way to get off the planet and back on their way to Alpha Centauri, where a new human colony is being established after the Earth has become nearly uninhabitable.

As stated before, this is a reboot of the series from the 60s, though I suspect that character names are about all that carried over from that show. This reboot is much less campy, and opts for a darker, more serious tone. The Robinsons are also no longer stranded alone. Their ship is one of several that crashes on the alien planet where Season 1 takes place, and there are several flashbacks to their time on Earth, as well as some to when they were on the main vessel, the Resilient. The effects are well done, with what I assume is a mix of practical and special effects used. There are some space shots of the star system they landed in that are particularly breathtaking.

The actors seem to handle themselves fairly well. From what I can tell, Toby Stephens is the only one not using his natural accent (he’s British playing an American), and he handles it well. Parker Posey seems to be enjoying playing the villain, and manages to not chew on the scenery every time she’s on camera.

If you like sci-fi, you’ll probably like this series. It might be a little much for casual viewers to handle, especially if they’re old enough to remember the original series, if only simply because they just throw you straight into everything, with no build up to the space and aliens plot. The show is also slightly serialized, so a small bit of attention is required so as to not get completely lost (pardon the unavoidable pun). It also looks like there will be a second season, so there’s no worry about getting invested in something only to be left hanging.

This show can only be streamed through Netflix, and there’s no information about whether they plan to release it on video.

Harlan Coben’s Safe

HCSafe

Harlan Coben’s Safe

Starring: Michael C. Hall, Amanda Abbington, Amy James-Kelly, Freddie Thorp, Louis Greatorex, Hannah Arterton, India Fowler, Raj Paul, Joplin Sibtain, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, et.al.
Rated: TV-MA
Network: Netflix
Grade: B+

Safe, an original series from author Harlan Coben, follows widower Tom Delaney as he attempts to locate his daughter, Jenny, who went missing after attending a friend’s party. As he delves deeper into his daughter’s disappearance he begins to realize that he may not have know her, or her late mother, as well as he thought. That, coupled with the fact that Jenny’s boyfriend turned up dead at the same party she disappeared from, means that Tom is racing to unravel an increasing number of intertwined mysteries before he loses his daughter forever.

This is the type of show that, once upon a time, would only be found on the BBC in the UK, or Masterpiece in the US. Another great example of serialized British murder mystery, this show, while not perfect, is definitely better than some of the shows on TV. It can get a little soapy and over dramatic at times, but for the most the story stays on point. It looks like there’s probably not going to be a second seasons (though no one seems to be ruling it out, either), so the probability of getting the kinks hammered out over time is unlikely, unless it’s a massive hit on Netflix.

The acting is pretty good. Most of the cast is British, with Michael C. Hall being the only American on the show. Hall’s accent can get a bit choppy, even to my untrained ears, but closer to the end of the season he seems to get something of a grip on it.

I would recommend this series. The storyline is decent, and so long as you don’t mind slow-simmering crime dramas, it should hold your interest. It requires a bit more attention than the typical crime drama, but not so much that you must remain glued to your couch.

This show can only be streamed through Netflix, and there’s no information about whether they plan to release it on video.