REVIEW: HIS DARK MATERIALS – SEASON 1

James McAvoy, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ruth Wilson, and Dafne Keen in His Dark Materials (2019)

Starring

Dafne Keen (Logan
Ruth Wilson (The Lone Ranger)
Anne-Marie Duff (Enigma)
Clarke Peters (John Wick)
James Cosmo (Game of Thrones)
Ariyon Bakare as (The Dark Knight)
Will Keen (Victor Frankenstein)
Lucian Msamati (Game of Thrones)
Gary Lewis (Outlander)
Lewin Lloyd (Judy)
Daniel Frogson (The Devil Outside)
James McAvoy (IT: Chapter 2)
Georgina Campbell (Krypton)
Lin-Manuel Miranda (Mary Poppins Returns)
Ruta Gedmintas (A Street Cat Named Bob)
Lia Williams (The King is Alive)
Amir Wilson (The Secret Garden)
Nina Sosanya (Love, Actually)


RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Simon Manyonda (In Fabric)
Geoff Bell (Rogue One)
Mat Fraser (American Horror Story)
Kit Connor (Rocketman)
Helen McCrory (The Queen)
Joe Tandberg (The Innocents)
Omid Djalili (The Mummy)
David Suchet (Poirot)
Peter Serafinowicz (Spy)
Cristela Alonzo (Cars 3)
Morfydd Clark (Crawl)
Raffiella Chapman (The Theory of Everything)
Andrew Scott (Spectre)

The BBC and HBO co-production of His Dark Materials got off to a strong start this fall, with an opening hour that set an epic tone and impressive visual standard for what was to follow. But the thematically-bare 2007 adaptation had those things going for it as well; the real question this new adaptation faced was whether the showrunners would finally bring the story to life with the same sense of danger, maturity, and grandiosity provided by Philip Pullman’s prose. In that respect, with some storytelling stumbles and concessions made so the story could thrive on a TV budget, the first season of His Dark Materials is largely a success.The show does a remarkable job in keeping a number of different stories moving forward simultaneously – Lyra’s central quest of rescuing her best friend Roger from the clutches of the Magisterium, Mrs. Coulter’s hunt to recover Lyra, Lord Asriel’s experiments, Lord Boreal’s world-walking machinations – the show smartly chooses how and when to highlight these various stories and by the end, weaves all those threads together into an intriguing web that we’re only just beginning to understand by the end of the first season.His Dark Materials hits the ground running by building out a rich, textured fantasy world in a relatively short amount of time. Lyra’s alternate reality of daemons, dust, aeronauts, witches, panserbjorn, and aleithiometers never comes at you too quick to understand what you’re being faced with, and some of the mysteries still surrounding the more out-there elements (like a compass that tells the truth) end up making the series all the more engrossing. His Dark Materials is content to show its hand at its own pace and that kind of confidence keeps the show worth coming back to.Dafne Keen in His Dark Materials (2019)What makes Lyra’s fantasy world work especially well is the inspired choice to pull forward story elements from the series’ second novel, The Subtle Knife. His Dark Materials makes no secret of the fact that other worlds exist in the same space at the same time, and that means that our “real world” (tragically devoid of daemons as it is) is also connected to Lyra’s. That brings us to Will Parry. The series’ second protagonist, not introduced until the Subtle Knife, is a huge presence throughout Season 1, a move that will pay dividends later on in terms of storytelling economy. Will’s struggle to maintain a home life with a mentally ill mother ends up grounding the story through its many discussions of souls and prophecies, but in a way that adds perspective to those bigger conflicts.His Dark Materials (2019)Of course, Lord Boreal’s ability to walk between Lyra and Will’s worlds and his obsession with Will’s missing father John suggest that Will may have a part to play in the show’s overarching prophecy himself. With a few of the key players all seemingly through the looking glass by the end of the season finale, how the events in each of these worlds relate to each other is one of the more exciting mysteries left to unravel as the show moves forward.His Dark Materials is certainly aimed at a more general audience than HBO’s other recently-concluded fantasy epic, but it never flinches in its bleaker moments. This is a show where children are not safe from soul-destroying kidnappers, where a person can be killed by crushing their adorable animal avatar in the palm of your hand, where a religious government can claim any violation of human decency in the service of an almighty Authority. Like the books, this show may feature kids as lead characters, but that doesn’t make the world(s) they’re moving through any less dangerous.Dafne Keen does an excellent job of rolling with the emotional ups and downs of Lyra’s journey, channeling both her good humor and her fury in equally compelling measure. Amir Wilson’s Will Parry is far more understated, a kid just trying to do the right thing and keep his family together, but given that Lyra and Will’s paths are destined to cross, these opposing personalities could provide material for some great interplay between Keen and Wilson going forward.Dafne Keen and Joe Tandberg in His Dark Materials (2019)The adult cast are fantastic foils for their younger counterparts. Ruth Wilson has the heaviest lifting to do and her intensity has kept Mrs. Coulter feeling like the most fearsome woman in any world. The hypocrisy of how Coulter treats children other than her own has made Lyra’s disgust with her all the more palpable. James McAvoy is clearly having a blast playing Lord Asriel’s righteous wrath and entitlement, and we accept his radical motivations in part because of how committed McAvoy is to making them feel real. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Lee Scoresby provides great comic relief – a smartass Texan Han Solo who genuinely respects Lyra’s spunk and cares about her safety.His Dark Materials’ first season impresses throughout with its gorgeous production design, visual effects, and music. From the scholarly warmth of Jordan College to the technicolor dreamscape of the frozen North, every locale Lyra travels to feels alive and beautifully realized. Lorne Balfe’s orchestrations give the already grand world of His Dark Materials an even more sumptuous feel, with every faction of characters getting a distinct musical voice. The all-important daemons always feel like real and present characters, as do Iorek Byrnison and the other armored bears.The daemons do, however, see His Dark Materials straining against its budget in the most obvious way. For as crucial as these second-halves are to the characters of Lyra’s world, there are times when their conspicuous absence distracts, no doubt due to the price it costs to render a VFX animal for each human in a shot. On top of that, the rules of daemons are left murky enough to be convenient to the plot when necessary (like when Lyra needs Pan to become a bird to see over a ridge), but not clear enough to help us understand why Pan couldn’t just transform into an elephant and stomp Mrs. Coulter’s creepy gold monkey to death when they fight.James McAvoy and Dafne Keen in His Dark Materials (2019)And while many of His Dark Materials’ successes come from how accurately it adapts the novels, that devotion to the text does lead to some pacing issues. The season’s penultimate episode, “The Fight to the Death,” somewhat derails the stakes after the exciting battle at Bolvangar, and the sea-faring Gyptians that aid Lyra through much of the season don’t really come into their own until episode 5, “The Lost Boy.”Dafne Keen in His Dark Materials (2019)His Dark Materials’ first season is a confident, exciting fantasy adventure, full of weighty threats to its lead characters and stakes that reverberate through its multiple worlds. Even though there are times when the scope of the story slightly exceeds the bounds of what its budget is capable of, the BBC and HBO have done an impressive job giving Lyra’s (and Will’s) adventures the adaptation they deserve.

 

REVIEW: HUGO

CAST

Asa Butterfield (Ender’s Game)
Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass)
Ben Kinglsey (Iron Man 3)
Sacha Baron Cohen (Alice Through The Looking Glass)
Ray Winstone (Elfie Hopkins)
Emily Mortimer (Lars and The Real Girl)
Helen McCrory (The Woman In Black 2)
Jude Law (Spy)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Men In Black 3)
Christopher Lee (The Hobbit)
Frances de la Tour (The Lady In The Van)
Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter)
Michael Pitt (Murder By Numbers)

In 1931, 12-year-old Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in Paris with his father (Jude Law), a widowed, but kind clockmaker who also works at a museum. One day his father finds a broken automaton, a mechanical man designed to write with a pen, at the museum, and he and Hugo try to repair it, his father documenting the automaton in a notebook. When his father is killed by a fire at the museum, Hugo is forced to live with his resentful, alcoholic uncle Claude (Ray Winstone), and made to learn how to maintain the clocks at the railway station of Gare Montparnasse. When Claude goes missing for several days, Hugo continues to maintain the clocks, fearing that he would be sent away as an orphan by the vindictive Station Inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen) if Claude’s absence is discovered. Hugo attempts to repair the automaton with stolen parts, believing it contains a message from his father, but the machine still requires a heart-shaped key that his father could not find.Hugo is caught when stealing from the toy store owner Georges (Ben Kingsley), who looks through his father’s notebook and threatens to destroy it. Hugo encounters Georges’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) who offers to help get the notebook back. Hugo learns Georges has forbidden Isabelle from going to the cinema, and introduces the medium to her as his father had done for him. As their friendship grows, he shows her the automaton, and is surprised when Isabelle inadvertently reveals she wears the key as a necklace given to her by Georges. When started, the machine draws out a scene that Hugo recognizes from his father’s description of the film A Trip to the Moon. Isabelle identifies the signature, that of a “Georges Méliès”, as her godfather. She sneaks Hugo into her home, where they find a hidden cache of more imaginative drawings of Méliès, but are caught by Georges, who banishes Hugo from his home.Hugo and Isabelle go to the Film Academy Library and find a book about the history of cinema that praises Méliès’ contributions. They meet the book’s author, René Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg), a film expert who is surprised to hear that Méliès may still be alive, as he had disappeared after World War I along with nearly all copies of his films. Excited at the chance to meet him, René agrees to meet Isabelle and Hugo at Georges’ home to show his copy of A Trip to the Moon, hoping it will invigorate Georges. On the scheduled night, Georges’ wife Jeanne (Helen McCrory) tries to turn them away, but René compliments Jeanne as Jeanne d’Alcy, an actress in many of Méliès’ films, and she allows them to continue. As the film plays, Georges wakes up at the sight, and Jeanne finally convinces him to cherish his accomplishments rather than regret his lost dream. Georges recounts that as a stage magician, he had been fascinated by motion pictures and used the medium to create imaginative works through his Star Film Company, but was forced into bankruptcy following the War, closing his studio and selling his films to be turned into raw materials. He laments that even an automaton he made that he donated to a museum was lost. Hugo recognizes this is the same automaton he has, and races to the station to retrieve it. He is caught by Gustave, who has learned that Claude’s body was found some time ago, and threatens to take Hugo to the orphanage. Georges arrives and tells Gustave that he will now see to Hugo, adopting him as his son.Some time later, Georges is named a professor at the Film Academy, and is paid tribute through a showcase of his films recovered by René. Hugo joins in with his new family as they celebrate, while Isabelle starts to write down Hugo’s story.Martin Scorcese’s Hugo is one of the best cinematic experience, I’ve had in years.  The visual effects, cinematography, art direction, just technically superb. Finally a smart, awe-aspiring family film, which are really rare nowadays. A definite surprise coming from legendary director, Martin Scorcese, who’s known for movies with a lot of swears, violence, drugs and other adult-themed subjects.

HALLOWEEN OF HORROR REVIEW: THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2: ANGEL OF DEATH

CAST

Helen McCrory (The Queen)
Phoebe Fox (Black Mirror)
Jeremy Irvine (war Horse)
Adrian Rawlins (Harry Potter)

40 years after the events of the first film, bombs drop down on London during the Blitz of World War II. Eve Parkins joins her schoolchildren and the school’s headmistress, Jean Hogg, to evacuate them to the countryside town of Crythin Gifford. On the journey there, Eve meets dashing pilot, Harry Burnstow, who is stationed at an airfield near Crythin Gifford. Upon arrival, Eve is confronted by a raving madman, Jacob, and flees.

Though Eve and Jean do not approve of the place, there is no other alternative. That night, Eve has a nightmare of how she was forced to give up her baby when she was younger; when she awakens, she hears the noise of a rocking chair coming from the house cellar. There, she finds a message, scolding her for letting her child go, and sees a woman dressed in black. The next morning, one of the children, Edward, who has been mute since the death of his parents in a bombing, is bullied by two other children and sees the Woman in Black in the nursery. Eve feels that something is wrong when Edward starts constantly carrying around a rotten doll. That night, one of the boys that was bullying him is drawn out of the house by the Woman in Black; Eve finds his body on the beach.

Eve later sees the Woman in the graveyard, where she finds the grave of Nathaniel Drablow. She chases the ghost to the beach and is overcome by visions of Nathaniel’s death. At the house, she and Harry establish the story of the ghost through an old record made by Alice Drablow before her death at the hands of the Woman in Black: it is her sister, Jennet Humpfrye, the mother of the child she adopted, Nathaniel. Jennet is haunting them because of Nathaniel’s premature death, and is punishing Eve in particular for giving up her baby. Eve journeys into the abandoned town to confront Jacob, who is blind and therefore unable to be killed by the ghost, as he cannot see her. However, he has been driven insane by the deaths of all the other children and tries to kill Eve before she escapes.

Back at the house, Jean finds one of the girls trying to strangle herself under the Woman’s spell. During an air raid, the girl suffocates herself using a gas mask. After this death, Harry takes them to his airfield, which is revealed to be fake. Eve realizes the Woman has followed them. Edward flees, where he apparently dies by walking into a fire basket. Eve finds out that Edward is still alive and at Eel Marsh House. Realizing the Woman in Black wants her alone, she drives to the island, where she finds Edward walking out into the marsh to drown himself where Nathaniel died. She crawls after him, but they are dragged down into the mud by the ghost. At the last minute, Harry arrives and saves them, though he is dragged down to his death instead.

Months later, Eve has adopted Edward, and they are living in London. Although they believe they are free from the ghost, once they leave their house, she appears again and smashes a picture of Harry.It does what it says on the tin, and there’s nothing wrong with that – and it’s a damned sight better than many horror sequels that are simply remakes of the first movie. Yes, it could have been better, but it zips along quite briskly and yet still manages to pack a punch when it needs to. Not bad at all.