REVIEW: THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)

Starring

Taron Egerton (Legend)
Anya Taylor-Joy (Glass)
Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones)
Donna Kimball (The Happytime Murders)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Eddie Izzard (Hannibal)
Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club)
Caitriona Balfe (Crush)
Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Harris Dickinson (The Darkest Minds)
Shazad Latif (Star Trek: Discovery)
Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle)
Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider)
Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and The Wasp)
Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones)
Mark Strong (Shazam)
Theo James (Divergent)
Louise Gold (Muppets Most Wanted)
Jason Isaacs (Fury)
Simon Pegg (The Boys)
Awkwafina (Ocean’s 8)
Bendedict Wong (Doctor Strange)
Harvey Fierstein (The Simpsons)
Andy Samberg (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Ralph Ineson (Ready Player One)
Alice Dinnean (The Happytime Murders)
Keegan-Michael Key (Tomorrowland)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars_
Sigourney Weaver (Alien)
Bill Hader (Power Rangers)

Donna Kimball in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)The Dark Crystal is a tremendous filmmaking achievement that’s only a pretty good movie. A technical marvel, undoubtedly; definitive proof that film is a collaborative medium, and a formative experience for the devoted cult that saw it when they were young and have now passed it onto their children. But also a B-, B if you’re feeling generous. Like many other big-budget genre blockbusters flying in Star Wars’ contrails during the early 1980s—David Lynch’s Dune comes to mind—it puts a fully realized, authentically unearthly realm on the screen, and then fails to give that place much in the way of a narrative.The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)Another world, another time, in the age of Westeros: Netflix funds a return trip to Thra, winding the clock back to before the emergence of the heroic Jen and Kira, to an era when the elfin Gelfling and the monstrous Skeksis lived in tenuous (and, it turns out, entirely bogus) harmony. And a moment when the grand ambitions of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Brian and Wendy Froud, David Odell, and countless others are realized in The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance.Victor Yerrid in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)That original film is first and foremost a visual experience, and the imagery still takes precedence here: Age Of Resistance recreates Thra through further acts of practical-effects wizardry, a fantasia of forest glens, desert cliffs, underground caves, and castles both majestic and austere. The premiere episode leans into this (while also giving a good indication of the series’ pace) when it breaks from character introductions in order to send the camera corkscrewing through a glamour shot of the royal library favored by Gelfling princess Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy and Alice Dinnean—with a handful of exceptions, the principal performances are a collaboration between the puppeteers on screen and actors in the recording booth). With the elbow room of a potentially ongoing series, the writers—led by Will Matthews and Jeffrey Addiss (the duo who developed the series) and seasoned genre TV vet Javier Grillo-Marxuach—get deliberate with their opening chapters, luxuriating in palace intrigue amongst the Skeksis and the establishment of the seven fractious clans of Gelfling.The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)It’s dense going, until the outlines of the heroes’ journey snaps into focus, showing the intersecting quests of the curious noble Brea, disgraced guard Rian (Taron Egerton and Neil Sterenberg), and the compassionate subterranean-dwelling Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel and Beccy Henderson). It is not coincidental that Age Of Resistance hits its hot streak once these elements are in place—and after Deet acquires a sidekick: Hup (Victor Yerrid), one of The Dark Crystal’s diminutive and gibbering creatures known as Podlings. Hup has outsize chivalric aspirations, carries a spoon he calls a sword, and generally rules.Anya Taylor-Joy in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)Age Of Resistance improves on its big-screen source material by giving viewers protagonists who are worth a damn; even Egerton—whose most interesting star turns to date have been primarily interesting because they’re bolstered by the Elton John-Bernie Taupin songbook—is an improvement over The Dark Crystal’s ineffectual, underwritten Baggins stand-in, Jen. But there’s a taller hurdle to clear in the Gelfling’s humanoid appearances, which even four decades of technological advances can’t pull from the depths of the uncanny valley. (It comes down to the eyes: Deet, with saucer-sized pupils suited to underground living, looks far enough from human for this to ever be a problem.) The effectiveness of the Age Of Resistance illusion can vary depending on the number of Gelfling on screen and the varying degrees to which their faces are articulated—large group scenes and Gelfling-to-Gelfling conversations occasionally have a ring of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson to them.Nathalie Emmanuel in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)Thank heavens, then, for the Skeksis. A monument to the Frouds’ gnarly aesthetics and Henson’s lack of qualms about frightening the youngest members of his audience, the villains loom large over The Dark Crystal. In Age Of Resistance, they occupy a role akin to that of the Lannisters in Game Of Thrones: deeply out-of-touch aristocrats who believe power is their birthright, and whose extravagances and squabbles account for the series’ most amusing set-pieces. (In a playful casting choice, Cersei Lannister herself, Lena Headey, voices a Gelfling leader on the show.) They chance upon a fountain of youth when Thra’s all-powerful Crystal Of Truth sucks the life out of a Gelfling, leaving behind only her essence—which is discovered to have a rejuvenating effect. This corruption of the planet’s most precious resource coincides with the experiments the Skeksis Emperor (Jason Isaacs and Dave Chapman) conducts on a glowing, purple hole in the ground—a “darkening” that is both key to the series’ political subtexts and a regally hued thread in Age Of Resistance tapestry of mythological nonsense.Hannah John-Kamen and Taron Egerton in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)Here, as in later in The Dark Crystal’s chronology, the ugliness of the Skeksis’ deeds manifests physically: the craggy sculpting of the puppets’ faces, their combination of avian and reptilian features, as if situated on the evolutionary scale from velociraptor to plain old raptor. They’re treated to new textures and terrors in Age Of Resistance. Sequences depicting their indulgences in the seven deadly sins don’t stray too far from their cinematic predecessors, but the staging and satirical edge remain sharp. A spa treatment brusquely interrupted by the similarly lumpy crone Aughra (Donna Kimball and Kevin Clash) is one of the first season’s comedic highlights.Victor Yerrid, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Taron Egerton in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)The Skeksis’ role in Age Of Resistance is more encore than elaboration, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not like there’s been all that much change in the ruling class skewered by the Skeksis’ chomping, preening, condescending grotesquery. They’re perfect adversaries and an essential energy, which director Louis Letterier amps up in extreme close-ups and off-kilter camera angles. They’re creepy and campy, and the production lines up a murderers’ row of hams to handle their shrieks and whimpers: Simon Pegg, making a meal of the Chamberlain’s scheming murmurs; Mark Hamill, twisting his strangled Joker vocalizations into those of a mad Scientist; Harvey Fierstein, a choice so deliciously on the nose, it’s practically a part of the puppet’s face. Imperious turns from Isaacs and Benedict Wong make sure that the characters’ true, evil nature is never too far from mind.The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)The Skeksis play the hits, but they bring some newly goopy accessories and freshly terrifying rituals, too. Bubbling, oozing pustules dot the face of The Collector (Awkwafina and Helena Smee), and the second episodes culminates in a royal-chamber sequence primed to send a new generation ducking behind the couch. A fantastical ingenuity prevails throughout Age Of Resistance: With an eye toward portraying Thra as a fully natural world, Matthews, Addiss, Grillo-Marxuach and team devised Skeksis carriages that roll across the landscape on giant pillbug wheels and a secret message etched into the geological equivalent of an Edison cylinder. Frames burst with creatures familiar and unfamiliar—each of them charmingly, refreshingly tactile.Jason Isaacs in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)And this time around it’s in service of a satisfyingly told tale with resonant themes of truth and rebellion. Age Of Resistance is the best type of YA fantasy fiction, engrossing and escapist and full of hidden depths, ideal for viewers weaned on Harry Potter and The Legend Of Zelda but not quite ready for George R.R. Martin. There is a complexity at play, particularly in the arc of Seladon (Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Helena Smee), Brea’s sister whose loyalties and worldview are tested as word of the Skeksis’ treachery spreads. There are mystical MacGuffins and blind storytelling alleys littered about, but they’re far outweighed by the intrepid thrust of the Gelfling uprising and every thought of “How did they pull that off?” For decades, bands of true believers have sung the song of Thra; now, thanks to Age Of Resistance, that melody carries with the strength, distance, and richness the Dark Crystal concept has always deserved.

REVIEW: GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 7

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Starring

Peter Dinklage (Avengers: Infinity War)
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (The Other Woman)
Lena Headey (Dredd)
Emilia Clarke (Solo: A Star Wars Story)
Kit Harington (Pompeii)
Aidan Gillen (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Liam Cunningham (Safe House)
Sophie Turner (X-Men: Apocalypse)
Maisie Williams (IBoy)
Nathalie Emmanuel (Fast & Furious 7 & 8)
Gwendoline Christie (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)
Conleth Hill (Serena)
John Bradley (Man Up)
Isaac Hempstead Wright (The Awakening)
Hannah Murray (Chatroom)
Kristofer Hivju (The Thing)
Rory McCann (XXX: Return of Xander Cage)
Iain Glen (Resident Evil: The FInal Chapter)
Carice van Houten (Valkyrie)
Indira Varma (Exodus: Gods and Kings
Alfie Allen (Atonement)
Jerome Flynn (Ripper Street)
Joe Dempsie (Monsters: Dark Continent)

Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones (2011)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Richard Dormer (The Mighty Celt)
Paul Kaye (Anna and The Apocalypse)
Ben Crompton (Blow Dry)
Ellie Kendrick (An Education)
Bella Ramsey (Holmes & Watson)
Tim McInnerny (Automata)
Megan Parkinson (Ackley Bridge)
Daniel Portman (River City)
Richard Rycroft (Bridget Jones’s Baby)
Rupert Vansittart (Outlander)
Joseph Mawle (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter)
David Bradley (Harry Potter)
Ben Hawkey (The Kid)
Pilou Asbæk (Ghost In The Shell)
Anton Lesser (FairyTale: A True Story)
Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (Kickboxer: Retaliation)
James Faulkner (Atomic Blonde)
Tom Hopper (The Umbrella Academy)
Mark Gatiss (Starter For 10)
Jim Broadbent (Paddington)
Jacob Anderson (Chatroom)
Diana Rigg (Breathe)
Gemma Whelan (Gulliver’s Travels)
Jessica Henwick (Iron Fist)
Rosabell Laurenti Sellers (Mia and Me)
Keisha Castle-Hughes (The Almighty Johnsons)
Ed Sheeran (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Lena Headey in Game of Thrones (2011)It sure has been an interesting and enthralling journey since HBO’s Game of Thrones left George R. R. Martin’s book series behind back at the beginning of Season 6. At the time too, there was almost an “and not a moment too soon” quality to the break. Season 5 had caught some notable flack for being bleak. Not that the show hadn’t been bleak by design, as part of its actual blueprint, but after four plus years, some fans had reached their threshold.Aidan Gillen and Sophie Turner in Game of Thrones (2011)Once Sansa started getting victimized and brutalized again and then Princess Shireen got burned to death by her own father, there was a cry from the rafters regarding Thrones being too much of an agony parade, especially since those moments didn’t come from the books (or hadn’t happened in the books yet). Viewers wanted wins. They wanted the good guys to stand tall for once. Then Jon Snow got ganked in the Season 5 finale and it seemed all was lost. Fan theories held firm though (for readers and viewers) and there was hope that a Lord of Light loophole would save everyone’s favorite beautiful bastard.Thomas Turgoose, Ed Sheeran, and Maisie Williams in Game of Thrones (2011)So then, all eyes were on Season 6. This would be the first time that a major fan theory had the possibility of being confirmed, one way or another. Fully untethered from GRRM’s pages, Season 6 would proceed to hand out happy moments and payoffs like they were pocket candy. It was the happiest season of Thrones to date, capped off by the exceptional episodes “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter.” Still though, the run almost felt too rewarding given what the show, and story, had been up until that point. That vibe, plus some lingering complaints about “fast travel,” made Season 6 land in a much different way than other Thrones seasons. David Benioff and Dan Weiss were now finishing the story in a markedly different fashion than Martin would – despite some overall plot beats being the same. Thrones was now more of a traditional TV show than the celebration of audience contempt that we’d all grown to love (despite its knack for traumatizing us).Peter Dinklage, Conleth Hill, and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones (2011)Enter Season 7, which not only continued to feel more “TV,” but also ramped up the fast travel (to a degree where the only way to get past the geographical gaps was to ignore them completely) because there were now fewer episodes. Longer episodes sure (most by 10 minutes, the finale by 30), but fewer chapters overall to tell a story that would usually be spread out over 10. The silver lining to only having seven episodes was the increased frequency of massive battle sequences, which used to only come once a season. The show’s seasonal budget was, assuredly the same, but now more money was being put into the episodes.Lena Headey in Game of Thrones (2011)Now various gripes about the show have reached a bridge too far in the other direction. Thrones can no longer be too depressing and cutthroat, nor can everything play out too close to the way people expect. It’s a very slim Venn Diagram here for this tricky balancing act of tenderizing and terrorizing. We wanted people to die, and they surely did but – oh – they weren’t important enough to count. Their demise didn’t crush our spirits and make us want to rage-quit the series. It’s possible that we’ve all now reached a point, given everyone’s varied favorite characters/favorite pairings/theories/predictions, that the show cannot unify us the way it once did, even if that unity came via mortification. Seven years in and we’re splintered. Weiss and Benioff have a near-impossible task and a near-impossible audience to satiate.Richard Dormer and Kit Harington in Game of Thrones (2011)Most of the major complaints regarding Season 7 can be found within the penultimate adventure episode, “Beyond the Wall” (which even sounds flat as a title). Normally, this expedition would have been spread out over two, or even three, episodes. But here, within the “bell to bell,” this mega-quest felt crammed. For a show that literally opens with a map, and has been very much about geography with relation to story, things got super fuzzy regarding where Jon Snow and his men were, how far Gendry had to run, how much time was everyone was stuck out on that island, and how long it can actually take a raven to fly from Eastwatch-By-The Sea to Dragonstone.  On top of this, the bulk of the body count came from unnamed “Red Shirts,” who laughably all seemed to be wearing hoods so the main characters could stand out easier, and in a dire situation that was surely one of the most perilous expeditions ever undertaken on the show, only one main player perished — “main” being a generous term here.Joseph Mawle and Kit Harington in Game of Thrones (2011)The accelerated pace of the show now, which is a combination of both fast travel and fewer characters to follow in fewer places, definitely had its benefits too. Jon and Daenerys, the two linchpins of the entire series, finally met in the third episode, “The Queen’s Justice,” when original recipe pacing would have had them meeting sometime in the last quarter of the season. This allowed them to get to know one another and develop the bond needed for them to finally land in each others’ arms in the finale (with that Aegon Targaryen secret now dangling over their heads). The pacing also allowed for the war – Daenerys’ war – to kick in right away, despite her losing efforts out of the gate.Kit Harington in Game of Thrones (2011)What was really great here was the fact that Daenerys’ temperament, and the brutal history of Targaryens, was a major talking point. The show needed to have a reason for Dany not to instantly ride roughshod all over the realm and fortunately it had a superb one — her entire arc since Season 1, in fact. The idea that she made her name (her many names) fighting and ruling as a representative for the helpless and unfortunate. She literally took seven seasons to land in Westeros because ending the slave trade thousands of miles away was paramount to her character. Daenerys may have had three dragons – three “nukes” really – when she started, but it’s not like she could use them without serious consequences to both her legacy and dynasty. Yes, instead of supposedly having the upper hand, she came in with a tactical disadvantage. The show did a great job of showing us how difficult her task truly was, despite the fact that the soaring scene at the end of Season 6, with Dany sailing in with that giant fleet and all her allies, made us think it’d be easy pickings for her.Maisie Williams in Game of Thrones (2011)The battles were great this year too. Not just the “Loot Train Battle” (can this not be the official name, please?) but Dany flying in with her dragons to save Jon in the nick of time, Euron smashing Yara’s portion of the Greyjoy fleet, the entire closing seasonal sequence involving the east part of the Wall coming down – the Season 7 VFX get a top grade. The money usually meant for more episodes was definitely on the screen.Vladimir 'Furdo' Furdik in Game of Thrones (2011)With the war underway came new and game-changing alliances. Everyone of importance was now on one continent and, dammit, they were all going to meet. Dany’s faction would find Jon and Davos while Cersei and Jaime would wrangle the Tarlys and Euron. It would all culminate in the season finale during an excellent twenty minute scene involving an ancient Dragonpit and a dozen or more important characters all filling a single space. It was one lengthy scene all about fighting the Night King and his army, which was another element that really worked this year: the fact that the army of the dead, the show’s main antagonist that only a handful of people knew about, put a halt to the “Game of Thrones” conflict between Daenerys and Cersei and became everyone’s top priority. Except Cersei, naturally, who lied because she’s awesome and, pregnant or not, it didn’t quite feel right for her to give that much of a damn about anything that she couldn’t see and/or wasn’t directly affecting her in that moment.Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner in Game of Thrones (2011)Of course, not everyone was down at the Dragonpit for the finale. The Stark siblings had their own running arc up in Winterfell and while it all ended with a phenomenal scene featuring Littlefinger getting called to account for all of his dastardly schemes and then getting unceremoniously executed, the build to that moment was shaky at best. Arya, who got two of the biggest crowd-pleasing moments this year (on a series that now actually has them) with her Frey massacre and her Brienne sparring session, seemed “off” up in Winterfell during the weeks when we were supposed think she was out to usurp Sansa and falling for Littlefinger’s ploy. She wasn’t acting quite right. Either she was putting on a performance or she wasn’t, literally, herself . All of this was enough though for viewers to sense that something was going on and when viewers feel that something’s wonky, the theories come out. Then it became a little too obvious that Arya was setting a trap for Littlefinger. The best case scenario, of course, would be that Sansa was too. The last thing any of us wanted was either sister to be played of a fool given their respective journeys on the show. The two of them, many times over, earned the ability to stay a step ahead of him.Conleth Hill, Kit Harington, and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones (2011)In the end, Lord Baelish’s demise was fitting and fun, but the fact that Arya showed up acting a bit icy and hostile was a misstep because it immediately alerted us to the fact that the show wanted us to buy her possibly wanting to kill Sansa. In trying to not create a tell, they created a tell. By the end, I did wonder when it occurred to both sisters that Littlefinger was trying to play them, given that Bran (who himself had become no picnic to be around as the sedated “Three-Eyed Raven”) had the ability to see through time and space. Recently though, we spoke to actor Isaac Hempstead-Wright about a deleted scene between Sansa and Bran involving her asking him for advice and answers. Of course, it’s good that this moment wound up on the cutting room floor because it would have given away the Littlefinger scene at the end. Plus, it was only Sansa figuring things out, meaning Arya was being strange and confrontational on her own and wasn’t in cahoots with her sister until possibly the end. Meaning that she was possibly being duped. Yeah, good riddance to that scene. Now I can just pretend that the three of them cooked up this plot back as early as when they all met by the Godswood.Lena Headey in Game of Thrones (2011)Game of Thrones, in its seventh season, both benefited from and was damaged by the accelerated pace and shorter episode count. On one hand, the war started right away and a battle as magnificent as the one at the end of “The Spoils of War” could arrive as ferociously as it did. On the downside, huge moments sometimes got crammed together in such a way that it robbed them of weight and substance. Still, when this show goes for spectacle, or even smaller show-stopping moments (massacres, R+L=J revelations, even just The Hound smiling because he knows Arya is okay), it has no equal.