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)
Robert Emms (Atlantis)

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: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END

PIRATES OF C 3

CAST

Johnny Depp (Into The Woods)
Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech)
Orlando Bloom (Lord of The Rings)
Keira Knightley (Atonement)
Jack Davenport (Flash Forward)
Bill Nighy (Wrath of the Titans)
Jonathan Pryce (Game of Thrones)
Lee Arenberg (Once Upon A Time)
Mackenzie Crook (Solomon Kane)
Kevin McNally (Valkyrie)
Stellan Skarsgard (Avengvers Assemble)
Tom Hollander (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation)
Martin Klebba (The Cape)
Naomie Harris (Skyfall)
Chow Yun fat (Crouching Tiger, Hidden tiger)
Keith Richards (The Simpsons)
Marshall Manesh (How I Met Your Mother)
Vanessa Branch (The Cell)
Reggie Lee (The Dark Knight Rises)
Takayo Fischer Moneyball)
Omid Djalili (The Mummy)
Mark Hildreth (V)

To control the oceans, Lord Cutler Beckett executes anyone associated with piracy by ordering Davy Jones to destroy all pirate ships in the seas. Condemned prisoners sing “Hoist the Colours” to compel the nine Pirate Lords to convene at Shipwreck Cove to hold the Brethren Court. Captain Jack Sparrow, one of the Pirate Lords, never named a successor. Captain Barbossa, along with Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, Tia Dalma, and the crew of the Black Pearl, plot to rescue Jack from Davy Jones’s Locker. Travelling to Singapore, the crew meet Captain Sao Feng who owns navigational charts to the Locker. Beckett’s soldiers invade, but the crew escape. Feng and Turner make a deal to give Jack to Feng, so he in turn can use the Pearl to rescue his father Bootstrap Bill from the Flying Dutchman. The crew travels to the locker and rescues the marooned Jack. They find themselves trapped, encountering dead souls, including Elizabeth’s father Governor Swann. They learn the Dutchman must have a captain. Returning to the living world, the Pearl is attacked by Sao Feng and Beckett’s men. Through a complex series of deals, Elizabeth is handed over to Feng under the belief she is the goddess Calypso, while the rest of the crew make for Shipwreck Cove aboard the Pearl, though Jack later throws Will off the ship as part of the plan to seize control of the Dutchman. Sao Feng tells Elizabeth that the Brethren Court bound Calypso in human form after she betrayed her lover, Davy Jones. He plans to release her to defeat Beckett. Davy Jones attacks Feng’s ship, but Feng appoints Elizabeth his successor as Pirate Lord before dying. Admiral Norrington frees Elizabeth and her new crew from the Dutchman, but is killed by a crazed Bootstrap Bill.p17242549_b_v8_abThe Black Pearl arrives at Shipwreck Cove where Barbossa attempts to persuade the Brethren Court to release Calypso. Jack’s father Captain Teague and Keeper of the Pirate Code, informs the Court that only an elected Pirate King can decide. A vote is taken. To avoid a stalemate, Jack casts his vote for Elizabeth, making her King. Davy Jones visits Tia Dalma in the Pearl’s brig, revealing she is Calypso, and they promise to be together again.

The Brethren Court and Beckett’s fleets emerge for war. On a sandbank, Elizabeth, Jack, Barbossa, Beckett, Jones, and Will parley, trading Will for Jack, and Barbossa steals Jack’s piece of eight, all of which are owned by the Pirate Lords and required to free Calypso. Barbossa frees Calypso, but when Will reveals it was Jones who imprisoned her, Calypso vanishes and summons an enormous maelstrom.

The Pearl and the Dutchman battle in the maelstrom. Elizabeth and Will are wed by Barbossa before swinging over to the Dutchman to aid Jack. On board the Dutchman, Jones and Jack engage in a duel, with Jones gaining the upper hand. Jones stabs Will with a sword, but Jack and Elizabeth have Will stab Jones’ heart. Jones dies, and falls in the maelstrom, free for all eternity. Will succumbs to his injuries. Jack and Elizabeth escape the Dutchman as it is sucked into the maelstrom. As Beckett’s ship, the Endeavour, approaches to destroy the Pearl, the Dutchman rises, now captained by Will, and the crew free of Jones’ curse. Together, the two pirate ships destroy the Endeavour, with a stunned Beckett going down with the ship while his army retreats. With Will now bound to escort souls lost at sea to the next world for ten years, Will and Elizabeth consummate their marriage before he departs on the Dutchman.

Jack and Joshamee Gibbs discover Barbossa has stolen the Black Pearl again, but Jack planned ahead and cut out Sao Feng’s navigational charts, departing from Tortuga alone to track down the mythical Fountain of Youth to become immortal. Ten years later, Elizabeth and her son watch from a sea cliff as Will returns aboard the Dutchman.

At World’s End is a great film, making superb use of its immense budget and wowing audiences with incredible set-pieces and climactic action.  At World’s End is a solidly entertaining film, held up by brilliant action

 

 

REVIEW: THE LOVE GURU

CAST

Mike Myers (Wayne’s World)
Jessica Alba (Sin City)
Justin Timberlake (The Social Network)
Romany Malco (No Ordinary Family)
Meagan Good (D.E.B.S.)
Verne Troyer (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus)
Omid Djalili (The Mummy)
Ben Kingslery (Ender’s Game)
Telma Hopkins (Trancers)
Stephen Colbert (Bewitched)
Jim Gaffigan (17 Again)
Morgan Freeman (Batman Begins)
Val Kilmer (Willow)
Oprah Winfrey (The Butler)
Kanye West (The Cleveland Show)
Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order)
Jessica Simpson (Employee of The Month)
Rob Huebel (Baywatch)

The film begins in a little Indian village named “Harenmahkeester”, where we are introduced to Guru Pitka talking into his recorder which allows him to sound like a man, a woman, or Morgan Freeman. He is the #2 Guru in the world, next to Deepak Chopra. A flashback shows us that Pitka is an orphan of missionaries in India. Both Pitka and Chopra were taught by Guru Tugginmypudha. Pitka says he wants to become a Guru so that girls will love him, so Tugginmypudha puts a chastity belt on him until he can learn that loving himself is more important than being loved by others.
Pitka’s dream is to become the number #1 Guru and to get on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He lives a charmed life scooting around on his mobile pillow. He has thousands of followers, including celebrities like Jessica Simpson, Val Kilmer and Mariska Hargitay (Pitka’s mantra is “Mariska Hargitay”). We attend one of his teachings which involve a lot of acronyms and play on words on a slide show (i.e., “guru” meaning “gee, you are you” and going from Nowhere to Now Here). Pitka has a gorgeous palace with a beautiful female staff, helicopter, elephants, and a servant, Rajneesh, who squeezes fresh orange juice out of a tree for him and has an ostrich lay his morning egg for him.
Meanwhile, in Canada, Jane Bullard’s father died and left her the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. They have not won a Stanley Cup since she took over so the city hates her. Her star player, Darren Roanoke, the Tiger Woods of Hockey, has been playing poorly ever since his wife Prudence left him for a well endowed French Canadian, Jacques “Lè Cocq” Grandè, who plays for the rival Los Angeles Kings. He has a tattoo on his abdomen that reads “The Legend” with an arrow pointing down. When Pitka is introduced to Jane Bullard, he imagines a Bollywood musical fantasy with her in it. Jane is a big fan of Pitka’s, having read all of his books. She is paying him 2 million dollars to patch up Darren’s marriage, in time to win the Stanley Cup. Pitka’s agent, Dick Pants, is thrilled and says that if Pitka patches up the marriage, Oprah will have him on her show.
Pitka has an acronym, DRAMA, tattoed on his hand. D represents Distraction. Guru Tugginmypudha taught him the lesson of distraction with the use of his own urine. Pitka encourages the rival team to beat Darren up during a game, thus distracting him from his emotional distress over Prudence and Le Cocq. Darren begins to play well but then gets suspended for the next two games after beating up Le Cocq and hitting Coach Cherkov with a hockey puck. There is a meeting in the Coach’s tiny office, complete with mini water cooler, where they argue about the situation. Later, Pitka has dinner with Jane, gets her to move in for a kiss, only to hear a ding on his chastity belt. He tells her it can not be, and she does not understand and runs out. Next, Pitka tells Darren to write an apology note to Prudence. Pitka gets in a huge fight with Le Cocq’s guard rooster in order to deliver the note.
The R in Drama is Regression. Apparently Darren is afraid of his mother. They confront her at her Church choir but she ends up scaring both Pitka and Darren out of the church with her harsh words. Pitka helps Darren realise that since his mother only showed him love when he succeeded he had grown to believe others like Prudence would only love him as long as he won.
Time is running out, so Pitka skips through the rest of the acronym. He distracts Le Cocq with his idol, Celine Dion, then lies to Prudence, telling her Darren stood up to his mom, getting her to go back to Darren. At the last game. Le Cocq, having overheard that Darren cannot play with his mother in the audience, gets Darren’s mother to sing the national anthem, causing Darren to run out of the game. Meanwhile, Pitka is at the airport, on his way to the Oprah show. He sees the news on TV and defies his agent by going to the game to help Darren, as well as show Jane (who manages to stand up to the angry crowd) his chastity belt. After smoothing things over with his mother, Darren is OK again until Le Cocq says Prudence also said “Damn” to him in bed. Darren freezes and Pitka realizes he needs to distract Darren from whatever is troubling him.
Pitka gets two elephants to have sex in the middle of the rink, in front of millions of TV audience, which distracts Le Cocq and helps Darren wake up from his stupor and score the winning goal. After the game, Pitka makes up with Jane and Coach Cherkov, then meets Deepak Chopra and decides that he is fine with being the first Guru Pitka instead of the next Deepak Chopra. and everyone lives happily ever after. Back in the Indian village, Guru Tugginmypudha tells Pitka that he has finally learned to love himself and removes Pitka’s chastity belt, as there was a hook in the back. Jane and Pitka kiss. The ending is a rendition of the Steve Miller Band song “The Joker” with Jane and Pitka dancing Indian musical style.Very very funny. If you like Austin Powers you will also like The Love Guru.