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: SING

Starring

Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike)
Reese Witherspoon (This Means War)
Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy)
Scarlett Johansson (Avengers Assemble)
John C. Reilly (Life After Beth)
Taron Egerton (Legend)
Tori Kelly Star Search)
Jennifer Saunders (Minions)
Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
Garth Jennings (The World’s End)
Peter Serafinowicz (Spy)
Nick Kroll (The House)
Beck Bennett (Zoolander 2)
Jay Pharoah (Top Five)
Nick Offerman (We’re The Millers)
Leslie Jones (Ghostbusters)
Rhea Perlman (Lemon)
Laraine Newman (Inside Out)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Edgar Wright (Spaced)
Carlos Alazraqui (Family Guy)
Cathy Cavadini (Powerpuff Girls)
Townsend Coleman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

Seth MacFarlane in Sing (2016)In a world of anthropomorphic animals, koala Buster Moon owns a theater, having been interested in show business since his father took him to his first music show as a child. Following financial problems brought up by the bank representative Judith, he tells his wealthy friend Eddie that he will host a singing competition with a prize of $1,000. But Buster’s assistant, Miss Crawly, accidentally appends two extra zeroes, and the promotional fliers showing $100,000 are blown out of Buster’s office into the city streets.Peter Serafinowicz in Sing (2016)Animals from all around the city gather for auditions. Those selected include: housewife and mother of 25 piglets Rosita; street musician mouse Mike; mobster’s son gorilla Johnny; and punk-rock porcupine Ash. Shy teenage elephant Meena fails her audition out of stage fright, while Ash’s boyfriend Lance is dismissed from the contest. Rosita is paired with another contestant, an exuberant pig named Gunter, for a dance routine. Although Buster discovers the flyers show a prize of $100,000 (money he does not have), he remains optimistic. Buster convinces Eddie to arrange a visit with Eddie’s grandmother, former opera singer and theater actress Nana Noodleman, to persuade her to sponsor the prize money. She is hesitant to contribute, but agrees to see a private screening of the show.Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johansson in Sing (2016)Encouraged by her grandfather, Meena tries to ask Buster for another chance, but becomes his stage hand instead. When one of the acts quits, and another is injured, Meena is added as an act. The performers’ individual problems begin to hinder rehearsals: Rosita flounders in her dance routine with Gunter, after having been distracted by her parenting duties that have fallen into disarray. After discovering Lance broke up with her for not being around anymore, with a new girlfriend named Becky and evicting them from her apartment, Ash is devastated and breaks down while singing her assigned song, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” Johnny is torn between having to help his father as the driver of a getaway car in a heist and making the practices. When he tries to do both, he does not show up for the planned pickup in time, and his father and his gang are arrested. Meena does not get any help in overcoming her stage fright, and Mike, certain that the prize money is as good as his, buys a fancy car to impress a female mouse, and then swindles a group of bears in a card game at a nightclub.Reese Witherspoon in Sing (2016)The day of the screening, the bears interrupt the show, demanding the money from Mike, who in turn, points to Buster. The bears open the chest containing the prize money, but it is nowhere near $100,000. The glass tank full of luminescent squids that Buster got to light up the theater breaks after an accidental smash on the glass floor, flooding the theater, which then comes crashing down. With the lot repossessed by Judith, Buster, who had been living in his theater’s office desk, takes up residence at Eddie’s place (his parents’ pool house). Although the contestants (besides Mike, who saw Buster as a fraud) visit him and try to cheer him up, Buster is too despondent to listen to them. He tries to start over by opening a car wash, using the same bucket that his father had used to earn money for Buster’s theater.Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johansson, and Beck Bennett in Sing (2016)When Meena goes to the theater’s rubble lot and sings Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, Buster hears her and is inspired to reinstate the show without the prize money. They perform on a makeshift stage on the lot in front of Rosita and Meena’s family members. As Rosita and Gunter perform Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”, which finally gets her husband Norman’s attention to her, more animals are attracted to the scene as the show is broadcast on the news. Johnny’s rendition of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” impresses his father, who then escapes from prison to reconcile with him. Despite an interruption by Judith, Ash sings her original rock song “Set It All Free.” Mike returns to the show and sings Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” Meena finally overcomes her fears and sings Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing”, which literally brings down the house. The show becomes a success and impresses Nana, who was in the audience. Nana buys the lot and the theater is rebuilt and reopened.Matthew McConaughey and Garth Jennings in Sing (2016)All the characters were lovable and unique in their personalities. The Movie also had some very good music. Length of the movie was just fine for kids and adults. It’s a great feel good movie.