Taxi Brooklyn – I watch it​ so that you don’t have to!

TAXI Brooklyn is a short-lived comedy/drama, buddy-buddy show that has found its way to the televisual graveyard that is Netflix. With a truncated twelve episode season, the procedural police drama/comedy stars Chyler Leigh – better known for her role as Alex Danvers on Supergirl – as Detective Caitlyn Sullivan and Jacky Ido as Leo Romba, a French-born, Brooklyn residing, taxi driver.
Taxi Brooklyn, a lazy title for a lazy show, takes the implausible premise of difficult-to-work-with detective – she has already had five partners that year in the opening episode – and pairs her with an immigrant, street savvy taxi driver, whose sense of right and winning charm makes him one of the few people who can stand to be around the detective. Conveniently – and there are a lot of convenient situations in this show – the detective has her car privileges rescinded by her captain John Baker – a thankless, horribly cliched role taken on by James Colby – this little detail brings about the ludicrous plot device of having the taxi driver ferry the detective everywhere. They even go as far as having him run over her foot in episode three so as she cannot drive!
Caitlyn, or Cat as she is called in the show, is a ‘maverick’ cop who is obsessed with finding the killer of her father. He was also a member of law enforcement. Sound familiar? It should, it is basically the same premise as Castle, the much superior Nathan Fillion/Stana Katic starrer. Whilst, like Castle, the ‘who murdered my father?’ arc is the overarching story that sustains the season, each episode has a separate story.
My heart, as ever, goes out to the actors in this mess of a show. Besides the aforementioned, there is José Zúñiga who plays, I kid you not, detective Esposito and Jennifer Esposito – a crush of mine from her Spin City days – plays Dr Monica Pena. These fine actors are forced to try and breathe believability into scripts of staggering ineptitude and – sorry to repeat myself – cliche-ridden plots. The scripts are just the tip of the iceberg. I was momentarily buoyed by some interesting editing in the opening of episode two. My hopes were quickly dashed by the handheld camera work, poor sound and slapdash editing.
Even with the sloppy production of a show this contrived, the scripts needed to at the very least be competent and mildly believable. They are not. Aside from shoehorning in random characters connected to the killing of Caitlyn’s father, the scripts have so much horrible exposition, not to mention quite unbelievable, convenient, coincidences that one spends most of the watch time spotting the next cliché.
The real pity with this show is that the two leads actually have the right chemistry for the show’s premise, unfortunately, the characters are never given any scope to develop, forced to spout their lines with little to no motivation.

Though not totally unwatchable, Taxi Brooklyn is definitely in the realms of bad television. That it managed even to run for twelve episodes is an achievement, thankfully, even though NBC is notorious for cancelling solid shows, the cancellation of this show was a tick in the correct column.

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Annihilation – a review

Alex Garland’s latest big-screen offering – and small screen, more on that later – is the ‘cerebral’ thriller Annihilation. I put cerebral in quotations as Inception this is not! Admittedly I am one of the few people who were not blown away by Garland’s last outing, the enjoyable but, I felt, too ponderous, Ex Machina.
I will say that Garland definitely has a good visual style. Like Ex Machina, Annihilation looks incredible, which contributes to an initially interesting and disturbing atmosphere. That soon wears off as the story gets not so much going as plods along.
Natalie Portman is Lena, an ex-soldier turned scientist/biologist whose husband, Oscar Issac’s Kane, also a military person, has gone missing presumed dead. Lena mopes around her home, sullen with grief and guilt – she had an affair with a married colleague at the college she works at, though it is not indicated whether the affair happened whilst her husband was missing or beforehand – cutting herself off from friends and acquaintances.
Kane returns but he is different and cannot explain his year-long absence. When he suddenly becomes critically ill, Lena takes him back to the military base in an effort to save him. There she meets Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Dr Ventress who tells her about her Kane’s return from an exploratory mission into an unexplained area they had named the Shimmer, due to its dome-like shimmering quality.
Ventress goes on to explain that several missions had yielded no results and they had lost much personnel. All the previous expeditions had been male only, so for no discernible reason I could fathom, the next suicide – sorry – expedition would be an all-female affair. Lena, military trained and a scientist to boot, decides to join the mission reasoning – poorly – that the answer to whatever is killing her husband is inside the mysterious Shimmer.
So, on a planet where a person can barely sneeze without it hitting the internet and satellites from every first world country orbit the planet, this Shimmer has been being investigated, for over a year, just by the Americans. A year in which it has expanded and they have kept feeding military bodies to it. Right. Onward.
Five intrepid ladies head into the Shimmer, besides Lena and the doctor, there is Tessa Thompson as the DNA specialising, anthropologist Josie Radek, Gina Rodriguez as the overtly gay Anya Thorensen and Tuva Novotny as Cass Sheppard. All have their scientific specialities, not that it matters much in the context of the film. \

Only the good doctor knows Lena is related Kane, the only person to have returned from the Shimmer.
Once inside the Shimmer, all sense of time and orientation is lost, the women cannot remember entering the Shimmer, nor can they recall how long they have been inside.
They trek on exploring the wondrous and lush landscape. On coming upon a semi-submerged houseboat, they proceed to investigate. One them gets attacked by something in the water. Obviously. After a frantic rescue, there is a brief showdown with the unidentified river/swamp beast. Lena shows her military prowess, emptying a clip into it. Bravo.
There is quite unbelievable science, gobbledygook and hapless exposition as they speak of DNA adaption and mutations. Unfortunately, such subject matter has been executed so much better in other films and television programmes.
There is madness, mutiny, abduction and death but it is not anything you would care about as none of the characters is particularly memorable or empathetic. I would give out a complete spoiler-laden review, but it would make very little difference in the context of the film, with its somewhat ambiguous premise petering out to a most unsatisfying conclusion.

None of this is the fault of the talent on show, who all try gamely with the material they are given, but with exposition kept to a bare minimum – usually a good thing – and explanations almost nonexistent, the story struggles to keep a viewer either engaged or caring.
Annihilation is almost too smart for its own good, with the questions it poses – why would you keep going in? How has no one in the world noticed there’s an expanding light bubble in North America? – not the ones it perhaps hoped for. Annihilation was released in theatres in the U. S. but in Europe, due to some distribution issues, was released on Netflix. As I said earlier, the visuals in the film are stunning so it is a pity – even with the advent of supersize televisions – that it could not find even a limited theatrical release in Europe, as its visual scope at least deserves a large screen.
Annihilation is not unwatchable, but it is disappointing and somewhat pretentious with a good film buried beneath the pretensions.

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Black Lightning – waiting for a strike (early impressions review)

With the imminent release of Black Panther on the horizon – can’t wait! – and a general shifting toward the listening to the voices of minorities in western civilisation, the landscape of film and television is affording more opportunities for fare that would not have found a large audience outside of its particular niche.
With the popularity of superhero films in cinemas and its filtering to television and subscription services, the once niche market of comic geekery is now known to all. Netflix, to their credit, have been at the forefront when it comes to programming in the superhero genre. Having predominantly screened Marvel fare – Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Defenders – with the exception of the risible Iron Fist (review here), the comic book adaptions have been good to great, Marvel continuing to prove that their grasp of the genre is solid.
Black Lightning is the latest addition to DC’s roster of televisual super beings. Unlike their filmic output, DC’s television shows have been strong, with Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Heroes of Tomorrow all established shows. As I mentioned before, it seems with the race to embrace minority friendly content, DC have dug through their archives of characters and found the little known – even amongst comic geeks – character of Black Lightning.
As a black person myself, I embrace the advent of minority programming and love seeing people on the screen I can readily identify with. That being said, three episodes into Black Lightning it is difficult to find much to be excited about. In fact, there is so much wrong with Black Lightning, it is difficult to know where to start.
Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) is Black Lightning, a meta-human able to generate electrical beams, lightning, from his hands. He is also an expert martial artist. None of this is addressed in the show, I learned it all on Wikipedia. How he came to be Black Lightning, his origin story, is not even alluded to. We meet Jefferson as a high school principal in Freeland. He has retired from the superhero/vigilante game, feeling he can help more as a pillar of the community. He also knows that it was being Black Lightning that broke his relationship with his estranged wife Lynn (Christine Adams) as she could not bear the thought of him being in danger every night.
Elsewhere his youngest daughter, Jennifer (China Anne McClain) is getting close to a young, would-be, gang banger, LaShawn (Al-Jaleel Knox), cousin to local dealer and area boss of the notorious one hundred gang, Lala (William Catlett). When LaShawn takes Jennifer to see his cousin, trying to impress her, Lala embarrasses him and insults Jennifer. When later on Jennifer is caught up in a gang-related situation, Black Lightning is forced to come out of retirement. So far so cliche.
Let’s start with the costume; it is god awful, easily the worse costume of modern-day heroes. Not in anyway subtle, it is a shiny, carbon-blue coloured, motorcycle suit, with a bright lightning bolt ‘V’ on the chest. He wears goggles – GOGGLES! – as his disguise. So people, who have known him most of their lives do not recognise him with a pair of sunglasses on!
A peruse of IMDB shows a divide of opinion; many comic show fans hate the show, the biggest gripe being the acting. I feel that this is unfair as, if anything, the acting is probably the best thing about the show. Unfortunately, the actors are given not only a weak premise to work with – I will get to that – but also dull scripts. The dialogue in the show is so poor it is almost a sedative. The only actors who get to invest believably in their roles are the aforementioned William Catlett, Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III, who plays Tobias Whale and Damon Gupton as Inspector Henderson.
The show’s story and premise go for the lazy and overworked, using the old ‘gangs taking over and terrorising the ghetto/neighbourhood’ trope that is often attributed to black stories/communities. It was the same story they used in Luke Cage, though that show did have a much better script.
As well as following the black gangs and a frightened community staple, the show also jumps on the ‘empowering women’ bandwagon, as well as the wife and youngest daughter, there is also Anissa (Nefessa Williams), the eldest daughter, who is a lesbian. Notably, the lesbians in this show are strictly of the lipstick variety; utterly beautiful.
Unusually, Black Lightning has made no effort at an origin story, thus we are given a vague sense of Black Lightning as a figure of folklore, missed by the god-fearing – yep, the church loving staple is in there too – community.

I will say, as a positive, that – aside for the costume – the show looks technically good, especially the third episode. The lighting and colours look rich and deep and the editing, fight scenes and sound are top class.
Netflix has, unusually, opted to release Black Lightning week by week, unlike many of the other superhero shows. Whether the show will be able to retain its audience over its thirteen episode run remains to be seen. Whilst not unwatchable, Black Lightning is far from unmissable television. As I am a long time fan of the superhero genre, I will no doubt keep watching. Hopefully Black Lightning will find its feet later in its run.

 

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Bright – Not Really (a review)

BRIGHT is the latest offering from David Ayer, the writer, director and producer, whose most recent works include Suicide Squad, Sabotage and End Of Watch. He is perhaps best known for two of his earlier works, The Fast And The Furious and the critically acclaimed Training Day. On Bright, Ayer is on director duty, the screenplay having been written by Max Landis, whose most notable writing credit is the 2012 superpowers thriller, Chronicle.
Bright tells the story of a world where humans, orcs and elves live an uneasy coexistence, with elves being societies elite, orcs the bottom of the pile and the humans somewhere in-between. Quite why Landis decided to use orcs and elves, as opposed to creating new beings or characters, is not a question I can answer. I can only think that by using the normally opposed races Landis was hoping it would speed the story along. It doesn’t. If anything, it pulls you out of the story, especially the elves, who are LOTR (Lord Of The Rings) extras in Matrix get up. The budget does not quite stretch to creating the orcs with the same intensity they had in LOTR.
Will Smith, turning in an I, Robot performance, plays Daryl Ward, a street cop forced to work with the affable orc Nick Jakoby, played by Joel Edgerton, only recognisable by his gait under the orc make-up. Ward distrust Jakoby after he is shot by an orc whilst waiting for his partner to buy lunch. He suspects that Jakoby let the assailant escape due to him being an Orc. On returning to duty, his human colleagues, all of whom are small-minded and wear their prejudice with pride, try to encourage him to turn against his orc partner. Giving them short shrift, Ward and Jacob hit the streets.
They encounter Montehugh, a hirsute, dirty, half-naked man, wielding a sword and after persuading him to put the sword down, arrest him. Whilst in the back of the car, the seemingly crazy man suddenly – with an exposition scene that lands like Thor’s hammer – starts talking in orcish. He also throws up in the back of the car, which later leads to a scene in which Internal Affairs come to have a covert meeting with Ward to persuade him that turning on his partner would be in his best interest.
Meanwhile, Montehugh, the orcish speaking, sword-wielding vagabond, is visited by an elf and a human from the magic division – really – who wants to know about his babblings. As this is going on, Ward and Jakoby are attending a call where they come upon charred bodies and an elf crucifixion. They also meet Tikka (Lucy Fry) a terrified elf who is protecting a much sort after, wand. When back-up for Ward and Jakoby turn up, their four colleagues, in another exposition scene, try to persuade Ward to kill Jakoby so as they might keep the wand that can grant them any wish they desire – once again, really.
Exposition is next given in one sentence when Ward warns Jakoby not to reach for his gun because he would stand no chance against him in a gunfight. He then proceeds to kill the other four policemen who, of course, had planned to kill them both anyway; he is amazing in gunfights. The wand is now common knowledge in the city and everybody wants it. It’s a wishing wand you know. Humans cannot touch the wand without exploding – or maybe that’s anyone, that is never quite explained. Humans definitely explode though. Unless they are a….Bright. Really.
Remember babbling exposition man, Montehugh, in the back of the police car? He signposts that Ward is a Bright – that is not a spoiler, a small child would have seen it. The rest of the film is basically a chase film, where everyone pursues the wand – not the ring. Sorry.
Bright suffers from two major faults – there are more, but only two major ones – it is too shorts for the many varied themes it tries to cover. Bright would undoubtedly have been served better as a short series, four to six episodes maybe. Secondly, it is rushed, which sort of feeds into the first point, but if the slight book that was The Hobbit can be stretched into a trilogy of – admittedly – overlong films, how can a similar story be condensed into less than two hours? It can’t.
Bright tries to cover themes of race, prejudice, class, greed and avarice. Unfortunately, it fails on all fronts due to some heavy-handed writing and a runtime that is short by present standards. Bright turns out to be pretty dim.

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The Punisher – a review

Like many of the comic adaptations before it, Netflix’s The Punisher had previously been brought to the screen. Three films featuring the grizzled ex-marine, Frank Castle, who would go on to become the Punisher, have been made. Even though the character did have its own comic book title back in the mid-eighties, The Punisher was never a major Marvel title, unlike say, Daredevil in its Frank Miller run.
Like most of Netflix’s Marvel series, The Punisher is well executed. Unlike the other series, it is able to jump straight into the story, with the character having been introduced, backstory and all, in the second season of Daredevil. Having not seen any of the earlier versions of The Punisher, it would be unfair of me to compare the different versions. What I will say is if there is a better Frank Castle than Jon Bernthal’s I need to see it!
Bernthal is so completely born to play this character, bringing an intensity and feral believability to a character that is capable of extreme violence. Bernthal’s taciturn turn is compelling and gruesomely attractive, portraying an admirable monster of a being. Frank Castle is a killing machine, out of place in the touchy-feely, let’s-mediate, millennial generation. The liberal espousing of every person having some redeeming qualities is something he knows, all too painfully, not to be true.
The story begins with all but a select few believing Castle to be dead. He has taken on work on a building site, keeping himself to himself, whilst taking out his rage on masonry. Some of the other labourers take a dislike to him and try to intimidate him. He does not rise to the bait. Another young labourer is friendly to him, but Frank tells him that he prefers to be left alone. The young guy, waiting to fit in and looking for friends, latches on to the bullies. One of the bullies is indebted to a loan shark and needs to get some money. He tells one of the others, who tells him of a mob poker game they can hit. The bullies decide to rob the mob poker game and bring the new kid along.
During the robbery, the youngster drops his wallet, revealing his driver’s license. Afraid that his mistake will expose them all, the gang take him to the building site to kill him. Unfortunately for them Frank, who is on the site still, hears about the whole episode and goes full Punisher on them. After giving the mob loot to the kid and telling him to disappear, he goes and wipes out the mob poker players, inadvertently revealing the probability of him still being alive.
Had The Punisher decided to follow the John Wick route and have him fighting and killing mobsters, forced to come out of ‘retirement’ because they are after him and then having various affiliations coming after him – CIA, Homeland, FBI – as they realise he is not dead, The Punisher could have been brilliant instead of just good.
It could have gone the way of the fantastic Jessica Jones, the little known super-powered private eye in the comics, brilliantly realised in her own Netflix series, utilising characters from the comics but bringing a compelling story.
With the exception of the poorly written lead character portrayed by a GOT popular Finn Jones in Iron Fist, all the acting and performances in Netflix’s Marvel fare have been universally excellent, central and supporting characters alike. It is in the area of story, something that was so strong in both Daredevil and Jessica Jones, to a lesser extent in Luke Cage, where Marvel has begun to falter.
The Iron Fist story and central character were an unholy mess, making the decision to have The Defenders have it as a launch pad an odd one. In The Punisher, the writers decided to use the death of his family and an ‘off-the-books’ covert mission, that was recorded (of course), when the squad he was part of executed a prisoner, as the premise for the series. The fact that they decided to put Ben Barnes’ (excellent) Billy Russo character in the trailer doing something nefarious was a spoiler of the worst kind.
With its top-shelf acting and first-rate fight choreography, not to mention the excellent editing, The Punisher is somewhat redeemed, though not wholly, allowing the cliched story to chug along nicely. The real issue with the story is not that it is bad, it is that it is too familiar. There are no surprises at all. Every cliche and stereotype box is ticked; a despicable drug smuggle? Tick. A powerfully positioned ‘secret’ overlord? Tick. A slick, but deadly, an old friend who swaps sides and becomes a fearsome adversary? Tick. Innocents in danger? Tick. It is all in there. There really was not enough story to sustain a thirteen episode arc, with some of the middle episodes akin to a more exciting episode of Homeland.
It is a pity that the overall arc is so tiresome because, as I never tire of saying, the performances are first class. No doubt The Punisher will get a second outing, one can only hope that Frank Castle can be found in a more interesting and challenging situation.

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Getting Back On The Horse…

I was, earlier in the year, writing a blog a day, posting every day – not here, I have a few blogs – but definitely posting consistently. A few things happened to derail my posting; laziness was one, I visited the cinema less frequently and I decided to make a film after an almost four-year hiatus.

So I made the film – The Good, The Bad And The Tennis – and then…nothing. I have been messing about with editing and Da Vinci Resolve colour correction software and looking into all sorts of myriad FCPX plugins – they really need audio enhancement!  – basically, I have been procrastinating.

Though I have begun writing a sequel to my last short, even though I am not a massive fan of sequels, not bad ones anyway, there are a few classic ones – Godfather part two, Rocky two, Terminator two.

I am feeling that I need to get back to blogging, writing random thoughts at least, so as to allow space for creative, plot and story breaking thoughts. That’s the hope anyway. I am determined to not let another extended period of navel-gazing halt my filmic output.

It is my desire to be a filmmaker, storyteller, and since it is entirely my decision if I pursue that particular goal, let the pursuit begin.

 

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Memories Of A Film Shoot – The Good, The Bad And The Tennis

It’s a week after the shoot and my film – The Good, The Bad And The Tennis – is in the home straight. It is about three years since my last film and the nerves preceding this shoot seemed to have helped enormously. Never have I planned so well for a shoot. Even though I knew the script and what I wanted to see – I did write it after all – having decided to use non-actors in all the roles, I knew I had to be able to get my ideas across clearly.

Having put out feelers for a camera and sound person on shootingpeople.org the initial response was not good. Acting as the producer – I pay for everything – I offered a middling to low fee for both roles. For those who have never had to deal with getting a crew together, let me assure you it is both very easy and extremely difficult.

It is easy because there are loads – and I means loads – of talented people out there who want to make and be involved with filmmaking. Finding a competent camera person who is prepared to work for a fraction of their daily rate is relatively painless. Also, because one can easily look at their past work, it is easy to see if you like their work or not. With sound, it is more awkward. I have worked with both good and bad sound people. A good sound person is worth every penny of the hard earned cash you give to them. Make no mistake, bad sound will ruin your film no matter how good the story, camera work or acting.

It seemed to be going smoothly. I put out the calls for the two positions and begun to receive responses. The first response was for the sound person. The would-be applicant pointed out – no doubt he felt helpfully – that the pay rate was too low. He did not get the job, but I did raise the pay rate. I got a couple of replies from camera people and after settling on one, I was hoping I would be able to focus on a creating a storyboard. He quickly fell out of the project. As did the one after him.

When people start dropping from a shoot, it makes you question whether you have a viable project. I was beginning to panic a little as I had already got the actors and had set a date, but I had no crew. As luck would have it, the cameraman I used on my first two shorts got in contact with me. Having worked with him before, I knew what to expect. I still did not have a sound person. My camera guy came to the rescue again. He could supply the sound person. My crew was locked.

Besides the storyboard, I also decided I would create a shot list. A shot list is exactly what it says; a list of all the shots that will be used. The shot list serves two purposes: it reduces the amount of unnecessary coverage – very popular in the digital age – so one does not end up with so many shot options that the edit becomes unwieldy. It also allows you to keep track of the shots. (On my second shoot I had to call everyone back because I forgot to shoot some scenes.)

Another thing the shot list does, is it forces you to do is edit the film in your mind beforehand. When it came to the actual edit, I had completed a rough edit on the same day as the shoot, with the shots ninety to ninety-five percent locked.

The coloring, look and music are probably the things that have taken up the most time. Just finding the music has been a real job! As I did not employ a musician – I am not independently wealthy! – I had to use that vast and brilliant library known as the internet. We, filmmakers, are somewhat blessed in this digital and internet age, in that we can utilize the talents of people from all over the globe, that in times past would not have been available to us.

With my film now close to completion – need to shoot one more scene…! – and the trailers and promo stuff out, I am trying to ensure that my next project is not three years hence! Fear and laziness have kept me from pursuing my passion for filmmaking for too long, which is a terrible waste, as I enjoy the entire process immensely. I have two more short projects that are ready to go and many a written work on the go. Time to get back to the filmmaker dream.

 

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