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Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)

There Won’t Be Blood

Attempting at resurrecting the lifeless corpse of Kate Beckinsale’s career, Underworld: Blood Wars (thereafter Blood Wars) looks and sounds like someone made a terrible mistake and injected it formaldehyde instead. Her character Selena is destined to become one of the Vampire Elders and she starts looking the part even though she seems in great shape, which is more that can be said about the CGI tornado wreaking havoc around her.

Braindeadly written and irrepressibly poorly filmed, this meager epic takes great caution in disgressing to something else, anything really, anytime something threatens to move the plot forward. Due to, one guesses, budget constraints, Blood Wars circumnavigates its big scenes through cheap slow-mo and epilectic ellipse while feverishly trying to check all the required action boxes. The result is not unlike watching unsuccessful attempts at defribrillating something long dead during ninety minutes: it’s not cinema, it’s electro-convulso therapy.

Blood Wars is much more interested in fetish gear than in the vampire lore. One mused where on Earth are so many barely legal hairdresssers that much into leather parties, and the answer is Prague, standing for “The Eastern Coven”. There, millenary vampires act like brooding teenagers, need modern medical equipment to take blood and have installed a “Dawn Alert” fired sixty seconds before sunrise because, one guesses, vampires have all the time in the world but a short attention span. Well, daylight is not such a threat anyway, considering a sunny morning gives instant way to diluvial rain in order to stay true to production design.

What stands for a script is obsessed by drug-taking and blood purity, to the point of having a coven of recently machine-gunned peacenick Walkyries return as Aryan elite warriors when some back up is needed. Selena is flanked by mostly bland characters, to the exception of the appropriately lupine Marius (Tobias Menzies) and vilain of the piece Semira (Lara Pulver, a talented antagonist in Sherlock Holmes‘ first season, here caught several times gazing at nothing, obviously bored). Oh, and Charles Dance plays Tywin Lannister – again.

Everyone being related to more or less anyone else, the thing ends – not, a sixth instalment or the franchise being planned – in family feud and serious questions about inbreeding that, unfortunately, the viewer is the only one to ask oneself. Such miscegeneration would at least explain why that fanged cohort is, from start to end, acting more like retarded backwater cannibals than like ladies and lords of the night. “Turn off the lights!” are a dying vampire last words. Please, do so, and shut the door behind you.

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The Young Pope #4

May The Foe Be With You

The Young Pope is a miracle in the true sense of the term (not the paganistic fantasy depicted in overture of this episode) for its very boldness: what, it asks, if the Catholic Church had a Holy Father who would not only be Word, but Flesh, and as such flesh would be planning the kind of revenge only available to an absolute sovereign? What, to be more specific, if the Pope was Darth Vador dressed all in white?

Equaling homosexuality and paedophilia is, paradoxically, something only the Church -whatever it is – would initiate, being guilty of both, not necessarily together. In episode 4, Pope Pius XIII’s agenda is becoming clear and it’s no less than destroying the Catholic Church. For that, he’s using a very simple method: turning its lies and base urges (greed, lust, power) against itself, with a blunt brutatily which is all but stupid. There is, in fact, a mole in the Vatican, and it’s the Holy Father. “Jesus Christ!” let Sister Mary escape at some point; “If only I were” comes the answer.

Sister Mary is otherwise absent from what is a quintessential mid-season episode, completing the exposition of the main characters and plot with a deft harmony between scenes, some gracious, some ferocious, some both. The initial exchange between the Blessed Father and a Sri-Lankan nurse is shokingly cruel, but balanced by an unexpected act of kindness: this Pope has a plan, but it has his fancies, too. Those certainly do not include church rituals, especially baptism, to which a very funny side scene is devoted.

Esther is tasked by Cardinal Voiello to seduce Pius XIII. “I’m not such a seductress”, she objects, only to be answered “Neither was the Virgin Mary”. The Young Pope‘s range is indeed broad, from Fellinian anti-clericalism to Spinoza-inspired casuistics, not to forget football as the unofficial religion of Italy and Berlusconi-style TV. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Greenland visits, giving the Pope an opportunity to use both his own brand of gaydar and his ability to make anyone feel instantly, intensely, very uncomfortable. The Mad Shepherd quietly torments his flock, gloating at he watches them smile and squirm in equal measures.

“The punishment of God is never over beauty, never”, says the Pope to Esther while he, at her demand, teaches her how to pray, a beautiful phrase that doubtlessly flew naturally for the author of maybe the best movie of this young century, The Great Beauty. One will take the risk of drooling by saying once again The Young Pope is essential viewing. More than opinion, this is belief, or even faith.

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La La Land (2016)

La La Lalala Lalala

The thing with reviewing La La Land is to be able to talk about nothing. Because there is nothing to say about such an absurd abuse of musical, with no less less than a vague hommage to Jacques Demy, which hold waters during a De Palma opening which has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, being one Oscar moment in a movie filled with them. It’s either Musicals for Dummies or the Cliff Notes for the same, meaning that it would make any Astaire or Kelly ashamed of their legacy to Hollywood. And do not let one start with Rogers or Charysse. It’s your 6yo attempting at Silk Stockings with only you thinking she has star material. It’s vile, repulsive material, which Hollywood will be too happy to bestow all possible Oscars on, because we are still on denial time, and the clock is not set five to midnight. Yet.

Emma Stone (playing herself to the point of being dangerously diegetic) has no less but four Oscar moments, either stripping her soul bare or belching her heart out on mediocre melodies. She also attempts at a dancing number with Ryan Gosling which is too embarrassing for words. But let’s not even start with Gosling. Emma Stone, see, is very cute. Was she aware that she was starring in a much more succesful remake of Showgirls is a question for the guy in charge of that expensive, ultra-filtrered piece of garbage, without any good supporting cast, by the way, so obsessed it it with its two stars that anyone else is reduced to pixels, including JK Simmons.

So, the problem is not that much Ryan Gosling, specialised as he is in not being there, but much of the productions choices, from colour-coordinated “chorus girls” to various filters. One means, even Baz Lufhann did it better, and this is both setting the bar pretty low and incommensurably higher. What we have here is the most possibly contrived rom-com ever (she loves jazz but she’s doomed to be a star, he plays jazz in a world where everything stopped with Charlie Parker), with half-baked cupcakes all the way.

There is an absurd music montage with actors unable to sing. For some reason it is structured on seasons, like a Buddhist movie, only without gluten. Paris is eternally stuck in the fifties, when everyone liked jazz, now a dead form of music, and please, stop this obscene carnival just now. There is nothing to like in La La Land except if you’re completely illiterate in musicals, nothing to enjoy if you have seen a couple of rom-coms, nothing to say about it except it will get many Oscars because for the time being, we like stupid escapism better than fighting the monster put in the Oval Office. This movie is criminal for saying nothing about the worst situation ever, and la la lalalala.

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Passengers (2016)

The Bible! Backwards! In Space!

Three quarters lukewarm water and one quarter a quite effective fish-out-of-water nightmare, Passengers suffers most from inconsequent Biblical allegory, and having its best quarter first. Not that it is an uncommon plague, excelling at the exposition of a high concept and being unable to convey it further than its inherent limitations, but this movie, through ingenious (not smart) use of multiple other sources, provides the viewer with one milquetoast experience which is as hard to hate as it is hard to like: the exact compendium of what Hollywood should send to space as a Rosetta stone, should it chose once more to elect Christian values over cinematography. Go figure what aliens will make of such a rewrite of the Scriptures.

So, do you remember the Fall from Eden, Adam being God’s masterpiece, until a woman, a tree and a snake precipitated the human race into sin, scourges and an endless life of misery? Good, thank you for that. Now project it backwards, starting from the Fall and rewinding to God’s green Earth, only adding space travel and romantic comedy in the mix? Here you are, watching Passengers.

So, Adam (Chris Pratt, vaguely attempting at emoting in at least in one and a half scene) and Eve (Jennifer Lawrence, for once in the Bible provided with a gorgeous wardrobe) live an idyllic life in an slightly dysfunctionning garden of Eden, namely the Avalon spaceship, en route for one of these terraformed colonies which increasingly appear as the only option out of our decaying world. Of course there is a tree, which you are left to chose is either the one of Knowledge of or Life, or both. Instructed as they are about previous mistakes, they do not procreate, in one of the most unwilling plot twists of recent blockbusters: no, they live a selfish life, contemplating the universe, eating gold class breakfast and having shared custody of the Snake, aka Arthur the Bartender. It’s kinda the Bible for the Z generation, the elected ones spending a life of leisure and boredom, not giving any thought about what will happen for generations to come.

The Snake (Michael Sheen on Mr Pistorius’ prosthetics and therefore by far the most interesting character onboard even though he’s ripped off straight, set including, from The Shining) is omiscient on cocktails and therefore in biblical allegory, so he knows when to step out of character, violate a couple of the laws of robotics and precipitate an extended romcom segment during which Adam and Eve falls in and out of love, including multiple wardrobe changes, happiness montages and a space dance straight out of Wall-E. Disaster ensues, but does it?

An extended action sequence includes Lawrence Fishburne for quota reasons, even though he has nothing to do there (which he does extensively, delivering a poor attempt at playing God, sorry “The Captain”). It’s not so much as the entire sequence is a crossover between Gravity and Prometheus, it’s… oh whatever. The ultimate “Open the door” suspense until next week, this action third act is clumsily edited, confusely dramatised and obfuscatingly directed. When is who emoting why, exactly?

Remains the first act, which, for ressembling the business class The Martian that it is, elicits more giggles that anything that follows. You know, at the beginning was the Word, then the Word became Flesh? Well, just imagine that in reverse and clutch your popcorn.

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A Lunch at L’Etoile du Nord (Paris)

Quelle Mauvaise Idée !

Anyone passing through Gare du Nord shouldn’t miss L’Etoile du Nord, if only as a testament to how Thierry Marx’s molecular ambitions went the way of the Dodo, a sad compromise between what some call bistronomy and what any educated palate will call, the French way, “malbouffe”. Supposed to be “inspired” by the North of French cuisine, as mandatory in a place with trains to not only London, but Brussels and obscure places like Lille and Amiens, the place hailed itself as a revisited “Buffet de la Gare”, only with a fussy maitre d’, clueless waiters, vaguely George V-inspired sparce floral decoration, malfunctionning lightning in the toilets, cafeteria furnishing and, last but not he least, bland food. In a way, it’s a smashing success in recreating the impatience, the atmosphere and the poor value for quality of such places, but one doubts it was the initial intention.

Let’s focus on the food, should we? First was an oeuf mayonnaise, a bistro food staple which for some industrial reasons has been reduced to pulp by much lesser chefs. The eggs were too cold, the mayonnaise a shade of what it should have been and yes, there was tons of cheap aneth on top to cover for the rest. And it was only one starter.

The other one was a poireaux vinaigrette, which came with the consensual agrume dressing which the casual eater has been forced to associate with modernity. Bland, at best, and that kind of dressing is neither here nor there.

Main dishes were, first, a decent suprême de volaille appropriately cooked, served with a potato purée which should never be the highlight of a meal if you’re not Robuchon but yet was, instead of a discreet companion.

Second, quite a terrible fish & chips consisting of a big chunk of cod haphazardely fried, one side heavy on the stomach and the other still bathing in flour, served in a debatable version of the thing, without vinegar or salt and pepper to add some gustative substance to the generic fries coming in a fancy cornet.

To conclude with this embarassing interlude, dessert was an oversweet, cubic oeuf à la neige which must have been made early in the morning and bathing since in an over-vanillaed custard. Since the whole concoction was not sweet enough, there was some mollified pink pralines in the mix for your dentist surgeon’s downpayment on his next vacation to the Maldives.

Staff is in training before your very eyes. There is a waiting line even though a vast first floor remains closed. For anyone who went through the ordeal of landing at CDG and taking the RER train to Gare du Nord, this is a mandatory pit stop in the “I Hate Paris” circuit. Count roughly 30€ per head, then regret it.

With our Food correspondant Victoire V.

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Doctor Strange (2016)

Surrender, Steven !

For a Marvel joint, Doctor Strange is remarquably squeamish about tampering with the space-time continuum and the multiverse, even though the purpose of its script – and the function of its CGI – are precisely just that. Let’s just say that the Ancient One’s (SWINTON!, one of the two reasons to watch the film) terse warning that that shouldn’t be done comes a little late; I don’t know who’s planning the expansion of the Marvel Extended Universe but that particular Big Bang is a bit messy.

Three quarters ludicrous exposition and one quarter the expedited resolution of a dimensional clash threatening the very existence of the world, Doctor Strange is nevertheless quite enjoyable. Of course, the arc is the same as usual, a powerful character reduced to pulp by trauma only to become a god-like figure having to chose his of the Force, training scenes, time travel, cities folding on themselves, more training scenes, a mirror dimension, a cape, nefarious instoppable villains defeated by fisticuffs, and yet more training scenes. As usual, rooms full of priceless relics in glass boxes have been built for the express purpose to be shattered in said fisticuffs, the vilains of the piece takes order from un uber-vilain from outer space and time (Dormammu is coming and he’s ANGRY!). Also, one specific aspect of the movie kinda swallow all others, this time the polemic about casting Tilda Swinton as an originally Asian character. Which is, by the way, the wisest decision made here: just watch her graciously ackowledge that yes, this is good tea, and succumb to her sublime presence; she actually makes for a credible mentor/antagonist, as was the case in Constantine.

Doctor Strange‘s other saving grace is great production design (apart from this Dormammu guy, who looks like the writers described it as “generic evil CGI entity). Sets and costumes look great – and expensive, magic is not too shabby either. Casting is prestige Hollywood all over. Oh, right, casting, so easily outshone by Miss Swinton that it’s like she’s actually able to manipulate screen time.

Benedict Cumberbatch keeps on auditioning for the Bond role, driving a sports car over the speed limit in a tuxedo, which owns him the stupidest accident ot recent memory (a neuro-surgeon checking CAT-scans while driving at night, really?) and equipped with a rotating display for his collection of super expensive wrist watches. Forget about his smug attitude and God complex, the rotating wristwatch display says all about what a self-imbued, callous moron Steven Strange is: definitely, the new James Bond will be a throwback to the Roger Moore era. His love interest is played by Rachael McAdams, which has the virtue of answering the question what she has done lately, not that it was a very interesting one. Madds Mikkelsen plays Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner with his customary inexpressiveness, with the help of “Strong Zealot”, “Tall Zealot”, “Blonde Zealot” (one can’t help loving that one) and lots of glitter. Chiwetel Ejiofor looks gloomy about having to feature in the sequel, and Benedict Wong plays Wong, because the writers couldn’t come up with a better Chinese name.

The final showdown is rather good for once; the vilains stop their annoying antics and get their comeuppance like nothing had happened. Comedy scenes rub shoulders incomfortably with lines like “Who are you in this vast multiverse, Mr Strange?”, an instant contender for 2016’s worst dialogue. The nature of reality is once more questioned, only to be swiftly put aside as a perfunctory plot point. After the movie ends, all sorts of questions remain unanswered, the least of which not being how The Ancient One built three sanctums (Suspiria, anyone?) in New York, London and Hong Kong,& centuries before these cities even exist. All in all though, a decent entry in the Marvel canon.

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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

You’re In The Army Now… Again!

A big fat neutered cat of an action movie, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (henceforth: JR2) has Tom Cruise, probably unaware the title tells him never to, well, going back to the army to clear up the name of a girl he thought at some point of their telephone exchange would be worthy of a diner invitation. Yes, that’s quite about it. Of course, there is something fishy in Afghanistan, rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb, weapon smuggling, etc. and Mr Cruise can practice his favourite hobbies: climbing stuff and chasing cars. Cats and dogs, all wrapped in that tiny bundle of joy.

If a movie is only as good as its villain, one will let you choose between the professional assassin appearing or vanishing at will, the old guy with the earpiece, and a French. If you need some time to think, please absorb a few fun facts along the way:

– It is extremely easy to escape from a military prison.
– A driver can be put in charge of the freshly proven ineffectual prison security without anyone noticing.
– A trained soldier armed with a meat cleaver will cower in fear of bullets shot in another direction.
– Annoying teenagers are punished by imprisonement in a very expensive art school.
– Twin beds are deterrent to sexuality.
– Afghanistan is sepia.

Everything is played by the book and it’s a very boring one. The only redeeming feature of JR2 is that Cobie Smulders (Robin Scherbatsky in the vastly overrated How I Met Your Mother) is a trooper when it comes to kick ass. Tom Cruise has obvious chemistry with her and he’s very good in a couple of mute scenes. But please, Tom, never go back there.

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The Crown #6: Gelignite

A Bit Of Fluff

Although its title bears the promise of some action at last, Gelignite is unfortunately as explosive as a soggy crumpet. Basking in the dual spotlight of her newly acquired status as the most famous woman in the world and the dashing handsome couple she forms with her consort, Elizabeth Regina starts unscrewing lightbulbs in the air at the back of her Rolls-Royce while crowds deliriously cheer her appearance. But opening the Pandora’s box with her public coronation has unleashed, among other barbarian monsters, the threat of a scandal about Princess Margaret’s willingness to marry not only a commoner, but a divorced one. The Press is quick at interpreting her picking a bit of fluff off Peter Townsend’s lapel as a cue to further intimacy. The tricky situation has to be defused right away.

Remember the Egyptian unrest, which figured prominently in Sir Winston’s preoccupations a couple of episodes ago? You’re forgiven if you don’t. Some kind of an historical context has to be delivered though, so Nasser deposes King Farouk, allowing HRH Philip, Duke of Edimbourg, to have a casually racist brush with foreign affair while sipping brandy with his likeminded pals. Later on, a curious scene of French cancan pans over bottles of Dubonnet: the Empire, see is dancing on the edge of an abyss akso known as misalliance.

A double date brings together the royal couple and the illegitimate one. Margaret spills the beans. Philip will have none of this nonsense and turns his back to his lifelong friend / flying instructor. Elizabeth, decidedly a hot head, promises not to make too much of a hell of her sister’s life before she turns 25 and is therefore allowed to marry who she wants. The problem with that particular queen, though, is she has a very effective embedded cooling system for that hot head, and ready as she may appear to break every rule, she will do nothing of the sort before taking advice.

According to the plot, what goes wrong does so because Peter outshines Her Majesty during a visit to lovely, sunny Northern Ireland. The Queen is having no joy not being the center of attention, and one can’t help but wonder how much of her regal life is spent watching reruns of herself. Townwend is quickly dispatched to the outer realm (Brussels, in that instance), much to Margaret’s furor. “You are cruel”, she spits at her sister. Ouch.

It’s good to see the Windsors discovering at last their domain of excellence: gossip, scandals and misalliances of all kind. They obviously lack the consumed practice they have acquired by now in smoothing the feathers of increasingly disatisfied subjects, still superbly ignored by the writer. He however condescends to show phone operators repeatedly plugging in antiquated switchboards, like the brave bolts and clogs they are. Two scenes elicit giggles: a piece of British love-making in which a woman in tweed and jodhpur kisses a man in a Barbour; and yet another ludicrous parallel editing between London and Rhodesia, as another concession to a life beyond the Kingdom. At the end, Prince Philip leaves his wife for yet another brawl with his buddies and she walks alone accross the vast halls of Buckingham Palace. Poor little rich Queen.

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