Sightless – review

Brief synopsis: After a violinist is blinded in a violent assault, she wakes up in a hospital bed and is told that she will be blind for life. She calls her brother and he arranges an apartment for her and a part-time nurse. When she begins to hear strange sounds and suffer nightmares, she thinks that she might be losing her mind. 

Is it any good?: Not really, no. Sightless takes ideas from far better films – Shutter Island and Misery to name two – and fashions a convoluted story that promises more than it delivers.

Spoiler territory: a young, blind woman, Ellen Ashland (Madelaine Petsch), makes her way across her apartment to a balcony. She climbs over the rail and jumps. A month earlier she was in the hospital, waking after being assaulted and blinded by a chemical being thrown into her face. 

With her eyes still bandaged, a nurse, Omar (Deniz Akdeniz) comes and speaks to her. He takes her bandages off. This is the first time Ellen realises she cannot see. Omar tells her that he will go and get the doctor to speak with her. He knocks twice on the wall as he leaves.

Doctor Katsuro (Mathew Yang King) comes in to examine her. The doctor tells her that the damage to her eyes is irreversible. Ellen speaks to Detective Bryce (Jarrod Crawford) about the assault. She tells him that the only valuable item she had was her violin. She is sure that the assault was personal. 

The detective asks if it could be her ex-husband or a fan, as she is famous. Ellen tells him that she has not been famous for a long time. Bryce tells her that her type of fame never goes away. He assures her that they will catch her assaulter. 

Omar comes to see her later. He has her brother on the phone. He is in Japan but has arranged an apartment for her and a part-time nurse, Clayton (Alexander Koch). The nurse comes highly recommended. 

Ellen moves into her new apartment. She is woken by knocking on her bedroom door. She is in her new apartment and Clayton has come to meet her. He has keys. A reluctant Ellen allows Clayton to enter the bedroom. She tells him that she does not remember coming to the apartment. Clayton looks at her medication and tells her it probably knocked her out. 

He tells her about the layout of the apartment and that he will prepare lunch for her. Ellen leaves her bed and goes into the lounge-cum-dining area. Clayton explains that he will be there on the weekdays from eleven to two. He is there to help her adjust to her new reality. He leaves, telling her he has to go to his next appointment. 

Ellen calls her friend Sasha but gets her answer machine. She goes to sleep and is haunted by the night of the assault. The next day, Clayton brings her a parrot. Ellen asks him what colour it is. He tells her that it can be whatever colour she wants it to be. He explains that she is as free as her mind allows her to be. 

Ellen walks over to the balcony and calls Clayton over. She tells him that she can hear all the street sounds clearly at that window but, she walks over to an adjacent wall’s window, she cannot hear anything at that wall. Clayton tells her that it is because the window has thicker glass. He tells her that she has a phone message. 

It is from the detective. There were no fingerprints and most of the suspects are accounted for. They did find a boot print. Clayton tells her that she is safe in the apartment. Ellen scoffs, telling him that is what her ex-husband always told her; that she was safe with him. 

She asks Clayton if he googled her. Clayton lies but quickly admits that he did. So he knows about her ex-husband’s shady past and financial impropriety. Her husband destroyed a lot of people’s lives, including her friend Sasha’s. Imprisoned for his crimes, Ellen believes that one of the people that he ripped off is targeting her because they cannot get to him. 

Clayton asks her about her music. She had been a child prodigy, her album a bestseller. She does not want to talk about her musical past. Clayton tries to keep talking but she shuts him down. After lunch, Clayton tells her he is leaving but is leaving her a gift. He gives her a cane. 

Alone, Ellen turns on the television but she cannot find a channel, the television just giving off static. She puts on some music and picks up the cane. Later, Ellen lays in bed trying to sleep. She hears footsteps and tries to call security. She gets an answering machine. She gets up and checks the front door. 

Ellen goes into the bathroom. She pauses, a bottle of pills in her hand. She nervously puts the pills down and calls Clayton. As he answers, she ends the call. He calls her back. Ellen tells him it was an accident and ends the call again. She hears a woman crying and a man shouting at her. The voices are coming from the air vent. 

The next day, Ellen tells Clayton about what happened. He tells her that her senses are going into overdrive and fooling her. He asks her if she wants to go out for lunch. No, she does not. Later, she stands by the balcony window listening to the outside world. 

She leaves the apartment and goes to the apartment next door and rings the bell. Nobody answers. She leaves a note on the door. Clayton is over again. He is taking Ellen through some computer commands. She does not want to learn about the computer. 

She asks him how he got into this line of work and why. He tells her it was because his mother was sick growing up. He tells her that because she was bedridden, she would, with his help make ornate birdcages. It is what helped to give him a vivid imagination, something he finds useful in his work, dealing with different personalities. 

Ellen asks him to describe what is happening outside. Clayton tells her what is happening in the outside world. She asks if she can ‘see’ him. He lets her touch his face. Clayton leans in to kiss her but an alarm interrupts him and he loses his nerve. He leaves. 

Alone in her apartment, Ellen is drinking. There is a knock at the door. Lana (December Ensminger), the woman from next door, calls to her. She saw the note. Ellen opens the door. Lana introduces herself and tells her she brought tea. Ellen tells her that she is blind. Lana looks around the apartment. She takes out a cigarette and asks Ellen if she minds her smoking. Ellen tells her she can smoke outside.

Lana lights up anyway, especially on hearing that Ellen’s brother is a smoker. Lana asks about her brother. She then asks her about losing her sight. How does she know that she lost her sight and was not always blind? A panicked Lana tries to leave. Ellen grabs her. She feels her face and feels stitches on it. Lana whispers in her ear, telling her not to trust anyone. 

Lana leaves the apartment. Her husband, Russo (Lee Jones), is back. Ellen calls Clayton and tells him that she thinks Lana’s husband assaults her. Clayton tells her he met the husband and that he is a nice man. She calls detective Bryce. He sends a police officer over. She speaks to him again. He tells her that the neighbour has a bit of a history for histrionics and is not mentally stable.

The next day, Ellen is talking to Clayton and telling him that she hears the same sounds at the same time every day. The next day, she calls him over to the window as she hears the car. There seems to be a pattern. He tells her that the man gets picked up the same time every day when he arrives at the apartment. 

He tells her that she is letting her other senses overwhelm her. Later, Ellen is listening at the air duct. Before she retires, she stands in her bathroom remembering the night of the attack. She contemplates suicide again. 

The next day, Ellen goes to see Lana and encounters Russo instead. He intimidates her, telling her she is paranoid. Clayton comes to see her. He tells her he has feelings for her and thinks it would be better if he gave up his position. He tries to kiss her again and she recoils. Ellen tells him she needs him to be professional and get her through whatever she is going through at that moment. Clayton apologises and leaves.

She calls Sasha again but gets her voicemail. She gets attacked by a masked assailant in her apartment. She passes out after being strangled. She wakes up to the voice of a paramedic, Rafferty (MIkandrew). He tells her that he tended to her wrist wounds. He cannot see any neck marks. He leaves the room. Clayton comes into the bedroom. 

He tells her he is worried about her drinking. Ellen speaks to detective Bryce. He tells her that Sasha has disappeared and the boot print he found is Sasha’s size. He thinks she attacked her. Ellen tells him that a face mask was the last thing she saw. Bryce tells her there are no signs of a break-in and no one was seen on the security cameras. 

A fraught Ellen realises that no one believes her versions of events. Clayton comes to see her the next morning. After he leaves, Ellen dictates a suicide letter to the computer. She goes to her balcony, climbs over and jumps. 

A while later, Ellen wakes up on the floor of a dark room. She can still hear the same sounds but everything around her is different. She feels her way around. Her fingers are met with soundproof cladding. As the outdoor sounds continue, Ellen tries to find an exit. She feels her way back to the balcony and climbs back into the apartment. 

She tries to escape, going out of the apartment to the lift. It does not work. A panicked and confused Ellen knocks on Lana’s door. She tells Lana that she left her lighter in her apartment. In the apartment, Ellen starts the water running and whispers to Lana, asking her why they are there. Lana tells her it is because she saved them. Russo comes to get Lana. 

Clayton turns up after Lana and Russo have left. Ellen confronts him about his lies. He tells her it is to help her acclimatise to her new reality and because she is suffering from PTSD. Ellen relaxes and he prepares dinner for them both. 

At dinner, Clayton gives her a violin. He tells her it can help her get back to her old self. The oven dings. Clayton knocks twice on the table and it triggers memories of the multiple interactions she has had with people since her assault and their commonality. 

Ellen realises that all of her interactions have been with Clayton. She asks him to have a drink with her, telling him to take a seat. She drops the drink she hands to him. As he goes to pick it up, she hits him with a knife block. She takes his keys and leaves the apartment. 

She finds herself in a warehouse. She feels the costumes of all the characters Clayton had inhabited. She finds Lana and tells they need to leave. Lana tells her that she is home. She is his sister. She tells Ellen that she cannot save her like she saved Clayton. She saved him from the dark. 

Ellen hears Clayton. She is still trying to persuade Lana to leave with her. Lana tells her she has to go alone and there is only one way out and it is back in the apartment through the air duct. Ellen leaves the room but is immediately caught by Clayton. He knocks her out and ties her up. 

When she comes to, he tells her that his father abused him by locking him in the same basement that she is in for three and a half years. He only had his imagination to keep him company. His sister snuck music into the basement; Ellen’s music. The only way she could understand how it was for him was if she was blind to everything as well. 

Ellen tells him that she will make his world real but only if he can be himself, not the multiple characters he has been. Clayton is hesitant. She takes the chance of his distraction to grab his taser and shocks him unconscious. She gets to the air duct but realises it is not large enough for her to get out of. All she finds is a vial in it. 

Clayton catches up with her in the apartment and throws her around as she tries to escape. He grabs her, seeing the empty vial in her hand. She spits the contents into his face blinding him. Clayton begins shouting for his sister. Lana comes and lets Ellen out, taking out of the basement. 

Six months later, a still blind Ellen has started playing the violin again and is about to do a concert. The end. 

Final thoughts: Sightless is a moderate, if slightly underwhelming, thriller. Written and directed by the backward named Cooper Karl, it is a film a little too clever for its own good. Karl shows the story mostly through the perspective of the blind Ellen, so before the revelation that her present existence is fabricated, there is no real indication as to where the film is going. 

All the other character that the viewer sees are creations of Ellen’s imagination, in a visual sense, brought to life by Clayton. The PTSD could have been caused by hallucinogens given to Ellen by Clayton but that is left somewhat unclear. 

Because the film is shot entirely within the confines of the apartment and fake building, there is never any sense of the ridiculousness of the story – how come nobody noticed a world-famous violinist had gone missing? – so one is not pulled out of it by those thoughts, which is a good thing. 

The film moves at a good pace, even if nothing seems to really happen. Petsch is very watchable, her performance easily making one forget that she is in Riverdale. Koch is similarly impressive as the not quite trustworthy Clayton. 

The film is well directed by Karl and looks good with the shot selection and constantly keeps the viewer confused as to what is going on. Ensminger is fine as Lana but the character is mostly exposition and has very little else to do. 

Clayton’s reasoning for blinding and kidnapping Ellen is as bad and equally ungrateful as the reasoning of Yashida in 2013’s The Wolverine, repaying a good deed with an extremely horrible one. 

At one-hundred-and-twenty-nine minutes long, Sightless is not a long film and bumps along quite quickly. Unfortunately, it is not as smart as it would like to be. 

The Lovebirds – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: a jaded couple split up as they drive to visit friends. On the drive, they hit a cyclist. The cyclist gets up and jumps on his bike, refusing help. A man follows up and tells the couple he is a policeman and they need to pursue the cyclist. When the man kills the cyclist, the couple finds themselves on the run for murder and pulled into a blackmail conspiracy.

Is it any good?: The Lovebirds is, apparently, a comedy. It is awful. Starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, who are both adept comedians in their own right, The Lovebirds is a laborious, unfunny, forced, overly-contrived mess of a film. Somehow, it managed to score a six on IMDB. That is a score that is so much better than the film is. So much better!

Spoiler territory: Leilani (Issa Rae) and Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) are immediately enamoured with one another after a night of passion and become a couple. Four years later, the couple finds themselves bickering and sniping at one another’s various foibles. As they drive to visit friends for a dinner party, they keep arguing.

They decide that their relationship is not working and split up. As they keep driving, a cyclist, Bicycle – highly imaginative with the names – (Nicholas X. Parsons) hits their windscreen. They get out of the car to see if Bicycle, is alright. He gets up, refusing help and jumps on to his bike, cycling off. Leilani notices that Bicycle has dropped his mobile and picks it up but he is gone.

The confused couple return to their car but are then surprised by another man, Moustache – another great name – (Paul Sparks), who says he is a policeman and needs to pursue the cyclist. They let him take control of the car, no questions asked and help in his chase, because one would.

All three go after the cyclist. After a short pursuit, Bicycle turns down an alley and Moustache has an unobstructed run at him. He runs over Bicycle. He then backs the car up over him and runs over him again killing him. Moustache gets out of the car and goes over and checks Bicycle’s body. He turns back to the couple, pulling a gun. They realise that they are in danger. The fact that he had just deliberately run someone over multiple times was not enough of a give away apparently.

Moustache runs off at the sound of sirens, leaving a scared Leilani and Jibran. A passing hipster couple (Barry Rothbart and Catherine Cohen), see the Bicycle’s corpse and see Leilani and Jibran next to him. They assume that they killed him. Leilani and Jibran babble incoherently, speaking over one another, as they try to explain their predicament. The hipsters call the police. Leilani and Jibran decide to run off because…otherwise the film would end.

They go to a diner and try to look at their options. Jibran thinks they should go to the police. Leilani convinces him that it is a bad idea because, once again, if they did that it would end the film. She does not say that.

She receives a call from Bobby (Jaren Mitchell). He wants to know where they are as the rest of the diner party guest have arrived. Leilani makes up an excuse. She receives another call. It is from Detective Mary Martin (Andrene Ward-Hammond). She has the car that is registered to Leilani. Leilani tries to pretend the car has been stolen, telling the detective she is at home but the waitress returns to their table and asks if they want anything else. Jibran throws her phone into a milkshake because it’s funny.

Convinced that the police want them for the murder of Bicycle, they try to look at their options. A message alert comes up on Bicycle’s phone – mobile phone as a plot device, not seen that for a while…. – it tells of a meeting with Edie (Anna Camp) at a bar. Leilani wants to follow the clue. Jibran is not so sure.

They decide to go and find Edie. They take a cab to the bar. At the bar, they – unnecessarily – decide to act normal, proceeding to act as conspicuous as possible. They get a text from Edie. She is on the balcony. They go and meet her. Edie tells them to follow her. As they leave the bar, they are knocked unconscious. The wake up in a barn, tied to a couple of chairs, with an irate Edie. She wants them to hand over the photographs – a McGuffin that goes absolutely nowhere – they do not know anything about any photos.

Edie does not believe them. She is convinced they are the ones blackmailing her husband, congressman Brett (Kyle Bornheimer). Edie decides to torture them because…it’s in the script. She gives Jibran two options; boiling bacon oil on the face or what is behind the door. Jibran picks the door. There is a horse behind the door and it kicks him. Har-de-haw.

Leilani opts for the oil but Jibran escapes and they both escape from the barn. They go to a store and end up changing into some garish garments because this is a comedy. They do not take the tags off so the cashier has to scan the clothes on them! Whilst they are wearing them! Oh, the hilarity never stops.

Jibran had found an address in the barn and they decide to go and find out…something? Oh yeah, the pictures. They also continue to discuss their relationship. They catch a cab to the address. They break into the apartment. They find it full of frat boys who are putting photographs into envelopes. Leilani and Jibran decide they need to get hold of some of the photos. One of the frat boys, Steve (Moses Storm), discovers them in his room and ends up fighting with Jibran. They overpower Steve and question him about what they are doing. Steve tells them that they are just paid to put the photographs in envelopes.

While they are questioning Steve, Moustache comes into the apartment and kills the other frat boys. Steve tries to escape and runs into Moustache. Moustache kills him. Leilani and Jibran, having grabbed an envelope of photos, hide. Moustache does not see them. They escape from the apartment.

They look at the photos but they do not know what they are about. Neither do we but we could guess. It really does not matter. Jibran says they need to get into Bicycle’s phone but do not have the passcode. One of the people at the party they were on their way to – several hours before – can help, Leilani tells him. Jibran is not happy to find out it is Bobby (Jaren Mitchell), someone he is convinced she fancies. So there is that.

They go to the party and spin a stupid yarn about going to a boxing class before coming to the party. They can show a video of Jibran getting knocked out. It’s on Jibran’s phone. The party all want to see it. Jibran, due to taking so many punches, cannot remember his passcode. Bobby unlocks the phone.

Nobody wants to see the video or even asks about it. Surprise. Jibran finds an invite for a secret party on the phone. He tells Leilani and they borrow more formal clothing and attend the party. At the secret location, everybody wears a face mask. After a few drinks, the entire party decamp to an auditorium. Every member of the party has a paddle with a number on it.

A couple of men come to the stage dressed in robes and also in masks. They call out numbers, in a lottery fashion, and people start coming down to the stage. Leilani and Jibran watch the spectacle unfold, curious as to what is going on. The people who were called to the stage all start having an orgy. The orgy is interrupted by the men with robes.

They tell the gathered that there is a traitor amongst them. Leilani and Jibran, knowing they are the traitors, look around nervously. The robed man says that everyone has to remove their mask. Only Leilani and Jibran remove their masks, thus revealing themselves to be the traitors. The gathered mass begins to converge on them. An alarm goes off and they all scurry, leaving the confused couple in the auditorium.

The police come into the auditorium. At the police station, detective Martin tells them that traffic cams showed they did not kill anybody. They had turned up at the party to catch the secret society. Okay. She tells them that she just needs them to give a statement at a later date and they can go home. A police officer will take them home.

In the car, the police officer turns out to be Moustache. He is going to kill them but has to give out all the exposition first. After confessing and whining about money, he takes them to a dock. He plans to shoot them but they escape from their bonds and fight with him. Leilani ends up with his gun. Moustache grabs Jibran and threatens to snap his neck. Jibran ducks out of the way and Leilani shoots him.

The police come and arrest Moustache – he was not dead – and Leilani and Jibran get back together. A year later they are competing in The Amazing Race. The final task is to get on a horse. The end.

Final thoughts: The Lovebirds is a painful watch. The film is only eighty-eight minutes long but is so mis-paced that it feels longer. Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani are expected to work too hard to make an unfunny script work and the directing from Michael Showalter is pretty nonexistent beyond keeping the cameras in focus and occasionally changing camera angles.

The script by Aaron Abraham and Brendan Gall is poor. The McGuffin of prominent people being blackmailed by a bike courier and policeman and Leilani and Jibran getting pulled into this arbitrary nonsense in the most ham-fisted, unimaginative way possible, is too convoluted.

A comedy is meant to be funny. Having two talented comedic actors as your leads should help in that regard but a bad script with a weak premise will counteract any other element in a project.

The Lovebirds is not a rom-com or a farce but tries to shoehorn elements of those two genres into the film. Lacking any sparkling witticisms, The Lovebirds is a dull, plodding, ill-considered effort of a comedy. Give it a miss.

Como Caido del Cielo

Brief synopsis?: a famous singer and womaniser, stuck in limbo for over half a century, is given the chance to get into heaven but he must change his ways and live his life correctly in the body of another womaniser and impersonator.

Is it any good?: Como Caído del Cielo is an enjoyable rom-com for the most part. At one-hundred-and-two minutes long, it is a little too long for a romantic comedy and the story loses its way a little towards the end but it is executed with such panache and gusto that it would take a cynical heart to dislike this film.

Spoiler territory: The spirit of Pedro Infante (Omar Chaparro) is trapped in limbo. He cannot get into Heaven because he was a womaniser. Conversely, the joy he brought to many through his films and music means that he is not eligible for Hell either. Pedro argues that he had helped many people fall in love and the only reason he had not settled down was that women, believing him to be a womaniser, never took him seriously.

Pedro Guadalupe Ramos (also Chaparro), a Pedro Infante impersonator, is in a coma and attached to a life support machine. His lover, Samantha (Stephanie Cayo) is kissing him and crying over his prostrate body when his wife, Raquel (Ana Claudia Talancón) comes into the room.

Samantha, who is also Raquel’s cousin, hastily gets off of the bed.

Raquel, a police officer and obviously knows that something was going on between her husband and cousin, brushes past her and goes to Pedro’s side. Raquel’s father, Silvano (Manuel ‘Flaco’ Ibáñez), comes into the room shortly afterwards. He has a priest with him and the doctor. He tells his daughter that it has been three months and the family cannot afford to keep paying the medical bills.

Raquel points out that they would be fine if he had not gambled away the money her work colleagues had raised. Samantha says she can help pay. Raquel gives her short shrift, explaining she has already paid the bills. She asks the doctor if her husband would survive if he was taken off the life support machine. The doctor tells her that it is only the machine keeping him alive.

Raquel agrees to have the machine turned off. Infante is told by his two custodians (Roger Montes and Itza Sodi), that he will be given an opportunity to prove his worthiness for Heaven. He will inhabit the body of another and prove his worth that way. He is not allowed to tell anyone who he is and must remain faithful and cannot asks about his past.

Pedro is taken off of the life support machine. As Raquel is mourning his death, Infante’s spirit goes into Pedro and he springs to life. Now in Pedro, Infante sees Raquel first but does not know who she is. Silvano tells him that it is his wife. Infante kisses her passionately.

Back in his neighbourhood, the locals have prepared a welcome home party. Pedro, who was also known for his womanising ways, is very different and Raquel’s sister, Paty (Rocio Verdejo) and niece, Milagros (Elaine Haro), notice. Later, in the evening, as they are getting ready for bed, Raquel tells Infante that she has made up the couch for him.

Infante is confused, are they not married? Should he not be sleeping in the marital bed? Raquel tells him that their marriage was not in the best place before he fell into a coma. Infante persuades Raquel to let him stay in the bedroom. The next day, Infante’s charms continue to win over Raquel.

Raquel goes to work and Infante comes out of the house to find Paty admonishing her husband, Bobby (Juan Pablo Monterrubio), because he has forgotten that he needs to take their daughter for a dress fitting for her quinceañera. A mortified Milagros runs home. Infante goes after her. They end up talking about Raquel. Milagros tells him that her mum has told her that he cheats a lot. Infante says that he is a changed man. She also tells him that Raquel does not want to get pregnant because she does not trust that Infante will stay around.

Pedro’s clothing is uncomfortable to Infante, so when his pants get torn from bending over, Infante puts on his mariachi clothes. Infante gets spotted by Chava (Axel Ricco), who excitedly runs up to him, thinking he has remembered he is an Infante impersonator. He calls Chema (Alan Gutiérrez), the other member of their trio. Infante is confused about what is going on. Chava tells him there is a Pedro Infante competition at the Tijuana fair. Infante wants to go.

Raquel, who is helping to police the fair, is surprised to see her husband on stage singing. especially as he had been told to rest by the doctor. She is miffed as Infante sings to Samantha, who is at the fair as the local beauty queen. Raquel is not the only one who is unhappy, as the town mayor, Alcalde (Marco Treviño) fumes at Samantha’s reaction.

Infante moves off from a surprised Samantha and heads to Raquel, serenading her in front of the entire town.

As the prizes for the best impersonator are being given out, Infante, who gets the runner-up prize, is given the award by his own granddaughter, Jenny (Yare Santana). She says that though her grandfather was a great singer he was not the best example of how to treating women well. Infante tries to talk to his granddaughter afterwards, hurt a little by her words. She tells him that he was the best Pedro Infante impersonator and should have won.

Pedro and Raquel head home. Their life is going well and, the next day, Raquel is about to leave for work when there is a knock at the door. She answers the door. It is a lawyer. He has divorce papers for her to sign. A furious Raquel chases him out of the house, even as he tries to protest his innocence.

A couple of the mayor’s men catch up with Infante and he runs off with them giving chase. Samantha drives past and rescues him. She drives them both to the border and into America. Raquel laments her situation to some of her work colleagues. She hides her sorrow when the chief enquires about what is going on.

Infante struggles against Samantha’s advances as she tells him that they planned to run away together. He tells her that he needs to convince his granddaughter that Infante was not a bad man. He goes to her college and finds out where Jenny works. He goes to her workplace to talk with her.

He meets Laura (Laura de Ita), who is the host at the restaurant, Heaven, that Jenny works at. She tells Infante when Jenny’s break is and he intercepts her during her break. He asks her why she has those thoughts about her grandfather. The conversation takes a different turn and Jenny does not answer the question. Infante gets a job as a dishwasher at the restaurant.

Whilst cleaning, infante helps out a young man who is trying to woo a girl by singing. Outside the restaurant, Infante intervenes for the young man again when he is attacked. Infante fights the attacker off, chasing him away. Infante tries to get back with Raquel but she is still too hurt to listen to him. He serenades her again but ends up dreaming about her and mistakenly kissing the local female drunkard, much to Raquel’s disgust.

Infante sleeps in the restaurant not wanting to go back to Samantha. Laura checks out the security videos and sees that Infante is staying in the restaurant. He asks Jenny about sexism. He goes to see Raquel again, this time bringing her flowers to try and win her over. She still is too angry to accept his apology.

Laura tries to seduce Infante but he manages to resist her. Infante contacts Milagros to find out how much Raquel owes for the medical bills. He goes on a television show to try and win some money. His impression of himself gets him the first prize of one thousand dollars. He is allowed to gamble it on three unknown options.

He picks number two and comes off worse. Meanwhile, Samantha, who is running a beauty business, is looking for Infante thinking he is missing. One of her beauty customers recognises him and tells her that he works at the restaurant. She heads to the restaurant. Raquel also turns up at the restaurant.

Infante causes a diversion and runs out of the restaurant. He comes back in to see Raquel who tells him that she is prepared to give their relationship another try if he is being sincere about changing. Unfortunately, Samantha catches up with them and Raquel is crushed as Samantha tells her that she and Infante had plans. Raquel leaves. Laura, who had witnessed the exchange, pulls Infante away from Samantha, telling her that he does not want to be with her.

One of the restaurant customers comes up to Laura and ends up in an altercation with Samantha. As the incident escalates, Infante escapes. He runs into the custodians again and they tell him he is out of time. He begs for more time. They tell him that he can have another week. He goes to see Jenny. He does not think he can get back with Raquel. She tells him the one thing she always admired about her grandfather is he never gave up.

She offers to sell a bracelet that was left to her by her father, handed down from her grandfather. Infante tells her not to. He is desperate to find a way to help Raquel. He goes to see Samantha, to tell her he does not love her but needs money to help Raquel. The conversation does not go well. She tells him she spent all her money. Samantha has a customer. It is the man he helped with his girlfriend and the attacker. He happens to run a boxing gym and needs sparring partners. He employs Infante.

Infante proves a little too enthusiastic and knocks out one of the contenders for the upcoming fight night. Infante says he will fight instead as he needs the money. With Raquel nearing divorce, Silvano tries to pair her with the police chief. Infante trains for his fight. The weekend comes and Infante fights. He will earn one thousand dollars for every round he survives.

Everyone comes to the fight but not Raquel. Samantha tries to get him to leave before the fight because the mayor is there and will try to kill him. Infante refuses. He gets in the ring and takes a beating for the first half of the fight. Infante wins the fight. He gets kidnapped by the mayor’s men.

Jenny calls Raquel, who is at Milagros’ quinceañera. Raquel calls her colleagues and they go after the mayor. They catch up with the mayor and rescue Infante. Samantha makes Raquel see how much Infante loves her. They go to Milagoras’ quinceañera and Raquel tells him she is expecting a child.

The custodians return and tell Infante that his time is nearly up. He has made it into Heaven. He wants to stay but they tell him he cannot. He returns to the party and sings with Jenny. He has a heart attack and dies.

Some time afterwards, at the baby shower, Raquel nephew shows her a video on his phone of all the film he shot of them together. The end.

Como Caído del Cielo is a lovely film inspired by the life and music of Pedro Infante. Utilising some wonderful music and with a charming central performance by Chapparo, Como Caído del Cielo is a highly enjoyable romcom and homage rolled into one. Written and directed by Jose Pepe Bojorquez, with an additional writing credit for Alfredo Felix-Diaz, the film takes a well-known figure in Pedro Infante and uses elements of his life – he was both a singer and a boxer – and creates a fantasy film that both warms the heart and amuses.

Along with Chapparo, Talancón is perfect as the long-suffering wife of Pedro Guadalupe Ramos who benefits from Infante inhabiting his body. Santana is also very good as the granddaughter of Infante. The character of Jenny is fictitious, though Infante does have a granddaughter, Lupita, who has an executive credit on the film. She is also a singer.

Nearing the two-hour mark, the film is, as I mentioned earlier, a little long. I still enjoyed on a second viewing but that is really because I like a good romcom and the performances are very good. The central story is very good and you root for Infante as he races to raise money to help Raquel and win her heart.

Him dying towards the end is truly sad and brave on the filmmakers part as they could have gone down the route of another excellent spirit-possession romcom of old, the brilliant Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie from 1978. At the end of that film, which very much goes along the same lines as Como Caído del Cielo, Beatty’s character lives on with his love.

Como Caído del Cielo only scores six point four on IMDB but that is from less than one thousand votes and as a non-English speaking film is not likely to get as many eyeballs as your Hollywood romcom. That being said, Como Caído del Cielo is definitely worth a watch. Delightful.

Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C. J. Walker – review (Netflix)

Brief Synopsis: When black washerwoman Sarah Breedlove’s (Octavia Spencer) hair begins to fall out due to life’s stresses a chance meeting with hair ointment saleswoman Addie Munroe (Carmen Ejogo) helps her to regrow her hair and regain her confidence.

When Addie refuses to accept Sarah as a salesperson, seeing her as no more than a washerwoman, Sarah strikes out on her own, working under her second husband’s name, C. J. Walker (Blair Underwood) and build an empire selling hair care products to black women across North America.

Is it any good?: Yes and no. Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C. J. Walker is entertaining and the acting is first-rate across the board. The story is interesting and resonates with anyone who has ever felt like an underdog.

Unfortunately, the telling of the story is somewhat uneven not only in execution but in tone. Spanning four episodes and running for just over three hours, Self Made should have had more of an emotional impact and worked better than it did.

Spoiler territory: Sarah Breedlove is a washerwoman and she is struggling to make ends meet and with hair loss. Her husband, Davis (Robert Ifedi), returns to the home a drunkard after a period in prison. He leaves her, disgusted by her appearance. At her wit’s end, Sarah is about to give up on life but then she meets Addie Munroe.

Addie takes pity on her and helps her to regain her hair by treating her scalp with a hair balm she had come to sell. In exchange for Sarah washing her clothes, Addie continues to treat her scalp. A few years into the treatment, Sarah suggest to Addie that she could sell to her community.

Addie, an attractive woman of mixed race, does not like the idea. She does not feel that Sarah has the right look to sell her products. Sarah, determined to show Addie she can sell, takes some of the tins of hair balm and sells all of them. She returns to Addie with, what she feels is, good news.

Addie is furious and tells her, in no uncertain terms, that she is not the type of look that she wants to be associated with her product. Sarah is crestfallen. She returns home and her new husband, C. J. Walker, comes in to congratulate her on becoming a new saleswoman. Sarah tells her that she never got the job and what Addie thought of her.

Sarah decides she is going to make her own hair balm. Her balm immediately takes off in St. Louis attracting the ire of Addie. Addie comes to see Sarah and tells her that she will fail and that she will have clothes waiting for her to wash. Sarah continues to go from strength to strength.

Sarah tells C. J. that they need to move to expand. C. J. does not want to move. They move to Indianapolis, with Sarah daughter, Lelia (Tiffany Haddish) and her new husband, John Robinson (J. Alphonse Nicholson). Sarah does not approve of John. She thinks he is a wastrel.

In Indianapolis, Sarah opens a hair salon. It does not go well and business is, initially, non-existent. C. J. Is ready to give up and go and work for somebody else. Sarah refuses to go back to being a washerwoman. Desperate, Sarah goes to the market and tells her story and offers black women the chance to look better, gain confidence and make their own money.

She decides to do hair for free to get the business started. The business is soon flourishing. Sarah wants to expand more. C. J. wants to be more cautious. Sarah wants to make the company legal. C. J. introduces her to Ransom (Kevin Carroll), a lawyer working as a bellhop at a local hotel. Ransom is reluctant to get involved. After an unsavoury incident at the hotel, he takes the job.

Addie follows Sarah to Indianapolis and opens a salon. The women are at war. Addie comes to the local black church and makes a play for Sarah’s customers. Sarah hits back with a better deal but it means more production. In the efforts to increase production, the little favoured John leaves the product unattended and the salon burns down.

Addie takes the opportunity to steal all of Sarah’s customers. Sarah decides that she will adopt the name Madam C. J. Walker. Sarah approaches the prominent black businessmen in Indianapolis in an effort to open a factory. The men are reluctant to back a woman, addressing C. J. during the discussions. They turn her down. Sarah realises she needs more. She is determined to get Booker T. Washington (Roger Guenveur Smith), the most prominent black man in the city, to endorse her.

Sarah is determined to get to see Booker T. Roman tells her that Theodore (Martin Roach), the mortician and most prominent businessman in town, wants to talk to her. She goes to see him but he tries to rape her in exchange for his endorsement.

C. J. gets tickets for Booker T.’s talk but tells Sarah that she can only come to be with the women. Sarah will not accept that and insists on going to the talk. At the talk, Washington introduces Addie to the stage but he does not let her speak. Sarah tries to persuade Washington’s wife, Margaret (Kimberly Huie), to put in a word but Margaret is reluctant, telling Sarah she does not involve herself with her husband’s business.

Ransom invest in Sarah’s venture, not realising that the money he got from his cousin, Sweetness (Bill Bellamy) is illicit. After being coerced by Sarah to talk to Washington whilst he was in the bathroom, C. j. tells Sarah that Washington is coming to dinner. As the night wears on and Washington does not show, Sarah gets the real story out of C. J.

Ransom rings a friend to find out about Washington’s thoughts. He tells Sarah that Washington has no interest in women’s beauty products and thinks them frivolous. An angry Sarah kicks everyone out of the house. Lelia has her sexuality challenged by Esther (Mouna Traoré).

C. J. gets this head turned by Dora (Sydney Morton), who persuades him to come to a jazz club with her. Sarah decides to try with Margaret again. She talks at Washington’s next conference but he is not pleased by her gracing his stage and talking about female enterprise and tells her so in the most chauvinistic of terms.

Sarah wants to remortgage the house to build the factory. C. J. is opposed to the idea but Sarah goes ahead with it anyway. C. J. feels emasculated. Margaret’s women group come to the rescue financing the factory opening. John goes to see Addie. He will get her information on Sarah for a price. Ransom sees Dora and C. J. getting closer.

Sarah’s business is quickly expanding and she recruits more sales agents as well as opening five more salons with her top saleswomen. Sarah suspects John is up to something. C. J. comes up with a new ad campaign. It does not look anything like Sarah who is dark-skinned. C. J.’s ad depicts a light-skinned woman.

Sarah wants to go to New York to expand the business. She wants to see the most successful store owner in the country, Winston Moreland (Michael Brown). She hopes to put her products in his stores. In New York, Sarah and Lelia are blown away by the amount of and variety of black people they see. C. J. stays back. Dora continues to seduce C. J.

John searches for Sarah’s hair balm formula. C. J.’s father, Cleophus (Garrett Morris) tries to warn him about dallying with Dora. Sarah tries to sell her products to Moreland but he is not so receptive without C. J. around.

Dora gets the other top agents to jump ship and work for Addie. Back at the restaurant, W. E. B. Dubois (Cornelius Smith Jr.), a prominent civil rights activist, comes into the restaurant. He knows of and recognises Sarah. He comments on her notoriety, having heard about her speech at Washington’s conference.

Sarah returns to find out that her top five agents have left to work with Addie. At the same time, Sweetness comes and blindsides her, telling her he is an investor in her business. Sarah goes to see Dora and catches her with C. J. Ransom fights with his cousin. Sarah kicks C. j. out.

Sarah shows the board of Moreland’s stores around the factory but a drunk C. J. interrupts the meeting ending her chance of getting her products in the stores. Cleophus tells Lelia that John has been seeing Addie. Addie goes and catches him and tells him she is going to divorce him.

Sarah decides to expand into New York. Lelia will go ahead and set up the salon. Lelia plans to go with Esther but Esther gets cold feet and does not show up for the trip. C. J. tries to get back together with Sarah. She rejects him.

Sarah opens a new salon, The Dark Tower, in Harlem. Sarah moves to New York. At a party celebrating the move, Sarah collapses. When the doctor comes and sees her, he tells her that her kidneys are failing and she only has a year to live. Sarah does not tell anybody. She decides to have a convention.

Sarah tells Leila that she wants a grandchild and that she needs to get a husband. C. J. turns up in New York. He wants a divorce. Lelia goes to see her girlfriend, Peaches (Keeya King). Peaches tells her that she knows the heir to the Saunders drugstore chain and can help get the products into his stores.

At a photoshoot for the hair products, Sarah meets the young model, Fairy Mae Bryant (Kiki Hammill). Addie rings Sarah and threatens to expose her for stealing her hair balm formula. Sarah goes to see Percy Saunders (Stuart Hughes) to try and get her products into his drugstores. The meeting goes well and he is happy to do business with her.

Sarah goes to see C. J. After spending some time with him, she signs the divorce papers. She catches Lelia kissing Peaches. She tells Lelia that she is dying and wants an heir. Lelia promises to settle down. The next day, Sarah is having a meeting with Ransom. Ransom is distracted. Sarah asks what is up with him. He tells her that Sweetness took his son out for some ice cream but cross some white men and ended up getting lynched.

Sarah returns to Indianapolis for Sweetness’ funeral. Addie confronts her. Sarah returns to New York to host her convention. Her employees are protesting on her lawn about her death with the Saunders drug company. They feel it will put their salons out of business. Sarah goes to see her neighbour, John D. Rockefeller (Frank Moore). She tells him that she is having trouble with her employees. He tells her to ignore them and fire them.

The disgruntled employees continue to protest as the party continues in the house. Sarah releases Leila from her obligation to give her an heir. Lelia tells her that she has adopted Fairy Mae. Sarah decides against the deal with the white-owned Saunders drugstore chain, telling her gathered employees that they will be the ones to grow her business. The end.

Final thoughts: Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C. J. Walker is an entertaining, if mildly frustrating, four-parter. Octavia Spencer is perfectly cast as the driven and determined Sarah Breedlove/Madam C. J. Walker. One believes her when she is downtrodden and feeling low but also when she bullishly steps into the white and male-dominated world of business.

Carmen Ejogo is also good as the jealous Addie Munroe, likewise, Blair Underwood’s C. J. Walker is totally believable as the ignored spouse. Tiffany Haddish dials back her usual gregariousness to play the sexually confused Lelia, her relationship and chemistry with Spencer working brilliantly.

Sydney Morton’s Dora fills out the secondary bad-light-skinned-girl role with aplomb also. The music for the series is also very good, driving a positive message of entrepreneurship. At forty-five to forty-nine minutes an episode and well-paced, Self Made, moves along quite quickly, the story being compelling enough to make you want to watch the next episode.

With the writing credited to five different writers, with the bulk of the writing going to A’leila Bundles – who wrote the book the mini-series is based on – and Tyger Williams. The directing of the episodes is split between Demane Lewis – episodes three and four – and Kasi Lemmons – one and two.

The frustrating thing with Self Made is the tone. More specifically, its unevenness. There are a lot of really powerful scenes in the series as a whole, as well as some interesting commentary on colour as a whole even just within the black race. Unfortunately, Ejogo’s Addie is somewhat cartoonish at points in her relentless pursuit in the destruction of Sarah.

There are hints of a deeper character in the series – when she speaks with her, much darker-skinned, mother and her violent relationship with her ex-spouse. This is all left by the wayside, Ejogo instead required to go full Disney villainess. Underwood to suffers the same fate, his C. J. initially portrayed as a good, supportive man but is slowly reduced to a drunken buffoon. In fact, except for Carroll’s Ransom, all of the black men in the series are portrayed as misogynist, weak-willed or buffoons.

Light-skinned women do not come out much better, a surprise considering both the directors are light-skinned women. Both the aforementioned Ejogo’s Addie and Morton’s Dora are portrayed as looks blessed but character deficient. And when C. J. shows Sarah his idea for a campaign it depicts an image of an idealised, light-skinned. black woman on a bicycle, something that is shown as playing on Sarah’s psyche as she is taunted by a beautiful ‘Walker’ girl on a bike portrayed by Joanne Jansen.

The series does not settle on a tone, even for an entire episode. Sometimes it is serious at other times it is uplifting, which would work if one was given any time to know any of the characters. Even Spencer’s Sarah is not entirely fleshed out enough for one to know what drives her so relentlessly, even at the expense of her marriage, to pursue her dream.

One, of course, understands that for women, especially black women, that it was a difficult time in history. Such was the life of all black people at that time, a point driven home by Bellamy’s Sweetness getting lynched in the final episode. Still, it does not allow us to understand what it was that made her believe she could rise above her circumstances to become the ‘Oprah’ of her generation.

The racism that Sarah would – less than thirty years after emancipation – have faced, is barely touched upon. Because of this somewhat lightweight approach to the story, the heavier aspects seem somewhat out of place, crashing in on proceedings but not in a shocking way, more of an intrusive jolt.

There are some creative decisions that are…interesting. We get occasional glimpses into Sarah’s mind but it is not consistent enough to be integral to the plot so, once again, they seem a little out of place. Self Made, strangely, suffers from being too short. There is clearly more to the story than is portrayed and far more strands which could have been explored, not to mention the fleshing out of the characters.

That being said, Self Made is an enjoyable mini-series that I watched – all three-plus hours of – in one sitting. It is good enough to make one take an interest in the life of Madam C. J. Walker and if, for no other reason, it is worth watching for that.

Hot Bot – review (Netflix)

      This film scored a generous three point four on IMDB, so I knew, even with the bias of modern filmgoers, that it was highly unlikely to be even passably good. And it is not. Let me explain. 

      A German company, Hot Bot, has created an extremely lifelike sexual robot. The robots have not been granted a license in the United States, but rich senator, Biter (Larry Miller) has been sent a tape about the robots. He wants one and has one secretly flown over to the States. He orders a model named ‘Bardot’ (Cynthia Kirchner). 

     The robot is picked up by two secret service men, Agent Frazier (Anthony Anderson) and Agent Koontz (Danny Masterson). They do not know what the package is. As they are taking the package to the senator, it switches on and they end up losing it. 

     Loser students, Leonard (Zack Pearlman) and Limus (Doug Haley) work in a doughnut drive-in. On their way home from work, Leonard hits something with his car. He forces Limus to check under the car. Limes freaks out when he finds the robot under the car. He thinks that Leonard has killed her. They take the body/robot back to Limus’ house. 

    They hide the robot/body in Limus’ bedroom. Limus does not want his parents to find out. The next day the robot switches on. Limos cannot find her and he calls Leonard. Leonard turns up with a chainsaw, ready to cut the body up. They find Bardot in the bathroom. She immediately offers them her sexual services. 

    Leonard tells Limus that he can have sex with her first. He leaves them in the bedroom alone. Bardot is amorous at first but then suddenly switches off. Realising she is a robot, the two boys take her to Benny (David Shackelford), who owns a sex shop. Benny works out how to switch her back on. 

     Limus takes her back home. Meanwhile, the senator wants his robot back. He tasks Frazier and Koontz with getting her back. They go and interrogate Benny. He gives up Limus. Limus uses his father’s credit card to pay for Bardot. He hides her in his sister’s outdoor dollhouse. Bardot is a learning computer, so as she can act more human as she acquires information.

    Whilst Limus and Leonard are at school, Limus’ younger sister, Shaqobi (Arianna Jaffier) goes and shows the Bible to Bardot. Bardot absorbs the Bible and becomes a feminist. The boys take her out to the local arcade. Rodney (John Robinson), the local bully, sees Bardot and immediately invites her to his party, ignoring his actual girlfriend, Kassidy ( Kirby Bliss Blanton). 

    Benny warns the boys that the secret service is after them. They hide Bardot in a motel. Frazier and Koontz find them and tell Biter. He goes to see Limus. He tells him to bring Bardot back. The next day the secret service turns up at the motel with a lot of manpower. Benny goes out to meet them. He knocks out Koontz but is then knocked out by Frazier.

    Limus and Leonard surrender. Bardot decides to rebel and takes out all of the secret service-men. She leaves telling the boys it is too dangerous for them to be around her. She is picked up by Rodney. Rodney shows off by driving by the boys’ workplace with her. They decide to get her back as Limus is in love with her. They decide to go to Rodney’s party. 

     At the party, Rodney embarrasses Kassidy by flirting with Bardot. He then catches Limus and Leonard at his party and drags them out. Bardot protects them and hands Rodney a beating. Limus father stops his credit card after seeing the massive charges Limus has run-up. Bardot shuts down whilst driving. The secret service men retrieve the robot. The senator tells them to clean her up. 

     Limus connects with Kassidy, both are Star Trek nerds. Limus wants to get Bardot back. He and Leonard decide to sneak into Biter’s inauguration speech. The senator plans to unveil Bardot as part of his campaign in his run for president. The boys find Bardot but are caught by Fraizer and Koontz. Benny comes and rescues them. Bardot disconnects from the senator’s network and follows the boys. 

    They stumble into the wrong room and alert a whole load of secret service-men. They escape and take Bardot to the airport. Limus father, who is a pilot, takes Bardot through. She says goodbye to Limus and goes. Kassidy asks Limus out. The end. 

    Ha Ha, whoa. It is an insult to shit to say this film is shit. Every actor in the film should fire their agent because this must easily be the worse thing on their resumé. This is the sort of film that can curtail a career. There are outtakes at the end and in one of them, Zack Pearlman says; ‘comedies are harder than dramas.’ This film absolutely proves it! 

    Written – or scrawled on the back of a napkin – by Mark and Michael Polish, and directed by Michael, Hot Bot is a film made in the wrong decade. Not that if it was made in the eighties, the right decade for this tripe, it would have been any good.  

    I am lost for words to describe just how unwatchable this film is. As this is a review, I am forced to relate, with words, just how awful it is. I started writing the review ten minutes into the film because I knew I would need a distraction and a reason to get through it. 

     Hot Bot is a porn film without the porn. There are actual actors, who can act, in this abomination. This is the sort of film that must cause actors to turn to drugs and alcohol just to get through the production.

There is no way they did not know this was a bad film whilst they were making it. The film aims for Weird Science and misses by such a wide margin that I believe that the writers – sorry, makers of this crap – probably have never even heard of the film. 

     This is, supposedly, a comedy. I am going out on a limb and assuming that Mark and Michael are brothers. For anyone who has siblings or even close friends who are almost like siblings, there are things that you find funny that you just know would not be funny to the rest of the world. The Polish’s obviously never got that memo. Coen Brothers they are not. 

     Hot Bot is wretched and it is entirely down to the writing and directing. Hopefully, the Polish’s will not inflict their mediocracy on the masses ever again. Avoid. 

Viking Destiny – review

   Let’s talk about the title. Viking Destiny. Viking. Destiny. Not ‘A Viking’s Destiny’ or ‘Destiny of the Viking’. Viking Destiny. Is it about the destiny of the Viking people? Well, it sort of is. Let me explain, even if it does not explain, satisfactorily, the terrible title. 

   The Viking king, Asmund of Volsung (Andrew Whipp) leaves his pregnant wife, queen Alva (Victoria Broom) in labour because his people are in a battle for the kingdom. Though they are victorious in battle, the queen dies whilst giving birth to a baby girl. 

   Distraught and confused, his duplicitous brother, prince Bard (Timo Nieminen) persuades him to swap his daughter, who he says is cursed due to his absence at her birth, for his son, who is not only a male heir but will show his people and potential enemies, that he is not weak. The king agrees. 

   Twenty-one years later, Helle (Anna Demetriou), unknown to her, daughter of the king, is being secretly trained by Lord Soini (Will Mellor). She is a capable warrior. Elsewhere, the king watches his son’s, Hakon (Taylor Frost), feeble attempts at sword wielding. He is not a warrior. 

    Bard, ever egged on by the god of mischief, Loki (Murray McArthur), tells his niece, who still believe him to be her father, that to be favoured by the king, she must defeat his enemy, a mystical animal that dwells in caves. Craving his favour, Helle goes to the caves. 

   It is a trap and Bard sends men to kill her and her cousin, who has gone with her in an attempt to persuade her that she would be a better heir to the kingdom, as neither knew the other was with the wrong father. As they fight for their lives in the caves, Asmund is awakened by a dream. He comes and saves Helle, but is immediately killed by Bard’s men. 

   Hakon allows Helle to escape whilst he tries to fend off Bard’s men. She escapes and runs off to the forest. Bard, now the ruler of Volsung, is a tyrant. Loki still whispers in his ear and he wants the head of Helle. 

    Helle meets Vern (Laurence O’Fuarain), Tarburn (paul freeman) and Tait (Kajsa Mohammar) who are part of a group of travellers. She settles with them. Back in Volsung Lord Soini has gathered all those were loyal to the Asmund and gone in search of Helle. Bard has his right-hand man, Kirkwood (Ian Beattie), also out searching for the princess. 

   Helle, now found by Lord Soini and those loyal to her as the rightful heir to Volsung, is reluctant to go to war. She is visited by Odin (Terence Stamp), who persuades her it would be in her best interest. Shortly after embracing her duties as a leader and also persuading the travellers that it is in their best interest to fight as well, Bard and his cronies find them. 

   A battle ensues. Helle and her support crew win and she takes her mantle as the rightful queen of Volsung. The end. 

    This is not on a scale of some of my recent reviews, in terms of terrible, but it is still pretty bad. It looks quite good, as in the costumes, not the filming. The filming is patchy. No, that is not true, the filming is good. It is the editorial choices that are bad. Especially with the battle or fight scenes. 

   A lot of the largish scale battle scenes just look like LARPing, with everybody moving with such careful, staccato precision, you just don’t believe they are fighting. In the smaller, better-choreographed fights – Helle training, Bard and Helle, Asmund killing Steiner (Martyn Ford) – the fights look quite good, which make the battles look even worse in contrast. 

   The IMDB description of the film is more exciting than the actual film is. She does, indeed, flee her kingdom but only as far as the forest. That’s hardly travelling far and wide. The acting is good, though I am sure Terence Stamp only turned up for the pay cheque. Everyone commits to their part, such as it is, with Demetriou’s Helle and Nieminen’s Bard being the standouts. 

   Written, directed and produced by David L. G. Hughes – way too much name – it is more a case of jack-of-all-trades and master of none. The story is under written, the directing lax. With a relatively okay set up and stakes high enough to drive the story, Hughes completely ignores any sort of story arc or escalation of tension, going for easy mean, with Bard being bad, snarling throwaway lines. 

   This film is only slightly saved by the commitment of the actors to the material. A weaker cast would have made this film an absolute disaster and totally unwatchable. It is still not very good and I could not truly recommend watching it unless you love everything Viking. 

The Silence – a review (Netflix)

    How did Stanley Tucci end up in this? He needs to speak to his agent. Not that the rest of the cast cannot act, they undoubtedly can. John Corbett, a name not as well known as Tucci’s, but an actor whose face you will know, of long standing and has appeared in far better fare than this, also should be speaking to his agent.

    The Silence, the latest horror offering from Netflix, sees the Andrews family taking to the road when a plague of Vespas. – sort of mixture of a bat and a piranha fish. Not the popular Italian moped – attacks North America eating and killing every living thing in their path. The Vespas are attracted by sound. 

    Ally – Kiernan Shipka, better known as Netflix’s Sabrina – is deaf, having lost her hearing in an accident two years before. Conveniently, for the film, she speaks perfectly. Not that that matters. Forty minutes in and I had to put on the subtitles as the whole family, because of Ally, and the Vespa threat, communicate in sign language. I had no idea what was going on.

   As the threat escalates, the Andrews, Mum Kelly (Miranda Otto), Dad Hugh (Tucci), Ally, younger brother Jude (Kyle Breitkopf) and their sickly grandmother, Lynn (Kate Trotter) plus the dog and their single male neighbour, John Corbett’s Glenn, who initially leads the road trip. 

   The signpost for who is going to die first is almost neon-lit. Glenn’s single, the best friend of Hugh, has no family and is a man’s man when leading the trip. Of course, it is all going to go badly for him. He goes off the road and his jeep flips over as he tries to avoid hitting some deer. He then sacrifices himself to save the family from the Vespas. 

   Next to die is the dog. It’s a dog, silence is not a thing for a dog and it’s going to get everybody killed. Hugh, now forced to lead after his best friends death, releases the dog, much to Ally’s distress. Driving is too dangerous, so the family decides to proceed on foot. 

   As they search for somewhere to stay for the night, they come across a house surrounded by a metal fence. As they approach the house and pull on the fence, bells at the top of the fence clang. 

An ornery old woman (Barbra Gordon) comes out and starts to scream at them to get off of her land. She, obviously, is oblivious to the countrywide Vespa panic. Her screaming attracts her imminent and immediate death. 

   Now with somewhere to stay, the Andrews settle in. Unfortunately, Kelly had been bitten by one of the Vespas when they were trying to get into the house and needs antibiotics. Hugh and Ally go to the local town to see if they can find some. 

    In the town, Ally comes across a horrifying discovery when she sees several corpses hosting eggs for the Vespas. They also meet The Reverend (Billy MacLelland) a creepy fellow who wants them to join him. They decline. The Reverend’s tongue is cut out. 

    Later, back at the house, the Reverend turns up with several others. He wants Ally. Apparently, she is fertile. The family retreat to the house. Night falls and a young girl turns up at another side of the house. They let her in and she turns out to be part of the Reverend’s flock. She has a raft of mobile phones attached to her torso. When they all start to alarm, the Vespas swarm on the house. 

    As the Vespas attack happens, the Reverend’s people snatch Ally. Grandma Lynn follows after them, grabs a couple of them allowing Ally to escape and then screams her head off. The Vespas do the rest. More people grab Ally – where all of these people have come from is anybody’s guess – the family is now fighting and killing, trying to stop Ally getting snatched. Hugh kills the Reverend and the rest scatter. 

   The family head north, where it is colder and the Vespas have not adapted as yet, and meet up with other survivors. The end. 

    Deep breath. This film is a good story badly executed. Based on a novel by Tim Lebbon, the idea of an unknown, bloodthirsty species wanting to eat everything is hardly a groundbreaking one. People getting eaten is a horror staple. The slight – very slight – twist of the monsters reacting to sound is only a moderate improvement. 

   The problem with this film is the pacing, with it starting off quite briskly and then coming to an almost dead stop in the middle and then struggling to squeeze in what should have been the second and third act into the final fifteen minutes of the movies, similar to the Josh Trank’s confusing Fantastic Four. Though it is not as bad as that. 

  The other problem is the script by Carey and Shane Van Dyke. The actors spoke as though they were reading a lot of the time, the cadence unnatural and flat. None of the characters had individual voices, their speech patterns almost identical, making character differentiation muted.

  The plot point of having Ally as deaf is more convenient that meaningful, and, as I mentioned earlier, I was forced to switch to subtitles half an hour into the film. They also went with the dreaded voiceover, Ally spouting some nonsense about being apparently special since her accident. That particular plot point goes absolutely nowhere. 

   The film is ably if not especially excitingly, directed by John R. Leonetti. There is a frankly pointless, point of view shot he uses when the initial Vespa panic begins, seeing the world from Ally’s view. As it is never used again, it just pulls you out of the film. 

   The Silence is not the worst film on Netflix that I have watched, that would be a toss-up between Tomb Raider and The Trap, but it definitely makes the top ten or fifteen. I would not go as far as to say it is unwatchable, but it is poorly executed and because of that the glaring potholes in the film are apparent – how many Vespas? Really?  Hugh kills a load of them with a wood chopper. Why wouldn’t he leave it on? Or even go back to it? 

     At ninety minutes long and with the bad pacing, The Silence is too short for the story it tries to tell. Like many people will be, I was pulled in by the fact that Stanley Tucci is in this film. Unlike many, I can turn the downside – terrible film – into an upside – I review it. Save yourself the time and do not watch The Silence. You’re welcome. 

    

    

    

The New Legends of Monkey – review

Monkey was a late seventies Japanese television series that aired in the early eighties here in the UK. Quickly gaining popularity, it became a cult hit, with every teenage schoolboy – as that is what I was when it aired – rushing home to see it. Less violent than another martial arts series of the time, The Water Margin, Monkey told the story of three gods – Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy – and a monk – Tripitaka – who journey across China in search of ancient scrolls in order to save the world from demons. 

    As is the modern way and – some would say – the laziness of present-day production companies, remakes are a popular and – as long as they remain lucrative – will always be used as a proven route to a successful show. 

   The Legends of Monkey is the modern remake of Monkey. Though not a beat for beat remake, The Legends of Monkey is inspired by the cult classic and takes not only the premise but also retains the same characters, with even the boy monk, Tripitaka, being played by a woman. Originally played by the late Japanese actor, Masako Natsume, the modern incarnation of Tripitaka is played by Luciane Buchanan, a New Zealander of Tongan descent. 

   The production is a joint venture between the Australian Broadcasting Company, Television New Zealand and Netflix, reflecting the affection and popularity of the original show in that part of the world. 

   Chai Hansen takes the title role of the mischievous and egocentric Monkey, with Josh Thomson being Pigsy and Emilie Cocquerel, the only notable departure from the original series, with her taking the role of Sandy originally played by the male actor Shiro Kishibe. 

   This Antipodean interpretation of the show retains other elements of the original that made it so beloved around the globe, namely the fighting and the humour. Having made the decision to keep the central story premise and setting, there was the very modern and not at all unexpected furore over the casting of the actors. Wherein the original show had an entirely Japanese cast portraying a Chinese story – it was, after all, a Japanese production – the show was made in a very different time. It was pre the internet age, before social media, it even predates Netflix by almost twenty years. 

    That being said, the production boldly decided against casting any Chinese actors, casting predominantly from New Zealand and Australia. Not being Chinese myself and having little knowledge of how even how the original series was received in China – if it was even aired in China – this is not really an issue I feel I can confidently comment on. From my point of view, however, maybe it is the heightened sense of race-erasing that is in the media or my love of the original series, but when the show was initially announced and the cast was made known, this was the first thing that I noticed. 

   Still, I wanted to watch the show and give it a chance. I am glad that I did. The series is, as is the Netflix model, a ten-episode binge-able watch. Like the original show, they keep it short with each episode less than half an hour in length, comfortably sitting in sitcom territory. As it is a martial arts comedy, the drama is kept to a minimum, being just enough to carry the story but not so much as to be heavy or overwhelming. Truth be told, none of the elements that make up the show are dominant. The comedic moments are chucklesome as opposed to laugh-out-loud, the martial arts is competent without ever becoming truly dynamic. 

   The sets and costumes are good and show good production values, whilst the effects, though not of a Hollywood standard, are credible enough so as not to pull you out of the story. The strongest thing in Monkey is the aforementioned cast. They all inhabit the roles in a way that pays homage to the original show without parodying it. The supporting cast is also very good, with Rachel House as Monica, the gruff cyclopic innkeeper, a standout.

   Though not an unmissable show, I do feel that The New Legends Of Monkey is good enough to deserve a second season. I for one would be happy to see the further adventures of Monkey, Tripitaka, Pigsy and Sandy. Here’s hoping.

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.