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Television | Film | Conversation

In the 10/02/2021 edition:

Winner! Winner! ‘BINGO HELL’ filmmakers on the gentrification, manipulation themes within their Blumhouse TV horror-comedy

By Preston Barta on Oct 01, 2021 08:52 pm

Preston Barta // Features Editor

We’re officially in the spooky movie season, and Amazon and Blumhouse Television are welcoming horror fans with four brand new films under the umbrella Welcome to the Blumhouse

One of the streaming anthology event terrors is Bingo Hell from director Gigi Saul Guerrero (The Purge and Into the Dark series). The horror-comedy follows a band of elderly residents (Adriana Barraza, L. Scott Caldwell and Grover Coulson) from a local community fighting against a malicious bingo hall owner named Mr. Big (Richard Blake). 

Fresh Fiction had the opportunity to speak with Guerrero and co-writer Shane McKenzie (ABCs of Death 2.5) at the Austin-based film festival Fantastic Fest via Zoom Video. We discuss Bingo Hell’s visual language, getting to see Ms. Caldwell kick some butt and building authentic character histories.

Enjoy the conversation below, and catch Bingo Hell and Black as Night on Amazon Prime Video today! Two more movies to keep you up all night — Madres and The Manor — arrive next week on October 8.


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[Review] ‘NO TIME TO DIE’ delivers the expected action, has little connective tissue for Craig’s sendoff

By Preston Barta on Oct 01, 2021 12:11 pm

Preston Barta // Features Editor

NO TIME TO DIE

Rated PG-13, 163 minutes.
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Cast: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Rami Malek, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Jeffrey Wright, Rory Kinnear, Billy Magnussen, Ana de Armas and Christoph Waltz

Wrapping up Daniel Craig’s 15-year run as James Bond is a tall order no matter the amount of shaking and stirring. Just look at the five films he has done.

Casino Royale was a lucky hand and became a 007 favorite. Skyfall rose to that same level by slipping in some Dark Knight DNA into the spy cocktail. However, Spectre and Quantum of Solace were poorly-tailored additions that did nothing but muddied up the possibilities and damn near ruined what came before. (“I’m the author of all your pain?” Please.)

Spectre was not going to be a fitting farewell for Craig, and he deserved better than that. Despite how clunky and nonsensical the films are that surround him, the man always delivers the goods. Craig is a fantastic James Bond, and it’s sad to see him ride off into the sunset. (Although his continued detective adventures as Benoit Blanc in the Knives Out movies are going to scratch that itch. [Insert Le Chiffre’s itching scene from Casino Royale].)

So, here we are, after director changes and pandemic-related delays, with No Time to Die — a clunky and overly long conclusion with no stakes.

The repetitive nature of the series is just impossible to escape. How many times can our hero get called out of retirement? How often can we hop around the globe without much reason other than to show off the world’s beauty and boost tourism? And how many scarred-up villains is Bond going to go toe-to-toe with? These are all issues that I tried to put in the back of my mind while taking in No Time to Die. You have to go into some stories knowing that franchises have their formulas, just like we expect a James Bond movie to have cool gadgets and corny one-liners, which this entry does.

That said, Skyfall did something fresh for the franchise. It caused us to look at our heroes in a new way. Are they truly good people? Is the spy agency that Bond works for – MI6 – known to get its hands dirty? The questions of morality within that installment truly did shake up the franchise. But then along came Spectre to dilute it. With that in mind, that’s a lot of narrative excrement for No Time to Die to shovel. Unfortunately, it had no other choice but to acknowledge what came before. It’s similar to the most recent Star Wars trilogy. Rian Johnson shifted things into a new and exciting gear, but J.J. Abrams returned to close it out by erasing what Johnson did. Of course, it’s a bit different because the shoe is on the other foot, and No Time to Die is trying to correct Spectre without jam-packing the story with story. But it’s clear early on in No Time to Die that the filmmakers had little to no idea of how to keep from doing that.

In classic 007 style, No Time to Die opens with a scene before this year’s popular singer plays over the title credits. In this case, multiple scenes happen before then, and none of it caused me to lean in. It just felt off as if they were inserting deleted scenes. These moments could have been explored in other ways that weren’t so direct. It’s not until after the title credits, when a team of masked criminals scales down a building and breaks in, that I thought, “This is where the movie should have started! Now we’re talking.”

But after a while, that excitement fades, and the movie hits a lull. Then, it will spike back up again and hit another lull—and that carries on until the very end. Those transitional moments in between the action aren’t compelling enough. There’s the occasional sparkle, such as Ben Whishaw as the tech-savvy Q and jokes that awaken you, but it’s inconsistent. I don’t know if it’s because the movie tries to throw all these different tones into one bucket – the Roger Moore-era cheesiness and Skyfall seriousness – but whatever it is, it doesn’t jell together. Let’s leave Christopher McQuarrie to be the master of that with the Mission: Impossible films.

Rami Malek makes a fine villain. There are some scenes where he gets under your skin, especially toward the finale when he’s holding a child. You can feel that wickedness. But some decisions are made in the final moments that go against character a tad and are a bit frustrating.

Christoph Waltz is better in a short scene in this than the entirety of Spectre. Naomie Harris gets nothing to do but a desk job. Ralph Fiennes tries to bring gravitas to his role as M., but the script fails him. It’s all an equation—an equation that was worked out somehow in Skyfall and Casino Royale. But here, you aren’t invested enough to feel the impact of everything. If any impact is there, it’s all from the achievements and lifting from the better films.

Overall, No Time to Die is worth watching for Bond completionists. Some action scenes are truly worthy of note, like watching Ana de Armas kick some tail as an agency newbie. But the wows are all followed with too much disengagement.

Grade: C+

NO TIME TO DIE opens nationwide on October 8.


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‘FOUNDATION’ lays down a richly thematic soil to build an excitingly cerebral sci-fi series

By Preston Barta on Oct 01, 2021 09:16 am

Preston Barta // Features Editor

FOUNDATION

TV-MA, about 60 min. an episode.
Creator: Josh Friedman and David S. Goyer
Cast: Lou Llobell, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Alfred Enoch, Leah Harvey, Laura Birn, Terrence Mann, Cassian Bilton, Daniel MacPherson and T’Nia Miller

Great sci-fi sends the mind and heart racing—and Apple TV+’s new series, Foundation, does exactly that. It’s got a fantastic cast, a massive universe of opportunity, stunning popcorn-flavored visuals and thoughtful themes about fate versus determinism, legacy and the cyclical nature of history. While it throws a lot at you right out of the gate, you’ll reach a point when the dust begins to settle and its ideas take you on a journey worth tuning into each week.

Based on Isaac Asimov’s epic saga of the same name, Foundation begins when revolutionary Dr. Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) predicts the impending fall of the Empire. His theory sends the universe in a frenzy, attracting acolytes while others wish death upon him. Seldon and his followers (including Lou Llobell and Alfred Enoch) travel to the far reaches of the galaxy to establish the titular group that will work to rebuild and preserve the future of civilization. However, trouble is afoot when the ruling Cleons – a fascinating longline of emperor clones at different life stages (a very good Lee Pace, Terrence Mann and Cooper Carter) – fear their reign may be weakening as a result. Science, math and classic good versus evil come together for an exciting series launch.

Apple TV+ doesn’t get cheap with its aesthetics one bit. Instead, everything about the Foundation’s universe feels lived-in and authentic, from the production design, character costumes and technology. The logic of it all may cause you to scratch your head from time to time, but the conversations open up your mind in a fashion that forgives its shortcomings. 

Take, for instance, the series third episode, titled “The Mathematician’s Ghost.” I don’t foresee the series’ chapters being more profound than this one. In this relatively quiet and meditative episode, Brother Dusk (Mann), the eldest member of Cleons, is reaching the end of his life. Signs of his body failing him begin to show, and he cries for more time because he has finally reached a true point of tranquility. He has passed down all the knowledge to his brothers to keep the ruling of the Empire consistent. He’s seen this never-ending situation play out from his former brothers that have passed on. But, in a tone and narrative that’s too far off from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Duncan Jones’ Moon, Brother Dusk doesn’t want the sun to set on him. And from there, we learn more about the ascension process. I mean, isn’t it fascinating and scary to think about the same person ruling the galaxy for eternity? Do you mean to say that each of those clones will have the same line of thinking? Well, maybe not. You’ll have to keep watching to see where it goes.

That’s only one fraction of the multi-plot show. The Shakespearean-like feel spills into other areas of its narrative, and it’ll throw you for a loop each time you begin to become comfortable with how it’s going. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a sign of thrilling television. Hopefully, it stays on that track and continues to ask big existential questions, expand its world and back its complex characters into challenging corners.

Grade: B

Watch the first three episodes today on Apple TV+, followed by weekly drops on Friday for the remaining seven chapters.


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