Streaming Review ~ Loki (Episodes 1 & 2)


The Facts:

Synopsis: After stealing the Tesseract during the events of Avengers: Endgame, an alternate version of Loki is brought to the mysterious Time Variance Authority who give Loki a choice: face being deleted from existence due to being a “time variant” or help fix the timeline and stop a greater threat.

Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sophia Di Martino, Wunmi Mosaku, Richard E. Grant, Sasha Lane

Director: Kate Herron

Running Length: ~50 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Can you believe it’s been nearly two years since the last Marvel film was released in theaters?  It’s true, not since 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home have we seen one of our favorite superheroes on the big screen.  Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe may have missed out on their chance to see Black Widow in theaters this past year when it was delayed due to the pandemic, but in 2021 we’ll make up for lost time as that film is released along with a whopping three others, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. It hasn’t been too quiet in Marvel’s world, though. We’ve all had our fair share of consolation prizes in not one, but two well-received television series that have premiered on Disney+. 

The streaming service watched the quirky WandaVision become a bona fide hit with its tonal differences from the previous films.  It had its moments where it reared its more Marvel-y moments but by and large this felt like a self-contained bit of creative freedom that wouldn’t have been possible outside of Disney’s weekly platform release structure.  This was followed fairly quickly with The Falcon and The Winter Soldier mere weeks after WandaVision concluded its 9-episode run.  The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’s 6-episodes, by comparison, were much more like the traditional Marvel movie.  Not that that was an all-together bad thing.  Allowing supporting player Anthony Mackie (Anthony Mackie, Pain & Gain) to rise to leading man status was welcome and if Sebastian Stan (I, Tonya) didn’t do as much to forward his character as I would have liked, the duo proved to be a smart pairing.

Now comes Loki, the third Marvel series to debut on Disney+ and it appears to be the most ambitious one to date.  But wait, you may be asking, didn’t Loki, you know, perish in Avengers: Endgame?  Well, that’s where the storytellers in the big Marvel warehouse have worked some magic and come up with an interesting way to keep Loki alive, but as a “variant” of himself.  In fact, according to the Time Variance Authority (TVA), there could be multiple timelines that we follow if we aren’t careful and that’s why they are there, to help police the master timeline and ensure it is proceeding as intended. 

When he steals the Tesseract in Avengers: Endgame, Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Only Lovers Left Alive) upends the timeline and sets into motion a series of events that puts him in front of Ravonna Lexus Renslaye (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, A Wrinkle in Time) from the TVA who prefers that he be “reset”, i.e. zapped, for his infraction.  She’s persuaded by TVA agent Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson, Bliss) to release Loki to his watch because he needs the trickster’s help in solving a mystery currently confounding the TVA.  Apparently, someone has been jumping through timelines and getting rid of any TVA security detail that comes looking for them.  Agreeing to help Mobius but planning his own escape by infiltrating the TVA from within, Loki becomes an unlikely ally to combat a most unexpected villain.

Above and beyond the production design for the series which has a retro vibe from the late 60’s/early 70’s mixed with a dash of steampunk (not the annoying kind), there’s a boldness to Loki that feels like another step forward for Marvel where their television endeavors are concerned.  Further, it’s totally different than WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, showing that Marvel is having fun experimenting with their style as well as their substance.  Director Kate Herron keeps the vibe fresh and fun, allowing Hiddleston free range to let his Loki grow in stature without making the villain too unlikable.  It’s also a great showing for Wilson, who takes the role just seriously enough to be convincing but not overtly dry.

Time-travel shows can be a tough sell because it’s easy to play fast and loose with the rules.  At times during the first two episodes there are some head-scratching moments where the action can be tough to track, but that is what the rewind button is for.  Still, I wouldn’t want to keep having to think too terribly hard over the remaining four episodes about how the timelines merge together but trust that it will all line up by the finale.  Loki proves that Marvel is running a solid three for three.  Still to come in 2021 is an animated series (What If…?) and two more live-action entries, Ms. Marvel and Hawkeye.  Based on the track record so far, the bar is set awfully high for what’s next.      

31 Days to Scare ~ His House

1


The Facts
:

Synopsis: As a young refugee couple tries to start over in England, they’re tormented by a sinister force tied to the horrors they escaped in war-torn South Sudan.

Stars: Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù, Wunmi Mosaku, Matt Smith, Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba, Javier Botet

Director: Remi Weeks

Rated: NR

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review: Like almost all of you reading this, I’d like to fast forward these next few weeks to get through all the garbage that’s making North America a real horror show right now.  You can’t turn the TV on without seeing some talking head pointing fingers about emails or shaking heads about the economy while families think about how to survive through a pandemic on smaller incomes due to loss of jobs.  Yet I wonder, when all of the election talk is done…are we ready to get back to looking at the true horrors that are happening in other parts of the world that go above and beyond the immediate problems surrounding the spread of COVID-19?

The bloody wars that have been ongoing in African countries have sent immigrants fleeing to neighboring countries and to places as far distant as parts of Europe and the UK.  Those that are intercepted in their journey are often kept in detention centers while their cases are evaluated and either sent back to face certain death or allowed to stay but under severe restrictions with limitations to their livelihood that could be considered oppressive.  Is this a fate worse than they would have experienced back home?  Have they traded one life sentence for another?

You wouldn’t think a film that falls easily into the horror genre could also ask such deep questions at the outset, but His House is a rare, beautiful bird.  Debuting on Netflix and containing the kind of turn your hair white with fright kind of scares one moment and deeply moving scenes dealing with grief and loss the next, it’s in line with The Haunting of Hill House in capturing what frightens us mentally and emotionally in its purest form.  Not all films are able to pull you in both directions so quickly and not dislocate something in the process but director Remi Weeks takes the multi-layered screenplay from Felicity Evans and Toby Venables and peels its reveals off at just the right time.

Arriving in the UK where they have sought asylum, Bol (Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) survived the terrifying voyage from Sudan but their daughter Nyagak (Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba) was lost at sea when the boat capsized.  Without their child, they cling to each other and are relieved when they are allowed to stay in the country and given their own flat, a dilapidated but large council house just outside of London.  Before handing over the keys to their home, the social services worker assigned to their case (Matt Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) encourages them to “be one of the good ones.”  Left alone in a two story apartment with bugs crawling in empty pizza boxes and no electricity, the couple spends their first night remembering the first time they met.

In their first few days, Bol gets to know the neighborhood while Rial largely stays indoors.  He wants to adjust to their new life and acclimate to the British culture while she is haunted by the memories of their voyage and the people that were left behind.  The home in disrepair, Bol buys supplies to patch up a living room wall and it’s here he first catches sight of an impossible vision – Nyagak.  The same but…different.  Rial starts to see things too, but it’s of a different entity that tells her of terrible things to come.  A witch from an event in their past has latched on to them and followed the couple to this new house.  This is no ordinary witch, however.  This is a witch with a vengeance, a witch that demands payment, a witch that has methods of persuasion that blur the line of reality for both husband and wife searching for very different things in their new country.

There’s nary a joint out of place here, with Weeks creating a living and breathing blood knot of a film that starts off going one direction and continues to pivot just when you think you know what station you’re pulling into.  Often I would be prepared for the surprise that was just revealed to lead to a logical next step but was somehow never on the right track.  You can thank Evans and Venables for the framework that thinks outside the box and looks at a world and culture bigger than what we typically consider when we hear the phrase “horror film”.  It’s a horror film, no doubt, but to slice it that thin or walk away from it with only that takeaway would be a disservice to the filmmakers and especially the performances.

The two leads in the film are pretty incredible, if you ask me.  Essentially a two-hander, His House is a showcase for Dìrísù and Mosaku and it grows into what it is based on the work the two do as a combined unit.  You definitely get the feeling these two have a connection to each other, making the detachment that creeps in around the halfway point that much more pivotal to the next phase of the film and, ultimately, its resolution.  I’ve been a fan of Mosaku since her fantastic turn in the final season of the Idris Elba television show Luther and she’s already had a great year as a supporting character in HBO’s Lovecraft Country.  She’s got a whopper of a scene near the end that the film hinges on and it’s a master class in delivering essential plot driving narrative while also controlling our understanding of her character’s emotional awakening to a painful truth she doesn’t want to accept.  Almost entirely without words…beautifully done.

Along with the emotional weight carried by His House is the fear factor Weeks includes, but doesn’t force, on the proceedings.  Yes, the movie has a boatload of truly (truly) frightening moments and by the time the first one arrives you’ve forgotten you’re watching a horror movie so Weeks likely will have most audience members leaping out of their skin right away.  The rest of the chills are derived from simple reveals and clever uses of light and distraction to get us looking one way while something is arriving from another.  I don’t often hold my hands in front of my face but I found myself instinctively doing that here at several points that were just too scary to keep my eyes fixed on.  The make-up, mask, and costume-design all add to the atmosphere.  It’s impressive all around.

Listen, I like stupid slasher films as much as the next person and will line-up in the cold temps for the chance to see the latest bad CGI shark film but I’d give up ten of those movies if we can get one film like His House every six months.  This is a classy film that has a grace to its scares, a respect for its characters, and a desire to leave the audience with something to think about when the film is over.  All while being incredibly entertaining.  Highest recommendation.