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Drama

Nine Perfect Strangers Episodes 1-3 Review

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Could ten days at a wellness retreat really change you forever? These nine perfect strangers are about to find out. Welcome to Tranquillum House a place were these nine strangers have come to lose weight, reboot and some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all the luxury amenities and architecture lies ten days of hard work that ultimately will challenge them, though they have the faintest idea what lies ahead. 

There are solutions they may see, but how far are they willing to trust someone who seems to have all the answers. 

Nine perfect strangers is a new eight- part series based on the book of the same name by Liane Moriarty and after the success of Big Little Lies and The Undoing, writer/producer David E. Kelley is back with Emmy-winning star Nicole Kidman to adapt this best seller. Once more they have dived into the drama full of gossip and dark humour. The central Mystery is about a mysterious wellness entrepreneur, who is receiving anonymous death threats during a retreat that is unsteady. 

 

Hulu on Wednesday debuted the first three episodes, but for UK viewers Nine Perfect Strangers debuted today and will be every Friday on Amazon Prime Video. Jonathan Levine directs all eight episodes, the first three of which will be covered in this review. 

Staying at this Lavish wellness spa are the Crew of Nine Strangers that go through this 10 day retreat to rejuvenate themselves. Among them is romance novelist Frances( Melissa McCarthy) who’s successful writing career appears to be past its sell by date. At the start of episode one titled “Random Acts of Mayhem” her agent informs her that the publisher is passing on her latest novel and would prefer to buy out her contract. 

Then there’s Instagram Influencer Jessica(Samara Weaving) who’s got insecurity issues. She’s with her husband Ben(Melvin Gregg) in an attempt to save their relationship.

The Marconi family, Napoleon(Michael Shannon), his wife Heather(Asher Keddie) and their daughter Zoe(Grace Van Patten) are all attending Tranquillum House together as they mourn the loss of a loved one which they also touch up on in episode two titled “The Critical Path”. Then there’s Tony(Bobby Cannavale) a grizzled gruff loudmouth who hides his substance abuse struggle whilst also having a strained relationship with his own daughter. 

Excited and perky stay at home mum Carmel(Regina Hall) is also staying at the Tranquillum. She’s sweet but extremely nosy and perhaps a tad more Volatile that you might expect. Rounding up the group is Lars(Luke Evans) the only Tranquillum guest who seems to suspect that something is not quite right. 

Vince Valitutti/Hulu

However the biggest mystery is Masha(Nicole Kidman), she’s the mastermind behind Tranquillum House’s unique and unusual form of therapy. Masha Controls every detail from protocols, special smoothies and is even personally involved in her staffs (Tiffany Boone and Manny Jacinto) lives. Nicole Kidman truly gives the character a mask to hide in and she’s able to shut away the inner demons at work. 

 

Kidman’s performance is eccentric, flawless and otherworldly, she even does this alarming stare straight through the camera which drew me in. As the series progresses through it’s first three episodes we see Masha’s dark secrets star spiralling out of control. Each episode shows violations, failings and betrayals. 

The first three episodes move at such a glacial pace and takes time getting to know the characters and to further the plot. much of the revelations are set up mostly during the first act amid shared meals, group activities and sessions. It’s truly the stories that bring these strangers together. Happily it’s the cast that get the story going, from Luke Evans’s smug smile whilst he stirs up the pot and causes unrest, Regina Hall who gets the laughs and the tension as she plays a high strung but earnest mother. Samara Weaving shakes things up by becoming an Instagram celeb and Manny Jacinto, who I’ve loved since he played goofy Jason Mendoza on The Good Place. At first i didn’t recognise him as his goofy personality has become serene.

Happily the most thrilling performances come from the established stars, this is definitely a bonus for making Strangers watchable. Firstly Napoleon feels like a character that’s ripped from real life, Shannon’s intense performance elevates through the first three episodes, whether he’s delivering an intoxicated speech or singing in the hot spa. 

Melissa McCarthy is also another standout, plus she’s also an executive producer on the show. McCarthy brings the hilarious one-liners but her performance also wrestles with trauma and growth. She’s paired brilliantly with Bobby Cannavale. They take full advantage of the hilarious and chaotic chemistry they share onscreen.

Trauma is used throughout episodes 1-3 as an experience, it can also sometime motivate us. But Nine Perfect Strangers uses Trauma to explore these broken characters and ultimately reconstruct them which is a tough Journey to take and Masha will have their mental health readings go off the charts. By the end of episode 3 titled Earth Day, Nine Perfect Strangers became an intriguing worthwhile watch especially for the drama, thrills and somewhat humour.

 

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Drama

The Zone Of Interest Is A Bleak Reminder of the Horrors of Holocaust

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Zone of Interest [credit: A24]

The Zone of Interest is Jonathan Glazer’s latest feature loosely based on Martin Amis’ novel of the same name. It stars Christian Friedel and Sandra Huller in the lead roles. The German-language feature was a major breakout from the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, where it also won the Grand Prix award. It is based around one of the darkest chapters in human history and serves as an important reminder of how brutal and evil humans are capable of being.

Glazer is known for having carefully crafted frames with plenty of nuances which is the case here as well. He intricately designs each and every scene for maximum impact. Before we enter the first scene, the screen fades to black with a chilling score in the background that sets the viewer up for everything they are about to witness. Black is also the colour of evil which hints at what aspects of human nature this story will explore. The cinematography is also top-notch. The use of natural lighting works really well to complement the setting of a warm family atmosphere. Also, there are a few moments where the visual style changes and those scenes are thoughtfully captured as well.

Zone of Interest [credit: A24]

Christian Friedel and Sandra Huller are both fantastic in their roles. Friedel is absolutely convincing as Rudolph Hoss, the commander of the Auschwitz concentration camps, and Huller plays his wife Hedwig, who steals a lot of scenes with her emotional range. The editing is also careful and patient. Each scene gets time to breathe and settle properly resulting in a lot of extended scenes of the daily life of the family. The background music is minimal, but whenever it kicks in, it makes sure to elevate the scenes with creepy and ominous sounds.

The plot may seem basic and simple on the surface level, but we gradually see the layers unfold as the narrative moves forward. The story gets darker and darker with time and can be utterly shocking and horrifying at times, especially in the third act. It is no doubt a slow burn In terms of its pacing and takes its own time to set things up and we keep getting to see more sides of the characters in the second half of the movie. 

Zone of Interest [credit: A24]

 

It is utterly shocking how a family man who reads his children bedtime stories and loves his wife wholeheartedly can do the things that Rudolph Hoss does. But that level of brutality and faithfulness to reality is among its biggest strengths. The movie doesn’t have too many weak aspects, but it is slow and takes a while to get going. Also, it will turn out to be difficult to follow or comprehend for general audiences and it might be difficult to follow for some. It demands patience and attention.

The Zone of Interest is a kind of movie that subtly and slowly horrifies you with its brutal and harrowing storytelling. Jonathan Glazer is at the top of his game. The lead performances are top notch and the conclusion leaves a heavy impact on the viewer. It won’t work for everyone, but will certainly find the appreciation it deserves.

The Zone of Interest will release in cinemas on December 8.

 

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Drama

‘Past Lives’ Review: A Transcendent Cinematic Journey

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Greta Lee and Teo Yoo in a still from 'Past Lives' (A24)

Hollywood has a knack for producing extraordinary movies year after year, but there comes a time when the industry exceeds all expectations with a gem of a movie like ‘Past Lives.’ A mesmerizing film directed by the talented Celine Song takes audiences on an unparalleled journey of self-discovery and the exploration of our interconnectedness through time. This thought-provoking movie connects various lives, blurring the boundaries of reality and immersing viewers in a transcendental tale.

The romantic drama showcases Song’s remarkable storytelling ability, presenting a narrative that delicately balances emotion and intellect. ‘Past Lives’ starts with Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), Nora (Greta Lee), and Arthur (John Magaro) sitting at a bar. An unseen couple watches and tries to guess their relationship. We are taken back in time and get all the vital details about the relationship they have been sharing throughout various parts of their lives. One of the best aspects of the movie is how Son interconnects the lives of diverse characters across different periods and unveils the secrets that bind them together. The film’s nonlinear structure allows for a gripping exploration of multiple storylines, ensuring an engaging and enthralling experience.

Greta Lee in a still from ‘Past Lives’ (A24)

Visually, ‘Past Lives’ is an absolute feast for the eyes. The poignant visuals heighten the emotional resonance of the narrative, leaving a lasting impression on the viewer. Accompanying the stunning visuals and sound design is an enchanting score that perfectly complements the film’s ethereal quality. Beyond its visual and musical splendor, the movie invites viewers to contemplate profound themes and philosophical questions. The film raises thought-provoking inquiries about the nature of existence, the way people’s lives are connected, and the impact of our actions across time. The script forces the moviegoers to reflect on the concept of destiny, choices, and the ripple effects they create.

Furthermore, the performances in ‘Past Lives’ are nothing short of extraordinary. The ensemble cast, led by seasoned actors, delivers nuanced and heartfelt portrayals, breathing life into their respective characters. Greta Lee is enchanting as Nora and delivers a performance that is undoubtedly going to give her all the buzz during the awards season. Meanwhile, Teo Yoo is just as brilliant. The talent on display evokes genuine empathy, enhancing the overall experience.

A still from ‘Past Lives’ (A24)

Even though the awards season is far away from where we are, we have already got a strong contender for Best Picture and top acting categories in the form of ‘Past Lives.’ It is quite rare these days to see a romantic story that provides such an immersive experience and we are glad that Celine Song’s film has given us a movie that makes us wonder why such romantic movies are not made anymore.

‘Past Lives’ is a modern masterpiece.

 

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Comedy

A Kind of Kidnapping – Dark Comedy with Politics

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Written and directed by Dan Clark, this fairly star studded independent film follows a young couple who are stuck in a financial situation, and decide to kidnap a sleazy conservative politician in order to receive a ransom, that will allow them to escape their static lives.

Patrick Baladi (The Office) plays Hardy our creepy politician, Kelly Wenham (Double Date) plays Maggie, a complex woman who seemingly is always drawn to the “bad boy”, Jack Parry-Jones (The Crown) plays Brian our voice of reason within all of this, or is he?

A Kind of Kidnapping [2023]

The character development is well written and allows the space for character arcs, unlike a lot of small films, where there isn’t that room in the script. The three main leads feel very grounded and familiar, everyone knows someone like this in their life or perhaps public figures in the media.

The performances of the main three lead actors are great, if it wasn’t for them, I don’t think this film would work as well. Alongside the strong performances, the editing of the film helped to navigate this non-linear plot and allowed the film to peel aways the layers of backstory which all helped to create a stronger character driven piece.

A Kind of Kidnapping [2023]

As the film was nearing the final act,  it felt as though it was dragging a little. Dan Clark mentioned in the Q&A after the screening how this was a short film before and I can definitely see how it could work in a confined setting really well. Maybe there was a bit of padding in second to third act to reach that feautre length requirement that didn’t aid certain character moments.

If you want to hear my full thoughts, the best thing to do is check out my review over on YouTube and let me know your thoughts in the comments. 

When independent film is fighting for its life, A Kind of Kidnapping is the light in the dark. This is one of the better British produced indie films I’ve seen in a long time. 

A Kind of Kidnapping is out on digital on 24th July on iTunes, Amazon, Google and Sky.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the [series/movie/etc] being covered here wouldn’t exist.

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