Tag Archives: Hulu

First Time Long Time

Prey

by George Wolf

Well-crafted memories of the mid-80s helped Top Gun Maverick blow up the box office this summer. And while Prey skips the big screens for a rollout on Hulu, the film is not shy about its plan for more crowd-pleasing nostalgia.

It’s also not shy about the carnage.

Director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) takes the reins for installment number five in the Predator franchise, teaming with writer Patrick Aison to rewind 300 years, when a tribe of Comanche hunters suddenly found themselves among the hunted.

Naru (Amber Midthunder) thinks she has the skills to join the hunt and help provide for her tribe, but her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) isn’t so sure. And when Taabe has to come to Naru’s rescue in the wild, she’s urged to stand down.

But Naru has glimpsed something large and lethal in the woods, and when that something begins making bloody sport of Comanche nation, she’s eager to prove just how lethal she can be.

Midthunder (The Wheel, TV’s Legion) is a fine heroine, more than capable with the role’s physicality and Naru’s stubborn resolve. And she’s able to keep the character compelling when Aison’s character arcs and “the hunter is now the prey” themes seem hurried and obvious.

Trachtenberg compensates with a string of arresting visual set pieces. As his camera dives deep into the trees and then high above, Trachtenberg crafts the Predator’s first Earthly battlefield as a home suddenly and violently unknown to its natives, a metaphor for the Native American experience that lands with resonance.

Those well-known monster calls fuel the tension, the action is thrilling, and the blood is splattered with pride, complete with unmistakable callbacks to the original 1987 film through both movement and dialog.

And about that dialog…

Trachtenberg and producer Jhane Myers (of both Comanche and Blackfeet heritage) have clearly taken great care with the film’s cultural representation and depiction. In fact, you can choose a version of Prey that is dubbed by the cast in the Comanche language (becoming the first film to offer this option).

It’s a wise choice, because as distracting as dubbed audio can be, the English dialog in Prey is even more so. It’s not just that the Comanche characters speak English, but the phrasing and delivery is so very present day, it’s hard to stay grounded in the film’s otherwise impressive world-building.

Word is that before making the decision to dub, Trachtenberg and Myers considered filming exclusively in the Comanche language. Damn, that would have been a great action film.

Prey is a good one.

Kissing to Be Clever

Crush

by George Wolf

Don’t worry, parents, the high schoolers in Hulu’s Crush don’t play Seven Minutes in Heaven anymore.

“That perpetuates a Christian narrative. We’re playing Seven Minutes in a Hotel Bathroom.”

Noted. So while the hormones here are as active as ever, the cage they’re raging in is awash in idealized hipness, as a trio of newbie filmmakers craft a feature debut full of genuine sweetness and winning humor.

Paige (Rowan Blanchard from TV’s Snowpiercer) is a Junior at Miller High, and being gay is the least of her drama right now. She’s struggling with the application to Cal Arts – her dream school – and she can’t find the courage to make a move on Gabby (Isabella Ferreira) – her dream girl.

That’s not all. Miller’s Ren Fest-loving principal (Michelle Buteau – a hoot) thinks Paige is behind the series of artful school vandalism murals signed by the mysterious “King Pun.” To avoid suspension, Paige agrees to become extracurricular active (Gabby runs track, so…) and work on outing the real vandal (king pun intended).

But just when it seems Gabby is interested, Paige can’t quit thinking about another track teammate (Auli’i Cravalho, voice of Moana) who never seemed like her type.

Until now.

Director Sammi Cohen invites us into an upper-middle-class teenage dream where kids are accepted and their choices are trusted. None of the stakes or the heartbreaks feel particularly dramatic, but the film itself finds resonance in being purposefully sanitized.

Screenwriters Kirsten King and Casey Rackham develop a nice groove that is self-aware without any awkward pandering to the teen audience. There are plenty of wink-winks to the formula they’re upending, and while the film is never as authentically sexual as last year’s Plan B, the occasional bawdy zinger does land.

Both Blanchard and Cravalho are irresistible charmers, with scene-stealing honors split between Megan Mullaly as Paige’s Mom (“Don’t take edibles before school, we talked about this”) and Aasif Mandvi as the track coach (“I know 60 percent of you are queer!”)

Wait, are Mom and Coach talking dirty to each other? OMGLOL!

Underneath all the horniness is a feel-good formula that may remind you of last year’s Oscar-winning CODA. But the emphasis in Crush showcases a high school world where the queer kids drive that formula. The film itself becomes a 90-minute safe space, where kids can just stress about their crushes instead of the reaction to whatever gender they may be crushing on.

Master and Servant

Mother/Android

by George Wolf

You think you’ve got a good handle on Hulu’s Mother/Android pretty quickly. Take some zombie basics that we’ve seen from Romero through The Walking Dead, replace the undead with some renegade robots, and away we go.

But while there is plenty here that’s familiar, give writer/director Mattson Tomlin credit for finding sly ways to surprise you, and ultimately subvert your expectations with an nifty metaphorical finale.

Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Georgia aka “G,” a young woman struggling to enjoy a party after the shock of finding out she’s pregnant. Her boyfriend Sam (Algee Smith) is saying all the right things, but she’s unsure about their future.

As A.I. servants dutifully attend to the party guests, G and a friend head to the bathroom for a private chat. But in an instant, a painful sonic blast drops the humans to their knees while rebooting the bots to a default “kill” setting.

Fast forward nine months, and Tomlin’s got a standard setup (survivors running toward a rumored safe haven while being pursued by a relentless menace) with the always convenient “savior” trump card (very pregnant woman).

Tomlin’s storytelling appears workmanlike but uninspired, often rehashing ideas and set pieces you’ll remember from Terminator, The Descent, A Quiet Place, and even The Empire Strikes Back. But when G and Sam get separated, and G meets up with a fellow survivor (Raúl Castillo) who once helped create the Android serving class, Tomlin finally gets around to rewarding all who stick it out for Act 3.

With foreshadowing that is effectively subtle and an affecting turn from Moretz that crafts G as both tortured and courageous, the film reveals its first twist in finely organic fashion while keeping you distracted from the true motive ahead. Once revealed, it arrives as a plea for global empathy that lands with some unexpected emotional pull.

The best science fiction tales succeed when their glimpses of the future help us reassess the present. Mother/Android gets there, eventually, with a measured pace that seems much more confident when the party’s over.