Tag Archives: B-


Producers: Mary Parent, Alex Garcia, Ali Mendes, Millie Bobby Brown and Robert Brown   Director: Harry Bradbeer   Screenplay: Jack Thorne   Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, David Thewlis, Louis Partridge, Susan Wokoma, Adeel Akhtar, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Serrana Su-Ling Bliss, Abbie Hern, Hannah Dodd, Gabriel Tierney, Tim McMullen and Helena Bonham Carter   Distributor: Netflix

Grade: B-

Unlike his first Netflix film based on a YA book series about Sherlock Holmes’s spunky younger sister, which was a fairly close adaptation of the first of Nancy Springer’s novels “The Case of the Missing Marquess,” Harry Bradbeer’s sequel, co-written by Jack Thorne, contrives a largely original plot featuring the same major characters.  It proves an amusing enough period adventure for the targeted family audience, especially tween girls, though some new failings have been added to those inherited from its predecessor.

The screenplay’s conceit is to connect its fictional plot to a historical event—the so-called Matchgirls’ Strike of 1888.  Enola (Millie Bobby Brown), attempting to establish her own detective agency, is approached by an unusual client—a girl working at the match factory named Bessie Chapman (Serrana Su-Ling Bliss), who asks her to find her sister and co-worker Sarah, who has disappeared.  (Sarah Chapman was, in fact, one of the leaders of the matchgirls’ strike.)  She accepts the case—the only one she’s offered—despite opposite from the Chapman girls’ roommate Mae (Abbie Hern), who moonlights as a dancer in a music hall.

Undertaking her investigation, Enola learns that the factory is a very successful operation as a result of switching from red to white phosphorus in the production of their matches, but also that many of the women in its workforce have been struck by a mysterious illness.  Following up on what she’s learned, she becomes implicated in a murder and is targeted for arrest by Grail (David Thewlis), a sinister police superintendent.

As a result her work comes to the attention of her brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill), who since the disappearance of their ostentatiously progressive, feminist mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), also serves as her guardian.  He’s working on his own case—one involving a complicated scheme embezzling funds from the Treasury Department run by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles McIntyre (Tim McMullen).  As it turns out, the siblings’ two cases are interrelated.

That becomes evident to Enola when she attends a ball where both William Lyon (Gabriel Tierney), the privileged son of the factory owner, and her admirer, the reformist Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), are in attendance, along with a lovely young lady named Cicely (Hannah Dodd), the Chancellor and his assistant Mira Troy (Sharon Duncan-Brewster).  Everything comes to a head, and all secrets are revealed, after another murder, in a final confrontation backstage in a theatre.

“Enola 2” has many of the same virtues as its predecessor.  The performances—by Brown, Cavill, Bonham Carter, Partridge, Adeel Akhtar as Inspector Lestrade, and Susan Wokoma as Edith, Eudoria’s suffragette comrade—are again committed and fun, and Thewlis chews up the scenery gleefully as the corrupt cop.  The Dickensian milieu of 1888 London (coincidentally, the year of the Jack the Ripper murders) is again nicely caught in the visuals, thanks to production designer Michael Carlin, costumer Consolata Boyle and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens.  Adam Bosman’s editing generally moves things along in a sprightly fashion, and Daniel Pemberton’s score is mostly fine.

But things go awry musically when a fight between Enola, Eudoria and Edith on the one hand, and Grail and his corrupt bobbies on the other is accompanied by the stains of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”—a truly tacky choice.  That fight itself is too long and violent—as are the others in the film, especially the protracted, and rather ugly, final combat in the theatre.  The habit of Enola breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly, a carryover from the first movie, gets irritating.  And once again the solutions that Enola and Sherlock come up with seem arbitrary, or at least insufficiently explained for the viewer to follow logically.  One could also question the wisdom of twisting the elements of a serious historical event to serve the needs of a pretty juvenile plot.

And yet “Enola Holmes 2,” like the first picture in what will probably be a continuing series, has enough pluses to overcome the minuses.  It also includes a clever added sequence that, like the teasers in the Marvel superhero movies, is a reason to watch through the closing credits.         


Producers: Jessica Hargrave, Brandon Carroll, Matthew Goldberg, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank and Ryan White   Director: Ryan White   Screenplay: Helen Kearns and Ryan White   Cast: Angela Bassett  Distributor: Amazon Studios/Prime Video

Grade: B-

Fans of “Wall-E” who’ve been disappointed that Pixar never provided them with a sequel to the 2008 animated smash can perhaps content themselves with his documentary about the two robot vehicles that NASA launched in 2003 to explore the surface of the Red Planet for signs of the water that might once have supported life.  In Ryan White’s telling, over the course of the operation of the Mars Exploration Rovers, or MERs, the mechanical devices fascinated the world, becoming to many—especially those who had built and directed their work—like semi-autonomous anthropomorphic buddies, even children. 

And the span of the MERs’ survey proved far longer than expected.  In 2003 the NASA mission crew thought the solar batteries of Spirit and Opportunity, as they were called, might power them for up to ninety Martian days.  But as it turned out, Spirit continued to function until 2010, and Opportunity, or Oppy as it was affectionately nicknamed, even longer, until 2018.

“Good Night Oppy” covers the mission from its early planning through Oppy’s shutdown.  It includes lots of footage from the NASA archives, taking us back to the days when the Rovers were merely a dream among scientists and engineers who hoped that their project would win approval and financial backing through the construction of the robots, their successful launch and landing on Mars, and their investigation of the planet’s surface, seen through the camera installed on the wheeled vehicles.  Interspersed with these clips are excerpts from interviews with many of the staff at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory involved in the project, whose enthusiasm was undimmed as the mission unfolded and remains so even after it’s over.

But there’s more.  The film goes beyond these conventional elements to offer views of Spirit and Opportunity going about their business on Mars, being cleaned off and rejuvenated by dust storms, carefully warning the folks back on earth when they were about to encounter dangerous obstacles and extricating themselves when they get stuck in the sand.  This footage is not archival, of course; there were no cameras on Mars besides those on the robots themselves, which were operating independently at long distances from each other.  Rather these are computer-generated images made by the team at Industrial Light & Magic with their customary skill.  They give White’s film the feel, at times, of a Hollywood studio blockbuster rather than a simple documentary.

The anthropomorphizing of Spirit and Opportunity also fits that mold.  It doesn’t take the NASA folks who made them long to talk about them in human terms, and outside observers fell into line, just as viewers had with Wall-E.  Engineers talk about them as their children, and when their computers start dropping memory, it’s compared with Alzheimer’s; similarly, mobility problems draw references to arthritis.  The extent of the tendency is considerable.

If one’s willing to swallow such emotional treatment of these machines, along with the CGI embellishments, you’ll find “Good Night Oppy” a solid piece, with slick editing by Helen Kearns and Rejh Cabrera, along with good cinematography from David Paul Jacobson.  The score by Blake Neely, supplemented by the blaring rock standards used by mission control as wake-up music every morning, adds to the excitement, and Angela Bassett narrates with smooth authority.

The result is a documentary that may not be Mars-shaking, but represents a nice tribute to one of NASA’s notable achievements and its long-lived, lovable rovers.