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1058 reviews in total 
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Casanova (2015) (TV)
It's a shame this hasn't apparently been picked up, 26 March 2017

This pilot, directed by the brilliant Jean-Pierre Jeunet, gives us a Casanova engaged as a spy ordered to take down Madame Pompadour. It's an interesting premise, well performed and lushly designed.

The pilot really tries to capture the Paris of the time. There are alchemical hucksters, torturous capital punishment, intrigue, and opera. There are also lots and lots of naked ladies.

I don't actually know where this pilot was broadcast - I just found it online - but I hope it's still being shopped, because I would really like to see how it plays out.

Tempts me to give the book another chance, 26 March 2017

I put off watching this movie for a long time. The flashy yet dull Moulin Rouge toned down my early enthusiasm for Baz Luhrmann, and the descriptions I heard from friends suggested this might be more substanceless flash. Many of my friends are also 1920s aficionados who complained about the music.

But when I finally watched the movie, I really, really liked it.

The movie is quite flashy, especially in the early parts, but it's not substanceless flash. Gatsby is in large part about ostentatious, unthinking wealth, and the flashy camera-work and frenetic cutting and R&B soundtrack all emphasize that this isn't a period piece about attitudes of the 20s but rather is about wealth and the desire for wealth that permeates our culture. The flashiness is also very well done, and the film is often visually stunning, whether it's showing a crazy party, a gorgeous vista, or a gritty slum.

The movie is also notable for its low-key but insistent underscoring of racism. Black people are continually seen in the background as servants and entertainers while the white folks' dramas play out. It's nice to see a movie about rich people that offers that sort of context.

The casting is interesting, in that I felt unsure about a lot of it at first but warmed up to pretty much everyone. None of this was based on the book, which I barely recall, but simply on my impression of what each character should be.

The one character who seemed perfect from the beginning was Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan. He felt exactly right for the part. Tobey Macguire seemed odd and out of keeping with his world, but I eventually thought that was appropriate. Carey Mulligan seemed a bit less likable than I would have expected, but it made perfect sense as the movie progressed. The casting only felt odd at first because I didn't really know who these people were or understand the complexity of the story.

Leonardo DiCaprio is the perfect example of someone who seemed slightly off in a way that turned out to be perfect. There was an odd mix of charm and falseness to him when he first appeared, but it turns out that's pretty much exactly what the part needs. And DiCaprio does a wonderful job of showing you what's going on under the facade, most notably in the lead-up to tea at Nick's, where he is funny and vulnerable.

I read The Great Gatsby a million years ago - I was probably in high school - and I was really underwhelmed, unable to see why it was considered a classic. But the movie, which pulls a lot of great lines from the book, makes me think I should really re-read it. And I think any movie that makes viewers curious about the book is worthwhile.

The one thing I didn't care for at all was the framing scenes involving a psychiatrist and the writing of a book, which for me felt extraneous and slightly distracting.

I wasn't expecting to like this movie. My girlfriend and I began by saying, well, if it's awful we can just stop. But we were both pleasantly surprised by what an excellent movie it turned out to be.

"Touch" (2012)
Liked the first season pretty well, 24 March 2017

I never quite loved Touch, but I did like it. The idea of this little boy who saw how the world connected was an interesting one, and the individual episodes were often touching as the series implemented Shamalyan-like twists in the service of uplift rather than suspense.

It wasn't a series I ever felt I absolutely had to watch, and the sentimentality could be a bit much, but I enjoyed most of the episodes.

Then in season 2 the entire series seemed to change. New characters, new location, new focus. And after watching the first episode of the second season, I just never bothered to watch it again. It wasn't that I decided I would never watch another episode, it's just that my mild interest in the show was contingent on my liking the structure and the story arc, and when those were seemingly tossed away, as though the series were a monkey throwing away one shiny object in favor of another one, I just had no real motivation to keep going.

Still, it was a pretty enjoyable series for awhile.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Promising premise fails to sustain the drama, 24 March 2017

Good Girls Revolt is something I should like. The idea of watching women in a sexist environment realize they can fight back is intriguing, and I think that period in American history was pretty interesting.

And yet, I was never drawn in. The only thing I really liked in the pilot was Nora Ephron as the lone feminist, but she is a minor character in the series.

Mainly, I just found the series slow moving. These women are coming to their realizations very slowly.

In a 2-hour movie you could focus entirely on women slowly becoming empowered, but that concept by itself isn't enough to fill out a series. I wish the series had taken more of an interest in the news stories being covered, which are treated as background noise. Just because you're making a series about feminism doesn't mean that has to be the show's single thread.

Also, it's weird that the women keep describing Eleanor Holmes Norton as intimidating or scary. The real Norton quite possibly was, but the fictional version seems smart but not scary. Are these women just afraid of black people? Are they so timorous that even a mildly liberated woman scares them? Or does the mildness that pervades this series simply prevent it from creating a really intense character? I don't know, but it bugs me.

Anyway, I watched four or five episodes and then gave up.

"Believe" (2014)
Like Touch but less interesting, 24 March 2017

Believe started out with a fair amount of potential, with a solid premise, some good performances, and some solid tension. But it failed to sustain itself, seemed confused about what it wanted to be, and ultimately seemed like a less thought-out version of Touched.

Problems began with the second episode. An interesting lady assassin was dropped, and Kyle MacLachlan's character got weirdly sentimental about Bo, dumping the pure-evil approach of the pilot which was then reinstated in later episodes to the point where he seemed a bit cartoonish in his villainy.

The approach overall was a sort of scaled-down version of Touch. Both shows have a mystical child with an understanding of how things "should" be who is able to influence events to their proper outcome.

In Touch, Jake says everything is connected, and there is a whole mystical concept behind the series. In Believe, Bo just knows stuff. There's no conceptual framework. She is a powerful being (for some reason) whose superpowers include knowing exactly how things should turn out. While you can criticize Touch's premise, it had an internal logic. Believe doesn't even attempt a logical explanation; you just have to ... believe.

At first I generally enjoyed the show, which was generally cute with solid chemistry between Bo and her (unknowing) dad. But by episode 6 I had simply lost interest.

I gave up on Touch with its second - weirdly different - season, but while it was never a truly great show, it was emotionally affecting and did some interesting things. Believe, which came later, seems like a lazy attempt at the same idea, and is both less touching and less sensible.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Enjoyable but unexceptional, 24 March 2017

Although I did read a single Dr. Strange comic book something like 50 years ago, it's fair to say I don't really know anything about the comic book. So I don't know how true it is to its source material. But divorced from that material, I found this a reasonably entertaining piece of nonsense that felt like it could have been better.

The movie begins with a terrific opening scene in which people fight on the side of a building which is turning in on itself. Weird stuff happening with architecture is a common theme in the movie and is consistently entertaining.

Then we meet Cumberbatch as a brilliant, arrogant surgeon whose golden hands are destroyed in an accident. Soon he discovers a temple in Katmandu that he believes can help him. It is headed by Tilda Swinton, and my response to that was, immediately, why is this white lady in charge of an Asian temple? This turns out to have been part of the Asian whitewashing complaints, but ignoring that entirely, it just seems weird, and goes totally unaddressed in the film.

It is one of various small things that added together weaken the film. Another is the magical cape that makes an appearance. Again, I'm not familiar with the original comic books, but the cape in the movie seems like the silliest superweapon ever. It's played for laughs, which is perhaps the only option with something like this, but the cape slapstick felt out of place with the movie overall.

The story itself feels a bit rushed. I got little sense of the villains or the actual stakes, and various ideas and twists were just kind of tossed out and never adequately pursued. Strange goes from jerk to hero without much actual character development.

What saves the movie from its many flaws are some terrific set pieces, including a fight that takes place while time is reversing, and those crazy architecture battles. The action and special effects are quite good, Cumberthatch does a solid job, and the movie has a sprightly sense of humor.

So overall I did like it. But I feel like there was potential for something better. Maybe they'll do better for the sequel?

"Legion" (2017)
14 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
Keeps getting better, 16 March 2017

From the beginning, Legion was a brilliant, unique series with a compelling story, fascinating characters, and really trippy sequences. But after an amazing pilot, and a few episodes just as good as that pilot, the series began besting itself.

I've watched through episode 6, and the last two or three episodes have been as good as anything ever on TV. Incredibly strange and fascinating, with constant surprises and twists and puzzles.

Aubrey Plaza is particularly amazing. What a character. She just keeps getting better and better.

If you're not watching this, start.

Moana (2016/I)
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Fun follow-your-dreams-empowerment Disney adventure flick, 15 March 2017

Disney princesses have changed a lot since the company started pumping them out. In the case of Moana, the daughter of a village chieftain is strong, brave, athletic, and determined to save the world. She also denies being a princess altogether, although in one of the film's occasional Disney in-jokes she is told that if you've got a dress and an animal sidekick, you're a princess.

The movie fits very much in the girl-empowerment ethos that has replaced Disney's original waiting-for-the-princess trope. This is very much a heroic, mythic adventure story.

It's also quite funny, with a brash demigod, a cheeky ocean, and the world's dumbest rooster all doing their shtick.

The songs are decent. There's a nice please-nominate-me-for-an-Oscar empowerment song that's kind of catchy, a rousing number involving sailing ships, and the best, a David Bowiesque thing called Shiny. It's not the best Disney soundtrack, but it's a pretty good one.

The animation is gorgeous. At least on television, a good deal of the scenery looked photo-realistic, and the island setting allowed for a lot of natural beauty. There are also notable sequences involving living tattoos that were apparently hand drawn.

Well worth watching.

Cocked (2015) (TV)
Stylishly done yet didn't hold my attention, 9 March 2017

Cocked, a failed pilot for a series about a gun-making family, starts off great, with a high-energy, stylishly filmed sequence at a gun show. Right away there's some nefarious action and some tension between hothead Jason Lee and his father, and I thought, this will be lots of fun.

And yet, as the series progressed I found myself never quite as engaged as I would hope. After a super start, the show just started to look like any other soap opera about a business dynasty, and by the end all the flashiness and given way to something pretty ordinary.

It wasn't bad, but if the series had been picked up, I wouldn't have bothered watching.

"Patriot" (2015/II)
2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Quirky yet not especially entertaining, 9 March 2017

I'm not sure what Patriot is going for. In form, it looks like a comedy, with goofy music and a peculiar, folk-singing spy, but it's almost never funny. It seems to just want to be quirky, but while I like quirky when I feel it's to some purpose, here it feels like quirky for quirky's sake.

Mainly, I just found the first episode, which is all I watched, dull. I was never caught up in it for a moment. And there were places where I felt the lead had to do weird things on the fly because he didn't do the basic planning any competent spy would do (he really had no contingency plan for a drug test? Really?)

So I found the show dumb, and dull, and quirky in an un-fun way, and yet, this isn't one of these series that I watch and can't imagine how anyone would like it. I totally get how people could like this show. It's different, and weird, and stylishly done. I just didn't enjoy watching it.

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