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Into the Badlands (2015)
A nice-looking mess
I am really ambivalent towards this show. I feel it has a lot of potential, but quite a small portion of it is actually realized. It has high production values with beautiful settings, and well- choreographed fight-scenes. Acting is hit-and-miss with the fairly wooden Daniel Wu in the center of things. Marton Csokas is playfully overplaying his part with a thick accent and flamboyant delivery.
What disappoints me most is that there are glimpses of potential in the world that this show paints. The problem is that it never goes beyond glimpses. Instead of trying to develop a decent story or develop the world and backstory, most of the time is spent chopping people to bits, kicking them in the face or blowing them up. It feels a bit like taking the easy way out, since throwing money into fight-scenes is probably easier than achieving an interesting script.
In the end, I've watched two seasons of this show now. While it's not the best show, it's still entertaining enough to keep me watching. I suppose I still have some hope for a little more story- and character development down the road. If the slows lasts long enough...
I actually enjoyed this somewhat
Superman has to be the most boring of all super heroes. Weighed down by the inherent boring quality of a perfect character. All powerful, all good and all wise he just prances around doing the right thing. I don't think any movie has really been able to complicate Superman to any relevant degree. I don't think that this movie does either, but I still found it a lot more entertaining than any of the other Superman- movies featuring Cavill. To be honest, I can't say that I have enjoyed any Superman-movie as much as most other superhero- movies.
The whole premise for this movie is of course the fight between Batman and Superman. And does it deliver? Fair enough I would say. Batman has turned into some sort of overladen, Iron Man-like cyborg walking around looking very short and stocky. Of course, if you want to fist-fight Superman you will probably need some Hardware. Action- scenes are generally fairly well-executed. Affleck is surprisingly good as Batman, and Cavill as usual does a good job with Superman (it's not his fault that it's a boring character). Jesse Eisenberg seems to enjoy himself as an erratic Lex Luthor.
Aside from a few more or less contrived cameos from the rest of the Super best friends (or Justice League or whatever), heralding more movies, and a bit of a pacing problem at times, this is a good effort. As far as popcorn-movies go, I liked it. Not as much as the latest Captain America, but I think this series has the potential to be a bit more grown-up and raw. At least I hope so.
The Shannara Chronicles (2016)
Skip this one
This seems like a series riding on the success of Game of Thrones. A little science fiction, a little fantasy, sword-fighting and demons. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, I like fantasy novels and there have been very few fantasy series worth mentioning, while science- fiction has had it's fair share of good series.
However, this is a piece of garbage. I haven't read the books, and I think that was slightly redeeming since if I had, I probably would have disliked it even more. The acting is just awful in this series, but it still pales in comparison with the writing and the overall production quality. Trolls look like bikers, gnomes look like pigs with burn-injuries, the main bad-guy looks like a black-metal singer and all the humans and elves look like extras from Twilight or a show on the Disney channel. The show looks and feels cheap with poor production-values. Somewhat like a slightly dressed-up Xena the warrior princess.
Honestly, I think they might as well cancel this show. I can't foresee anything happening that would make a second season more worth your trouble.
The Bastard Executioner (2015)
I see this show as proof of how much the bar has been raised in television over the last ten years. I am sure that this show would have been seen as edgy and cool a decade ago, but today it feels distinctly mediocre.
The Bastad Executioner has a few major flaws which mostly emanate from the writing. First of all, it's difficult to really feel any sympathy for any of the characters, they feel very thin. Even though horrible things happen to them, I can't really be made to care. Also, this show has a staggering amount of very brutal violence. In my experience, violence and sex is often used to distract from poor writing, and this is a good example.
Acting is fair, although the main character has the charisma of a glass of water. With a strong lead, some of the weaknesses might have been alleviated. Stephen Moyer seems to have fun, but mostly the field is quite weak. I don't usually mind Katey Sagal, but she is awful here with her forced eastern accent.
In the end, this show is very forgettable (except perhaps to those sensitive to violence) and honestly you can probably find a dozen shows more worthy of your time right now.
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
I like science-fiction, and by doing that I implicitly accept a certain degree of nonsense in movies. It is seldom that an SF-movie is on the spot throughout, there is usually a level of nonsense that you just have to buy in order to watch it. And usually, I don't mind. But when the degree of nonsense is so large that it blocks out everything else, we have a bit of a problem.
Jupiter Ascending starts feeling like the trailer of a proper movie. Characters are introduced very briefly, talk, cut, talk, cut. Spaceships, a man with boots that can fly, people start shooting at each other. Meanwhile, it's very unclear what is actually going on. I can imagine that this movie made about as much sense at a five-minute pitch as it does watching the whole thing. "There are aliens close by, and they like have these noble houses, and they fight for power, and this cleaning lady is like a princess and, and...". I almost immediately felt that this was "by 12-year old's, for 12-year old's". I can imagine kids having a lot of fun with this, maybe they don't mind the plot being one giant hole.
A lot of the time watching this gives you the tiresome feeling of watching a video-game where you are not at the controls. The likeness to a video-game stops there though, they are usually a lot more well-written and cohesive.
By now I guess you've understood that I didn't enjoy this. Not one bit. Honestly, the Wachowski-siblings need to take a step back and think about what they're doing. They're all over the place, mixing really good movies with trash like this one. Not even the action-scenes are acceptable, and that feels a bit like their backyard. Honestly, spend your time with something else.
I can start out by saying I'm not a fan of graphic novels. It's not that I dislike them, I simply don't read them. I have tried a couple of times, but it has never been my thing. When they get transferred to the big screen though, I find them very appealing. Something about the borderland between realism and unrealism attracts me. Not always of course, but surprisingly often.
As you might have gathered from the above, I haven't read the Watchmen graphic novel. But I still find this movie hugely appealing. I love the different characters and I especially love the feel of the movie. I don't mind calling it poetic, and not a little nostalgic. I have to admit I'm not a fan of Zack Snyder otherwise. 300 put me to sleep with it's endless and tedious slow-motion scenes, Man of Steel violated the Superman-legacy completely. This however, is genuinely good.
Of course, a lot of the kudos has to go to the actors. A bunch of them are doing a bang-up job, not least Billy Crudup who has one of the more difficult roles as Dr. Manhattan.
The movie is not perfect, there is a strange amount of gore which doesn't really fit that well with the movie in general. The plot is slightly unfocused and the ending felt slightly like a "Meh". But the movie is vastly enjoyable throughout, and I would rate this as one of my favorite among adaptations of graphic novels. Sin City for instance is more visually appealing and coherent, but this movie has a lot more interesting characters with more depth. I realize though that for fans of the graphic novel, this might be open to another interpretation completely. I also realize that this will not be for everyone. But I urge anyone to give it a try.
Didn't do it for me
I feel like a grumpy old man these days, realizing that very few movies "do it" for me any more. Skyfall is one of the movies that fail to excite me. While it's certainly competent film-making, it doesn't have that wow-factor and in the end failed to grip my attention properly.
The James Bond-franchise has felt a bit tired and outdated for a long time. While I felt that Casino Royale breathed some new life into it, Quantum of Solace was more or less a dud. This movie seems to pick up on the fact that this sort of movie is more or less an anachronism today, and they play a little with that in the story. The truth though is that I'm not sure Bond has a place in today's film. Especially not since much of what made Bond unique is more or less lost, this movie basically plays like a regular action-movie without any of the real characteristics of a Bond-movie. They have even let go of the gadgetry, and while Javier Bardem is certainly a competent actor, I think he makes a somewhat pale villain. While the Bond-franchise is struggling to get up to date, I feel that it's history is weighing it down.
Disregarding the Bond-factor this is, like I said in the beginning, competent film-making. It looks good, action-scenes are not bad (although not spectacular either). Daniel Craig is his stone-faced self, and Judy Dench is given a lot of space which is never a bad thing. Of course, as is almost standard fare today, the movie is far too long. 30 minutes could easily be cut out without diminishing the movie.
I didn't dislike the movie, it just failed to wow me. I think it has a lot to do with expectations, I want that exciting crazy feeling you got from the older Bond-films where villains where almost magically evil, and they built up entire cities inside mountains with little trains running through them. You just don't get that any more. I miss it, and Bond is a lot less compelling without that magic.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Guillermo del Toro knows his stuff
I'm always somewhat like a kid on Christmas eve when it comes to Guillermo del Toros movies. I don't expect the world or an eye-opening life-changing experience, but I do expect to be entertained. He has a combination of visual flair, and understanding of how you build an effective action scene (and in extension action movie) which makes a potent cocktail.
The plot is pure nonsense, and is rushed by mostly through voice-over right from the start. Seemingly just to get it out of the way. "Bla bla, giant monsters attack and we build robots to meet them in a boxing-match." Honestly, most of the plot is not explained much further in the film than in the trailer. Acting ranges between bland and pretty lame, some of the actors are competent performers, but it's not like they are especially challenged in this movie.
So, with that out of the way, let's talk essentials. I'm not a fan of the monsters, they look clumsy and lack elegance. Generally though, this movie is beautiful. del Toro knows how to get the adrenaline flowing with visuals and a suitably high-octane soundtrack. Everyone talks tough, walks tough and acts tough. It doesn't always work, and parts of the story feel tacked-on and just an interruption to the action. But mostly though, the movie delivers when it comes to action and excitement.
I view this as a guilty pleasure. Something that should appeal mostly to 13-year-olds, and not men three times their age. But still, even though I can't say that I feel like seeing it again, it entertained me for most of the duration.
The Lone Ranger (2013)
Why the long film?
I often wonder these days why Hollywood persists in making films that are over two hours long, regardless of the subject or genre. This is a prime example of this problem. An adventure movie needs speed, comedy, action and the drive to keep things interesting despite a usually thin script. This movie is passable as far as adventure movies go, but you could easily trim 45 minutes from it without really removing anything of note.
Acting is OK without being anything special, Johnny Depp is his usual self, lazy and not really interested any more. Armie Hammer is as stiff as the part demands. Tom Wilkinson has the kind of bad-guy role he could excel at in his sleep, Helena Bonham Carter is...well, Helena Bonham Carter. The script is wafer-thin, special-effects and production values are above par. There is not really much left of the original Lone Ranger-stuff, you don't even get the famous theme-music until quite close to the end. But all in all, the movie is fairly enjoyable as long as it lasts, but easily forgotten once it's over.
If they had just trimmed those 45 minutes away, this could have been really enjoyable.
True Detective (2014)
After seeing True Detective back when it was released, and mulling over it a bit, I feel somewhat frustrated. There are elements of this show that I absolutely love, and elements that are incredibly frustrating.
One of the things I appreciate most about movies and TV-shows is when they manage to create an atmosphere that grows thick and really reaches out to you, through the screen. True Detective definitely manages this. From the brilliant southern landscapes, to the music and moods, all the way to the actors. It all comes together beautifully. And for more than half the season, the plot and character development manages to keep up.
Then something happens. When it gets really thick, your questions are answered and the conclusion draws near, it's as if the script-writers suddenly stopped and said "Ok, what now? Where do we go from here?". Where indeed... I will of course not write anything about the conclusion of the show, except to say that it didn't live up to the magnificent beginnings. Still, this show was one of my absolute favorites so far this year. Harrelson was great, McConaughey was glorious and the rest of the cast met expectations. It's just as dirty, sweaty and degenerate as you would hope.
This show, although slightly flawed in the department where HBO usually shines (script and plot), I would say that this show really reinforces HBO:s standing as the premier producer of first-rate TV-shows.