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Almost Human: Are You Receiving? (2013)
Series started well, but by 3rd episode is just going thru the motions
First of all, people who like this show should try to get hold of the Swedish show "Real Humans", currently in its 2nd season, which "Almost Human" seems to be a derivative (though bigger-budget) rip-off of. Just saying.
The first episode of "Almost Human" was quite impressive. Lots of interesting themes introduced, and a long-running plot line which I hoped to see developed a bit faster than at a glacial pace. The 2nd episode was not quite as good, but deserves kudos for tackling the sexual aspect of hubots (oops, that's me using a term from "Real Humans" there).
Episode 3, however, is just passing time. Do we get any deeper into the A.I./robot theme? Negative. Is there any shred of development to the main plot with the terrorist group that Kennex's ex joined? Negative. Just some action with a twist ending that has no impact on anything! That's weak. By now the show has just settled into the same old groove that almost all TV shows quickly settle into: paaaaasssing the time slooowly without offering any interesting ideas or storytelling, lulling us to sleep with inconsequential tripe when we're actually sitting here waiting to be blown away by cool ideas, new angles and thought-provoking comments on present and future society! What is this apparent law that says writers can't put a proper amount of IDEAS and STORY into television shows? Man! I guess we just live in a world of clueless TV producers whose mission in life is to bore us the hell to death.
Sorry if I sound bitter, but it's the cumulative effect of having experienced this TV tendency time and time again.
A show about A.I./humaniform robots should explore what this technology means to society, and which other ways it has been implemented. Give us moral quandaries! Revelatory ideas! Edgy angles on this complex issue! Please. THAT's why we're watching. Not to see another Die Hard rip-off, which we've already seen a hundred and seventeen times.
Oh well, I'll watch a few more episodes. Who knows, maybe it'll pick up. Probably not, though.
Look up "convoluted" in the dictionary, and there'll be a description of this movie
(Yeah, there are spoilers here, so don't read this unless you're seen the movie, or don't care about spoilers.)
I was saddened that the plot of TRANCE ended up being completely implausible. The biggest blunders:
1. Simon only hides the painting AFTER he's hit on the head, and THEN can't remember where it is? That's not how amnesia works. Or did Elizabeth have him under post-hypnotic instruction not to remember it? This was not specified. Also, the time-frame seems wildly off here. After he's hit on the head, he stumbles outside, is hit by a car, kills the girl (in broad daylight, on an open street in a posh neighborhood and no one notices), drives away to hide the body and the painting, and only then comes back for treatment for his head injury. WHY doesn't he get in trouble with the police over this long absence right after the theft?
2. Elizabeth has just finished erasing Simon's memory of her, in order to get out of an abusive relationship with him, oh, and then she tells him to steal a £25 million painting for her as a goodbye present?! That's hilariously crazy and completely unbelievable. She must have known that this could very easily get very complicated, as indeed it does.
3. The movie doesn't tell us WHY she was interested in that particular Goya painting; WHY it has special significance for her. We need to know that in order to understand her motivation.
And there are many other things I could criticize, all involving plausibility. A deeply insecure gambler with plentiful criminal connections happens to work at a classy auctioneer house? And after trying to foil the theft he is hailed as a hero despite the painting being gone? And then he happens to go see the exact hypnotist he used to have a relationship with, and then she happens to want in on the multi- million dollar crime, and then she starts a relationship with another violent guy despite having worked hard to extricate herself from one abusive guy?
And don't get me started on the sex and nudity stuff; most of it made very little sense and was poorly done (plotwise, I mean - no disrespect to the actors).
This movie, from now on, will stand as a prime example of *CONVOLUTED* storytelling, far outdoing ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (not a bad movie, but certainly a convoluted one). It tries to wrap its plot into shapes and angles that it doesn't really fit, in order to pull a fast one on the audience. And it gets TOO convoluted and is unable to unwrap itself in the end. It got away from the screenwriters and one day I hope they admit it.
A disappointment. 4 stars out of 10.
Yi dai zong shi (2013)
The price of revenge...
The Grandmaster is a good movie. I am a big fan of Asian cinema; especially Asian action cinema. The Grandmaster is not a typical action movie; in fact, you could argue that it's not an action movie at all. It will disappoint people who are just looking for fast-paced action. Myself, I have a foot in both camps. My consumption of Asian movie are predominantly action-oriented, but I also like the more philosophical, slower, slice-of-life and auteur productions.
What we have in The Grandmaster is a highly characteristic Wong Kar Wai movie; compare with 2046 and you're seeing almost the same movie. Even with the same actors in the key parts! And focusing on the same themes of having by-passed the chance to achieve a happy ending, and having to accept one's fate. My initial difficulty with this story was the rather unspecified vow that Gong Er took, never to marry and never to teach. What's the point of getting the skills back from the bad guy if she can never pass them on? But it dawned on me that the movie is a commentary on the revenge theme that permeates most other martial arts movies. Gong Er understands that revenge is morally wrong, but she can't suppress her passion for it. So she decides to go through with it on the condition that she pays a very high price for it: never to marry and never to teach. Letting these particular skills die, so they can't be used for revenge ever again.
So, although The Grandmaster in some ways reads like a thematic remake of 2046, it does actually also provide a meaningful statement on the martial arts movie genre - and it does so with beautiful cinematography throughout. The movie was, in some places, a little bit slow for my taste, and considering that many of the themes were the same as in Wong's previous movies, it did feel a little bit repetitive. None the less, it was a very good movie.
My rating: 8 stars out of 10.
Dexter: Remember the Monsters? (2013)
A great show - a shame about the ending :-(
Endings are hard. I mean, hard to write. To get right. If you try to do something different and unexpected, it's a huge gamble that is likely to go wrong, unless it makes some special kind of sense. The ending, remember, is what communicates the writers' point about the whole show; their judgment.
I liked the ending of "Lost" - for me, it worked on an artistic level. But shows that have criminals as protagonists are still a new genre, and the writers/producers apparently can't get past the moral judgment - past the idea that if people do wrong (even in such a thing as having too many wives - see "Big Love"), they should be punished. Generally, that principle is sound, but some people also deserve a second chance. Some people can reform. And in works of fiction there is most often a symbol scheme at work which means that the protagonist is not just a real and regular person, but an embodiment of a set of themes and representations.
"Dexter" was just about my favorite drama show of all time. Right up until the penultimate episode, it was deftly told. When in the second- to-last episode Dexter actually finds out that he is no longer a killer, I started hoping for a happy end. But of course I had predicted that, at the very least, they would kill off either Deb, Hannah or Harrison - to get away scott free, Dexter would have to sacrifice something. But they chose to have him react crazily to Deb's death, letting it overshadow the good things he had to look forward to. But abandoning his loved ones is no solution - when you start a new life, a new job, you are bound to get involved with people again; it's unavoidable. If he's just sitting around staring into thin air whenever he's not at work, he might as well kill himself. The moral is clear: he is in the equivalent of hell. And he chose it himself - maybe because he got "sane" enough to see that it was what he deserved. But it's only what he deserves according to old- fashioned and preachy values. Before Deb's death, he actually started to reform. There was hope for him.
But this ending showcases the problem with having "bad-guy protagonists" - you can't really sanction their actions, so you can't give them a happy ending (just look at "Weeds"). But the audience has been (kinda, sorta) rooting for this protagonist since day one! Does that count for nothing? The thing to do in a show like this is to show development, maybe repentance, even. Some sort of evolution of character. And so his ultimate fate should also be open and fraught with possibilities. Because he represents something different than what he appears to be. Dexter represents, to a meaningful extent, justice and righteousness. Reason, even. Misunderstood and having to hide, and going through a bunch of problems, but he does symbolize rationality applied to ethics, and there's no deep point in having him end up as he does in this final episode.
So, I thought that was a weird and somewhat nonsensical ending. But, everything that went before was pretty great!!
G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)
Argh, so disappointing! Loved the first one, wanna forget this one.
I am a comic book collector, and love superheroes, although I never actually read the G.I. Joe comic. When the first movie came out, the reviews were so bad that I first decided not to see it, but a woman friend whose judgment I found reliable told me that it was very comic-book like and that I would probably like it. So I went anyway, and loved it. Last night I watched it for the fourth time, and it has me smiling and chuckling throughout! I enjoy it more every time I see it. It is very consciously high-camp, and its production values are precisely as slick and gorgeous as the recent Marvel Studios movies (Captain America, the Iron Men, The Avengers). I don't know exactly how much it references the comics, but I get a big kick out of the jokes that refer to action figures, like the mention of the kung fu grip, and "Duke wasn't born; he was government issued!" :-)
But mostly, it's the characters. In the first movie there are many distinctive characters who are all very enjoyable. In the second movie the entire G.I. Joe outfit is reduced to three people (well, plus Snake Eyes), one of whom (Flint) is completely anonymous and has nothing to do! All the slickness and sci-fi coolness is just gone. The box office page here at IMDb claims that the sequel had an (estimated) budget of 135 million dollars; if that is the case, this is the cheapest-looking big-budget movie I have ever seen. It seemed like all the money was used on Bruce Willis (probably 20 mil just for him), the mountain side sequence and the urban blow-up, with nothing left to make anything else look good, nor to craft a coherent story. The big blow-up had zero consequences; we saw NO reactions at all! It wasn't even clear whether the Joes knew what was going on!
In Retaliation, I found none of the characters compelling, with the partial exception of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow (whose survival from the first movie went unexplained - impaled and drowned; how did he live?!). Adrianne Palicki sure was eye-candy, but she didn't have that much to do. She could not compete with the amazing Rachel Nichols. I also missed Marlon Wayans. I am actually a big fan of Dwayne Johnson; he should have been to his generation what Stallone or Schwarzenegger were to theirs. But he has never succeeded in getting any properly great roles! He was pretty good in The Scorpion King, Walking Tall, and Doom, and I loved him in Be Cool, but besides those I have been bored and disappointed by virtually all his movies (still haven't seen Snitch, though). Not his fault; the fault of the projects he is offered. Sigh!
There is this Hollywood rule of thumb that, if the execs believe a sequel can gross 60% of what the original did, then they greenlight it. To my eyes, it seems like they must be using a goddamn manual for creating a sequel which has *exactly* 60% of the budget, 60% of the plot quality, 60% of the acting, 60% of the entertainment value, and 60% of the visual effects. It just feels so utterly and unashamedly commercial. And in this case, more like 40%.
Retaliation may have had more references to the comics, but the tone never felt anywhere near as inspirational and enthusiastic to me as in the first movie. But I must acknowledge that it did have some entertainment value. I liked the idea of the whole nuclear thing at the culminating summit (it was also effectively comical, for a bit), but I don't think it was played up to anywhere near its proper potential. So I'm sad. But grateful that we had *one* movie I can rave about.
4 stars out of 10 for the sequel. 10 stars for the first movie.
Good, but not as good as the 1962 version
The Dream of the Red Chamber is based on the great medieval Chinese novel of the same title, and has also been turned into a much longer TV series. It is a love story about the noble Bao family, whose young son Bao Yu is in love with a childhood friend, Lin, from another wealthy family. But Lin is sickly, so Bao Yu's family wants him to marry his cousin instead, and sets up a wedding where Bao Yu thinks he is being married to Lin, but is in fact being married to his cousin. Much lamenting ensues, performed in the Huangmei musical genre, which is characterized by lightly comical and stylized acting and singing mixed with serious drama.
This story is interesting in terms of gender history because it is almost entirely about women, which is unexpected for a tale of the medieval Asian aristocracy. Even the one major male part is played by a woman in the various film productions.
This version of the tale from 1977 is not quite as good as the previous version from 1962, although the two versions are much alike. The storytelling and the dramatic acting is of higher quality in the '62 version, and the songs are longer and in a more classical style. The two movies seem to follow almost identical scripts, although there are a few scenes that have been changed (the whole episode with the naughty book is cut out of the newer version). In general, the character relationships, esp. that between Lin and Bao Yu, are much more clear and elaborated upon in the '62 version, while much of the storyline in this '77 version seems rushed, even to the extent of being confusing to viewers if they weren't already familiar with the previous version. Repeatedly, various scenes and details of the plot which were shown better in the previous movie are cut short. Here, too, Lin isn't shown to be all that sick (at least not until the end, where it is mainly out of love), while in the '62 version her obvious sickness and frailty greatly contribute to the tragical situations. The drama in the '62 version is significantly more heightened and stylized (but also caricatured) than in this version, probably because the actors and producers were more used to this sort of material. It must be admitted that the dramatic end sequence of this version is very effective, however. Some scenes are modeled very closely according to the '62 version, while the lamentation of Bao Yu after Lin's death is in a more modern, explicit and convincingly anguished style than the older version, which is very moving.
Ultimately, though, I feel that the 1977 version gives the impression of being a largely unnecessary remake of the 1962 movie. This is the last hurrah of this genre; a late-comer and an also-ran which doesn't quite live up to the peak productions of the '60s. But of course it is warranted in that it treats us to the delectable looks of Brigitte Lin, Sylvia Chang, Kara Hui and several other beautiful actresses, and also because, being from 1977, it is perhaps easier to restore for DVD than the '62 version, the available DVD of which is of inferior crispness.
I rate the '62 version 8 - possibly 9 - stars out of 10, while this '77 version gets 7 stars. It certainly has very good sequences, but on the whole it is not as good as the version from 15 years before.
Dexter: Surprise, Motherfucker! (2012)
One of the weaker seasons
Dexter is a tremendously exciting and watchable show; one of my favorites ever. Season 8 has had some great things, but all things considered I have to classify it as one of the weaker seasons. It's all to do with how Deb's discovery of Dex's true nature was handled. It wasn't handled in a convincing manner that was true to Deb's character. She would not have been able to just basically turn an accepting and blind eye to what Dexter was doing. She would at the very least have demanded that he tell her everything he's doing, and every detail about any case he'd had a hand in before, because this would be the only way to run damage control on his activities. She would have understood that, if they didn't share all this knowledge, things would soon spiral out of control, as indeed they did.
So why did the writers not handle this more realistically? It's not because it would have ruined the potential for new and cool stories. I must attribute it mainly to laziness and lack of imagination. It's a shame that they didn't want to take the character portrayals to their logical consequence, and it hurts the show. It underscores its lack of realism.
Then there's the ending. Were anyone in doubt that Deb would shoot LaGuerta? Not really. If she had shot Dexter, *that* would have been unexpected. And, of course, what we want from a truly good and exciting story *is* the unexpected. So yeah, I was rooting for her to shoot Dexter, and disappointed when she didn't. I often have a problem with the main character being killed at the end of a show for no proper reason other than moral preaching (as in Big Love, for instance), but in Dexter's case, with a lifestyle that was always getting more and more extreme and indefensible, it actually makes sense, is just, and provides closure, to kill him off. And for his sister to be the one to do it would have been excellent pathos. But no. I guess he had to be kept alive for the next season. Well, then, we'll have to wait another season for his inevitable demise. I will, of course, keep watching.
But, I repeat, this was one of the weaker seasons, and it did not have me as excited as most of the previous ones.
Well. I have to say I am rather amazed that this movie has a 7-star rating at IMDb. I was looking forward to Iron-Fisted Monk, but it strongly disappointed me. The plot and the characters are staggeringly formulaic, and far, far too much time is spent on the bad guys raping and massacring people with impunity (of course, this doesn't mean that there aren't several idiotic comedy scenes in it, also, complete with the worst sound effects in cinema history). There is also far too long between good fight scenes. The last ten minutes are satisfying, but everything else is decidedly below average. A very poor and disappointing effort from Sammo Hung, who has done so many other cool movies. I thought Iron-Fisted Monk would be one of his landmark efforts, but it's more of a landmark failure. It's just not in good taste, and does not deserve a rating above 3 or 4.
Weeds: It's Time, Part 2 (2012)
A comedy show which is wrapped up with a straight drama story? I am a huge fan of Weeds, but this ending did not work well for me. It was pretentious and preachy and had almost no humor. Sure, there were good actors and a bunch of other cool stuff, but it was too neat and tidy, while also being too moralistic. Until now we had an irreverent left- wing show with a protagonist, Nancy, that admirably dared to lead a different lifestyle. This ending makes a U-turn, telling us like some narrow-minded conservative that the wages of her off-beat lifestyle is that she can never achieve happiness. She is described as being pretty much a failure as a human being, having alienated her two eldest sons and lost the man she really loved, but whom she kept stringing along without consummation for years. The irony is that the reason she had such a not-really-relationship with Andy is purely that this was one of the plot-points that kept the story rolling, i.e. the fault of the show's writers. Meta-like, that narrative design element has now turned into a tragic and in my view nonsensical culmination of the character drama.
Shane's part in the tragedy is no less; his character was always extremely cool and destined for some form of greatness, but he fell in with a crooked alcoholic cop and then became one himself. That utterly sucks. This was always a lighthearted, fun and provocative show, and then they give us a somber, down-beat ending that caters to establishment values? NOT okay in my book. Yes, I know we are expected to edgily embrace the unexpected and reject happy endings like the well- pierced goths this show is mainly aimed at, but... Nah. This pessimism doesn't work for me. It's not fair to the characters that we have come to see as so cool and out-of-the-box. And it's not fair to the progressives in the audience, who had every right to expect something rather more radical. Nor is it fair to the various writers of the show, who have gone out of their way to write intelligent anti-establishment satire, and effectively spawned those two other cool shows with bad guys in the spotlight, Dexter and Breaking Bad.
The Hollow Crown (2012)
A visual spectacle, but no poetic grandeur
As I watched these Hollow Crown episodes, there was something about the delivery of the dialogue that seemed off to me. It was strangely flat and naturalistic, spoken like ordinary dialogue in historical fiction. Then it hit me: the verse is spoken in prose. This is a huge problem. We have amazing production values; sumptuous settings; virtuoso directing; good actors and visual splendor enough to knock anyone's socks off - and we also have Shakespeare's story and words. Tragically, however, without the verse delivery of the lines, we have none of the grandeur of the language; no poetry in the performance. The artfulness of Shakespeare's work has been excised.
There is little to criticize about these versions besides this, but this point of criticism is an all-important one. Reducing Shakespeare's poetry to straight-forward prose is a terrible idea which takes away the audience's joy of the beauty of the words, and also deprives the actors of doing the kind of Shakespeare they want to be doing. I assume it was done to make Shakespeare's language more modern and understandable to an audience that is not weaned on Shakespeare, but to drag Shakespeare down to this level is artistic sabotage. I am deeply against it, and I hope they won't do it in the other upcoming BBC Shakespeare installments by producer Sam Mendes. Sadly, they probably will. Sigh. :-(