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Competent but where's the magic?
15 April 2019
Just being screened in Canada. Based on the first two episodes, here's my reaction.

Low key compared to the Harry Potter films. This is not an action show.

The witches (and other creatures) live as ordinary people. A historian (Teresa Palmer) makes the frightening discovery that a magical book has adopted her.

A handsome vampire professor (Matthew Goode) becomes her love interest, while other players zero in on her.

The initial episodes have a great deal of tension but very little content. Palmer plays her role competently, but lack charisma. Goode is suitably lean, intense and sinister.

Fortunately, the author of the book (Deborah Harkness) is the executive producer and an actual history professor. So, there are hopes for the show's literacy and intelligence.
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American Gods (2017– )
Powerful vision, excellent drama
4 April 2019
Finally got to see the Season 1 DVD. I'm impressed. The vision is powerful and well executed. The pace is compelling. The drama is riveting. Strong performances from the cast.

Ian McShane and the old gods (and demi-gods) are colorful. Ricky Whittle is fine as the clueless ex-convict. Emily Browning has the most complex role.

It's a shame that Season 2 appears to have a flat tire. Hope that it will recover in Season 3!!!!

Warning: Nudity and soft porn.
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Doom Patrol (2019– )
Not bad
3 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Don't know why the reviews are either 10/10 or 3/10. To me, seems like above average.

Yet another comics-to-TV series. It's a familiar theme; bunch of dysfunctional people with super-powers save the day. Don't we all want to be weird super-heroes?

Timothy Dalton is surprisingly low-key. Brendan Fraser is chubby! That said, the characters are interesting, as we get flashbacks of their former lives.

There's a fair amount of wow, and some comic relief. Elasti-Girl loses control and devolves into a gigantic blob. Naturally, Robot-man has to wrestle with his emotional pain.

After two episodes, I'm interested enough to follow this production. So far, the show has been edgy because of the rawness of the characters. How will they bond into a team?
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The Village (2019– )
Feel Good series
24 March 2019
Warning: Spoilers
It's a story about an urban apartment building where the residents bond together. Yes, it is a sentimental piece about 'the village'.

That said, the writers have done a great job. Touching on hot button issues in the pilot episode. The returning cripple veteran who gets thanked for his 'service'. The senior who witnessed another passing away. The nurse who is a single mother with a pregnant teenage daughter. The immigrant mother being arrested by immigration officers.

I liked it because it has 'heart'.
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The Passage (2019– )
25 January 2019

The TV drama lacks the insights and interpersonal relationships of the novels. The plot is similar. Does it work as a horror epic?

At this point, I am uncertain. The pilot feels rushed. Perhaps, a two hour pilot would work better.

The series doesn't start with a bang. The scientists don't impress. Amy does comes across as an engaging and intelligent girl. Brad clearly has empathy for her. Some of the Twelve get interesting personalities.

So, there's hope.
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Annihilation (2018)
Good acting but flawed movie
5 November 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Annihilation (2018)

Ir's a scifi horror. The problem is that it's difficult to translate the first person account in a novel to the third person narrative captured on camera. There's a great deal of ambiguity about motive and responses.

In general, the movie's premise mirrors that of the book. An alien organism arrives on earth, and begins to transform the area into an alien biosphere. Plants, fungi and animals are transformed as their DNA is altered.

The threat is mentioned but not fully articulated in the movie. The alien biosphere is expanding rapidly and all existing life is threatened.

In the movie, the plot about the expedition is very different from the book.

Several military teams have entered the biosphere, but none have returned. Until the protagonist's husband mysteriously shows up alone on her doorstep.

The protagonist (a biologist) joins an all-woman academic team to explore the strange new world. Apparently, radio and GPS is disabled. So, the team has no information from the previous expeditions. And, they don't realize that they have been in the biosphere for weeks.

We don't know much about the team members, only snippets from the gossip between the ladies.

They are horrified by the discovery of strange animals and flora as they follow in the footsteps of the previous expedition. Eventually, some are killed. Some mutate into plants.

Realizing that they are changing, the team leader rushes to the core of the alien entity at the lighthouse, "while I'm still human". Why? Presumably because she hopes to merge with the alien core and mutate it. Her motive is not explicitly explained.

IMO, the most significant discovery was that of the doppelgangers. The alien entity is creating identical copies of humans. Why? Presumably to understand/communicate/compromise with the existing biosphere.

The story ends in an unsatisfactory manner. The protagonist manages to ignite her doppelganger and the entire alien biosphere collapses!

With patience, the viewer can follow the growing horror of the humans. But, the screenwriter and director should also include the bigger picture in order to craft a better ending.

In conclusion, it's a thought provoking narrative. But, lacks balance between emotive and logic.
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Cock and Bull (2016)
Insights into capitalist China
25 September 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Cock and Bull (2016)

To be commended for rising above the standard cop and robber genre. Rashomon-style, the film follows three parallel stories that converge.

The first protagonist is the tow truck driver (a country bumpkin) who is falsely accused of murder. Enraged by the suspicions of some of his fellow villagers, the mechanic pursues the suspected murderer.

The audience gets a hilarious look at the crude methods employed by the bumpkin, and villagers. At the same time, the film offers a commentary about the moral center of rural society.

The second protagonist is the suspected murderer. Turns out that the young man (from the city) is merely a thief. He took the murdered man's motorbike. He gets a brutal beating from the real murderer who tried to recover his jacket left on the bike.

The real murderer is a surprise. He is a be-spectacle salary-man with some education. Yet, he accepts a job to commit murder. He kills easily, but it is the wrong man. After that, he commits more violence as he seeks to erase his mistakes.

In his final act, the unlikely killer explains his backstory as the police surround him. Its a tale of the brutal life in the city.

I enjoyed the film. Besides the non-linear story telling, the film is also a critique of capitalist China today.

That said, the film was not perfect. In the latter part of the movie, there was a lot of violence mixed with foolery. IMO, this diffused the impact. Though the Chinese audience may have welcomed the comic relief.
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Not bad. Novelty of a post-apocalyptic world.
9 September 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The Shannara Chronicles (2016)

I watched Season One on CraveTV after the series had been canceled.

Not bad. Good production values. Good CGI and post-editing. Obviously a serious effort based on Terry Brooks' books. The last two episodes of the season were strong. There is the novelty of the fantasy world merging with a post-apocalyptic San Francisco.

Its an adventure-fantasy world on the scale of Tolkien's Middle Earth. The show has also been filmed in New Zealand. However, it doesn't have the same budget, and cast of thousands.

Nonetheless, the cast is exceptional attractive. The dialogue is sufficiently ominous and urgent. There is blood and violence.

Why was the show canceled after just two seasons? To appeal to Young Adults, the cast is just too attractive (think of the Twilight franchise). Whereas the LOTR trilogy had a gritty wider appeal.

Faithful to its literary origins, the dialogue at court was sometimes rather weighty. Not perfect for a teen audience.

The first season was aired on MTV. Perhaps, it could have done better with CW (The Originals, The Outpost etc). In any case, the cost was IMHO too high for a specialty channel.

Regrettably, the show ended prematurely. Could have been interesting in a post-apocalyptic world. Any chance of a reboot on CW, where The Outpost managed a million viewers?
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Homeland (2011– )
A good season 6
9 August 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Homeland Season 6

Once again, strong insights into the hearts and minds of human beings. Less histrionics from Carrie Mathison, that's a good thing. A better balance with a focus also on Saul, Adal, Peter Quin and the President-Elect.

Of how the best laid plans of men and women go awry.

The plot is about an attempted coup by pro-Israeli hardliners in the American intelligence establishment. It almost succeeds, but Peter and Carrie (the outliers) save the day.

The techniques used by the unscrupulous are pretty frightening. Besides violence and blackmail, there is the current vogue of political manipulation through social media and political extremists.

Inevitably, extremism and violence spirals out of control.
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Castle Rock (2018– )
Not sure where this is going
3 August 2018
Warning: Spoilers
It remains to be seen whether this series is a nostalgic tour of Mr. King's literary works. Or, the start of a new creative effort to unravel the evil of Castle Rock. Executive producer is JJ Abrams.

Episode One starts promisingly. Well defined characters, good actors, crisp pace. Starts with the strange suicide of a prison warden. There is the mystery of how young Henry survived the big winter storm, with no memory. There is the bigger mystery of the sinister young man locked in the disused cell block.

Typical of King's latter works, there is a lot of reminiscing about the past. Flashbacks galore. Some viewers will find the pace slow, as it takes a long time for matters to clarify. Particularly since the dialogue is mostly uninspiring.

After many scares and false starts, Episode Four has the first mass killing. It's a big disappointment.

Fans of Stephen King will like the constant sense of unease, the complications, and the references.
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Interesting but needs to be more coherent
16 July 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The narrative is difficult to grasp because of the bloody nature of the film.

There are the traditional themes of loyalty and honor. Revenge being a way of expressing loyalty and honor. What's different here is the theme of redemption.

The protagonist (Manji) killed his superior. Mercenaries kidnapped and killed Manji's sister in order to collect the reward on his head. Manji shows great fortitude in killing all the mercenaries despite receiving multiple deathly wounds.

A sorceress revives him and gifted him with immortality. And, sends a girl (Rin) to him after her parents are killed. There's a master swordsman (Anotsu) with a megalomaniac desire to dominate the world of swordsmen. With his cadre of talented killers, Anotsu destroy many dojo including Rin's father.

The cynical Manji decides to help Rin presumably because of the similarity between Rin and Manji's sister. Manji uses his immortality to defeat the master killers who are more skilled than Manji.

Like the film Kill Bill, the foes get a chance to say something about themselves before being killed.

In the middle of the film, the narrative gets confused as Manji meets a fellow immortal with the same aim of stopping Anotsu. But, Manji ends up killing his fellow immortal.

Then, Manji is defeated by a woman assassin but is spared because of the assassin's sentimentality about Rin.

Finally, the government acts against Anotsu. It gets really confused as Anotsu and Manji separately battle hordes of government soldiers.

The film ends with a great deal of ambiguity. Was it worth spilling the rivers of blood?

Overall, the movie is audacious. Crafting a variance of the samurai genre. However, the story telling is confused by the sub-plots and the ambiguous finale.

The filmmakers may have intended to break from the traditional narrative. But, IMO the scale of the epic worked against the attempted interpretation of humanity. Something sparse like Rashomon might have worked better.

Certainly lots of room here for debate!
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The Outpost (2018– )
A nice addition to the genre
11 July 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Nice adventure story from Syfy. Decent production values. The actors are quite adequate for this genre.

The plot centers around the sole survivor of a village of elfin people (pointed ears and black blood) with mysterious powers. After the massacre, the girl is taken in by a human family. Jump forward, she's a fighter looking for the murderers of her people.

The rest of Episode One ("One Is The Loneliest Number") is located at an outpost where one of the murderers was reported to be. The protagonist (played by Australian Jessica Green) has to fight a variety of monsters.

The fighting is physical and intense. She gets hurt a lot. Overall, light entertainment for those interested in the genre.
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Take Two (II) (2018– )
Cheesy but sincere
24 June 2018
Rachell Bilsen plays the role of actress Sam Swift. The actress had 8 seasons as a TV cop. But crashed and burned after her show was cancelled.

Sam gets a shot at a PI show, and understudies an ex-cop turned PI. By Eddie Cibrian who plays it straight.

There's the contrast between the fumbling amateur (comic relief) and the handsome chunky professional with his emotional issues. Lots of possibilities for the script writers.

In the first episode, Sam plays the difference between the screen persona (TV cop) and the 'real' person. And, Sam Swift gets the chance to show that she is made of sterner stuff, and helps nail the bad guys.

Overall, it is another family-friendly detective-mystery show. Its target audience expect many entanglements and plot twists. IMHO, its longevity depends on the ability of the writers and Bilsen to develop the character of Sam Swift.

So, this series is a work in progress. I gave it a standard 6/10, hoping that it will rise above the cheesy.

Update: A strong episode #4 "Ex's and Oh's". Sam is troubled by lingering feelings for her ex-fiance. Eddie Valetik has the opportunity to show his smarts, and discovers his feelings for Sam. IMHO, this series is starting to get better.
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Preacher (2016– )
Strange but not brilliant
12 June 2018
I watched the beginning of Season 1 and found the narrative to be confusing. Did not watch the finale.

Season 2 is more focused as our protagonist hunt for God. Predictably, there are more revelations and obstacles. The leads (Cooper and Negga) perform convincingly and carry the story along. Fortunately, the episodes did not descent into farce or comedy.

On the other hand, the series has been true to its comic book origins. Violent and grotesque, the series has not yet risen to greatness. The big issues have not been addressed.

Like Kill Bill, there is a psychotic level of blood letting and gore. But, the amount of deviancy makes Kill Bill look mainstream by comparison.

For those interested in something different, this series offers many treats. But, don't expect any insights into religion or humanity.
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Reverie (2018– )
Engaging - think about the possibilities
31 May 2018
What if we could go back and correct our mistakes? What if we could prolong our happiness forever, or re-visit whenever we needed a boost?

Like Westworld, this show is about fantasy. To create a fantasy around ourselves, and the pitfalls inherent.

Sarah Shahi plays a role very different from the assassin in Person Of Interest. Does well in the first episode.

The narrative is slick, the CGI is convincing and the storyline requires empathy.

The only negative is the quick and easy way that the problem was resolved in Episode One.

That said, the show has promise, and I do hope that it will remain interesting.
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The Drop (2014)
Slow burning thriller
22 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The Drop (2014) ****

In Brooklyn, there's a bar used as a money drop by dangerous Chechen gangsters. Bob (Hardy) works at the bar for his cousin Marv (Gandolfini) who runs the place.

Marv had a problem. As a result, Bob has a secret that has haunted him for many years.

In the present time, Marv gets stupid again. Placing Bob and himself in danger.

Initially, Bob seems to be a timid unambitious drone. He curries obsequious favor with the Chechens. But, he acquires a puppy, then a girlfriend (Noomi Rapace). Someone comes along to threaten both.

This film is a quality drama, without the rolling gunfire and chase scenes currently in vogue. Well crafted and well played by the entire cast. Good pacing and effective cinematography. The film is a narrative about the motivation and character of the main cast.

In the climatic scene, all is revealed as Bob takes care of his problems. Also earning the respect of the Chechens.

Some might find the film to be too sparse. Not enough action and melodrama. But, there is tension and fear aplenty. Clues are there for us to pick over at the conclusion of the story.
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Llacks the passion and desperation of the original.
7 April 2018
Blade Runner is a cult favourite, with its futuristic visions and the way it asked questions about humanity and being human. Equally riveting was the pace and plot. As Deckard fought for his life against physically superior replicants.

Then, there was the romantic relationship between Dckard and Rachel, the beautifully cool replicant.

This 2049 version is merely an extension of the original film. Stylistically and creatively, it does not break new ground. Though there are clever ideas and a great deal of detail.

In terms of human interest, I found it hard to empathize with K because it didn't have enough of an inner life. Granted that K has an interesting relationship with a virtual girlfriend.

Other weaknesses include the lack of a terrifying killer replicant like Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). The mad genius played by Leto just does not match the mania of Joe Turkel's Dr Tyrell. Nor the other interesting characters populating the original film.

The bottom line is that the film has a great deal of creative input, but lacks the passion and desperation of the original.
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One of the best of 2017
7 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Three Billboards in Ebbing Missouri (2017)

Here's an strong indie feature in the mould of Fargo (but without the weirdness). Once again, Frances McDormand gives an excellent dramatic characterization.

A grieving mother unsettles a small town by confronting the police for failing to find her daughter's killer. The aging Woody Harrelson plays the hapless dying police chief. Another casualty is the dumb hick deputy (Sam Rockwell) who expresses his morality through violence.

Like a whodunit, this movie provides a wealth of revelations about familial relationships. The mother with her family. The police chief and his family. The deputy with his mother.

The movie ends in a western-style posse of unlikely comrades. One (McDormand) seeks revenge while the other (Rockwell) seeks justice.

Created without special effects. This engrossing movie rolls simply and angrily to its conclusion. Excellent performance by the entire cast.

Warning: A significant amount of graphic violence.
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Light entertainment
25 December 2017
Vampire Cleanup Department (2017)

The term 'vampire' is incorrect in this Chinese genre (dating from literature of the 19th Century). The living corpses are more like zombies (the animated dead). They hop around (hahaha!) and attack humans.

In the 1980s, this genre was briefly popular in Hong Kong movies, Since this genre predated the craze for zombies in the West, the term vampire was applied in the English translation. And sure enough, some zombies went for the neck.

In the context of a feudal rural context, the old movies were atmospheric and spooky. This movie is set in modern Hong Kong, and the old-style zombies look silly where there are motorcars and SWAT.

The special effects are minimal. So, the actors have to ham it up. With the small budget, the film makers have to target micro audiences.

Richard Ng represents nostalgia. The film starts with a bloody flourish in slasher style.

Then, we are introduced to the small team of 'ghostbusters' known as Vampire Cleanup Department (VCD). The VCD hang out in a Batcave-style secret HQ.

Then, there is the romance angle. The VCD has a young recruit who falls for a teen zombie. Interestingly, the teen zombie looks like a doll (Japanese fetish for life-like girl dolls).

The bottom line is that this is a commercial production with little originality. Possibly entertaining if you are looking for a little entertainment. But, its not the next-big-thing as the producers might hope.
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Did not meet my expectations
31 October 2017
**** May contain spoilers****

In view of the threat to Asgard, I was expecting something like Game of Thrones.

Unfortunately, the plot seemed contrived. Thor's long lost sister suddenly shows up. How was it possible to erase knowledge of her existence?

The last Valkyrie is also conveniently at the Game Master's arena.

Thor's friends and many Asgard heroes are killed by the villain. But, that doesn't seem to faze Thor.

Asgard is destroyed, and Thor sails away with a handful of survivors. But, no great speech from Thor to rally his people.

Then, there is the levity and low humour at the beginning of the film. Fortunately, the movie picks up momentum with a continuous stream of violence. Ended with a bang.

However, IMHO, this was not a great movie. Entertaining enough for action fantasy fans. But, does not add to the mystique of the God of Thunder.
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Inhumans (2017)
Sad - pilot episodes
29 September 2017
It's a another fantasy/adventure story.

The set and costume designs were okay. But, the dialogue was terrible.

The actors were so stiff. Looked like a high school play on a stage.

The physical fighting was truly terrible. Total lack of fluidity and commitment.

The plot has promise. But, the execution lacks magic. Please try again.
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Warning: Movie intended for 12-year boys
12 September 2017
The movie is fun and light entertainment. However, the hero bounces around like an eight year old with the social confusion of a twelve year old.

Fortunately, the project is saved by the gravitas of Michael Keaton.

I left after an hour and dropped in on the screening of 'It'. Here is a tale of children forced to grow up quickly and defeat a monster. The villain isn't just a vengeful criminal. But, evil incarnate.
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It (I) (2017)
Very good
12 September 2017
This is the screen version of a Stephen King novel. Usually, the movie versions turn out badly. However, this film is a huge success.

The screenplay is different from the novel which tells the story of the children in their first (in 1989) and second confrontation (as adults) with the monster.

Instead, the movie ends after the defeat of the monster in 1989. Allowing for a happy ending. The novel's plot complexity is lost. But, the simplification turns the tale into a simple battle between innocence and an ancient evil.

The young actors are excellent. Sophia Lillis is enchanting. Credit goes to the director and writers for making the villain creditable and fearsome.

Bottom line is that the movie succeeds as a horror film.
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Dunkirk (2017)
Limited in scope
2 August 2017
A big project. It has scale and intensity.

Dunkirk is now a mythical moment in history. The film is a welcome reminder of the tragedy of WW2 as ordinary men are crushed by the weapons of modern warfare.

There is much horror. Screaming men on fire in a flaming ocean. Soldiers burrowing for cover against aerial attacks. Trapped soldiers going down with the ship.

On the other hand, there isn't much gore or body parts.

Shown from the shifting POV of infantry men, pilots and sailors. We get a view from the ground/sea, then the same scene viewed from the air.

What are the film's weak points?

It provides a narrow claustrophobic view of the beach operations. There is no appreciation of the terrible tactical decisions made by the commander of the BEF.

He made the unilateral decision to abandon the fight without proper preparations for the evacuation or rearguard protection.

There is no insight into the triumphant Germans, or the plight of the French civilians. Insufficient tribute to the terrible losses suffered by the Little Ships of the evacuation.

As the events cover less than a week, there isn't time for character development. Does not have the same impact as The Bridge over The River Kwai.

Bottom Line: Interesting but not memorable. Recommended for those who like immersion, without getting their feet wet.
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Wonder Woman (2017)
Finally, a superhero movie that I can respect
13 June 2017
I really enjoyed this movie. The saga of a birth-of-a superhero. From the princess on the island of the Amazons, to the war heroine of WW1, and to humanity's protector as Diana Prince.

Directed by a woman who has never done a big budget movie. Bravo. I had no problem with the extra length of the movie.

Gil Gadot is excellent as the innocent who discovers love and defends humanity despite their flaws. From the trainee warrior to the heroine and god killer.

Chris Pine puts in an unexpectedly fine performance as the sincere Steve Taylor. Commendations for a strong supporting cast.

In this film. the villains are treated with respect. Dr. Maru rejecting Steve's amateurish attempt at seduction.

Good heavens! There is romance and tenderness. It could be mistaken for an adult movie?
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