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Isn't there a law about being historically accurate...
Warning - I don't think this has spoilers, as I'm commenting on the actual relevant history that's been skillfully woven into the plot - but if you are clueless about this history you might misconstrue what I say as a spoiler. I knew this history and my reaction was – dang (I can't write what I actually said), somebody really understands the world of the time!
TABOO is welcome proof that you can have a well written, directed, and acted series that is historically accurate, or as a minimum historically plausible. It's 1814 and the East India Trading Company is the largest chartered company in the world, and one of its largest and most powerful institutions. It controls close to half of world trade and fields its own army that has conquered India and enforces a total monopoly on all trade there and with many other places. The War of 1812 is winding down, the slave trade but not slavery was outlawed into England and the Empire just seven years before, and the East India Company has been involved with much of that trade which is still quasi-legal if ships did not equip via England.
There is a building anti-slavery movement in England, with British emancipation just 16 years away. This adds a certain believability in the East India Company still being actively but deniably involved in slave trading, and trying to hide this not only from the public but those politicians opposed to slavery. Simultaneously there was a faction in the British Aristocracy that as late as the US Civil War wanted revenge on the Colonials that had ungratefully revolt in 1776, which is also worked into adding depth, motivation, and believability to certain actions in the plot. You might say evil often happens one excuse at a time.
Now into this cauldron you have James Keziah Delaney returning to England from Africa in 1814 to his sick father, who has actually just died. He disappeared 10 years ago, somewhere in Africa, after an appropriately horrific incident that could change anyone, and again has a strong basis in history. He's a hard man, shaped by his history into a survivor who will not be intimidated, or back down. His actions, just like those of his adversaries, make absolute sense given the character and the situation and continue to escalate in ways that are more than credible. The only blatant thing to me is the name of his deceased mother from the Pacific Northwest, Salish. That is the name of a coastal Native American people in the area she is from that is a major plot point in and of itself, and which has some kind of apparently occult linkage to be further revealed in later episodes.
It's a grimy, dirty London, sharing more with Penny Dreadful then with My Fair Lady. Add in James Delaney's questionable ancestry, his father's odd behavior before his death, grave robbers, knowledge of the state of chemistry of the time (no 19th century NCIS thankfully), questions of inheritance and the rules of the time, conspiracy in the halls of power, and finally questions and flashes of what is probably the occult that is being alluded to and hinted at, and it sounds like you'd have a mess.
You actually have a well-crafted stew, with each ingredient added at just the right moment, and which has been blended with the perfect mix of spices. Then you realize you're not quite sure what kind of meat has been added but it's NOT chicken, and that the flavor is being cleverly concealed. As you know the father is dead in the first five minutes of the first episode, it's no spoiler to reveal I watched up until the big reveal with the reading of the will toward the end of the second episode, when my free viewing timed out. As far as I can tell nothing happens without a reason in this series, but they weave this all into the plot and the actions without some annoying narrator in the background, nor do the club you over the head with anything. You don't need the historical background to enjoy it. In fact my only complaint is that this is only on paid cable/satellite. I just wish FX was more like Fox or CW where you can stream five episodes of their recent series.
The Messengers (2015)
Lazy Plot Writing Masquerading as Divine Purpose
First, I wanted to like this. CW's "I, Zombie" has been a truly clever new series, and "The Flash" understands the fine line between Super Hero Fantasy versus Super Hero Science Fiction, favoring the latter. Both series have likable characters who you grow to care about, and they become deeper and more nuanced as the series progresses.
This delivers none of that. Instead you are immediately confronted as to why Lucifer needs to show up via a Meteor Impact, or why God has chosen the actions of these six people to stop the Apocalypse. He's VERY unhappy with us, but what's really mysterious is why He chooses any of these characters to give us one last chance!?!. Trust me, none of them are Noah nor Lot.
The series suffers from trying to bring too many main players too quickly onto the screen for you to develop that much attachment to them. What is supremely annoying though is that instead of cleverly weaving the characters to ending up at the same place, evidently God is heavy handed and just pushes them all to the same locations with the subtlety of a Political Attack Ad. This happens both at the beginning, sort of, and then at the end of the second episode. Since nothing terribly significant come from this it's not even a plot spoiler. THAT'S an even bigger problem.
The acting ranges from decent to more than a bit over the top, though I don't know if the latter is due to the script, director, or the actors involved. It's not a good sign when the viewers ask themselves that question. Plus the series cannot make up it's mind about Science versus Divine and Infernal meddling, with an unhealthy does of conspiracy theory thrown in for either paranoia or simple stupidity.
So you have heavy-handed, disjointed, and lazy script writing combined with multiple weakly acted/scripted/directed characters who appear more or less central to the series, and whom you don't care about particularly. I figure I'm only out less than two hours of my life, and I'll forgive CW after their other good series debuting this year. Everyone gets to screw up occasionally. If Apocalyptic is your preference, "Sleepy Hollow" is a much better alternative.
Sleepy Hollow (2013)
The Good, the Bad, and the Apocalyptic
I'm writing this after seeing the pilot, and at least for a beginning it's nice. You like the characters, most of what's going on makes sense, and the characters are not making too many irrational decisions. In fact, the back story generally provides a fair degree of consistency for a series that is unabashedly supernatural. The Ichabod Crane character doesn't do too badly anachronism wise, which is refreshing after the number of times time shifted characters know way too much.
Abbie Mills plays the modern policewoman who has the supernatural shoved down her throat. She does a credible job with the character, and there is some back story presented to make her reactions believable. The problem is what happens concerning law enforcement types in the series. It will have almost anyone remotely familiar or associated with that field scratching their head in puzzlement. Some of the most fantastical moments come from the writers' near total ignorance of police procedures. The Headless Horseman is more believable than certain police procedures and interactions portrayed in the script.
To continue the bad part of it. The series probably needed a two hour pilot episode. Many of the plot devices or ideas are pushing the boundaries of the usual supernatural background many such series rely on. The issue is that when they are deviating from it, there's not quite enough info provided to figure out if it is sloppy writing or is it going to turn out to be a clever twist on the usual supernatural fare.
*SPOILER ALERT* Some of these inconsistencies are vaguely grating, like having "Death" as the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse an evil or demonic being. If you bother to read your Revelations the horsemen are sent by upstairs to start the Apocalypse, not the downstairs fellow. This drives other issues such as having him able to enter consecrated ground – either he's demonic, and he cannot or he's not demonic, and he can. Death made physical would still be something to be feared, but there IS a difference between terrifying, and evil. This is probably the most glaring example, but there are several. It's still an enjoyable program but I'll have to reserve judgment until there are a few more episodes under my belt.
UPDATE: Well, the season finale is over. The series exceeded my expectations in one area. The main characters were developed nicely, and were consistently scripted and solidly acted. One secondary character was somewhat over-the-top IMHO, but if that was my only complaint I would up my rating to 8 stars.
Sadly the story telling fell into the typical Hollywood Urban Fantasy Tripe. For some reason, and it is not isolated to this series, the script writers felt they simply HAD to rewrite two thousand plus years of Biblical Apocrypha, Jewish Mysticism, and Ceremonial Magic. I don't know why this happens so often. It's really not that hard to research, and in most of the instances (often several in an episode) there really was no compelling reason to change it. In fact in several instances it would have improved the story line.
I don't know if it's because the script writers/director think viewers are stupid, they just cannot resist the temptation to screw with it, or they are just lazy. Since what they are ignoring includes Catholic theology (Purgatory), the Book of Revelations (the horseman theme), or Kabala (Judaism) as well as all the mangled magical concepts – that's over 50% of the population. The Harry Potter series shows you can do it correctly, so why not? Whatever the case, it significantly detracts from the storyline. That's why I'm subtracting a star.
Kelly Brook's Cameltoe Shows (2010)
Okay - If the title got me to watch, I deserved this
I was actually following up a the filmography to one of the lesser actresses in the video with whom I was not familiar. The title got my attention so, being bored and getting ready to go to bed, I tried Youtube.
I found it, and viewed it. It's fairly sophomoric, and is a parody on two levels. First it makes fun of guys trying to get a good look at ladies who wear clothing that is much too tight, without underwear. So you have young, photogenic actresses with cameltoe inserts in their pants giving them an exaggerated look. Which parodies men who attempt to, how should one put it, stuff their codpiece.
It's vaguely amusing. I guess it depends on your spin on humor. I brought it on myself, so I cannot complain. Too much. I just hope this lets people get an idea what they are going to see, so they can choose beforehand if this is a waste of time or not.
Shinboi - History Meets Fantasy and Does It Well
My wife and I decided to watch this after seeing a preview for it. A word of warning. As with many previews, you get the impression of an action film that was mostly combat. It would be a profound disappointment for anyone expecting that, as it has both plot and a rich historical and cultural background that is often lacking from action films.
We had both seen and love "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", and enjoyed "The House of Flying Daggers." This movie lies somewhere between the two, and should not disappoint if you let it stand on its own instead of judging it on the manga on which it is based. The cinematography and scenery is absolutely gorgeous, and rates at least four stars. The combat sequences are excellent, amazingly so given the moderate budget this film had. The film could not climb much above five stars if that was all it had. However, it also has a story, that is both solid and at times, clever.
The story does not exactly translate into the neat category of "tragedy" (and of course "comedy") that Western literature often falls into. However, the world it occurs in is very different. This is the Japan at the end of the Sengoku period, when the Tokegawa Shogunate was established and began a reign of peace, stability, and stagnation that would last over 200 years.
The Shinobi are mystical warriors who have thrived on the conflicts of the preceding centuries. They no longer fit in this world of peace, yet there is no simple way to deal with them. The movie revolves around this conflict, between the two conflicting Shinobi clans and the new Japan that has no place for them. From these basic ideas the plot of the movie flows, and it does it quite well. It helps to understand some of the basics of Japanese culture, from the reverence for the authority (the Shogun in this case as the representative of the Emperor though the Shogun is actually in charge - as I said, this is Japan) to the omnipresent, and sometimes suffocating, sense of obligation that pervaded the culture, and how Japan has had to deal with seismic cultural shifts many times in the past.
There are not plot spoilers here, everything is explained fairly well during the first 20 or 30 minutes. The story is a love story, caught within a web of obligation, destiny, and fate that makes it doomed from the start. Kouga Gennosuke refuses to accept this, and heroically struggles against the obligations and tradition that require him to see his true love, Oboro, as the enemy since she is from the opposing clan. She is more fatalistic, and the film takes this love and sets against not just this conflict but the determination of the Shogunate that the Shinobi represent a threat to the new peace that has been established. To solve this "problem", the Shogunate decides to require the five strongest warriors from each clan to fight to the death, with the winning side determining the next Shogun.
The movie takes off from there. There are numerous combats as Kouga Gennosuke tries to prevent, and when he is unable to do this, limit the carnage from the challenge. Of course, being feudal Japan, the machinations of those in charge are a backdrop that continues to add more and more complexity that is revealed as the remainder of the film progresses. If you are unfamiliar with the original anime, you are never quite sure if the two lovers will escape their fate. The ending caught us by surprise. It is neither "happy" nor "tragic" in the context of Japan and it's culture. Instead there is a unexpected twist as these warriors, rejected by the new era, give their people one last chance, with a sacrifice and surrender that is profound, and uncommon in Western cinema.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Basic Fair Turned into an Great Meal
First, something I've said in the past. It's the script, stupid. This script is brilliant in such a way that most of the reviewers here utterly miss it. Let me explain.
You have a complicated fantasy world, with its own spin on Vikings and all different kinds of dragons. Each kind of dragon has important strengths and weaknesses that are at times critical to the story. The movie almost seamlessly gives you a lecture in Dragons 101 and the life of these Vikings, without being irritating or boring. If you cannot understand the dragon side of the movie, you never should have watched it because you were determined to be bored anyway. Plus the initial voice-over explaining all of this ties into action, and visuals, that both kick-start the narrative in high gear and mixes it with action sequences that both show what's being explained, and keep it fascinating and funny. I wish my workplace training videos had 1/10th the effort put into them.
The story is fairly basic, but it's been claimed there are only seven main plots in literature (depending on whom you read, of course). The fun is how you get there. Yes, you have the outsider kid who is not interested in what all the other kids are into. He makes good, and becomes the hero. There's a girl involved too but anything else would be a plot spoiler - however, since you see her in her armor with skull decorations (small) in her first scene, I can safely reveal that she's definitely no shrinking violet. There is the plot line of maybe looking at why the other side is doing what it is doing, and the main character's (named Hiccup) questioning that is what provides for the story and much of the conflict. Contrary to some other people's spin on it, there is a truly evil nemesis, and no amount of understanding is going to change this bad guy. Understanding gains allies who had been adversaries, and the chance to win the final conflict. But final conflict there is, and boy it's a doozy.
I wish I'd seen it in 3-D. We saw it at home on blu-ray, and the video quality and sound-track are superb. My seven year old daughter has declared it her favorite movie, and both my wife and I, who often take 20 minutes to agree on a movie, both love it and will watch it again. Instead of trying to be pseudo-realistic the animation revels in being just that, and the movie is the better for it. I am happy I do not have to vote on best Animated Film this year. The three nominees we've caught, Toy Story 3, Tangled, and How to Train Your Dragon are all so different, and so well done, that I would have trouble choosing, Luckily, I can watch all three on Blu-ray.
Seventh Moon (2008)
A Mediocre Supernatural/Horror Movie – or "What's the Point"
When this movie came out, I was genuinely hopeful. The concept of hungry ghosts is a central part of the tradition of Chinese Ancestor Worship, and had great potential for an excellent movie melding the supernatural and horror. The script writers even set it during an actual event in the Chinese year, a festival sharing much in common with the true traditions of All Hallows Eve. Unfortunately, that is as far as it went.
The film does not make the error that many movies make substituting gore for horror. There is enough blood to add to the suspense, and increase the tension that is central to this kind of movie. The script is serviceable. The protagonists never engage in the typical "how could they be so stupid" stereotypes of a true horror film. Their actions, at times foolish, were consistent with their characters as urban Americans enjoying their honeymoon in an exotic land. The actions of the other characters in the film are similarly plausible.
The problem is that the movie never really comes together. You vaguely like the young couple, and that's about it. You respect the actions of the only other real player in the movie towards the end, but I doubt he even has a total of ten minutes of screen time. The monsters are scary, and appropriately monstrous. None of this is the makings of great cinema.
My wife, upon the conclusion of the movie, asked me "What's the Point?" She meant it rhetorically, because we both had no trouble understanding what was going on during the movie. Yet that comment sums up succinctly my own reaction upon watching it. It wasn't a waste of 87 minutes of my life, and since the rental was free I don't feel ripped off. It's just very sad when this had the potential to be a very good movie.
Starship Troopers (1997)
4 star grade B SF flick - ZERO star adaptation of the novel
Starship Troopers would be a typical grade-B SF flick if it DIDN'T attempt to claim the mantle of Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein. Weak script, lots of action, little thinking, and superb special effects. If the movie had been titled "The Bug War", or "Spaceship Troopers", I would have given it four stars. Not an utter waste of two hours of my life, but definitely not worth the money unless you managed to snag a free Redbox rental.
The problem is this movie perverts the original author's intent. I've seen poor screen adaptations, but this is different. They actually quote scenes from the novel in a way that utterly warps what Heinlein intended. Instead these scenes are a deliberate a send-up of novel and show how a clever director and script writer(s) can utterly twist the original author's intent. This was done deliberately, as the message of the movie, which is a send-up of jingoism and right wing propaganda, is the opposite of what the novel is about.
Starship Troopers is an excellent book, which actually examines war and violence, military virtues, and responsibility. There is a right wing element to it, though anyone who believes it is fascist does not understand fascism. The movie instead makes a parody of all these major themes of the actual story. Those of us who grew up reading Heinlein hope that people will be motivated to read the book, it is classic SF for a very good reason. We don't want people to mistakenly think the movie is at all related to the book.
Read the story, compare it to the movie, and you will see what I mean. Just imagine what Harry Potter fans would say if Voldemort was portrayed as an antihero, Dumbledore an ineffectual boob, and Harry an egotistical little snot. Oh, and let's remove Quidditch entirely since we don't like sports for our wizards (i.e. no power armor). You couldn't even make a post about the movie, anywhere, without being flamed to death. That is why people loyal to the novel post about the movie. That is why I am writing this review, to warn anyone watching the movie to please give the novel a chance. The novel is vastly superior, very nuanced if you read it thoughtfully, but yet it can be read as a light action novel, if that fits your mood. The novel is what GOOD writing is all about.
It's not an action flick - but it is a very watchable hybrid of SF and film noir with actual character development!
I never read the original graphic novel, but I lived through the period covered by the film as a child and then a young adult. They have the seventies and eighties, and an alternate believable history, down very well. They look at the impact that have a living a breathing Superman level superhero might have had on the world of that time, and they do it very well.
Don't expect and action flick, nor your typical "superhero" movie. If you do, you are going to be disappointed. Most of the characters are "Batman" level superheroes, not the Fantastic Four or the Hulk. This is more a cross between film noir, alternate history with a touch of Science Fiction, and a film on the human condition. It is incredibly violent at times, and it feels like a couple of the scenes were added just for the action. Sort of like comic relief, they keep the film from feeling totally claustrophobic. They avoid the utter hopelessness of Blade Runner. Then again, that is one of my favorite films.
The movie is more about personalities, and both about being human and the extremes. Two of the main characters represent the extremes of the human condition, and it is interested to see how the film develops both. Even though the "happy" ending scene may serve to hide it, the film is very much a classic tragedy. The ending begs for a sequel, along the lines of "be careful what you wish for." If there is sequel by the same writing/directing team, I'll go to see that one at the theater.
Wasted two hours of my life
I'll give it a two - it started out fine. However, the initial hook has some really bad logical flaws that should have warned me. As the movie continued, the two main adult characters proceeded to engage in increasingly contradictory, stupid reactions (and I'm a parent as are these two protagonists) that, well, prove the point of the vast majority of watchable movies - it's the plot, stupid. If you want a good, solid science fiction movie, avoid this. It is what some idiot Hollywood script writer thought was science fiction. If you like Nicolas Cage, I guess you might find the movie tolerable. I will avoid anything written by Rune Douglas Peason and Juliet Snowden again.