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The Expanse (2015– )
9/10
Enthralling series: intelligent, intriguing and action-packed
23 June 2019
(Reviewed after Season 3).

Hundreds of years into the future, Earth has colonised Mars but Mars is now independent, and the two planets are in a constant state of distrust and unease. Caught between these two are the people of the asteroid belt and outer planets. James Holden, the executive officer of a freighter witnesses his ship, being destroyed by what appears to be a Martian warship. This heightens the tensions between Earth and Mars and sets Holden and his remaining crew on a quest across the galaxy to find the truth behind the incident. Meanwhile, on Ceres in the Asteroid Belt, a police detective is searching for the daughter of the wealthiest man in the galaxy. These are all parts of a conspiracy that that will threaten life in the Solar System.

Brilliant. I am not a huge fan of sci fi series (Firefly was the notable exception): they tend to rely too much on gimmicky inventions and faux science, at the expense of plot. The Expanse is different: the science and future history are incredibly believable. I'm no physicist but I found it difficult to fault the physics and technology involved. More than that, the futuristic nature of the series provides the background, not the story, so the series does not rely on it.

What the series does rely is plot, and it is a great one. Starts out pretty slowly, so doesn't immediately pull you in, but after three episodes or so it is off to the races. The seemingly-parallel stories start to intersect, things start to make more sense (though, thankfully, not so much that the mystery disappears), the characters become more interesting and the action ramps up.

The story is then intelligently developed over the next three seasons. Despite the many twists and turns, the plot remains solid, with no twists for twists sake and everything fits together very well. Even when one mystery is solved, another emerges to take its place, without feeling gratuitous.

Quite grittily told too: no characters are unexpendable, making the plot quite unpredictable.

Superb special effects and action scenes. The CGI is absolutely seamless and realistic, without being too ostentatious. Like the science, the CGI is the medium, not the message.

Performances are where the series does feel a bit lacking. The main characters - the crew of the Rocinante - are reasonably well played, though there are no stand-out performances. Some of the lesser characters are quite badly played though, with the worst culprits being Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala and Shawn Doyle as Sadavir Enright. Any scene they were in made me cringe, with Aghdashloo being particularly irritating. She wasn't helped by her character being pretty badly drawn, with the worst dialogue and most grating mannerisms of any character in the series. The two factors - the character and her performance - just compounded each other.

The lack of character depth is a general weakness in the show too. The series is about the intrigue and action, much more than the people and their relationships, making character engagement less than complete (unlike Firefly, which was highly engaging because of the characters and their interactions).

This is a minor flaw though, as the plot and its roller-coaster momentum propel the show.

Superb.
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Shallow Grave (1994)
9/10
Superb
17 June 2019
Three friends in Edinburgh, Scotland, interview and select a new flatmate. He's hardly moved in than they discover him dead in his room. An ethical dilemma ensues when they discover that he possessed a large amount of cash. Things get worse as the men whose money it was search for it, and the three friends start to turn on each other.

Danny Boyle's directorial debut, and it's a great one. Clever, gritty plot with many moral lessons and quandaries. Highly engaging and intriguing: never a dull moment.

Great performances too from people who were unknowns then but are well-known now (one especially so).

Shallow Grave launched the careers of Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor. Boyle's next film shot them into the stratosphere: the even-more-brilliant Trainspotting.
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Behind the Music: Thin Lizzy (1999)
Season 3, Episode 11
8/10
Good documentary
17 June 2019
The story of 70s Irish rock group, Thin Lizzy. Shows their rise, fame and decline and the life of their lead singer, Phil Lynott.

Good documentary. Reasonably interesting and edifying. The coverage of Phil Lynott's life was particularly poignant.

The post-Phil Lynott coverage was unnecessary though: Thin Lizzy without Phil Lynott is not Thin Lizzy.
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Behind the Music (1997–2014)
8/10
Great series
17 June 2019
A documentary series on the world's most important bands and musicians: their rise, fame, and sometimes, fall.

Great series. Shows the history of just about every major musical artist: their history, their talent, their flaws. Quite edifying and not a little nostalgic.
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DeepStar Six (1989)
5/10
Better than average...for its genre
16 June 2019
OK, and better than your average creature-horror movie. Starts very well - tension gets built well, and the creature remains a mystery for a decent period of time. Once it appears though, things get quite formulaic.

Performances are so-so: Matt McCoy is irritating, and even Miguel Ferrer is unconvincing. Nancy Everhard and Cindy Pickett put in good performances though.
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The Lost World (1999 TV Movie)
7/10
Entertaining
9 June 2019
Early 20th century. A band of scientists and adventurers set out from England for an uncharted area of the Amazon basin. Their aim: to search for and explore a mythical lost world. After their hot air balloon crashes, they become more than observers of the world, they become participants in it.

Based on a novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a highly entertaining film. Non-stop action and adventure.

Hardly Citizen Kane though: plot is pretty basic, character development is minimal. Performances are not brilliant but are convincing enough.

Good fun.
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633 Squadron (1964)
7/10
Entertaining
8 June 2019
633 Squadron of the RAF is tasked with an operation that is vital to the Allied invasion of France. They need to destroy a German base in Norway that is producing fuel for German rockets. It is an incredibly dangerous mission: due to where it is situated, getting to the base will require daring and precise flying and then there's the hordes of anti-aircraft batteries. The Norwegian Resistance are tasked with taking out the AA guns but if anything goes wrong with the plan it will be a suicide mission.

Entertaining. Good action scenes, decent plot, wonderful footage of one of the most beautiful and impressive aircraft of WW2, the De Havilland Mosquito. The sub-plot involving the Norwegian Resistance was interesting too.

Not brilliant though. Some plot developments are not very plausible, the romantic sub-plot was half-baked and unnecessary, character development is token. More a gung ho, action-based war movie than a gritty, realistic one.

Still, very watchable and is never dull.
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The Zulu War (2014)
6/10
Okay, but not great
8 June 2019
A documentary on the Zulu War of 1879. Concentrates mainly on the Battle of Rorke's Drift. Includes a comparison of the actual events of the Battle of Rorke's Drift and the events depicted in the movie Zulu (1964).

Okay, but not great. A pretty low-budget, low-research production. No maps, no re-enactments, just a few historians / military museum curators talking about Rorke's Drift and the Zulu War. Feels like an amateur Youtube video. If you have a half-decent knowledge of the Zulu War of 1879 you won't learn anything new from this, as far as the bigger picture of the war goes.

There are some interesting micro-level details, however, e.g. the British soldiers' uniforms, loading and firing the Martini-Henry rifle, Zulu weapons. The historical artefacts are courtesy of the Stratford Armory, which looks like a fascinating place to visit.

Probably the most interesting part is the comparison of the movie Zulu (1964) with the actual events of the Battle of Rorke's Drift. Shows some of the dramatic licence taken by the writers/director of the movie, but doesn't detract from how good the movie was.
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Deadwood: The Movie (2019 TV Movie)
7/10
Good, even if you aren't familiar with the TV series
7 June 2019
1889 and South Dakota is celebrating statehood. Senator George Hearst is back in Deadwood as part of the celebrations. He uses the opportunity to make Charlie Utter an offer on his property. When Utter declines, things take a dark turn.

I never got into Deadwood the series, so was unfamiliar with the characters and history involved. Despite this, I found the story easy to follow and not too reliant on the series. You don't have to be familiar with the series to follow or enjoy the movie.

So, a good standalone movie: decent plot, solid performances and direction. Initially it does appear that the movie is just going to be a closure exercise for fans of the series but from a point it becomes very interesting in its own right.

This said, there are some scenes which will probably have more meaning to series watchers (e.g. the wedding certainly seemed that way to me). In addition, there are some plot contrivances which seem to be there merely to prolong the movie. The ending feels rather abrupt, with the main plot still half up in the air.

So, not brilliant, but reasonably good nevertheless.
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Chernobyl (2019)
10/10
Brilliant: riveting and chilling
7 June 2019
On 26 April 1986 the Number 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine exploded and caught fire. This is the story of that event, the aftermath, how the real reasons for the incident were covered up and how one man fought to reveal them.

Quite brilliant. Absolutely enthralling for all five hours of the series. Shows the disaster unfolding, the incompetence that hindered quicker action, the ingenuity and sacrifices that prevented an even bigger disaster unfolding and the eventual revelation of the truth behind what caused the incident. The censorship, fascism and paranoia of the Soviet regime also come in for some brutal scrutiny.

Quite chilling too. The effects of the extreme radiation are very graphically depicted, making the series initially play out like a horror movie. Healthy people walk into buildings and are quickly turned into walking corpses. Others are destined to die more slowly, and you know this, so you keep waiting for the signs that the radiation has taken its toll.

Great performances abound. Jared Harris is superb as Valery Legasov. Good performances too by Stellan Skargard and Emily Watson.

Worthy of all the hype surrounding it.
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9/10
Superb: in the same league as the movie
6 June 2019
Four vampires and their human helper share a house on Staten Island, New York. Turns out vampires have domestic problems too.

What We Do In The Shadows, the movie, was released in 2014. Co-written and -directed by Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi (Boy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Eagle vs Shark, Thor: Ragnarok) it was brilliant: with wonderfully understated humour, sharp dialogue and clever skits it was quirkily funny and intelligent without becoming silly or even seeming to try too hard.

The movie was set and filmed in Wellington, New Zealand and captured the folksy understated humour that is a New Zealand trademark. When I discovered that the series is set in the US, I had my doubts as to how it would measure up to the movie, figuring it had been hijacked by US producers and writers.

I needn't have worried.

Clement and Waititi are the executive producers and lead writers, so, while the setting has changed, the creative geniuses behind the movie are behind the series too. The series largely captures the same quirky, understated humour of the movie, but with different characters and actors, and the new players don't put a foot wrong.

Not entirely the same feel as the movie: the movie felt more candid (as was ostensibly filmed by a documentary crew), giving it a slight edge but there is little to choose between the two.

Can't wait for Season 2.
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2/10
Very bad: derivative, predictable and just plain stupid
2 June 2019
After getting lost on a camping trip, three friends discover an abandoned factory in the woods. Little do they know that it's inhabited...by cannibals.

I didn't have high hopes for this and even then it disappointed me. Nothing good about it: basic plot that veers into the nonsensical frequently, amateurish direction, acting and editing.

Worst of all, the writer and director borrow scenes and plot ideas from other movies, to the point that this movie is really just a montage of scenes from other movies. The victims are often quite to spot, e.g. Wrong Turn (all six or so of them), The Shining, REC, The Blair Witch Project.

Avoid.
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Bombardier (1943)
5/10
So-so propaganda film
2 June 2019
Early 1940s and the US has not yet entered WW2. Major "Chick" Davis is convinced that high-level bombing will win the next war. He convinces the powers-that-be to set up a bombardier school. He efficiently and ruthlessly sets about training the USAAF's first generation of high-level bombardiers.

This film was produced in 1943, so you already know it is going to be more about propaganda than gritty realism. The introductory scenes confirm this, with speeches and hyperbolic propaganda. The movie itself doesn't lay it on too thick though.

As far as the story goes, its okay, though not great. Some lame sub-plots but does end quite well.
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1/10
Incredibly bad, even by the very low standards of its genre
2 June 2019
A couple and their daughter are cruising through the jungle when their boat is attacked by cannibals. The mother is eaten alive, the father escapes after losing an arm and the daughter is held captive by the tribe. She grows up to be her queen. Now her father is looking for her.

Written and directed by Z-grade exploitation movie specialist, Jess Franco, this movie takes even cannibal and exploitation movies to new depths. Plot is wafer thin and direction and editing are off-the-charts bad. Scenes, especially the cannibalism scenes, get drawn out to the nth degree. A scene that should take 20-30 seconds takes 3-5 minutes. The 90-minute film is really only about 30 minutes long (but feels like 5 hours!).

Avoid.
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The Meg (2018)
5/10
Incredibly unoriginal and predictable but still reasonably entertaining
2 June 2019
A group of scientists is exploring the Marianas Trench, the deepest point on the ocean. When some of them get trapped several kilometres below sea level they call in the best underwater rescue person there is, Jonas Taylor. His skills are to be tested to the limit as waiting at the bottom of the ocean is a believed long-extinct monster shark from the prehistoric era, the Megalodon.

Just from the plot summary you know this movie is going to be incredibly unoriginal and derivative, and, it is, in spades. Reminded me a lot of Deep Blue Sea: scientists somehow think that studying a ferocious man-eating monster at close range is somehow a good idea, a clueless billionaire patron who doesn't care about risks and just wants the prestige, your usual dial-a-hero, deaths on cue, the several lives of the monster, just about every creature-horror cliché. This has all of those.

Yet it is reasonably entertaining and almost works. There's some decent humour, usually provided by Rainn Wilson as the billionaire or the kid. Some good banter and interactions too.

Ultimately it is your average creature-horror drama, but it could have been worse.
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3/10
Very interesting subject, deserving of a much better film than this
2 June 2019
The story of Lyudmila Pavlichenko, the female Russian sniper who killed 309 Germans on the Eastern Front in WW2.

Fascinating subject: the woman who was one of the most successful snipers in history and centred around one of the most heroic defensive battles of WW2. Should be an easy enough task to make this into a good movie, right?

Wrong. Somehow the writers and director Sergey Mokritskiy turn this story into something very lame. The battle scenes are reasonably well done, and quite realistic, but it's the rest that messes this up. Romantic sub-plots, the Eleanor Roosevelt angle, the political stuff: they all seem half-baked and just filler.

Add in some atrocious supporting performances - the "American" journalists (most seemed to be Russian pretending to be American) are particularly bad. Yuliya Peresild puts in a solid performance in the lead role though.

Even the title is badly done - the Battle for Sevastopol actually takes up less than half of the movie is not the main focus of the film, Lyudmila Pavlichenko is.

Concentrate on Lyudmila Pavlichenko, leave out all the half-baked romantic stuff, silly sub-plots and sentimentality, stick largely to battle scenes and give this a better title and it could have been really good. Lyudmila Pavlichenko deserves far better than the actual finished product.
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8/10
Good, gritty war-drama
1 June 2019
French Indochina, May 1954. While the Battle of Dien Bien Phu rages, a nearby French platoon is ordered to abandon its isolated base and march to a more secure location. The journey is fraught with danger: they are surrounded on all sides by forces several times larger than them. Commanding the platoon is a young, inexperienced Lieutenant. His senior NCO is very experienced, a veteran of WW2, but the two don't always see eye to eye.

Watched this because famed military historian Antony Beevor regards this as the greatest war movie ever made. Turns out, it's not, but it is very good.

Written and directed by Pierre Schoendoerffer and based on his novel, The 317th Platoon is the first "Vietnam War" movie in a sense. It might not be the Americans fighting the Viet Cong or NVA but the French Indochina War was the precursor to the Vietnam War. Replace Americans with French in a Vietnam War drama and you have this movie: the setting, tactics and feel to the movie are very similar.

Quite realistic in its portrayal of war: the danger, the randomness, the impact of seemingly minor decisions, the wastefulness and futility of it all. Other than the latter aspect, not hugely profound: is more about the plot journey than the destination. In addition, does drift in spells and the ending is too abrupt, hence the less-than-perfect score.
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Rififi (1955)
10/10
Superb
1 June 2019
Fresh out of jail, Tony le Stephanois plans a massive jewel heist. He puts together a team and sets the wheels in motion. He discovers that his girlfriend at the time of his arrest has a new boyfriend, a big-time gangster. Little does he know it but this fact will interfere with the heist.

Superb movie. Written and directed by Jules Dassin, Rififi is classic film noir. Clever, solid plot and excellent direction by Dassin. The heist itself is incredible, with some clever innovations by the thieves and is filmed in absolute silence, just like it would have gone down if it was real life. No music to up the tension, no fake atmosphere, just realism.

The way it all unravels towards the end is wonderfully Shakespearean. Incredibly intriguing, enthralling and original plot development.

Incredibly influential film too. You can see it in the works of Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and the Coen Brothers, to name but a few.

An absolute classic.
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5/10
Disappointing
31 May 2019
Christopher Robin says goodbye to his friends Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, Owl, Kanga, Roo and Rabbit and leaves for boarding school. Years later and he is now married with a young daughter. He is reasonably successful in his career but his job is causing him to neglect his family. Now he has a seemingly insurmountable business problem to solve in a weekend but who should he randomly bump into: Winnie the Pooh!

Disappointing. While expecting it to largely be a children's movie I was hoping for some degree of quirkiness, profundity and wonder that would make it more than that. If the writers and director could capture a large enough portion of the humour and whimsicalness of AA Milne's original writings, surely we have the recipe for an enjoyable and enchanting movie?

Sadly, they couldn't and we don't. Firstly, this movie isn't really based on AA Milne's books: it's a sequel, of sorts, and not one written by Milne. The writers do jam in some famous lines from the original novels but they feel just that: shoehorned in without a context.

Rather than an enchanting journey, the movie largely resorts to silly, unoriginal helter-skelter escapades. The central plot involving Christopher Robin, his job and his family is reasonably interesting but fairly predictable. Some emotional moments towards the end but, once again, quite predictable.

Ultimately, is just a kid's movie when it could have been a lot more.
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7/10
Interesting examination of a fascinating subject
29 May 2019
Manchester, 1976. Steven Patrick Morrissey is unemployed and depressed. He eventually finds work but it doesn't interest him. His only interest appears to be writing down his observations on life and people in a journal. We see his life over the next six years and how this period would have a bearing on his later life for, in 1982, he was to form The Smiths, one of the most influential bands of the 80s.

A fascinating subject. But then I am a Smiths fan and therein lies what will probably make or break the movie for most people: knowing Morrissey's subsequent history, spotting all the watershed moments, sensing how things that happen in the movie might influence his music - only Smiths fans would know it. The ending, especially, would seem rather cryptic to anyone who isn't one.

So, really only for Smiths fans, and even if you are one it takes a bit of patience. Can be slow-moving at times.

However, it is quite interesting and edifying and reasonably engaging. Performances are top-notch.

What would have made it really interesting is showing the formation of The Smiths and their initial struggles. But that would be a whole new movie in itself, I suppose. I'll wait for the sequel...
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Magnum P.I. (2018– )
1/10
Wow! Even worse than I expected!
27 May 2019
Thomas Magnum, a former Navy SEAL, is a private investigator. He lives in Hawaii, on the estate of multi-millionaire author Robin Masters, run by Juliett Higgins, a former MI6 agent. He has an uncanny knack of getting involved in cases involving major crimes. In these endeavours he is aided and abetted by his close friends Rick and TC.

I had low expectations for this show. Being a fan of the original series I did not see why a remake was necessary or how the remake could live up to the original. The average rating on IMDB also told me that my fears were well-founded. Sadly, this TV series is even worse than I expected.

The original was a touch formulaic but was entertaining. The plots weren't just about solving the crimes but also the interactions and hijinks along the way: Magnum vs Higgins and the dogs, the friendly banter between Magnum, Rick and TC, the humour. Then there was the Hawaii "vibe": the scenery and mellow feeling that made you want to pack up and move there immediately. It all seemed to work so well, without even seeming to be trying.

This is nothing like that: plots are flimsy and full of holes, dialogue is atrocious, acting is largely worse than amateurish. The jibes, humour and camaraderie feel forced. The Hawaiian scenery and atmosphere don't get used at all. It's just another dime-a-dozen action series, and far worse than average even in that genre.

So bad I'm beginning to suspect this was made as a tax write-off, Producers-style...
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Harakiri (1962)
8/10
Not your average samurai drama
26 May 2019
A samurai, Hanshiro Tsugumo, arrives at the house of the Iyi Clan with an unusual request. Due to his circumstances, he wishes to commit harakiri, ritual suicide, in the courtyard of the house. Turns out this is not such an unusual request: the clan has had such requests before, though the requestor's intentions weren't always honourable. The Clan elder tells Tsugumo the story of the last samurai who made the request and how that ended. Will he still go through with it?

Not your average samurai drama. Slow-burning, plot-filled and relatively light on action, this movie will come as a bit of a surprise to most. This doesn't make it less interesting though. In fact, it makes it better.

Instead of a basic plot that's just an excuse for heap of well-choreographed action scenes, the plot here is great, and quite poignant. The action is held back until the end, heightening the anticipation. The action scenes themselves are quite realistic - none of the ridiculous Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stuff - and have a plausible outcome.

On the negative side, the slow-burn does get drawn out a touch too long. In addition, in the end there's no clear message - the conclusion is a bit flat.

Overall, a great movie.
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Exodus (1960)
8/10
Interesting and entertaining
26 May 2019
The events leading up to the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, as seen from the perspective of one individual.

Based on the novel by Leon Uris, written by Dalton Trumbo (Roman Holiday, Papillon, Spartacus) and directed by Otto Preminger (Anatomy of a Murder, Laura, In Harm's Way, The Man with the Golden Arm), an interesting and entertaining drama.

Not really a docudrama on the formation of Israel, as the focus is too narrow. Through focusing on Ari Ben Canaan, a fictitious character (though largely based on an historic figure, Yossi Harel), we get a micro level, localised view of the events, rather than the bigger picture. This left me a bit disappointed, initially, as I was hoping for something more edifying. However, the story that Uris, Trumbo and Preminger tell is a very interesting and entertaining one and it does have overlaps with the historic events.

In addition, the bigger picture unfolds through conversations and news items, so we are not left totally in the dark on that count.

On the downside, the movie could do with some editing. At 3½ hours it is a massive test of endurance and could easily have been trimmed to something like 2½ hours. The start is very slow and it only really takes off after about 1½-2 hours. The relationship drama stuff wasn't necessary at all and there are some scenes that just waste time.
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First Man (2018)
9/10
Enthralling telling of a momentous event in human history
25 May 2019
The life of Neil Armstrong. Starts in 1961, with Armstrong as a test pilot and ends, shows the Gemini and Apollo projects and culminates in Armstrong's most famous event: being the first man on the moon.

Directed by Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash), a great, riveting telling of the man behind and the events leading up to one of the momentous events in human history. Shows incredibly well the development of the NASA space program, the dangers involved, the sacrifices made, the narrow margin for error and the courage and determination involved.

The space flight scenes are incredibly realistic, often putting you in Armstrong's shoes. Even though you know how it is going to end, you're still on the edge of your seat throughout these scenes. Very nerve-wracking, gritty and engaging.

Unfortunately, Chazelle can't replicate this engagement in the Earth-bound scenes, especially the scenes showing Armstrong's home life. The domestic stuff is pretty dull. Some of this is deliberate. Chazelle wants to show Armstrong as cold and calculating and show how this is a positive and negative: what makes him a great astronaut makes him less perfect as a husband and father. It's also a counter-point to the sheer adrenaline rush that is his job.

However, the domestic stuff never leads to any great profundity and ultimately is largely filler. Chazelle could have cut most, if not all, of it out of the movie and we would have had a perfect film.
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8/10
Great, but not consistently so
24 May 2019
(Reviewed after Season 3).

It is the year 1962. Having lost World War 2, the United States is now occupied by Germany and Japan. Germany occupies the eastern states and Japan the western, with the Neutral Zone in between. When her sister is killed by the Japanese, Juliana Crain is sucked into the covert, dangerous world of the American Resistance. Opposing her and her comrades are the most ruthless forces the Nazis and Japanese have to offer, lead by Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith of the SS and Chief Inspector Kido of the Kempeitai. The Resistance's greatest hope appears to lie in films which show an alternate reality, a world where the US and its allies won WW2. While largely viewed as propaganda, these films could be more than that. At the centre of the manufacture and distribution of these films is one man, a figurehead in the Resistance: The Man in the High Castle.

Great, but not consistently so. Based on a novel by Philip K Dick (writer of the novels and short stories on which movies such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, Total Recall and Paycheck were based) and produced by Ridley Scott, the series had massive potential and largely lives up to it.

The central plot, an alternate history where the US loses WW2 and is occupied by the Germans and Japanese, is a very intriguing one and is very well done. The events that took place to reach the alternative reality and how the world and society now look and function all make sense. As a student of history, especially military history, I kept expecting something to not add up, or not fit in with history's possible paths, but it all fits in perfectly.

It became an enjoyable intellectual exercise for me, figuring out when the alternate history started deviating from the actual, and the events that took place, and didn't take place, for this to happen. As far as I can tell, the earliest deviation is in Dec 1941-Feb 1942 when the Japanese manage to invade and occupy Hawaii.

This alternate world provides some great plot developments and backgrounds for many intrigues: the American Resistance vs the Japanese and Germans; the friction between the Germans and Japanese and how they try to undermine each other, even potentially destroy each other, all while carrying on like loyal allies; the factional in-fighting within the Nazi Party and the Roman-style politics involved.

All the series needed was solid performances and no superfluous or hole-filled sub-plots and it would have been perfect. Easy enough to ask, right?

Yes, but alas, difficult to achieve.

After creating this great platform for drama and reimagining history and society, sub-plots are certainly not free of holes or contrivances. It is usually small things, but they are enough to undermine the credibility of the plot, e.g. 50 Japanese soldiers barge into a club to catch a fugitive, they all go in the front door, leaving other exits unguarded, fugitive escapes through the back door; man meets Yakuza boss, he's carrying a gun but henchmen don't frisk him, gun gets him out of a sticky situation.

Then there's the sci fi aspect involving the films. Admittedly, this is written by Philip K Dick so you should expect a sci fi angle, but I would have preferred the series to just concentrate on alternate history, and the drama stemming from that, than introduce the sci fi drama. It just seemed like an unnecessary add-on and a distraction.

Furthermore, performances are far from consistently solid. Alexa Davalos imbues Julianna Crain with a wimpy, anaemic, unengaging quality, far from what you'd want the main "good guy" in a series to be. Luke Kleintank makes Joe Blake boring and unlikeable. DJ Qualls is one of the more irritating actors in showbiz and generally the harbinger of a C-grade movie. Here he lives up to that reputation. I kept hoping the Japanese would shoot him and put me out of my misery. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is so boring as Trade Minister Tagomi it feels like every scene he is in takes an hour. Admittedly his character is drawn that way too, so some fault has to lie with the writers.

On the flipside there is Rufus Sewell as Obergruppenfuhrer Smith. Sewell's performance stands like a mountain among knolls: he absolutely dominates the series, putting in the perfect performance as the ice cold, calculating, ruthless yet family-orientated Nazi. If it wasn't for Sewell and how well-constructed Smith's character was, the series would have fallen apart.
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