Category Archives: Movie/TV Reviews

Defiance – Late Season Review

Defiance

I reviewed this show earlier this season, after two episodes. My take on the show at the time was that he show was very ambitious. They had a lot of backstory and new races to explain as well as introduce a huge cast of characters, each with intertwining stories and motivations. I didn’t think the lawman character was working at all, but this held true for many of the characters in the show.

I’m a sucker for a post-apocalyspe story, and with the advent of on-demand TV I don’t have to watch at the same time each week, so I decided to stick with the show for a few more episodes. This is my review after 10 episodes.

The Good

Again, this show is really ambitious. There is a lot here for a sci-fi geek to chew on. Different races, different cultures, advanced tech raining from the sky,… they could make a show that spends three seasons introducing us to aspects of this world without ever really advancing the story if they wanted to. The good part is that they haven’t done that or turned this into a monster of the week show. They are being pretty good about introducing a couple of big story arcs and then setting up a few smaller character arcs. There are two major political arcs (Earth Republic moving to take over Defiance, and the Mayoral race between Amanda and Datak), and one major mystery arc (what is the object from the mines and what does it do) that promise to keep the story moving along nicely.

A couple of the characters are developing nicely. Stahma, Datak’s wife, is showing herself to not only be a manipulator on a grand master level, but possibly also one on the tactical level. She is shaping up to be the most dangerous character in the show. Doc Yewll’s backstory and how it is effecting current events is also a pleasant surprise. Good to see a healer get to be interesting.

The Bad

Weak Characters – The lawman is still not interesting. Datak has more than one note, but he has not quite made it to two notes yet, and for a savy guy he is awfully blind to his wife’s manipulations. The Irisa character, along with most of the Iraths, are lame imitations of Native American stereotypes. Irisa has no emotional range. She is a shut down person, I get that, but she still needs to have more than one emotion at some point. The Earth Republic representatives have been nearly mustache twirling bad guys, with the exception of Amanda’s former love interest, and he got killed by the end of that episode. The choice of putting them in Gestapo-esque clothing was a bit heavy handed. Finally, Rafe McCawley. In the matter of a few months he has buried one son, had another leave to find his mother, and his daughter is marrying the son of his rival. He should be breaking up by now, but he seems to be just fine. Also, it seems that running the mine is pretty easy since he is always at the house.

Odd Elements – one episode featured “hell bugs” as a plot element, and it is understood that this world has all sorts of different flora and fauna now, but it really plays no role in the life of Defiance. It seems to me that if critters like this exist, they would be more of a problem for the town rather than a plot tool. A different episode used nanotech as an explanation for an Irath coming back from the dead. It was such a duex ex machina that it ruined the episode for me, one which could have worked to develop the lawman and daughter characters but failed to do that either. Nano tech would have likely survived much of the arkfall and be a persistent problem for the planet, much like any form of microbe, it should not be a surprise like it was.

Fan Service – The lesbian relationship between the Kenya and Stahma really seems to be put in for no other purpose than to titillate. It may prove to be a larger part of Stahma’s master plan, and if so I will cut it some slack, but until then it make no sense that Stahma would risk Datak’s wrath for this when she is otherwise so smart. (Before anyone calls me a homophobe, it is not that fact that the relationship is between two women, it is the fact that I don’t believe it would happen and it does not seem to serve the story that bothers me).

The Other

The town really doesn’t have a character yet – its more like a refugee camp setting for the character stories rather than a living breathing entity. The mines should be a bigger part of town life, assuming they are the major employer that is. There also seems to be very little city administration other than the mayor and the lawman, the mayor (like the mine owner) seems to have a lot of free time on her hands. So, who is doing the work? A place like this would also need have regular contact with the rest of the world in order for an economy to run. The mines are a source of export, but how do the materials get to market? We have seen that travel is dangerous, so how do these important goods flow? Right now the town just a setting, when it could be a vibrant character.

Final Verdict

Well, since this is the second one, it’s really not so final is it?

I am enjoying the show enough to stick with it. I read that it has been picked up for another season which is encouraging. There are enough interesting story elements going on to keep me watching, but without better characters it is going to be really easy for them to make a story mistake and loose me as their audience. I am hoping that the Stahma character can maintain this level of manipulation without becoming too powerful that it kills the other stories. I really want the Artifact story to play out, but his is also the one with the most risk. My pipe dream is that Datak does rise to power and actually wants to make things better for Defiance but he gets caught between his ego, his wife, and his new allies in the process then has to make friends with his former enemies.

So, in summary, the show isn’t Game of Thrones/Downtown Abby/Breaking Bad for the Sci-Fi geeks, yet. I really don’t think it will ever be either, but it is showing some promise in the story telling and in the background elements. I recommend it to other sci-fi geeks seeking some TV entertainment.

Movie Review – Star Trek Into Darkness. Who let the Trek out?

Star Trek – Into Darkness

Into Darkness 1 INto Darkness 2

Summary

Picking up a year or so after the last Star Trek film we find the re-boot versions of the original crew stranded on an island after a three hour tour hits a bad storm….no, wait. That’s not it. That was what I dreamt after eating strip mall sushi and seeing the movie. It wasn’t actually the movie. In the actual movie a villain commits terrorist like acts against the Federation and it is up to the Enterprise crew to find the fugitive and dish out a little justice. They come to learn more about their fugitive, about internal Federation struggles, and about how lax Klingon security is around their homeworld.

This is a different type of review. I am a Star Trek fanboy and long-coat-and-scarf wearing geek. We have a cat named Pippen and I can recite Rutger Hauer’s speech at the end of Blade Runner by heart. I also love movies of all types. So, if this review gets too schizo, flashing from movie geek to true geek, just think about Ginger putting some sunscreen on Uhura while they are trapped on the island…oh. Sorry.

The Good

This is a pretty rip roaring action film. Lots of big explosions, dizzy high speed action, beautiful scenery and space, the final frontier. Ol’ JJ can put a tent-pole movie together alright. He also has moved the franchise back into accessibility for most people. You don’t have to know anything about the “City on the Edge of Tomorrow” to understand and enjoy this film. The relationships are ok, but the one between Spock and Kirk, the most important one and the one that launched the whole concept of slash fiction, is pretty good. They are both intensely loyal people who come to recognize the value of someone who is not just like themselves. They grow during the movie, and that doesn’t often happen in movies. Scotty is another good point in the film. The actor, Simon Pegg, really knows how to deliver a line. His timing and delivery of some of the silliest lines is spot on. And there is Uhura. The camera could linger on Zoe for weeks and I would not get bored. All in all, this re-boot is very similar to the Bond film re-boots. They are good films that don’t require you to have seen any of the other films.

The Bad

While it’s a good film, it is not a good Star Trek film, in exactly the same way the Bond films are good films but they are not Bond films. This film has all the trappings of a Star Trek film without any of the soul of one. You might say, “Good riddance! All that soul every got us was a string of painful film experiences all in the name of staying true to the franchise!”. I will grant that most of the other movies spent too much time on the Star Trek and not enough time on the movie, but this one left me, the fanboy, flat. Dr. Merrick’s gratuitous skin shot didn’t belong in this movie, Kirk waking up with two cat girls didn’t belong in this movie, and Spock mind melding so he can experience death did not belong in this movie. The plot had more holes than a Tholian Web – Klingons letting a ship just pop down to their home planet? An admiral building a giant starship outside of Jupiter unnoticed? Scotty just grabbing a shuttle and going to Jupiter? You can beam someone into a cell in the Brig? AHHHHHHH! (Fanboy geek rage). Then, they go and ruin Holmes for me. Benedict Cumberbatch (difficult, but fun to type) please, show a bit of restraint. I adore you as Holmes, and your first couple of scenes were wonderful. Then, you had your second scene in the brig and you went all late years Al Pacino on us. Chomp, chomp, chomp, mmmm good scenery. Spoiler time: While the whole re-doing the Khan movie is an interesting idea, here is just seems like they couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to write and thought “Hmmm, if we leak that it is Khan, then the fanboys won’t be able to resist, thus strong opening weekend, then the rest of the populace will just flock to the poplular movie. Brilliant strategy. Damn, I’m brilliant. Where is someone eager to curry my favor by bringing me a mocha-hito?” I, for one, was disappointed.

The Other

There is no other. Well, maybe there is. Peine does some interesting acting where he seems to be mimicking some of Shatners movies and looks here and there. Maybe I was just imagining  it. The tribbles make an appearance, and maybe explain how they become what they later are. We get to see what is later referred to as a Jefferies Tube – a nod to old school trek lovers. And Kirk dies. It’s a bit like the Pan-Far accident, but different.

Final Verdict

This movie is on par with the Iron Man movie for entertainment value, but falls short on heart for me. I wanted a good Star Trek movie, but got a good movie using Star Trek sets and characters. Maybe I should have expected this as it was a logical direction given the first film, but still I had hoped for better. This does nothing the ease my mind about the Star Wars movie. In fact, it makes me wish the future of that franchise was still unknown. If there is a third Star Trek, it will have to get blisteringly great reviews or promise an Uhura mud-wrestling scene for me to spend money at the theatre to see it. I give this 1 and a half stars.

Engage, Make it So, Live Long and Prosper. Just don’t go see this movie with any Star Trek related expectations.

Movie Review – Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3

 

Summary

Tony Stark is back after his origin story, his second act, and a stint with an ensemble cast to fight the bad guys, be a bad boy, and make witty quips to his AI butler. And we are back to watch it. It’s a superhero film, so if you came in expecting deep characters, biting dialog, and introspection you have come to the wrong place. Lots of unrealistic fights, grand implausible world threatening schemes, and a super-nova’s worth of explosions are on the menu for this film.

The Good

It’s possible that no role is better suited to an actor than Iron Man is to Robert Downey Jr. While the whole premise, as with any superhero film, is silly, I still buy the act and root for him. He may be forever known for this role, overshadowing his magnificent Chaplin, but the fit is so good that it is hard to argue. The second good part is the Stark/Pepper Potts dialog interplay. They are really close to having a screwball comedy a la the ‘50s. When Tony and Pepper are arguing with the plant girl there, the dialog, the timing and the inflections are nearly magic. I would love to see a small film with Tony and Pepper on a date. The third good part is Ben Kingsley. He give two really good performances. More about that later.

The Bad

They take a twist on the villain that not everybody is going to be happy with. I understand why they did it, but I think they could have used any generic villain name to do it rather than using an established villain from the comics. Second Bad – Tony’s angst really gets annoying. In order to understand it, you have to remember what happened at the end of the Avengers. Suffice it to say that Tony is shaken. While Downey makes us believe in Tony, he really does not pull off the brooding, tortured Tony too well and it slows down the movie. The third bad is the ending. All I can say without spoilers is that I hope to hell they are setting up stuff for the other movies, otherwise they really cut some corners on it.

The Other

Guy Pearce is good in this film, but he really isn’t given much to work with. All of his character development happened before the movie started, we just get to see the results. There is a kid in the show who is decent, but his backstory is a bit heavy. Don’t waste your time on the 3-d version, nothing to see there, move along.

Final Verdict

He’s a rich, genius, playboy with a superhero suit. Angst does not fit him and it was boring. The interplay with Pepper and Tony was at times wonderful. Villains were so-so but Kingsley was fun to watch. I’m not sorry I paid the money for the theatre, but I am sorry I watched it in 3-d. Overall it was a solid superhero film, a little better than the second film,  and just a touch worse than the Captain America film. Still better than Thor. Three stars just after seeing it, but probably closer to 2.5 stars in the future.

Movie Review – Men In Black 3

MIB3

Men In Black III

Summary

Those black suited alien control agents are back for another adventure. If you saw MIB 2, that thought might not thrill you. MIB 2 was many of the things people hate about sequels – rehash of first film, weak plot, thrown together feel, over reliant on effects… you know the drill. Anyway, MIB 3 is all those things, but it is still better than MIB 2.

In the third film, K is depressed and J is needy. Then an arch villain from K’s past breaks out of the Lunar Prison and heads back to earth with vengeance on his mind, and a time travel plan to pull it off. Eventually, J has to go back in time and work with a younger K to twart this diabolical plan (yup, I used both thwart and diabolical in one sentence. Put my name on the Pulitzer).

The Good

The action sequence in the last third of the film is pretty engaging. The special effects were solid. Towards the end, the relationship between K and J that was so magical in the first film and was still present in the second one starts to poke its little head out of it’s shell, but that’s all we get of that.

The Bad

The first third of this film is painful to watch. I have never seen Will Smith look uncomfortable in a movie, and in this one it looks like he is wearing porcupine underwear. The interplay between J and K was one of the magic parts of the first film, but in this one it is like these two don’t know each other and don’t like to be in the same room. Every line is flat. They have a lot of opportunity for Will Smith to comment on the late ‘60s, but they barely do any of it. They have new aliens and side characters, but they aren’t interesting or even part of the plot.

The Other

Emma Thompson is a non-entity in her role, neither good nor bad. I never thought I would write that sentence. Seeing K with a love interest was good, but underplayed. The sight gags involving aliens were decent, but it was stuff we have seen before. Though, the bowling scene was one of the few where Will Smith looked like he was having fun. It was a candle in the darkness, yet I still cursed.

Final Verdict

At it’s core, this should be a buddy film, and this story should make up a pretty good one. It fails. It was not a bad film all the way through, and the last third went a long way towards making my overall movie experience one that I did not regret. Watch the movie, if you can get it free. Otherwise, don’t pay for it unless you are on a plane or trapped with kids.

Movie Review – Django Unchained

Django 1 Django 2

Django Unchained

Summary

Let me come clean to start with – I tend to like Tarantino films. He writes very entertaining and cool sounding dialog. It may be a gimmick, or a schtick, but it is one that generally works for me. ‘Nuff said.

Django Unchained is a film set just before the civil war. A bounty hunter needs help in identifying some criminals, so he seeks out a slave (Django) who knows what they look like for help. The hunter and the now ex-slave end up working together in the bounty hunting business. Their grand adventure starts when they set out to go get and free Django’s wife. As with any Tarantino film, there is good dialog, weird plot twists, sensible and senseless violence, and a fitting soundtrack.

The Good

Tarantino loves the ‘70s, and that love influences all of his work. Django might be the most ‘70s-ish movie he has made. From the title cards, to the music, and even to many of the camera angles he chooses, this feels a lot like a ‘70s film, minus the pacing issues many of those films had. It is a solid story with just enough plot twists to keep you guessing.

The Bad

The first thing you expect in a Tarantino film is excellent dialog. His first two films are masters classes in interesting dialog. This film has some great monologs – by both the Bounty Hunter and the Plantation owner, but the dialogs are lacking. Also, there were several instances of really clumsy lighting, dim rooms with an angelic soft white light drawing your eye into the focus. They were so obvious as to be out of place in this movie.

The Other

It’s a violent, bloody film that uses the “N-word” a lot. If any of that bothers you, steer clear of this movie. It’s rare for me to say this, but I thought the violence was just a bit gratuitous, as if he had to use up all the stage blood before he could stop shooting. It was all fitting within the plot and the genre, but it could have had a bit more impact if there was a bit less of it.

Final Verdict

If you like Tarantino films, this one will not disappoint you. It had most of what you want in one of his films, but this is an acquired taste, and not neccesarily a sign of good taste. I enjoyed it enough that I don’t feel let down, but I think it isn’t as good as the first two films, or Kill Bill, or even Inglorious Bastards.

Review – Defiance, SyFy Channel

Defiance 1 Defiance 2

Defiance is an original program from the SyFy channel. Defiance is set on a future Earth that has been devastated by a series of wars with several alien races who came to earth to colonize, thinking it wasn’t inhabited. Wars happened, terraforming happened, the immigration space floatilla exploded, and then peace happened. Now, Earth is barely recognizable, with the remnants of the human race along with the other 7 or 8 races trying to rebuild. There are some civilized zones, there are wastelands in between, and there is a rain of wreckage falling from the sky on a regular basis. The focus of the story is the town of Defiance. In Defiance all the races mix and work to build a place where all can live.

In the pilot, an ex-soldier and his adopted daughter who are on their way to Antarctica (there are beaches there) get stranded in Defiance after being attacked by “Spirit Riders” outside of town. They have a little adventure, we meet the power brokers in the town, and we set up the larger store. In the end, the ex-soldier becomes the Lawman in town. In the second episode, some threads from the pilot get woven together in the hunt for a killer.

The Good

The premise is good, but I cheated by looking up the backstory on Wiki. There is a fleshed out reason what has happened and some decent thought into the races. The idea of an Earth subjected to the forces of terraforming, but we still live here is interesting and gives the show quite a bit of leeway to create new creatures and settings. The tone has that nice mix between a western and a sci-fi, similar to what was done in Firefly but not quite as well.

The Bad

The lead character, the ex-soldier now lawman, is about as interesting as a dirt sandwich. I cant say if it is the acting or the writing as fault here, but he doesn’t cut it. This little issue extends to much of the cast. Either they are trying too hard, or they just don’t know who the characters are, but so far it is pretty hard to feel involved with any of them. So far, the characters feel very two dimensional.

The Other

In some ways, this is a very ambitious show. They are taking explaining a future history, introducing new races, setting up the conflicts (small and large), and introducing you to at least 13 characters who seem to have enough relevance to impact the plot points. And so far they’ve had two and a half hours to do that. Movies don’t manage all that in that amount of time. That being said, they may be doing too much and not thinking enough about telling some good stories. What I worry about is that they will do all of this work with these elements, but not do the work on the plot.

Final Verdict

The first two episodes weren’t bad, but I wasn’t thinking about them later like I’ve done with other shows. I’m interested enough to watch again next week, but it will need to do something more interesting soon to keep me around.

Movie Review – Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and powerful

Saw the Oz movie last night. Makes the recent Alice in Wonderland movie seem Oscar worthy.

If you get past the wooden acting and moronic dialog you are left with a ridiculous plot, color saturated visuals, and a couple of feeble attempts at mirth. Even multiple close ups of Mila Kunis’ eyes couldn’t make this thing entertaining. The most believable acting was done by the animated china girl. This only way this movie could be considered a success would be if the goal of the people who made it was to damage James Franco’s career.

Avoid with prejudice