TV Review: The Expanse (2015- )

Original Run: December 14th, 2015 – current
Created by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Expanse series of novel by James S. A. Corey
Music by: Clinton Shorter
Cast: Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Paulo Costanzo, Florence Faivre, Shawn Doyle, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams, Chad L. Coleman, Jared Harris, Francois Chau, Cara Gee, Elizabeth Mitchell

Penguin in a Parka, SeanDanielCo, Alcon Entertainment, Legendary Television Distribution, Syfy, Amazon, 36 Episodes (so far), 42-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Man, this show really leaves you with a lot to unpack and process. And I mean that in the best way possible.

I had heard a lot of good things about The Expanse and it has been in my queue for a long time. But I figured the time to watch it was now, as it is getting ready to be resurrected by Amazon after it was recently cancelled by Syfy.

Having now seen this, I can’t imagine how it was cancelled other than the ratings just not being there. A show like this is expensive to produce but at the same time, it’s also one of those shows that’s special and you can see that it will find its audience. But maybe that just didn’t happen fast enough for Syfy, just as Halt and Catch Fire had its plug pulled by AMC after four seasons before it started to catch on through word of mouth and streaming services. Now I hear people talk about that show more than when it was on and that seems to be the same with The Expanse now that people feared its axing would be permanent.

I was immediately captivating by the opening sequence of the first episode of this show. It lured you in, was bizarre and it kicked off a big mystery. Little did I know that the mystery itself was just a tiny thread on a large tapestry that once pulled, would keep unraveling in surprising and shocking ways.

This show throws a lot of curveballs while hitting you in the feels and as turbulent as the narrative can be, it works and it keeps you hooked. In fact, this show starts out quite slow but it keeps adding new layers. This is meticulously crafted and I’m not sure if they knew what the long term plan was when they started writing this show or how closely it follows its source material but just after three seasons, this show has a mythos with a lot of depth and a richness that is missing in most television shows and films.

The show does an absolutely stellar job of developing its characters. Almost everyone is likable, even if everyone has very apparent flaws. Somehow, everyone is pretty relatable. Well, except for the human monsters that are doing terrible things behind the scenes.

Additionally, the show is superbly acted. Thomas Jane was a big factor in getting me to watch this in the first place but he’s just one of many talented people. The one person that just shines incredibly brightly is Shohreh Aghdashloo. I’ve always enjoyed her in other things but man, she was born to play the role of Chrisjen Avasarala. She is front and center of every scene she’s in and she makes every talented actor around her, just a bit better.

The world that this takes place in his a future where Earth has colonized Mars, the Moon, the asteroid belt and some of Jupiter’s moons. Things start with tensions at an all-time high and war could break out at any second. And while this features spaceships and space travel, I love that the weapons aren’t lasers and photon torpedoes but that the ships are decked out with Gatling guns, rail guns and nuclear warheads. It makes this world seem more plausible and closer to reality than stuff like Star TrekBattlestar Galactica or The Orville.

The Expanse may not grab your attention right away but it is worth sticking with into the second season where this show’s universe really starts to open up and expand in unforeseen ways.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: it’s hard to say, really. There’s nothing like this show but the closest would probably be the modern reimagining of Battlestar Galactica.

Film Review: The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

Release Date: August 26th, 1992 (France)
Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by: Michael Mann, Christopher Crowe, John L. Balderston, Paul Perez, Daniel Moore
Based on: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
Music by: Trevor Jones, Randy Edelman
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Jodhi May, Russell Means, Wes Studi, Colm Meaney, Jared Harris

Morgan Creek Productions, 20th Century Fox, 112 Minutes, 117 Minutes (DVD Extended Cut)

Review:

“No! You stay alive! If they don’t kill you, they’ll take you north up to the Huron lands. Submit, do you hear? You’re strong! You survive! You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far. I will find you!” – Hawkeye

Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors that has ever lived. So going back and seeing one of his early roles is interesting. He certainly had the chops, even as far back as 1992, but I wanted to revisit this just to see where he was at, at the time, and because I hadn’t seen this since it was in movie theaters.

Day-Lewis was solid but man, that really should go without saying. But he also had a great cast that carried their scenes quite well too.

Madeleine Stowe was superb and strong. She was a good choice to play opposite of Day-Lewis. Additionally, Wes Studi was as good as he always is and frankly, he should get more credit than he does for his performances. Hell, even as Sagat in that terrible 1994 Street Fighter film, he still had a good presence.

The film also features Russell Means, as well as Colm Meaney and Jared Harris before they became better known actors.

While this isn’t a true story from American history, it has a truly authentic feel to it. And maybe that’s due to the era of when the novel was originally written. I haven’t read the book and can’t compare the two but it does seem that the film is able to capture the spirit of the original work and the time it represents.

I can’t call this a masterpiece but it is a fine film that tells an interesting story with great acting and solid direction by Michael Mann.

I also love the film’s theme but I do have a problem with the picture’s score. You see, as good as the title theme is, it is the only piece of music that you notice in the movie. In fact, it is probably the only tune played within the film, as every bit of music is the same theme done over and over again, just in different keys with different instruments and at different speeds. As good as it is, it wears thin by film’s end and almost distracts from the big action finale.

But that’s really the only gripe I have about this great picture.

The Last of the Mohicans is worth your time if you like early American history and films with a western feel to them, even if this doesn’t actually take place in the Old West: geographically or chronologically.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Dances With Wolves and Thunderheart.

Film Review: Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

Also known as: Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse, Resident Evil: Nemesis (working titles)
Release Date: August 23rd, 2004 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Alexander Witt
Written by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Based on: Resident Evil by Capcom
Music by: Jeff Danna
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Oded Fehr, Thomas Kretschmann, Jared Harris, Mike Epps, Iain Glen, Zack Ward

Constantin Film, Impact Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“We’re assets, Nicholai. Expendable assets… and we’ve just been expended” – Carlos Olivera

Since I’ve never actually watched these films in their entirety, I figured that I’d work my way through them. The first movie wasn’t great but it was an enjoyable way to spend 100 minutes. I assumed each entry in the series would take a step down but I actually like this film a bit more than the first one.

To start, the story is better, more interesting and more fleshed out. You understand what’s happening at a deeper level and Alice is coming into her own, remembering her past. Also, she has been modified genetically to essentially be a super soldier.

The special effects, while not perfect, are better than what we got in the first movie. The CGI is more fine tuned and the director was smart enough to keep some of the imperfections obscured in darkness and shadow. The Lickers looked better because they weren’t in brightly lit rooms but instead, confronted our heroes in a dark old church.

Additionally, the urban setting was much more interesting than seeing the heroes fight zombies and dogs in a generic looking lab.

Best of all, we get the Nemesis character. He looked pretty f’n good considering the budget, the difficulty in the design and the weak effects of the previous chapter in this series. I thought the big fight between Alice and Nemesis was actually quite good and a throwback to grittier late ’80s/early ’90s sci-fi action movies. It had a lot of near-cringe CGI work but the practical effects were nice to see and worked well.

One complaint though is the fighting style, which uses a lot of Hong Kong style wire work. While I get that Alice is an acrobatic super solider, it looks hokey in spots and my brain just can’t accept the shoddy physics. While it doesn’t bother me in Hong Kong cinema, because it is very much the Hong Kong style, it is a visual distraction that pulls me out of the movie in regards to its use here and in other Resident Evil movies.

But I didn’t watch these expecting any sort of perfection. I watched these to have some fun and to finally give this franchise the respect that maybe it deserves just on its ability to stay relevant, to pop out constant sequels and for being the highest grossing film franchise based on a video game property.

Anyway, I enjoyed this and being two films deep, this series is still engaging. Maybe I’ll be surprised and continue to enjoy the four other sequels after this one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Resident Evil films, as well as other horror video game films from the same era: the Silent Hill series and Doom.

TV Review: Mad Men (2007-2015)

Original Run: July 19th, 2007-May 17th, 2015
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: David Carbonara, RJD2 (opening theme)
Cast: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Batt, Michael Gladis, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Maggie Siff, John Slattery, Robert Morse, Jared Harris, Kiernan Shipka, Jessica Paré, Christopher Stanley, Jay R. Ferguson, Kevin Rahm, Ben Feldman, Mason Vale Cotton, Alison Brie, Joel Murray, Peyton List, Harry Hamlin, Linda Cardellini, Rosemarie DeWitt, Randee Heller, Caity Lotz, Ray Wise, Stephanie Courtney, Patrick Fischler, Alexis Bledel, Anna Camp,

Weiner Bros., Silvercup Studios, Lionsgate Television, @radical.media (pilot only), Lionsgate Television, AMC, 92 Episodes, 47 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Last night saw the end of an era, as the series finale to Mad Men aired. The show was one of the best shows of the last ten years and frankly, one of the best television shows of all-time.

Sure, maybe I’m late in reviewing it because it is now over and it has been on television since the summer of 2007. I also didn’t have this blog back then and I like to wait and review television shows after they have had time to establish themselves.

Chances are, most of you reading this have already seen the show and formed your own opinions. Most of you probably loved it or at the very least, liked it. Sure, there is the minority that didn’t and that is fine. Regardless, it is what this show brought that makes it so iconic and important.

As viewers, we were thrown back into the 1960s. The time and the style of the show ignited nostalgia in a lot of folks and thus, had them engaged from the first scene: Don Draper sitting in a bar trying to solve the dilemma of marketing Lucky Strikes cigarettes.

The strongest element of the show was not its style however, it was its substance. With that opening scene, you knew that you were in the past, where things were quite different. A time where minorities and women were treated generally, pretty poorly. Also a time where cigarettes could be marketed and people were a lot less concerned about the health risks of smoking, drinking and sexually transmitted diseases. As the show traversed its way through the 1960s and into 1970 – in the final season, our characters were faced with a multitude of issues and many of them had to deal with the consequences.

There isn’t anything in this show that hasn’t been dealt with our addressed in entertainment before but what this show did, was take all of these issues and put them in one place. Mad Men was a brilliantly executed smorgasbord of the social, economic, political, health and safety issues of the time. It also doesn’t hurt that the show was just always stunning to look at and perfectly acted.

Whether it was the set designers, the creative directors or the wardrobe people on set, it all became a happy and perfect marriage and gave us something special and unique. It has also paved the way for other shows on non-premium cable television to take more risks and not be fearful of being too edgy.

Without Mad Men, AMC wouldn’t have become a television powerhouse. For those that forget, AMC used to just show old black and white movies and that was it. Mad Men opened a door at the network that led to shows like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Walking Dead, Hell On Wheels, Halt and Catch Fire, TURИ: Washington’s Spies, The Killing and the soon to debut Preacher, Fear the Walking Dead, Humans and Into the Badlands. Mad Men also inspired a resurgence of period dramas on other networks – some successful and some, not so much.

With the last episode now having aired, I can say that Mad Men lived up to its continued hype and never disappointed. It was quality from day one and maintained its superior level of television storytelling all the way up to the very end. And ultimately, it had the balls to take everything it told you from the beginning and flip it on its head at the end.

The show had a unique ability to reinvent itself and its characters without the viewer realizing it in the moment. That being said, the characters on Mad Men could very well be the most human characters in television history.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Magic CityHalt and Catch FireThe Astronaut Wives Club and Manhattan.

Film Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Release Date: August 2nd, 2015 (Barcelona premiere)
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, Jeff Kleeman, David C. Wilson
Based on: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Music by: Daniel Pemberton
Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant

Ritchie/Wigram Productions, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Davis Entertainment, Warner Bros., 116 Minutes

Review:

“There are only two masters in this world: fear and pain.” – Uncle Rudi

*Written in 2015.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was the latest attempt at Hollywood trying to remake an old popular television show into a movie. In a sea of remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels and spinoffs, this film is just as forgettable and unimportant as most of the others. Now, it’s not a bad film, it just isn’t anything memorable or fresh.

The best thing about this movie, is that it is one of those rare films where style actually is substance. Everything about the film’s style makes this movie better than it would have been without it. Guy Ritchie, the director, talked about how in some ways it wasn’t just a tribute to the 1960s television show it was based on but that he also drew inspiration from the original James Bond films starring Sean Connery. I wouldn’t say that he succeeded in capturing that old school Bond magic but the homage was still satisfying.

However, the Bond style that Ritchie tried to recreate here made this film feel more like a wannabe ’60s Bond movie and less like the original version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I feel like this was just a vehicle for Ritchie to make a Bond picture without having the rights to do so.

This movie benefitted from having a pretty good cast. Finally, Henry Cavill showed some personality as the American spy Napoleon Solo – a stark contrast to his almost lifeless performance as Superman in The Man of Steel. Armie Hammer was the scene stealer as the Soviet KGB agent, Illya Kuryakin. Where the character of Napoleon was supposed to be the suave charismatic one, it was Illya that actually was. Alicia Vikander was perfect as Gaby while Elizabeth Debicki was a bit robotic as the villainous Victoria. The Gaby character was definitely the more engaging of the two female leads. Hugh Grant and Jared Harris also show up. Grant is a British spy and becomes the commander of the group while Harris plays the American spy boss with a fantastic accent.

The action is pretty good throughout the film, although some of the more stylistic editing techniques make certain sequences seem rushed. There could be more action but the film never feels too slow. The final showdown between the hero and the villain is more comical than anything and feels like a wasted opportunity in an action film. The comedic death of the villain is ineffective and a letdown.

This is a fun movie though. While sitting through it, it is pretty enjoyable. There just isn’t much to take away from it that would leave you wanting more in the future. Like all attempts at summer blockbusters these days, it sets up a sequel at the end. Everything has to be a franchise now but The Man From U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t have the legs to stand on its own.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The Kingsman movies and some of the hokier James Bond films.

Film Review: The Ward (2010)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s The Ward
Release Date: September 13th, 2010 (TIFF)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Music by: Mark Kilian
Cast: Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca, Mika Boorem, Jared Harris

Echo Lake Entertainment, A Bigger Boat, ARC Entertainment, XLrator Media, 99 Minutes

Review:

“What’s the first thing you remember?” – Dr. Stringer, “Fire.” – Kristen

*written in 2014.

The Ward was John Carpenter’s first film in nearly a decade when it came out in 2010. I think the decade off did good for Carpenter after the poor efforts of Ghosts of Mars, Vampires, Escape From L.A. and Village of the Damned had me thinking that his days as a good director were over. Sure, all those films had some good takeaways but ultimately, they were nowhere near the level of his great films like The Thing, Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness, the original Halloween, They Live, Big Trouble In Little China, Escape From New York and Starman.

This film was a return to form for Carpenter. It was a straight up ghost story and it captured that real dread that his last several films were missing. He built a good narrative, kept things mysterious and told a solid story. Granted, the end result wasn’t something all that original but the concept of this film worked and I liked it. I can’t go more into the concept without spoiling the plot, so I’ll leave it at that.

This film stars Amber Heard, who I have never had a problem looking at. In fact, I’ve been enamored with her since The Rum Diary and apparently Johnny Depp is too as they are now engaged. The film also stars Jared Harris, who played the awesome Lane Pryce on Mad Men.

The acting was better than decent in comparison to the overabundance of horrible horror films that have come out over the last decade. And truthfully, maybe it is the slew of horrible horror films that have made me appreciate this film and the return of John Carpenter. Regardless of the reason, The Ward is better than the cookie cutter crap that Hollywood has been pushing out.

It is far from a perfect film and it isn’t a classic or even in Carpenter’s upper echelon of work but it is still better than what has become the norm.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Carpenter’s other work, even if his classic stuff has a different feel.