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 Sixth Sense (1999)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1999 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Haley Joel Osment, Donnie Wahlberg, Mischa Barton, M. Night Shyamalan (cameo)

Hollywood Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, The Kennedy/Marshall Company, 107 Minutes

Review:

“I want to tell you my secret now.” – Cole Sear

For those that don’t remember the world in 1999, The Sixth Sense scared about as many people as Y2K.

This is a creepy film that penetrated the subconscious of its audience and went on to make its director, M. Night Shyamalan, one of Hollywood’s new “it boys” at the time.

I haven’t seen this since it was in the theater but being that this is its twentieth anniversary, I wanted to revisit it.

It’s not as good as I remembered it and for a long time, I considered it Shyamalan’s second best film after Unbreakable. It is still a much better than decent picture but it is sort of ruined by knowing the twist. However, it was also sort of diminished by knowing young Cole’s secret thanks to the marketing of the film in 1999.

Seeing this now, it is eerie from start to finish but the fact that you were clued in to the fact that Cole can “see dead people” before ever seeing the film, really takes away from that reveal. Plus, you go through half of this film before you actually see a ghost on screen. The first half of the film, had you not known the secret, could have been interpreted as Cole having severe mental issues.

Cole’s secret isn’t the big plot twist though, that comes at the end when it is revealed that Bruce Willis’ Crowe has been dead since the opening scene. I remember being in the theater and hearing everyone gasp when this was spelled out to the audience. That caught me by surprise, as I detected the twist pretty early on and just assumed the audience was supposed to know this all along. There were just too many hints that spelled it out for me before it had to be audibly stated and confirmed by the characters.

I think that the film is effective in how it creates atmosphere and makes you connect to its characters. The thing is, this feels more like a solid pilot for a show than a self contained story within a single film. I think that maybe this should have been a film series or at least found a way to be ongoing on television or books even. I left this film wanting to see Cole do good work in bringing tortured souls some peace.

This film did a nice job of sort of legitimizing horror and making it a bit more mainstream at the time. But the following decade wouldn’t be too kind to the genre, anyway. And this isn’t so much horror at its core, as it just happens to be a solid drama about a child psychiatrist and his very troubled patient. There just happens to be dead people in the story.

My biggest mark against the film is that it is really drawn out and moves at a snail’s pace until dead people start showing up about 50 minutes into the movie. I do like slow builds and suspense but the first half of this movie could have been whittled down.

In the end, this still does a good job of making a real human connection with its audience and it conjures up a thick sense of dread. But I can’t really call The Sixth Sense a classic, despite its cultural impact for the time.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other M. Night Shyamalan movies.

Film Review: Dead Reckoning (1947)

Also known as: John Cromwell’s Dead Reckoning (complete title)
Release Date: January 18th, 1947 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: John Cromwell
Written by: Steve Fisher, Oliver H.P. Garrett, Gerald Drayson Adams, Sidney Biddell
Music by: Marlin Skiles
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lizabeth Scott

Columbia Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“I hated every part of her but I couldn’t figure her out yet. I wanted to see her the way Johnny had. I wanted to hear that song of hers with Johnny’s ears. Maybe she was alright. And maybe Christmas comes in July. But I didn’t believe it.” – Captain Warren ‘Rip’ Murdock

I’ve wanted to see this motion picture for quite some time. It stars my favorite leading man, my favorite leading lady and it’s considered a film-noir classic.

Dead Reckoning was also directed by John Cromwell, who only did a handful of noir pictures but still had quite a lengthy career behind the camera.

I enjoyed this film quite a bit but if I’m being completely honest, it was a bit underwhelming. Sure, Bogart and Scott were both absolutely dynamite and had a great, dynamic chemistry but the film was just lacking in energy.

It’s not boring, it’s just a bit slow and it takes awhile to get moving. It features a decent scheme but nothing quite as remarkable as some of the top tier film-noirs of the day.

Had this film starred some other actors, it would be pretty forgettable. It’s kept afloat because of the charisma of its two leads.

There’s nothing special about the cinematography, the lighting, the set design or the camera work. Everything looks and feels pretty standard for the day. As I said, noir wasn’t a big chunk of the director’s lengthy filmography and everything here just felt like a clean, crisp, major studio production. I love RKO Radio Pictures because they were a master of the style, where Columbia, the studio that made this film, spent more time making larger, more publicly accessible spectacles for general audiences.

Bogart was a Warner Bros. guy and that was a studio that had a better grasp on the film-noir style, which is why his other noir pictures are much better, in my opinion. Scott was actually borrowed from Paramount for this film, where she was in some solid noir movies. Columbia originally intended for their biggest star, Rita Heyworth, to be in this but she was tied up working on The Lady From Shanghai with husband Orson Welles. Good thing for Columbia, that noir film was a true classic.

I really don’t want to sound like I’m bashing this film or Columbia, it just noticeably lacks when compared to the other films featuring its stars.

Dead Reckoning is still worth watching if you are a fan of Bogart, Scott, Cromwell or film-noir in general. It’s certainly a better than the average film in the style, even if it doesn’t live up to the hype I built up in my mind.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures starring Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott.

Film Review: Talk About a Stranger (1952)

Also known as: The Stranger in the House (working title), The Enemy (script title)
Release Date: April 18th, 1952
Directed by: David Bradley
Written by: Margaret Fitts
Based on: The Enemy by Charlotte Armstrong
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: George Murphy, Nancy Davis, Billy Gray, Lewis Stone, Kurt Kasznar

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 65 Minutes

Review:

“Something doesn’t stand up. A guy like Matlock who lives like a pig and dresses like a hobo, drives a nicer car than I do and has a $500 watch!” – Talmadge

Talk About a Stranger is a little known film-noir that was made on a fairly scant budget but still lost money due to it not performing very well at the box office. It was washed away and forgotten about over time but it was recently featured on TCM’s Noir Alley, which is where I saw it.

The story stars a young boy, Billy Gray, who plays Bud Fontaine. He meets a new neighbor, who he instantly dislikes and starts to blame for everything wrong that happens in the story. Eventually, Bud discovers his new dog is dead and it looks as if the animal was poisoned. He immediately blames the new neighbor, Matlock.

Bud gets more and more unhinged as the film rolls on. He wants to believe that Matlock is an evil man so badly that he acts out, becoming a little terror obsessed with exposing the quiet recluse that just wants to be left alone.

Eventually, we find out Matlock’s true story which is sad and heartbreaking. The boy realizes his folly and this at least ends with a happy ending for everyone. Matlock even gives the boy a puppy to help him heal and to show that he’s not angry with the little hellion.

Billy Gray was best known as another character named Bud on the hit TV show Father Knows Best. He was also in the classic sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still. He was the son of actress Beatrice Gray, who would bring Billy to set with her a lot. Billy then got into acting at a very young age.

His performance here is quite good. He gets annoying but it’s the role he’s playing and not his actual performance.

The story is pretty good and it almost had a bit of The ‘Burbs feel to it. Granted, it’s not a comedy and the neighbor doesn’t end up being the bad guy but it deals with similar issues in how it delves into paranoia surrounding a new and mysterious neighbor.

This isn’t a memorable film but it was still entertaining and it flew by rather quickly at just 65 minutes.

Sadly, there isn’t a trailer online that I can link below per usual.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: another film-noir staring a young kid, The Window.

Film Review: Crack-Up (1946)

Also known as: Galveston (working title)
Release Date: September 6th, 1946
Directed by: Irving Reis, James Anderson (assistant)
Written by: John Paxton, Ben Bengal, Ray Spencer
Based on: Madman’s Holiday by Frederic Brown
Music by: Leigh Harline
Cast: Pat O’Brien, Claire Trevor, Herbert Marshall, Ray Collins

RKO Radio Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Wouldn’t it be smarter to go to Cochrane and get this thing out in the open?” – Terry Cordell, “About as smart as cutting my throat to get some fresh air.” – George Steele

I had never heard of Crack-Up until it was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley.

While not a great noir, it was certainly intense and it kept you glued to your seat, as things escalated and layers of this mystery started to be peeled back.

It stars Pat O’Brien and Claire Trevor, both of whom did quite good in this. I’ve always liked Trevor’s work, especially in noir.

The film was directed by Irving Reis, who wasn’t usually behind the camera on noir pictures and was more famous for directing films like The Bachelor and the Bobby-SoxerThe Gay Falcon, The Big Street and The Four Poster. He also didn’t have a terribly long career when compared to other well-known directors of his day but he did have a real knack for framing shots superbly and for utilizing the tools around him.

While this film does grab you quickly, it starts to taper off a bit towards the end, as it inches towards its climax. It wasn’t a big issue for me but it lost some momentum and probably could have been more effective at around 75 minutes with the final act fine tuned more.

For the time, the lighting effects were solid and I love the scene where O’Brien is watching another approaching train that he fears is going to collide with the one he’s riding on.

I loved the use of trains in the film, as well as setting some scenes in a museum while also critiquing art critics. I’m not sure if that was done in defense of art that challenges tradition or if this film wasn’t that smart. Regardless, it was interesting to see.

With lots of suspense, this is a better than average thriller that is maybe a bit too unknown and probably underrated.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other RKO Radio Pictures film-noirs of the era.

Film Review: Too Late for Tears (1949)

Also known as: Killer Bait (reissue title)
Release Date: July 17th, 1949 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Byron Haskin
Written by: Roy Huggins
Based on: Too Late for Tears by Roy Huggins
Music by: R. Dale Butts
Cast: Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy

Hunt Stromberg Productions, United Artists, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t ever change, Tiger. I don’t think I’d like you with a heart.” – Danny Fuller

This was a film that was lost for decades but was recently restored by The Noir Foundation.

It stars two noir greats: Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea.

That being said, the performances are damn good. Lizabeth Scott is, by far, one of my favorite femme fatales and Dan Duryea is just a perfect noir heavy.

The story starts with a couple driving through the Hollywood Hills at night. They stop during an argument and a car speeding by literally throws a bag of money at them. They take the bag, just as another car approaches them, obviously on the hunt for the cash. They get away with the money but the greed overcomes the woman, who spends the rest of the film succumbing to her greed and destroying anything in the way of that greed.

It’s not a greatly conceived plot but it works for the heyday of film-noir.

The film really is carried by the performances of Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea. In fact, it suffers a bit once Duryea is killed off.

Still, the cinematography was good and the direction was solid.

This wasn’t the best outing for either star but it was fun seeing them together and their chemistry worked.

Also, it is great seeing films like this restored, after being missing or incomplete for years. I always look forward to seeing films resurrected for modern audiences, whether they are good, bad or somewhere in between.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures with Lizabeth Scott: Pitfall, Dead Reckoning, Desert Fury, Dark City, The Racket and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

Film Review: Watchmen (2009)

Release Date: February 23rd, 2009 (London premiere)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: David Hayter, Alex Tse
Based on: Watchmen by Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore (uncredited)
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Stephen McHattie, Matt Frewer

Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lawrence Gordon Productions, 162 Minutes, 186 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 215 Minutes (Ultimate Cut)

Review:

“None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me!” – Rorschach

When Watchmen first came out, I was super excited just based off of the trailer alone and having just come off the greatness that was Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. However, once seeing the film, I was pretty disappointed. Because of that, I never watched it again until now, ten years later, shy of two months.

I really wanted to give this another shot but if I was going to watch it, it had to be the Ultimate Cut. I needed to see the director’s complete vision and adaptation of the comic, which I have loved since first picking it up in the early ’90s.

I don’t know if it’s because I finally watched the Ultimate Cut or because all those years ago, I saw this three hour epic at a midnight showing and grew dead tired but this was not the same experience. This was something much greater and even closer to what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ great comic was supposed to be. I’ve been hard on Zack Snyder before and while this isn’t perfection, it’s still a stupendous adaptation that hits the right notes narrative wise and tonally.

I think that one major issue I had with it initially, is that it is almost a panel to shot recreation of the comic. I thought that it should have taken a bit more creative license but seeing the complete version, I’m glad that they didn’t and my initial assessment was wrong.

It’s been so long since I saw the theatrical version, so it’s hard for me to tell what wasn’t in that one and what was added to this version but the most notable addition is the inclusion of the animated bits, which tell the story of The Black Freighter, which had its story sprinkled throughout the original comic. The movie felt like it was missing that in the original version and the way that they use it here is really cool. Also, the animation was incredible and also matched the tone of the comic quite well.

The only big difference between this and the comic is the omission of the giant kaiju monster that wrecked New York City. It’s replaced here with a more realistic threat but I felt like the kaiju thing was always really cool and I feel like it would have worked in the film. But it’s exclusion doesn’t really hurt the movie. I’m just baffled as to why it was changed when everything else is so damn close to the source material. Plus, kaiju make everything better.

I thought that the acting in the film was exceptional and as great as it is, there are two people who really stole the show: Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian. These two guys had an incredible presence when they were on the screen. This was also the first time I noticed Morgan and I’m glad to see him carve out a fine career since this picture.

Malin Åkerman and Patrick Wilson carry the bulk of the acting duties, as the story seems to feature them the most, even though it balances all these characters very well. I thought both of them put in solid performances. But I can’t really knock anyone in the movie for not carrying their weight and doing the source material justice.

This was and still is the greatest thing that Zack Snyder has ever directed. I’m not trying to knock his more recent work but I feel like he’s always trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle that he had here and it just isn’t working on the same level for him.

The Ultimate Cut is very long, almost four hours. However, it moves swiftly and a lot of ground is covered in that time. As I get older, I don’t have the attention span to sit and watch long movies like this in one sitting but the length didn’t bother me here. I was glued to the screen and sucked into this universe.

I’m glad that I finally got to revisit Watchmen and that I went with the Ultimate Cut. This should be the version that everyone watches and the only one that exists.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: it’s pretty damn unique but I guess if you needed to pair it with something, Blade Runner or The Dark Knight.