Fall TV 2016 Wave 2

I’m enjoying the new fall TV season so far. There’s nothing that I absolutely can’t miss, but a number of shows are still intriguing enough that I want to keep watching.

New Shows


At the top of the list of new shows worth sticking with is definitely Westworld. Hype has pegged this to be HBO’s successor to Game of Thrones, which kind of baffles me because the shows are nothing alike. From a business point of view, I guess this is another series that can cross over from the nerd population to be a general audience hit. The show is a bit cryptic with regard to what it’s really about. On the surface, we seem to be watching the operation of a Western-themed sci-fi pleasure-planet populated with artificial people (which are called “hosts”), who service the needs of the guests. There is some kind of glitching going on with some of the hosts, but it’s not totally clear what the problem is. Also, so far we’ve been introduced to several guests, including Ed Harris as a man who has been playing Westworld’s game so long that he’s now looking for “the next level” — and leaving a trail of bodies behind him. There are a lot of puzzling things going on, with a nicely gradual reveal. Apart from the amazing cinematography and scenery, there is also an excellent cast to keep us interested until we get our answers. Anthony Hopkins plays the world’s creator, Jeffrey Wright plays one of his top successors. Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton all play host characters. Not since Lost has a series like this held so many mysteries. (4 out of 5)

american-housewifeAmerican Housewife

I feel like we’ve got a bit of a formula going on, with a fancy neighbourhood where our quirky family doesn’t really fit (they’re on the poorer end of the earning spectrum) and they like to look down on the hoity-toity neighbours. Despite that, I was drawn to the show by Katy Mixon (who played Molly’s younger sister on Mike & Molly). While the first episode contained way too much voiceover narration, I like Mixon’s sassy persona. The rest of the family and other characters will need to develop. I don’t love that the youngest daughter has some kind of anxiety disorder (the trend to have a token mentally or physically-challenged kid on every family sitcom is a tricky one). However, the two other kids seem to be poached straight from 80s hit Family Ties, but rather than it being a reaction to the parents’ hippy philosophy, the son being a self-centred money-focused conservative, and the daughter being pretty yet potentially-shallow are all blamed on the family being in an affluent neighbourhood. This show has potential, but it’s got to find itself and its characters without simply being a battle of stereotypes. (3.5 out of 5)


This is the only one of the several time-travel themed shows of the season that I decided to give a chance, mainly because early reviews were quite positive. The premise is that a villain has stolen a time machine and is using it to go back to key moments in history to destabilize and destroy present-day America. The present-day US government recruits a historian (played by Abigail Spencer, from Suits), a soldier (played by Matt Lanter), and a scientist (played by Malcolm Barrett, who I remember from Better Off Ted) to go back (using a smaller, prototype time machine) to prevent the villain from wrecking the timeline and the country’s history. It’s an interesting premise that begs the question of whether history will be changed in this show (or if it will always be saved — boring!). They answered that in the very first episode when Spencer’s character Lucy Preston returned from their first mission to find that her mother was no longer ill, and her sister never existed. So kudos to the show for not taking the easy way out and making sure that everything stays the same despite messing with the past. However, after two episodes, the sci-fi geek in me feels that they are still dealing well enough with the kind of large-scale consequences that should occur from the actions that the team has taken in the past in an attempt to prevent changes. If there is truly a butterfly effect, then every time they come back to the present, the world should have changed substantially. Now, I acknowledge that taking such a serious approach doesn’t necessarily make for a fun show, but this show does take itself seriously (It’s not like we’re remaking Quantum Leap) and that’s part of the problem. (3 out of 5)

kims-convenience-5Kim’s Convenience

I am very excited to see another Asian-centred show on North American TV. This CBC sitcom, about a Korean family who runs a convenience store in urban Toronto, is actually based on a very successful play (which I did see) and stars an actor, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, that I actually went to university with (we shared a class, but I’m sure he’s forgotten me, so that’s enough of the name-dropping). Lee plays Appa, the patriarch and store owner. Even from the first episode, there is already some backstory to this family as Appa and his son Jung are not on speaking terms. Umma (the mother) and daughter Janet make various attempts to mend the rift, but Asian male pride is still a thing (and there is baggage between all members of the family). Despite dealing with some emotional issues that make this show more of a dramedy than a ha-ha comedy, there are still a number of funny aspects, most often stemming from the east-meets-west clash of the parents’ personalities with expected North American behaviour. As much as I enjoyed the first two episodes, a few things still kind of irked me — I’m probably harder on this show because I am also Asian and have given these kinds of issues more thought. First, I found it distracting to have immigrants speaking broken English when they are by themselves. Sure, no one wants to watch a show full of subtitles, but I am convinced that in real life Appa and Umma would be speaking Korean to each other, not English. Second, I found the title/theme of the first episode (“Gay Discount”) kind of surprising. I would have expected a new sitcom to keep things simple, and establish the main characters and their situation before jumping into socio-political topics like LGBT rights and community. Granted, Canadian shows like to quickly establish how progressive we believe we are in this country. Still, those are minor quibbles, and overall I quite enjoyed the show. (3.5 out of 5)

Returning Shows

the-flash-season-3-episode-2-jay-garrickThe Flash

We pick up this season from where we left off. Flash has altered history (There’s that theme again!) so that his mother was not killed by the Reverse-Flash. That made his family life a little more perfect, but then he starts to notice all kinds of other inconsistencies in the timeline resulting from his actions. Events hit a breaking point that leads him to make the tough decision to undo his own changes to the past, and allow his mother to be killed. Unfortunately things do not work out so cleanly, and are not restored to where they were exactly and Flash continues to deal with the consequences. Based on a storyline from the original comic book, these “Flashpoint” episodes don’t play out as successfully as they might on paper. For starters, the universe of the TV show is way smaller, so it’s almost like playing “spot the difference” to realize how the current timeline is “wrong”. To make things worse, it’s not always clear whether the change is a good or bad thing — at least until we are told that things are bad (maybe someone dies or gets hurt), which necessitates a change to the timeline. A new villain (Dr. Alchemy) has been introduced, who seems to have some mysterious abilities and a totally unknown agenda. It’s too early to know whether he will make a cool enemy or not. (3 out of 5)


The end of the first season seemed very open, without much of a suspenseful cliffhanger. Kara and James are now free to pursue a romantic relationship, and Kara has received a genie’s wish from Kat Grant to choose whatever job she wants. The storylines did not compellingly lead into this season, but what has been driving the season so far has been the presence of Supergirl’s cousin, Superman (played by Teen Wolf‘s Tyler Hoechlin). Having run into each other while preventing a space shuttle crash, Superman decides to hang out with his cousin and stop a new menace together. Hoechlin does a pretty good version of Superman as well as Clark Kent, and ends up inspiring Kara to become a journalist too (lame!). Sadly I’m struggling to find my interest in this show again now that most of the drama of her career and personal life, as well as the enemies that came from her own family history, have been kind of resolved. I hope they do something to rev this show up again, because I don’t think ol’ Supes can stay on indefinitely. (3 out of 5)

Fresh Off The Boat

This other sitcom I like with a mainly Asian cast (No, not you, Dr. Ken — it will never be you!), came back with a pretty fun episode: the Huangs go back to Taiwan. I loved how they played with the fish-out-of-water idea (since the kids have not ever been to Taiwan). Again, it bothered me that almost everyone was speaking English, even in Taiwan — come on! However, it was a pretty good storyline that put the focus back on their culture (rather than a generic, colour-blind, family sitcom scenario). I especially liked how they came to realize that their home is the US and not Taiwan (a classic tension for immigrant families). I hope they really get to explore the kids more this season and give them a chance to grow — especially the younger boys. Plus, it will give them more opportunities for nostalgic “growing up Asian in North America” kinds of storylines — which I relate to, and consider the best aspect of this show. (3.5 out of 5)

That’s it for the start of the fall TV season. I realize there are still more shows coming and returning (I’m looking forward to Jane the Virgin), and Netflix has a number of shows waiting to be unleashed over the next months (I cannot wait for Black Mirror. I might do a special post just for those. We’ll see.) With a schedule full of new episodes, I guess it’s just time to keep watching and to decide which ones to stick with and which ones to let go.

What I watched on TV this summer

Now that the summer is ending, and the fall tv season is around the corner, I wanted to look back at what I watched over the holidays. Though I technically watched all these shows on my TV, none of them were actually broadcast over the summer. The shows I enjoyed (The Night Manager, Black-ish, Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Get Down, and Stranger Things) were all either streamed on Netflix, or downloaded from iTunes. I almost feel bad for the broadcast networks–let’s hope they really step up their games this fall.

The Night Manager

At first I was not going to watch this BBC/AMC series, which is an adaptation of a John LeCarre novel (mainly because I had a terrible — painfully trying to stay awake for the whole thing — experience watching the Gary-Oldman-starring adaptation of LeCarre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). However, a friend told me that this series was good; and I am really starting to enjoy Tom Hiddleston (he’s replaced Daniel Craig as my new model of style and coolness — despite his tabloid-bait relationship with Taylor Swift). He plays the title character, a hotel night manager (and former soldier) who gets recruited by a government agency to infiltrate the organization of an international arms dealer (played by Hugh Laurie from House). Despite the potentially action-packed premise, the series is not full of explosions and gunplay but rather more about subtle interactions and dialogue between characters. Sometimes I really enjoy those kinds of shows, but they need to have the right blend of style and substance, which this show definitely does. The characters are nicely written and the dialogue often has a delicate cat-and-mouse feel to it, so you are never quite sure what each character knows or suspects. There are just a sprinkling of nail-biter scenes, but suspense is only one of the many things that the viewer experiences from this show. As far as style, the visuals are amazing: scenery is lovely, and the villas and hotels are a slick and luxuriant backdrop. If you ever found Hiddleston the least bit charming, this role will win you over without doubt. Even the Bond-esque opening credits where bombs and guns morph into pearls and champagne are totally winning (4.5 out of 5)


I know this sitcom is two years old, but I sadly never gave it much of a chance before. It first appeared the same year as Fresh Off the Boat, and while both were family comedies featuring a minority cast, I found the first episode of Black-ish a lot more difficult to relate to than FOB (since I’m of Chinese background). Fast-forward to this summer, when iTunes cleverly offered the entire second season of Black-ish as a FREE download! Since the price was right, I decided to give the show another try, and loved it. In many ways, it’s a lot like a new version of The Cosby Show — which it even acknowledges with a spot-on spoof of the Cosby opening credits. It’s also about a comfortable, middle-class black family and their day to day experiences. Anthony Anderson plays Dre Johnson, an advertising exec, and Tracee Ellis Ross plays his wife Bow, a surgeon. They have four kids, including a wonderfully precocious pair of twins. As the name of the show suggests, themes of black culture and identity play a significant part in the show, however, viewers of other ethnic backgrounds will enjoy the episodes. Considering they deal with potentially touchy topics, the scripts are really well written, smart, sensitive, and pretty funny. While the characters can be broad and cartoonish at times, they are also very well-rounded. My favourite character, hands-down, is the girl-twin Diane (played by Marsai Martin). She is smart and mature beyond her years, but also edgy and cynical (despite a cherubic cuteness) — when her mom asks her what she “loves”, her answer is “revenge” — Haha! Gotta love it. After watching season 2, I paid for season 1 and I’ve already watched both seasons twice through. It saddens me to admit that I actually like this show more than FOB, but let’s just say that now I have even more TV to enjoy — long live the family sitcom!
(4.5 out of 5)

Star Trek: The Next Generation

What would summer be without an “epic rewatch”, right? Well, this year I chose to binge through my second favourite show (I already did Friends last summer). A while back I had picked up the entire eight-season run of TNG from iTunes and I was happy to enjoy the adventures of the Enterprise crew in all its 80s glory. (For anyone who doesn’t know this show, it was the first revival of the Star Trek franchise that began in the 80s with a new crew, featuring Captain Jean-Luc Picard — played by Patrick Stewart, an android Lt. Commander Data — played by Brent Spiner, and a whole bunch of other characters as they visited many planets and had thought-provoking and exciting adventures. For many of us, it was a gateway into the universe of science fiction.) It was so much fun to revisit many of my favourite episodes. Besides that, by binge-watching, I managed to get a better feel of the continuity that ran through the series as well (even though this series came before the popularity of the continuing story arc). I was able to watch more closely as the various relationships between the characters developed, and even watched young ensign Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) grow up on board ship. One of the things that this rewatch showed me (that I hadn’t paid as much attention to before) was how great a leader Captain Picard really was. Episode after episode he had to make very challenging decisions, balancing the needs in front of him with his guiding principles and those of the Federation that he served. As portrayed by Stewart, he’s still one of the most admirable characters I have ever seen. Despite the occasional big hair or big gestures, the melodrama of planet after planet of humanoids, and characters falling in love in a matter of days, the show really does hold up. Any datedness of costume or corniness is easily overlooked (as it was when it first aired) in favour of enjoying some smart, memorable sci-fi. (5 out of 5)

Stranger Things

Speaking of 80s and sci-fi, a show that definitely snuck up on me this summer was Stranger Things. I knew little about this show before I started watching it, but by the first episode I was intrigued and totally hooked. This Netflix-original series was the talk of early-summer as everyone discovered and loved this show about a bunch of kids in the 80s (first a group of pre-teen boys; then also a group of older boys and girls). Once one of the young boys mysteriously disappears from their smallish town, things definitely start to get stranger. Other people disappear, and a mysterious young girl shows up, running away from some kind of lab facility where she’d been captive. Winona Ryder plays the mother of the missing boy who appears to be losing her mind from grief. While the story was very fresh and interesting on its own, the other amazing aspect to the show was how dead-on it reflected the 80s. From the style and the props (Was that a Trapper Keeper I saw?), all the way to the style of the narrative (I wonder if Steven Spielberg ever called up his lawyers about this show), I felt like I was actually transported back to the 80s as I watched it — and certainly in a good way. While Ryder did an admirable job losing her marbles, the revelation was definitely the kids — all previous unknowns — who stole the show. The three boys reminded me so much of my own group of D&D playing friends (or at least an idealized version of them). This show was not only a love letter to the supernatural family films of the 80s, but also a tribute to the glories of young nerd-dom — complete with two amazing bully-comeuppance scenes. This show rocks so hard and (no offense to House of Cards or Daredevil) it finally justified my Netflix subscription in my heart. (5 out of 5)

The Get Down

Lastly, Stranger Things must have given the keys to the Netflix company time machine to another totally different kind of show, The Get Down, which went back to the heyday of Disco, and the dawning of Hip-hop. When I heard that this show was going to be produced by Baz Luhrmann (of Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet fame), I knew that I wasn’t going to miss it. Now first off, let me say that I am not a huge fan of hip-hop. Nevertheless, I do acknowledge that there is a certain coolness about the culture that surrounds it. In trademark Luhrmann fashion, this story centres around a troubled pair of lovers: Zeke Figuero, an orphaned, brooding teen poet; and Mylene Cruz, a spunky minister’s daughter with an angel’s voice and dreams of a disco career. Set the pair against a tempestuous backdrop of the Bronx in the late 70s, where poverty, corruption, and ethnic tension are a social and political powder keg. However, this show is not a gritty, edgy drama, but more of a glitzy, flamboyant fable. On top of the classic story arc, I was happy to get a crash course in the fundamentals of hip-hop: from how to compose a crew, to how to mix and spin the records. Surprisingly it made me appreciate the music and subculture a whole lot more (amazing how so many world-changing art forms came from the ghettos!). Just like Stranger Things, Netflix takes a name from the 80s (in this case Jimmy Smits) and drops him into a cast of relative unknowns (I especially enjoyed Justice Smith as Zeke) and gets some really good performances from them. As usual with Luhrmann productions, they are just oozing with style, and The Get Down was no exception — especially the musical scenes, naturally. I thought the criminal scenes borrowed a bit too much from Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino (not that I don’t love both those directors, just that I wish Luhrmann created his own style of gangster), but gladly that was not the focus of the story. Nevertheless, this show is fresh and unique — I can’t think of anything else like it on TV — and very enjoyable to watch (Where else can you find a name as cool as Shaolin Fantastic?!). (4 out of 5)

Kubo and the Two Strings – Movie Review


There aren’t many animation studios left, but I’m really glad that there’s Laika (who also brought us Coraline and The Boxtrolls), the kind of studio willing to put a lot of craft into their movies (they’re still committed to stop-motion animation!), and tell imaginative tales rooted in folklore and fantasy. Kubo and the Two Strings is an epic quest, framed in an Asian/Japanese tradition. Our young hero/narrator Kubo lives in a cave, where he tends to his ailing mother and where they hide from his grandfather and aunts, who stole one of Kubo’s eyes — classic folk-tale, right? During the day he is safe from his evil family, and heads into town to tell stories to earn money for food. Kubo weaves captivating tales of the samurai Hanso, his banjo playing and his magical origami bringing the story to life. Unfortunately, one evening he does not make it back to the cave before dark, and his wicked aunt appears, flying after him. Kubo only survives when his mother uses up all her magic to save him. To defeat his family, Kubo sets out on a quest to find three pieces of mystical armour, once also sought by the samurai Hanso. Along the way he meets a Monkey, and a Beetle who become his protectors.

I could go on telling the story (I don’t want to spoil too much), but it just has that kind of age-old feel to it that I love. Magic is everywhere, and they don’t need to explain why a monkey can talk, why a samurai warrior is transformed into a beetle, or why a giant skeleton comes alive to defend a magical sword, or why they can sail on a boat made of leaves. I thought it was great how the animation really brought the storytelling to life, especially all the origami bits. I was amazed that the movie was done with stop-motion animation (though I guess I wouldn’t know if there had been some CG snuck in), especially the amazing water effects, with a huge tidal wave in the opening sequence. Everything was not only spectacular, but also very carefully detailed (down to the waves softly lapping onto the beach, and the feathery fur of the Monkey).

The characters may have had folk origins, but they definitely also had a contemporary flavour, being voiced by movie stars such as Charlize Theron (as the Monkey), Ralph Fiennes (as the Moon King) and Matthew McConaughey (as the Beetle). Art Parkinson (who many may not recognize as Rickon Stark from Game of Thrones) was also really good as Kubo. I liked almost everything about this movie, except that it was too short. For such an epic quest, they really needed more time to give the adventure some scope. Kubo seemed to find the second and third pieces of armour much too easily, and everything seemed to rush towards the ending once they hit the second half. Also, with all its cultural and folkloric flavour, the actual resolution to the story seemed very “western” and a little too modern — it seemed like the kind of ending that Disney might have come up with — something that could fit on a Hallmark card. Nevertheless, it’s still something pretty fresh and a pleasure to watch, that I would recommend to young and not-as-young alike. (4 out of 5)

Jason Bourne – Movie Review

I realize that I wanted this new Bourne movie, but now I wish that they’d left the franchise alone. With Matt Damon back to reprise the role, and director Paul Greengrass returning too, I expected a wonderful return to form (helping us fans forget about the detour into Aaron Cross/Jeremy Renner territory). At first, things were looking pretty good. Nicky Parsons (played by Julia Stiles) was back, hacking her way into trouble. Poor Jason Bourne was just trying to stay off the grid, preferring a Batman Begins style foray into bare-knuckle fighting, but Nicky dragged him back into the CIA’s cross-hairs. What followed was classic Bourne: a scene set in a European crowd, with Bourne helping Nicky escape while being chased on a motorcycle. I was so pumped! But as the rest of the movie played out, the story-line, villains, and action all felt sub-par and “phoned-in”.

Apparently this all kicks off because Nicky hacks some files about all the CIA’s black-ops projects (Yes, those same darned projects with names like “Treadstone”, and “Blackbriar”). Since everything always points to Jason Bourne, the CIA come after him in order to make sure that he doesn’t leak all the classified info and ruin everything. Current It-Girl, Alicia Vikander (with an indeterminate, maybe Irish, accent) as Heather Lee, and Tommy Lee Jones as CIA director Dewey (whose character represents the mythical “old guard” who are so entrenched that they will do anything to maintain their own power) target all their efforts on Bourne. They also bring in “the asset” (played by Vincent Cassel), an assassin who blames Bourne for having previously exposed the black ops and gotten him held captive for years. To this already uninspired setup, the filmmakers add a tech billionaire (a la Mark Zuckerberg), who’s in cahoots with the CIA’s baddies–I guess it was meant to make the storyline relevant and current. Finally, the cherry on top is that somewhere in the hacked files, is information about Bourne’s father, and whether he was secretly complicit in recruiting and training his son to be a killer.

The rest of the movie unfolds pretty much as expected, as Bourne tries to find out the truth and the CIA try to capture him. It all seems not only repetitive, but like a faint echo of previous Bourne movies. What’s worse is that the bad-guys are so obviously evil. The Asset is supposed to be a former agent, but he kills other agents without a second glance and clearly no remorse, just to get at Bourne (Where’s Clive Owen when you need him?). At one point he accuses Bourne of being a traitor to his country, which was such an odd thing for me to hear. Given that he seems to be French, why is he so bothered by thinking that Bourne is un-American? Tommy Lee Jones’s Director Dewey is even worse. He is also willing to kill any number of his own agents to get what he wants (which is apparently some kind of end-all-privacy surveillance program). His evil is so blatant and his defeat so obviously-deserved that it’s cartoonish and tedious.

Now all this may have been redeemed if the action had been good. One of the things that have made Bourne an action star are his clever and innovative ways of dispatching the bad guys (my favourite is still the magazines and textbooks). The fight choreography is frenetic and flawless. Sadly, this time there were no magazines or anything special used to fight. When the film ended up in Las Vegas, and the showdown with the Asset took them both to a garbage-filled underpass, my heart sank. When two CIA black-ops trained killers are reduced to B-movie fist fighting I find myself wondering whether Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne was truly needed for this. Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross would have been fine (while we’re at it, I think even Jason Statham’s The Transporter could have done just as well (and even given you a lift to wherever you needed to go!)).

The Bourne series was such a polished and innovative take on the action hero genre that I really came to enjoy all the pieces that made it so special. It was like each film would take its standard elements, rejig, and improve upon them. I was really hoping that was going to happen this time too. I don’t know if it’s bad that I feel so invested in this franchise. In the end, I was so disappointed in this instalment that it felt somewhat gratifying when a new, rougher version of the Bourne theme music (Moby’s Extreme Ways) — one that I did not like as much — played over the credits. (3.5 out of 5)

Star Trek Beyond – Movie Review



I guess it says something that a die-hard Star Trek fan like myself took so long to see Star Trek Beyond. (Why did they call it that, anyway? The title makes it seem like the Enterprise crew is going to travel outside the galaxy or something, rather than stay in the nebula-around-the-corner.) This is another movie set in JJ Abrams’s “reboot” universe where the original Enterprise crew of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest, are younger — and have a much bigger budget. Though they are meant to be the same characters, and this is meant to be a Star Trek movie, I never felt like any of these new movies had the right spirit. Even in the opening voiceover for Beyond, Kirk goes on about how, after a few years in deep space, the crew is getting tired of the endless exploration. Really?! That’s their whole mission: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.” How can they ever get tired of it? Regardless of whether this feels like a true Trek movie, it still makes for a pretty slick sci-fi adventure movie, and I chose to enjoy it on those merits.

Because of their homesickness, the Enterprise returns “home” to a star base called Yorktown, which is an amazing spherical city-state floating in space. I kind of wish they’d spent more time there, but they don’t, and before long, Kirk is dragging his crew off to rescue another stranded ship in a nearby murky-looking nebula. Unfortunately, before you can say “engage” they are attacked by a vicious enemy using a cleverly designed swarm ship (it’s like a cloud of tiny single-person ships that stab at the Enterprise and tear it to pieces). The battle is cleverly devised, and I was impressed that this enemy thought to do something incredibly obvious that yet no other enemy seems to have thought of before: they cut off the nacelles (the engines) of the ship, so that they were unable to move. The crew all eject escape pods and shoot down to the nearby planet (Somewhere, the villain tents his fingers and mutters, “Excellent”).

A large portion of the movie is about the various crew trying to figure out how to survive and get back in touch with each other and get home. One of the new characters introduced is Jaylah (who despite the pun of her name, is not one of the bad guys holding the crew captive). Played by Sofia Boutella (who I did not recognize as being the gracefully deadly Gazelle, from Kingsmen: The Secret Service, under all her white, alien makeup). Jaylah was also a victim of the swarm ships and has been stranded on the planet where she’s a renegade. Eventually, the crew all meet up and face down the bad guy named Krall (played by Idris Alba in even more makeup, which makes him look a lot like one of the Jem’Hadar from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). No spoilers here, but there is a bit of a twist (not sure I care, though) regarding Krall’s true identity — he’s actually Khan! Just kidding.

The characters are relatively fun (I was amused by Jaylah constantly calling Scotty “Montgomery Scotty”), and they all have pretty good banter throughout. They are pretty much playing to what they are known to be: Kirk (Chris Pine) is too reckless; Spock (Zachary Quinto) is too logical — though he struggles too much with his human-side emotions; Scotty (Simon Pegg) is too Scottish; McCoy (Karl Urban) is too much of a curmudgeon; and they are all too jokey. Though there are a few brief attempts at serious drama, this movie is pretty much cotton candy. There is no high-concept stuff here. It’s like the science fiction equivalent of a Fast and Furious movie — at least one of the better ones.

I think this movie is what you’d expect it to be — it certainly was for me. But like the Enterprise crew, I’m not sure I want to spend any more time exploring this universe (though I believe there is another movie planned). Rather, I’m looking forward to the new Star Trek Discovery TV series coming in 2017. I hope it will bring us all back home to what Star Trek should be. (4 out of 5)

2016 Fall TV Preview

Well, now that the TV season has ended, it’s time to enjoy the summer. But before we all head outside into the sun (Yah, right!), we can take a quick glimpse at what’s coming in the fall (and winter) to network TV. Granted, the sands of television are definitely shifting away from the networks towards streaming and cable. Also, I was fiercely unimpressed by this past season’s new shows. Unfortunately, I can’t say that next fall seems to offer much hope of change. Like in the movie industry, we seem to be suffering from a lack of creativity and innovation. Remakes and reboots continue to grow like weeds. Plus, there are a surprising number of TV series built on premises that would only make sense for a feature-length movie rather than an entire season (it’s like they don’t expect the show to last!).

Here are some links for you to decide for yourself:
Fox | ABC | NBC | CBS | The CW

prisonbreakcdnsf-700x400So let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. There are action-show reboots coming, including an extension of Prison Break, with the return of many characters; a reboot of 24, with completely new characters — Jack Bauer is gone, but the terrorists just keep coming after CTU. MacGyver is back as a reboot, casting Lucas Till as a young Mac. However, the one reboot that I would trade for all the other new shows combined is the new Star Trek series — it better be good, CBS!

exorcistOn top of rebooting past shows, a number of movie reboots are coming to the small screen, but I don’t think that either The Exorcist (despite casting Geena Davis), nor Lethal Weapon (casting Damon Wayans as the straight-man, seriously?) really seem to have legs as TV series.

fox-star-season-one-posterAlong with movie remakes, we are also going to get a lot of shows that seem like they should have been movies. Perhaps they couldn’t get made as features, but on tv I fear they will run out their concepts very quickly. Pitch is about the fictional struggles of the first female pitcher in the Majors. Shots Fired is about the racially-charged fallout from when a black cop kills a white kid. Finally, Star features Queen Latifah as a kind of godmother to a couple of hard-luck girls who are determined to make it as pop stars.

Another surprising theme this year is time-travel. There were already a number of time-themed shows in past seasons (e.g. 12 Monkeys, Continuum, Minority Report etc.) but now it seems like the every network is jumping on board. Fox looks the most promising, with a midseason comedy Making History, which starts Adam Pally as a guy who uses a time-travelling duffel bag to go back to the 18th century. Time After Time has a young, good-looking Jack the Ripper chased into the present day by a young, good-looking HG Wells. The premise seems like a ridiculous excuse for another show featuring young, good-looking characters–ABC just wants to steal some of The CW’s audience. On NBC, Timeless is a bit less clear: a crew of three go back in time to stop another time-traveller from causing the Hindenberg disaster. Since that disaster did happen, I’m not sure why they are going back, but whatever. CBS doesn’t have a time-travel show, but its sister network The CW has one that checks off two boxes. Frequency, is not only a series about how a detective discovers the ability to talk to her father in the past using a ham radio (and thus creates all kinds of causality paradoxes), but it’s also a remake of the Dennis Quaid/Jim Caviezel movie of the same name and premise. Since time travel is another one of those science-fiction concepts that are cheap to film, studios are happy to make use of it. I guess this year will put to test just how much depth that concept really has.

Son-Of-ZornSo which shows actually caught my eye? I’m glad you asked. I am not a fan of the spy-spoof series Archer. However, on Fox’s Son of Zorn, the idea of a Conan/He-Man style animated warlord working and living in suburban US seems to be a great send-up of both the sitcom and epic-fantasy genres. ABC’s American Housewife looks pretty funny. The show’s a spiritual descendent of Roseanne, and a child of Mike & Molly — featuring Katy Mixon, who played Molly’s younger sister, in the lead. Rounding out a rather meager selection of shows that I’m excited for is APB, about a police precinct that jumps to the leading edge once a tech mogul decides to invest millions of dollars in new gadgetry to help them solve the murder of his friend (again, kind of a movie premise, but may have potential to last).

If the fall tv slate is really as mediocre as it seems from these previews, I guess I’ll have a lot more viewing hours to spend on other stuff. Maybe I could watch some new cable shows or catch up on the many Marvel TV shows coming to Netflix. Who knows? This might be the season that wakes up the major networks to how they can’t be lazy anymore. A network TV renaissance might be just around the corner. But until then, we’ve got another ho-hum season to sit through (Man, I miss my lawyer shows!).

Captain America: Civil War – Movie Review


So the summer blockbuster season has officially begun! Civil War really kicks the Marvel super-hero franchise up a notch by bringing together most of the characters introduced in previous movies, along with a few new ones. Enough kids have finally arrived at the playground for us to stop playing catch and start a decent baseball game. Doesn’t it seem like the only reason for introducing these characters on the big screen (characters that we have grown up imagining and reading in comics) was to show how well we can make them fight?

Knowing that “Civil War” meant head-to-head heroes, I went into this movie watching for that spark that would cause the good guys to split into teams. A savvy viewer would be looking for some kind of mind-control (that’s the typical route). With the Winter Soldier (Captain America’s former friend Bucky, thought dead during WW2, since reawakened as an assassin programmed by evil men) being introduced in the previous Captain America movie, he was definitely the best candidate to light the fire. However, I guess the writers thought they needed some more fuel and added the idea of the Sokovia Accords — laws which put the Avengers under the authority of a UN task force. Unfortunately, I think one of the big problems with super-hero movies is that they sometimes try to come at things from a realistic point of view and tackle the consequences of the events and actions taken. For the X-Men movies, that is almost always about bigotry and how the world hates them because they’re different. For the Avengers, it’s always about collateral damage.

It frustrates me because I think it takes away from the enjoyment of a super-hero story to begin with. We understand that there were probably innocent people in the buildings that were destroyed in their battles, but if we focused on that, we’d basically be watching disaster movies. We don’t need another US senator showing footage of the damage and making our heroes feel guilty. It’s such a downer. That’s clear from the scenes in this movie where the heroes debate whether or not to sign the Accords. The movie comes to a grinding halt. If we really wanted to go down that path, almost any of these heroes on their own could cause newsworthy damage, and powerful ones like the Hulk, Thor, or even Vision, would single-handedly be unstoppable to normal armed forces. That’s why it’s more fun to pit them against super-villains. It evens the playing field. If they wanted to deal with human-sized consequences, they should have reduced the power-level of the characters (Can everyone run as fast as a car or survive repeated gunshot wounds?). Then, maybe it would be more worthwhile to talk about consequences. (Anyway, enough of that rant.)

Though the Accords were meant to be the source of conflict, most of the movie was more about chasing after the Winter Soldier. In an interesting turn, what you think the heroes are trying to stop (the big evil plot) goes down a bit of a psychological path instead. It was a clever twist, but also seemed a bit contrived because I think that if the intent all along was to mess with the Avengers’ minds, this plan was highly inefficient and full of overkill. Nevertheless, it was great fun to watch hero battle hero (though unfortunately we are still mostly limited to titanic fisticuffs). Another part of the fun was just the introduction of so many new and returning characters, including Scott Lang’s Ant-Man, T’Challa the Black Panther, and (now that the studio licencing has been settled) Peter Parker, our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Tom Holland is great as the new Parker. He’s got the hyperactive kid genius down pat. It’s also a riot how they made Parker’s Aunt May hot in this version. Played by Marisa Tomei, she even catches the flirtatious eye of Tony Stark (Take that, Oscar-winner Sally Field!). The new characters brought with them a lot of hilarous banter, which added even more energy and fun to this otherwise heavier movie.

Obviously the spectacular stunts and well-choreographed action made for a thrilling movie, but I feel like the pace was a bit disjointed, with a number of stops and starts. Also, the tone really jumps from light-hearted to deadly-serious at the drop of a hat. Frankly, I don’t know how long Marvel Studios can keep telling these stories — many of us already feel the strain of thematic fatigue. If the collateral damage of fighting the good fight breeds so many victims needing vengeance, then I think there is fodder for a lot more of these stories. However, I hope that we’ll be able to move on next time. The featuring of Spider-Man in this film (and in the post-end-credit scene) bodes well for the future of super-hero movies. Maybe he can make saving the world fun again. (4 out of 5)

%d bloggers like this: