Category Archives: Comic Book

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 – Movie Review

C_MR_WhUIAApVo9The “Marvel Cinematic Universe” has become something of a beast, weighed down by continuity, history, and the expectations of big budgets and big fandom. However, a new Guardians of the Galaxy movie comes out to remind us that there are still fun adventures to be had in the MCU. One of the advantages that the Guardians have is that they were relative unknowns in the Marvel Comics world before they burst onto the big screen three summers ago. Even with the runaway success of their first movie, they are still not icons like Captain America, Spider-Man or the X-Men. They could have just as easily been a totally new sci-fi franchise featuring a rag-tag band of space adventurers. In fact, it’s probably no surprise that they remind me a lot of the original Star Wars crew. In this second movie (“volume”), we seem to be catching Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, and (now baby) Groot in the middle of a job, hired to protect giant space batteries by a race of golden-gods known as The Sovereign. The opening sequence is full of action, but hilariously baby Groot (the cute little tree person) takes the spotlight as he dances to some grooves while all his fellows fight a giant tentacular, toothy-mouthed monster trying to steal those darn batteries in the background. It perfectly reflects the tone of this movie franchise and its tongue-in-cheek blend of spectacular space-action with mundane, shoulder-shrugging humour.

The other element that completes the Guardians formula (which also happens to be a Star Wars hallmark) is “family issues”. Their payment from The Sovereign for doing this job is to get custody of Gamora’s sister Nebula (in order to hand her over to the authorities) and so the two gals have ample opportunity to work out all their differences over some beat downs and attempts at mutual destruction. Meanwhile, when the crew ends up needing to flee The Sovereign (courtesy of Rocket’s sticky fingers around the priceless space batteries), they get a helping hand from a mysteriously powerful stranger, which leads to some family issues for Quill as well.

This ensemble is very nicely balanced and it’s great how each of the main characters is needed: not only as part of the team, but also to make the movie enjoyable. While Groot and Rocket typically steal the show, this time around Drax was the source of the most humour for me. Dave Bautista is wonderful as the faux straight-man. He’s big, strong and kind of serious, but he’s also full of jokes because he laughs at the “wrong” thing and just doesn’t feel the same sense of impropriety that we might. (This will make me sound like I have a 4-year-old’s sense of humour, but I was rolling with laughter from Drax’s line “I have famously huge turds.” Please don’t judge me.)

The story itself is not too big, even though it involves galaxy-ending possibilities, the focus is still pretty personal. Almost all the aliens we meet are slight variations on humans. When The Sovereign pursue our heroes their fighter ship swarms are remote-controlled, making all their pilots act like a bunch of gamers at an arcade. Similarly, the storyline where Quill’s foster father Yondu struggles with mutiny in the ranks of his own crew of Ravagers, it feels like something inspired by The Sons of Anarchy, or some other human biker gang. Yondu himself has a pretty big role in the resolution of this movie. I actually grew to like him a bit more — not just for his relationship to Quill, but also for his bad-assery and his cool mind-controlled arrow.

The Guardians are a lot of fun to hang out with over the course of a two-hour movie, but there is so much potential for more adventures that I really wish that they were a TV series (I’d probably enjoy it way more than Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD). There is also so much room for sci-fi goodness in their corner of the galaxy that I want to see more before the next sequel movie. I know, there is an animated series that I should probably check out, but from what I saw, it was not nearly the same thing. Anyway, I highly recommend Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 as a great kick off to a summer filled with blockbuster movie sequels and franchises. (4 out of 5)

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

westworldWestworld

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)

timeless-1152x759_jpg_1003x0_crop_q85Timeless

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)

supergirl-season-2-trailer-supermanSupergirl

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.

Captain America: Civil War – Movie Review

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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)

Seven Summer Movie Sequels 2016

Wow, it’s been a while since I made it out to the movie theatre! But now that we’re all gearing up for summer blockbuster season, I thought I’d pick out seven sequels that I’m looking forward to seeing. I know it’s a little sad that summer movie season is made up of so many sequels, but I guess that’s how Hollywood keeps itself in the billions — and it gives me some great alliteration for my title.

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Captain America: Civil War (6 May 2016)

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After the false start that was Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I guess this is the movie that is meant to kick off the summer blockbuster season. I confess that I am starting to lose track of what all these superhero movies are actually about, but they’re fun to look at. Of the recent bunch, I think I did enjoy Captain America: Winter Soldier quite a bit. It was more down-to-earth than the Avengers movies, and I’m finally getting used to Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson (both of whom I enjoy as actors, but I also feel were miscast into the roles of Captain America and the Black Widow). Apparently, in this movie some kind of political situation (the super-heroes are checking their consciences) causes the Avengers to split into sides (Captain America on one, Iron Man on the other). I never read the comic book storyline that this movie is based on, but I’m guessing it’s going to be another excuse to have hero fighting hero, to play out many “who would win” scenarios that are the stuff of childhood daydreams.

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X-Men: Apocalypse (27 May 2016)

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The X-Men have always been my favourite comic-book super-team, but it was mostly because they had such a great variety of members with some of the coolest abilities and backstories. I can’t say I’m very happy about how the rebooted series (starting from X-Men: First Class) has put side-characters like Mystique and Magneto into the spotlight, while shoving most of the classic X-Men to the fringes, but I guess maybe they are a good way to make mass-appeal stories. Apocalypse will probably continue that revisionist approach (they’ve already apparently changed who the “four horsemen” are, and it looks like they’ve kind of ruined my favourite X-Man, Storm, but whatever) and I don’t think that the Apocalypse character will be much like the comic-book one either. The story here is that the X-Men must defeat the ancient mutant known as Apocalypse, who has some dire plans for the world, I’m sure. Purists have pretty much given up their beliefs by going to comic book movies. We probably just want to see how cool they can make characters look on screen. For once I’d love it if they’d make two versions of these movies: one which serves the general viewer, and one for the fans — I’d pay for that digital download!

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Now You See Me 2 (10 June 2016)

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I know that people didn’t love the first one, but I really did enjoy Now You See Me. I thought it was slick, clever, and fun, and I liked the cast, the one-upmanship, and the cat-and-mouse game. From the trailer, I can see that they’ve tried to recapture some of that, as well as turn the tables on the main characters as they have lost the upper hand since the previous movie. I’m glad that Jesse Eisenberg is back in his wheelhouse as a cocky wise-cracker; and Dave Franco takes up any slack in that department as well. I am far less excited that they’ve replaced Isla Fisher with Lizzy Caplan. She is probably a better actress, but Fisher was a nicer fit for the team, I think. However, the cherry on top of the casting cake is that this movie about magicians has cast none other than Harry Potter (aka actor Daniel Radcliffe) as their patron. I hope there will be a few tongue-in-cheek Potter references thrown into the mix.

Finding-Dory-Poster

Finding Dory (17 June 2016)

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I’m really looking forward to this sequel, not only because Pixar has kind of misfired a bit lately, but also because Finding Nemo was definitely one of my favourites. It’s wonderful that Ellen Degeneres is back as the memory-challenged fish who (after helping reunite father and son clown-fish in the first movie) is now on a quest for her own family reunion. Like most sequels, I think they’re going to try to bring back as many characters from the original as they can reasonably do, plus introduce a few new ones (the camouflaging octopus looks like fun). While I don’t expect this to be as good as the first, I predict it will be really enjoyable and the family hit of the summer.

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Independence Day: Resurgence (3 July 2016)

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This movie is kind of the sequel that no one asked for. ID4 was one of the first big, summer tent-pole blockbusters 20 years ago, so I guess it’s appropriate that its scion be counted as one now. Just like Jurassic World did last year, this movie does its best to acknowledge and pay homage to the original, bringing back some of the actors/characters (including Bill Pulman and Jeff Goldblum), and making some of new characters sons of some of the characters from the first as well (including Will Smith’s). Apparently, humanity also got pretty good at reverse-engineering alien tech because what they’ve got in the movie trailer sure doesn’t look like what we’ve got today. Apparently, the aliens are back with even better stuff, so once again humanity is in dire straits. Hopefully this movie will find its place among the many recent revival movies/shows on the good side of the curve. I do enjoy a good alien invasion battle movie.

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Star Trek Beyond (22 July 2016)

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While Star Trek is my favourite sci-fi franchise, I admit that the JJ Abrams reboot movies don’t really feel very Star-Trek-y to me. Now that the directing reins have been handed over to Justin Lin, let’s see if he hews more closely to the spirit of the series. From the trailer, I really have no idea what this movie is about, but it looks like it will sparkle as well as all the others do. I’m glad that all the new crew are back. I like Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, and Karl Urban as a stolid-yet-humorous Bones. I also like that they appear to be featuring Scotty (played by the always funny Simon Pegg) a bit more. They’ve got Idris Alba playing some kind of alien villain. I’m not sure if it’s going to matter in the end. I have a feeling he won’t become of the classic Trek baddies — people will probably only dress as him at conventions to test everyone’s trivia knowledge. I don’t know if the movie franchise will continue (especially now that a new TV series is on the way). Though I always think there’s room for more sci-fi on the big screen, I don’t know that I’d be sad to see these movies fade out.

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Jason Bourne (29 July 2016)

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When I heard that they were going to make this sequel with Matt Damon (rather than continue the franchise with Jeremy Renner) I was so relieved. Even better that they’ve got director Paul Greengrass back, who made the franchise as amazing as it was. Now that Jason Bourne has got his memories back, I’m not quite sure what the story of this movie will be about (though, as Julia Stiles character points out in the trailer, remembering is not the same as understanding). Although I didn’t see it in the trailer, I’m also hoping that there will be some off-the-hook fight scenes where Bourne will again show his super-human assassin skills in some very inventive ways. I am excited for this one and I hope it does not disappoint.

While sequels have become a box-office staple, the blockbuster-revival is a bit of a new phenomenon. The fact that so few of these have plots that can be summarized or teased in trailers does not bode well. So far, I think the successes have been mixed, but I look forward to seeing how we do this summer. If they work, I guess we’ve got ourselves a few more fun movies, but if they don’t, I hope there will be some lessons-learned so they can get back to making cool original stuff that might even be revivals twenty years from now.

Midseason TV 2016 – Plenty of Sci-fi & Fantasy

This is a pretty big year for mid-season sci-fi/fantasy shows. We already had the debut of The Expanse, but there are a bunch more new genre shows that run the gamut from glossy comic-book super-heroes, to Anglo-Saxon legends. Many of them are adaptations of successful books. While I can’t say that any of them stand out to me already as huge hits, many of them deserve a chance to make their mark.

LOT_Review_01DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

This spin-off from hit super-hero shows The Flash, and Arrow is one that I’ve been looking forward to ever since it was announced. While we’ve got Netflix to provide me with the down-to-earth Marvel Comics super-hero dramas like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the DC Comics shows seem to be getting brighter and more colourful with each spin-off. This show brings back a collection of guest-starring heroes and villains and puts them together on a super-team. Led by Rip Hunter, a rogue time-master played by Arthur Darvill of Doctor Who fame, their team travels in a time ship in an effort to defeat an immortal super-villain known as Vandal Savage. So far they’ve got that rag-tag requisite bickering and rocky-relationship banter down pretty well. Plus there’s the added joy of making fun of the past (in the second half of the pilot, Firestorm’s Professor Stein visits his younger self in the 70s when this uptight astro-physicist was a lot looser and groovier). I don’t anticipate too many heavy themes coming out of this show, but so far it’s a fun bit of escapism.

Shadowhunters

In contrast, this series is a redo of a movie, based on a successful book series, that I wasn’t so much anticipating (at least not until I found out that I knew someone with a guest role on the show). Clary Fray (now recast as someone whose hair seems way too red to be natural) is a teenage girl whose life turns upside-down when her mother is kidnapped. She is suddenly introduced to the hidden world-in-our-midst, full of demons, vampires, fairy, and shadowhunters (half-human, half-angel protectors of humanity). The shadowhunters she meets try to help her get her mother back as well as protect her from the baddies who want Clary because they believe she has a powerful artifact known as the Mortal Cup (I know, it sounds like a sports trophy!). While the movie wasn’t terrible, this show isn’t terrible either, but we aren’t really treading new ground that The Vampire Diaries hadn’t explored with a subtler touch. It’s definitely written for the teen set, but I’ll keep watching it until I see my friend’s episodes, or I get tired of listening to pretty kids speaking shallow dialogue.

x-files2016The X-Files

The new season of the 90s hit sci-fi/horror series about two FBI agents investigating the paranormal made a welcome return to TV for a show that I didn’t know that I’d missed. The first episode is almost like a concentrated retread of past “mythology” arcs where Agent Fox Mulder is led to believe that there is a human conspiracy behind a lot of the paranormal and extra-terrestrial events that they’ve been investigating. I have to say that as great as it was to see all this stuff again (especially Agent Scully, who has aged well), it felt a bit too familiar and seemed like the same old song and dance. The second episode was better, dealing with the mysterious deaths of people connected to some kind of medical experiments. I had always liked the standalone episodes of The X-Files more than the mythology ones because they were easier to understand. Hopefully we will be able to enjoy some fresh adventures with the two agents before being sucked back into the complicated conspiracies, etc.

colony-01Colony

For a show about life under the oppressive rule of an alien invasion, this show was actually pretty interesting and enjoyable. There’s not a lot of information given about the background as the story starts post-invasion within a contemporary LA, controlled by a human force on behalf of the extra-terrestrial overlords. Josh Holloway from Lost plays a father who got separated from one of his sons during the invasion, who now goes to work as a rebel-hunter for the occupational government in exchange for getting his son back. Since we haven’t seen or heard much of the aliens aside from seeing their robotic flying drones, it’s mostly the kind of story that could be told in any occupied military zone (such as the Warsaw Ghetto of 1940). There are a lot of tense dramatic scenes when people break curfew or try to steal supplies and resources. Of course the big source of drama comes from the fact that Holloway’s character doesn’t realize that his wife is one of the rebels that he’s hunting. As much as I don’t love feeling constantly tense while watching TV, this series does a pretty good job of keeping it from being too oppressive. Let’s hope it turns out better than the recent revival of the series V.

shannara1453094557_2The Shannara Chronicles

Another fantasy book adaptation aimed at the teen set, this series is produced for MTV and brings to screen the Terry Brooks Shannara series of novels. While these books have a huge fan base, I have never read them so I (thankfully) have not expectations to disappoint. Again we have some pretty, young characters, including a half-elf who has a magical lineage and destiny, an elf princess who has a mission to save all people by saving a magical tree, and a human thief who gets tangled up in their mission. This world is supposed to be our world but millennia in the future after our civilizations have long vanished. Now the elves rule, and at the heart of their civilization is a magical tree called the Ellcrys, which is dying because a demon army is returning to life. This show reminds me of a cancelled fantasy series called Legend of the Seeker, which was also an adaptation of a book series. Unlike Game of Thrones, which paved the way for TV adaptations of fantasy books, neither Seeker nor Shannara are heavy on the humanity and the depth of character. They are more interested in the adventure and melodrama (Shannara is clearly setting up a teen-baiting love triangle). The sets and scenery look pretty good, but it’s taking me some time to care anything about the fate of its main characters — perhaps because they seem so young and naive. I’m hoping that the larger story will soon take over so that I can place my interest there instead.

luciferLucifer

This is another comic book adaptation, but (though I have not read the comic) I don’t think the show stays very close to its source material. Essentially the premise is that Lucifer, the Devil, is tired of ruling Hell and decides to hang out on Earth with the Vegas party people up here. In the first episode, when a Hollywood starlet that he helped gets gunned down next to him, he puts his devilish powers to work with the police to solve her murder. He partners up with a loner detective who is still a bit suspicious of who this guy claims to be, but he has a way of charming his way in, so they have a tentative alliance. So far it seems that this show all hinges on how much viewers will enjoy the charms of Tom Ellis, the actor who plays Lucifer. The story so far was nothing special, so Ellis really did carry things on charisma alone, and it wasn’t bad. I don’t know whether I’d keep tuning in week after week if nothing more developed, but I guess we’ll see. Another element is the recurring appearance of DB Woodside as Lucifer’s angelic brother. His character is downright humourless (all the better to contrast Lucifer’s whimsy) and is repeatedly demanding that Lucifer restore balance by returning to Hell. I don’t know if this will grow into a bigger story arc, but right now it seems to just act as a little reminder to viewers that we are talking about angelic beings here. Whatever.

Beowulf-Return-To-The-ShieldlandsBeowulf: Return to the Shieldlands

This series could be considered an adaptation as well, based on the Anglo-Saxon epic poem of “Beowulf”, however, I think this one is also sticking pretty loosely to the source. Lead character Beowulf is an orphaned warrior, living in a land of warlords and monsters. I was surprised by the magnificent scenery in the pilot episode as well as the impressive buildings and costumes. Add to that some decent CGI monsters and you’ve almost got a good epic adventure show. The story line has become a bit more modern as the orphan Beowulf has some issues with his foster father Hrothgar and his foster brother Slean. Since anyone remotely familiar with the story of Beowulf would be expecting his nemesis, the monster Grendel, to appear, I think they’ve brought the creature into the story as a mysterious monster who kills one of Hrothgar’s men (and Beowulf gets the blame from Slean when he discovers the body). The show looks pretty good, but it could definitely use a better script. Also, the problem with these kinds of epics is that they are short on detail and context, so the writers have had to make up a lot of side-characters and filler stories. Those will have to work really hard to be as interesting as the central, classic tale.

magicialns-socialThe Magicians

Finally, this is one more book adaptation, created from the hit novel of the same name by author Lev Grossman (who is also involved in the TV adaptation). I’ve read the book (and did not love it), but the show seems to do a lot better job of bringing these characters and situations to life. The other thing that I like about the show is that the ennui of the main characters is not so excruciating as it is to read. Anyway, the story is often described as “Harry Potter goes to college” or in this case, grad school. It focuses on a group of students at the mysterious Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. Though similarly set up around characters going to magic school, this story is a lot less fun and deals a lot more with the character interactions and how their exploration of magic affects their personalities. I think the show is very well done. There’s a critical scene in the first episode where the students are paralyzed and attacked by a magical being in their classroom and while I remember well this scene from the book, seeing it was a much more engaging experience. Bottom line is that I love it when they do magic on screen and I’m looking forward to some of the other parts of the book that I think will be very interesting to watch as well.

Fall TV 2015 – Weeks 3/4

Fall tv premieres are winding down, and we’ve had a few episodes with many of the early-starters. Unfortunately, the new crop really hasn’t had very many standouts. I’ve already stopped watching a number of the shows that I tried out a week or two ago. In any case, there are a few more shows returning over the past two weeks (plus one somewhat unfortunate new one).

goodwife 701The Good Wife

Last season was quite a rollercoaster ride for Alicia. After leaving her nascent law firm to run for states attorney, she was forced into saying that she fixed the election, and withdrawing in disgrace. So now she’s back at rock bottom, starting all over again. She’s doing cases in bond court, representing people just arrested and wanting to be released on bail. It’s clearly a low-rung job for a high calibre lawyer like her. While I don’t love the low-rent atmosphere of the bond court, I do like that we’ve been introduced to a new regular character, Lucca Quinn (another bond attorney) and have also given more screen time to Alicia’s daughter Grace, who seems to have a lot of free time to act as a kind of receptionist for her mom’s at-home legal practice. There’s a whole other storyline regarding her husband Peter’s political career, but I never much cared for that aspect of the show (and I hope they tone it down). Also a bit tenuous is the connection to Alicia’s old law firm. In many ways it resembles Lockhart Gardiner, whatever it’s called now, but I’m not sure how much screen time they’re going to keep giving to Alicia’s former partners. In any case, it’s been quite a shakeup this season, and while I was hesitant at first, I think I kind of like this new direction.

The Flash

This season picks up from the finale of the premiere season, where the Flash stopped a cataclysmic black hole from forming and destroying the world after Dr. Wells wanted to create a wormhole back to his own time. At the beginning of the premiere all his group of friends and allies had disbanded after the wormhole event, but all came back together to help Barry accomplish his mission as the Flash. I’m so glad that they didn’t drag out this storyline of the team being fragmented for long (I always find that contrived when you know they are going to get back together — because otherwise, there’s no reason for side characters to stay on the show). Anyway, by the second episode we find out that there’s a new speed villain in the mix named Zoom, and he has brought over metahuman villains from that other dimension in order to kill Barry Allen’s Flash (another Flash also joins). Ostensibly this is a new threat, but it does seem like an obvious excuse to keep having super-powered baddies showing up. I have no problem with that, because the beauty of this show are those conflicts between The Flash and his enemies. I think they’re getting back into a familiar groove again, so I hope this season will be just as enjoyable as the first one.

jane-the-virginJane the Virgin

This dramedy is still rocking the clever tone as a telenovela/soap opera which self-consciously pokes fun at telenovelas. When last we left, Jane had just given birth to hers and Rafael’s son Mateo, but he was kidnapped by an imposter nurse! Most of the first episode was spent with Jane, Rafael, and Jane’s ex-fiance Michael, cooking up some crazy plot to get Mateo back from the kidnapper (who happened to be sneaky crime-lord/lady Sin Rostro). I have always loved this blend of the story of Jane and her relationships with the crazy, over-the-top telenovela story-lines that happen all around her. I’m not quite sure where the show will go next, but I hope they don’t string us on regarding the central love triangle. I hope they make Jane choose, and soon. They went through so many plot twists in season one, that I’m not sure where they’re going to go now.

crazy x 960Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Despite the fact that I really enjoy lavish musicals, I was not intending to watch this show. It’s about a woman who decides to leave her promising career as a New York lawyer to move to small time southern California to rekindle things with her one-summer former boyfriend who she’s always been in love with — oh, and it’s a musical, with singing and dancing, etc. I don’t think the musical format goes that well with neuroses, and main character Rebecca has got those in spades. So from that point of view, I don’t look forward to a show about a young woman making bad choices and being humiliated or struggling to deal with her bad circumstances. Also, the musical format comes across as a bit ridiculous. Other reviewers claim that this is a kind of ground-breaking, innovative new show, but there have been other musical shows (including the recently ended Glee), so if it’s just the rom-com aspect that makes this show so “fresh”, I don’t agree that that’s something positive for this show. I found some of the side characters (including a jealous rival in Rachel’s new law firm who was always suspicious of Rachel, wondering why she’d leave NYC for this) pretty funny. I don’t think I’m going to give this show much more of my time, but at least they should get an A for effort.

So that’s pretty much it for this year’s fall premieres. Now I’ll just keep enjoying all the new episodes, and as far as new series go, I’ve got my fingers crossed that Quantico will still be interesting once the mysteries are revealed.

Summer Movies in the Fall

I know that everyone’s probably seen these movies already (They were, after all, some of the biggest hits of the summer.), but now that some of these blockbusters are coming to iTunes, I have been able to catch up a bit (if you follow my blog, you should know that I’m always catching up with movies). Of course, I like to give my opinion on all things pop culture, so here’s my quick rundown on what I thought of them.

insideoutInside Out

I don’t think I’ll ever not be a fan of Pixar. Everything they create has an extra dab of imagination and polish. However, while this movie was fresh and fun — with its quasi-allegorical take on emotions — it lacked a little something in the overall story department. It was cool to see the characters who represent the five emotions (and the voice actors were well chosen): Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). I know, it’s simplistic to have only five, but it makes for a more straightforward movie. What made less sense to me was that these emotions were able to feel things on their own. What does it mean when Sadness feels joy? or Joy feels sad? Still, I can forgive logical flaws in the interest of a good story. Unfortunately, majority of the screen time is spent with Joy and her misadventures once she gets taken away from the central hub, where the emotions are running the show. I think that the movie should have spent more time in the real world (with Riley’s story). Now, basically all we have is the story of one character making her way back to a central location, with a few obstacles along the way. I concede that’s the premise of a lot of movies (including Pixar’s very-successful Finding Nemo) but it still seems kind of weak here. (4 out of 5)

avengers2Avengers: Age of Ultron

I love the Avengers and director Joss Whedon, plus the movie looks awesome, but I think everything/everyone is wasted on a movie that is kind of a repeat of the first one. Essentially, the Avengers keep squabbling while we wait for a villain to manifest. The action set pieces are so elaborate that it seems like we’re just killing time between them. I liked the introduction of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (though they seemed to really alter her powers in this movie) — I’m not sure they would have kicked so much butt in the comic books as the did here. Beyond that, the idea of computer-AI-turned-super-robot Ultron trying to conquer everything and then release an onslaught of robots is so much like Loki trying to conquer everything by calling up the aliens. It’s like they just want a bunch of bloodless, disposable enemies for the Avengers to toss around. Despite having a lot of dialogue (for an action movie), I don’t think we really know the characters very well — at least not well enough that we should care about the romances between them (Widow and Banner/Hulk? Really?) or about their secret home lives (Why did we spend that time at Hawkeye’s farm?). This movie totally seemed extraneous to me, however, I’m alway a sucker for fun super-action, and bringing super-teams to the big screen. (3.5 out of 5)

pitchperfect2Pitch Perfect 2

I really enjoyed the first movie, and like Avengers, this movie seems like it took the best parts of the first and tried to find a way to do it all again without being too obvious. Anyway, this sequel has the acappella champions, the Barden Bellas, come crashing down at the height of their success, courtesy of a wardrobe malfunction. To keep their sorority/club alive, they need to win the World Championships. My favourite new element is the introduction of their nemesis, the German acappella super-group Das Sound Machine. The actual dramatic story seems incidental, but: there’s a newbie named Emily who joins their group (despite auditions being closed) and Becca (Anna Kendrick) is trying to break into the recording industry as an intern to an egomaniacal music producer. One of the good parts of the movie is the showdown scene (similar to the “riff-off” scene in the empty pool from the first movie, but this time they are at an invitation-only gathering aka the First National A Cappella Laser Ninja Dragon League, at an eccentric billionaire’s place — I know. Plausible, right? Whatever.) They face Das Sound Machine (DSM) there, and it’s pretty funny how they trash-talk each other constantly. The two leads from DSM replace Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) as my favourite characters — their eurotrash-talk is a riot! Finally, of course the world competition is fun, but mostly for the showy numbers. So, if you left the first movie thinking, “I could watch this movie again”, well then you’re kind of in luck. (4 out of 5)

mad_max_fury_road_charlize_theron_as_furiosa_and_tom_hardy_as_mad_maxMad Max: Fury Road

If we’re talking about summer-movie plots, this one has got to be the simplest one: good guys drive away to escape bad guys through a desert wasteland. However, this was probably my favourite summer blockbuster, regardless. It’s not about the plot, but about the gorgeous visuals and cinematography, along with amazingly choreographed action sequences (so you gotta see them. I can’t describe them). I had not watched any of the other Mad Max movies, so I didn’t know anyone’s backstory and it didn’t seem to matter. Max himself (played by Tom Hardy rather than Mel Gibson this time) had a helpful, but secondary role. This movie seemed to be more about Imperator Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron) and her quest to free the slaves/wives/harem of desert warlord Immortan Joe and bring them to a paradise that she remembered from her childhood. She takes them all in a big, armoured truck called a War Rig, and Joe’s forces, primarily the War Boys, chase them. There is an overlay of sci-fi, but that’s pretty incidental. The meat of the movie is about survival, escape and freedom from oppression — not to mention stunts. I was more than surprised that I enjoyed the film as much as I did. (5 out of 5)

exmachinaEx Machina

This was probably less of a blockbuster, and I remember it coming out in the spring, but I’m tossing it into this mix as well. However, maybe I shouldn’t, because it’s more of a thinker than an all-out action flic. There are only three main characters: Caleb, an unassuming but very smart programmer (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who works for Nathan, the CEO of a Google-like search engine mega-company (played by Oscar Isaac) and Ava (played by Alicia Vikander), an android built by Nathan. The film feels very much like a play since it’s mostly a series of one-on-one dialogues. When Caleb is invited to Nathan’s isolated mountain home, he soon learns that he’s there to interact with and test Ava for how alive she really is. It may seem cliche that Caleb falls for Ava, but it’s also a bit simplistic. For one thing, Nathan is constantly playing mind games with Caleb (at one point he even questions whether he himself might be an android and not realize it). Similar to the movie Her, where Joaquin Phoenix fell in love with the AI in his operating system, this movie struggles with the definition of humanity. I really found this movie well-made and thought-provoking, however I think that it really took a downturn at the end when things get predictably out of control. Nevertheless, Ex Machina is the kind of intelligent sci-fi that I enjoy and want to see more of. (4 out of 5)

insurgentInsurgent

In contrast, (if it were possible) this movie is even more simplistic and ridiculous than the first Divergent film. Janine (played by Kate Winslet) is continuing her evil schemes, but this time she’s after some mysterious message hidden in an old box/device that can only be unlocked by a divergent (that means someone who doesn’t fit into one of the five factions of this dystopian society because they have qualities of all five). Again (see also Inside Out), we’re simplifying humanity down to five elements. In case you’ve forgotten, they are Erudite, Candor, Dauntless, Abnegation, and Amity. Tris and Four (the rebel heroes from our first movie) have escaped the city and are hiding with the Amity folk in their hippie commune. What doesn’t really make sense is that Janine sends troops out to capture Tris and the others, but Tris ends up wanting to get back to the box herself so she can try to pass the tests and open it. Essentially the hero and villain of the story have the same goal — which would kind of take the thrill out of the conflict. Sophisticated and thought-provoking this movie is not, but its production values are good and it’s not completely un-fun. (3 out of 5)

jurassicworld_14Jurassic World

Chris Pratt really does make an excellent lead actor. He’s charismatic and capable. He’s like Harrison Ford with a bit less snark and a bit more strength (too bad Pratt didn’t pick up the Indiana Jones franchise instead of Shia Leboeuf). In this movie he plays Owen, an ex-navy, dino handler who has a special bond with the four Velociraptors at this Jurassic World theme park. Even though it’s acknowledged right in the movie itself, I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since the Jurassic Park phenomenon began on screen. In this movie, 20 years has allowed them to properly set up a theme park using cloned, live dinosaurs as exhibits. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Claire, who runs the park. Her two teenage nephews arrive at the park for a mini-vacation. The plot is not anything spectacularly different from previous films. A new man-made breed of dinosaur (called Indominus Rex) is being put through its last paces weeks before being shown to the public. This new dino is stronger and larger than any other, and made from a mix of all kinds of DNA (whatever the plot seems to require). So, any movie-goer worth his salt knows what happens when humans create such a dangerous monster. When it escapes, Claire and Owen try to rescue Claire’s nephews while saving all the park visitors from the Indominus, along with any other prehistoric menaces. There are plot holes big enough to fit a T.Rex through, but still I had a lot of fun watching this movie. It was interesting that they gave the Velociraptors even more personality than before (including pet names). Even those of us who had felt some dino-fatigue from how much dino content there was out there would enjoy some of the fresher scenes (including the one where Pratt rides along on a velociraptor hunt on his motorcycle). I loved the first film, and I’m amazed that they kept the franchise going through so many sequels. I think they have found success with this new reboot. (4 out of 5)