Series Review: True Detective Season 1

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Richly-developed, eerily-haunting, and at times edge-of-your-seat gripping, the first season of “True Detective” was definitely a breath of fresh air, a near genre-breaking achievement in cinematic television with terrific performances and a slow-burning plot that contains a handful of effective plot twists.

From the opening sequence, paired to perfection with the Handsome Family’s “Far from Any Road”, we knew that the series would be dark with very little humor.  But the show never crossed the line from darkness into dullness, as the main characters, played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, carried the darkness of the show with an enigmatic charisma that was always intriguing.

Cary Fukunaga directed the entire first season and did not return for the second (although Nic Pizzolatto did write both seasons) and it showed.  Season 1 was a showcase of excellent direction and cinematography.

The biggest regret I had with regards to watching this series was how much time it took me to finish it.  Not that the series was bad, just that I never got around to it.  The eight episodes probably took me about 6 months to finish.  I’m glad I did, though.  I’m sure if I had binged watched it, or at least watched it over a span of 3-4 weeks, that I might have enjoyed the show even more, particularly for its tone and atmosphere.  As it stands, “True Detective” Season 1 sits as one of my top 5 favorite television shows.

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

 

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One of the best comic book movies in recent years, as well as one of the best film of 2017 so far, “Wonder Woman” is a much-needed home run for the DC cinematic universe, after the critically-polarizing “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman.”

The plot is nothing ground-breaking; it’s an origin story of a superhero who overcomes adversity, adapts to the new world she encounters, and overcomes her first adversaries.  But the execution of the story was near perfection, and, most note-worthy of all, was the female-driven elements throughout the film.

Directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot, “Wonder Woman” elevates the female superhero, and female roles in films, to new heights..  Gadot portrays Princess Diana as an enigmatic and confused heroine as she struggled to comprehend the complexities of modern warfare during World War I.  Some of the best scenes of the film were those of when Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) explains the Great War to Diana.

The action sequences, many of which utilize the ultra-slo-mo methods made famous by “300”, takes the technique and improves upon it, making some of the most entertaining comic book fight scenes I’ve seen.  Note to “Man of Steel”: do you know make “having superheroes and villains throw and punch each other, and throwing large objects around while things explode” interesting? Watch “Wonder Woman.”

The film isn’t perfect: there are some plot elements that could have been explored further, as well as a villain that was fairly undeveloped.  But overall, “Wonder Woman” is an excellent film, and a must-watch for all comic book movie fans, as well as fans of entertaining films.

9 / 10

Movie Review: The Nice Guys

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A film carried by the charismatic performances of its two leads, by Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, “The Nice Guys” boasted a strong first third and a solid third act, with a middling middle section that could have been at least 5 – 10 mins shorter.

The screen lit up when Gosling and Crowe are in it, but at the same time, it became a bit dull when they are not. It’s a very entertaining film overall.

7.8 / 10

Movie Review: Suicide Squad (7.8/10)

Warner Brothers has churned out three films from the DC Extended Universe thus far: “Man of Steel” (2013), “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which came out in March, and “Suicide Squad,” which was released in Hong Kong on August 4.

I had the most fun with DC’s latest entry, by far.  The film was gritty yet retained a sense of humor throughout (you know how some movies start off really funny but gets really serious in the third act? This one has little humor moments from start to finish.)

The Squad itself was definitely the highlight of the film, as chemistry flourished between characters.  Joel Kinnaman was well cast as the no-BS military leader Rick Flag, tasked with leading this team of bad guys including Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) against, simply-speaking, a rogue villain.

Will Smith was… okay.  He did enough as the anchor of the Suicide Squad without hitting us with too many of his Will Smith-isms.

Also worth a mention is the Jared Leto’s Joker.  This is the first time ever where the Joker is featured in the film but is not the main villain / antagonist.  I think that is perhaps why I was not necessary underwhelmed, but left wanting more from that character.  I would definitely like to see more of him in feature films.

The standout of this film was Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, who packs just enough sexy and crazy into one of the most popular comic book characters of all time.  The film will likely be remembered for her performance, and I look forward to watching her on the big screen again.

The film could have been even better if it were not for a weak plot and a fairly CGI-driven third act (though some of the special effects were quite good).  I would really recommend this film as it shows the much-needed lighter side of the DC Universe.

Note* there is a mid-credit scene in the movie.

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets (7.9/10)

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A thoroughly enjoyable film from start to finish, “The Secret Life of Pets” boasts an interesting premise, exploring a question many of us asked as children, which was “what do our pets do when we’re not home?”  While interesting, I did wonder if the premise can sustain a feature length film.  The filmmakers succeeded in doing so by adding an adventure element for the two main characters,   Max and Duke, as they dash and tumble through New York City being chased by an array of sort-of villains including stray cats, anti-human animals, and animal control.

The film had plenty of laughs, and some of the visuals not necessarily the action animation, but the still frames, namely of the city skyline, were stunning.  I just might find a poster of it and make it my wallpaper.

The voice cast was very solid, with the main characters voiced by Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, and a stand-out performance by Kevin Hart, who voices one of the support characters.

The film doesn’t have quite the social relevance / commentary displayed by  “Zootopia” or “Inside Out”, but I think adults could still enjoy watching this film.  One thing that did catch my attention as the film’s soundtrack and score, composed y the prolific Alexandre Desplat, which elevated the film up a notch with dashes of liveliness.

A brief mention should  be given to the opening Minions short film.  Perhaps the makers of this short discovered what was wrong with the feature-length “Minions” film and rediscovered what worked for the minions in the “Despicable Me” films, but this was pretty much what I would’ve wanted the feature-length film to be.  I know it’s hard to turn this goofy and hilarious short into something that’s 90 minutes long, but I think it’s doable.

For those living in the U.S. / Canada, I haven’t see “Finding Dory” yet as it is not out here in Hong Kong, but I would still definitely recommend it!

Short Spoiler Review: Game of Thrones S06E10 “The Winds of Winter”

As many have already provided in-depth reviews this very fan-service-filled, feel-good episode where one feel-good moment happens after the next, I’m just going to provide some general thoughts.

I really loved this episode, as it finally progresses the grander story line of the battle of Westeros.  Almost every story line showed progress, and many were linked together.  For example, the scattered story lines of the Tyrells, the Martells in Dorne, the Greyjoys were linked with the grand story line of Daenrys Targaryen and her quest to claim the Iron Throne.  The quips between all these characters, led by Tyrion, is definitely something to look forward to.

This episode, along with the previous one (as I mentioned last review), were both incredibly well shot, utilizing so many techniques to create suspense and pay off, from holding the shot of the window to witness Tommen’s suicide, to the cut from baby Jon Snow to the now-revealed Jon Snow-Targaryen, it was all very well made.

There are for sure many things to look forward to for season 7.  The Night King and his white walkers did not make an appearance the last few episodes.  Also, how will Bran contribute to the story arcs of Jon and Sansa to Daenrys? How will King’s landing function under the reign of Cersei? What of the Hound and the servants of the Lord of Light? How about Arya?

Wish season 7 would start today!

Spoilers Review: Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 9 “Battle of the Bastards”

Call me a nerd.  I’m actually upset at myself sometimes for being able to predict movie plots and twists.  When I saw Aidan Gillen listed in the opening credits, I connected this with the knowledge that Sansa Stark wrote to the Vale to ask Peter Baelish (ie. Littlefinger) for help in the previous episode.  I knew that the knights of the Vale would come in at some point to turn the tides in the battle of the bastards.  The question was how late.

As late as possible, pretty much.

That aside, the episode itself was nothing short of incredible.  With a reported budget of over 10 million (I got the feeling that the producers saved much of the season’s budget for this episode, hence the dullness in some of the earlier episodes), the episode was well-shot, with almost-seamless CGI, greatly choreographed, and intense.  The moments when Jon Snow was being trampled felt incredibly claustrophobic, very well done by the cinematographer.

The battle at Mereen was entertaining, as well, with strong dragon CGI, and witty dialogue that were to the point.

One more thing about the Bastard’s downfall.  While other reviewers were expressing their enjoyment of watching Ramsey getting the shit punched out of him by Jon and the subsequent doggy death, I was clenching my fists thinking “stop! you’re killing him too fast! Don’t give him a quick death!”  Ramsey’s psychotic, murderous, raping, and ravaging path spanned over seasons, starting with the torture of Theon.  To have him die within a day was way too easy for him.  I would have liked to have seen them keep him prisoner and do to him some of the things he’s done to people.

Some are labeling this their favorite Game of Thrones episode ever.  I’m not too sure about that.  The episode lacked the emotional gravitas compared to the episode where Tyrion gave his epic speech at his murder trial, or when he kills his own father, or the one where Jon kills the whitewalker.  I’d certainly place “Battle of the Bastards” in my top 5.