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Saturday, March 17, 2018


Article first published as TV Review: JESSICA JONES Season 2 on Seat42F.

Marvel’s JESSICA JONES is finally back for a second season on Netflix! The more-than-two-year wait between seasons can be explained by the aggressive Marvel Netflix production schedule, which saw four additional shows premiere since then, including a team-up between Jessica and other heroes, and a second season of an older series, Daredevil. With crossovers between the casts, it would be difficult to shoot them all at once. Though given how quickly the shows are being released now, I wouldn’t expect such a long break the next time.

Back to the series at hand, JESSICA JONES seems not to have missed a step as it begins season two. Jessica (Krysten Ritter) is haunted by the fact that she killed Kilgrave, making her, in her mind, a killer. To cope, she’s drinking a LOT, even for her, and refusing cases she might develop an emotional attachment to. Her sister, Trish (Rachael Taylor), has taken the opposite tact, jumping fully into investigating the past, though admittedly Trish didn’t murder anyone. And Malcolm (Eka Darville) tries to build up Alias Investigations as a business, despite its salty owner. Even Simpson (Wil Traval) pops up to show us how he’s doing after the events of last season.

It seems like not as much time has passed in the world of JESSICA JONES as it has in the real world, but that’s OK. Some time has gone by, and big events stick with you for weeks, months, even years. So it makes total sense that the emotional state of many of the players is influenced by season one, even if it’s been a bit.

Speaking of emotions, despite her estrangement from Jessica, Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) remains very much a part of the series. Her scenes are separate as she deals with some very tough medical news in not-so-healthy ways. But I’m interested to see where she will tie into the central story.

Season two doesn’t have such a clear villain to focus on as Kilgrave was. Instead, there’s a shady company known as IGH that seems to serve as the antagonist. But it doesn’t come out of nowhere. These are the people that gave Jessica, and others, powers. There’s a twenty-day span spent in their care that Jessica doesn’t remember. Why did they release her? What was their purpose? Jessica doesn’t know and so we don’t, though it seems certain we will find out as time goes on, especially with Trish on the case.

It isn’t necessarily a novel idea to dig into a lead character’s past to mine drama. But given how detached Jessica is in her daily life, it feels like a good road to go down for her. She isn’t going to speak her feelings to anyone, nor the audience, so by placing her in a position where she’s forced to confront her internal struggles, JESSICA JONES lets us learn a lot about the character. Physical artifacts force their journey along to nice effect. It’s far more interesting than just seeing her fight some baddie.

JESSICA JONES is the story of more than one broken character, but each have their own unique story. While they cross many times, there’s also a feeling of aloneness more present than with some of the ensemble casts of other series, even other Marvel Netflix series. This alone-while-with-someone take is something many viewers can relate to. Seeing Jessica, Trish, Malcolm, and Jeri deal with it also inspires us in a way heroes don’t usually do. JESSICA JONES shows us a different kind of inspiration, and it’s welcome.

Given the complex story and the deep emotional content, even though I’ve only viewed two hours thus far, it seems certain JESSICA JONES will maintain its quality through a second run. Even if it’s hard not to miss the magnetic persona of Kilgrave, whose specter hangs over the story.

JESSICA JONES season two is available now on Netflix.

Friday, March 16, 2018


Article first published as TV Review: HARD SUN on Seat42F.

Hulu premiered all six episodes of a new drama called HARD SUN last week. A co-production with the BBC, HARD SUN follows two cops in a pre-apocalyptic world. Yes, pre-, not post-. An event known only as “hard sun” (hence the title of the show) is being kept secret by the government, even though it predicts an extinction-level event in a mere five years time. As more people begin to find out about it and react, our heroes not only have to continue to do their jobs keeping the peace, but they also get drawn into the conspiracy coverup.

HARD SUN sounds like a really neat idea. After all, so much time has been spent examining how people would deal with the aftermath of a big event. It’s cool to finally get into the psychology of how they would react when the disaster is looming, but has not yet arrived. Painting it as a secret that leaks out and is, at first, only believed by conspiracy nuts makes it all the more intriguing because the series can take its time getting around to various types of people reacting differently to the news.

The problem is, HARD SUN doesn’t really delve into the psychiatry so much as uses it as a distraction from the main story. Several of the six hours are mostly made up of our leads trying to catch a bad guy doing something horrible because he (always he) believes the world is ending. This could be very interesting if the focus wasn’t just on catching him, or if there were more variation in the execution. But despite some good guest star turns here, these stories are mostly unsatisfying and seem to just be in the way of getting back to the plot most viewers will care more about. This is the way a 22-episode network season would stretch things out; it doesn’t work for a six-episode short season.

The through line story is pretty good, but HARD SUN spends too much time ignoring it. DCI Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess, Feed the Beast) is a complicated man. He cares deeply for people and wants to protect them, and has done some pretty bad things while pursuing that goal. His new partner, DI Elaine Renko (Agyness Deyn, Hail, Caesar!), is put in place specifically to catch him, until she bonds with him during their duties. She also has her own issues, with a violent son she loves, despite the fact that he tried to kill her. This baggage is pretty inconvenient when Hicks and Renko have to spend so much time avoiding would-be assassins from MI5, in particular Grace Morrigan (Nikki Amuka-Bird, Luther).

That is a LOT of story just for our two leads, so having to watch them do their jobs around it is too much. HARD SUN should have just focused on the complex set of circumstances they built, and if we saw Hicks and Renko working at all, keep it to routine duties or a single case, not extra-complicated serial killers.

I admit, I was caught up in HARD SUN, watching all six hours before sitting down to write this review. Part of the reason I waited was to see if the end paid off the time spent slogging through the middle hours. It does, with bright promise for a second season, should one be ordered. But that doesn’t change the criticism above, which still stands upon completion. I expected a bit more from writer Neil Cross, who is best known for his excellent British crime series, Luther.

Also, HARD SUN is very graphically violent. If that bothers you, you might want to skip it.

HARD SUN season one is available now on Hulu.

Monday, March 5, 2018

In the Shadow of THE LOOMING TOWER

Article first published as TV Review: THE LOOMING TOWER on Seat42F.

Hulu’s latest miniseries is THE LOOMING TOWER. Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Lawrence Wright, the ten episodes cover the lead up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Beginning in 1998, with some flashes to hearings well after the fact, we see both the FBI and CIA bungle up their own investigations while refusing to work together, telling the vital story of how Osama bin Laden may have been prevented from killing thousands, but wasn’t. It’s pretty good drama.

At the center of THE LOOMING TOWER is John O’Neill (Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom). He’s head of the FBI New York branch, and he has personal issues with just about everyone in his life. His subordinates seem to mostly respect him, but his bosses don’t, nor do the CIA officers he comes in contact with. Thankfully for O’Neill, Richard Clarke (Michael Stuhlbarg, Fargo) listens to him, but Clarke can only do so much. If O’Neill’s professional flaws aren’t enough for you, he has multiple girlfriends and a wife in various locales, so he’s a deeply flawed character.

Contrast that with Ali Soufan (Tahar Rahim, A Prophet), a more traditional hero. Ali may have joined the FBI on a dare, but he is totally committed to working under O’Neill and trusts the boss’ judgment. He doesn’t hesitate to drop personal matters at a moment’s notice when called upon to do his duty, and is only too eager to put himself into dangerous situations if he thinks he can do some good. O’Neill tempers Ali by looking at the bigger picture, but that’s about the only place where O’Neill is better.

Other than those two, most of the other characters are much smaller. From CIA antagonist Martin Schmidt (Peter Sarsgaard, The Killing), to Schmidt’s loyal underling, Diane Priest (Wrenn Schmidt, Outcast), to teacher Heather (Ella Rae Peck, Gossip Girl), to many others, THE LOOMING TOWER is stuffed full of players, each with their own story and agenda, most of them minor to the main plot. This makes sense for a dramatization of this nature, which surely has a lot of moving parts. And with ten episodes, the miniseries doesn’t need to stay too focused. Still, much of their scenes seem like fluff, rather than driving the story forward, even if the supporting characters are fully formed.

An exception to that is Robert Chesney (Bill Camp, The Night Of). Although his role as a member of O’Neill’s team is not a huge one, he has some very compelling scenes in the first couple of hours that really make him an interesting character.

THE LOOMING TOWER has the weight of an HBO-level miniseries, and is a strong contender come awards season. It has great performances and the heft of being mostly real. The production value and directions are of good quality, and its narrative is smart and cohesive.

Where it wavers for me a bit is the pacing. It feels like it’s balancing too much, and is weighed down by it. When certain characters are on screen, it flies beautifully. When they’re gone, or when we’re venturing into O’Neill’s romantic territory, it falters. I enjoyed the first two hours I watched and will likely watch more, but I can’t help but feel that a leaner series would have worked better. The time frame covered could have been extended if they still wanted to make the same number of episodes.

One thing I thought was pretty cool was that the World Trade Center towers are not glimpsed for quite awhile at the beginning. And the only shot of them in the first two installments is in the background, not a focus of anything happening. They loom over everything, but aren’t part of the story. Not yet, anyway.

Hulu has released three episodes of THE LOOMING TOWER, with more coming weekly.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Going MUTE

Article first published as Movie Review: MUTE on Seat42F.

Netflix, besides making a ton of television series, has recently started putting out lots of original films, too. One of the newest is MUTE, which is written and directed by Moon’s Duncan Jones, also written by Michael Robert Johnson (2009’s Sherlock Holmes). It follows a mute man named Leo who runs afoul of mobsters as he searches for the woman he loves, who has gone missing. And, just to add some flavor, it is set in Berlin, Germany in the future, although the characters do speak English.
The setting is interesting, though not all that relevant to the story. Sure, the reason Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd, Ant-Man) is in the country is because of a war that hasn’t happened yet, so in that way it ties into the futuristic framework. Yet, there could be another reason for Bill’s presence without jumping forward, so I’m not quite sure why this film doesn’t take place today other than that the choice makes for some very cool visuals.
The story itself is a basic one at its heart, with some complexity thrown in to keep it interesting. Leo (Alexander Skarsgard, True Blood) deeply loves Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh, Dogs of Berlin). Leo is a lonely man, so it makes sense that he’d be even more invested in the relationship than most people in his situation might be. Thus, of course he’s willing to give up everything, his job, his personal safety, unconcerned of what anyone else might think of him to find her, his sole purpose. It’s a sweet, if familiar, tale.
What does make the film a bit unique is that Leo is mute. The explanation involves a childhood accident and a deeply religious family that espouses surgery that could correct it. But the point is, Leo doesn’t talk to anyone in the movie. He occasionally signs, sometimes writes things down, but the majority of his communication is through body language and facial expressions. It’s a great role for Skarsgard, who performs it wonderfully. Though, of course, it’s a shame the production didn’t use an actual mute actor. But if they were going to choose a non-mute performer, Skarsgard is the right choice.
Where the story veers into weird territory is when it focuses on Bill, a layered character. He deeply loves his daughter and is devoted to getting her back to North America. To do so, he has to work for some bad dudes until they are willing to provide him a passport. (He’s a military deserter, so can’t go through normal legal channels.) Bill has an unexpected connection to Naadirah, which is interesting. He also has his own moral code which allows him to operate outside the law, and yet have some mixed values. For instance, he can remain friends with someone who’s behavior deeply offends him.
Between Bill and Leo, I really liked MUTE. Two great performances, two great roles. Smaller characters like Naardirah, her roommate Luba (Robert Sheehan, Misfits), and Bill’s buddy Duck (Justin Theroux, The Leftovers) make many of the scenes more colorful in the best of ways.
MUTE has been getting mixed reviews, some saying it’s a slog, gimmicky, or a mess. Honestly, I didn’t see those things when I watched. I found it compelling, visually stunning, unexpectedly creepy, and tantalizingly sexy all at the same time. My positive bias towards futuristic things could be at play here, but I’ve given other sci-fi less than stellar reviews lately, and I feel like MUTE doesn’t deserve that. It’s not a perfect film, nor will it make my must-rewatch-soon list. But I really enjoyed it for all the reasons above, a short story’s worth of material brought satisfyingly to life.
MUTE is available now exclusively on Netflix.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Article first published as TV Review: SEVEN SECONDS on Seat42F.

Netflix’s newest drama is SEVEN SECONDS. Created by Veena Sud, it shares a fair amount of DNA with her previous television series, The Killing. SEVEN SECONDS begins with a car accident involving a young boy on a bicycle, and then tells the story of the investigation and familiar reactions to the incident. Unlike The Killing, however, viewers get to see exactly what happened in the opening, so the mystery is more about what will happen next, rather than what has already happened. Plus, the boy survives, at least the first hour.

The cast, as in most modern shows, is excellent. Regina King (American Crime) and Russell Hornsby (Grimm) play Latrice and Isaiah Butler, the grieving parents who don’t know the truth about what happened, and are not thrilled with the legal system in place. Clare-Hope Ashitey (Suspects) is KJ Harper, the alcoholic prosecutor who looks into the boy’s case. She is assisted by cop Joe Rinaldi (Michael Mosley, Sirens). Though this won’t be an easy one to solve, since it’s another cop, Mike Diangelo (David Lyons, Revolution), doing the covering up.

Why would a cop do such a thing? Well, the offender is another on the force, Peter Jablonski (Beau Knapp, Shots Fired), Mike’s friend who is expecting a child soon. Even Peter thinks he should confess, so the whole force isn’t villainized in SEVEN SECONDS. But the societal pressures of previous violent assaults by white cops on black kids, which the victim is, are all the reason Mike needs to think Peter would be in much deeper trouble than he deserves, and prompt him to frame someone else for the crime. Though by the end of hour one, Peter and Mike now both deserve pretty bad.

This makes for a timely, complex tale, which all the best shows are these days. Like a lot of other television programs, this one is about crime and police officers. And like most others, the cast is good. So SEVEN SECONDS is great, right? Well, not exactly.

The biggest problem SEVEN SECONDS has going for it is that it is boring and slow. I like slow when the characters and tone are super compelling and the camera lingers to really delve into emotion. In this case, nothing much happens, but it’s not because the running time is dwelling on the characters. For instance, a portion of the first hour finds KJ and Joe filing some paperwork and visiting the hospital and impound lot. None of this furthers anything, nor are there long, insightful moments between them. They’re just there.

I think it also probably hurts that we know who the guilty party is. I mean, mystery can be overdone or melodramatic, but at least there’s a strong hook as viewers try to figure out what happened and the implications of it. Instead, here it’s pretty safe to assume the truth will come to light, so the only suspense is how. We already know the fallout will be bad, we just don’t know how bad. So there’re not enough stakes, nothing to truly wonder about. There is a fake-out about the victim’s identity early on, but it doesn’t go anywhere.

And, bottom line, none of the characters are compelling enough. I get Peter’s conflict, but it’s hard to root for him when he did something so heinous, even as he considers stepping forward. Of course, it’s easy to sympathize with the parents, but at least in the first hour, we don’t learn all that much about them. The cops are even less interesting.

SEVEN SECONDS seems to prove, as a few other shows have recently, that sometimes a series just isn’t as good as the sum of its parts.

The first season of SEVEN SECONDS is available now on Netflix.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Star Trek: Discovery - Is It Worthy?

Article first published as 'Star Trek: Discovery' - Is It Worthy? on Blogcritics.

I have been a Star Trek fan almost as long as I can remember. When I was very young, I asked my dad to pick up Star Wars for me from the library. He brought me Star Trek: The Motion Picture instead, and I was hooked.

This past fall and winter brought the first season of the latest Star Trek television series, Star Trek: Discovery. Disco, as fans are already calling it, is set in the prime universe (a.k.a. where all Star Trek has taken place except the most recent three films). It takes place ten years before the original series, and about two years after the first pilot, “The Cage.” Now, with the fifteen-episode first season complete, it seems an opportune time to ask, is this the triumphant return of Star Trek on the small screen?

The following contains major spoilers from throughout the first season, including the finale.

Idealism and Morality

The most obvious way Disco matches up to its predecessors is keeping the spirit of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets, the military and political organization portrayed in the franchise, alive. Despite the darkness of war that pervades this run, our central crew is committed to the right ideals. While Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) seemed to stray early on; the revelation that he was Mirror Universe Lorca the whole time made his actions make sense. In the end, even when Earth itself was threatened, and with a wavering Admiral Cornwall (Jayne Brook) and Ambassador Sarek (James Frain) considering genocide, the crew of the Disco demanded better.

Besides the obvious saving of the Klingon home world, the best example of these values comes in the penultimate episode, when Ash Tyler (Shazard Latif), exposed as being a surgically-altered Voq, feels ashamed and alone. Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) sits at his empty lunch table with him and others follow suit. Also, the way the tardigrade is freed without consequence when its pain is realized is excellent. This proves that the Starfleet attitude we know is alive and well in the new series.

Diversity in the Production

This trend of inclusion and acceptance continues behind-the-scenes, as well. Obviously, the cast is quite diverse, probably the most ever for Star Trek. Though the series has always had a history of showing different peoples working side-by-side in common cause. Disco boasts the first African-American female lead for Star Trek in Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). Her captain in the first two episodes, Georgiou, is played by Michelle Yeoh. And this is backed up in the production, which also has a wider range of people than previously working in almost any television show. Just look at the credits, and you’ll see what I mean.

There has been some backlash to the casting online, but to borrow from the Vulcans, there doesn’t seem to be any logical argument against it. If you think Star Trek should just be white men, you’re missing the message of what the show is and has always been. Even looking back to the 1960s episodes, Star Trek was about diversity. In this regard, it pushed the boundaries of what they could get away with on network television, showing non-white-males in positions of power. Star Trek boasts the first interracial and first homosexual kisses on broadcast network television, and had African-American and female captains leading spin-offs in the 1990s. The haters can’t possibly be real Star Trek fans.

Where It Fits

Back to the story itself, Discovery tells a missing part of Star Trek history and does it without majorly disrupting continuity. The Klingon-Federation War was a bad one, as has been referenced, so it’s understandable why the first season isn’t as bright and cheery as past entries. It was also set in more dangerous times than we see in most series. After all, Captain Pike wasn’t all that upbeat in “The Cage” following a tragedy. This tone shift makes sense.

We get a deeper look at the Klingon Empire and why they came into conflict with the Federation, which had little to do with the U.S.S. starships themselves. Yes, there are more aliens serving on Disco than one might assume were in Starfleet at that point from past entries. But that can be traced more to budgetary limitations of the past than what was supposed to be. And characters like Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson taking over the role originated in the 1960s by Roger C. Carmel), Sarek, and Amanda Grayson (Mia Kirshner) are shown earlier in their time line.

Disco is careful to pay homage to the classic while looking modern. The special effects and sets are thoroughly of today, as they should be to avoid looking dated. But tricorders and phasers and transporters are close enough to what’s been shown before to satisfy. The uniforms are more Enterprise than TOS, but it looks like the finale showed us background glimpses of the classic look, which I expect Pike and crew will be wearing next season.


The only major complaint I have here is the delta emblems everyone on the Disco, the U.S.S. Shenzou, and the admiralty all seem to be sporting. In classic Trek, only the Enterprise crew wore this particular symbol, with other ships and stations having different icons. However, it’s possible that everyone originally wore the deltas, briefly switched to individualized badges ten years after this, then switched back later, as shown in the spin-offs and films. Given how Disco seems to later fix things that look to be wrong, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here.

There are also countless Easter eggs for the eagle-eyed, from Tribbles to Centaurian slugs. These are great for the fans. Georgiou talking of “bread and circuses” might feel slightly odd, but it’s appreciated. Even Clint Howard’s weird cameo as an Orion was great. (Howard previously guest starred in TOS, DS9, and Enterprise). These little nuggets are perfect and appreciated.


There are some notable changes to the way Discovery is presented as opposed to other Star Trek series. The most important is that we finally get a serial, complex story. This isn’t the first time Star Trek has done this; Deep Space 9, and to a certain extent, Enterprise, pursued long-running arcs, as well. But Disco is the first show to fully realize this superior method of story-telling, with only one of the fifteen hours seeming mostly stand-alone. This change allows for better character development and growth. For instance, Commander Saru (Doug Jones) goes through quite an arc, from disapproving coward to wise captain. This would not have been possible, certainly not in a single season, in the past.

Some big swings Disco takes, like the spore drive, seem ridiculous to exist without mention down the road. But because of how Disco fixes things, as mentioned above, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for now that it will make sense later. Spock not mentioning a sister, similarly, I can overlook because Spock is very private. Besides, she’s not the first surprise sibling he’s sprung on us.
Additionally, the captain is not the lead, and that is welcome. We finally get a different perspective on the starship, with a show mostly told from below-decks. Both Tilly, a lowly cadet, and Burnham, not even a commissioned officer for most of the season, give us fresh insight that is more than welcome.


For much of the year, I thought the biggest weakness was going to be how the show handled the Voq / Ash Tyler twist. It was all over the Internet long before the story was ready to reveal it. However, in retrospect, I wonder if that wasn’t a genius distraction to keep the real twist, Lorca being from the Mirror Universe, completely off the radar. If so, brilliantly done.

Disco is not without its share of missteps, though, and a lot have to do with production decisions. For instance, almost every episode is right around forty-five minutes, the length of a regular broadcast installment. Being on a streaming service, it shouldn’t try to squeeze into such a narrow box. The result is plots that sometimes feel wrapped up too quickly or missed opportunities between characters. Did the way the handling of the bomb in the season finale make total sense? No, and another minute of dialogue could have fixed that. But I feel like these aren’t too distracting, and the show overall remains strong.

Of course, the worst thing about Disco is that it’s exclusively on the way-overpriced CBS All Access service. But that can be blamed on CBS bullying the fans, not a Star Trek misstep.


Is Discovery the Star Trek we deserve? I think it’s a little early to tell. A show like this takes time to prove whether its journey is worth it, and that’s a good thing. This type of storytelling is more ambitious, and when it succeeds, it’s aces. When it fails, it’s frustrating as hell. I do think the signs so far are that it’s a very good show. As long as it doesn’t screw anything huge up in the mythology, it’ll go far.

Some will argue that The Orville, a new show on FOX, is the Star Trek heir apparent. But despite sharing some strong DNA with The Next Generation, the Seth MacFarlane-led dramedy doesn’t quite have the same traditional Star Trek spirit that Discovery does. For this reason, as much as I like The Orville, I disagree entirely with this assessment.

Whether you’re a Trekkie or not, I recommend giving Discovery a chance. It’s a pretty solid show by just about any measure. I hope it lives long and prospers (preferably after moving to CBS-owned Showtime). It certainly had an interesting freshman year, and the cliffhanger of seeing the Enterprise promises more goodness to come.

Catch Star Trek: Discovery‘s full first season through CBS All Access.

Friday, February 9, 2018


Article first published as Review: THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX on Seat42F.

The following contains spoilers about The Cloverfield Paradox.

Surprise! Viewers of the Super Bowl were not expecting to learn that a new Cloverfield movie was on its way. But that’s exactly what happened when, with only a trailer played during the football game, Netflix dropped THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX Sunday night.

THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is the third film in the loosely connected series produced by J.J. Abrams. The first, titled simply Cloverfield, was a found-footage monster movie that put the audience in the perspective of someone running from a Godzilla-like creature. 10 Cloverfield Lane was mostly a bottle suspense thriller set in an underground bunker after a post-apocalyptic event. The third film is set on a space station in the future, and their experiments to find an unlimited energy supply for mankind rip a whole in space-time that unleashes monsters and other strange things across multiple dimensions. So this movie is both a sequel and prequel to the others which are, presumably, set on different Earths.

Connecting them in this way is pretty smart for a franchise that doesn’t want to tell a linear story. We now have the origin of sorts for the very different monsters we see in all three films, an explanation as to why these things are happening, and endless possibilities for future installments. As a connecting thread, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX works very well. It’s even better that it comes so late in the series, letting the mystery linger for years before solving it.

However, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is, by far, the weakest of the three installments.

THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX suffers from being split into too many pieces that fail to form a cohesive narrative. Our international crew of astronauts, comprised of Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle), Kiel (David Oyelowo, Selma), Schmidt (Daniel Bruhl, Captain America: Civil War), Monk (John Ortiz, Kong: Skull Island), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd, Bridesmaids), Volkov (Aksel Hennie, The Martian), Tam (Ziyi Chang, Memoirs of a Geisha), and Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby) start off in a somewhat straight-forward, save-the-Earth mission. This morphs into a cross between Alien and Apollo 13 as technology goes wrong and things (oddities, not monsters) haunt the ship. Eventually, as the cast is picked of one-by-one, it feels very familiar.

This in of itself should have been the movie, and it would have been OK if it had a few different elements to keep us guessing where it was going. While parts of it feel like remakes of other films, there’s enough originality to forge its own path, and an interesting story boosted by some terrific performances and spectacular special effects. But there are also very weird things, like an intelligent hand and arm, that just aren’t satisfyingly explained and make the whole thing uneven. There are also characters who act out of character or make ridiculous decisions no one in their right mind would make, sending the plot off course. Inconsistencies plague this work.

Add to this, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX forces the DNA of the previous two movies into this one by following Hamilton’s husband, Michael (Roger Davies, Family Affairs), back on Earth. Michael first finds himself in a city being actively destroyed by very big creatures, a la the original, and then takes shelter in a creepy bunker, as in the sequel. These comparisons feel forced and unnecessary, distracting and off-tone. It also spoils what could have been a twist ending otherwise.

There’s also a bit of exposition when an apparent conspiracy theory nut (Donal Logue, Gotham) warns a reporter (Suzanne Cryer, Silicon Valley) about what might happen with the space station. He ends up being right, but I couldn’t help but feel this was a bit more hand-holding that viewers needed. Unless Donal is a set up for another film, in which case, I like him enough to overlook this.

I think if the writers wanted to keep all the pieces they force in, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX would have worked better as a television miniseries or season. That way, it could take its time exploring each of the facets of the tale in a longer narrative arc. Hamilton could even visit herself on the other Earth, and really dig into what the multiple dimensions presented mean. It also would make more sense to keep Michael in it for a potential second season. In this way, nothing would need to be cut out, and it would almost guarantee more forthcoming story (J.J.’s name and a big budget making a two-season order on a streaming service likely). If they wanted to keep this as a movie, they really should have narrowed in on a few choices and ditched much of the material they went with.

I will say, I did enjoy the other J.J. references present. Keep your eyes peeled, and you’ll see homages to 2009’s Star Trek and the television show Alias, as well as hear some regular Abrams cast voices, such as Simon Pegg and Greg Grunberg.

Overall, I didn’t hate THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX. Like I said, there are some really good elements, and in terms of defining the franchise, it does its intended job. However, there are enough plot holes and weaknesses to keep it from being a thoroughly enjoyable watch, and certainly makes it the low point of the series so far. The potential is strong enough that I want to see it developed further. But care must be taken to make sure the next installment doesn’t go off the rails like this one did, which would surely kill any future stories any time soon.

THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is available now on Netlfix.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


Article first published as TV Review: ALTERED CARBON on Seat42F.

Netflix’s newest drama, released yesterday, is ALTERED CARBON. Set centuries in the future, it is part science fiction adventure, part murder mystery. In the ten-episode first season, Takeshi Kovacs, a violent mercenary, is woken from a 250-year slumber at Alcatraz. He is told he can either go back to prison forever, his sentence, or solve the murder of an extremely wealthy man, Laurens Bancroft. Obviously, Takeshi chooses the former, and he sets off into the world he knows little about to investigate a crime of which he knows even less.

Joel Kinnaman (The Killing, House of Cards) stars as Takeshi, which ties into a few important things. One, part of the premise is that the essence of people have been boiled down into “stacks,” basically big computer chips that can be inserted into any body, deemed “sleeves.” While Takeshi is Japanese and Eastern European, played by Will Yun Lee (Falling Water, True Blood) in flashback, he now inhabits a different ethnicity form. There is certainly an argument to be made that the series whitewashes its lead, but the cast is pretty diverse, and from a story perspective, the swap makes sense. So ALTERED CARBON tries to make up for that in other ways. (Whether it does or not, I leave for someone more qualified to decide.)

Bancroft is also a white man, played by James Purefoy (The Following, Hap and Leonard), as is the AI construct Poe (Chris Conner, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story). But others are not. The love of Takeshi’s life is Quellcrist Falconer (Renee Elise Goldsberry, The Good Wife, original cast of the Broadway musical Hamilton). Takeshia’s sister, Reileen, is played by Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). The primary cop who is interested in Takeshi is Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda, Royal Pains). ALTERED CARBON also stars Ato Essandoh (Copper), Kristin Lehman (Motive), and Trieu Tran (The Newsroom).

The series itself is getting mixed reviews, and that’s fair. There’s certainly a large amount of exploitation of women in the dark corner of the world Takeshi is dropped into, prostitution, physically real or not, abundant, and drugs rampant. Little about the underworld isn’t a trope, and the main plot seems to be a basic murder mystery, albeit the intended victim isn’t really dead because his stack was backed up by a very expensive satellite, so all he lost as nearly two days of memories.

However, I found it an exciting romp with a complex, if a little two-dimensional, world. The visual effects are absolutely stunning, the futuristic city, including buildings that extend above the clouds, seeming very real. The rules of the world seem to be incredibly well thought-out and stuck to, though not overly explained, and there’s quite a bit of mystery surrounding Takeshi’s circumstances. Certainly this is more than just an episode of CSI stretched out. The acting is also pretty solid across the board, though I don’t yet see many similarities in personality between Lee and Kinnaman’s portrayals, so I’d like, over time, for the show to establish a more solid link.

There is also a trippy aspect to the production because Takeshi, as part of the side effects from being asleep so long, hallucinates people that aren’t there. This potentially calls into question the reality of what we’re seeing in every scene, even when he’s sober, and will have viewers looking for clues that things might not be real. That is an exciting element to toss in, especially when it’s so well integrated to the story.

Having only seen one episode so far, I can’t contradict entirely the uneasiness of other reviewers. What I can say is that as soon as I turn this in, I’m jumping right into episode two because I was left very much wanting to see more.

ALTERED CARBON season one is available now, streaming on Netflix.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Paramount is WACO

Article first published as TV Review: WACO on Seat42F.

You likely haven’t heard of the Paramount Network. After all, that network name has only been on air for about ten days. The channel formerly known as Spike TV, and before that, as TNN, has changed names once again. And with that change comes a new direction for the network, as evidenced by their miniseries WACO, which premiered this past week. I can’t imagine WACO airing under their past network names.

WACO tells the story of the FBI and ATF seizing the Waco, Texas ranch of cult leader David Koresch back in the spring of 1993. The six episodes cover the lead up to the 51-day stand-off, through the event itself. The story as portrayed here is based on two biographies, one from each side of the conflict. The first was penned by David Thibodeau, a survivor who joined the commune about nine months before the famous proceedings. The other is from the perspective of hostage negotiator Gary Noesner. Both play significant roles in the miniseries, and it provides some balance to get the law enforcement and a commune member’s point-of-view.

At the center of the cult is charming, relatable, earnest David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch, Friday Night Lights), a man who claims to have biblical visions. He has surrounded himself by many followers who buy into his words. Some, like Steve Schneider (Paul Sparks, House of Cards), are educated, and some, like Thibodeau (Rory Culkin, Signs) are not. WACO explores some of the mentality of a person who would follow Koresh, and how that can span across different demographics.

Tension within the commune starts well before the feds arrive. David has made everyone swear themselves to celibacy, except himself and the women he chooses to lay with. He calls it a sacrifice, but his best friend Steve doesn’t appreciate it when his wife, Judy (Andrea Riseborough, Bloodline), becomes pregnant. Nor does David’s main squeeze, Rachel (Melissa Benoist, Supergirl), seem all that happy about her man fathering a child by someone else. So it is clear there are issues long before things get violent.

At the same time, Gary (Michael Shannon, Boardwalk Empire) provides a look at how the FBI and ATF don’t exactly have it together, either. There is a culture that demands results and covers up mistakes. Funding is at stake, and not everyone seems determined to do the right thing to keep the money flowing. Gary is seen as the stereotypical hero, a man who will stick to his personal moral compass no matter what. Yet, Gary isn’t the one in charge. With all of the disagreements and political motivation shown, it’s no wonder that things don’t go smoothly when they’re asked to take down the ranch.

WACO is an entertaining and compelling miniseries. A top-notch cast ensures that it flows and the characters are understandably complex. At the same time, the various elements thrown together here provide a pretty detailed, comprehensive picture of the situation. They foreshadow the things that go wrong by showing us how the event didn’t unfold in a vacuum, and neither side was perfect. I don’t seek to excuse a cult leader, and I don’t think WACO does, either. But it does try to be fair in its storytelling, and I think it succeeds pretty well at that.

I liked the first episode of WACO a lot, and hope to catch the other five hours. If this smart, enjoyable, well-made series is the type of thing viewers should expect from the Paramount network, I think it will do its movie namesake proud and Paramount could become a cable player. Though it has awhile to go before we can call that for sure.

WACO airs Wednesday evenings on the Paramount network through February.

Saturday, January 27, 2018


Article first published as TV Review: THE ALIENIST on Seat42F.

TNT begins a new chapter in their programming with THE ALIENIST. An alienist has nothing to do with extraterrestrials, though TNT has done their share of that type of show. Instead, the term, considered archaic now, refers to someone who practices psychiatry. Which, if you’re following along, means the series is about a person who studies the human psyche in a bygone era. A period piece drama is not the normal fare you’d expect from the network. But does it work?
Not quite. The pacing is slow and the plot is dreadfully plodding. The first word that comes to mind to describe THE ALIENIST is boring. I don’t care about the characters, nor their motivations, which is not a sustainable model for a television show.
TNT is known for works that are fast-paced and somewhat cheesy, so THE ALIENIST is a departure, and that by itself is good. Care has been taken with sets and costumes, so it looks good. This is especially true in an early sequence on a wooden bridge. There aren’t the usual plot holes and cliché dialogue that other programs on the network have contained. The acting is quality, as is the directing. So it’s not the individual elements that are the problem here.
THE ALIENIST stars Daniel Bruhl (Captain America: Civil War) as Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a doctor who works with the mentally disturbed and tries to treat them. Not cure them, mind you, but make their conditions more manageable. He is assisted by John Moore (Luke Evans, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast), an illustrator who helps Dr. Kreizler see things he cannot, a second pair of eyes who provides other perspective. Rounding out the central trio is Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning, The Runaways), a police clerk who is interested in following the law, but is intrigued by the doctor’s work when it seems more reliable than the old techniques.
These three are decent actors, as anyone who’s seen them in other works can attest. Fanning, once a child actor who has starred in respected films, makes her first foray into series television, and Evans and Bruhl have had some success on screens both large and small. I can’t point to any of the trio as a weak link.
The three begin by trying to clear the name of a man sentenced to death. I would say there is some moral quandary as to whether they should, as the accused is suffering from painful, incurable syphilis anyway. But as all good classic heroes, they are committed to truth and justice, and so seek not just the extension of their ground-breaking work, but to use it to help people, too.
It’s not this somewhat tired premise that spurs the bad review. Although it seems similar to a couple of recent streaming and cable shows, also period pieces, the trappings of the setting and the way the story plays out distract enough from the common formula. It’s just the overall tone, which doesn’t rise to the level of the style of the piece.
THE ALIENIST is also very gory. Gory enough that I couldn’t see it on basic cable in the pre-Walking Dead days. This choice fits well with the story they’re telling, being brutally up front at showing things, not glossing over and romanticizing. In that, I do think the show made the right decision, supporting the premise and plot.
In the end, I must conclude that the show is decent, certainly a step up for TNT, but lacks the charm, intensity, and magnetism that many of the best shows today have.
THE ALIENIST airs Monday evenings on TNT.