Lost in Space (2018)

LostInSpace

Lost in Space

Starring: Molly Parker, Toby Stephens, Maxwell Jenkins, Taylor Russell, Mina Sundwall, Ignacio Serricchio, Parker Posey, et.al.
Rated: TV-PG
Network: Netflix
Grade: B

Lost in Space, a reboot of the 1965 series (and 1998 movie), follows the Robinson family as their vessel, the Jupiter 2, crash lands on an alien planet. As they navigate the alien planet while searching for survivors of other downed Jupiter vessels, as well as a way to get off the planet and back on their way to Alpha Centauri, where a new human colony is being established after the Earth has become nearly uninhabitable.

As stated before, this is a reboot of the series from the 60s, though I suspect that character names are about all that carried over from that show. This reboot is much less campy, and opts for a darker, more serious tone. The Robinsons are also no longer stranded alone. Their ship is one of several that crashes on the alien planet where Season 1 takes place, and there are several flashbacks to their time on Earth, as well as some to when they were on the main vessel, the Resilient. The effects are well done, with what I assume is a mix of practical and special effects used. There are some space shots of the star system they landed in that are particularly breathtaking.

The actors seem to handle themselves fairly well. From what I can tell, Toby Stephens is the only one not using his natural accent (he’s British playing an American), and he handles it well. Parker Posey seems to be enjoying playing the villain, and manages to not chew on the scenery every time she’s on camera.

If you like sci-fi, you’ll probably like this series. It might be a little much for casual viewers to handle, especially if they’re old enough to remember the original series, if only simply because they just throw you straight into everything, with no build up to the space and aliens plot. The show is also slightly serialized, so a small bit of attention is required so as to not get completely lost (pardon the unavoidable pun). It also looks like there will be a second season, so there’s no worry about getting invested in something only to be left hanging.

This show can only be streamed through Netflix, and there’s no information about whether they plan to release it on video.

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Harlan Coben’s Safe

HCSafe

Harlan Coben’s Safe

Starring: Michael C. Hall, Amanda Abbington, Amy James-Kelly, Freddie Thorp, Louis Greatorex, Hannah Arterton, India Fowler, Raj Paul, Joplin Sibtain, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, et.al.
Rated: TV-MA
Network: Netflix
Grade: B+

Safe, an original series from author Harlan Coben, follows widower Tom Delaney as he attempts to locate his daughter, Jenny, who went missing after attending a friend’s party. As he delves deeper into his daughter’s disappearance he begins to realize that he may not have know her, or her late mother, as well as he thought. That, coupled with the fact that Jenny’s boyfriend turned up dead at the same party she disappeared from, means that Tom is racing to unravel an increasing number of intertwined mysteries before he loses his daughter forever.

This is the type of show that, once upon a time, would only be found on the BBC in the UK, or Masterpiece in the US. Another great example of serialized British murder mystery, this show, while not perfect, is definitely better than some of the shows on TV. It can get a little soapy and over dramatic at times, but for the most the story stays on point. It looks like there’s probably not going to be a second seasons (though no one seems to be ruling it out, either), so the probability of getting the kinks hammered out over time is unlikely, unless it’s a massive hit on Netflix.

The acting is pretty good. Most of the cast is British, with Michael C. Hall being the only American on the show. Hall’s accent can get a bit choppy, even to my untrained ears, but closer to the end of the season he seems to get something of a grip on it.

I would recommend this series. The storyline is decent, and so long as you don’t mind slow-simmering crime dramas, it should hold your interest. It requires a bit more attention than the typical crime drama, but not so much that you must remain glued to your couch.

This show can only be streamed through Netflix, and there’s no information about whether they plan to release it on video.

Annihilation

Annihilation

Annihilation

Directed By: Alex Garland
Starring: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Benedict Wong, et. al.
Rated: R
Grade: A+

Loosely based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation follows Lena as she attempts to figure out what happened to her husband when he mysteriously reappears in their home after being missing for nearly a year. When her husband falls ill almost immediately after reappearing in their home, Lena is brought to a military base stationed near an iridescent veil of non-earth origin called The Shimmer, which she learns her husband was exploring when he went missing. Lena, a military-trained biologist, volunteers to explore what’s beyond The Shimmer, and joins a group of four other females, including a psychologist, a surveyor, a linguist, and an anthropologist. Once inside, the group quickly realizes that everything inside The Shimmer is being affected by it, including themselves.

Annihilation is more of a psychological thriller than it is a sci-fi monster movie. You can almost feel the tensions rising as the group goes further into The Shimmer. The actresses all have a decent chemistry and play well off one another. The story remains taught and tense right up to the end, and while the brief flashes to the past and future can be a bit jarring, but they don’t detract from the overall story. As with most psychological thrillers, there isn’t really a specific villain, per se, at least not until the last 15 or so minutes of the movie, and even then you’re not quite sure it’s real. You’ll definitely want to pay attention while watching.

The effects are fantastic. Nearly everything inside The Shimmer posses an otherworldly quality and seems to be a tad bit over saturated. While there aren’t a lot of big explosions or giant creatures, much of the movie has touches of CGI, though I suspect that much of it was achieved through set pieces as well.

If you’re a sci-fi fan or just like intense psychodramas, then this movie is definitely for you. There aren’t a lot of laughs, and the action is low-key, but the powerful, intelligent story keeps viewers interest held until the end, which leave just enough wiggle room that they could make a sequel based on the next book in the series.

Annihilation isn’t available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

Black Panther

BlackPanther

Black Panther

Directed By: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Bozeman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Angela Basset, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, et.al.
Rated: PG-13
Grade: A+

Black Panther, the latest home video release from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, follows T’Challa, who was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, as he attempts to settle into his new role as King of Wakanda.  Shortly after returning from a failed mission to capture Ulysses Klaue (pronounced claw), an arms dealer introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron who stole a valuable mineral, Vibranium, and set off an explosion that killed several Wakandans, T’Challa is challenged and overthrown by a man named Erik Stephens, who calls himself Killmonger, and is a long-lost cousin T’Challa never knew he had.  After his defeat, T’Challa must fight to regain his thrown and stop Killmonger from using Wakanda’s advanced technology to devastatingly attack cities across the world.

Black Panther is a great movie.  Since the MCU began their endeavor over 10 years ago, they’ve managed to change comic book movies from story-lite, action-heavy popcorn fare into compelling, character-driven stories about the (usually) human beings behind the super hero personas.  The result is a ground-breaking movie like this.  While the main villain may be a little one-note (revenge, while a common and easy motive, is a tad bit overused and is no longer as compelling as it once was), Michael B. Jordan gives his all to inject as much pain and humanity into Killmonger as he can, and for the most part, he succeeds.  All of the actors clearly have a blast in the movie.  While not filled with the cheeky humor of Thor: Ragnarok, they still get to have fun, usually at the expense of Martin Freeman’s CIA agent Everett Ross.  From what I can tell, the only main actor in the movie using their native accent is Michael B. Jordan, though my admittedly untrained ears didn’t notice anyone stepping on the ones they use.

The effects are well-done.  Marvel/Disney always make sure their graphics are top-notch, and this movie is no exception.  The CGI blends well with the scenery, and isn’t overly obvious.  They even manage to turn a horse into a rhinoceros without much difficulty.

I definitely recommend seeing this movie.  Not only is it a record-setting example of why representation in cinema matters, but it’s also an enjoyable story that’s accessible to everyone.  Those who hate comic book movies might not like it, but the general public should.  And anyone worried about not know what’s going on should breathe a sigh of relief, since this is the first Black Panther movie, and most of the characters are making their debut.

Black Panther isn’t available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

The Burning Maze

TOA3

The Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze

Written By: Rick Riordan
Published: May 2018
Grade: A

The third book of Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series, Lester-as-Apollo, along with his “master” Meg McCaffrey, and Grover Underwood (from the original Percy Jackson series) end up in California, where they enlist the help of Piper McLean and Jason Grace (both from the Heroes of Olympus series) to defeat the third emperor in the Triumvirate.  While there, they learn that part of the Labyrinth has caught fire, and they need to figure out what’s causing it so they can put a stop to the wildfires raging through Southern California.

Riordan once again takes his vast knowledge of history and mythology and makes a compelling, engaging story that holds your attention and makes you wish there was more to read.  Apollo continues his character development, and we get small insights into the previously-established characters as well.  He also gives a tiny history/mythology lesson and drops some interesting and educational trivia without hitting you over the head with it.

As the series continues, Apollo seems to discovering his humanity, as he becomes more and more concerned about those around him, including a new friend he picked up on his journey.  In addition to the established characters mentioned above, there’s also a brief appearance by Leo Valdez, who also first appeared in the Heroes of Olympus series and also played a role in this series’ previous installment, The Dark Prophecy, and we meet new characters in the form of several dryads, or nature spirits, who are taking refuge on the land once owned and cultivated by Meg’s deceased father, all of whom go by the name of their plant type (Joshua Tree, Aloe Vera, Prickly Pear, etc.), and Crest, a pandos, which is a mythological race of furry, big-eared, eight-fingered-and-toed creatures from India which appeared in some ancient Greek literature.

There are still two more books left in this particular series, as is typical with Riordan’s Greek-centered books, so don’t expect everything to be wrapped up by the end.

This book should be available at your local library or through a local or on-line retailer.

Westworld

Westworld

Westworld

Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Jimmi Simpson, Ben Barnes, Luke Hemsworth, Angela Sarafyan, Tessa Thompson, Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins, et.al.
Rated: TV-MA
Network: HBO
Grade: A+

Westworld is a continuation/update of the 1973 movie written and directed by Michael Crichton.  The show follows the daily routines of robotic “hosts” Dolores, Teddy, Maeve, and Clementine as they serve the parks guests, as well as the behind-the-scenes technicians Bernard, Angela, Stubbs, and Dr. Ford, and a few of the park’s guests, William, Logan, and the sadistic Man in Black.  Throughout the first season, we see the robots slowly evolving their programming as the various technicians try to figure out what’s going wrong with the park’s attractions, as well as dealing with the implementing of a new story narrative being introduced.  The Man in Black sets off on a quest to find what he calls The Maze, and William and Logan set out on an adventure in advance of William’s wedding to Logan’s sister.

This show is delicately woven and almost mesmerizingly told.  The various stories are almost seamlessly put together, with the final reveal of some of the plot twists coming almost naturally.  As several of Westworld’s robotic hosts, or characters, begin to show glitches in programming stemming from a recent software update, the park’s technicians begin to wonder if the error is really an error, or part of something else.  In the meantime, hosts Dolores, Teddy, and Maeve, as well as several others, begin to evolve, becoming more violent and self-aware.  At the same time, the Man in Black has set off on a quest to find The Maze, which he believes will offer a more realistic genuine experience in the park as friends William and Logan attempt to have an adventure before William is to marry Logan’s sister, which ends up revealing more about William’s character than he thought was there.

The acting is terrific.  The actors who play the hosts give it just enough to seem slightly off at one moment, and completely human in the next.  There’s very little scenery chewing, and most of it’s done  Most of the actors get to use their natural accents, from what I can tell, with the only exceptions being Ben Barnes and Luke Hemsworth, who use flawless American accents, and Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden, whose Southern accents slip occasionally, which can always be explained away by the fact that they play robots.

The show is filmed in Utah, as well as various other sets used in Westerns, which offers beautiful scenery.  We don’t get to see the “real world” outside the park’s offices.  The closest we get is a small, resort-like complex that seems to be mostly used by employees and visiting executives.

I highly recommend this series.  The show is, for the most part, a sci-fi/western hybrid, and it has an appeal for fans of either, or both, genres.  It can be a little violent at times, but there’s nothing too graphic, with most of the harsh violence being against the non-human characters.

Like all HBO shows, this can only be streamed from the HBO website, which requires subscription, or through an inclusive package, or with an iTunes or Amazon Prime Season Pass.  You can also rent the first season through Netflix home delivery service.

Peter Rabbit

PeterRabbit

Peter Rabbit

Directed By: Will Gluck
Starring: James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Daisy Ridley, Sam Neill, Sia, Colin Moody
Rated: PG
Grade: B

Peter Rabbit is a modern-day telling of the stories of Beatrix Potter.  In the movie, Peter and his family live in a wooded area just outside the small British town of Windermere, where they spend their days sneaking into the vegetable garden of Old Mr. McGregor, or spending time with their human friend Bea.  After Old Mr. McGregor dies and his nephew, Thomas, inherits the property, they face a new challenge in that Bea appears to be developing feelings for the young Mr. McGregor, which incites a rivalry between Peter and Thomas.

On the whole, this movie is enjoyable.  It’s definitely more geared toward children, and they’ll probably enjoy it more than adults will, at least for the first 3/4 of the movie.  The voice actors, James Corden (Peter), Margot Robbie (Flopsy), Elizabeth Debicki (Mopsy), Daisy Ridley (Cotton-Tail), Colin Moody (Benjamin), and Sia (Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle), all play computer-generated forest creatures who interact with Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, and Sam Neill’s live-action human characters, and Robbie’s Flopsy also serves as the film’s narrator.

As stated before, adults might have a hard time getting into the movie.  There were times I found myself not rooting for the rabbits, and questioning some of the logistics of the plot, like why Bea, who’s so insistent that the rabbits and other forest creatures be able to wander wherever they please and raid the local gardens, doesn’t seem to have a garden of her own to provide for them.  Toward the end, however, once Peter and Thomas have set aside their differences, the movie becomes more enjoyable and emotionally rewarding.  Most of the animals who speak don’t seem to do it in front of humans, and much of the movie implies that the animal language isn’t even understandable to human ears, aside from a brief scene near the end in which one of the characters begins to question their sanity after hearing Peter talk.  Children will love this movie, and while the parents will only have a handful of entertaining bits until the end, it’s ultimately worth the watch, just for the adorable ending.

Live action/CG mix is a difficult thing to get right, but animation studios have made great advances since the concept was first introduced.  While the animals don’t look terribly realistic, they look real enough to not be an eyesore while watching.  Aside from said animals and a series of explosions toward the end, there aren’t any obvious special effects, though I’m sure there were some used.

Ultimately, I would recommend seeing this movie.  Your kids will most likely enjoy it, and there are a few enjoyable niblets for adults to tide them over until the end.

Peter Rabbit isn’t available to stream anywhere, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service.

The Alienist

Alienist

The Alienist

Starring: Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans, Dakota Fanning, Brian Geraghty, Robert Wisdom, Douglas Smith, Matthew Shear, Q’orianka Kilcher, Matt Lintz, et.al.
Rated: TV-MA
Network: TNT
Grade: A-

The Alienist, based on the novel by Caleb Carr, revolves around New York City in the late 1890s, where a series of grisly murders grips the city.  Unofficially brought in to consult on the case is Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a local alienist, or psychiatrist, as well as John Moore, a reporter for the New York Times.  The two team up with some NYPD employees, Sara Howard, the first woman to work for the NYPD, and Marcus and Lucius Isaacson, Jewish twins whose forward methods of investigation are looked down upon by the rest of the force.  The group runs a parallel investigation reporting directly to Teddy Roosevelt (yes, that Teddy Roosevelt), who at the time was the head of the NYPD.

Serialized murder mystery shows have never quite caught on here in the States like they have in other countries, though I myself am a fan of them.  This show does not employ a side mystery-of-the-week that many of its counterparts have done, and the show is somewhat stronger for it.  The pace if kept faster, and B stories tend to go toward character development and secondary characters rather than a distraction from the main story.  The show is billed as a Limited Series, meaning it was developed with only one season in mind, but given the fairly decent ratings, and the potential the show has to expand upon its characters and their world, it wouldn’t be surprising if they decided to give a second season a go.

The acting is fairly decent.  Only Dakota Fanning, who’s normally dynamic, seems a bit stilted and wooden, as though she’s unsure of why she’s there.  She seems to mostly recover from it by the end of the season, but you can tell she’s uncomfortable through the first few episodes.  Luke Evans handles an American accent well, though his natural Welsh one does slip through occasionally.  Daniel Brühl manages to water down his natural German accent a touch without eliminating it completely, which is on point for his foreign-born character.  The rest of the cast are Americans playing Americans.

The scenery for this show is beautiful.  It was filmed in Budapest, which has plenty of old-world architecture to use for a late 19th century setting, and they really make the most of it.  The costumes are also well done, with Fanning’s character getting some rather impressive sleeve poufs.

I would definitely recommend this series.  The story is compelling, and for the most part, the action is swift.  It may require a bit of attention, so it’s not really a casual watch, but it is worth the time to sit and pay attention.

This show can only be streamed from the TNT website, which requires a subscription or an inclusive package, or through an iTunes or Amazon Prime Season Pass.  It hasn’t yet been release to video and isn’t available free through any streaming sites.

Coco

Coco

Coco

Directed By: Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alannah Ubach, Renee Victor, et.al.
Rated: PG
Grade: A+

Disney/Pixar once again delivers a beautiful, emotionally satisfying story with Coco, the story of a boy named Miguel who is determined to have a career as a musician, despite his family’s generations-long ban on it, which unwittingly leads him to pursue his roots in the Land of the Dead in order to gain approval from his ancestors and lift his family’s music-based curse.

At a time when, unbelievably, non-Caucasian heritage is still too often glossed over and whitewashed, it was a pleasant surprise to see a movie that took so much care and effort to bring an important Mexican holiday tradition to the world.  The story is touching, and resonates with everyone.  The voice work is superb, and not an emotion is missed.  While not a true musical, there are plenty of music sequences, and the songs are beautiful and catchy.

Anthony Gonzalez is Miguel, a boy from a small Mexican town who’s sole desire is to grow up and become a great musician, like the town’s legend, Ernesto de la Cruz, voiced by Benjamin Bratt.  Unfortunately, his family has banned all music from their lives after Miguel’s great, great grandfather abandon the family to pursue a music career and never returned.  Believing he can change his family’s mind by winning a local singing contest, he breaks into the late de la Cruz’s crypt and attempts to take the famed actors legendary guitar to use when he performs.  Unfortunately, this leads Miguel to be taken to the Land of the Dead, where he runs across Bernal’s Hector, a soul who’s light is quickly fading, and makes a deal to with him to find de la Cruz, whom Miguel believes is his long-lost great, great grandfather, and get his blessing to pursue music in exchange for placing a picture of Hector on an altar so he may be remembered and keep from fading away.  Along the way, Miguel finds his other deceased relatives, who try to send him back on the promise that he won’t pursue music, which Miguel rejects in favor of finding his hero.  At some point, Miguel learns the truth about both who his true ancestor is, and what his hero did to achieve the status he’s remembered for.

The animation is beautiful.  The colors are rich and vivid, and when they’re faded out, the darks have a depth to them, all of which is a hallmark of Pixar’s animation studio.

I highly recommend seeing this movie.  As stated before, the story resonates with everyone, and people rarely scoff at others for wanting to see Disney/Pixar movies since they tend to be so enjoyable.

Coco isn’t available to stream anywhere, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service.

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

Directed By: Carlos Saldanha
Starring: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias, et.al.
Rated: PG
Grade: B+

Ferdinand follows the story of a young bull calf from Spain who runs away after learning he will be forced to compete in a matador competition when he gets older and attempts to live a life of relative ease as the pet of a girl on a flower farm.  Unfortunately, after a misunderstanding at a festival, he’s sent back to his old home, where he finds that little has changed, and his life now depends on being the toughest bull in the lot.

If you can look past the fact that the movie takes place in Spain and most of the characters are voiced by Caucasian American actors, then you won’t have a problem with this movie.  It’s based on a children’s book, so the movie’s main demographic is for the under 10 set, who probably won’t care who the voice actors are.

The movie itself is actually very good.  The story is simple and sweet, and John Cena continues to flesh out what little acting ability he has as Ferdinand, the title character.  Kate McKinnon was clearly having fun voicing Lupe, Ferdinand’s friend/comfort goat, and she puts her usual zest into the role.  Bobby Cannavale seems to enjoy voicing the minor villain turned ally Valentino, a fellow bull who’s determined to be picked for the latest matador fight.  David Tennant voices Angus, an out-of-place Highland bull who’s mostly used for comic support.  Anthony Anderson’s Bones, another childhood friend/rival of Ferdinand’s, is an almost painfully undersized bull (I think he might be a Holstein or a Jersey, but I’m not certain) who’s determined not to let his size stop him.  Payton Manning’s Guapo, a bull with a sensitive stomach, doesn’t do much besides provide growth for the other characters, and there’s a short sequence devoted to rescuing his character from a dog food factory toward the end.  The main cast is rounded out with Gina Rodriguez’s Una, Daveed Diggs’ Dos, and Gabriel Iglesias’ Quatro, a trio of hedgehogs who help Ferdinand plan his second escape from the bull ranch.  There’s also a trio of German-accented show horses voiced by Flula Borg, Boris Kodjoe, and Sally Phillips who act as tertiary villains/roadblocks to freedom.  As with most animal-centric movies, the humans seem to be the real villains.  Ferdinand is only able to convince his fellow bulls to leave the ranch after he reveals that the bulls never win the fights and always die.

The animation is typical for Blue Sky, who’s also responsible for the Rio and Ice Age movies.  It’s reminicint of hand-drawn animation, despite the fact that it was done on computer, though it’s not a bad thing, and lends to the charm of the story.

I would recommend seeing this movie.  You can use your kids as an excuse if you want to, but it’s something that most people not averse to cartoons will enjoy.

Ferdinand isn’t available to stream anywhere, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service.