ChungMo

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Reviews

Cowboy Bebop
(2021)

It's Cowboy Bebop and not - unfortunately
Already cancelled - mixed feelings about it.

The biggest worry going in to watching this live action adaptation was if it was going to be the most expensive cosplay video ever made. It is and isn't at the same time. The main problem from my point of view is that the creators of this production either didn't understand one of the main components of the original anime or actively chose to ignore it. It's the music, not just the sound of the music but that the entire anime was composed like music. Granted that it's easier to do this with animation than live action, but it seems to me that the highly talented team behind this didn't get it. One you remove the music and make it largely an afterthought, you've removed the Bebop.

They also had a few problems with the casting and their approach. While the two leads for Jet Black and Faye Valentine got their characters down and added their own twists which is great, the actors playing Spike and Vicious seemed frequently lost and unsure of who they were playing. Neither really got their characters solid although John Cho seemed to get more comfortable as the series progressed. Vicious never went past a Harry Potter villain in looks or behavior.

The decision to open the series with a well-filmed but nihilistic Zack Snyder influenced action scene probably put people off. To have Spike just gunning people down right off so casually was a big, big mistake. The anime never made this mistake. Probably the big audience drop off can be attributed to things like this, the lead not fitting into the part (I'll blame the directors and a probably tight production schedule first before the actor himself) and too many things happening that made sense to people who watched the anime but not to new viewers.

After watching the anime again, my initial disdain for this live action interpretation wore off and I have come to appreciate some of their new additions to the story which I thought were actually taken from the anime. They are that integrated into the Cowboy Bebop universe. The one I still don't care for is the introduction of daddy issues for Vicious, can we please stop this overly repeated theme in superhero, fantasy and sci-fi productions?

The reordering of the anime's story arc to now revolve around Vicious and the complete non-inclusion of Radical Ed can be argued. My feeling is that it took away the needed humor which balanced out the anime. But it does close out the storyline instead of leaving everything hanging with the cancellation, so there's that.

Am I sad a second season isn't in the offering now? Yes, I actually am interested in how they would have continued it (also dreading where it could have been taken) but in the end I have the original anime in a BluRay set to watch and that's fine for me.

Gojira shingyura pointo
(2021)

The best Godzilla anime so far
A strange mix of high level physics discussion, kaiju action and standard anime conventions. Fortunately the design is great and they use Akita Ikufube's classic Gojira themes as he orchestrated them. The CGI monsters look great and integrate into the classic anime animation well.

While the creators made a largely successful effort to use the classic Showa monsters (even Hedorah makes a brief cameo), Godzilla itself is more from the Shin Godzilla film than the classic monster. A shape-shifting creature somehow connected to cosmic time and quantum energy. It's a lot of high level scientific babble that I have no idea if it's malarkey or actually connected to real theoretical physics. If you have no tolerance for characters discussing these things in between great action sequences than this series might be a a test of your patience.

All in all I was entertained and enjoyed this way more than any of the recent Gojia animations or the American Godzilla films. Is there a second series? The credit sequence hints at that, I'll watch it.

Bard of Blood
(2019)

Potentially interesting geopolitical thriller goes the Bollywood route
Most people in the Western Hemisphere probably know of Kurdistan but never heard of Baluchistan where this series is mainly set. It's an area bisected by Iran and Pakistan that, like Kurdistan, has it's own distinct cultural identity and simmering rebellion against their occupiers. But you'll not get a bit of anything about the Baluchi people out of this program except that they hate Pakistan and the Taliban which is all the Indian producers of this series really care about. Certainly people from that area of the world have more knowledge to fall back on than viewers in my area.

Unfortunately this well produced series also shows little interest in anything but the most shallow explorations of the main characters except, interestingly, the main Taliban villains and the conflicted lead hero who gets the most background. However I found the lead actor not always convincing and able to carry off the brooding character the script seems to call for. And I found it ridiculous when nearly every boss fight (might as well use video game terminology) was a slug fest instead of gun work. That's not how covert operatives work of course. In addition all the bad guy minions are terrible shots and easy to shoot.

While I made it thru the entire series (to the cliffhanger semi-ending), I found it boring at times.

Yara
(2021)

Starts out good but loses pace towards the end.
Excellent production starts out snappy and well-constructed but loses focus towards the end. This may be a result of the nature of the true story taking several years to come to a conclusion. Not sure how the filmmakers could have solved this but a stronger soundtrack would have helped. This is not to say the music isn't good when it happens, it's very good, but the film needed more to fill in the gaps caused by the disjointed timeline of the case. Everyone on screen is very good.

The Unlikely Murderer
(2021)

Depending on your viewpoint - Engrossing or boring
Writing from the vantage point of another continent, I found the series interesting as a police procedural but overlong with long parts that drag. The pluses are watching the various personalities try to either find the truth or run from it. The character of the main suspect is fleshed out well but it takes too long to get to it. This is a series that is certainly more interesting to someone from Sweden or Europe. The parallels to the Kennedy assassination investigation are interesting but under the surface and not stated outright (or possibly not even intended).

Atiye
(2019)

Good series until season 3, then it's a waste of time.
This seems like Turkey's answer to the great German series "Dark". Both involve a confounding circumstance where time is warped and multiple timelines get all mashed together and changed. Whereas "Dark" kept itself in a science fiction mode, "The Gift" utilizes Turkish mysticism as the mechanism for the reality upheavals that occur in the series.

The one thing the creators of "Dark" made sure was that there was some overriding structure to the frequently confusing events in the three seasons. So confusing that the creators have a website so you can try to make sense of what happened. It's a dense read but they did figure it out. Unfortunately I can't say that the creators of "The Gift" made the same effort. What was interesting and compelling for the first two seasons, flounders as soon as the third season gets underway. It's so bad that I came here to get reassured that I should stay with the series but unfortunately it seems my suspicions are accurate and it's time to bail. It's unfortunate as the first season was so promising. This is not the first high concept science fiction program to go awry like this. Maybe next time before putting all this effort into a series, the producers will make sure they've got the story arc right.

Fatma
(2021)

The best Turkish series this particular viewer has seen on Netflix
While I'm a fan of Turkish television as it's presented on Netflix, there a certain obviousness to many of the productions. You can guess the arc of the series and then it's up to the crew and actors to hold your attention past the repeated story structures. Not so with Fatma here. Nothing is obvious, every episode is a surprise. Well directed, well written and, above all, the lead actress is amazing. A searing performance from Burcu Biricik. If there's only this season, that's enough.

Znaki
(2018)

Excellent off beat series - the best thing on Netflix at the moment.
Making a comparison to a series from the US is probably not the best way to introduce someone to this intelligently made crime series but I think it will give you an idea where this series lives: this is the Polish equivalent to the FX series "Fargo" (not the Coen movie). Znaki is not the same by a long shot but the mix of offbeat and oblique storytelling puts these two series in the same company.

Netflix has been financing many European police series based on the premise of a disturbed but effective police officer being reassigned to a strange remote town (usually because of something the officer did in the big city) and immediately a horrible mysterious murder needs solving. And of course the town is full of eccentrics and people with dark secrets that make the already on edge police person wobble in their sanity. I can't tell you how many series like this I've watched and for the most part have enjoyed. Half the fun is the different cultures but it is getting repetitive.

I have to say this is the best one in a long time. So congratulations to the team making this series. You have to watch and think when viewing this series, nothing is delivered to you like in an average police drama. Extremely well written and thought out. However I am worried about the sci-fi element that's been lurking in the background for 15 episodes and finally burst out in the last episode of the second season. This could go so wrong but I want Netflix to finance the next season.

Glitch
(2015)

High concept show flounders with "The Explanation"
Came upon this series thru the Netflix algorithm after watching the similarly themed Icelandic series Katya. And as similar as they are, they couldn't be more different in approach. Glitch is done with a lighter approach that blends drama and humor with a quality but middle of the road filming style you see in other Australian productions whereas Katya is all drama and artistic atmosphere.

While I found much to enjoy with the three seasons of Glitch, especially the characterizations and their deft portrayals by the actors, the series definitely wears it's soap opera tendencies up front with the constantly stupid decisions made by the characters designed to pad out the running time. But like other high concept productions that fail, the Matrix trilogy comes to mind, the biggest problem for me is when the writers and creators of Glitch try to explain everything with some sort of "rational" explanation in the third season. Everything I enjoyed in the first two seasons started to sour. Here's where the comparison to Katya hurts Glitch, although this ultimately might be unfair if Katya extends beyond one season. The producers of Katya decided that the core concept of the series, dead people coming back and upending their bereaved relations' lives only needs the barest of explanations. It's the emotional drama that is the most important aspect of the series.

Unfortunately with Glitch, the final season and mostly the final episode leaves too many unneeded questions unanswered especially when the writers introduce a metaphysical global apocalypse that the modestly budgeted production can't even begin to illustrate it or figure out how to explain properly. This is where the dangers of high concept lay. Another Netflix series, Into The Night, runs a risk of this danger. Running away from now lethal sunlight on a hijacked airliner by staying in night time, what a great concept. But now will the creators of this series feel obligated to explain why the sun is lethal and how to fix it? I certainly hope not.

So did I waste my time watching 18 episodes for Glitch? No, just moderately disappointed at the end.

Katla
(2021)

An Icelandic Solaris
20 plus years ago I had the honor of meeting show runner Balthasar Kormakur here in the states and then later in Iceland. The Icelandic government was trying to pitch him as the new Bergman. He certainly wasn't that but his work had it's own qualities that were great. So it was a surprise to see his name on this series after not hearing anything about him for so long.

The show is really engaging and certainly unusual due to the setting of a nearly abandoned town slowly getting covered in volcanic ash. Some parts of Iceland look like another planet in normal times but the addition of an active volcano really pushes the unreality to another level. I wonder how much of this is taking advantage of circumstance and how much has been created by a special effects team.

While the pacing might be slow to some people, it's not out of line with other Scandinavian series or movies. The characters are all interesting and lead me to wonder how I would fare if presented with this same situation.

I have called this an Icelandic Solaris. If you are not familiar with the Tarkovsky film or the book it came from, I will not get into spoilers trying to explain that. For those who are familiar with those works, you'll see what I'm talking about but that will not diminish your enjoyment of this series. One fair warning; the series ends not where you would expect it if this were made in the United States and might be upsetting to some.

The Wizard of Speed and Time
(1988)

Equal parts inspired genius, ego trip and outsider art
Never heard of this film until recently when sci-fi writer David Gerrold posted about it. Absolutely loony and fast paced, this film features director/writer/everything Mike Jittov as a goofy version of himself. Or maybe this is exactly how he is. There's no character development to speak of but it's like an old silent comedy from the Mack Sennett studios where everything happens so fast, who cares? The main plot is really about the fact that Jittov is one of those people who can do everything themselves and can't really work in a studio setting. Also has a big ego. He seems to frequently make himself the star of his shorts. But he's willing to make fun of himself. There's quite a bit of the film which is about the absurdity of the film unions which is very true. A person like Jittov can't really integrate into these systems. He also throws a little shade on the IRS which he has some beef with (check out his ancient web site for more about that, if you can understand what he's going on about). But otherwise this is like watching outsider art transferred to film, he's talented and knows what he's doing but his approach is so left field it wasn't ever going to click with mainstream audiences. Glad to have seen it.

The Irregulars
(2021)

Alternate universe Victorian England is the setting
This a sort of a hard series to review. Very derivative of everything from Dr. Who to recent BBC fantasy/sci-fi series to the Marvel universe films. But it has several things going for it, mainly the energy of lead actress, Thaddeus Graham. She manages to take a frequently poorly written part and make it into something. That's a talent of sorts. Set in a fantasy version of Victorian England where racial equality is the norm and nobody notices skin color or ethnic features, the main characters are all orphans living in a sewer basement (?) constantly proclaiming to each other that they are "family". Snore.

However, the series is briskly edited and while the writing is weak with the fantasy elements, the personal interactions are frequently very well done. Unfortunately the series clearly blew it's budget before the last two episodes and the expository writing trying to explain the supernatural occurrences we had been watching over the series was infuriatingly bad. We got angry that we had wasted out time. Then the last 20 minutes of the final episode after the action climax was entirely personal interactions between the various characters and we liked the show again. Hard to review. If a second season ever happens we'll give it a try.

The Dig
(2021)

Two movies in one - one unusual and interesting, the other trite and predictable.
A rather unusual story of an "excavator" (really an archeologist would hasn't gone thru formal training) and an ailing widow with a young boy gets an excellent treatment, from the direction, cinematography and the actors until halfway thru when a new set of characters get introduced and the film shifts gears to a very predictable romance between a young woman married to a stuffy academic and an about to be enlisted strapping young man. The married couple actually makes no dramatic sense as we are not given any backstory as to how this marriage happened or how the wife only now figures out what's wrong.

Now if somehow the original characters were integral to this second story it would have been different but it like we are watching another movie that was filmed next door and the actors from the first were asked to come in and be extras. But I must give kudos to a film that makes watching people brushing dirt of of ancient artifacts interesting.

Away
(2020)

A drama that just happens to be set partially in space
Well, the naysayers got their wish as NetFlix bailed on the series continuing. The acting is absolutely superb from most of the cast and there are many scenes that are well written and very effective. Unfortunately for many people this is barely science fiction and I don't think the creators were really interested in the science beyond the dramatic potential of a long journey to Mars. And yes the real science is questionable from the unrealistic instantaneous space communication that suddenly becomes 20 minute gaps, the poorly designed greenhouse, the bizarre lack of backup systems, and so on. But many other science fiction series and films are equally questionable they just don't give discerning viewers time to dwell on it. Yes, it's slowly paced but I never was bored. And yes, characters like these would probably never get far into the training process but face it who is going to watch 10 episodes of by the books astronauts whiling a year plus of travel to Mars? Defective characters make better entertainment.

La valla
(2020)

Dystopian soap opera
Interesting premise ruined by terrible plotting and soap opera logic. Every character is coincidentally related to each other in ways that strains credulity to the breaking point. This wouldn't be a problem in a story with a small setting but this show is set in an expansive world of a Spain that's reverted to fascism. That is very meaningful to a Spanish audience but for outsiders it's not enough. Every time I get back into the show, because a lot of it is very well done, it does something so ridiculous that I walk away from it again.

The ABC Murders
(2018)

If this wasn't called Christie or Poirot it would be much better.
An excellent production in terms of photography and direction but it wavers in the overall writing and what ends up being stunt casting. Malkovich is barely trying to play Poirot as we know the character because he knows better than to imitate Ustinov or Suchet. So if this wasn't billed as Christie or Poirot it would probably have gotten a better response although it probably wouldn't have been made then.

Since I am not familiar with this particular Christie story I came into it with a different viewpoint. The three episodes are very well thought out until the last episode where it gets all muddled and it seems sort of pointless. Malkovich is mostly playing Malkovich which can be interpreted as acting laziness but he is so good at it, it could be forgiven if this wasn't supposed to be an older Poirot. If this was a PBS Masterpiece Theater mystery offering with a new character it would be all very entertaining but that's it.

Masum
(2017)

Moody: well-acted and written.
Unusual Turkish crime drama with a well thought out non-linear story structure, great acting and some of the best photography I've seen in a Turkish TV series. The story revolves around a family with a dark secret. Hovering over the proceedings is the issue of mental problems and society's need to hide them from each other. The very ending of the series is dramatically problematic or an indictment of society or probably both. Unless the intention was to have a second season which was never made, the ending is somewhat unsatisfactory.

Gli fumavano le Colt... lo chiamavano Camposanto
(1971)

Uneven but entertaining western
Written by the director of the famed Trinity comedy western films and directed by man who helmed 3 of the four official Sartana films, this outing works and doesn't at the same time.

The story of two greenhorn brothers fighting against a gang terrorizing ranchers is trite and only provides a reason to bring together the two main characters of the movie, Ace of Hearts/Cemetery (played by Garko) and Duke (played by Berger). Both are uber-cool bounty hunters who know and respect each other well and find themselves in a situation where they are working for opposite sides. Whenever these two actors are on the screen, either together or solo, the film is interesting. The direction is uneven as well, sometimes it's very stylish and well photographed, other times banal and full of gratuitous zooms. The script might have worked if the English actors who were chosen for the greenhorn brothers weren't so miscast. Bruno Nicolai's theme for the film is great but, like many of these films, it is repeated to the point of near insanity. The audio is very muffled in the English soundtrack and the print going around at this time is slightly cropped.

So it's not a complete waste of time, if a better print ever shows up I might watch it again.

Jiang hu zi di
(1976)

"Brotherhood" - Noble criminal among the modern triads
A year after the crazy "Super Inframan" director Hua Shan was set to work on a number of gangster films including the anthology series "The Criminals" which re-enacted famous recent HK crimes. The HK gangster film is a curious genre has it seems that gangsters are given an element of honor and respect you see given to the martial art clans in Wu Xia films. Perhaps they are connected in ways. This film is no exception.

A young man in a small country gang becomes embroiled in the world of big time gangsters in HK after his boss is killed for their loot. He gets involved in an "honorable" gang (with a beautiful Korean girl) and discovers that his boss' killer works for a rival gang. Killing the killer causes a power struggle in the rival gang leading to establishment of the killer's wife as the leader. Instead of wanting to kill the young man she wants him to become number 2 in the gang and perhaps more. Lots of commotion and fights ensue.

First off, you could drop the story into ancient China and nothing would be out of place. The gangsters all know kung fu and fight with knives. The elaborate rituals that the gangsters engage in provide a little interest. Hua Shan makes use of some seedy locations in Kowloon City but that's it for uniqueness. A very uninspired story.

Fisshu sutôrî
(2009)

"Fish Story" - Intertwining stories over the course of 60 years
Smart and witty movie about how a forgotten punk rock song (with a mystery within the song) links the lives of several characters who mostly never meet each other. The elements include, of course, a failed punk rock band in the late 1970's, a meek college student in the 1980's, a doomsday cult in 1999, a ferry hijacking in 2009, and a trio of people in a used record shop in a deserted city awaiting a comet strike in 2012. Plus some flashbacks to post WW2 Japan. Much of the movie revolves around the idea of a "champion of justice"

The movie is paced with a natural style so despite the sci-fi aspect the whole film is very low key. Virtually no special effects. That's not to say that there are no hidden pleasures, especially during the ferry hijacking which has excellent action scenes. The film is well-shot, well-acted and well-written. The music is good as well.

An unexpected little gem.

Xue fu men
(1971)

The Crimson Charm - Above average wu xia
On their way home a sword master and his daughter encounter the son of a general of the Crimson Charm gang harassing a young woman at an inn. The sword master kills the son which brings down the wrath of the Yellow General and the entire gang. They are protected at one point by Blood Palm master Ling, the son of Bloody Granny who was defeated by the grand master of the sword school. Ling and the daughter have a crush on each other but haven't seen each other for ten years. Back at the school the sword master decides to expel his top student Han (an adopted orphan) before the Crimson Charm gang attacks to protect him from the wrath of the Crimson leader, Lin. The gang attacks killing the sword master and every student of the school except Han who is protected by the mysterious Godly Sword, the sword master's daughter and the top female student, Feng Feng, although her arm is chopped off. In the chaos of the school's destruction, the three are separated. Han is trained by the Godly Sword, Ling takes the severely injured daughter to a cave to treat her and Feng Feng is rescued by the Grand Master of the sword school, an old nun. Got that? And that's the first 30 minutes.

Decidedly old school with lots of theatrical overacting, camera and editing trick martial arts and a convoluted story line. Consistency isn't one of the plus points here as characters demonstrate incredible martial arts in the middle of the film only never to use them again. The villains are a colorful bunch with weird weapons. One guy has an entire skull covering his fist with the spine hanging off, alas he dies immediately and never fights. The fight scenes are dubbed over by what seems to be two guys doing all the death screams and dozens of gang members die! Although she is mentioned a number of times, Bloody Granny is never seen. I want to see Bloody Granny fight!

Despite the drawbacks, this film moves at a great pace and manages to be entertaining the entire length of the film. While no classic it's a good time.

Lian cheng jue
(1980)

Deadly Secret - Very minor Shaw Wu Xia action
A young kung fu student is thrown into jail on a false charge. He shares a cell with a shaggy convict, Ting, who is repeated tortured by the magistrate to reveal "the deadly secret". A progression of bad guys show up (including evil Shaolin monks) to pry the deadly secret out of Ting. Ting it turns out has just mastered a form of powerful internal kung fu and he kills anyone who enters the cell. Meanwhile across the courtyard is the woman Ting loves and her father, the magistrate, is not above using her to get the deadly secret. Also there are three conniving kung fu masters after the secret as well. And so it goes.

Anyone interested in the short but intense gross out film career of Tun Fei Mou will not have much to revel in here. Aside from a torture scene in the beginning that is quite disturbing and unusual for a standard Wu Xia film, this is business as usual. Perhaps someone saw this scene and said to the director, "Perhaps your talents may be with other types of films" and thus "Lost Souls" was born. Regardless the film here isn't anything special. The story is typical, the acting OK, and the martial arts just OK. Nothing really terrible, nothing special.

Only available on VCD as far as I can tell. Celestial probably didn't think it was worth the expense of a DVD master. I tend to agree.

Kaidan yukijorô
(1968)

"Ghost Story of the Snow Witch" - Effective ghost story told with modest means
This is essentially the same Snow Witch story as told in the well-known Japanese ghost film anthology, "Kwaidan". Here it is extended out into a 75 minute excursion into the supernatural.

A master sculptor and his apprentice are trapped in a bad snow storm after finding a special tree for carving a statue for the local temple. Finding refuge in an abandoned hut they celebrate their luck n finding the tree but soon they are visited by the Snow Witch who freezes the sculptor to death but takes pity on the apprentice. He must promise to never speak of this or she'll return and kill him. Back in town, the apprentice is promoted and given the task of making the statue. A mysterious beautiful woman arrives during a torrential rain storm and quickly falls in love with the apprentice. Soon she comes under the lustful eye of the evil Baliff who controls the town. And so it goes....

While the painterly method this story is told in Kwaidan is well-known and appreciated, here the story is accomplished with very careful lighting effects and lens filters. In some ways this is a much more beautiful telling of the story. Akira Ikufube provides a familiar yet unique score. Aside from a couple of clumsy spots in the script and the actor playing the apprentice underplays his part, this is an excellent film.

The Prisoner
(2009)

A cry for help from a TV writer who wants to move into the Village
Demonstrating a complete misunderstanding (or hatred) of the original series, writer Bill Gallagher ends up endorsing the concept of the Village in this mishmash of The Truman Show and the Matrix. Throw in the stock evil corporation, a couple of useless explosions and a basket full of illogical inconsistencies and you get another A&E remake debacle.

Regardless of the esteem anyone holds of the original series, in the end, what was this six hour production really about? Like the holes that appear in the ground, nothing at all. It seems that someone in this production realized this at some point and decided to obfuscate it by making a confusing jumble. The whole thing could have been told in two hours by a decent director. And they could have called it something else, like THE RESORT.

People of Britain, respect your heritage, don't watch this garbage when it airs there.

Misty
(1996)

Rashomon redone - Incredibly beautiful, simplified story
The English title of "Misty" more or less defines this film. The setting, in a near tropical temperate rain forest, is just that for the entire film. Whether with diffusion filters on the lens or the vast amount of fog in some scenes to the various forms of rain, nearly every scene has a dream-like image to it. The flowing camera work and the contrast ratio where there's a limited area of light that's not dark or overexposed also lends to the foggy memory feel of the film. The music is excellent.

That said, while the makers have taken the story of Rashomon and applied their extraordinary skills to the visuals, they decided to reduce the intellect behind Kurosawa's film. So while it's captivating visually and musically, in the end you might be wishing to see the original for a more fulfilling experience.

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