John Jackson Miller’s Klingon-focused trilogy of novels, titled Prey — part of Pocket Books’ celebration of the 50th anniversary of Star Trek — wraps up with book three: The Hall of Heroes. The menace of the Unsung, that cadre of discommendated Klingons, has mostly been resolved, but now a new and greater threat to galactic peace has emerged. The Breen have stepped up their manipulation of their fellow Typhon Pact member the Kinshaya, tricking the Kinshaya into launching a full-scale invasion of Klingon space. With Martok’s hold on power already weakened by the Unsung attacks and the manipulations of Lord Korgh, the would-be heir of Kruge (the Klingon commander killed by James T. Kirk on the Genesis Planet a century earlier), having threatened to tear apart the peace treaty between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, Captain Picard of the Enterprise, Admiral Riker of the Titan, and Captain Dax of the Aventine all find themselves scrambling to keep up with elusive enemies all around and a situation that threatens to spiral completely out of control.
I loved John Jackson Miller’s first two Prey novels. Click here for my review of book one: Hell’s Heart, and here for my review of book two: The Jackal’s Trick. I did mention, though, in my review of The Jackal’s Trick, a concern that the plot-twists at the end of the novel felt a bit like an effort to stretch the story out needlessly into a third book. By the end of book two, I’d felt that the story was mostly over and wasn’t sure there was really a third book’s worth of story left to tell.
I shouldn’t have doubted, because right from the start I thought The Hall of Heroes was terrific, and I was happy with the different directions in which Mr. Miller took the story in this third and final book. I was not expecting the Breen and the Kinshaya to wind up playing such a major role in a story that had, through the first two books, been very Klingon-centric. But I loved how Mr. Miller was able to expand the scale of his story, bringing in a number of new threats and challenges for our heroes. This didn’t feel like plot-driven stretching, these new developments flowed smoothly out of what had come before, unexpected but logical ripple effects from Korgh’s plots and schemes.
Book 2 ended with the twist regarding the Orion, Shift, and I loved how Shift became a major character here in book three. One of the nice aspects of this story’s being told over three books is that Mr. Miller has had the time to flesh out lots of fascinating nooks and crannies … [continued]
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ wonderful series Sherlock returned in 2017 for a three-episode series four. I have adored this series, a modern-day reinterpretation of the Sherlock Holmes stories, since the beginning. I admire its intelligence and sophistication and the way the series has allowed us to fall in love with these wonderfully bizarre characters.
As always, three episodes feels like far too little after such a long wait for new installments. Because of such a long wait between series (or seasons, in American parlance), and because we get so few new episodes each time, I feel like the producers put an impossible amount of pressure on themselves to make each of the rare new episodes perfect.
Well, none of the new episodes in series four are perfect, and there is a plot twist at the end of the first episode that I didn’t care for at all, and that colored this whole new series in an unfavorable way for me. But these three new episodes remain wonderfully entertaining, impressively-crafted pieces of television entertainment. The third episode is probably the most ambitious episode the series has ever done, with an extraordinary scope and amazing production design.
This is a darker season of the show than we’ve seen before. Generally, this show has been able to be fun while also maintaining true dramatic stakes for all the characters. The plot twist at the end of episode one, though, throws all that out the window. While I understand the show-runners’ desire to shake up the status quo and not just keep doing the same things, and while I was ultimately satisfied with how the story begun in that terrible moment resolves itself by the end of episode three, I felt that event unbalanced this season to a degree that bothered me. It was hard to find much joy in Sherlock after that moment. The writers clearly understood that and went there anyways. For me, personally, I wish they’d have made a different choice.
OK, let’s take a deeper dive into these three episodes! Beware SPOILERS ahead.
The Six Thatchers — We get several engaging mysteries in this episode. First is the mystery of the college student found dead in a car in his parents’ driveway, despite his being abroad at the time and in fact having Skyped with his father at the moment he was apparently killed. Then there is the titular mystery of a series of apparently unconnected crimes linked only by the commonality that a statue of Margaret Thatcher was destroyed in each instance. Then there is the more important-to-the-series exploration of the backstory of John Watson’s wife Mary’s mysterious past, and the apparent resurrection of her former soldier/assassin partner … [continued]
A United Kingdom tells the true story of the marriage between Sir Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams. The two meet at university in London in 1947, and sparks quickly fly between them. But Seretse is the heir to the throne of Bechuanaland, and the political ramifications of his marrying a white woman are enormous. Seretse’s uncle Tshekedi Kham, who was acting ruler of Bechuanaland until Seretse returned home, insists that Seretse annul the marriage. Meanwhile, Ruth’s father refuses to have anything more to do with her, because she had married a black man. And the British Government, who at the time controlled Bechuanaland as a protectorate, bow to pressure from Apartheid South Africa — who objected to the interracial marriage — and exile Seretse, preventing him from returning home to be with his now-pregnant wife.
The main reason to see A United Kingdom, other than to learn about this amazing true story, is to bask in the wonderful performances of David Oyelowo as Seretse and Rosamund Pike as Ruth. Both actors do terrific work, and they have a lovely chemistry together.
Mr. Oyelowo is working in a similar key as he was in Selma, in which he was extraordinary as Martin Luther King Jr. He is just as good here, playing the charismatic Seretse. The characters are different, of course, but the similarities are striking, particularly when Mr. Oyelowo, as Seretse, launched into several moments of stirring oration in the second half of the film. I love seeing Mr. Oyelowo deliver a speech.
I’ve been a fan of Ms. Pike’s ever since Die Another Day, a terrible Bond movie in which she was nonetheless terrific. I’ve enjoyed seeing Ms. Pike’s recent run of high-profile roles, and she effortlessly carries her half of this movie. She’s skillfully able to draw the audience into her character. The film tells a fairly simple story, at its heart — Ruth is the “every-girl” swept up in a larger adventure when she falls in love with a king. Ms. Pike is able to find the emotional truth in her scenes, and to breathe life into her story.
The problem with A United Kingdom is that the movie is fairly flat. There’s not much excitement or dramatic tension in the film. When you compare the film to Selma, it falls far short. A United Kingdom has none of the riveting drama that film had in spades. I enjoyed the early goings-on in which Ruth and Seretse meet and fall in love. But then the … [continued]
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years is a new documentary by Ron Howard, focusing on The Beatles’ whirlwind years spent touring all over the globe between 1962 and 1966. I’m a huge Beatles fan, so I was immediately interested in this film, even as I wondered whether this documentary would have anything new to say. I’ve been a Beatles fan all my life, and I’ve read a number of books and seen a lot of Beatles documentaries, including the extraordinarily thorough multi-part Beatles Anthology, so I’m pretty well-versed in Beatles lore. And yet I was gripped by this film from the first moment to the last. Part of this is the magic of The Beatles themselves, but it’s also a testament to the work done by Ron Howard and his team.
There is, of course, a lot of familiar, famous footage included in the film. Some of the concert footage, some of the interviews, are well-known to Beatles fans. But there is also a surprising amount of great stuff I hadn’t seen before.
What’s particularly notable about the film is the way Mr. Howard and his team focused in on the Beatles touring performances, presenting a wealth of footage chronologically so as to take us step-by-step through the Beatles’ various tours. This is a fascinating approach, and it captures for the audience a taste of the feeling of being on that insane ride.
We get to hear from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in new interviews, while John Lennon and George Harrison are represented through older interview footage. The new interviews are great, with some substantial new insight, and I was happy with the way the older footage and sound-bytes were used to make certain that John and George were represented in the film equal to Paul and Ringo.
There are also some great new interviews with famous Beatles fans, including Curtis Hanson, Elvis Costello, Whoopi Goldberg, and Sigourney Weaver. These aren’t just “hey look it’s a celebrity!” sound-bytes. No, these interviews were well-chosen as each of the celebrities speaking has an interesting story to tell or something substantial to contribute to the film and the chronicle of events that Mr. Howard is weaving. Some of these celebrity interview moments were, surprisingly, among my favorite moments in the film! (I don’t know how they found that shot of a young Sigourney in the crowd at one of the Beatles’ concerts, but someone deserves a raise.)
I also have to highlight the phenomenal sequence in which various snippets of studio chatter were edited together to chart the development of the song Eight Days A Week. Those were a super-cool few minutes, and a great peek into the … [continued]
I feel like Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s documentary De Palma was made just for me.
As I was finishing my lengthy “Days of De Palma” project of watching all of the films directed by Brian De Palma, I learned of the existence of this documentary. Oh my god! How perfect! I decided I needed to wait until I finished my re-watch project before I’d watch the documentary, but as soon as I finished watching 2012’s Passion (the final film released, so far, by Mr. De Palma), I immediately turned to this documentary. To say that I loved it would be an enormous understatement.
This documentary, simply titled De Palma, is unlike almost any other documentary I have ever seen. There’s no array of talking-head interview subjects, no fancy graphics, no complicated narrative. The set-up is deceptively simple. The documentary is just an extended interview with Mr. De Palma, who is sitting and talking directly into the camera. The interview looks like it was filmed on two or three different occasions. Mr. De Palma talks a little bit about his background and upbringing, but for the most part De Palma is simply a film-by-film retrospective of Mr. De Palma’s long and storied career. Film by film, in chronological order, we move through Mr. De Palma’s filmography. We watch clips from the films and listen to Mr. De Palma’s many fascinating stories about the making of those films.
That’s it! That’s the whole documentary! It’s like the ultimate DVD special feature for a (nonexistent) box-set collecting all of Mr. De Palma’s movies.
What a perfect, extraordinary film for me to watch after having just watched all of Mr. De Palma’s movies!!
This film was amazing. It works because a) Mr. De Palma has made so many great movies over the years, and b) because Mr. De Palma turns out to be a wonderful storyteller. It is a tremendous joy listening to him spin yarn after yarn as he recounts his experiences, good and bad, in Hollywood. The film feels intimate, like Mr. De Palma is a good friend and we’re just sitting around together, shooting the shit and reminiscing.
The film is filled to overflowing with fantastic stories about Mr. De Palma’s experiences over the course of his career. We learn that he and George Lucas cast Carrie and Star Wars together. We hear a terrific story about a young De Palma having to find a way to work with the great Orson Welles who was unable or unwilling to learn his lines. We learn that events in Dressed to Kill were inspired by Mr. De Palma’s actual experiences, as a young man, of learning that his father was cheating and … [continued]
In Nicolas Winding Refn’s film The Neon Demon, Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, a sixteen year-old pretending she’s nineteen, looking to make it as a model in Los Angeles. Jesse’s beauty renders all of the men around her smitten and all of the women around her jealous. Things don’t end well.
The Neon Demon is a truly bizarre film, gorgeous to look at but empty of character depth or anything resembling a narrative arc.
There is a plethora of memorable, gorgeous imagery in the film. Mr. Refn and cinematographer Natasha Briaer can compose a staggeringly beautiful frame. There is imagery in this film that has stuck with me in the days since I saw it. For that alone Mr. Refn and his team are certainly deserving of praise.
It’s interesting to me that this film about fashion and the fixation on beautiful women, and the idea of a woman as a beautiful image and little more, is itself a film filled to overflowing with beautiful imagery but one that stubbornly refuses to allow us access into any of the characters. I assume this was by design, which for me renders the film an interesting intellectual exercise but not a film that I really enjoyed. I wish we’d been allowed to know or understand what was going on beneath the surface of Jesse (Elle Fanning), Ruby (Jenna Malone), Sarah (Abbey Lee, from Mad Max Fury Road) or Gigi (Bella Heathcote). The film keeps all of them at a distance, as beautiful but unknowable objects.
There is a dreamy, hallucinogenic air to the film. It is hard to know what is real and what is fantasy. (The Neon Demon reminds me in this respect somewhat of Black Swan. Both are about women competing in an intense field that focuses on a near-unattainable perfection of beauty, and both feature twists into unreality and hallucination. But where Black Swan succeeded both as an interesting character study and as a riveting thriller, The Neon Demon is neither.)
Elle Fanning has come a long way from Super 8; her acting skill and movie-star charisma has only grown. She is well-cast in the lead role, and there are some moments of incredible performance that show us what a talent she is. For instance, there’s a moment at a photo-shoot when the inexperienced Jesse is asked to undress by a photographer she wants to impress. We watch the whole scene play out on Ms. Fanning’s face in extreme close-up, as she goes through a range of emotions, and it is quite extraordinary.
As I noted above, the film is filled with riveting imagery. That opening shot of Jesse at a photo shoot, lying in … [continued]
I really loved Hell’s Heart, Book 1 in John Jackson Miller’s new Prey trilogy of Klingon-centric novels. Continuing Pocket Books’ expanding post-Nemesis Star Trek saga, Prey sees the Federation-Klingon alliance frayed to the breaking point. Discommendated Klingons have banded together, calling themselves the Unsung, to strike out at enemies across the Klingon empire. They are led by the man they believe to be the Klingon warrior Kruge (who fought Kirk on the Genesis Planet in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock), apparently returned from the dead. When Klingon nobles under Starfleet protection are murdered by the Unsung, Starfleet is embarrassed and made the target of rage from other Klingons across the Empire. Facing attacks from the Unsung and a loss of trust from the rest of the Klingon Empire, Captain Picard and Admiral Riker race to track down the villains, but they are continually several steps behind a centuries-long plot for revenge hatched by the Klingon Korgh, the heir of Kruge.
I thoroughly enjoyed Book 1 of Prey, and Book 2 is just as enjoyable. Mr. Miller orchestrates a vast story with multiple characters and multiple locations across the Alpha and Beta Quadrant. Despite the book’s constant shifts around the galaxy, Mr. Miller’s story is always easy to follow and a joy to watch unfold. Mr. Miller allows us to understand and follow Korgh’s complicated plot — as well as the plotting of other characters with competing interests as the story’s scale grows ever more vast — while still being able to enjoy a variety of twists and surprises as the book progresses.
For me, a highlight of the book was a spectacular action sequence, about half-way through the novel, as the Unsung attack Riker’s interstellar peace conference on the Klingon planet H’atoria. Mr. Miller sets up the scene beautifully, describing a wonderfully unique location: the lava-surrounded island the Klingons calls “Spirit’s Forge.” Mr. Miller cuts rapidly between multiple locations and multiple characters, allowing us to follow every step of the complex engagement as it unfolds. This is riveting, page-turning writing, as exciting as the best action sequence in any filmed Trek adventure.
The novel’s climax depicts another complex, riveting space-battle as multiple factions (including the Unsung, loyal Klingon Defense Force ships, the team of con-artists manipulating events, the small ship crewed by Geordi La Forge and Lt. Tuvok chasing those manipulators, The Enterprise, The Titan, and Typhon Pact forces) all converge on a nebula known as Cragg’s Cloud and duke it out. Mr. Miller juggles this huge assemblage of players with ease, rapidly cutting back-and-forth to allow the reader to follow multiple characters’ viewpoints as the chaos erupts. It’s masterful story-telling and a tremendous climax to this … [continued]
It’s hard to believe that Hugh Jackman has been playing the character of Wolverine for almost twenty years now. Mr. Jackman’s casting was one of the many minor miracles that made Bryan Singer’s original X-Men film from 2000 such a wonderful revelation. It’s easy these days to bash Mr. Singer’s work on the X-Men franchise. His latest X-Men film, X-Men Apocalypse, was a big misfire, and with Marvel Studios showing how successfully faithful adaptations of their characters can translate to the screen, it’s easy to slam the ways Mr. Singer’s X-Men films have, for the most part, eschewed many of the familiar tropes and story-lines from the comics. But let’s not forget what a revelation that first X-Men film was, how thrilling it was to see these comic-book characters treated more like speculative fiction than superhero fantasy, with complex, fully-fleshed-out characters and real-world settings. It blew my mind when I first saw it, and I still think that first film holds up well today. Mr. Singer’s eye for casting was amazing, and it’s exciting to see two of those perfectly-cast actors, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, bring these characters’ stories to a close two decades later, here in James Mangold’s dark, violent, riveting new film Logan.
Logan, set in 2029, shows us a world in which mutants have all but vanished from the Earth. The X-Men are gone (their ultimate fate a tragedy gradually hinted at as the film unfolds). Logan is no longer the Wolverine. He’s a physical wreck, his healing factor no longer able to restore his body from all the grievous injuries it has sustained over the years, no longer able to save Logan from being slowly poisoned from within by the adamantium bonded to his bones. Logan lives a day-to-day existence as a driver, trying to earn enough money needed for the drugs he needs for Professor X. Xavier, in possession of the most powerful mutant mind on the planet, is slowly succumbing to dementia, and without drugs to keep him subdued, his seizures could kill everyone around him. Logan and the former mutant-hunter Caliban care for Professor X as best as they can, hidden away in an isolated stretch of desert. When Logan learns of the existence of a young, mute mutant girl, the Professor urges him to help her escape the men chasing after her. The Professor sees a chance for them to once again take action to help mutants and to make the world a better place, but Logan sees only the potential for more death and terror. Eventually, they are given no choice in the matter, and events build from there to the film’s gutsy ending.
Logan is extraordinary, an intense, … [continued]
I skipped Deadpool when it was released in theatres earlier this year. I was impressed that Ryan Reynolds had gotten his passion project made, and super-impressed that Fox had the guts to release an R-rated superhero film (and, even more, one that was directly connected to their X-Men film franchise). And yet, I’d never been much of a fan of the Deadpool character (I am an old enough comic book geek that I was reading and bought Deadpool’s first appearance in New Mutants #98 when it was first published back in 1991) and it didn’t look like the humor of the film was up my alley. So I passed. Still, I’d heard such good things about the film that, towards the end of 2016 as I tried to catch up with as many notable films of the year as possible, I decided to give it a try.
I certainly enjoyed the film, and having watched it I am even more impressed that Ryan Reynolds and director Tim Miller were able to get this profane, violent super-hero film made. But I also see that my earlier instincts were correct, and the violent and profane tone of the film wasn’t one that really spoke to me. There were certainly plenty of jokes in the film that made me laugh — either because they were just plain funny, or because I was so shocked and impressed that such an envelope-pushing moment had made it into the film — but also just as many moments that fell flat for me. All the violence and cursing and references to masturbation felt juvenile. While I can see why so many people love this film, it’s not really for me.
There is no question that this is a near-perfect depiction of the comic book character. Deadpool looks (the costume is spectacular) and sounds great (Ryan Reynolds truly was born to play this character). His fourth-wall-busting address-the-audience nature has been preserved, thankfully, and the film is just as over-the-top violent and crazy as his best comic-book adventures. There aren’t many second-chances in show business, so after the character was so spectacularly botched in the no good, horrible, very bad X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it’s pretty magical that, so many years later, Ryan Reynolds was given the opportunity to reprise the character and to do it right.
Right from the very silly opening credits (and bravo on the reference to Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld right there at the top), the filmmakers set the tone that this was going to be a very silly, borderline disrespectful take on a superhero film. What’s impressive about Tim Miller’s achievement is that he is able to marry that tone with a film that … [continued]
I was blown away by how much I enjoyed Ryan Murphy’s ten-episode The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. I loved it so much that I was eager to stay in that world and learn still more about everything and everyone involved in the O.J. trial. As much as I had been hearing, for months now, how great The People v. O.J. Simpson was, I’d also been hearing incredible things about Ezra Edelman’s documentary O.J.: Made in America. So, after finishing The People v. O.J. Simpson, I did not delay in diving in to O.J.: Made in America. I was astounded to confirm for myself that Made in America is at least as good as, if not better than, The People v. O.J. Simpson. It is an extraordinary achievement in documentary filmmaking and a riveting, incredibly relevant piece of modern American history.
O.J.: Made in America is a five-part documentary series, made by ESPN Films for their 30 for 30 series. Produced and directed by Ezra Edelman, it runs a staggering eight hours in length. That might make it seem like watching O.J.: Made in America is a daunting undertaking, but I found this documentary to be hugely gripping from start to finish.
Whereas The People v. O.J. Simpson told the story of the O.J. trial, Made in America tells O.J.’s complete life story. We don’t even get to the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman until part three. You might think the story of O.J.’s early life would be boring, and that as a viewer you’d be eager for the documentary to hurry up and get to all the juicy intrigue of the trial. But I was instantly engrossed and fascinated by the story of O.J.’s rise to fame and stardom, on the football field and off of it. It was interesting to explore O.J.’s step-by-step rise to his status as a well-known and beloved star. It’s also incredibly sad. Watching the early footage of a happy, smiling young O.J., you can’t help but wonder, just how did it all go so wrong? That is one of the main stories of this documentary.
But what I hadn’t realized going in was that Mr. Edelman’s documentary wasn’t designed just to chart the rise and fall of one man, Orenthal James Simpson. No, Made in America is also a fascinating and insightful history of race relations in Los Angeles. The most revelatory section of the documentary, and the episode that made my Best Episodes of TV in 2016 list, was “Part Two,” which dug deep into the years of abuse (both real and perceived) of the African-American community by the L.A.P.D. (Los Angeles Police Department). … [continued]