TV Review: The Wheel of Time (S1) | Streamlined to Near Perfection

The Wheel of Time is a high fantasy series inspired by the bestselling book series by Robert Jordan, with three of the 15 novels written by Brandon Sanderson after Jordan’s death. Writer producer Rafe Judkins (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hemlock Grove) is at the helm of the show and in the cast we have familiar names and faces like Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, Jack Reacher), Michael McElhatton (Game of Thrones, The Rook), Daniel Henney (Big Hero 6, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), and relative unknowns like Barney Harris (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk), Madeleine Madden (Picnic at Hanging Rock), Marcus Rutherfod (Bulletproof), Josha Stradowski (Just Friends), Zoë Robins (The Shannara Chronicles), Alexandre Willaume (Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy).

Premise: Unlike the books, the focus of the series is on Moiraine, a member of the Aes Sedai, a powerful organization of women who can use magic. She takes a group of five young men and women on a journey around the world, believing one of them might be the reincarnation of the Dragon, a powerful individual prophesied to either save the world or destroy it.

Review: The three episode premiere was impressive, fast paced and engrossing. The rest of the season followed in that vein delivering surprises after surprises and great character moments for all involved. The story telling is expedient and very streamlined, there are little to no dull moments ; it might be frustrating for some book readers and longtime fans, all the melded of places and modified action pieces, but for me who’s read book one – so far – it was an enjoyable journey that kept the heart and spine of “The Eye of the World.

In an adaptation perspective, I’m impressed with how well the show covers hundreds of pages in a few minutes of screen time without the material getting lost in translation. Given the many surprises I got in the series, I suspect that they’ve also pulled relevant elements from later books and put them in season one.

I went into the series waiting to see how Perrin would turn out in live action but quickly become a Nynaeve fan. Perrin’s still my boy but Nynaeve storyline and love interest was sweet and made much more sense here than in the novel where it seemed to come out of nowhere. The same goes for Egwene and Perrin’s run-in with the white cloaks – who seem far more dangerous on the show – and how it was handled, allowing for subtle character development while giving them more agency. That’s kind of the way most characters are threated, with incremental and sometimes subtle character development, except maybe for Mat – who annoyed me to no end in book one – but they’ve done him dirty. Although interesting, the way they changed him, they’ve made him more of deadweight than he’s supposed to be. Isn’t he the one skilled with the bow and arrow? Here he’s almost useless.

They’ve also cleverly depicted the white cloak as the aggressors, the bad guys by depicting their disregard from people’s – women – personal space, their attack on the Tinkers. The way the main characters are handled is more interesting, it’s less obvious here who the Dragon Reborn is, and a better job is done to highlight the importance of the others. I appreciate the show for limiting the amount of cat fighting, because at one point it felt like most of the women had some sort of beef with each other.

The show falters in a few way but the most striking ones for me is how the Dragon Reborn reveal was handled, that was not it, and the Dragon’s battle against the Dark One, was a bit Wonder Woman 1984 – a bit anti-climatic.

The cinematography is great, the set and costume designs are amazing, and the VFX is good – I’m hopping for even better later on. As for the cast, they are excellent, from the main cast to the recurring one, they’ve picked them well. I still have my favorites though.

Season one of The Wheel of Time is captivating, visually arresting, and well worth the watch and re-watch. Season two can’t come fast enough.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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SAS: Red Notice | When Putting Your Stamp On It Was Not Needed

If you’re going to make an action movie, this cast is well picked. I mean you have Sam Heughan (Outlander, Bloodshot), Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and the Wasp), Andy Serkis (The Letter, Journey), Ruby Rose (John Wick 2) Tom Hopper (The Umbrella Academy), Noel Clarke (I kill Giant) and my guy Owain Yeoman (The Mentalist). It’s the cast I didn’t know needed in an action flick, so you can imagine my excitment. The director, Magnus Martens, and the writer, Laurence Malkin, were not know to me but the book this movie is based on, “Red Notice” by Andy McNab, is.

Premise: Tom Buckingham, a special forces operator, is taking Dr Sophie Hart from London to Paris to propose. When their train is deep inside the Channel Tunnel it is hijacked by heavily armed mercenaries, led by Grace Lewis, who threatens to blow up the Channel Tunnel. Unarmed and cut off from his counter terror team, Tom is the only hope that Sophie and the other passengers have to make it out alive. To save them he must embrace the unique psychology that makes Grace such a formidable adversary. 

Review: This movie looks great, like a proper action movie, with the explosions, the guns and the fight scenes. There I started with something nice.

I see books and movies as separate entities. They are different mediums, so I don’t expect a movie based on a novel to be just like the source material. I’m open to changes, they often are need for a successful adaptation into a different medium, but sometimes writers and directors just want to make the material their own. I can understand that but when their ability is not up to par it’s problematic. There are nonsensical elements of the plot that would have noticed for sure if I hadn’t read Andy McNab‘s Red Notice but they become glaring because I did. When writers change shit for the sake of changing shit, why base on the book? why not just write your own subpar story?

They took the story in the book and updated some aspects of it, which makes sense, but they went to far. A lot of these changes I like. Some of them I liked. But in an effort of differentiate Tom Buckingham, to the Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hunt of the genre they’ve made him a sociopath who’s able to fall in love. Who thought of that? It’s an interesting take but was it needed? They’ve stripped the protagonist and antagonist of their intelligence and skill.

SAS: Red Notice could have just been a watchable waste of a great cast but it’s made to look worse when you know how well crafted the source material is. I mean Eurostar didn’t want their brand associated with that movie. Do yourself a favor just get the book.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

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Rebecca (2020) | It Takes a Turn

When the first trailer was released, I had no idea there was a 1940 black & white movie by Alfred Hitchcock no less. What drew my attention to this project was the cast Armie Hammer (Call Me by Your Name, The Social Network), Lily James (Cinderella) & Kristin Scott Thomas (Fleabag, Suite Française) but mostly Jane Goldman (Kingsman, Stardust) who adaptated a lot of movies I like.
This Rebecca is directed by Ben Wheatley (High-Rise) and rounding the cast we have Sam Riley (Radioactive, Maleficent), Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale), Keeley Hawes (Bodyguard), Mark Lewis Jones (Gangs of London, The Third Day), Tom Goodman-Hill (Everest, The Imitation Game), and Ben Compton (GoT, Before I Go to Sleep).
Both the Hitchcock and Wheatley movies are based on Daphne Du Maurier‘ novel “Rebecca”

Premise: A young newlywed arrives at her husband’s imposing family estate on a windswept English coast and finds herself battling the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy lives on in the house long after her death.

Rebecca: Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers

Review: It might be a combination of the vibe from the trailer and the mention of the Hitchcock version – which I’ve never seen – that made me think that Rebecca would have been scarier. It is a Dark-ish thriller but much lighter than what the premise and trailer suggested.

The story begins well enough, everything is honky dory before it takes a turn. That shift slowly comes, the movie takes a darker tone but it’s also where it starts to go awry. It’s not a complete shit-show but there’s shift in the story, and in some characters, that kind of come out of nowhere. More could have been done to smooth those transitions, and not have it feel like they sort of botched the end of the second act, and third act. However, the intention is clear, which is why this movie is entertain enough, but knowing what they were going for and see it poorly executed does not help.
By the way, I am not comparing this movie with the book I never read or the Hitchcock version I never watched, but I have to admit Wheatley’s version makes me curious to see the 1940 film.

As for the cast, I don’t have much to say, if you’re not nitpicky about Hammer’s accent, they did a decent job. Was it their best work? No but when the locations, costumes, and striking visuals makes more of an impression on you than the cast you’re in trouble. The movie looks gorgeous at times, particularly when they’re outside, to then look like an episode of a budget period drama, it’s a bit jarring.

Rebecca is a little uneven but still worth your time, it’s on the cusp of being great but doesn’t quite get there.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

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Enola Holmes | A Great Synergy of Writing, Acting, Directing and Everything in Between

It was only when the movie was annouced that I became aware of Enola Holmes. Although a newer character in the Sherlock Holmes mythology, I wasn’t phased by it because I’ve been pleasantly surprised by many versions of Sherlock, Watson, and Mycroft. Directed by Harry Bradbeer (Fleabag, Dickensian) and adapted by Jack Thorne (His Dark Materials) , this movie stars Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things, Wonderland) as the titular character, Helena Bonham Carter (Cinderella) as Mrs. Holmes, Henry Cavill (The Witcher) as the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and Sam Claflin (Mockingjay, The Riot Club; Love, Rosie) as Mycroft Holmes. The cast also features Fiona Shaw (Killing Eve), Adeel Akhtar (Les Misérables), Frances de la Tour (Outlander, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), Louis Partridge (Paddington 2), Susan Wokoma (Truth Seekers) and Burn Gorman (Game of Thrones, The Expanse).

This offshoot featuring Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle‘s famous character comes from The Enola Holmes Mysteries a series of six books by Nancy Springer. So if this movie goes well there’s chance for film series. This movie is inspired by The Case of the Missing Marquessbook one of the series and it is set in 1884, England like Conan doyle’s Sherlock Holmes works.

Premise: After a free-spirited childhood, Enola Holmes – Sherlock’s teen sister – wakes on the morning of her 16th birthday and discovers her mother has disappeared, leaving behind an odd assortment of gifts but no apparent clue as to where she’s gone or why. Enola suddenly finds herself under the care of her brothers Sherlock and Mycroft, both set on sending her away to a finishing school for “proper” young ladies. Refusing to follow their wishes, Enola escapes to search for her mother in London. But her journey finds her entangled in a mystery surrounding a young runaway Lord. Enola becomes a super-sleuth in her own right, outwitting her famous brother as she unravels a conspiracy that threatens to set back the course of history.

Review: Giving that the books skew a little younger, I was curious to see how this movie would turn out. The ad campaign for Enola Holmes presented a beautiful and somewhat interesting film, and it very much is.

The run time made me flinch but Enola Holmes is delightful. It’s the easiest two hours of entertainment I’ve spent lately. I was engaged the whole time. The story is easy to follow, some might say too easy but since the books are geared toward children it makes sense to me that the mystery, well mysteries, around the film would also be accessible to a younger audience. The movie has good rhythm and gives the great collection of characters is has enough time to shine.

For a period piece, the diversity is better that what I would have guessed, it’s subtle but very effective. It’s not pandering and very much feels like they picked the right actors for these specific roles.

Speaking of actors, the cast is incredible, the movie is well cast. Like I said in my trailer reaction, Helena Bonham Carter tells you everything you need to know about her character with her casting alone. Obviously the movie gives you more, but I felt I understood who Enola’s mom was without needing an excessive amount of backstory. Sam Claflin and Henry Cavill make a great Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes, they work well as a pair and that’s particularly true for Cavill’s Sherlock. Millie Bobby Brown is perfect in the role, from the breaking of the forth wall to the actions scenes. She makes a compelling Enola, who is not afraid to use all the tools at her disposal, privilege included, to help. The movie goes full girl power but there is no role reversal for the love interest and Louis Partridge does a fantastic job, he’s great match with Brown.

The production design, the score, costumes, the directing, writing and acting compliment each other. It makes for a very entertaining movie that I wouldn’t mind rewatching, or see a follow up story, there are six books after all.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

The book:

Get it here

TV Review: Perry Mason (Pilot) | Familiar but New, and Exciting at the Same Time

Pilot review:
This new HBO drama lead by Matthew Rhys (The Americans) is based on author’s Erle Stanley Gardner 1930s detective novels. Except here Perry Mason is not a criminal defense lawyer but more a private eye. It works wonders with the film noir vibe of this show, the era (1932) and the Los Angeles location.

The pilot really sets up the show by diving into the era it’s happening in, as well as Mason’s state of mind and the situation he’s in. He’s down on his luck, strapped, well he has a lot on his plate. So he takes on a gruesome child abduction case – it gets a bit creepy and shocking there – and mystery surrounding it is captivating.

I am intrigued, captivated and excited by the Perry Mason show.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Christopher and His kind | A mix of sexuality, socio-economic backgrounds, and a dash politics

Christopher Isherwood is not an unfamiliar name to me but contrary to most / some, it was not synonymous with famous inspirational and / or influential homosexual author, no. It was the name of the guy that wrote the book A Single Man was based on. Prior familiarity with the name existed in a semi-conscious place but I digress. This BBC film is inspired by his memoir of the same name. This time it’s adapted by Geoffrey Sax (Victoria) and stars Matt Smith (Doctor Who, Official Secrets) as Isherwood.
The cast also includes Imogen Poots (A Long Way Down), Douglas Booth (The Riot Club), Lindsay Duncan (A Discovery of Witches), Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Pip Carter (Spectre), Iddo Goldberg (Snowpiercer) and Alexander Dreymon (The Last Kingdom).

Premise: How British-American author Christopher Isherwood and his German boyfriend Heinz met and fell in love during the 1930s and the rise of Nazism.

Review: There is a documentary feel to the movie that is in part brought on by the opening scene, but mostly by the sensation that this is a reenactment. Similar, but with better production value, to those murder shows in which actors portray victim(s) and killer(s). Christopher and His kind doesn’t scream fiction – it’s not supposed to – but often biopics have a gloss and sheen to them that strip away the realness of what they’re about. I am under no illusion that this was a silver screen adaptation but my point remains.

It’s 1930s Berlin and the film is about Christopher Isherwood but everything happening around him, and history, is not ignored. Sometimes the context is obvious but when it’s subtle, it packs a heavy punch. You don’t need to know your history to feel the tension and despair creeping in. The geopolitical era is character in this film is a character in its own right. It becomes apparent when Christopher starts to shed his naive romanticized view of the world to stand against the threat of fascism. At one point, Landauer even says :

“We must all stand by our own kind, Christopher, whatever the cost.”

In a way accentuating the nice mix of sexuality, socio-economic class, and politics the whole movie has; But at every turn you wonder what is Christopher’s kind?

The answer is maybe answered in the evolution of Christopher, who first arrived in post-WWI Germany in search of freedom, his emancipation from his family, the liberty to express his sexuality. It seems ironic, surely naive, but the man that emerges from those experiences is the man we now know.

With Christopher and His Kind Sax delivers a captivating film seamlessly blending the rise of Nazi Germany and the inception of an icon of the gay movement.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

You can check out or get the book here (US) & here (EU)

Bloodshot | When visuals supersedes story

Inspired by a comic book by Bob Layton, Don Perlin, and Kevin VanHook, Bloodshot was helmed by first time feature film director Dave Wilson and stars Vin diesel (Guardian of the Galaxy) in lead, co-starring Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3), Sam Heughan (Outlander), Eiza Gonzáles (Alita: Battle Angel), and Toby Kebbel (Fant4tic).

Premise: After he and his wife are suddenly assassinated, Marine Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is brought back to life by a team of scientists. Enhanced with nanotechnology, he becomes a superhuman, biotech killing machine – Bloodshot. As Ray first trains with fellow super-soldiers, he struggles to recall anything from his previous years. But when his memories flood back and he remembers the man that killed both him and his wife, he breaks out of the facility hellbent on revenge.

Review of the feature adaptation of Bloodshot

Review: Writing the premise, I omitted part of the last sentence which is, “only to discover that there’s more between what he originally feels and a conspiracy.” I’m not sure that it is necessary to sell this movie, I’m on the fence. Selling it as a revenge movie with cool visuals would probably work for Diesel’s core fanbase or anyone who just love action scenes no matter what the story is about. The phrase I highlighted and took out of the premise gives more subtances, more meat to the story. It could intrigue a casual action movie fan into seeing Bloodshot trying to figure out what the conspiracy is about. Saddly the marketing took that away from the viewer.

It’s not high art, and that “conspiracy” is not too difficult to figure out but they could have tried. Tried, among other things, to not give it away before the movie was out. Since for almost two third of the movie it is not adressed. They could have put more subtle clues about what’s really going on before Ray discovers it, enticing audiences to watch the film a second and/or third time instead of the one and done it turned out to be.

There are actors that I love in this film but they failed to level up the story. The performances were a little wooden but to be fair you can’t make up what’s not there. Although, Toby Kebbel kind of made it work, I really saw two dinstinct versions of the character he was playing. As for the rest of the cast they can count their blessings because people will forget they were even in this.

The visuals are clearly a selling point of the movie – that is if you count Vin Diesel as a reason to see a film – and it’s the only thing that some thoughts went into. For a debut film Dave Wilson has shown that he’s good with action scenes and visual effects but still needs to show that he can direct actors, maybe in another movie with a…story.

Bloodshot is action packed with awesome secenes and weak story, so leave your brain at the door and enjoy your popcorn.