Netflix Originals presents ‘ARQ’: If at first you don’t – If at first you – If at first – If at first you don’t succ – Damnit!

Posted in Action, drama, Movies, Sci-Fi, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2016 by aliciamovie


Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Director: Tony Elliot

Studio: XYZ Films

Review Rating: 8 out of 10

In a post-apocalyptic world where everything is in short supply and the evil corporation Torus is taking over everything, two survivors find themselves locked in a holding pattern of time when the new ARQ power generator malfunctions.

Like other Groundhog Day films, Renton (Robbie Amell) finds himself in the unenviable position of death-wake-repeat, and while the rest of the film is a kind of piecemeal slow burn, at least as far as WTF happened to the outside world, the death cycle mostly stays the same. That in itself, once Renton discovers it, is a real cause for alarm anyways.

Hannah (Rachael Taylor) was with Ren out in the world and something happened and they got separated, but Hannah managed to come back and find Ren, and about here is where we find ourselves. Wake to the sounds of home invasion from masked men who insist on calling themselves familial names: they want cash and scripts (I never did figure out the difference) and whatever else of value Renton has. The bandits seem in particular awe of the fact that Ren has real actual apples; it never seems to occur to any of them to ask how he managed that in this bleak new world. So Ren and Hannah are tied up and threatened with violence unless they cooperate, but the home invaders are acting oddly suspicious about certain things. Inevitably stuff goes sideways annnnd the next thing we know, Renton is jerking upright in bed. This is why time travel gives us nosebleeds.

The ripples and circles of the plot are clever, painstakingly maintained, and if I say too much more, I’m just giving away the rather fine plot. The sets are sparse, special effects almost nil, and for all that, a very good little gem of a film, because things center around the story. Time travel stories especially, have to be very careful in how they lay out their plot and all those little “Gotcha!” moments, because modern rather jaded sci-fi fans these days are real sticklers for stuff like that.

For fans of excellent films like Primer, Netflix’s ARQ is worth multiple looks, if nothing else to catch that tenth time-loop “Gotcha!”

‘Designated Survivor’ Premiere: It could be you, too

Posted in Action, drama, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2016 by aliciamovie


Reviewed by Alicia Glass

So Tom Kirkland (Kiefer Sutherland) is what we in the storytelling world call the Everyman – he has a thankless government job (Housing and Urban Development) that brings him in constant contact with the little people, a loving wife (Natasha McElhone) and two children (the adorably snarky little girl and the drug-dealing teenage son), and he’s just trying to do the best he can and get by. In fact, yes, before this nonsense went down, Tom was about to be “gifted” a new job as ambassador to … do we even remember? Tom asks, in disbelief, is that even a thing? Doesn’t matter, he’s assured it is indeed a thing now, and while ambassadorial perks are peachy, it means uprooting his family yet again, to Canada this time, and effectively admitting he’d just been fired from the Secretary of Housing job.

None of this sits well with Tom, of course, but he chooses not to make a fuss on the night of the Presidents State of the Union address, despite the added insult to injury business of having all his HUDS talking points removed from the speech. He and his politico wife Alex are just hangin out in the secret location for the Designated Survivor, the one person we know damned well and can prove is part of our American government and somewhere far down the line of succession, but is ultimately expendable.

The Presidents speech is droning on while Tom and Alex have popcorn, and then hey, the channel cuts out. That would be only mildly disturbing, but then Secret Service rushes in like the world had just officially ended, sending everyones pulses jackhammering, especially when Tom exposes a window to the capitol. A miniature mushroom cloud is silhouetted against the black sky where the Capitol building used to stand, and holy shit dude, Tom Kirkland, the official Designated Survivor, just by default became the freaking President of the United States.

Tom and his family, minus the teenaged son who they’re still looking for, get whisked away to the White House and suddenly the everyman politician in freaking sweats and glasses is being sworn in as the leader of the free world. And Tom ends up having the exact same reaction many of us would be having in that situation – he just hurls. There is an up side to this though, because it’s here in the bathroom that Tom meets Seth Wright (Kal Penn), a speechwriter for Congress, and apparently the one person prepared to tell Tom the actual truth and his genuine opinion.

A whole bunch more insane stuff happens to poor Tom, including his introduction to the nuclear football, his first attempts at “aggressive negotiations” with a foreign diplomat, and his meeting the psycho scorched-earth-policy military general. Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) is the FBI agent with the eternal troubled past who’s now conducting the investigation into the bombing of the capitol and the possibility of further attacks. Between Maggie Q’s authority and Sutherland’s presence, the show is a fine combination of FBI crime drama and political humanitarian drama, with a twist – in theory, any one of us could be Tom Kirkland, and have near exactly the same reactions as him. Kiefer Sutherland has been a wonderful dramatic actor for years, and Designated Survivor continues to showcase his family acting dynasty talents. Hopefully the show can keep the same tempo going they had in the pilot episode, so we can continue to appreciate the superb drama of this show, to combat the farce of our real-life current political situation, if nothing else.

San Diego Asian Film Festival presents ‘The Royal Tailor’: Make Art until someone dies

Posted in Action, Comics, drama, Foreign, Historical, Movies, Romance with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2016 by aliciamovie


Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Studio: Bidangil Pictures

Director: Wonsuk Lee

Review Rating: 8.5

The film rather incongruously begins with a modern-day showing of a fabulous hanbok (traditional Korean dress) wedding dress, apparently mistakenly attributed to the only royal tailor of Korea’s Joseon dynasty, Jo Dol-seok. After allowing the audience to admire the hanbok a moment, the movie moves right into what actually happened so long ago in the royal courts.

The King and the Queen of the courts have the rather standard relationship of many asian royal courts, which is to say, almost none at all. Because the King ignores his Queen, there are no children either. Jo Dol-seok has tailored clothing for three generations of Kings before finally working his way to the head of the Sanguiwon, the official department that makes royal clothing, and is justifiably proud of this fact. Dol-seok has very little in the way of imagination, innovation, and wants nothing to do with new ideas, so when the Queen asks him to repair a sacred robe belonging to the King that was accidentally burnt, Dol-seok has to say no. It’s against all tradition and for him, is akin to sacrilege. But the Queen is going to get into serious trouble if she doesn’t do something about the King’s robe, and this is how she meets Lee Gong-jin.

Gong-jin is young, handsome, reckless and headstrong. He also seems almost divinely inspired to make clothing, bright joyful colorful clothing in very non-traditional styles, for all women, not just the women of the court. The film credits Gong-jin with the newfangled bell shape of the hanbok and the introduction of brighter, happier colors. And at this point his fame has become fairly wide-spread, so much so that the Queen, desperate to find a tailor to fix the King’s robe, contracts Gong-jin to do the job.

This of course leads to all sorts of further palace intrigue – Gong-jin falls in love with the Queen, Dol-seok decides to let himself be used as a pawn in a plot to get rid of both the Queen and Gong-jin, and the King lets his need for loyalty outweigh proper good sense. As the film nears its climax and Lee Gong-jin is soon to be executed for his non-part in the plot with the Queen to overthrow the King, Dol-seok realizes he actually had a kindred spirit in the younger, flashier tailor, and comes to regret his part in the whole sorry mess. Not enough to let history remember the proper fashion designer to the Joseon dynasty, of course, but still. And thus, this being a rather traditional Korean film, the whole thing ends in tragedy, leading to the shameful execution of Lee Gong-jin, in sorrow and lamentations.

The film itself is sublime and I simply cannot say enough good things about it. Not because of the gorgeous well-replicated costumes, the lavish sets or even the very fine acting, but because of the manner in which the movie approached the fundamental need to make art. Like Jim Morrison of the long-remembered Doors band, the tailors in the film are tormented and at the same time delighted by the art they create with their own two hands. The absolute need to create art, as fundamental as breathing and even sometimes more important than that, speaks to the beautiful soul of every artistic person, famous or not, in the whole world. In this case, as with many other artists we lost far too soon, Lee Gong-jin and even his stilted counterpart Jo Dol-seok literally made art until someone died, and as tragic as that is, it is still a gorgeous and long-lasting testament to their artistic spirit.

San Diego Film Festival presents ‘Western Religion’: Your soul is at stake

Posted in Action, comedy, drama, Movies, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2016 by aliciamovie


Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Studio: 3rd Partner Productions

Director: James O’Brien

Review Rating: 7 out of 10

In 1879, gunfighters, cardsharps and all manner of mysterious men (and women) come together in the newly formed mining town of Religion, Arizona, for a legendary poker tournament.

So the town entrepreneur Harvard Gold (James Anthony Cotton) wants to put his newfangled mining town of Religion on the map, and he figures the best way to do that is to hold a “first annual” poker game and offer up this ridiculously ornate golden cross as the prize. The game will be held at the Last Chance Saloon, no that doesn’t ring ominous at all, owned by Southern Bill (Peter Sherayko), and covered by the New York Times reporter Edward James (Tony Herbert). A whole host of odd characters with flashes of their backgrounds are offered up for our enjoyment too – Saint John (Gary Douglas Kohn), former gun-toting outlaw turned itinerant preacher; growling gunslinger Anton Stice (Claude Duhamel) who likes killin’ a little too much; wanted bank robber Chinaman Dan (Peter Shinkoda); flippant dandy yet unexpectedly charming Salt Peter (Louie Sabatassao); the spiritual but young half Injun Waylin Smith (Miles Szanto) and his Apache guide (Sam Bearpaw); flamboyant magician Raven McCabe (William Moore) and carpenter Bobby Shea (Sean Joyce). Even the Madam of the house, Bootstrap Bess (Holiday Hadley), wants in on the golden cross prize, and is willing to do all sorts of skullduggery to get it!

The movie did remind me of some of the more ridiculous aspects of films like Maverick and The Quick and the Dead, but overall it is a grand fun time. Every good western should have at least one femme fatale, and while Bootstrap Bess might be a bit of a bumble, she knows when to get the hell out of the way! And speaking of Hell …

See, each character has a little something that makes them at least semi-unique inside the context of the movie, and that’s always a good idea for a western. But the newly reformed Saint John has a past with Stice that includes run-ins for more than the common gold, women, or glory. Stice spends most of the film offering the golden cross to the various poker players, as though it was his to give alone, and it’s only in the last few “gotcha!” moments of the movie do we find out why. How much is your immortal soul truly worth?

Western Religion is a rollicking good time, and while I think the movie should have been longer to draw out the mini-stories of the other characters and perhaps give Stice and Saint John more fleshing too, if you like a good spaghetti western that has a little bit of everything and then some, this movie’s for you!

‘Star Wars Rogue One’ Trailer two will blow you out of the stars

Posted in Action, comedy, drama, Fantasy, Movies, Romance, Sci-Fi, suspense with tags , , , , , , , on August 16, 2016 by aliciamovie


by Steve the Space Wizard

Star Wars: Rogue One Trailer Two is out and hot damn, I got goosebumps. We get a better idea of Jyn Erso’s role in the film; she’s a criminal who’s been pretty much given a suicide mission. You know we just saw a film like that didn’t we? Well, imagine that but in space. Yet, it doesn’t reveal too much more, like a good trailer should.

We see the Empire’s power grow across the galaxy, the ominous shadow of the Death Star looming over entire worlds. That shot of the Death Star eclipsing the sun? That’s expert film making imagery right there. The Empire blocks out the light, both metaphorically and literally. I’ve missed that kind of visual storytelling. Not just from Star Wars, but from a lot of genre movies in recent times which crams the screen with visual effects but don’t know how to make a visual impression. Well done.

The other images we see in the trailer are those of war; gritty, dirty, and painful, like war is. We had that in the original trilogy (and The Force Awakens), and we see it now. Gone are the cartoony battles of the prequels. Shit gets real now. Ground battles, rocket launchers, and Jyn Erso stares down a TIE fighter because she’s that badass.

The final shot of Darth Vader should make fanboys and fangirls weep with joy, and I almost did too, but that Death Star eclipse will haunt me. Why isn’t it December yet?

‘Independence Day Resurgence’: It has its own gravity!

Posted in Action, comedy, drama, Movies, Sci-Fi, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2016 by aliciamovie


by Steve the Space Wizard

 It’s the summer of sequels (when is it not?), and now we have the follow-up movie to the original Independence Day from 20 years ago. The thing is,nobody really asked for a sequel, and yet here we are. Since I loved the original cheesy over-the-top apocalyptic alien invasion movie, I was obligated to watch this one too.

Back in 1996, CGI was kind of a newish thing, with Jurassic Park’s jaw-dropping dinosaurs wowing audiences just 3 years prior, and it was getting cheaper and cheaper to create bigger and badder spectacles. It was fresh and new to see swarms of computer-generated fighter jets battle another swarm of alien spaceships, and it was helped tremendously by having a great cast led by the wisecracking Will Smith who spat out lines like”No, you did NOT shoot that green shit at me”. It was an instant blockbuster.

Fast forward to today. They got most of the original cast back for the sequel, sans Will Smith, who is sorely missed. However we got back David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch) and Dr. Brakish Okum (Brent Spiner), who are all 20 years older and are sort of taking a backseat to the newer, younger cast: Liam Hemsworth who plays hotshot pilot Jake, Jessie T. Usher plays Dylan Hiller,the son of Will Smith’s character who is also a pilot, and Chinese actress Angelababy, who plays (you guessed it), a pilot. Jake’s fiancée is none other than Patricia Whitmore, the former president Whitmore’s daughter, who works in the White House but also a pilot (see a theme here?). The pilots aren’t exactly interesting characters, they’re just standard fighter jocksand their scenes play out like Space Top Gun, complete with a Maverick/Iceman rivalry between Jake and Dylan. They fly SPACE JETS and they help the construction of some laser cannon thingy on the moon, which is supposed to prevent further alien invasions.

Next subplot! Somewhere in Africa, during the first alien invasion of ’96,there’s an alien UFO that _landed_ and tried to drill to the Earth’s core because they learned Space Villainy 101 from the baddie from J.J. Abrams’first Star Trek reboot. There we meet Dikembe Umbutu, a badass warlord who’s really good at killing aliens because he fought a ground war with them first time round. Also in this movie is Charlotte Gainsbourg as Dr. Catherine Marceaux, a psychiatrist/exolinguist/telepathy expert/plot device who exists for exposition and as a love interest for David Levinson. She ends up in Africa with David, meets up with Dikembe, and they do the obligatory translation of scrawled alien symbols.

Meanwhile, the moon base gets… an alien visitor! Thinking the aliens have returned, the US president orders the ship to be blown up. That’s probably a bad idea but we shoot first and ask questions later, because that’s how we apparently roll in America, often to disastrous results. This time it’s no different; David feels it’s not the hostile aliens but a new species(he’s right). So David, Catherine, and Dikembe fortuitously meet Jake, who comes down to Earth in a ludicrously fast space tugboat, and they return to the moon to pick up the wreckage of the ship they blew up. However, when the _real_ bad guys, our returning aliens, suddenly arrive in a massive ship to kick our asses, it all goes to hell as the moon defense laser thing is easily obliterated by them. Our heroes on the space tugboat barely have time to recover the wreckage before they find themselves having to outrun the massive alien destroyer ship which is heading for Earth. The alien ship is a vessel so massive that “it has its own gravity”. Sadly they play fast and loose with science. We see some funky gravity effects where things get pulled upwards toward the alien ship, but the while gravity effect is promptly forgotten some moments later as the ship actually _touches down_on the surface of Earth, making our world look like it has a clingy metal alien beast hugging it.

The devastation from the ship landing leads to our disaster porn scenes,but it feels really perfunctory; perhaps we as an audience have been jaded by endless disaster movies and this feels like yet another one. Yet it was the original Independence Day that captured the world’s imagination with its destruction scenes; perhaps we’ve moved passed that spectacle and have become incredibly desensitized to it. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it feels a lot more video gamey than the first film, right down to having a(literal) boss battle. I enjoyed the performances of Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch the most in this movie, and I wished there was more of that banter between David and his father. The other characters are otherwise cliched, bland and forgettable.

I give this film two and a half Jeff Goldblums out of five.

‘Gotham’ Season 2 Finale: Place your bets

Posted in Action, comedy, Comics, drama, Fantasy, horror, Romance, Sci-Fi, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2016 by aliciamovie


Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Season Two of the grittiest and arguably the darkest DC show on tv, our beloved Gotham, gave us the rise of so many villains, and answered so many burning (sometimes literally) questions, while of course bringing up brand new ways to put the laughter back in the slaughter our familiar Batman bad guys are doing. We met the legacy of the Joker in Jerome, we explored Arkham, took on the Court of Owls and Azreal himself, and that’s only the beginning. The casino, hell the fun park carnival ride of your deepest nightmares is coming to life in the underbelly of Gotham’s streets, and Jim Gordon, plus you know a forever exasperated Harvey Bullock and some cops too, are the only ones who can stop them!

I loved me some Penguin this season, but then, I am biased. Robin Lord Taylor is a giant sweetheart in real life, at least at Cons he goes to, yet he does great justice to the character Penguin. He kept trying to find himself, and nothing ever quite seemed to fit just right. We only knew him for an episode or two, but an amazing Paul Reubens, yes that guy, as Penguin’s long-lost father this season was epic. For me, it rather felt like we had been given a gift, a mini backstory from those few moments of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns where the Cobblepots (and a younger Paul Reubens as Father again) attempt to murder their monstrous son. If Father and son had known each-other a little bit longer, oh the mischief they could have gotten up to. As it stands, Penguin got his spirit back in the end, and in an enduring legacy from his graceful Father, a sense of fashion and dress unlike any other Gotham villain, clearly iconic and marking him as the Penguin Godfather we all know and love.

Oddly, as much as I adore Cory Michael Smith in the role, Riddler seemed relegated to a move-the-story-along character this season, and that’s unfortunate. Ed has always been presented as being at least potentially smarter than all of them, at least in his own mind, but too often this season he laughs maniacally and oh, just does whatever and mostly the right (for the bad guys) thing happens to, or because of, him. I got that when Ed killed his girlfriend and buried her, he went a little Mr. Happy psycho nuts for awhile, but then he decided to frame Jim Gordon and get him off the police force and off his case. Right? Why? Jim is clearly distracted by this other villainous nonsense, why does Ed keep reminding him? Because Jim needed to be outside the law when things really started to pop off and by then, Ed’s in Arkham along with the rest of them. Ed got found out, completely plausible, trooped off to Arkham, okay, and now he makes friends with Hugo Strange and plots his escape. I suppose I buy it, we just thought perhaps Ed’s smarts outweighed his crazy. Not this time. This season has been marketed as The Rise of the Villains and The Wrath of the Villains later on, but poor Ed’s part of the story struck me as a descent. His wrath wasn’t quite up to par either, but Ed only just became a villain, and so he gets some slack.

We’ve come round to Hugo Strange and oh the many twisted things he’s done. If you thought Arkham Asylum was bad, Indian Hill, where the real monsters live, is worse hell. Awful experiments go on down there, human/animal splicing and modern necromancy just for openers. A poor young girl, Selena’s friend in fact, nearly died from all those burns she took. Yet here she is reborn as the goddess Firefly in all her scarred and flame-throwing glory. Strange raised Victor Friez, that poor frozen dead man and his frosty wife story, from the dead and weaponized him, which worked for me and looked quite cool, but kind of relegated that whole epic tale to a side jaunt. Strange even brought Fish Mooney, you know you just heard Jada Pinkett Smith snarl her name in that voice too, back from the dead, memories intact and as unique as ever. Wong does well with iconic Hugo Strange mannerisms, somehow even the pinkish Lennon shades work too. Though his assistant, Ms. Peabody in her improbable purple lipstick glory, makes me distinctly uncomfortable. Which I assume is the whole point of her.

So, what do we know? We know most of the iconic characters of the show have managed, by means both fair and foul, to get into Arkham and even into Indian Hill. Where Hugo Strange is currently being told by his Masters to transfer all the patients and blow up the damned facility. Who’s the lady in the white owl mask? Oh that’s a very big can of worms, just go look up DC’s Court of Owls and prepare to be astounded. They want Strange to be able to resurrect the dead with their full memories and personality intact, no small job. Yet Fish Mooney lives, commands, hell she escapes and takes the bus-full of crazies with her. Fish survived the crash, took Butch and company, and let Penguin live after he fainted at the sight of her – it’s a very scary Fish Mooney return. We know Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox are now playing the quiz game with a maniacal Ed Nygma; from them we know Wayne Industries runs Indian Hill, and that boring little board of directors does not run Wayne Enterprises. It’s a secret society thing apparently.

We know that holy cow, Harvey Bullock can’t make speeches to save his life, and yet somehow he’s going to make a great GCPD Captain anyway. Heart you forever Harvey Bullock, especially when played by Donal Logue in all his rumpled glory. We know that Bruce Wayne will never be a boy again, he is now a little man capable of great acting and subterfuge, violence, even poverty. We know that Alfred Pennyworth forever and always kicks so much ass, Sean Pertwee just rocks that part so bloody hard.

I’d like to state for the record that we missed Morena Baccarin as Lee for most of this season, she was much better at grounding Jim Gordon than anyone else. Then again, some of the things he had to do in the fight against the freaking Mayor, Theo Galavant, or when he resurrected as Azrael (super-cool DC comics nod) or against Hugo Strange too, Lee didn’t need to be around for that. I was sorry she and Jim’s would-be child suffered the absentee cutting room floor treatment though. It is worth noting that we the audience didn’t actually see Lee disappear or suffer a miscarriage, so it’s entirely possible for a Baby Gordon problem out there in the next season.

Where do we end the Rise and the Wrath of oh so many beloved Batman villains? With yet more villains spilling out of that crashed forgotten bus, that’s where. Let the speculations begin, place your bets! Was it Killer Croc, certainly plausible with monster genes and non-aging involved; was that Man-Bat, that poor misguided scientist type who experimented so wrongly on himself; how about even a Jerome-infected laugh? And let us not forget the Bruce Wayne lookalike, whom we could lay wage is Lincoln March (don’t click unless you like major spoilage). Oh Gotham, you do justice to my love of Batman bad guy mythos. You’ve set the stage for a danse macabre of mobsters and real monsters in season 3 and I cannot wait.

It’s already been confirmed by the show that season 3 will have the Mad Hatter and the Tweedle brothers, presumably working with him; plus one of my personal favorite villains, Solomon Grundy, in what I sincerely hope will be the Halloween episode; and in keeping with the groundwork for mythology already laid for the Court of Owls, Talon should make an appearance as well.

There is literally nothing else like Gotham on TV right now, mixing the gritty cop drama with the magically psycho world of pre-Batman DC comics. It will be far too long a wait for season three, but I’m betting it will pay off in the end. Season one built the mob-laden world of Gotham’s underbelly, and season two absolutely reveled in the monstrous mayhem of legendary Arkham Asylum, so the mixing of crazypants mcstabby over here and armed-to-the-teeth gangsters over there virtually guarantee a hell of a badass heroes journey for James Gordon in season three. Seriously, if nothing else, mini-Catwoman Selina (Camren Bicondova) is the most wonderful little cat-burglar-in-training toughie we love as an adult; her scenes of mini-romance with Bruce Wayne this season gave long-reaching echo to the epic push-pull love between a certain thief and a be-costumed dark knight.