Into the Dreaming Imaginative Fiction from Author, Reviewer, and Writing Coach Christine Amsden

Category Archives: Movie And Tv Reviews

Lemony Snicket Season 1

Image result for lemony snicket netflix

Finally, a Netflix original show that is not only great entertainment for me, but great to watch with the whole family! The Series of Unfortunate Events is based on the bestselling books, which I have not read. But I don’t feel like I missed anything by going straight to the cinematic adaptation. These shows were riveting.

First, I have to recognize the fantastic cast. Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf is simply meant to be, but he does not carry the show on his own. The child actors, Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes, were brilliant, and not even just for their ages. I hope to see these two in a lot more in the future. Patrick Warburton as the title character and narrator, Lemony Snicket himself, delivers a wonderful deadpan with hints of real emotion beneath. And on and on. Most of the acting here is overacting, but done to perfection.

Now on to the story: I’ve never sat down to watch a show and been told right off the bat not to watch. Brilliant reverse psychology! The story is intentionally far-fetched and the general tone is, in fact, one of despair. Yet there are moments of levity and somehow the absurdity strikes just the right chord.

This series was just a bit intense for my 8-year-old, thought I suspect she’ll watch it again and enjoy it. My 11-year-old was a bit iffy for the first 2 episodes, but then demanded that we binge-watch the rest in a single weekend. My 8-year-old is prone to being a bit oversensitive and she tends to like shows better the second time she watches them, so my guess is that most 8-year-olds would be okay with this. Just know your kid. I wouldn’t recommend this for children much younger than 8.

Netflix Original: The Magicians (Season 1)

Short review: Never mind, my feelings are too complicated for a short review.

Long review:

I didn’t like this show at first. In fact, I’m not entirely sure why I watched past the first few episodes. My husband suggested that the show had a good premise and, much like with Charmed or Heroes, I kept watching in hopes of seeing that premise fulfilled. Maybe. But in the meantime I found myself hating most of the main characters and feeling a definite drag to the first half or more of the 13 episodes, waiting for something truly impressive to happen.

I didn’t really start to like the show until about episode 9 (give or take … they’re all blurring together). But something strange happened: I didn’t just start to like the show at that point, I started to REALLY like the show. By the second to last episode I was in love and the finale had me desperate for season 2. Actually, it ended in a really mean place and I want to strangle someone but … never mind. Let’s talk premise.

So, magic school for grad students. It takes the classic magic school concept and grows it up a bit. It was nice to see that magic school is okay to do again now … Harry Potter put a stranglehold on the idea for a long time, convincing writers and fans alike that anything involving magic school had to be derivative of Harry Potter. But Rowling did not invent the concept and there is much, much more to do with it. Like do it with 22-year-olds instead of 12-year-olds.

My first impression was that the show’s creators did this grown up version of magic school so the characters could have lots of sex and I was frankly annoyed by it. And I’m still not convinced that the gratuitous sex was necessary, but I did begin to understand it better as the season wore on. It’s … complicated. I’d really love for someone else to watch this show so I can discuss it, honestly!

But in the end, I realized that the grown up version of magic school was more adult than just the sex. Magic was really dangerous. People really died. A series of children’s books really happened … sort of. They were rather watered down for the kids. The books became symbolic of leaving behind childish magical ideas.

The characters, too, became more sympathetic as the season wore on and we began to understand the better. Every character has a story, and a reason for their behavior. Unfortunately, this does come across initially as very middle school behavior, which enhanced my impression of the shows’ creators as only wanting an excuse to have the characters be very sexual. I sometimes forget that middle school is, after all, a sort of super condensed version of real life and that adults are capable of cattiness and nastiness too. Once the characters developed, I still didn’t love many of them, but I understood.

A few things that I really respected the show for:

1. Not taking the easy way out.
2. Surprising me … more than once.
3. Using our expectations and preconceived notions against us. You could also say that it took some tropes and flipped them around, so that at first you get the impression that you’ve seen this show before and it’s not going to do anything new. Then you realize you’re wrong.
4. An episode containing depictions of suicide ended with a screen showing the phone number for the national suicide prevention phone number.Similarly, an episode containing sexual assault ended with a support line for victims.

Complaints:

1. The world building is weak, even at the end of the season.
2. The passage of time was difficult to follow.
3. It took too long to develop the depth that ultimately made it good.

In conclusion: If you watch this show, know you need to stick with it. Have patience. If you love fantasy, you’ll enjoy this.

Sense8 Christmas Special

After 18 long months of waiting, I got a Sense8 teaser for Christmas!

I love love loved Sense8 Season 1, which I first watched in June of 2015 and subsequently watched several more times (each time coming through with a better/deeper understanding of what I was watching). The show was renewed 2 months later, but Season 2 won’t be available until June of 2017. OH, the waiting! The waiting!

The Christmas special was a surprise move. Given how Season 1 ended — and I won’t say in case you haven’t watched — I felt like Season 2 would need to get off the ground running and I couldn’t imagine how a bonus in-between episode would work. It’s not like Doctor Who, which is very episodic even if it does have season arc. The 12 episodes of season 1 were just the epitome of what binge watching allows TV to do that it could never do before — show a 12-hour movie piecemeal. 🙂

And truth be told, I was not at all wowed by the Christmas special. To the extent that I enjoyed it at all, it was a nostalgic revisit to the world and characters I had grown to love. The cinematography remained impressive, the work that went into creating scenes and situations that swept the globe was still evident and fantastic, but at this point I’m familiar with it. I’ve seen it before. So I needed more.

The big challenge in watching this episode was the treatment of the characters I had grown to love and who, by the end of season 1, had learned who and what they were and had accepted one another’s presence in their lives. After coming together in a big way at the end of season 1, I expected season 2 to begin right away with the threat hovering above all of them. And maybe it will. I really, really hope it will. But this Christmas special showed 8 people mostly getting on with their own individual lives. One even said that she was letting Will worry about the BBG (big bad guy) in a “not my problem” sort of way. That bugged me a lot.

So if everyone but Will (who has no choice) is ignoring the big bad, what are they doing? Why, moving on with their individual lives and pushing forward the threads of their separate stories. Or at least poking them forward. Sun has some trouble in prison. Capheus (played by a new actor — they had some fun with that) is fixing up his Van Damme. Nomi is still in hiding and ducking the FBI. Kala goes through with her marriage and struggles with sex (there being a well hung German in her head). Wolfgang’s actions destabilized Berlin and he had to deal with the consequences. The pictures of Lito did go public and he struggled with the public outcry. Will and Riley are hiding together.

The passage of time was difficult to follow. The high points took place on their birthday, which is August 8. Then tings just sort of slid through Thanksgiving to Christmas and the New Year.

The special did establish a new normal for the Sense8. There was a lot of sentimentalism in their acceptance of one another, and they openly considered themselves family more than once. They enjoyed celebrating high moments such as birthdays and holidays together, making those panoramic scenes a bit sappy but we understand the tone — they’re a true Sense8 now.

A couple of key moments did require the group to work together to save one of their own. It was nice to see that happening fluidly now.

But ultimately, this was exposition — not story. “Here’s what’s been happening while you were away.”

I still have every hope that season 2 will be awesome, and with the exposition out of the way, I have high expectations that early episodes in the season will take off running. There is room for this show to disappoint me or impress me yet. 🙂

True Memoirs of an International Assassin

Austin and I were in the mood for something light this weekend and as if it were planned for us, Netflix released its original movie “True Memoirs of an International Assassin” on Friday.

This movie tells the story of an aspiring novelist working on his first suspense-thriller. Fellow writers, you will particularly enjoy the setup as we catch glimpses of a writer at work. At one point, the characters sit around tapping their feet and checking their watches as the author tries to figure out how the scene will unfold. Loved it!

Then he gets a publishing contract. This part is not realistic, just in case you were wondering, but give it a pass because here’s the setup and it’s really pretty funny: The publisher swore she wouldn’t delete a word and she didn’t. She just added one: “NON” in front of “FICTION” So … this poor schmuck gets kidnapped and carted off to Venezuela where things just keep getting worse.

I really enjoyed this movie. We were even able to watch it while the kids were awake. Note: This movie is not for kids; however, unlike many shows that have unexpected nudity, meaning you have to make sure the kids are behind closed doors and snoring, this was fairly clean. It gave us the opportunity to “chill out” with the kids on chill night — them playing video games while we enjoyed the show.

The laughter wasn’t nonstop, but it was laugh-out-loud funny plenty often enough. I highly recommend.

Galavant Season 1

If you haven’t seen Galavant, then I’m afraid there’s really nothing on TV today I can use for comparison. It’s musical theatre with some funny bits. The first episode had me laughing harder than I have in a good long while.

The first episode got me on audacity and shock, though, and once that had worn off I found little underneath to sustain the concept.

But it’s 8 20-minute shows so if you’ve got a few hours to kill and are bored with the same old same old, give it a try.

TV Review: Jericho (2006)

Jericho is a 2006 post-apocalypse TV series that follows events in the small town of Jericho in Northwestern Kansas in the months after 23 nuclear bombs go off in cities across the country. As a post-apocalypse fan, I’m not sure how I missed this one 10 years ago, although I did have a newborn at the time so I’ll just let that be my excuse. 🙂

At any rate, binge watching is the only way to watch TV these days so I watched all of Jericho — 22 episodes in the first season and 7 in the second — in about two weeks. And overall, I enjoyed it! The story was well thought-out, the characters well drawn and acted, and this is big for a fan of the apocalypse — I found it believable. Food was scarce. People were starving. People change (some for the better, some for the worse).

And for those viewers concerned about getting into a show that was canceled 7 episodes into season 2 I will say this — it comes to a conclusion. AN abrupt conclusion, but a conclusion nonetheless. I can definitely see why people have been wondering about someone else picking up the show or maybe just making a movie, but you’re really not left hanging.

My biggest reservation regarding this show was that one of the main characters, a shady man who spent much of his time sending and receiving obscure messages, was not clearly explained for far too long. The “is he good or bad?” question can only work for so long, and as the first season dragged on I was expected to care a great deal about what happened to him without an answer. This, more than anything else, gave the show a feel of dragging.

On a positive note, though, I really did enjoy the characters and the way different people responded to the situation. Plus, characters died — not quite in a George R. R. Martin sense but in a way that really drove home how fragile life would be in such a situation.

I recommend this to fans of the apocalypse.

You, Me, and the Apocalypse: Watch at your Own Risk

I just finished a riveting 10-episode series that aired on NBC last year called “You, Me, and the Apocalypse.” It takes a run-up to your typical asteroid-destroys-the-earth and fills it with strange, exciting characters and insane twists. All counting down to the moment of truth, the moment foretold in the series intro: A man ends up in a bunker deep under Slough (England) with a most unlikely group of companions.

Were this show to have a second season, I would give it an enthusiastic 5 stars. However, as the creator has claimed (wrongly) that the show came to a logical conclusion, I must simply say, “Watch at your own risk.” Because you will be at the end of episode 10, frantically searching the internet for news of season 2. I mean, surely they couldn’t end it THERE? Not at a logical conclusion but at a veritable cliffhanger?!?!?

Alas, yes.

So if you want to enjoy a wild ride, give it a chance. Just don’t fall off the cliff at the end!

Season 4: Orange is the New Black is Back!

After a disappointing third season of the unexpectedly amazing show, “Orange is the New Black,” I wasn’t in a rush to watch season 4. I noticed it was available, but I was in the middle of some other things and then I went on vacation and then … well, I finally started it a couple of weeks ago.

And all I can say is … Orange is the New Black is BACK! Better than ever. Honestly, season 4 is the best season so far, with more ups and downs than I knew what to do with. From the very first episode to the very last, I loved it!

So, one of the problems with season 3 was Piper’s insane new power trip thing. Well, that got worse but then … well, she’s not really the star of the show anymore.

The prison itself continues to reel from the management of its corporate overlords, culminating in an event that will shock you. Meanwhile, race relations are worse than ever, tension between inmates and guards is worse than ever, the crazy inmates are crazier than ever. And oh yeah, Alex kicks things off by killing someone and getting an education from another inmate in how to dispose of a body. So, that was fascinating. 🙂

If you were disappointed with season 3, forgive it and move on! I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

If you haven’t watched Orange is the New Black at all … where have you been for the past 4 years?????

The Jungle Book

I have fond memories of The Jungle Book from my childhood. My favorite part from way back then: The music. The story itself was a bit flat. Which may be why I was so engrossed in the story that came to life in the 2016 remake of The Jungle Book.

The modern retelling stayed true to the cartoon. Yet the story grew up, even as modern special effects made the animals far more realistic. That visual made the danger more real. Made the struggles more real.

Warning to parents: This movie was frightening to my 7 and 9-year-olds. My 10-year-old was okay with it; I think it was a personality thing more than an age things.

But they watched the movie, and afterward they seemed to have liked it, even though they were scared.

Just like the original cartoon, this movie had some slow spots that had me looking at my watch. Not sure how they could have fixed that; I think I’m just used to too much sizzle and bling from more modern movies. This movie was far more like an old movie reanimated with modern technology.

I recommend it. Let’s called it 4/5 .

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

This was an exciting, well-done scifi action flick. The premise is something like Groundhog Day, except there’s an actual reason why the day keeps repeating and staying in the loop is a matter of saving the planet.

Aliens, time travel, fast-paced action, and an ending that managed to surprise me.

Basically, watch it!