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

Category Archives: Movie And Tv Reviews

Dear Netflix

Dear Netflix:

I thought you were different.

I’ve been an ardent supporter of the Netflix brand almost from the start. Well before on-line viewing became more the norm than the exception. Well before your original content made you a serious threat to cable TV. You created binge watching, everyone’s new favorite way to watch TV. And you gave us shows we couldn’t find anywhere else.

Sense8 was one of those shows.

Look, I’m a businesswoman. I get it. I knew Sense8 was unlikely to get the full 5-season arc the creators seemed to want. It’s an expensive show to make — hugely expensive. And it’s super edgy, although well loved for all that.

But while you can’t fully make business decisions based on emotions, you can’t ignore them either. Businesses who can only see numbers and fail to take into account the human element lose big in the long run. I know you know this, Netflix. All I have to do to understand how well you know this is look at your forward-thinking policies on parental leave. It’s a visionary way to support your employees and help them become happier and more productive.

Customers, too, need to feel supported.

Networks have poisoned their viewership through decades of releasing and retracting shows, often with no warning or closure. It has made the consumer wary of investing in new shows, and it has fueled their decision to head to services like Netflix where they can binge watch a guaranteed number of episodes at a time and where, up until now, even the shows with less popularity regularly got renewed.

Look, I’m not saying that you should renew a show costing $9 million per episode for 3 more years. All I’m saying is this: Give us closure.

Closure could be achieved in a two-hour movie. Or one last season. Or something in between.

Closure will give you something more, too. More than fan satisfaction. It will build trust with your audience.

Trust. Something NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, and all the other networks lost long ago. It’s the reason I won’t start watching a show on those networks before it’s been out for at least 2, preferably 3 seasons.

Trust isn’t something you can put a price tag on. If you can become the network that will finish things, if at all possible, even if it’s not in the best, most idealistic way, then your audience will expand by leaps and bounds as more and more viewers decide, “What the heck? I’ll give it a try” to every new show that comes along.

I hope you will seriously consider lending closure to the most fantastic TV show ever produced and in so doing, send a message to your viewers that you know TV watching is more than a business to them. It’s an emotional investment.

Sincerely,

A concerned viewer

Travelers Season 1

Canada is once more proving that they’ve got game when it comes to science fiction television shows. This joint Canadian/Netflix venture was an easy binge watch with an instantly hooky premise and a great cast.

So sometime in the future, things are bad. “Travelers” jump back to modern time by rewriting the brain of some poor schmuck who’s about to die anyway … in an accident or some other preventable way. The future depends upon the age of computers to accurately record the places, times, and mechanisms of these deaths. (The answer to the question: “Why don’t you kill Hitler?” which did come up.) Not all travelers land safely. The journey comes with risks, and there is a real chance of dying.

Of course, our five heroes have no problems … at least, no problems arriving. One ends up dealing with his host’s heroine addiction while another learns that her host had a serious mental disability which essentially means she’s going to die (host brain can’t handle it).

They’re on a mission to save the future, and they’re not the only ones here. That’s one of the things I enjoy most about this story: You get a sense of a much bigger pictures and of a carefully orchestrated scheme. We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

I have 1 complaint about this show. It’s something I didn’t fully know how to put into words until the very end of the season, although I sensed something a little off nearly from the start.

We know almost nothing about these characters’ lives before they jumped to the present (their past).

There’s a great deal of story and character development in the here and now, but the fact that we don’t have a solid backstory, or any backstory at all, makes it hard to understand the true stakes of the situation. I know they’re intentionally trying to keep the future murky, but this strategy backfires on someone like me who thrives on character motivation. Why did they risk everything to come back? What did they leave behind? Was any of it good? Who they are is more than who they have become; it began in their past (in the future).

I hope season 2 will address this gaping hole. I definitely plan to watch and find out!

I’d give this a solid 4/5 starts and recommend it to scifi fans.

Sense 8 Season 2

It’s been almost two years since I reviewed “My New Favorite Scifi Series: Sense8” I made no bones about it, I love, love loved this show! I rewatched it 3 times in the summer of 2015, checked daily for news of its renewal, and felt the greatest relief of my life when they announced it had gotten a second season.

Then I waited. And waited some more.

Then came the Christmas Special, which I didn’t love. As I wrote in that review, this isn’t like Doctor Who — it’s not episodic. The characters can’t just go on a stand-alone adventure and in fact, they didn’t. They honestly spun their wheels and made excuses for not taking action for an entire year, even while Wil and Rylie were on the run and in hiding.

It made me nervous. After all this time, was the show not as good as I had first thought? Had I set it on a pedestal too high for it to reach?

I waited some more.

Finally, a week and a half ago, Snese8 season 2 arrived and … I loved it!!!!!

First, don’t think for a second that taking 11 days to watch this show means anything except that I have kids, this show is extremely inappropriate for kids, they go to bed at 9 and I go to bed at 10. That’s one episode per evening, minus game night. Honestly, I watched this show as quickly as it was possible for me to watch!

Unlike the first season, which had a serious warming up period, season 2 got things rolling right away. The clan is in danger from Whispers and from BPO. They’re working together to learn more and to try to free Wil from his heroin-induced stupor (the only thing keeping Whispers out of his head).

Meanwhile, every character has his/her own things going on — Sun is still in prison and her brother is trying to kill her; Lito is suffering the fallout of coming out of the closet; Van Damn has been noticed by reporters and become a symbol of hope for his people; Kala is unhappy with her husband and the things she’s learning about his company; Wolfgang is in the middle of some Berlin crime wars.

The thing that struck me most about season 2 is that the characters had truly become a cluster. 

There are so many things that are awesome about this that it’s hard to separate!

  1. The science fiction of the show is more real this season, more apparent in every scene and in every action, making even the mundane seem more extraordinary.
  2. The pacing is faster because the interconnectivity of the characters is the most interesting part of the show.
  3. The pacing is faster because even when you’re spending time with characters or plots you’re less interested in, you get visits from characters (along with their baggage) you’re more interested in.

Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about the way the show portrayed the worldwide cluster in this season. When a big event took place in any of the characters’ lives, the others were likely to be present, even if they were just watching or partying. Then they might take over at odd moments, bolstering one another and making each one more than they could be alone.

The cinematography was awesome too, of course, just like in season 1. Seamless transitions from Bankok to Seoul to Berlin to San Fransisco to Amsterdam to … they were all over the world! The amount of work that must have gone into making this show is mind-boggling. And it’s beautiful. It’s stunning. It’s worth it! 🙂

Having said all that … 

I do have a few odd complaints about this season. The biggest weakness in season 1 was the beginning, but the biggest weakness in season 2 was the end. Maybe because season 2 started on such a high note, there wasn’t anywhere else to go? But the last episode was my least favorite of the season, which is a huge problem. (Please note: I liked the episode, it was just my least favorite.) I was left feeling, not curious or anxious or excited, but frankly confused and bewildered. The final sequence of events made very little sense to me.

In fact, confusion was something I felt a little too often through this season. 

I watch this with my husband, and I can’t count the number of times I stopped to ask him, “What did s/he just say?” or “Did you follow that?” The BPO mystery was often revealed through a series of back-and-forth conversations, usually involving Nomi and at least one of the others, and I just don’t get it. Even now I don’t get it. I’m going to rewatch soon (from the start of season 1, actually) and maybe I’ll get it then, but it’s frustrating ot me that I didn’t get it the first time.

All of which means that while I still love this show, I’m not sure that I can say I love love love it anymore. It’s gotten knocked down to a 5-star rating from an off-the charts rating. Okay, maybe 5.5 stars! It’s good. You should watch this. 

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!