Streaming Services that Work (for Me)

A rectangle listing some of the major streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Sling, Showtime, CBS All Access, HBO Now, Acorn TV and Disney+
Image Source: https://www.seattletimes.com/explore/shop-northwest/how-many-streaming-services-are-too-many/

As a Science Fiction and Fantasy reader and writer (and a lover of most things of a speculative nature), I find myself (Pre-Corona virus) browsing bookshelves in libraries and bookstores for the Sci-Fi and Fantasy offerings. Not surprisingly (I guess), is that I end up doing the same things for various streaming services. The first thing that I do when I look at a service or assess as to whether I’m going to sign up, is to take a look at the offerings for Sci-Fi and Fantasy. While not the only criteria (price plays a role as well), I often decide on what streaming services to subscribe to, in large part, based on what offerings they have that appeal to my as a speculative fiction afficianado.

Netflix

I subscribe to Netflix because (initially) because, originally, it was an innovative way to rent movies affordably. While I didn’t always love the “DVD/Blu Ray” by mail system, even then I thought the movie companies should have had an online streaming licensing clause available to Netflix — similar to what Hoopla has for libraries now–even back then I found Netflix to have a strong back catalog in Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Even now, with their original programming, I find that, in many cases, Netflix has more Sci-Fi/Fantasy shows and movies than I can reliably watch. While I wish Netflix would work on beefing up their licensing deals with Hollywood content–there’s rarely a a movie in the speculative genre that I haven’t seen on their service, I still find they do a pretty good job with content for a reasonable price.

Amazon Prime Video

So, Amazon Prime Video is a mixed bag for me. They have some really good content and my current favorite spaceship show–after a rocky start as I didn’t like it at first, The Expanse–is exclusive to the service. However, while not as expensive as Netflix, it does come out of my out in a large one-time sum. Now, Amazon Prime Video has other services that make this a fairly compelling value (2 day shipping on orders, a watered down “free” music service–there’s a paid version of the service as well, and other benefits at the time of this writing), but their movie offerings leave much to be desired. Amazon Prime Video has a few big name Hollywood movies, but they’re ones that I’ve seen before–rarely do they have new ones that I want to see (they currently have Knives Out, which, while not speculative, still is a pretty high profile “get”) and one that I hope to see soon.

Disney + and AppleTV+

I almost forgot these two, and since I got them from the same source, I’ll talk about them together. These are two that I got as a part of my needing to get a new iPhone after the old one broke–with a free 1 year trial. While I use both services, I find that I use Disney+ the most as I’m catching up on the Star Wars animated shows that I wasn’t able to watch before they left Netflix. I’m also catching up on the Disney live action movies, such as Aladdin which I enjoy. I own pretty much all of the Marvel content, so while a big draw for some, it isn’t really as much a draw for me. Apple TV+ has been mostly a “wash” for me as I’ve not yet seen any of the shows. I keep marking shows to watch, but I never seem to get around to them–and because of the way the interface works, I only notice AppleTV+ when I actually go looking for it (I may need to move the icon around and put it next to Amazon Prime and Netflix on my screen to “remind” me that there are shows that I’d like to watch before the free trial period is over. While I’m not sure I’ll keep either after the 1 year trial–although Disney+ does have my attention, Foundation for AppleTV+ is looking awesome, but that doesn’t come until 2021 after my trial is over, so we’ll see.

Hulu

This is one that I get because I’m a student and I get it through the student offer for Spotify. Technically, I also get Showtime through this as well, but since I rarely log on to Hulu, I’ve not taken the time to really set up the Showtime account (yes, I know I’d find a lot more Hollywood movies there, but as a student, there’s already way too many distractions for my time–the last thing I need is another streaming service competing for it). Hulu is the service I use the least and currently has the least amount of speculative content (that I’ve not yet seen, especially for movies). For television shows, they do have a fair amount of speculative fiction (for me) that I’m interested in, but they don’t have an original series that has really set me on fire the way Netflix and Amazon Prime does. Once I’m no longer a student and have to pay full price for the service, I’m sure how long I’ll keep it as it is justified at the current price point along with (Spotify and Showtime), but not by itself.

Tubi

This one is free and I actually like it quite a bit. It is on par with Hulu for me, but instead of a subscription fee, it requires you to view ads during the movie. For that reason alone, it is my least watched service. But, I thought you said you liked it, I can hear you ask. I do, because it has a fair amount of Speculative fiction on it in terms of Hollywood movies that I’ve not yet seen. Appleseed Alpha and The Last Witch Hunter were both movies that seemed to be made for streaming, and yet, none of the other services picked them up–not even for a 6 month licensing deal. There are tons of Hollywood movies released every year (well, maybe not this year), that would do so well on a streaming service just to recoup some of their investment, yet they end up only releasing for sale or stuck on some cynical corporate streaming service (CBS All Access, anyone?) which makes no sense. Tubi has a surprising number of speculative works. Now, it doesn’t look like they refresh their content as often as the others, so once I go through that content, I may find it all a bit stale in 6 months to a year from now, but as of now, if not for the ads, this service would probably be used more than Hulu for movies (ad and all)–although Hulu would still win out for TV content.

Well, that’s all for now. These are just my experiences with the various services, looking in general at what they offer in terms of speculative content, for me personally. I’ll be sure to let you know of any major changes (like, if I get Showtime up and running–probably won’t happen, though) and I see they have a major speculative presence or the like. Anyway, have a great day!

Sidney


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Currently Working On (7/2020):

  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: 2nd Draft (Working Draft)
  • Childe Roland Graphic Novel 
    Up Next: Rough Draft (Story)
  • I, Mage (Urban Fantasy Story)
    Drafting: 1st Revision

Mini-Movie Review: Extraction (Netflix)

A picture of a bearded Chris Hemsworth in military gear looking to the right off-screen against a yellowish background of an Indian cityscape with the words" Netflix Extraction Official Trailer"
Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6P3nI6VnlY

This past weekend I watched a movie produced by Netflix. While not my first Netflix movie, I generally pass them up in favor of seeing “studio” produced movies as I’m trying to catch up on movies that I’ve missed theatrically. As an individual, I’ve seen a lot of movies; however, as a film student, I feel that I don’t have the same repertoire as some of my colleagues (one of my friends at school who is also a film student and working on his dissertation watches a movie a day on his phone! I sometimes struggle to keep up with the movie a week paradigm that I’ve set for myself.) This movie was written by Joe Russo (Avengers Infinity War/Endgame) and stars Chris Hemsworth (Thor & Avengers movies). So, did I like it–yes, I did, for the most part.

“The Protector”

This story is very much in the style of films made famous by Keanu Reeves in the John Wick movies. However, there is a difference, story-wise. While those are about “revenge” in some way, this film owes much more to films like Liam Neesom’s Taken movies (which I’ve not seen) and the BMW short film The Escape (which I have seen) in that there is more an element of protection than revenge. While different in tone, the plot actually functions a lot like other movies in the action genre–I’m specifically thinking of 16 Blocks, Special Forces, and Mile 22 (all of which I’ve seen–see, I do have a pretty good film knowledge base to draw on 😉 for my analysis). Chris Hemsworth’s character is tasked with “extracting” a target from a rival faction. I won’t go into the specific plot elements–but suffice to say, if you’ve seen any of those movies, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of the story progression. While not always the most original of ideas or execution, it was still an enjoyable and had enough novel elements to set it above many others in its genre.

“Gun-Fu”

Your enjoyment of the movie will depend largely on your tolerance for “gun-fu,” which is the combination of gun-play, martial arts, and ultra close-in gun-play in which the shooting all happens at extremely close ranges–sometimes right up in a character’s face (literally). This type of fighting and choreagraphy was made famous by John Wick. If you hate that style of action/combat, then chances are good you’re going to hate this movie.

There are also other set pieces in here besides the Gun-Fu that are really well done. There is a car chase scene that is really complex and visually interesting (check out the camera placement during the chase). This scene is NOT shot like traditional Hollywood action set-pieces and (for me) that really made it come alive. Is it the BEST chase scene I’ve ever seen? No, some of the Bourne/Bond movies hold that distinction, but check out the way this movie is shot vs those and you’ll immediately see a difference. Also, the ending sequence has to be mentioned–tense and climatic, I really think it rivals some of the best moments of other “protector” like films referenced above.

What I Didn’t Like

Okay, this isn’t a perfect movie. The story, some are going to argue, is fairly predictable. While you can’t see all of the “turns” coming, you can probably spot most of them.

Going beyond the story though, the sound mixing on this one was rough. The dialogue, in some parts was mixed too low to hear without me having to turn up my system, but then when the action got going, I would have to turn down the system as the gunshots rang out to loud and I didn’t want to disturb the neighbors. I personally couldn’t find a perfect setting–the dialogue always seemed too low and the action always seemed too loud.

Lastly, there’s a lot of violence happening in this story. I know its “Gun-Fu,” but the amount of people being shot in the head, especially, is high. People lose digits, are stabbed in multiple places/ways, and in one case, I kid (ostensibly a drug runner) is thrown off a roof. If violence makes you squeamish at all, this movie may not be for you. Most of it is justified by the story, but you can tell there was a little one upmanship happening here with other films in the genre.

Overall Grade: B

While definitely not a novel story or characterization, there were enough new elements (stunts and set-pieces) and enough articulation of the overall theme, that I didn’t find it tedious or a retread of something I’d already seen. Also, while the violence was a bit over-the-top for me and took me out of the story sometimes, I thought that the actual “action” of the story delivered for me what I was looking for in an action movie. It was fun, but had a heart, and wasn’t a pessimistic, dark, gritty drama that so many films in the genre try to be.

Sidney


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  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Editing Draft
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Finished: Rough Draft
    Next: First Draft

Unlocked: Mini-Movie Review

So its been a while since I’ve written a blog, but I’ve still been progressing on many fronts. A couple of weeks of go I was in the mood for a spy action film. I’d seen this trailer, but I didn’t actually go to see Unlocked. When I saw that it was on streaming, I immediately put it on my list to see. I watched it a couple of weekends ago and thought that it was good. Not horrible and not great, but good.

The Action is What Makes This Movie

So, it is the action and action sequences that really make this movie. I really like the action sequences (reminiscent of the Bodyguard BBC TV show that I didn’t really care for except for the action sequences). There’s a lot of hand-to-hand combat, gunplay, and spycraft that makes up this movie. Even in the action sequences, one can still see the characters and the interplay between the characters and that is also very good.

The Script Really Lets the Movie Down

So, it is the script that really hampers the movie, particularly the plot. Good characters and good action, weighed down by seeming reversals that can be seen a mile away. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the events play out EXACTLY as one expects they will. This is one of those times where film critics (which I have a love/hate relationship with) are right: being derivative really hurt this film. The film makes (or wants to make) a statement about terrorism and peace and warmonger/warprofiteering, but wants to have everything fall into place in such a way as to “hide” the identity of the ultimate bad guy, but (slight spoiler here, so skip two paragraphs if you don’t want ANY spoilers):

. . . if you’ve seen The Fugitive, then you know exactly what’s going to happen. Same essential structure. And that’s just for starters. I can’t recall their names, but I can think of two more movies (oh, just remembered one: Broken Arrow) that do much the same as this one does.

Overall Rating: B

So this is probably overly generous (it should probably be a B-/C+), but I found the lead character played by Noomi Rapace and the male character played by Orlando Bloom to be a strong presence. I also liked many of the other actors (& their characters) in the movie and thought that the set-up to the movie was the strongest I’d seen in a while and with the action it seemed poised to be a good one, but ultimately, the derivative script let it down and I didn’t like the last 2/3rds of the movie nearly as much as I did the first 1/3rd.

Anyway, I hope that everyone’s week is an awesome one!

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    3rd Draft of 3 Drafts 
    Drafting Section 2 (of 3)
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = January 31, 2020
  • I, Mage (Fantasy Short Story)
    Pre-Production Phase (Planning)
    Pre-Writing on Rough Draft & Character Sketch
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = July 31, 2020
  • Current Longer Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    (Sci-Fi) Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32
    Personal Deadline = December 30, 2019

Goodbye Star Wars: Clone Wars, Hello Farscape

Image Source: https://reelgood.com/show/star-wars-the-clone-wars-2008

So, I’ve been away from the blog for a while due to school and reading for the tests for this semester. I’ve been consuming media on the weekends, but I just haven’t really had a chance to blog about it. There have been several major video game news items that I’ve wanted to blog about (& with luck, I still will), but basically, today I wanted to talk about the “streaming future” and the way it will work in the future.

Goodbye Star Wars: Clone Wars

After trying to get through the series when it was first released and not being able to due to the erratic nature of its broadcast schedule originally, I tried to get through it on Netflix when it first appeared. There was an episode that I couldn’t get through–the one where Padme and Annakin have to use Padme’s former boyfriend to get information on the Separatists–and so I dropped it. This was when Star Wars: Clone Wars (SWCW) had first entered the Netflix catalogue. I recently (this year) finally got past that odiuous episode and was making my way through the series when I got the notice that SWCW would be leaving the service on April 7th. As I was in the midst of studying for tests, there wasn’t really anything I could do about it–no major binges or anything like that–so I was only able to get to Season 3 (first episode) before the show was pulled. Now, it isn’t gone forever–more than likely this show is going to appear on Disney’s new “Streaming” service.

Obviously, I don’t really like this. To the best of my knowledge, Disney’s new service will not be “free.” If it costs money, then I have to decide whether I need Disney’s service over Netflix’s service, or whether I can afford (notice I didn’t use the word need as I don’t need either service, but I want them for entertainment). I don’t really like this idea of starting new services when there are already market leaders in the market. I’ll explain why in a moment. For the moment, the point is moot as Disney’s service hasn’t actually premiered.

Hello Farscape

Farscape is a early to mid 90s Sci-Fi show that, like Babylon 5 (B5), I saw a few episodes when it first premiered. Afterwards, it was one of the first shows on streaming. I managed to see approx. the first 2 seasons before it went away (again, much like SWCW where it went away before I could finish it). I’m starting over again. It has been long enough that I really don’t remember the characters or the relationships well enough to try to pick up where I left off. I will try to finish this series this time around (again, like B5), and if I do so, I will post a review of the series on the blog.

Streaming: Hello and Goodbye

So the thing about streaming is that it is almost a lot like broadcast network: you are at the whim of the providers and licensors as to what you can watch when. It takes away choice. The providers go out and acquire the content and you watch it. However, not all providers have all the content, meaning subscriptions to multiple providers to get a good coverage of old and new content. Now, content provider sees these subscription fees as way of guaranteeing revenue (hence, CBS All Access, Disney’s upcoming streaming service, and the myriad of others who want in on the act, like NBC Sports). However, the market cannot and will not support all these services, so just like all other markets, most will fail until an oligopoly has been established of the main players (usually 2-3, sometimes more, but rarely) and equilibrium will be established. There will always be smaller players (a fair amount), but in the end, there will only be a few major players. The problem is that everyone, no matter how late they are to the party (I’m looking at you Apple) wants to be a part of the oligopoly. And while the consumer may ultimately win through competition, we’re about to enter a phase where the consumer will be the ultimate loser since the only way to get all the content will be to buy as many services as one can afford–not great on the consumer’s bottom line.

Until the shakeup happens and content providers stop there own services and partner with larger companies, the consumer loses. And will this happen? I point you to the immenient shutdown management platforms like VUDU and the like. They wanted to be a place where you dumped all movies that you purchased so as to diffuse the power and domination they felt Apple had in the marketplace. Now they are going away and Apple still maintains its dominance in purchased content, but has seceded its in content to the “streaming” platforms.

My point is that capitalism is NOT always good for the consumer, especially whenever there is market upheaval. The market doesn’t always work in the consumer’s favor and we need to stop gushing over capitalism as if it is a “perfect” system. Like all human inventions and endeavors, it has its flaws, and the fact that I no longer have access to watch a show through no action of my own that I hadn’t finished highlights just one of the many flaws in the system.

I guess I’m writing about this, not to gripe or to propose a better system, but in the hopes that by pointing out the flaws, someone (an economist or theorist) many be able to implement ideas that can correct these flaws.

Sidney

Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

Mini-Review: Netflix’s The Dragon Prince (Season 1)

Image Source: https://www.theverge.com/2018/9/7/17826544/the-dragon-prince-review-avatar-last-airbender-netflix

Okay, with the impending release of Season 2, I thought I’d take a moment to come back and talk about my reactions to Season 1 of the show now that I’ve taken I’ve seen the first season all the way through. This will be a shorter entry as I have a packed schedule today, but I’ve been meaning to revisit this series for a while.

Characters

So, one of the main reasons that I didn’t initially like the show was that the main character was just too close to their earlier creation–Sokka from The Avatar: The Last Airbender series. Prince Callum (pictured in the above image on the left) is very much in tone, spirit, and vocal inflection a “spiritual successor” to Sokka. While I like Sokka, I can only take him as a “side” character. As the main character, he grates on me (or at least he did until the 4th or 5th episode). I think they toned down his character and gave him a “specialty” which made him seem more in tune with the other “main” characters and less of a walking “joke.” The other main characters were fine and I didn’t really have any problems with them, but Prince Callum really turned me off at first.

Plot

I actually liked the way the plot unfolded after say the 4th episode. The main characters find something and must return it to its rightful place — in other words, a quest. This was missing in the early episodes. Once they set out and began their quest, things seemed to fall in place for me with the show and I began to look forward to watching it, rather than it being a chore to get through.

The main villain seems a little off, however. He seems to use the best interests of the Empire as his justification, but his actions are at odds, and much of what he does seems like a “power grab.” I can’t tell if the creators are trying to create a “complicated” villain (and just not reaching it, in my opinion), or if they are trying to show the villain’s “two-faced” nature (i.e., the Palpatine/Emperor duality from Star Wars Prequels).

Final Observations

The show has potential–which Netflix seems to have seen as they greenlit a second season of the show. They’ve added a new “main” character–so I’ll be interested to see how that works out in regards to the characters’ dynamics as they go about their quest. They’ve added several side characters, so I’d like to see how they are going to be used over the upcoming semester as well as I kind of like their side characters as much as the main characters–probably not their intention, but they are still varied and fun.

Overall Grade: B

So, due to the earlier part of the season, I would have rated this as a B-, but based on the stellar last half of the season, I’m raising my grade to a solid B. If you can get past the early humdrum episodes, I think there’s a worth fantasy series that is worth checking out. It’s no Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it isn’t that bad as fantasy series go.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

Netflix’s The Dragon Prince

MV5BMjA5MjEwODU1MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzk0MzA5NTM@._V1_UY268_CR9,0,182,268_AL_
Image Source: IMDB

I had a chance to watch the first episode of this Fantasy show from the creators of the Avatar: The Last Airbender and I found that it was pretty good.  I don’t think, at this early stage (and having seen only one episode), that it is a good as their previous show, but I think that it has promise.

Characters

So, this is where I’m still undecided.  The characters that they introduce are mostly interesting, but unlike Avatar, they don’t fully flesh out each character’s relationship to each other.  There is an extended “history” of the world at the beginning, but the writers also use quite a bit of dialogue as “exposition” in the episode as well.  There are some funny character moments as well as some dramatic ones, but especially for the first episode, I would have liked to have had more grounding in the relationships and motivations.  There are, of course, analogies to the old series, a serious sister, a jokey, but ultimately heroic brother, but there are also some new ideas, that of a “step-brother,” which hasn’t really been explored too much in animation, but is pretty much a fact of life in many Western families.

Plot

So, I won’t go into too much of a plot summary here, but basically humans have killed the Dragon King and are pressing the borders of the other races (elves) now that there is no “guardian” on the borders.  I understand that the humans are being portrayed as the “bad guys” here (colonists, or as Shuri from The Black Panther might term it–colonizers), they are portrayed on-screen remarkably sympathetic.  The writers want you to form an attachment to these humans, even though they are on a mission of war and conquest, and after the first episode, I can’t quite reconcile these two disparate elements together, and it took me out of the plot.

Will I Continue?

Yes, for the moment, I think I will.  I’ll probably watch one episode a week (my normal viewing speed) and I’ll report back after the season is done.  I really like what they’ve set up, although I can’t quite decide if I’m going to like it as much as their original show, which (although I’ve not seen every episode, I’ve seen enough to know that as a Fantasy and Sci-Fi person, as long as it doesn’t go crazy, I’m probably going to enjoy most of it, even if I don’t enjoy it as much as Avatar: The Last Airbender.  However, I’m reminded of the old adage: “Perfect is the enemy of good.”  While Avatar looks to have been perfect, this seems perfectly fine as well.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue #1, Currently on Script Page 28)

Mini-Review: Man of Tai Chi (Netflix movie)

v1
Keanu Reeves and Tiger Chen star in Man of Tai Chi. Image Source: Rotten Tomatoes https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/man_of_tai_chi/

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated every 2-3 Days (mostly)

  • Project Ship of Shadows (Graphic Novel) Page Count: 21 (+1)
    Goal = 3 Pages a week. 20/20 Pages (for artist). 21/32 pages (for completion of 1st issue)
    Actual = 1/5 Pages done so far this week.
    Wrote the Page that I’d rough drafted the day before. Moving along slowly. Don’t think I can finish the entire first issue by Saturday, but we’ll see.
  • Whale Song Revision (Fantasy Short Story) (2nd Draft)
    (Researched an article on Whaling, think that I have the two characters–a brother and a sister who are on the opposite sides of the issue.  Still, no Writing so far). Need to find a place to work in revisions–I can draft new material just fine, but I don’t seem to have any time to work on “drafting” revisions.

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Weekly (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Transhuman edited by Mark L. Van Name and T. F. K. Weisskopf
    Just started this anthology – it was given to me at a LibertyCon some years ago, but I’ve just now gotten around to reading it. I may not finish it/read all the stories, but so far, I’ve read the first story and liked it.
  • For School:
    Afrofuturism (by Ytasha Womack): This book describes the academic genre of Afrofuturism (essentially African American Science Fiction that deals with social issues in culture).  I just finished Chapter 5 today and I’m at the beginning of Chapter 6 (this book has 10 chapters).
    Wrote out a fairly extensive list of possible research topics to explore from chapter 5. Really intriguing book.
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)
    Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Exit the 13 Assassins

So, even though I’d taken a Tai Chi class on this previous Saturday and even though I had this movie in my Netflix queue, I wasn’t actually going to watch this movie this past weekend. No, rather I’d intended to watch 13 Assassins, another martial arts movie on Netflix dealing with 13 Assassins who are tasked with killing a poor ruler in Japan’s feudal period.  The movie was slated to go off Netflix at the beginning of the month (today as I write this post) and I’d had it in my queue for ages. However, when I sat down to watch it, it was far more violent of a movie than I really wanted at that time. There was a “hari kari” scene at the beginning of the movie and in the next 15 minutes there were two other fairly violent scenes. In short, it just wasn’t what I was looking for after a Tai Chi class and a fairly grueling drive home.

Enter the Man of Tai Chi

After debating with myself for about 5 minutes and scrolling through some more of Netflix’s martial arts movies, I decided to give Man of Tai Chi a try (I had just taken a Tai Chi class after all).  It actually wasn’t all that bad. Not great, but not a train wreck either. Directed by Keanu Reeves, the movie tells the story of a young man, who is outstanding in the ways of Tai Chi as a martial art, but not so great in understanding Tai Chi’s philosophy. The protagonist (who is not Keanu Reeves, by the way, although Keanu does star as in the movie as the primary villain/antagonist role) of the movie is ‘Tiger’ Chen Lin Hu played by an actor named Tiger Hu Chen who I’ve not seen before but who is expressive in that earnest and determined “Peter Parker” sort of way that many actors are able to bring out in their performances.  The movie follows “Tiger’s” descent into the abandonment of Tai Chi ideals by using Tai Chi to fight in tournaments and later, for money.

A Real World Martial Arts Movie

Set in today’s world (the movie was released in 2013 according to IMDB, although I don’t remember if there are dates in the story–I don’t think so, but I could be wrong). This movie takes place in China/Hong Kong and throws a light bit of police procedural in along with the martial arts with a young female detective who is trying to crack the case of this underground fighting circuit even though her boss is telling her not waste her time. As mentioned, Keanu Reeves’ character tempts and corrupts “Tiger’s” character until he is at the breaking point. I will mention that the final fight scene is vaguely reminiscent of the initial Morpheus and Neo “training” scene where Morpheus shows Neo the Matrix for the 1st time. To be clear, it ISN’T their first fight scene I’m referencing, but the first time they “jack” into the “training” simulation. The fights, while stylishly correographed, lack a bit of polish that would have elevated them from good into the great arena (especially the final, climatic battle). There is a master who sees “Tiger’s” character going over to the “dark side” and tries to use Tai Chi philosophy to stop it and their was a Tai Chi move used in the movie that my friend and I had practiced earlier that day, but mostly the movie was a typical martial arts movie.

Still, I enjoyed it all the more for its earnest main character and the fact that it at least genuflected (or bowed in this case) in the direction of Tai Chi as a healing art, not as a destructive one.

Overall Grade: B-

Yes, I’m being a bit generous here–it is a typical martial arts movie and nothing special. However, I like the way the actor transitioned from earnest to “hard” and I’d had the Tai Chi class earlier in the day, so I feel a bit generous and lenient towards this than I might have otherwise.

Sidney




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Mini-Review: Netflix’s Lost in Space

lost-in-space-stream-netflix-1_filmdaily
Image of Netflix’s Lost in Space, Robot and Will Robinson, Penny and Judy Robinson.  Image Source: Film Daily

A Great Start

So, last week I finished watching Season 1 of Netflix’s Lost in Space, a 10 Episode Science Fiction show reboot of the original 1960s show and the 1990s movie version and I have to say that I really enjoyed it!  I watched it a 2nd time over this weekend in lieu of Avengers Infinity War in order to help take my mind off the car trouble that I had over the weekend and it held up over a 2nd viewing.  It is classic science fiction, but unlike most modern shows (this includes pretty all genres), the science is fairly crucial to the story.  While not overblown or overbearing, the fact that the new show portrays the Robinsons as mostly a family of scientists and doctors (the father is now a marine vet. who is better at combat than at pure science–but even he has his moments), they actually use the skills and knowledge that they are supposed to have in much the same way the detectives and lawyers on Law and Order use their skills find the perpetrator of the crime and use the law to get a conviction.  This makes the show feel grounded and more realistic than other recent sci-fi shows that I like and watch.

Danger, Will Robinson

I won’t go into spoilers, but a certain robot with a certain “catch-phrase” is back and the origin is pretty unique.  The robot is central to the plot, however, so if you’re not a robot person, then you’re not going to like the show because the robot is as much the main character in the show as is Will Robinson.  Sometimes the robot is CGI and sometimes the robot is some sort of “suit.”  While the robot didn’t bother me particularly, I know from at least one YouTube review of the show that one reviewer said that when it was the “suit,” it brought her out of the experience.  I didn’t really notice it myself, so I’ll just say Your Mileage May Vary depending on your tolerance for special effects.  I know it makes a difference as, while I wasn’t born yet when the original show came on, I could never go back and watch reruns of the original show because of the dated nature of the special effects after having seen the special effects in the Star Wars and Star Trek movies.  I really liked all of the characters in the Robinson family–each was made wildly different from one another and it was easy to differentiate between them, but their skill set and knowledge-base complemented each other.  Well done to the writers on clear and effective characterization.

Dr. Smith, I Presume

So, the chief antagonist is Dr. Smith, played by Parker Posey.  Now her character is polarizing: one reviewer loves the character while another reviewer called her character a major problem for the show.  I personally liked the way she played the character.  The way the character was written and the way the story unfolded, I felt like I understood her every motivation.  Again, no spoilers, but they update Dr. Smith’s character into a “modern day” conception of a bad guy.  If there’s a problem with the character, this is where I think it lies.  I’ve said time and again that being the anti-hero doesn’t really work because at some point, the anti-hero/villain is only out for number one and will work against you when their purposes no longer align with yours, and Dr. Smith is the epitome of this philosophy.  What I think is happening is that the dislike/distaste that people feel toward the Dr. Smith character is actually their distaste for the notion that someone would be selfish enough to work against the group for their own ends so ruthlessly (which is what a villain actually does) and their transposing that distaste onto the character/actor.  Again, Your Mileage May Vary, but the “flashbacks” that show Dr. Smith’s earlier actions before crashing with the Robinson’s sufficiently explained why she acted the way she did and I always felt that I understood her motivations even if I didn’t agree with them.

Overall Score: A- (91-92)

Look, I’m not going to lie, I really liked this story.  I like that there’s a lot of science and science-based concepts in it while also retaining quite a few “science fiction” tropes that really make it interesting.  I really like that it isn’t “grim dark” and is more of a family show that kids and adults can enjoy.  I like the characters and felt that all of them (even Dr. Smith) had interesting and sufficient characterization for me to understand why they were doing what they were doing.  The only reason that I didn’t give it a solid was the fact that it did slow down in a couple of places where they were establishing the robot as a “friend” to Will and Will’s decision not to tell his father (originally) about the robot.  Not telling his father was something that seemed like the writers needing it for the plot and not organically from Will’s character because it sets up a situation later on that could have been avoided had Will told his father about it sooner.  Other than that, however, I found the story to be a fun, and interesting ride.  I’m looking forward to Season 2 (fingers crossed as I haven’t heard if it will get another season yet).

Sidney




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Let’s (not) talk about CBS All Access

cbs-and-star-trek_exstreamist

So one of the new TV shows that I was all set to talk about was the new Star Trek show that will be debuting in the Fall.  New Star Trek show, you say?  Wait, why haven’t I heard of this new show?  Because, instead of being rational and putting this show on CBS or a traditional streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu, CBS is going to leverage this show and only put it out in the US and Canada on its new fledgling streaming service, CBS All Access for $5.99 a month. 😦

That’s right, instead of going the traditional route and having commercials pay for the program, or a distributor (such as Hulu or Netflix) pick up the show and pay for it, they are going use it as the backbone leverage consumers to pay for yet another online streaming service in order to get access to their programs.  Not only do they want advertisers to pay them (for the programs on CBS), but they also want consumers to pay them as well.  Just like HBO Go, CBS executives see consumers as a pot of gold that they want “access” to, but unlike HBO Go, CBS isn’t a premium service.  The only way you can get HBO is to be a cable subscriber–HBO Go was designed for “cord cutters” like me who wanted just the content they want and nothing extra, which is something cable companies still in 2017 won’t let you do.  CBS has no legitimate reason to withhold content except profit, or in this case greed as they have a channel on “free” TV as one of the big 3 networks–ABC, NBC, CBS.

Why is it greedy, you might ask?  They’re a company and they are in business to make a profit, right?  Then I ask you, why, oh why, are they allowing Netflix to show the new Star Trek show a day after it premieres on CBS All Access all over the world EXCEPT in the US and Canada?  Two words, “online piracy.”  CBS knows full well that pirates all over the world are not going to stand for “locking down of content” in this way.  So this it their bet, give everyone else an opportunity to get it legitimately, but force consumers in the US and Canada not to have an option to get it anywhere but though our All Access service.  There is no reason why CBS could not have included the US and Canada in their negotiations with Netflix other than the desire to use the show to launch their own streaming service.  Netflix would love to be the premiere player in the streaming world as is in a two-way dogfight with Hulu and Amazon.com Prime streaming.  You know that a new Star Trek show on their network would be a feather in their cap (esp. since Amazon won the rights to the Grand Tour with the former hosts of Top Gear).

Much like the AMC foolishness with Spider-Man Homecoming, companies continue to shoot themselves in the foot through outlandish schemes to increase their revenue streams.  Here’s an idea (one that I’m ardently trying to follow myself as a writer): put out a high quality product that is so good that it gets people excited and talking about it and makes them want more in that universe and makes them look forward to the next project that you’re working on and the next after that and so on and so on and so on . . .

That (in my opinion) is a truly sustainable business model.

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