Star Trek Discovery

StarTrekDiscoverySeason2First, I must say that Discovery is definitely one of the best Star Trek TV series I have seen in a long time. If we don’t count the animated series and the movies, it is the sixth Star Trek series (after Star Trek The Original Series (1966-69), The Next Generation (1987–94), Deep Space Nine (1993–99), Voyager (1995–2001), and Enterprise (2001–2005)). After The Original, none of these series were really satisfactory (in imagination, plot and action) until Discovery.

For the first time, with Discovery, the main character of a series is NOT the captain of the USS Entreprise. The series focus on Michael Burnham (played by Sonequa Martin-Green [The Walking Dead]) who is the First Officer of the USS Shenzhou in the beginning before becoming Science Specialist on the USS Discovery. Born in 2226, she is a xenoanthropologist raised on Vulcan by her adoptive parents, Vulcan ambassador Sarek (James Frain) and his human wife Amanda (Mia Kirshner). She is therefore Spock‘s foster sister! Her biological parents were killed during a Klingon raid on Doctari Alpha.

The first season, set a decade before the Original series, focuses on the FederationKlingon war. During a rare encounter of the Shenzhou with the Klingons, Burnham uses her knowledge of Klingon and Vulcan strategy to try preventing the war but act against her captain’s orders. She fails and Georgiou is killed in the ensuing battle. Burnham is sentenced to life in prison for mutiny, but during a prison transfer her shuttle is damaged and she is rescued by the USS Discovery, commanded by Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), where she is given a temporary position of Science Officer. The Discovery uses an experimental spore drive which, after sabotage, brings them to a parallel universe where Captain Georgiou is the Empress of the Terran Empire! After multiple trials and betrayals, the crew succeeds to end the war.

In season two (which is not over yet, as three more episodes remain to air), the captain of the USS Enterprise, Christopher Pike, takes emergency command of the Discovery from interim-captain Saru (Doug Jones) in order to investigate a series of mysterious signals. Spock (Ethan Peck), who appears to have suffered a mental breakdown, has had foreknowledge of those signals, which seem linked to the apparition of a mysterious Red Angel. They must find Spock before Section 31 to try to unravel the mystery…

The latest episode (“If Memory Serves”, 8th episode of the 2nd season and 23rd episode of the series, which aired on March 7th) was particularly impressive. It starts with “Previously on Star Trek” and then shows scenes from the pilot episode of the Original series (“The Cage”, produced in 1964-65 was never aired but later partly used in episodes 11 & 12, “The Menagerie”). In the original pilot, the captain of the Entreprise was not Kirk but Pike and Spock is the only crew-member who remained in the series. In Discovery, Spock brings Burnham to Talos IV so the Talosian can read his mind and show crucial information to Burnham, therefore both healing him and their relationship. That episode was quite something.

It has been relatively well received (with a rating of 7.4 on IMDb, an overall Rotten Tomatoes critic rating of 82% [but an audience score of 48%, are they mad? !!!] and the same 82% for season 2 [this time with an audience score of 29%! Unbelievable !!!]. In my point of view, it is a series that is well worth watching, even if you know nothing of Star Trek. It is simply very good science fiction. And a third season has already been commissioned. stars-3-5

Apparently, more live-action series are planned including one with Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and one with Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) focusing on the activities of Section 31. 

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Victoria S03

VictoriaS03What first interested me into this series was the fact that Jenna Coleman (one of the best Doctor Who companions) had the starring role. But, of course, it was also a very good British historical TV drama, so that was plenty of reasons to follow it. 

In season 3, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are now older (close to their 30s) and have already six children. This time the story is less political (although it covers the machinations of the foreign secretary, Lord Palmerston, and the monarchy being threaten by anarchists, the revolutionary wind from France or the Chartists) and is more centred around the family. The couple struggles as they become disenchanted with each other, bringing the various type of emotions that any couple would experienced with time, but having their differences being fanned by the plotting of Victoria’s estranged sister, Feodora. Albert exhaust himself trying to find his own place (with pet projects like being the Chancellor of Cambridge or organizing the Great Exhibition). They try to give the unruly Bertie (the future king Edward VII) a proper education.

When it comes to the personal life of monarchs I am not sure if this story is truly historical — it is probably mostly dramatized — but it is quite interesting. It was well received (rating of 8.2 on IMDb as well as an average tomatometer of 84% for the whole series and an audience score of 81% for Season 3 on Rotten Tomatoes) and is well worth watching. stars-3-5

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True Detective, S03

TrueDetectiveS03“An anthology series in which police investigations unearth the personal and professional secrets of those involved, both within and outside the law”. Created by Nic Pizzolatto, with Mahershala Ali (as Wayne Hays), Stephen Dorff (as Roland West) and Carmen Ejogo (as Amelia Reardon). In the deep America Arkansas in the 1980s, two kids go missing a few weeks after Halloween. The boy is found dead and the girl is never seen again… In 2015, the crew for a crime investigation TV show is interviewing the retired detective who was in charge of this unsolved crime. The storytelling keep switching between the two era (and many years in between) as the detective remembers the details of the investigation — that’s IF he can remember, because he is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In this rummaging of the past, he becomes determined to solve this mystery once and for all.

The first two seasons (set in Louisiana with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and then in California with Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams) were more about the horrors of the crime, the darkness and corruption of the human psyche, wrapped in a mysterious aura. This time, the series seems more down to earth as the detectives are investigating a rather ordinary crime that is made to look like a horrible case of pedophile ring by the simple incompetence of the police work and high level political interference. The interest of the story now lies somewhere else, more into the form and less into the content. This simple case is rendered complex through its maniacal storytelling with constant flashbacks alternating with flash-forwards. It’s as if the script had been shred into pieces and we try to reconstruct the plot strip by strip, in random order. This is purposely and skillfully done to make the viewers deeply feel the confusion in the mind of the main character who suffers from dementia. As annoying a device as it could be, it is VERY effective — mostly because of the dazzling acting performance of Mahershala Ali (Academy Awards winner for Best Supporting Actor in Moonlight in 2016 and in Green Book in 2018).

If solving the crime is the obsession of the mains characters, the story itself is less about the investigation as it is about the conflits between the protagonists: between the two detectives themselves, between the detectives and their higher hierarchy, between the victims’ parents, between Hays and his girlfriend/wife — who are all under tremendous pressure to see the case solved — or even within Hays himself as he struggles to remember. This series might also have a slight supernatural aspect when Hays (haze?) confronts the ghosts of his past (the Viet congs, the conversations with his dead wife) — or is it rather due to the disease? The series exposes the emotional range that the characters go through as they all try to successfully resolve their conflicts — or not. In the end, despite the laboured and twisted storytelling, the mystery will be solved—but the man who once was a ranger in Vietnam slowly gets lost in the jungle of his own mind…

Despite lower Nielsen ratings than the previous two seasons, the series was well received with an overall IMDb rating of 9.0 (for all three seasons) and Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 85% / 83% (compared to 87% / 97% for the first season and 64% / 60% for the second). All in all, for me, it’s an excellent TV series and probably my favourite of the three seasons. stars-4-0

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Mrs Wilson

mrswilsonThis three-part historical drama is set in Britain during and after WW2 (in the ‘50s & ’60s). When her husband dies, in the early sixties, Alison Wilson is already distraught. They lived comfortably in their little cottage. She’s a typist and Alexander is a spy novelists (and retired MI6 officer). They have two sons, Gordon and Nigel, and they were happy. However, as she tries to come around organizing her husband funerals, she receives the visit of a woman, Mrs Gladys Wilson, who claim to be Alec’s widow! Her happy world quickly crumbles as she struggles with one question: was her husband really the man he claimed to be? Was it just a lie? 

She knew Alex/Alec was a spy because they met at the Secret Intelligence Service headquarters where they were both working during the war. She starts her own investigation, questioning Alex’s handler at MI6, some colleagues in the Intelligence Service, Gladys’ son. She becomes obsessed with this quest to discover who the man she thought she knew for twenty-two years really was. The deeper she digs in his past the more secrets she discovers! Through flashbacks, she relives their history together until she understands who he really was. When she comes to term with the truth, she becomes a nun, but she never could tell her sons about their father until after she died—she had written everything down. 

It is a beautiful and compelling story told in the manner of a spy or mystery novel. The most interesting part is that it is a true story — and the cool twist is that Alison Wilson is played by actress Ruth Wilson, he own grand-daughter! Alexander ‘Alec’ Wilson wrote twenty-four novels, mostly inspired by his career in the secret service and his huge imagination. He was a bigamist who had seven children with several wives. Many aspects of his life are still a mystery as, even today, the Foreign Office still consider his files as ‘sensitive’.

Mrs Wilson is a very interesting historical drama, beautifully filmed and cleverly told. I enjoyed it greatly and recommend it warmly. It was well received by the critics (with rating of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.4 on IMDb). It aired on BBC One in late November / early December and will premieres on PBS Masterpiece Sunday, March 31, 2019, 9/8c (and will subsequently be available on Dvd, iTunes Store and Prime Video). Don’t miss it! stars-3-5

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Z Nation

znation-s05-poster

Season 5

“A group of survivors must cross the country with a possible cure for the zombie apocalypse. The holder of the cure, a zombie-human hybrid named Murphy, may not be so cooperative.”

That’s the premise of this 5-season series. At first I thought, “Not another zombie show!” but it grew on me because of its humour, its clever ideas and the fact that it was able to reinvent itself season after season. Hell, it tackled every zombie cliché, and sometimes it was boring or stupid, often repetitive, but the producers had the sense to give it mercy before it becomes worse.

The fact that the series is a gross comedy doesn’t prevent it from touching serious subjects. It is particularly the case in the fifth and last season which is more political. The series talks about Native American rights and the zombies (who have evolved an intermediary stage where they still have cognitive and language abilities before becoming murderous brutes) are an allegory pleading against prejudice and discrimination (racial, sexual, religious, etc.). We must accept the difference in other people, whatever they are.

The series was relatively well received (rating of 6.7 on IMDb and if the first season was dislike by critics on Rotten Tomatoes with a rating of 45%, the over-all audience score is nevertheless 77%). It aired on SyFy in the U.S. and on Space in Canada, but can still be viewed on Dvds and on Netflix. A prequel, titled Black Summer, will be airing on Netflix in early 2019. Over all it is a nice, funny entertainment, that changes us from The Walking Dead. I have always been partial to post-apocalyptic stories, so I guess it is binge-watching worthy. stars-3-0

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The Bill Murray Stories

billmurraystoryApparently there are lots of stories on the internet about Bill Murray doing some crazy spontaneous things where he crashes a party or a wedding picture session, comes behind someone in a public toilet and puts his hands on the person eyes saying “No one will ever believe you”, or ends up doing the dishes in some kid’s apartment. He just shows up out of the blue, acts like he is just a normal guy (not a celebrity) but in a way that touches people’s life. Could those stories be true? That’s the question which Tommy Avallone asked himself and decided to make a documentary about it. 

The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From a Mythical Man is a documentary that retells those stories and interviews the people who experienced them. It really seems that most stories — at least those told in the documentary — are true and there is pictorial or video evidences to prove it. Avallone then goes on asking himself: why? Why someone like Bill Murray would do such things? To goof around? As a publicity stunt? Not at all. It is just who Bill Murray is. It is part of an improv thing and part of a life philosophy (something like taoism or zen). He just like to live in the moment and make people happy.

Personally, I am just wondering what makes people wake up in the morning and decides to make a documentary about Bill Murray. You are in movie school and need to do one as an assignment? Or really want answers to those questions and decide to just films everything and try to make money out of it? Or you just have the “reporter” gene in your blood? I guess someone should make a documentary about that.

It’s not a very good documentary (it’s clumsy, particularly toward the end, and I dislike when someone makes a documentary about themselves looking for something) but I enjoyed it because I not only learned a lot about who is Bill Murray, but it was also quite entertaining (lots of funny anecdotes and movie excerpts). It reminds me of this book that I once saw in the library: The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment, and Party Crashing, by Gavin Edwards and R. Sikoryak, which was basically asking the same questions. [ Amazon / Goodreads / Library ]

Apparently, Bill Murray is quite an interesting person. But whether you are interested or not, whether you like documentaries or not, it doesn’t matter: if you just take the moment to watch this sixty-seven minutes movies you will certainly enjoy it. And maybe, maybe, you’ll take something out if it and wonder, like me, could I ever be that spontaneous and really live in the moment? stars-3-0

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Watership Down

watershipdownWhen I told one of my colleagues that I was watching a TV mini-series about a bunch of rabbits, she laugh at me saying “You’re watching a kid’s show on Netflix?” I replied that it was far from being a kid show. “Sure, it is about rabbits, but it is a very dark tale of survival”. 

This 2018 four-part TV mini-series tells the story of a group of rabbits who flee their warren and seek a new home. They are led by Hazel after his brother Fiver had a vision of destruction. Indeed, the sandy hill that was their home was invaded by bulldozers and backhoe excavators to create a new neighbourhood for humans. The journey is full of danger as rabbits in an open field can become prey to numerous predators (birds of prey, cats, dogs, foxes and… humans!). Before finding the ideal down (a gently rolling hill) to start anew, they will encounter two other rabbit communities which — having somehow lost their natural ways and surrendered their freedom in two opposite manners — will bring unimaginable perils to the group.

watership_down-movieposterI never read Richard Adams’ novel, but from what I’ve seen by browsing through it, the animated mini-series is a faithful adaptation. However, what I have seen, many years ago, it’s the 1978 animated movie adaptation by Martin Rosen (with John Hurt voicing Hazel). For the time it was a stunningly beautiful animation that was characterized by it’s strong graphic violence that made it clearly aimed at an adult audience. It became for me a sort of cult movie, proving that animation could be taken seriously by adults. Therefore, I was quite curious to see how this new TV series would fare in comparison and I was a little sceptical that it could be as good. In fact, after viewing the first episode of the mini-series, I was rather disappointed that none of the characters had died yet! However, after viewing the whole series, I am happy to see that it compares well with the movie. It even manages to update the adaptation for the twenty-first century (replacing traditional animation with 3D CGI and putting more emphasis on the ecological theme) while making the story more accessible to all audience by giving a more gentle version of it (with far less graphical violence).

watership-down-posterIf it is far from being perfect, the 3D animation is nonetheless excellent. The animation of the rabbits, of the landscapes and the movements is all nearly perfect. However, the animation of the humans and of other animals (cats & dogs notably) really needed more work and is quite disappointing.

The voice-acting is excellent and includes many great actors like James McAvoy (Hazel), Nicholas Hoult (Fiver), John Boyega (Bigwig), Ben Kingsley (General Woundwort), Tom Wilkinson (Threarah), Gemma Arterton (Clover), Peter Capaldi (Kehaar), Olivia Colman (Strawberry), Anne-Marie Duff (Hyzenthlay), Freddie Fox (Captain Holly), Miles Jupp (Blackberry), Daniel Kaluuya (Bluebell), Rosamund Pike (Black Rabbit), Daniel Rigby (Dandelion). However, it is not perfect. For example, as far as I remember, the voice of Kehaar (the seagull) sounded rather German in the movie whilst it was supposed to be Scandinavian. This time, it sounds Scottish (Capaldi)! It also feels strange that all rabbits from the same warren have different accents — but I guess it helps giving them different “personality”.

What I found interesting is that Adams created a culture for the rabbits, a mythology (or at least a creation myth, based around the Sun-god Frith, the folk hero El-ahrairah [the Prince with a Thousand Enemies], and the Black Rabbit as death-figure), and almost a language (the Lapine, or at least a vocabulary that sounds foreign). It is fascinating as it grounds the story in reality, but also gives it the mystical aura of legends.

Beside the very obvious ecological message (the Elils [rabbits’ natural enemies] kill by nature, by necessity and never more than needed, while men kill by pleasure, or simply because they can and will never stop “till they’ve spoil the earth”), to me Watership Down’s story feels like an allegory about the danger of totalitarianism (the later ’30s German fascism for example). However, Adams said that it was rather based on the theme of the classical hero inspired by the epics of Homer (Odyssey) or Virgil (Aeneid).

All in all, it is beautiful, rich, riveting and intelligent. Well worth watching and highly recommended. stars-4-0

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The mini-series’ trailer:

Now, compare with the 1978 movie trailer:

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