Category Archives: 4-5

Series Review “Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan” (2021) #200WordReview #AgeofSamurai #NetflixReview

Game of Thrones… set in Japan

1551. A brutal and bloody civil war has ravaged Japan for a hundred years, ferocious warlords have been locked in a death struggle for supremacy in the fractured land. Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan tells the tale of that era and how, through a painful birth, the modern Japan would be born.

Age of Samurai is a limited docuseries featuring the usual shtick: talking heads, narration, recreations with actors, and maps. So many juicy, juicy maps. However, it’s the way you tell ’em, and Age of Samurai has some wonderful acting, artfully but not distractingly shot talking heads, lush graphics, phenomenal editing, and a narrative structure that sucks us in. Forget anime and manga: this series is a gateway drug to Japanese culture. My only criticism is later important characters sometimes just pop up instead of being mentioned or having their importance artfully foreshadowed.

A kind of real life Game of Thrones… set in Japan, the twists and turns were riveting. I’ve never much been interested in Japanese history, but this has started a fever in my brain; let’s see where that fever leads.

Beautiful. Thrilling. Immersive. Inspiring.

4/5

© 2020-2021 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from age-of-samurai-battle-for-japan.jpg (568×416) (next-episode.net)

Netflix Limited Series Review “Ripper” (2020) #100WordReview #NetflixReview

engrossing

Four episode Ripper is Netflix’s recounting of notorious serial killer The Yorkshire Ripper, a.k.a. Peter Sutcliffe, and his murder spree across northern England in the ’70s and early ’80s. The series follows the standard script: talking heads, archive footage, and narration overlaid. None-the-less, it was thrilling. Well told, we are immersed in the world of ’70s/’80s Britain. With Sutcliffe’s recent death due to Corona (in December 2020), this is a timely and engrossing look at one of Britain’s worst ever serial killers.

As the series itself says, we all expect and want the serial killer to be an otherly monster, but the reality is far more banal, and far more terrifying.

4/5

© 2020-2021 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from the-ripper-netflix-735×400.jpg (735×400) (screenrealm.com)

Star Trek: Picard S1E9 “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 1” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

We arrive as aliens ourselves on … some kind of reverse Eden.

I hate plot spoilers. I try my best to avoid them. Unfortunately, when reviewing episodes of a series, it’s almost inevitable that you give certain things away. Even the very act of no longer mentioning a character in itself tells you something. This is unavoidable and acceptable plot spoilage. But what is not acceptable is to smack a massive plot spoiler in the credits sequence. Episode 9, “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 1”, plants a massive spoiler flag in the opening credits by declaring “special guest star: so-and-so”. So now we know that that actor is in it and, of course, we know what character they play in the Star Trek universe, so… surprise ruined! Can you not have the cast list at the end of the episode, please?

Leaving meta-considerations aside, this was a disturbing episode which thoroughly upsets our moral compass. We finally arrive on Sojo’s homeworld, our crew making landfall in a less than conventional manner. We arrive as aliens ourselves on a brightly-coloured world with an almost Star Trek: The Original Series vibe about it. It’s full of life yet slightly off-kilter, a realistic and disturbing portrayal of some kind of reverse Eden: I was left unnerved and frightened by what appears to be coming up. Many new important characters are introduced, and it really feels as though the final episode will totally shatter the world we’ve come to know. The stakes have never felt higher.

Picard says in this ep that “it seems these days that all we do is say goodbye” and this episode indeed features two goodbyes. Sadly, they were robbed of some of their emotional value due to, once again, trying to cram everything into one episode. For the umpteenth time, the Game of Thrones Season 8 model doesn’t work; someone let the writers know.

“Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1” was stronger and felt more complete than last week’s showing, and we are being propelled towards what promises to be a truly terrific finale. We are made to face the sickening possibility that we, and our heroes, might be on the wrong side of this battle. Consequently, the sadism and fanaticism on the part of the show’s supposed baddies, the Romulans, is beginning to feel less and less consequential next to the threat that the androids are convincingly portrayed as having the potential to pose. However, the rush to the end robbed many moments of a sufficient sense of gravity. None-the-less, this episode did just enough to nudge a four star review.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10073428/mediaviewer/rm3212230145

Star Trek: Picard S1E7 “Nepenthe” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

… a genuinely affecting reunion with two of Picard’s old colleagues from the Enterprise …

No sooner than our two storylines had converged at the end of the last episode, the fellowship has now fragmented into what looks like three separate story threads. This episode, “Nepenthe”, sees Picard and Soji escape to a secluded Eden-like planet with rich, almost magically regenerative soil. Here they have a genuinely affecting reunion with two of Picard’s old colleagues from the Enterprise [names withheld to prevent spoilers!]. Their mission: to recover from a trauma of their own in this paradise. The performances from our two guest starts here was powerful and believable; surely the genuine affection and love between these two and Patrick Stewart, going back years, bled through into their performance. The tranquility allows all of our characters to reflect deeply on their lives, and gives Soji space to begin to grapple with her true nature, the nature of reality itself, and who she can trust (if anyone).

Meanwhile, Picard’s protégé/personal body guard, Elnor (or “Legolas in Space”, as I like to think of him), is struggling to stay alive and fight off the Romulans on the Borg Cube. We see a real deepening of his character to counteract the goofiness and moodiness we have seen so far. He’s becoming a great addition to the series.

Our mole onboard the fellowship’s spacecraft La Sirena is beginning to struggle with what they have done and, indeed, were commanded to do almost against their will. Surely not long become their demons consume them.

This was a very exciting episode with no serious flaws, lots happened, and there was no sign of the old problems: development and conclusion of entire backstories within one scene and heavy exposition. Additionally, it turns out that one of the characters creates invented languages, which is something of an area of interest for me (believe it or not: see Tolkien’s A Secret Vice). “Nepenthe” is characterised by deep reflections by our characters as they struggle to come to terms with the stories of their lives. A heart-wrenching, gut-churning episode; possibly the strongest so far, but it has stiff competition from the previous two instalments.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9420288/mediaviewer/rm1170389249

 

Star Trek: Picard S1E6 “The Impossible Box” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

… reminded us why the sci-fi/horror baddies … the Borg are one of the greatest in all pop culture.

“The Impossible Box” (S1E6) zipped along at a terrific pace. Picard and Soji are face-slammed directly into moments from their past that they had deeply repressed. Soji’s world begins to unravel as she is confronted with the disturbing reality of her situation, although we end the episode with her still not having had time to fully understand or internalise the situation. There’s some great Borg-based body horror, disturbing scenes where Picard struggles with the memories of his time being assimilated by the Borg. The flashbacks seem to smash through his, and the viewer’s, skull. This episode reminded us why the sci-fi/horror baddies that are the Borg are one of the greatest in all pop culture. And we finally get to see the show’s two storylines merge together.

All of this horrifying action hurtles along while in the background the equally horrifying situation from the last episode, where one of our crew isn’t quite what they appear, gut-churningly, slowly, steadily, threatens to explode at any minute.

All of this darkness is counterbalanced with a bit of sassy Raffi comedy. Thankfully, the comedy has been dialled back to warp factor one and appropriately served to break up what was an action-packed and terrifyingly dark story.

The genius of this episode was not discovering what happens, as we have known what the characters haven’t since episode one, but watching how it unfolds. A truly thrilling episode, and definitely the best so far from a dramatic point of view, although from a general entertainment standpoint I slightly preferred last week’s episode. My only criticism is that Star Trek: Picard really needs to knock its tendencies for exposition and introducing and/or resolving storylines in one scene/episode on the head.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

 

 

Star Trek: Picard S1E5 “Stardust City Rag” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

Jean Luc Picard [puts] on the most unbelievable French accent since Ewan McGregor in Beauty and the Beast …

This week, on Star Trek: Picard.

In “Stardust City Rag” (S1E5), our fellowship sets up a meeting on a dodgy planet to take part in an exchange: one life for another. This place, Freecloud, could have been lifted straight from Star Wars‘ cantina scene, where all sorts of criminals and smugglers and crimelords and aliens mingle in an anarchic power-vacuum region of the galaxy. Fascinating, but I’m not sure it totally sits within the Star Trek universe.

We find out why Raffi, who I’m now very fond of, wanted to leave Picard’s crew and go her own way when the team reached Freecloud. Just like Picard in the previous episode, she has a very weighty personal matter to resolve, a matter that has been hanging over her for years. Unfortunately, whilst Michelle Hurd’s (Raffi) acting more-or-less convinced, that of her counterpart in this scene distinctly did not (Gabe, Mason Gooding). Very disappointing. A big moment with a character I’ve come to care about, and yet I did not care much. Once again, Picard rushes and resolves an issue within the space of a scene or two. The writers do realise that this model, let’s call it the “Game of Thrones Season 8 Model”, is not a fan favourite, right?

This episode was full of zany comedy, including Rios dressed as a kind of intergalactic pimp, Jean Luc Picard putting on the most unbelievable French accent since Ewan McGregor in Beauty and the Beast, and Picard’s manservant-cum-bodyguard-cum-protégé establishing himself as the series’ light relief rather than broody angst merchant (as he appeared in the last episode) — and he seems to be acquiring an increasingly strong Antipodean accent as time goes on (think: the reverse of Deanna Troy in Star Trek: TNG). The writers and actors really pushed the boundaries of tone and good sense here, and they just stayed onside. The result? Back of the net! I loved it. I just hope they don’t camp it up too much; Picard has established itself as tonally distinct from some of the other, campier entries in the Star Trek canon, and it would be a shame to backslide from that or, worse, become tonally confused.

There’s a huge moment towards the end where one of our fellowship unexpectedly acts horrifically. Big drama to follow from this in future episodes, undoubtedly. I’m also starting to notice a pattern more generally: those who have served Star Fleet either get burnt out, go mad, or become numb in order to maintain their commission. The campy, intergalactic comedy romp belied this much darker core.

A lot happened. Great moments. Wonderful developments of some characters through their actions rather than through talking, as has sometimes characterised this show so far. The lightest and, paradoxically, also the darkest episode, this was an excellent outing and without a doubt the most entertaining so far.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.dailydot.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/star-trek-picard-episode-5.jpg

Star Trek: Picard S1E4 “Absolute Candor” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

… compelling racial tension on a de facto apartheid world which Picard refused to accept …

In Star Trek: Picard, “Absolute Candor” (S1E4), Jean-Luc Picard must face an unresolved personal issue from his past. It seems that Picard has apparently spent most of his life crashing around the cosmos, leaving his mark, and running away, leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces, like some kind of intergalactic lothario. Our other storyline, set on the Borg cube, is also becoming compelling, marked by increasingly nuanced character interactions between Soji and Narek. This was very much an episode delving into the past and how it shapes the future.

An exciting episode, better than the previous ones. I really felt absorbed in the world, like I’d known our merry band of explorers for ages — yet they only came together at the very end of the last episode. Our fellowship even has two new members, with the addition of a face from Star Trek‘s past, and the other from Picard’s past. I like how our crew feels like it has grown almost organically, giving us a chance to spend a little time with all of them first, instead of just dumping them all on us in the pilot. There was also some compelling racial tension on a de facto apartheid world which Picard refused to accept.

“Absolute Candor” wasn’t flawless, though. The meant-to-be emotional scenes with Picard facing his past seemed a little contrived and poorly acted, which is a shame as the characters involved all seem very interesting in themselves. Furthermore, this seems to be becoming a pattern in Star Trek: Picard; deep backstories, with years of emotional weight and angst behind them, are introduced, developed, played out, and resolved within the course of one episode, thereby robbing them of their full emotional impact. Why not settle these things over the course of several episodes?

Was this episode perfect? No. But there was a good balance of all parts — talk, action, characters being developed through their deeds.

This episode just nudges four out of five, by a nose.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9420280/mediaviewer/rm1594395137

TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 3 #GoTS7 #SpoilerSweats

Bran, of three-eyed raven fame, has turned up spouting yet more gibberish

Note: gotta say, I’m starting to struggle at keeping these reviews SPOILER FREE without being absurdly vague…

Episode 3 was the best of Season 7 so far. Not quite good enough to be a five star smash, but more exciting than eps 1 and 2. It’s entitled “The Queen’s Justice”, but which Queen? This was definitely an episode where powerful women had their say, shall we say. Indeed, the trend is continued whereby we are left in no doubt that the most powerful characters in Westeros are all women; perhaps a ploy from the writers to distract from the ample amount of bewbs present in the early series.

Cersei showed, once again, what a sadistic and calculating woman she can be. Daenerys is definitely starting to display more of that distinctly regal side. Somebody dies — but not before delivering a satisfying piece of revenge. There’s some top quality military outwitting going on. And, unfortunately, the most boring storyline of all made a showing: Bran, of three-eyed raven fame, has turned up spouting yet more gibberish; this plot thread better have a satisfying resolution.

I’m loving how the series is now zipping along. Now that most of the characters are dead, and the rest have all mostly hooked up, everything is happening in a handful of locations. It’s really starting to gear up for the great finale.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://www.fiz-x.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Game-of-Thrones-Season-7-2-1.jpg

TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 2 #GoTS7 #SpoilerSweats

Happily, the show gets back to basics: by bringing us some hawt seks.

Note: this aims to be a spoiler-free episode review…

Episode 2, “Stormborn”, was exciting stuff! A lot happened. Daenerys showed yet more of the steeliness she flashed in episodes 7.1 and 6.10. She even presumptuously demands that someone else “bend the knee”. Theon, known to his close friends as “Reek”, gets an opportunity to showcase his newfound confidence and courage. Happily, the show gets back to basics: by bringing us some hawt seks. Well, naked bods, boobies and all, and a bit of heavy petting. And we witness everyone’s favourite (read: nobody’s favourite) Samwise Gamgee rip-off, err, Sam, perform a rather disturbing Cronenbergesque operation. There’s also a shocking bit of carnage to finish the episode. In short, everything Game of Thrones fans love and crave.

Also notable was just how slow pre-broadband Westerosi communications technology was. We see different people get news about various developments at vastly different times. It’s something we don’t think about, but was a key factor back then… in the Middle Ages(??)

On the downside, the funny-cum-disgusting camerawork shtick from Episode 7.1, which saw canteen food and sloppy chamber pots quickly intercut, was repeated in a different context in this episode. I hope this isn’t the start of meta, distracting, drawing-attention-to-itself direction. You can have too much of a good thing.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://www.fiz-x.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Game-of-Thrones-Season-7-2-1.jpg

TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 1 #GoTS7 #SpoilerSweats

revenge is a dish best served cold.

Hmm, how to do a Game of Thrones episode review with no spoilers? Well, here we go.

Season 7 of the visual crack that is Game of Thrones kicked off yesterday. Unlike the last six seasons which had ten episodes apiece, this time we’ll get seven. But we’re promised they will be more epic than ever. I’m not disappointed, but actually really respect this decision: none of the old, ‘Well, we have to fill ten episodes, so let’s just stretch it all out a bit’. David Benioff and D. B. Weiss are clearly all about quality over quantity.

As for last night’s episode, it was no “Red Wedding”, but it was no “Lord Snow” either: it was solid, entertaining, and oh so tense. And it began with a truly arresting scene which was horrifying, brilliant, and delightful all at once. Let’s just say that revenge is a dish best served cold.

As for the rest of the episode, nothing much happened. But at the same time, a lot happened. Pieces got moved around the board, and the episode felt very much like the calm before the storm. Shit is about to go down, big time, and we were left in no doubt that this was the last moments before it all kicks off.

More than that, many possible future developments were hinted at: new alliances, old alliances fracturing. Very exciting.

On a weird side-note, one man band Ed Sheeran made a jarring cameo as a, erm, musician. And who was that beside him but Thomas “This Is England” Turngoose. I don’t know which was more distracting! Sheeran’s performance itself was actually alright and non-intrusive. But because the Twitterverse melted down beforehand, my attention was drawn to him: I couldn’t help but get tunnel vision and keep repeating in my own head “OMG! That’s ED SHEERAN!!!”. If no one had gone on about it beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it was him at all. Strangely, though, Sheeran got upset by the reactions to his cameo and has quit Twitter. I find it weird that a ridiculously talented, rich, adored singer would, at this stage, have such thin skin. But no worries: if you’re reading this, Ed, for I know you surely are, then chin up — you were no David “King Arthur” Beckham.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://www.fiz-x.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Game-of-Thrones-Season-7-2-1.jpg