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The Farewell (I) (2019)
Don't tell her
28 December 2019
The literal translation for this movie is "Don't Tell Her". "The Farewell" was cooked up by Hollywood execs and doesn't quite communicate the overall theme.

The film plays out like a slice of life feature centered around Grandma's stage 4 terminal cancer diagnosis. The family does everything to hide it from her, while bringing the family together under the guise of a rushed wedding.

The headstrong US-raised granddaughter is an annoyingly sub-average character struggling with American millennial issues. Her broken Chinese and self-entitlement fails to emotionally connect. I also can't believe any traditional Chinese matriarch would just let her nose ring slide without a single comment.

Her character design flaws aside, after the arrival in Beijing, the story is told exactly as it could have played out in real life. The dialogue never ventures into contrived territory. Most characters, while underdeveloped, are vastly interesting.

The subtle digs at China's culture of fraud, low quality goods, and lack of opportunity is obvious in the margins of the story. I love the line- if China's so great, why are you still sending your son to America for schooling?

Highly recommended.
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Carnival Row (2019– )
Open your mind
12 November 2019
Carnival Row is a dark fantasy masterpiece on par with Dune and Lord of the Rings' epic world building. It has clear cut villains and protagonists, but nearly everyone else is a lovely shade of moral grayness. The cinematography is utterly amazing for 2019 CGI. Other than nonsense battle scenes by writers who have never studied battle tactics (why would a species capable of flight not fly ABOVE the enemy?), I was completely immersed in the illusion for 8 full hours. The level of gore, nudity, and cursing is not for the faint of heart. Game of Thrones fans should easily find a home here.

The world of faeries, beset by human invasion, is forced to live as second class refugees in Carnival Row and indentured servants to the wealthy. The series features the surprisingly deep Orlando Bloom as inspector Philostrate, whose complicated life is spun into a tale of murder, political intrigue, and betrayal. Cara Delevingne plays her usual botoxed self. While she gives it her all, I simply couldn't emotionally connect with an actor whose forehead never moves.

Yes, there are political overtones relevant to the present era, but it is fair, and doesn't skew the debate for one side or another. Anyone triggered by this show should ask themselves if they have deeper racist issues than a dislike for political correctness.

Anyways, don't be put off by the trolls. This is easily one of the best shows of 2019. I hope to see many more.
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Better Than Us (2018–2019)
Surprisingly good
7 November 2019
A sentient android, a corrupt CEO and his goons, a heartbroken wife and her billionaire father, a disgraced doctor separated from his family, a gruff but honest cop, and a bunch of misfit kids protesting the robot takeover of the world combine to make this a surprisingly pleasurable watch. The philosophical explorations of what makes us human, robot, or better or worse than either, is quite deep for a TV miniseries.

If I had to nitpick, it is the unbelievable love story involving the unattractive, hapless son and the beautiful headstrong orphan. There are no realities where that union would ever exist. Some scene are poorly paced- no one needed to see Varalamov walk up an entire set of stairs. In the end, I only fast forwarded 5 minutes of thirteen hours so it wasn't that bad.

For the love of all that is good and holy, don't watch it with the terrible English dub. The voice acting has no relevancy to the mood portrayed on screen. The Americanization of tone and slang is beyond cringy. Listen to Russian Tim Roth, Paulina, and all the other characters in their original voices to appreciate the nuances of every scene.

Sci-fi fans, don't miss this one.
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Redline (2009)
Delicious, like a candy bar
26 September 2019
Redline is in the top 3 of anime movies in the past decade. The visually gorgeous cyberpunk/sci-fi/psychedelic aesthetic is a rare treat. The interesting and funny characters kept me engaged throughout the movie. The races are as close as you're going to get to mainlining adrenaline without a prescription.

The plot is not too deep, but the non-stop pacing and complex animation, even during character development scenes, means you will never want to take your eyes off the screen. There is some gratuitous nudity and non stop smoking, but nothing overtly offensive. Just keep it away from young kids.

Put it on a big screen TV, and turn up the volume! This is a gem that stands up to repeated viewings.
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Dumbed down
24 August 2019
TNG and DS9 hold the bar for what Star Trek should be - philosophically inspiring explorations into a possible future we can all aspire to, even in the midst of intergalactic war. Discovery is an insult to their legacy.

Season 1 is a tired, dumbed down, shoot them up, mumble jumble of betrayals and double betrayals. A couple of great ideas like the mycelial network and alternate dimensions were explored, but we were only treated to superficial whip cream, not the sundae.

Klingons degenerated into barely comprehensible villains who have to spit out every word. Their bleached skin, one-dimensional characters have no redeemable value. I miss the warrior race bound by ritual and honor we both loved and hated in past incarnations. The female empowerment clap trap was not consistent with their misogynistic culture and seemed slapped on like a dead fish.

Season 2 held promise until episode 7. New Eden almost transported me back to the TNG days. As soon as Spock joined the plot, the story became grade school and every character's IQ dropped below 90. The last episode of Season 2 redeemed it a bit, but not enough to make me pick up season 3.

Don't trust the studio hacked ratings. No Trekkie would rate this over 5 stars. Netflix needs to stop paying for the international rights as it is simply rewarding bad behavior. Hope it gets cancelled.
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Fantastic concept ruined by teenie booper romance
16 August 2019
I liked most of the movie, but I also got to see it from my wife's perspective. She's been a lifelong fan of the comic series and fast forwarded through most of the movie.

James Cameron took out a lot of the action and philosophy from the comics. It felt dragged out with unnecessary and unbelievable teenie booper romance and side characters we cannot care less about.

It could have been so much more. Elysium and Matrix this is not. Let's hope the sequel is tighter.
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Stranger Things (2016– )
Gets worse with each season
9 July 2019
Season one was low budget, but managed to entrance us with the intriguing tale tale of a young girl with super powers who escapes from a government experiment into the lives of three boys in Hawkins, Indiana. We are introduced to an alternate dimension- the Upside Down, where evil monsters lurk and seek to enter ours. The story is full of 80's nostalgia and Easter eggs, with plenty of laughs, scares, and kids overacting and talking like grown ups.

Season 2 continued the story with the endlessly entertaining Sean Astin, and a road trip for our main character. We finally learn about Eleven's family, and those around her at the government prison.

Season 3 is a stinky, wet gym sock. The Duffer brothers gave up all attempts of writing a coherent story, and simply went through the paces of action/horror movie tropes with no regard for plot holes. Eleven's powers conveniently weakens during encounter to put her group in mortal danger. The contrived scenes of a foreign invasion under a suburban mall in Indiana is not believable. There are saving graces like Terminator references by the main villain and nonstop period appropriate jokes, but no enough to save it.

It's too bad season 3 is only 4 stars. It dragged down a nearly perfect series into just above average territory. I will let my kids watch season 4 first before risking 6 hours of my life.
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Kin (I) (2018)
So many fake reviews
12 June 2019
The studio hired a bunch of hacks to write reviews, because all of the glowing one-liners are from first time reviewers. Kin is at best a derivative get away movie, with brain dead, irredeemable characters and nonsense plot.

The ray gun is not explained until the end, so you are forced to waste an hour and a half watching boring stuff that you could do in your own neighborhood.

The SciFi is at most 5% of the story, and is all lumped in the end. It feels like the writers didn't have enough money to make a decent movie, so the entire budget was blown on the last 10 minutes.

It is a complete waste of time, and I am glad it lost money so we don't have to suffer a sequel.
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Liar liar
6 June 2019
My teenage daughter watched his bull caca about electric cars and reducing paper waste not actually helping the planet. Now I have to spend hours correcting her indoctrination.

I don't have time to fact check all the claims on his show. Thanks for wasting our brain cells. Keep your kids away from this creep.
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12 Strong (2018)
Contrived action
30 May 2019
As a history lesson, this movie gives a fairly realistic depiction of the difficulty of executing a ground war in Afghanistan in late 2001. Unfortunately, the dialogue and action sequences are full of tired combat tropes that hit everything from unrealistic charges to a complete abandonment of world class technology when the director wants to people to shoot at each other with guns. Soldiers wax poetic about war like Hollywood screenwriters.

I enjoyed the gritty battle scenes, but I wish the rest wasn't so bad.
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Boyz n Da Hood this Ain't
25 May 2019
It takes real effort to make a boring time travel movie. See You Yesterday fails in it's attempt to combine the Black experience, police brutality, nerdy kids with emotional issues, and science fiction.

The only area where the director succeeded was the science fiction. Everything else dragged with plodding plot, boring dialogue, and an annoying main character who was smart enough to invent time travel but not smart enough to work out the consequences of diverging timelines.

The ending made me want to barf. Thankfully I fast forwarded through most of the movie and it only wasted 45 minutes of my life.
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Fills you up
5 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
All episodes of this smartly written series of sci fi shorts are watchable. Beyond the Aquila Rift, Good Hunting, Lucky 13, and Zima Blue are the most emotionally impactful and intelligent of the bunch.

I stopped watching after episode 3 and only started up again a month later. What a mistake. Don't be put off by the dystopian tones of the first few episodes. It is highly bingable.
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Black Summer (2019– )
No plot
18 April 2019
Skip it. The episodes try to show good versus evil, but end up being just hours and hours of walking and driving around. Look at all the positive reviews- every single one from throwaway accounts reviewing for the first time.
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The OA (2016–2019)
Season 2 is the best
30 March 2019
If you can get past the dark, slow reveal that is season one, and the silly modern dance routines, season two will blow your mind. Sci Fi fans who like The Expanse and Maniac will appreciate the intensely cerebral and mind-bending script. It is rare to see a high budget production that avoid plastic surgery and cast real talented actors.

I wish I could say more without venturing into spoiler territory. Just make it to season 2, it is worth the investment.
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Kung Fu (1972–1975)
Stolen From Bruce Lee
14 March 2019
The idea of a wandering martial arts monk was pitched to Ed Spielman by Bruce Lee but was turned down. David Carradine was cast in Lee's place despite showing up to audition high on drugs.

The Lee family should sue for copyright infringement. Watch the new Kung Fu on HBO and Cinemax. Worlds better and it is not fake.
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I almost fell asleep
22 February 2019
The first half of the movie is just a struggle. The plot was boring and plodding, and you could not connect with any of the characters except Emmet. The second half has more excitement but still suffered through two terrible musical numbers and predictable plot twists you could see coming from a mile away.

Almost all of the magic from the first movie has dissipated, and we are left with the wrinkled prune that is Fox's shameless attempt at cashing in. Incredibles 2 this is not.
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Mid90s (2018)
11 February 2019
These teen losers going about their daily lives are not likeable. Watching burnouts joke around and attempt to philosophize for two hours did not make me nostalgic for the mid-nineties. It is a slightly edgier version of Linklater's Slacker, but still mind numbing.

If you are from a upper class family and have no idea how the delinquent bottom crust lives, this may be enlightening. The only piece missing is vandalism. Most delinquent skaters are taggers, and that aspect was left out to make the kids more palatable.

The music is classic nineties, though the unrealistic plot as some other reviewers mentioned made me want to turn it off in the middle.
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Glass (2019)
As good as Unbreakable
5 February 2019
Fans of the cerebral dark drama Unbreakable will love Glass. It is better than the imperfect Split, with more believable characters. The rich plot full of Easter eggs for comic nerds will delight fans of Christoper Nolan epics.

It is not perfect, with some missed details in character continuity and an impossible disregard for civil rights, especially with family on the outside of the hospital. Seeing it in the theaters made a difference, and we would recommend it unless you have a massive home theater.

Nitpick- the top voted 10/10 reviews are all from hack reviewers with throwaway accounts writing for the studio. This movie is good enough to stand on its own.
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fade to black
2 February 2019
The first half was classic Equalizer with a James Bond angle. Action sequences and plot moves along at a solid pace. The director and writer appears to have run out of ideas in the second half and decided to go Michael Bay but at 1/10 the CGI and special effects budget.

Only one wind machine for a hurricane? No one's hair moves during a storm? Calm weather inside the car but stormy outside? Pascal was wasted in his role but Denzel carries the movie.
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Aquaman (2018)
More cheese than I can handle
15 January 2019
If you are a preteen, the story may work for you. If you have any common sense, the bad dialogue and blatant rip off of every sci-fi and fantasy movie cliche will drive you crazy.

Special effects are decent, and the story moves along at a decent pace. Momoa carries the film despite being surrounded by one dimensional characters with digitally botoxed faces. I would never watch this movie again.
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Searching (III) (2018)
Original storytelling is not dead!
5 January 2019
I was aware of less than a third of the social media sites mentioned in this movie, and it's a wake up call for this father to learn more about his teenage daughter's exposure.

The search for the missing daughter is a slow unraveling of the social media web and unique in the extent of technological sleuthing. At no point was the plot not believable.

The cast stars mostly Asian actors but has absolutely zero hype around the ethnicity of the cast. It is simply a well made, low budget detective movie with American teen/parent dynamics. It shines through solid acting and good old fashioned original scriptwriting. Definitely worth a rental.
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Alpha (2018)
Wonderful heartfelt movie
5 January 2019
I originally thought to skip it given the topic. How can it be anything but cheesy? I read the inane reviews here complaining about subtitles and changed my mind. If an American family movie has the guts to use all subtitles for historical realism, I owe it at least a viewing.

Alpha exceeeded my expectations. The costumes were too modern but became immersive after they got dirty. The dialogue was simple and honest, not hokey at all. The CGI and some gaping plot holes made it just an above average movie. The story will appeal to adults and children alike. Highly recommend a viewing if you are at least semi-literate.
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Great premise ruined by boring execution
21 December 2018
Half of this movie is music or producing music. The other half is the story of a below average hipster trying to figure out his mid-life crisis. Check out the theme song on Youtube or Spotify. If you think you would like hear an hour of similar music, then give it a shot.

I had to fast forward through the rather pedantic songs and cringe at the annoyingly imperfect protagonist.
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So very very bad
21 December 2018
This dud completely ruined our Thursday movie night. The first half is nothing but contrived drama with overacting sisters yelling at each other over an interplanetary mission manned by AI. It moves a little faster in the second half, but the dialogue is stuck at a 5th grade level.

The plot is both slow and and nonsensical. The ending is completely inconsistent with the AI's stated goals and is slapped upon the viewer like a stinky dead fish. The AI is fun to watch but really has nothing going for it other than a cute face.

Smart low budget sci-fi is possible- look no further than movies like Safety not Guaranteed and Prodigy. This pile of steaming manure will be forgotten in the dustbin of history.
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Eye candy wrapped around a formulaic story
8 December 2018
This satire of the lifestyles of the rich and famous is eminently watchable. It is graced by some of the most attractive actors and actresses in Asia, and is funny throughout.

When viewed with a critical eye, one can't help be shake one's head at the formulaic story line, not much different than a typical k-dramas. You have the nasty mother, the typical win lose win love story, and jealousy from spoiled rich girls. The botox filled plastic faces are not at all enjoyable to look at, and the lines are dumbed down to a grade school level.

It is a competent effort, but could have been more.
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