iZombie

This past week I’ve discovered the dangerous advantages to downloading Netflix shows for offline viewing on your phone.  With this in mind I’ve managed to watch the first season of iZombie in a week.  iZombie is a current CW show with its first two seasons on Netflix. The show is written and produced by Rob Thomas of Veronica Mars fame. The show has a similar plot with a quirky female protagonist solving crimes by day and dealing with her complicated love life at night. However, Liv Moore (Rose McIver) is not your average protagonist – she’s a zombie.

Workaholic medical resident, Liv decides to take a break one night and ends up at a boat party where a tainted batch of the drug Utopium ends up making people turned into Zombies. Liv is scratched by drug dealer Blaine and ends up infected with the zombie virus and a craving for brains. She manages to find her brains through her new job as the assistant medical examiner Liv tells her secret to her boss Ravi. On top of all the transitions Liv realizes that she gets visions and character traits of whomever she last ate. These visions come in handy as she teams up with detective Clive Babineaux to help solve crimes after eating the murder victims brains’ to trigger visions.

While Liv helps to solve these crimes each week she deals with her ex-fiance Major, and best friend Peyton, who don’t know about her zombie lifestyle but have noticed a strong change in her demeanor. Each episode focuses on a different murder while the other major emotional storylines around Liv are intertwined. Like Veronica Mars, the show has a film noir aspect, which is reflected in the styling of the show and general tone. The setting of Seattle is wonderfully incorporated and a refreshing change of scenery for a procedural which are mostly based in New York or California.

The stories don’t have a ton of emotional depth but the characters are somewhat relatable (other than the whole zombie part..) and the plots never seem tired or recycled. It’s a great procedural that is able to combine dark murder and lighthearted romantic comedy moments, often in the same scene. If you’re interested in a slightly brainless (pun intended) but quirky and cheesy crime procedural check out iZombie next time you’re perusing through Netflix.

iZombie Seasons 1-2 are available to stream on Netflix with subscription

 

Sneaky Pete

Ever thought about starting over? Wanted to avoid your past coming back to haunt you? How about completely remaking yourself settle a debt? That’s exactly what con man Marius (Giovanni Ribisi) Josipovic does when he takes his cellmate, Pete Murphy’s identity. After hearing story after story of Pete’s grandparents idyllic farm Marius decides to try and swindle them under Pete’s identity.

He needs to settle a 100,000 debt with crooked cop Vince (played by executive producer Bryan Cranston) who took Marius’s brother Eddie as collateral to work at his poker den. Marius believes that the con should be fairly quick. However, things become much more complicated than they appear.

I watch enough television where I’m usually able to predict a lot of a series plot within the first fifteen minutes. What is brilliant about Sneaky Pete is that it treats the viewer a bit like they are the mark, revealing the con little by little, while using side stories of characters as a distraction from the real issue. This is highlighted by the exceptional casting of the Murphy family as well as Ribisi.  Who is able to carry the show’s twists and turns with such depth and pain that Amazon should be thanking him for not needing to budget in an Emmy campaign. Margo Martindale continues to steal every scene she is in as the family Matriarch Audrey. Her relationship with Otto (Peter Gerety), the patriarch and his downward health spiral adds a wonderful depth to the characters that makes the viewers empathize on multiple levels. Throughout the course of the season the viewer sees the whole ensemble (including a standout performance by the youngest Murphy child Carley played by newcomer Libe Barer) grapple with everything from familial strife to warring businesses.

Bryan Cranston is no stranger to playing morally flawed characters. He plays the villain Vince with a sadness and loneliness that allows the character not to become a caricature. The plot and dialogue moves forward swiftly, at some points it reflects the traditional tongue in cheek nature of heist movies where Marius’s true identity almost gets revealed to the Murphy family. Like those old movies, the slick anti-hero always manages to stay safe. The tension is maintained so well that at some points I didn’t know if I wanted to keep watching or turn it off.

The series is incredibly refreshing, with great writing and an even better cast. The plot and pacing starts out quick and is able to maintain it’s twists and turns right up to the final shot. I would definitely recommend Sneaky Pete, though be careful because it might consume your whole weekend!

Sneaky Pete is available to stream on Amazon Prime with a subscription.

 

 

Westworld

In 2017, artificial intelligence (A.I) is now apart of everyday life, from restaurants, to cars, to phones. Westworld (based on the 1973 film of the same name by Michael Crichton) delves into how A.I can be used to fulfill humans every desire – and the repercussions of that.

Westworld, HBO’s latest blockbuster series is centered on a futuristic amusement park of the same name. It is set in the indeterminate future where Doctor Ford (played by the always excellent Anthony Hopkins) and his team have created an adult playground full of eerily realistic AI robots “hosts.” Who are immersed in numerous faux 1800’s wild west storylines to entertain the parks “Guests”. Wealthy humans who pay up to 40,000 a night to indulge in their every desire with the “hosts” from sex, to murder and for some, love. The series begins with a few interlocking storylines, the employees of the park, the hosts, and guests of the park. The employees, like Bernard and Therese are divided between supporting Doctor Ford and its corporate company of Delos who just wants to use the hosts intellectual property. In the park the story focuses in on hosts Dolores and Maeve who are starting to think beyond their storyline. Park guests include the mysterious and sadistic “Man in Black” and new guests, soft spoken William and his spoiled soon to be brother in law Logan.

The plot is obviously quite complex and it takes a few episodes to start to piece together all the storylines. The plot is a bit slow moving which is countered by the distraction of the top quality production and setting. The A-list roster of actors really help to enhance the series however the cheesy and basic dialogue is a bit disappointing considering the caliber of actors (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton) who could have taken the story and Westworld realm even further. Like Game of Thrones, Westworld also deals with the struggle of having so many storylines that the character development gets delayed or is sped up rapidly to go along with all the other storylines. This creates a bit of confusion for the viewer as well as creates quite a few plot holes.

By the end of the season the foreshadowing (and reddit theories) was enough to clearly see where the second season is going to head (also the fact that it was conceived by the creator of Jurassic Park), which makes me intrigued at the plot but I honestly don’t know if I’m invested enough in the characters and their stories to continue to watch.

Westworld is available to stream on HBOGo and HBONow with subscription

 

Deadpool

This week, I decided to mix it up from my usual viewing choices and watch a superhero movie. However, Deadpool is not your average superhero movie. From the opening credits to the final after credit sneak peak the tongue in cheek dialogue and R rating level violence makes this film stand alone in a sea of superhero movies that have inundated audiences over the last ten years.

The film acts as Deadpool’s origin story, with Ryan Reynolds playing the titular character Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool. The story jumps back and forth in time, going back in time to tell the origin story of Deadpool and his relationship with his love Vanessa to present day dealings with his nemesis Ajax. Throughout the film Reynolds breaks the forth wall to have quips with the viewer and to defy against standard superhero stereotypes. While the film prides itself on its self-awareness it was sometimes too much, as the viewer gets the main idea from the opening sequence.The dialogue varies from downright crude humor to insightful thoughts on sexism in the film industry.

For those who don’t know (spoilers ahead) Wilson is former special forces mercenary who, after falling in love with stripper Vanessa gets diagnosed with incurable cancer. Wilson decides to turn towards a mysterious lab run by mutants like Ajax and Angel Dust who promise to cure his cancer by making him mutant. For his mutant abilities to show Ajax and Angel Dust subject him to inane torture which leaves him permanently disfigured. Eventually Ajax kills him which releases Deadpool’s power of superhuman healing and – the inability to die.

After figuring out his costume and alter ego with the help of his best friend Weasel  (played by the great T.J. Miller) Deadpool goes to exact revenge on Ajax while trying to keep his being alive a secret to Vanessa. Chaos, blood, and action ensues as Deadpool ends up defeating Ajax and Angel Dust, with the help of some other lesser known X-Men.

The film is highlighted with top notch CGI and action scenes that are on par with any of the larger budget action movies. The pacing of the film can be a bit slow at times with the director Tim Miller relying on long drawn out shots, a stark contrast from the rapid fire dialogue. The plot is also open enough where someone who hasn’t has much exposure to the Marvel Universe can understand the world of Wade Wilson and his associated friends and villains.

Deadpool is a rollicking good time (not for the whole family) and a good foray into superhero movies – if you’re not that into superhero movies.

Deadpool is available to stream via HBOgo with subscription

Look Who’s Back

What if Hitler was around today?  Look Who’s Back (Er ist wieder da) is a German comedy and mockumentary which takes the idea of Hitler being around today as a marker for how much Germany has changed since the rise of the third reich.

Instead of dying in his bunker Hitler drops into present day Berlin and is discovered by down on his luck TV producer, Fabian who is looking for his next big story. Fabian, in the beginning believes Hitler a method actor or mentally ill. He realizes he found his break break after  seeing Germans reactions to Hitler and has him travel around interacting with Germans across the country. Hitler interacts with German’s and comments on present day issues, like immigration and the parallel of his nationalistic views and those of present day Germans is often cringeworthy for the viewer. Fabian pitches Hitler to the  TV station and he soon is working his way through the talk show circuit and becomes a national star “comedian”.  Fabian is happy to support Hitler as long as he helps to support his career goals.  Though after seeing a Hitlers reaction to a Holocaust survivor and watching the otherworldly footage of where Hitler landed. Fabian comes to the hard realization that his friend Hitler is the actual dictator.

However, by the time of Fabian’s epiphany he has completely lost control of the situation as the power hungry and morally corrupt TV executives fight on how to make Hitler a star. Hitler is exposed for a moment as footage is released of him shooting a dog. Though he is able to bounce back with a bestselling novel that is commissioned to make into a feature film.  Fabian, reeling from the knowledge that Hitler has returned ends up being committed to a mental hospital. While the film ends with Hitler pondering a political run in modern Germany with the support of the growing sense of nationalism.

Although the film initially presents itself as a comedic farce, its message relays a darker societal issue. That of the growing sense of nationalism that is occurring throughout the western world. As the west tries to handle the highest levels of immigration since World War II.  Everyone should watch this film in the wake of the current presidential election as it shows how the horrors of history can easily repeat when anger and ignorance are celebrated.

 

Look Who’s Back (Er ist wieder da) is available to stream right now on Netflix

CitizenFour

     Do you ever have the feeling that big brother is watching you? Laura Poitras’ breathtaking 2014 documentary CitizenFour fearlessly delves into how much big brother is watching – and how little it wants the American public to know about it.

The film starts with Poitras being contacted through encrypted email by a mysterious source with compromising information that United States government wants to keep hidden. Poitras –along with Journalist Glenn Greenwald –meet with the source in Hong Kong who later reveals himself to be Edward Snowden. The core of the film subsists of the interviews and actions that follow over the next few days in Snowden’s Hong Kong hotel room while the media around the world reacts the leak of once-confidential information. Poitras positions Snowden to be a brave hero – a David – standing up to the goliath of the United States government. She highlights small moments of Snowden, which to anyone could appear paranoid, thinking that the government could be listening in through the phone. However, when he reveals how in depth the NSA spying has become, it made me rethink how I protect my privacy on the web and in daily life. Greenwald echoes my sentiment but soon realizes the gravity of what Snowden knows and works perfectly as a mirror for the unknowing viewer to grasp the unsettling information that is being revealed.

When Snowden reveals his identity the American news media and government rebrand his whistleblower appearance as that of a terrorist. Throughout the interviews Poitras intersperse interviews and observations from leading privacy experts and whistleblowers commending Snowden and condemning the United States government for their invasive techniques. As Greenwald and Poitras try to continue to push the information to the public. The reach and strength of big government continues to push back on the journalists as pressure becomes so strong that the UK government forces the Guardian to destroy the hard drive given to them under the guise of national security. As well as detaining Greenwald’s partner for no discernible reason other than fear.

This turn of events cause Snowden to plead asylum in Russia. Which is where the film ends with him reuniting with Poitras and Greenwald to discuss another source that has come forward with even more damming information. Though this time Greenwald knows that someone could be watching, writing down information and than ripping it to pieces. Poitras lets the camera linger on this moment to show, not only how much they have been affected by the presence of big brother but what else the government might be doing without the public’s knowledge.

            The film strongly supports Snowden’s point of view and viewpoint and Poitras actively inserts her personal issues with the government into the film. Though without that bias she would never have been able to achieve the access that she gained with Snowden. Which gives the viewer an in-depth view into Snowden and what the NSA has been doing to the American public, in a far more personal way that any other news story on the subject. As it is an election year, I would definitely recommend anyone on both sides of the political spectrum to watch the film and see how you view your privacy.

CitizenFour is available to stream now on HBOgo