REVIEW: LUKE CAGE – SEASON 2

Mike Colter in Luke Cage (2016)

 

MAIN CAST

Mike Colter (Zero Dark Thirty)
Simone Missick (K-Town)
Theo Rossi (Red Sands)
Gabrielle Dennis (Bring It On 5)
Mustafa Shakir (The Deuce)
Finn Jones (Game of Thrones)
Jessica Henwick (Star wars: The Force Awakens)
Stephen Rider (The Butler)
Alfre Woodard (Star Trek: First Contact)

Mike Colter in Luke Cage (2016)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Rosario Dawson (Sin City)
Reg E. Cathey (Fantastic Four)
Thomas Q. Jones (Being Mary Jane)
Elden Henson (The Butterfly Effect)
Rob Morgan (Stranger Things)

Rosario Dawson and Mike Colter in Luke Cage (2016)Is it ever okay to do the wrong thing for the right reason?” That line, spoken by Misty Knight (Simone Missick) in episode six, is the key to the excellent second season of Luke Cage. Every one of its major characters is playing a game without rules, a game to save the district of Harlem, and there’s no way to win by playing clean. The constant interest comes from watching how dirty they’re prepared to get.Mike Colter in Luke Cage (2016)Since we last saw him, Cage (Mike Colter) has become a huge celebrity. The public track him via an app. Everyone wants selfies. He is as famous as it gets, but he’s flat broke (helping the helpless doesn’t pay) and he can’t save everyone. Luke’s a plaster over Harlem’s problems, not a cure. He can’t really help Harlem unless he can bring down Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), whose fingerprints stain almost every crime in the neighbourhood. Cage is not the only one looking to bring Dillard to justice. John McIver, aka Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir), has arrived in town with an old grudge to settle and some dark magic that could help him defeat Cage.Alfre Woodard and Mustafa Shakir in Luke Cage (2016)The introduction of Bushmaster, who can match Cage punch for punch with the help of some herbal witchcraft, may sound like the show is heading back to Diamondback territory, but that’s not the case. Bushmaster isn’t really here to serve as an adversary to Cage, but to Dillard, who is as much a series lead as Cage. And thank God. You can never have too much Alfre Woodard. Mariah is the best kind of villain because she thinks she’s doing the right thing and doing what she has to do to achieve it. She’s building hospitals and safe homes for single mothers, but she’s selling guns, blackmailing officials and having people murdered to achieve it. If she’s only hurting bad people to help good people, is she really so wrong? Her family’s history of betraying others is what brings Bushmaster after her. He’s the only man she can’t negotiate with.Simone Missick and Mike Colter in Luke Cage (2016)Most of Marvel’s superhero series suffer a mid-season sag, without enough plot to fill their episode quota. This season never succumbs to that because it’s not rooted in plot but character. There are episodes where little happens in terms of event, but characters deepen and crack, becoming less who they want to be and more who they have to be, even Luke. Luke Cage could now remove any superhero elements almost entirely and still function as a series. It’s become Game Of Thrones-esque in its battle for Harlem, and like that show, whoever claims the prize will do so with bloodied hands.

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REVIEW: MARVEL KNIGHTS – BLACK PANTHER

CAST (VOICES)

Djimon Hounsou (Stargate)
Carl Lumbly (Alias)
Stephen Stanton (Star Wars: The Clone Wars)
Kerry Washington (Django Unchained)
Alfrie Woodard (Star Trek: First Contact)
Jill Scott (Girlfriends)
Phil Morris (Smallville)
Rick D. Wasserman (Planet Hulk)
JB Blanc (War Dogs)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Jonathan Adams (Bones)
Taye Diggs (Equilibrium)
Phil LaMarr (Free Enterprise)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Stan Lee (Chuck)

The concept of the motion comic is controversial to say the least. Many comic purists would argue they are pointless endeavors, while others, like myself find them an interesting supplement and even more a way to get those uninterested in comics to seek them out, provided they enjoy the program.

The newest release in the series may be their biggest yet, produced not just for DVD but as six-episode animated series. With “Black Panther,” Marvel adapts Hudlin’s own take on the character from 2005 and the end result will induce much headshaking and confusion.

Unlike the previous two installments in the Marvel Knights Animation line, I had not read the original source material, however, it’s safe to say, with the author being directly involved in the adaptation, it likely follows the comics quite closely. The most apparent change viewers familiar with the motion comic concept will notice is the consistency in runtime. Each episode runs around 18 minutes long and is paced like an episode of a TV-series. There are no more abrupt endings as before and this is a truly welcome change. Also worth noting is the star power in the voice cast. Hudlin has secured veteran voice actors Kevin Michael Richardson and Nolan North, as well as Hollywood stars Alfre Woodard, Kerry Washington, and in the title role Djimon Hounsou. It’s all downhill from this point, with Hounsou’s involvement being the only positive memorable aspect of a disaster of a series.


“Black Panther” is a muddled mess, attempting to weave an origin story amidst a half-baked plot against our hero’s life by a band of largely second (or even third) rate villains. The tone of the entire series is wildly inconsistent; one minute our villains will be bickering with each other in classic Saturday morning cartoon fashion, giving the impression the series is lighthearted, but all this comes following an intro that is decidedly more mature, featuring tribal warriors getting impaled on sinister traps and severed Nazi heads on pikes. Add to that a very mean spirited tone, resulting from most characters not related to Black Panther being either stupid, bigoted, or both and the 132 minute runtime feels achingly brutal.

Comic book fans may immediately take issue with the series’ sad attempt to establish dominance of the Black Panther by having him swiftly defeat Captain America in hand-to-hand combat. The character doesn’t need such a wildly unbelievable fight to appeal to audiences, nor does he need the sympathy formed from broad stereotypes attempting to hold him down because he’s the leader of a small African nation. What should be a fun fantasy tale is instead drenched in an underhanded political theme that is downright tiresome and boring; if more time was given to developing supporting characters, a little bit of preaching would have been tolerable. To Hudlin’s credit, his take on Black Panther or T’Challa (Hounsou) is a fascinating, three-dimensional creation, and his home country of Wakanda is given admirable life and scope. Hounsou brings strong balance of kindness and fierceness to the role, and a scene midway through the series where he removes his mask to speak to a boy who worships him as a god, is one of the more heroic and humble moments I’ve seen in a superhero adaptation.
On the flipside, Kerry Washington, delivers a strangely overacted vocal performance as T’Challa’s sister, while Stephen Stanton is in full on, evil for evil’s sake mode, as Klaw, the main villain, an assassin responsible for murdering T’Challa’s father decades earlier, who returns to finish killing the royal family. The less said of Klaw’s inept cadre of support, the better, but the Vatican Black Knight is worth mentioning of only for the fact his character adds another layer into the theme of the evil Western world; not only does a rival nation want Wakanda overthrown, but so does the US (led by a cartoonish and ignorant General voiced by Stan Lee), and yes, the Pope. As a final insult to comic fans, Hudlin shoehorns in the story of T’Challa’s romance with Ororo Munroe, or Storm as she’s more commonly known. The addition is nothing more than a way to artificially extend the overly long runtime of the series and find an excuse for a few worthless X-Men cameos.

“Black Panther” is heavily dissappointing, and it’s a damn shame, as there is great potential with the character. The writing has a bad pace to it; dialogue driven scenes are sometimes choppy, flashbacks are overused (even as an origin story), and the action sequences often have great buildup but result in a sad whimper in terms of execution; a half-assed inclusion of zombies in the final episode tempts me to a giant stamp of “fail” on the series, but there are more than a few Panther centric moments to elevate it from the lowest possible rating. Animation wise, John Romita Jr’s art style translates horribly to the motion comic format, and some sequences are animated in a amateurish fashion at best; the fact I waited this long to mention it, is a strong indicator of how forgettable it is. There are strong talks that the Black Panther will see life on the big screen and I’ll reiterate again, Hounsou deserves a shot at the role, however, I hope this series is used as an example of what not to do.

REVIEW: A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS – SEASON 2

Neil Patrick Harris, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, and Presley Smith in A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017)

MAIN CAST

Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
Patrick Warburton (Family Guy)
Malina Weissman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Louis Hynes (Barbarians Rising)
Dylan Kingwell (BIg EYes)
Avi Lake (Meeting Evil)
K. Todd Freeman (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer)
Presley Smith
Tara Strong (Batman: The KIlling Joke)
Lucy Punch (The Wedding Video)

 

Malina Weissman, Kitana Turnbull, Louis Hynes, and Presley Smith in A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Roger Bart (Trumbo)
Sara Rue (Mom)
Malcolm Stewart (Moon)
Tony Hale (Chuck)
Nathan Fillion (Santa Clarita Diet)
Carol Mansell (In The Light of The Moon)
Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers)
Ken Jenkins (The Abyss)
Kerri Kenney-Silver (Reno 911!)
David Alan Grier (Jumanji)
Robbie Amell (The FLash)
Bonnie Morgan (Terminator: TSCC)
Sara Canning (The Vampire Diaries)
Patrick Breen (Get Shorty)
Cleo King (Mike & Molly)
Catherine O’Hara (Home Alone)
Aasif Mandvi (Spider-Man 2)
Alfre Woodard (Luke Cage)
Allison Williams (Get Out)

 

 

Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes in A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017)At the beginning of the new season of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Klaus and Violet Baudelaire (Louis Hynes and Malina Weissman) delivers lines laced with irony. “It feels like we’ve been sitting on this bench for months,” complains Violet. “We’ve been waiting so long Sunny is starting to look less like a baby and more like a toddler,” Klaus agrees, to the consternation of baby sister Sunny herself (Presley Smith).Neil Patrick Harris, Malina Weissman, and Louis Hynes in A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017)Sure, it may have been a year-long wait between series, but once you click on the first episode it feels like almost no time has passed in the Netflix series. Season two immediately throws us back into the miserable lives of the Baudelaire children, narrated by fictional author Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) as they flee from the grasping clutches of the evil Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris).  As before, each of “Snicket’s” books (actually by Daniel Handler, who’s written some scripts for the series) is adapted over two episodes and follow a similar format: the orphans are shunted off to a new guardian by Mr Poe (K. Todd Freeman) and confronted by Count Olaf in disguise before using their special skills to foil his latest plot to steal their fortune. Their guardian also usually dies, unfortunately, which might explain why this year fewer and fewer suitable adults seem keen to have the Baudelaires on their doorstep.Sure, there are new enemies for Sunny, Klaus and Violet this year – including a very rich trendsetter played by Lucy Punch, a village of mean-spirited crow-lovers and a manic school principal – and a few new allies (most notably Nathan Fillion as the dashing Jacques Snicket and some sweet schoolfriends called the Quagmires), but for all intents and purposes these new episodes could have just slotted on to the end of the last series. And to be honest, that’s a great thing. The consistency and quality of this adaptation is wonderful to behold, especially if you’re a fan of the original book series who never thought its unique tone and vaguely gothic world could be faithfully brought to screen.Neil Patrick Harris and Lucy Punch in A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017)In the books, the Baudelaires never felt truly safe, and in a strange sort of way that was part of the appeal – a kind of vicarious danger, as well as the satisfaction of seeing the children free themselves from the clutches of evil or incompetent adults with nothing but their wits. Going into this series, I knew we’d be faced with some of the biggest gut-punch moments of the books – one at the end of the Austere Academy story, another inside a big lift and the other involving a giant red fish. On screen, they really don’t land quite as well as they did in print, where every scrap of happiness found by the Baudelaires is continually snatched away. In the back half of the series – as the Baudelaires decide to be more proactive in their hunt for answers about the enigmatic VFD organisation – things do start to take a darker, weirder turn that fans of the books will be happy to recognise.Neil Patrick Harris, John DeSantis, Lucy Punch, Jacqueline Robbins, Joyce Robbins, Matty Cardarople, and Usman Ally in A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017)There’s no denying this is a brilliantly awful return to form for Snicket and Netflix’s disturbing world. Fingers crossed next year’s final series can keep up the quality to give the Baudelaires the grim, strange end we deserve.

REVIEW: 12 YEARS A SLAVE

 

CAST

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Doctor Strange)
Michael Fassbender (Alien: Covenant)
Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther)
Paul Dano (Swiss Army Man)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Sarah Paulson (The Runner)
Alfre Woodard (Luke Cage)
Adepero Oduye (Geostorm)
Garret Dillahunt (Winter’s Bone)
Brad Pitt (Ocean’s Eleven)
Scoot McNairy (Argo)
Taran Killam (Epic Movie)
Chris Chalk (Gotham)
Paul Giamatti (The Hangover – Part 2)
Michael K. Williams (Gone Baby Gone)
Bryan Batt (Scream: The Series)
Quvenzhané Wallis  (Annie)
Marc Macaulay  (The Punisher)
J.D. Evermore  (Django Unchained)

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Adepero Oduye in 12 Years a Slave (2013)In 1841, Solomon Northup is a free African-American man working as a violinist, living with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York. Two white men, Brown and Hamilton, offer him short-term employment as a musician if he will travel with them to Washington, D.C. However, once they arrive they drug Northup and deliver him to a slave pen run by a man named Burch. Northup proclaims that he is a free man, only to be savagely beaten with, at first, a wooden paddle, then, a leather belt. Northup is later shipped to New Orleans along with other captive African Americans. He is told by the others that if he wants to survive in the South, he must adapt to being a slave and not tell anyone he is a free man. A slave trader named Freeman gives Northup the identity of “Platt”, a runaway slave from Georgia, and sells him to plantation owner William Ford. Tension grows between Northup and a plantation overseer which ends with Northup savagely beating and whipping the overseer. To save Northup’s life, Ford sells him to another slave owner named Edwin Epps. In the process, Northup attempts to explain that he is actually a free man, but Ford tells him he is too afraid and that he cannot help him now.Paul Dano and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave (2013)At the plantation, Northup meets Patsey, a favored slave who can pick over 500 pounds of cotton a day, twice the usual quota, whom Epps regularly rapes and abuses. Some time later, cotton worms destroy Epps’s cotton. Unable to work his fields, Epps leases his slaves to a neighboring plantation for the season. While there, Northup gains the favor of the plantation’s owner, Judge Turner, who allows him to play the fiddle at a neighbor’s wedding anniversary celebration and to keep his earnings. Northup is also raped by a female slave in the middle of the night. When Northup returns to Epps, he uses the money to pay a white field hand and former overseer, Armsby, to mail a letter to his friends in New York. Armsby agrees and accepts Northup’s saved money, but immediately betrays him to Epps. In the middle of the night, a drunken Epps wakes Northup and questions him menacingly about the letter. Northup is narrowly able to convince Epps that Armsby is lying and Epps relents. Solomon then emotionally burns the letter he intended to give to Armsby.Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave (2013)Northup begins working on the construction of a gazebo with a Canadian laborer named Samuel Bass. Bass is unsettled by the brutal way that Epps treats his slaves and expresses his opposition to American slavery, earning Epps’s enmity. Northup overhears the conversation and decides to reveal his kidnapping to Bass. Once again, Northup asks for help in getting a letter to Saratoga Springs. Bass agrees to send it. One day, the local sheriff arrives in a carriage with another man. The sheriff asks Northup a series of questions to confirm that his answers match the facts of his life in New York. Northup recognizes the sheriff’s companion as Mr. Parker, a shopkeeper he knew in Saratoga. Parker has come to free him, and the two embrace, though an enraged Epps furiously protests the circumstances and tries to prevent Northup from leaving. Northup gives an emotional farewell to Patsey and rides off to his freedom. Patsey faints as Northup leaves.After being enslaved for 12 years, Northup is restored to freedom and returned to his family, leaving behind the other slaves. As he walks into his home, he sees his wife with their son and daughter (fully grown) and her husband, who present him with his grandson and namesake, Solomon Northup Staunton. Northup apologizes for his long absence while his family comforts him. The film’s epilogue displays a series of graphics recounting Northup’s unsuccessful suits against Brown, Hamilton, and Burch, along with the 1853 publication of Northup’s slave narrative memoir, Twelve Years a Slave. The memoir describes his role in the abolitionist movement and the mystery surrounding details of his death and burial. Patsey and Northup never met again.To watch 12 Years a Slave is to be confronted with the grim reality of slavery in a way that’s never been done before. To say this is the best film ever made about slavery feels trivial, as slavery is a subject in film that has been shown with naive romanticism from films like Gone With the Wind or silly exploitation from something like Django Unchained. Both of which serve to make the topic digestible. To watch 12 Years a Slave is to experience a level of despair and misery that can become overwhelming. It’s a film of such ugliness, such blunt emotional trauma, that it may haunt you for hours if not days after seeing it. So why should you watch a film that could leave you reeling and devastated? Because, it’s also one of the greatest cinematic achievements of our time.

REVIEW: THE CORE

CAST

Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight Rises)
Hilary Swank (The Reaping)
Delroy Lindo (Malcolm X)
Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)
Tchéky Karyo (Taking Lives)
Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek)
DJ Qualls (Road Trip)
Alfre Woodard (Iron Fist)
Richard Jenkins (The Cabin In The Woods)
Rekha Sharma (V)
Glrenn Morshower (Supergirl)

Geophysicist Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) and scientists Serge Leveque (Tchéky Karyo) and Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci) become aware of an instability of Earth’s magnetic field after a series of incidents across the globe. They determine that the Earth’s molten core, which generates this field, has stopped rotating, and within a year the field will collapse exposing the planet’s surface directly to devastating solar radiation. Backed by the U.S. Government, Keyes, Leveque, and Zimsky create a plan to bore down to the core and set off several nuclear explosions to restart the rotation. They gain the help of rogue scientist Ed “Braz” Brazzelton (Delroy Lindo) who has devised a vessel made of “Unobtainium” that can withstand the heat and pressure within the Earth’s crust and convert it to energy, as well as a laser-driven boring system that will allow them to quickly pass through the crust. Construction starts immediately on the Virgil, a multi-compartment vessel to be helmed by Space Shuttle pilots Commander Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood) and Major Rebecca “Beck” Childs (Hilary Swank) who will join Keyes and the others. To prevent a worldwide panic, Keyes enlists computer hacker Theodore Donald “Rat” Finch (DJ Qualls) to scour the Internet and eliminate all traces of the pending disaster or their plan.

Virgil is launched through the Marianas Trench from an offshore platform. The team accidentally drills through a gigantic empty geode structure 700 miles below the surface, damaging the lasers when it lands at its base and cracking the geode’s structure and causing magma to flow in from above. The crew repair and restart the laser array in time, but Iverson is killed by a falling crystal shard that hits him in the helmet and subsequently fell into magma, while returning to the ship. As Virgil continues, it clips a huge diamond that breaches the hull of the last compartment. Leveque sacrifices himself to save the nuclear launch codes before the compartment is crushed by extreme pressure.

Meanwhile, on the surface, the public becomes aware of problems after super storms and unfiltered patches of ultra-violet radiation destroy Rome and San Francisco. Finch is unable to stop worldwide panic but instead learns of the top-secret project “DESTINI” (Deep Earth Seismic Trigger INItiative), which is the government’s ‘secondary protocol’ and will be deployed should the Virgil mission fail. Finch relays his information to Keyes, who discovers that Zimsky was one of DESTINI’s lead scientists. DESTINI, according to Zimsky, was designed as a weapon to propagate earthquakes through the Earth’s core, but its first activation unintentionally stopped its rotation instead. Zimsky reveals the government will use it again to attempt a restart of the core. Keyes is convinced it will have disastrous results and has Finch hack into DESTINI’s system and cut its power supply to buy the Virgil more time.

Virgil eventually reaches the molten core, and, as they take readings, they discover that the density of the core is far different from what they expected, which will not allow their plan to work. They calculate that by splitting their nuclear weapons into the remaining compartments and jettisoning each at specific distances, they can create a “ripple effect”, where the power of each bomb will push against the blast of the next, generating the energy required to restart the core. However, because Virgil was not designed to jettison undamaged compartments, the plan requires someone to deactivate a safety switch that is in an area exposed to the extreme temperatures. Brazzelton volunteers and deactivates the switch, dying shortly afterwards.

Keyes and Zimsky race to reset the nuclear charges, and Zimsky gets trapped in one of the detaching compartments. Keyes believes they still may have too little yield, but Zimsky suggests they use the ship’s nuclear fuel source as well, which will leave the Virgil without power. Keyes deploys the nuclear core in the last compartment and detaches it just as the triggered detonations start, successfully restarting the core’s rotation. Drifting powerless in the core, Keyes and Childs realize they can use the unobtainium shell to convert the heat and pressure from the wavefront to power the Virgil, and they are able to escape the core. They break through the crust underwater, leaving them safe on the ocean floor but lacking power and communications. They believe themselves lost but use the remaining power to activate a weak sonar beacon. The beacon attracts a nearby whale pod, and Finch is able to trace their whale songs to locate the Virgil. A week after the mission, Finch unleashes the full details of the mission, including those lost, and of DESTINI to the public via the Internet.

All in all, this is a classic disaster flick, and for a disaster flick, this is above average.

REVIEW: A SERIES OF UNFORTANTE EVENTS – SEASON 1

MAIN CAST

Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
Patrick Warburton (Family Guy)
Malina Weissman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Louis Hynes (Barbarians Rising)
K. Todd Freeman (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer)
Presley Smith
Tara Strong (Batman: The KIlling Joke)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Joan Cusack (Addams Family Values)
Aasif Mandvi (The Siege)
Catherine O’Hara (Home Alone)
Don Johnson (Machete)
Alfre Woodard (Luke Cage)
John DeSantis (Blade: The Series)
Sara Canning (The Vampire Diaries)
Rhys Darby (Yes Man)
Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother)
Will Arnett (The Lego Batman Movie)

Published between 1999 and 2006, A Series Of Unfortunate Events told the story of Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, three intelligent and resourceful children who are orphaned when their parents are killed in a mysterious fire that destroys their home. Over the course of the books they are met with misfortune after misfortune as the evil Count Olaf attempts to get his hands on the money their parents left behind, with the orphans always just barely managing to escape Olaf’s clutches. Eventually they start to realise that there is more to Olaf and the death of their parents than they realise, and their attempts to survive converge more and more with a huge conspiracy that drags them deeper into a web of very furtive danger.

The books are oblique, absurd, repetitive and relentlessly dark. The last attempt at adapting them wrangled three books into one film along with a simplified version of the convoluted mystery that characterised the back half of the book series, which it chose to more or less resolve, while ramping up the buffoonery of Olaf and toning down his more menacing moments. All of these were choices that made sense from a commercial perspective; yet the film was met with a shrug. So when it was announced that Netflix was taking on the series, it was hard not to wonder just how that might look and whether it would be more successful than the last version. Adapting this series presents a challenge; a faithful retelling of the books runs the risk of being kind of repetitive, not to mention very expensive considering each book takes place in a different bizarre setting with a mostly different cast of supporting characters. So how do they manage it?

As it turns out, very, very well. And very faithfully to boot. The television series devotes two episodes to each book, with the first season covering the first four. Essentially this means that each individual novel gets more time than the film allowed for three, meaning that not only can the series depict just about every scene from each book, but it can embellish and explore certain aspects while threading new, fascinating subplots throughout the more familiar material. Consequently, the series offers something fresh and interesting for those unfamiliar with Snicket while being full of surprises and easter eggs for those who spent their childhoods scouring the books for clues, hints or things we might have missed. This is an adaptation that does fan service right. If you know the books reasonably well, you will have ample reasons to squeal with delight or gasp at your television while never once feeling like somebody is pandering to you.

Part of this is probably due to the heavy involvement of Daniel Handler, who wrote the teleplays for the four episodes. The tweaks the television series makes to the novels play more like minor corrections, the new subplots like we’re seeing important deleted scenes rather than anything added inorganically to fill screen time and above all the series just feels extremely true to the spirit of its source material in a way that the movie never quite did. Part of this is the dialogue, part of this is the theatrical set design and part of this is the fact that the series is unafraid to get dark.The first book, The Bad Beginning, features many disturbing elements but two that stand out are Count Olaf’s insidious plan to marry fourteen year old Violet Baudelaire in order to get his hands on her fortune, and an earlier scene in which a drunk, angry Olaf strikes Klaus across the face for talking back to him. The film included both these plot points, but they were both buried in lots of Jim Carrey mugging. This created the uncomfortable feeling that some awful stuff was being played for laughs, or at least that the impact of it was being softened to avoid upsetting anyone too much. The series does not shy away from either of these moments. The marriage plot is exactly as disturbing as it should be, while the attack on Klaus is followed by a loaded silence that lets you feel just how dreadful the circumstances of the Baudelaires and the man behind them is. When the humour does come it’s a welcome relief rather than an attempt to bury disturbing content beneath silly voices and kooky lines.Neil Patrick Harris walks a very particular tightrope in his portrayal of Olaf. The villain of the series is a terrible actor who uses a variety of ridiculous disguises and bizarre plots in his attempts to capture the orphans, but when all is said and done this man is still a dangerous murderer and serial arsonist. Predictably Harris is very funny, but it’s that crucial undercurrent of darkness that sells the character in a way that Jim Carrey didn’t quite manage and means that, no matter how much you’re laughing at him, you never forget the danger that he poses.

Elsewhere, the acting is just as strong. Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes are both excellent as Violent and Klaus respectively, while K. Todd Freeman threatens to steal the show as inept banker Mr Poe. Aasif Mandvi makes for a warm and endearingly quirky Uncle Monty while Patrick Warburton very quickly becomes the only Lemony Snicket you’ll be able to imagine. Where Jude Law in the film depicted the narrator as a softly spoken reclusive writer, Warburton is more of a droll noir detective, walking in and out of scenes to comment on proceedings with wry humour and occasional flashes of melancholy and gravitas. In short, he is a pitch perfect, if unexpected, take on arguably the most important character in the series.

One of the most distinctive things about the books was how it handled its tone; veering quickly from oddball humour to reflective sadness. The television series handles this with deft expertise; just watch how Snicket reacts in pained silence to the Baudelaires learning about their parents’ death even as Mr Poe fumbles breaking the news. The series is not quite as funny as the trailers may have led you to believe, but this isn’t a bad thing. It only means that humour never disguises just how dire the circumstances of the orphans are. We feel for Violet, Klaus and Sunny and we hate Count Olaf even as we chuckle at his one liners and over the top behaviour. It’s a balancing act that could so easily fall apart but never does due to the simple fact that everyone involved in this series knows exactly what they’re doing.The series feels fresh, new and different to just about anything that has ever been on television before. Netflix took a risk on this and evidently let the creators do exactly what they wanted in bringing the novels to life. At its heart, A Series of Unfortunate Events is about the fact that life rarely goes the way we want it to and trouble and treachery can strike at the worst possible times. And while they may not offer a permanent solution, intelligence, curiosity, decency and literacy are lights in the darkness, tiny glimmers of hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. The plight of the Baudelaire orphans, ultimately, is not a case of relentless misery being played for our entertainment, but a story of hope and resilience built around the honest truth that life isn’t fair. Perhaps the greatest trick of the book series, and now the TV show, is disguising a message of hope in a story of seemingly endless gloom. In that regard, this brave, funny, exciting, imaginative new show is as big of a success as anyone could have hoped for. It’s an absolute treat.

REVIEW: STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT

CAST

Patrick Stewart (X-Men)
Jonathan Frakes (Roswell)
Brent Spiner (Dude, Where’s My Car?)
LeVar Burton (Roots: The GIft)
Michael Dorn (Ted 2)
Gates McFadden (Crowned and Dangerous)
Marina Sirtis (The Grudge 3)
Alfre Woodard (Luke Cage)
James Cromwell (Species II)
Alice Krige (Silent Hill)
Neal McDonough (Arrow)
Robert Picardo (Stargate: Atlantis)
Dwight Schultz (The A-Team)
Adam Scott (Krampus)
Jack Shearer (End of Days)
Eric Steinberg (Stargate SG.1)
Patti Yasutake (Gung Ho)
Majel Barrett (Earth: Final Conflict)
Don Stark (That 70s Show)
Ethan Phillips (Bad Santa)

Captain Jean-Luc Picard wakes from a nightmare in which he relived his assimilation by the cybernetic Borg six years earlier (shown in the television episode “The Best of Both Worlds”). Starfleet informs him of a new Borg attack against Earth, but orders the USS Enterprise-E to patrol the Romulan Neutral Zone so as not to introduce an “unstable element” to the fight. Learning that the fleet is losing the battle, the Enterprise crew disobeys orders and heads for Earth, where a single, damaged Borg Cube opposes a group of Starfleet vessels. The Enterprise arrives in time to save the crew of the USS Defiant, which is being commanded by Lieutenant Commander Worf. After Picard hears Borg communications in his mind, he orders the fleet to concentrate its firepower on a seemingly non-vital section of the Borg ship. The Cube is destroyed after launching a smaller sphere ship towards the planet.

The Borg sphere generates and enters a temporal vortex. As the Enterprise is enveloped in the vortex, the crew briefly glimpses an Earth populated entirely by Borg. Picard realizes that the Borg have used time travel to change history, and orders the Enterprise to follow. The Enterprise arrives in the past, on April 4, 2063, the day before humanity’s first encounter with alien life after Zefram Cochrane’s historic warp flight. The Borg sphere fires on the planet; the Enterprise crew then destroy the sphere and, realizing that the Borg were trying to prevent first contact, send an away team to the Montana missile complex where Cochrane is building his ship, the Phoenix, to look for survivors. Picard sends Cochrane’s assistant Lily Sloane to the Enterprise for medical attention, then returns to the ship and leaves Commander William Riker on Earth to make sure the Phoenix’s flight proceeds as planned. The Enterprise crew sees Cochrane as a legend, but the real man is reluctant to assume his historical role.

Borg survivors invade the Enterprise, and begin to assimilate its crew and modify the ship, planning to use it to attack and conquer Earth. Picard and a team attempt to reach engineering to disable the Borg with corrosive coolant used in the warp core, but the android Data is captured and meets the queen of the Borg Collective, who gains his trust by giving part of him human skin. A frightened Sloane seizes the captain but he gains her trust, and they escape the Borg-infested area of the ship by using the holodeck. Picard, Worf, and the ship’s navigator, Lieutenant Hawk, stop the Borg from calling reinforcements with the deflector dish, but Hawk is assimilated. As the Borg continue to assimilate, Worf suggests destroying the ship, but Picard angrily calls him a coward and vows to continue the fight. Sloane confronts the captain and, reminding him of Moby-Dick’s Captain Ahab, makes him realize his own irrational behavior. Picard activates the ship’s self-destruct mechanism, orders the crew to abandon ship, and then apologizes to Worf. While the crew heads to escape pods, Picard remains aboard to rescue Data.

As Cochrane, Riker, and engineer Geordi La Forge prepare to activate the warp drive on the Phoenix, Picard confronts the Borg Queen and discovers she has grafted human skin onto Data, giving him an array of new sensations. She has presented this modification as a gift to the android, hoping to obtain his encryption codes to the Enterprise computer. Although Picard offers himself in Data’s place, the android refuses to leave. He deactivates the self-destruct sequence and fires torpedoes at the Phoenix, but they miss and the Queen realizes Data has betrayed her. Data ruptures a coolant tank, and the corrosive substance fatally dissolves the Borg’s biological components. Cochrane completes his warp flight, and that night, April 5, 2063, the crew watches as Vulcans, attracted by the Phoenix warp flight, land and greet Cochrane. Having repaired history, the Enterprise crew returns to the 24th century.This film has it all. A well-conceived, intricate and dramatic plot, excellent acting, fantastic special effects, and real emotion on-screen. Picard’s chilling “the line must be drawn here” monologue to Lily represents a scene with such dramatic quality that is rarely seen in science-fiction films. You can completely suspend disbelief and feel the anger, the pain, the sheer hunger for revenge in this broken man. You are there with him, the future of humanity is on the line, and not for a second will you think otherwise.