FlixChatter Review: THE NEST (2020)

I saw The Nest on a screener thanks to IFC Films and the premise intrigued me immediately. Jude Law and Carrie Coon Life play husband and wife whose already-fragile marriage take a twisted turn after moving into an English country manor.

The film opens when the family still resides in the US. Rory O’Hara (Law) is shown taking the kids to school, and Allison (Coon) works as a horse trainer. The O’Hara seems like the perfect family – live in a nice house with a pool and everything seems normal. Rory seems like the perfect dad to his young son Ben (Charlie Shotwell), and their daughter Sam (Oona Roche) seems like a typical angsty teen. Then suddenly one morning, Rory tells Allison he wants to move back to England. It’s not clear at first just what it is Rory does, but he assures his wife that she’d never have to work and they can live like royalty.

Despite her initial refusal, Allison agrees to uproot her family to England. They even take move her horse Richmond all the way across the Atlantic. Once they’re in the UK, Rory excitedly gives his family a tour to a large farm mansion in the London suburb of Surrey. I kind of get a Devil’s Advocate vibe and the mood of the film, which decidedly shot like a horror film by cinematographer Mátyás Erdély (Son Of Saul), makes it look like there’s something ominous about the house. There’s even a moment where Allison scream to her kids ‘you’re both are strangers to me’ after hearing noises in the house at night, which seems to come out of nowhere. I wonder if perhaps Durkin is saying that the real ‘horror’ of this family breakdown has nothing to do with the house, or external forces… that real evil can come from within each person.

Set in the early 80s during Thatcher-Reagan era, the film’s theme plays with the idea of the American dream and ‘fake it until you make it’ adage, and we later learn Rory’s lucrative job as a commodity broker is what he thinks would enable him to achieve the ‘dream’ he’s imagined for himself and his family. Without giving too much away, The Nest is family drama/cautionary tale of greed and ambition run amok. It’s as if this is the antithesis to the famous line from Wall Street that ‘greed is good.’ Well, we don’t have to watch this film to realize that, but filmmaker Sean Durkin hammers that message quite potently here.

This is the first of Durkin’s work I’ve seen so far, which is his sophomore writing/directing feature film he did since the highly-acclaimed Martha Marcy May Marlene. I think Durkin is a talented filmmaker and has a pretty unique storytelling style. The way the tension keeps on building, and using Allison’s horse as a metaphor for their crumbling marriage is pretty effective. That said, I’m not seeing the film is without flaws.

For one, the pacing is quite slow, and while I don’t mind slow films, there’s a sense of dread and unnecessary doom & gloom feel that makes the film seems lethargic. There are also some events happening in the film that seem foreboding but in the end amount to nothing, which isn’t frustrating necessarily, I just find it quite odd.I think some viewers would also find it quite frustrating that there’s no truly-sympathetic characters in this film, except for the subtle gesture of kindness from Sam towards the end. I like Allison and she’s quite a strong female figure, but the way she finally snaps at Rory during a client meeting doesn’t exactly paint her character in a compassionate light. She also seems far more obsessed with her horse than she is with her kids, at least the way it’s presented in the film.

The strong point in this film is definitely the performances. Jude Law is believable as a man with delusions of grandeur and unbridled ambition to get to the top. Though at times Rory’s actions seems absurd, you don’t completely hate the man, in fact I feel really sorry for him. The conversation with the Uber/Lyft driver is quite a turning point for Rory and perhaps one of my favorite scenes in the film. Carrie Coon is an actress I’m not familiar with at all (apparently she was in Avengers: Infinity War but unrecognizable in CG makeup as one of Thanos’ warrior minions), but I’m very impressed with her here. There’s an effortlessly cool vibe about her and she has a palpable chemistry with Law. British-Pakistani actor Adeel Akhtar and Irish actor Michael Culkin are both reliable character actors and both lend memorable performances as Rory’s colleague and boss, respectively.

Overall, I admire Durkin’s talent as a filmmaker even though I’m not overly fond of the film. As I mentioned above, there’s a sense of dread throughout, so this one isn’t exactly a pleasant film to watch. I’d still recommend it to film enthusiasts as I think it’s well-crafted, though I’m not sure this film would be a hit with mainstream audiences despite Jude Law being in it.

THE NEST is now available to stream across all cable and digital VOD platforms for rent: iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, YouTube, Vudu, PlayStation, Xbox.


Have you seen THE NEST? Well, what did you think?

TV Review: THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT (2020)

The Queen’s Gambit (2020 – Netflix)
Directed by Scott Frank
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Marielle Heller, Moses Ingram, Bill Camp, Harry Melling, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Christiane Seidel, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd

Nearly a month removed from debuting on Netflix, there’s no shortage of publicity and buzz surrounding this 7 part mini-series. During these pandemic times with nearly everyone (hopefully) staying home these days, there’s a plethora of quality streaming shows to discover. (If you need recommendations, just peruse Flixchatter and you will find truly informed reviews of what’s out there.) This is the age of the streaming platform and with The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix has really stepped it up and delivered an engrossing and wildly entertaining mini-series.

Set in 1960s Kentucky, the series chronicles the rise of chess prodigy Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy). Orphaned at age 9, we see her meager beginnings at an all-girls orphanage run by the practical yet sympathetic Miss Deardorff (Christiane Seidel). While there she meets Jolene (Moses Ingram), a black orphan who takes her under her wing, showing her the ropes.

Isla Johnston as young Beth + Bill Camp as Mr. Shaibel

While cleaning erasers in the school’s basement, she spies Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), the school’s janitor playing chess and is intrigued to the point of obsession. She picks up the game just by watching and he proceeds to teach her the intricacies of the game as well as its etiquette. He recognizes her talent and invites a local high school chess organizer to play her. He then invites her to play the local high school team who she defeats singlehandedly. To complicate matters, Beth becomes dependent on Librium – a drug given out to the children to sedate them into compliance – a widespread and abusive practice at the time.

Marielle Heller as Alma

Eventually, she is adopted by a couple and develops a unique bond with her adoptive mother Alma (Marielle Heller) who nurtures her chess career while surrendering to her own addictions and disappointments. In the universe of high school and high stakes chess tournaments, Beth is faced with the trials of chemical dependency and psychological trauma, all in her quest at becoming a grandmaster.

Based on Walter Tevis’ novel of the same name, director Scott Frank’s adaptation is concise and well executed. Frank, who wrote Soderbergh’s Out of Sight (1998) and Logan (2017) has a proven track record and The Queen’s Gambit is no exception. Stylish with a good balance of wit and humor, Frank tones down the melodrama with subtle detachment. Scenes don’t seem overdone and you won’t find any extended soliloquies either. Frank gets and keeps it to the point with flair and confidence. Steven Meizler’s photography and Michelle Tesoro’s editing provide an exciting tension and suspense especially to the chess tournament sequences – no easy feat I’m sure. Gambit’s steady pacing and editing, excellent cinematography and a beautiful score (Carlos Rafael Rivera) make this binge-worthy.

The real joy here though is watching Anya Taylor-Joy’s magnetic performance as Beth Harmon. Her chameleon-like and quiet intensity is nothing short of brilliant. With silent-era charm, her strongest moments aren’t even when she speaks but when she stares down her opponent in icy coldness. It’s an establishing role in a film career that’s already well seasoned with starring roles in The Witch (2015), Thoroughbreds (2017) and most recently this year’s Emma. Supported by a terrific ensemble cast including Harry Potter’s Harry Melling in a nice grown up role and Thomas Brodie-Sangster as the likable chess champ Benny, The Queen’s Gambit is full of memorable performances making it one of the most satisfying shows to stream in 2020.

 

The Queen’s Gambit succeeds on so many levels.  Origin story, coming-of-age, cold-war thriller, psychological drama – all apply to this highly entertaining series. Scott Frank has put together a well-oiled machine that’s fun to watch and easy to digest, so you might as well surrender to it. I’ve no doubt it will be on many critics’ top 10 lists this year.

5/5 stars

Vince_review


So did you get to see THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT? Let us know what you think!

In appreciation for 5 great female DPs working today

I’d been wanting to do this post for a while, but somehow haven’t got around to it. Well, thanks to last week’s Thursday Movie Picks on favorite cinematography, which I had actually missed, I thought I should make up for it this week.

The awesome topic came from Brittani who went with films highlighting female cinematographers on her post, so for this list I’m picking five female DPs whose work I admire, and it’s safe to say they’re some of the best DPs working today.

Before I get to that, I must say that perhaps more so than other key players in filmmaking like directors/writers/producers, DPs are still very much a man’s world. Based on WomenAndHollywood.com, of the top 300 films from 2016 to 2018, 97% were male and 3% were female were credited as the director of photography (DP) across the top live action films, which translates into 33 male lensers for every 1 female lenser. Well, let’s hope this grim stats will continue to improve, I mean, there’s only one way but up!

So let’s get to the list, shall we? Here they are in random order:

1. Charlotte Bruus Christensen

Though the Danish cinematographer had been working since 2004 in a bunch of short films, I first noticed her work in Thomas Vinterberg’s 2012 Danish thriller The Hunt. It’s such a beautiful, atmospheric film, shot in her native Denmark.

A few years later she collaborated again with Vinterberg in Far from the Madding Crowd. I distinctly remember being in awe of the lush visuals of that movie, shot mostly in the UK. The forest scene is simply breathtaking. Behold:

She also did impressive work in the underrated music-themed drama Hunky Dory, The Girl on the Train, and A Quiet Place.

2. Rachel Morrison

You can’t have a list of female DPs and not mention Rachel Morrison. Though her most famous work is no doubt The Black Panther, she actually earned an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography for Mudbound, the film she shot before the huge Marvel film. She had the distinction of being the first woman ever recognized by the Academy in the cinematography category.

I actually still need to see MUDBOUND, which also made history for DeeRees for being the first Black woman nominated for an Oscar in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.

Black Panther is one of the most stunning films I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to pick which scene is the most beautiful, but I LOVE the visuals of the night car chase scene in Busan. It’s probably one of the most beautifully-shot car chases ever!

3. Maryse Alberti

The French-born DP has quite a career spanning 3+ decades, starting in the mid 80s with shorts, TV work and documentaries. Some of her films I remember well are Velvet Goldmine in the late 90s set in the world of 1970s glam-rock, The Wrestler, and Creed. The last two consist of plenty intense action scenes, given the nature of such contact sport, which I’d imagine are tough to shoot.

I love the realism in Alberti’s visual style… the scenes are dramatic and beautiful to look at, but not glamorized. There’s a realness and grit to it that also helps you as the audience to really get in on the action and also relate more to the characters.

4. Mandy Walker

The Victoria, Australia native had her start as a DP in Australian movies. The first movie I saw that she shot was Shattered Glass, about American journalist Stephen Glass. But the one movie that made me take notice of her work was in Baz Luhrmann’s AUSTRALIA, which of course was shot on location. The movie is practically a promo video for Australia, and for one of its hunkiest export Hugh Jackman in one of his most glorious form.

She also shot the stunning Chanel No. 5 perfume advert, collaborating again with Luhrmann and Nicole Kidman. She also worked on Hollywood films Red Riding Hood, Tracks, Truth and one of my favorites, Hidden Figures. I have yet to see MULAN yet, but she’s also the DP for that Disney live-action movie, so I hope to see that during the holidays!

5. Ellen Kuras

The New Jersey is known not just for her cinematography work, but also for directing documentaries. In fact, she nominated for an Oscar for her first directorial debut documentary The Betrayal in 2009. She continues to juggle both narratives and documentaries as a DP, such as JANE about Jane Goodall, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, and David Byrne’s American Utopia directed by Spike Lee.

One of her most well-known narrative work includes Blow, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Ballad of Jack and Rose and the period drama A Little Chaos which was all shot in the UK despite being set at Versailles, France. I quite enjoyed the romantic period drama, starring some of my all time favorite actors, especially Kate Winslet + Alan Rickman (reunited after Sense & Sensibility!) and there are plenty of beautiful shots to admire in it.


Surely there are more female DPs working today who do excellent work, so this is by no means a comprehensive list. So, with that in mind, 

Who are some of your favorite female DPs? Feel free to include links to photos or videos.

FlixChatter Review: MR. JONES (2019)

I’ve always been a fan of journalism film and this film shed a light on a horrifying event that I wasn’t familiar about – the Holodomor, the man-made famine-genocide in Ukraine in early 1930s that killed many Ukranians. The story is told through the eyes of Gareth Jones (James Norton), hence the title, a Welsh journalist who uncovered this horrific, but at the time was unreported genocide perpetrated by the Soviet government under Stalin. Jones was renowned at the time for having interviewed Adolf Hitler, and thanks to his connection with a former British PM, he was able to travel to the Soviet Union to interview Stalin.

James Norton as Gareth Jones

I immediately find the film genuinely gripping as well as stylish, directed by Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland who’s no stranger to war-related dramas. Her historical drama In Darkness, set during Nazi occupation in Poland, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of 2011. The film plays out like an engrossing spy thriller under Holland’s superb direction that makes you invested in Jones’ journey right from the start.

Now, Jones’s original mission was to find out more about the Soviet’s economic expansion, but he ended up uncovering something truly sinister behind the success of the Communist Party’s economic plan. Ukraine was referred to as ‘Stalin’s gold’  and clearly Stalin’s government tried to silence anyone who tried to uncover what happened there. Two fellow journalists that Jones met along his journey have two different reactions. Ada Brooks (Vanessa Kirby), a British journalist, confirms that the truth about the famine is being repressed but she feels it’s too dangerous to speak about it. It’s understandable given an American journalist Paul Klebnikov turned up dead in Moscow while doing an investigative reporting on that topic.

Vanessa Kirby as Ada Brooks

The scenes in Ukraine where Jones saw with his own eyes the stark contrast between the prosperous Moscow and the stark villages in Soviet Ukraine is quite heart-wrenching. Set in the frosty Winter time, Jones was shivering as he walked on foot to see empty houses and dead bodies who have died of starvation. One of the most indelible scene is when he encountered a few kids and they took him to their home and gave him food. I won’t spoil it for you but let’s just say I’d have thrown up immediately like he did once I realized what I had eaten.

The solid script by Andrea Chalupa feels personal somehow, and likely because she was not simply documenting a horrific event in history, but her own grandparents had suffered the Holodomor during Stalin’s regime. In fact, Chalupa had recognized parallels between what’s written in Animal Farm, a seminal allegorical novella by George Orwell (portrayed by Joseph Mawle in the film), which speaks against totalitarianism and socialism. The humanistic approach was palpable and emotional, one truly sees the horrors in Jones’ eyes and his dismay that his story didn’t find the traction he hoped for upon his return. In fact, Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), the rather flamboyant chief of The New York Times’s Moscow bureau whom Jones had met in Moscow, vehemently denied his claims. It’s as if people knew what was happening but because of political and economical reasons refuse to let the truth come out. Worse, some people simply don’t care what happen to people they barely know about and it’s simply easier to turn a blind eye.

Peter Sarsgaard as Walter Duranty

Norton is a perfectly-cast as the idealistic journalist who strived to uncover the truth, even risking his own life to do it. Glad to see him in lead role in a feature film, after seeing him in mostly tv work and small supporting roles in movies. He’s definitely got the charisma and talent, so I hope to see him in more films. Kirby isn’t in very many scenes but she was memorable in the scenes she was in; while Sarsgaard is a reliable actor and he plays an unsympathetic character believably.

Mr. Jones is an important story that’s told brilliantly. It’s suspenseful, thrilling as well as emotional, filled with dread when it needs to be, without making the entire film feels gloomy or dejected. In fact, it has a lively pacing and uplifting tone, and in the end it is an uplifting film (though truth comes with a price).  The cinematography with bold, dynamic camera work by Polish DP Tomasz Naumiuk is simply stunning and has that eerie, atmospheric feel that’s perfect for this story.

If you’re a history buff, or even interested in a captivating story about a topic most people don’t know about and rarely portrayed in cinema, I definitely recommend Mr. Jones. Upon further research about Gareth Jones, he was inevitably banned from Soviet Union and ended up killed in 1935 by the Soviet secret police. His story certainly deserves to be told and this film is one of the most chilling but effective political thriller that’ll stay with you long after its opening credits.


Have you seen MR. JONES? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: SYNCHRONIC (2020)


Directed by: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Written by: Justin Benson
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Ally Ioannides

Coming off the critical success of The Endless (2017), Synchronic is the fifth collaboration between the directing duo of Benson and Moorhead. While not in the same universe as that of their previous 2 films (with 2012’s Resolution as a semi-prequel to The Endless), the film categorically shares the sci-fi/horror genre and with similar stylistic flair along with high tier lead actors in Anthony Mackie (The Avengers) and Jamie Dornan (50 Shades franchise).

Set in modern-day New Orleans, Mackie and Dornan play paramedics Steve Denube and Dennis Dannelly who come across a bizarre case of young people overdosing over a new designer drug called Synchronic. The cases grow and become more horrifying each time, all while their personal lives are taking a dark turn – Mackie a lonely playboy with a serious illness and Dornan with domestic family difficulties. Everything falls apart when Dennis’ teenage daughter Brianna (Ioannides) disappears while allegedly taking the drug. While Dennis tries to repair things at home, Steve decides to try and find his friend’s daughter at a high cost.

With its atmospheric pacing and neo-psychedelic sequences, Sychronic is a stylish sci-fi thriller that seems to be the love-child of Ken Russell’s 1980 cult-classic Altered States and Scorsese’s 1999 supernatural film Bringing Out the Dead. The filmmakers set it up promisingly with creepy strokes of imagery and for the most part maintain it through the 2nd act. As in their previous films, Benson and Moorhead add touches of H.P. Lovecraft and at times mirroring some of the themes we see from Lovecraft Country. There are portrayals of racial profiling and segregation as well as slavery. However, for good or bad, the filmmakers chose not to use this as a plot development point, even though it’s insinuated that present day New Orleans is (as most of the country) still rife with racism.

Mackie is fine as an involuntary bachelor with an existential crisis. While he tackles the character with serious gusto as usual, he’s able to dash on some likable humor which tellingly are the filmmakers’ attitude in not taking things too seriously. Dornan is merely there and the other actors as just props.

The 3rd act is when Synchronic becomes a predictable time travel yarn with the usual flaws in believability. There are those moments of “really?” with a big question mark but that is to be expected and the film glosses over those shortcomings with pacing and Mackie’s likable performance. It is also commendable that the film did not devolve into a full-on gore-fest. That was comforting given the compelling subject matter of a drug epidemic.

Ultimately, beyond the two-dimensionality of the characters and the believability of the plot, the film is a nice enough pit stop for science fiction/thriller fans. While it doesn’t succeed wholly in making us forget the trivialities of time travel science, Benson and Moorhead seem to say that Synchronic need not be synchronous with reality. After all, momentary escape should do.

Vince_review


So did you see SYNCHRONIC? Let us know what you think!

Bingeing on ‘The Expanse’ – the best sci-fi series I’ve seen so far

I don’t know about you but I LOVE when I discover a new show that I love, especially those that have been around for a while with tons of episodes to catch up on. THE EXPANSE has been around since 2015 and I’ve often seen the banner pop up on Amazon Prime, but somehow I haven’t felt compelled to check it out. About a month ago, my hubby said a few colleagues of were talking about that show on one of their Zoom meetings and they highly recommended it–saying that it’s one of the best, most realistic sci-fi shows they’ve seen. So we decided to give it a go, since we actually loved Battlestar Galactica (the early 2000s version by Ron Moore) that we binged on a decade ago.

Well, right from the very first episode, we instantly LOVED it and we had been catching up to the first 3 seasons in just 3 weeks, so one season per week which is actually pretty fast as we usually don’t watch anything on weeknights. But fortunately each episode is only about 40-minutes long and always ends on such an awesome cliffhanger that it’s hard NOT to keep watching!

Apparently this show was originally on SyFy Channel, which cancelled the series in early 2018 just before airing its third season. Thanks to fan-campaign to save the show, Amazon picked it up and currently the show is on its 5th season. I’ve only finished season 3 so far, but I think we’ll be caught up with all four season by the time season 5 drops on December 15.

PREMISE

Hundreds of years in the future, the Solar System has been colonized by humanity. The three largest powers are the United Nations of Earth and Luna, the Martian Congressional Republic on Mars, and the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), a loose confederation of the asteroid belt and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

Sci-fi shows are a dime a dozen but I find The Expanse unique given that it takes place on multiple planets including earth, and instead of humans + aliens fighting or co-existing, all of the characters on Earth, Mars and those living in the asteroid belt (hence called Belters) are all humans who have since colonized other planets.

The series follows a disparate band of antiheroes – United Nations Security Council member Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), police detective Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane), ship’s officer James Holden (Steven Strait) and his crew – as they unwittingly unravel and place themselves at the center of a conspiracy which threatens the system’s fragile state of Cold War. I love the detective noir aspect of Miller’s narrative in trying to find a missing young woman, and the show-runners did an outstanding job mixing the noir elements with science-fiction and relevant political climate & intrigue that actually feels relatable to what’s going on in our world today.

L-R: Thomas Jane, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Steven Strait

Based on the book series of the same name by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey), they also serve among the show’s producers and writers. It’s the kind of shows that are super fun to sink your teeth into because of their excellent world-building and scientifically accurate of depictions of life in space.

Well, if the Rotten Tomatoes ratings are any indication, this is one of those rare series that consistently get high rating that get better and better each season. In fact, the first season’s rating of 77% is the lowest of the four seasons so far, with season 3 and 4 getting 100% fresh rating!

Here are just some of the reasons I LOVE The Expanse:

FANTASTIC ENSEMBLE CAST

I LOVE the racially-diverse cast who are massively talented but not big-name stars. I have to say the only two people I knew prior to watching the show are Thomas Jane and Shohreh Aghdashloo but I grew to love all the main cast, especially the four main crew of the Rocinante, the Martian gunship the crew managed to escape in when their original ship Canterbury was destroyed. 

  • Steven Strait as James Holden, the Earther executive officer on the Canterbury, later the captain of the Rocinante
  • Cas Anvar as Alex Kamal, the Martian pilot of the Canterbury, later the pilot of the Rocinante
  • Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata, a Belter engineer of the Canterbury, later the engineer of the Rocinante
  • Wes Chatham as Amos Burton, an Earther mechanic of the Canterbury, later the mechanic of the Rocinante

This is a memorable scene when they renamed the ship Rocinante.

Each of the characters has an interesting backstory that’s slowly revealed as the series progresses, and the show feels like a terrific ensemble-piece instead of the merely focusing on just one or two characters. It’s hard to pick a favorite as I LOVE the four of them pretty much equally. Holden is an idealist reluctant leader whose principles somehow command loyalty from the crew… I like that he’s not a typical captain that just barks orders at the crew. Alex is a brilliant yet fun pilot, he always makes me smile, plus he’s a great cook, who doesn’t love that!! I gotta get some of those space pasta! I’ve grown to appreciate Amos more and more, I love his brutal honesty, his hot temper is actually endearing (though I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of his!). All the guys are super easy on the eyes as well, which makes them extra easy to love, ahah.

I think the real MVP of the Roci (love the cute nickname for the ship!) is Naomi Nagata, the super-engineer who can fix practically anything and she’s tough as nails!!

I bow to thee, Naomi Nagata!

The four crew member have such a great chemistry and despite their different personalities, they somehow complement each other nicely. Of course they don’t always get along, which is realistic given each came from different backgrounds and their viewpoints/ allegiance don’t always align. Plus it adds to the dynamic element of the show when they do butt heads… or when sparks fly (as in the case with James and Naomi).

Let’s highlight the three other characters I love on the show:

Shohreh Aghdashloo is so bad ass as Chrisjen Avasarala (what a fun name!) one of the UN Security Council members who’s sharp and resourceful in maneuvering the fragile political situations between the three planets, definitely a stand-out amongst the cutthroat, male-dominated field. I LOVE how colorful and intricate her costumes are in this show, she’s always decked in sparkly jewels in nearly every episode, such a respite from the austere military uniforms most of the characters wear.

Thomas Jane’s Josephus Miller (with his iconic detective hat) is quite a fun character as he seems like he’s sort of disillusioned and just cruising through life, that is until he starts investigating the disappearance of Julie Mao (Florence Faivre). In a way, she brought his mojo back as he’s becoming more inspired the more he learns about her life. 

Last but not least, one of my fave characters from season 1-3 is Mars’ Marine Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams). I love her no-nonsense character from the moment she was introduced in Mars, and she’s got tons of memorable moments that just makes me love her more and more. 

The meticulous world-building that as scientifically-accurate as can be

It’s always important for any series that they come up with a compelling universe and its own sets of rules… I think even more so in a science fiction that deals with worlds other than our own. The show-runners have definitely done a phenomenal job setting up complex, intricate narratives with high stakes that build genuine tension from one episode to the next. 

For example, the zero gravity concept which this Wired article sums it up nicely ‘There are no pew-pew lasers or faster-than-light space travel here—just serious science.’ For example, unlike many sci-fi shows where humans can just walk normally on a spacecraft, in this show, they’d be floating around if they’re not strapped in, unless they wear magnetic boots that ‘lock’ them to the ground so they can walk. This article talks about the science of spinning aircraft, which the show also depicts in a much more realistic way than other similar shows.

The opening of the first episode sees a girl trapped on a ship that’s apparently has been abandoned. It’s the scene that started it all, which also does a good job in introducing the kind of world The Expanse is set in.

Now, obviously The Expanse is a fantasy sci-fi show, but I like that the showrunners at least has a pretty good understanding how science works. One of them, Naren Shankar, holds a PhD in physics and engineering from Cornell and he also said the book authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck also have extensive knowledge about science.  This Wired article talks about how the show paid great attention to real physics, such as how gravity or orbital trajectories work. I read this interview with Shankar on Sciencemag and I definitely come away with the notion that this show raised the game for other shows in similar genres.

It’s not just the space science the show get right, but also the cultural ramifications that resulted from humans living in different planets. Instead of racial tension between people of different skin colors that we have today, in the future we have tensions between the Earthers, Martians and Belters who are all humans that have ‘evolved’ to have different physical appearances due to the climate of the planets they occupy.

For example, Belters suffer when exposed to Earth’s gravitational force, due to their altered physiology from growing up and living in low gravity environments. So Earthers would use Gravity torture is a form of torture that is used on Earth against Belters, such as the one seen in this scene.

It’s interesting how watching the show reinforces how we earth-dwellers have taken so many things for granted–blue sky, breathable air, oceans, etc. which are foreign to Martians and Belters. The Belters are raised in low gravity environment which makes them have longer bones and larger skulls than the humans of earth. Martians are highly efficient society as everyone there are laser-focused on the terraforming project, that is trying to make Mars to be the new earth. Martians are highly advanced in terms of military and technology, as the terraforming project is considered the greatest engineering project in human history. 

The culture of the show is so fascinating stuff but yet somehow relatable because despite the show being set mostly in space, the story is about humans and their journey navigating the new reality. The discrimination, prejudices and other sources of tensions between the three planets feel eerily similar to what’s happening in our world today.

The genuine mystery + terror of the mysterious enemy

Out of the many mysteries presented on the show, the protomolecule is at the heart of it as it affects the lives of all human kind. Per The Expanse Wiki, The protomolecule is an infectious agent of extra-terrestrial origin that has the ability to radically alter infected life forms and utilize their biomass in various ways. The show’s main villain, a wealthy tycoon Jules-Pierre Mao (François Chau), has been working on a project to weaponized the protomolecule which leads to unfounded war between Earth and Mars.

The horrific Eros-incident revealed in Critical Mass is downright horrifying and heartbreaking. The stakes are truly high here as Miller and Holden + crew have to figure out just what evil they’re dealing with that could do such unimaginable horror to the Belters in that space station. The moment Marine Bobbie Draper first encountered the Protomolecule Hybrid on Ganymede Station is pretty darn scary as well and deepens the mystery of the whole illicit project.


Video Cheat-sheets

Whenever I’m watching shows that are full of intricate concepts, I find it helpful to get a crash course on the world it’s set in after I watch the first couple of episodes. I only watch them if I decide the show is worth investing my time on, so I found this one that explains the many worlds presented in the show without any spoilers:

Now, this Kevin Smith one is fun but I recommend waiting until you finish all three seasons as it has quite a few spoilers. It definitely made me anticipate season 4 even more!

More of The Expanse series in the works, yay!

Well, the good news for fans is the show is far from over!! Season 5 will arrive on Amazon Prime on December 15 and according to this article, it’s already been renewed for season 6!

I’m excited to start season 4 next week, as soon as I’m done watching The Queen’s Gambit (which is also very good but glad it’s only a limited series with 7 episodes!). I actually miss the characters of The Expanse already after not watching for a few days.


Have you seen The Expanse? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the series!

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Thursday Movie Picks: BOOKISH films

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday everyone! I’m a bit late to the TMP party but I love this week’s topic that I still want to participate. The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… BOOKISH movies.

I haven’t been able to participate on TMP lately but when I saw today’s topic I knew I had to take part! I guess this topic could be about movies based on books, but I see it as movies where books/literature play a central role or that the main characters love reading, so I’m going with that… and I’m choosing films set in England (because one day I’d love to shoot my feature film there!) Plus,  I have been reading quite a bit lately and I do LOVE movies about books!

In any case, here are my three picks:

The Bookshop (2017)

England 1959. In a small East Anglian town, Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop.

Books can be a great way to escape your mundane every day life or a way to cope with a traumatizing event. In this movie, the protagonist Florence (Emily Mortimer) copes with the loss of her husband through books and decided to open a bookshop in her town, which somehow ends up facing fierce opposition from powerful local elites.

It’s a rather slow film but I quite enjoy the reflective nature and you truly feel the pain Florence is going through. The scenes when at the bookshop really makes me sad that there aren’t that many brick + mortar book stores anymore.


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

In the aftermath of World War II, a writer forms an unexpected bond with the residents of Guernsey Island when she decides to write a book about their experiences during the war.

Matthew Goode as Juliet’s publisher + Lily James as Juliet

I have just rewatched this movie recently and it makes me wish I could visit Guernsey, an island in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy. The protagonist Juliet Ashton (Lily James) is a London-based writer who, upon receiving a letter from the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (yep, that’s the name of the book club!), she decided to pay write a book about them and their experiences during the Nazi occupation.

I love that the film has a bit of investigative aspects as Juliet delved deeper into the lives of the book club’s members. Of course the book idea wasn’t exactly received warmly initially, and you get to figure out why that’s so. There’s of course a sweet romance between Juliet and Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), the one who wrote to her in the first place.


Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Sparks fly when spirited Elizabeth Bennet meets single, rich, and proud Mr. Darcy. But Mr. Darcy reluctantly finds himself falling in love with a woman beneath his class. Can each overcome their own pride and prejudice?

Well, as a fan of Jane Austen, naturally I’d have to include a movie based on her books. But I chose Pride and Prejudice as the protagonist Elizabeth Bennet LOVES reading and there are scenes of her reading even as she’s walking about, not a care in the world as she’s so engrossed in the pages of her book. It makes me like her instantly and it’s a great way to distinguish her from her sisters… that she’d rather be lost in a good story than be bothered about ‘silly’ things like boys. That is of course until she meets Mr. Darcy.

I love that Lizzie’s first comment as she meets Mr. Bingley speaks about how much she loves reading…

The library at Netherfield, I’ve heard, is one of the finest in the country.

Now, Bingley’s own sister pretends to love reading when she said “I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library,” but she only said that to attract Mr. Darcy’s attentions.


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of them?