Musings on the first 2 eps of LOKI series

When the first THOR movie came out in 2011, I instantly fell for Tom Hiddleston‘s LOKI and like many Hiddlestoners out there, I kept wishing there’ll be a spin-off movie. Well, that day never came, but thankfully a decade later, we got something even better! Why settle for a 2-hour LOKI movie when you can get 6 hours of the god of mischief shenanigans!

The series, directed by Kate Herron and written by Michael Waldron (who’s also penning the script of Doctor Strange‘s sequel) is Marvel Studios’ first villain-centric project. The timing is quite interesting as Disney just released its latest villain-centric movie Cruella, which some critics have called it The Joker Wears Prada, ahah. It seems that Marvel honcho Kevin Feige and its show-runner is confident that most people who watch the series are likely familiar with the MCU and have kept up with all 4 phases. If not, well they probably aren’t going to care that there are spoilers galore, especially pertaining to the Infinity Saga. 

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Even in the opening sequence we’re shown a clip of the 2012 The Avengers when Loki was reprimanded in chains. But chaos on the Stark Industries building lobby causes the all-important Tesseract to break loose and into the hand of LOKI, which of course seizes the opportunity to escape and transport himself out of Midgard, aka earth. Somehow Loki ends up falling on the Gobi desert of Mongolia, surrounded by pieces of what looks like metals and other pieces. It certainly reminds me of the scene in Iron Man when Tony Stark crash lands his first prototype of the Iron Man suit. Before Loki even figures out his bearing, a group of military force in a gray, black and orange body armor seizes Loki and takes him away through a time-travel portal.

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There are a ton of exposition in the first episode which I won’t get into here, it’s best that you experience it for yourself when you watch it. I can say that what Loki did with escaping using the Tesseract is that he creates a branch in time, which is grounds for arrest by the Time Variance Authority (TVA) for crimes against the Sacred Timeline. Honestly, I’m still not clear about that whole timeline and who actually leads the TVA, who apparently even the agents have never met. TVA is a bureaucratic organization that exists outside of time and space and monitors the timeline. This is where things get interesting, that is when Loki is brought by a no-nonsense high-ranking officer Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) to a judge called Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to determine his fate. But then a TVA agent called Mobius M. Mobius – don’t you just love these wacky names!! – intervenes and convinces the judge that he could use Loki’s help to catch a more dangerous, divergent Loki Variant, the one he deems smarter and more evil than the Loki they have in possession. As you’ve seen in the trailers, Mobius is played by the reliably amusing Owen Wilson.

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Now, Tom and Owen have worked together in Midnight in Paris, and I’ve seen countless times the clip of Hiddles impersonating Owen in the Graham Norton Show. The two must’ve stayed in touch as I have a feeling perhaps Tom’s had a hand in Owen’s casting, and Owen himself has said in interviews he became familiar w/ the world of the MCU thanks to what he calls the Loki Lectures! Oh man, I’d LOVE to sign up for those!

Move over Falcon + The Winter Soldier, we’ve got a new fun bromance in the MCU! I actually laugh more watching Loki and Mobius’ constant bantering. I know lots of people might find all the talky scenes boring but I actually enjoy their tête-à-tête, discussing what the TVA actually does, time travel theories, even philosophical stuff like free will, etc. As a theater actor, Tom clearly he enjoys the heavy dialogue and he’s got a such gorgeous voice to boot! I’ve said it before in this post, Tom can just be reading a vacuum cleaner manual to me and I’d be sitting there batting my eyelashes.

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For the most part, the banters are droll and hilarious, especially when Loki hijacks Mobius’ lunch to demonstrate his time variant theory in the lunch room! But there are a few emotional moments, such as when Mobius shares what happens in his future, including the destruction of Asgard we saw in Thor: Ragnarok and what Thanos did to him in Endgame. For his part, Owen is perfect casting as well as the Texas-born actor is effortlessly comical and charming as Mobius. His exasperated mannerism dealing with Loki, even mocking the Asgardian’s inability to shut up, is one of the series’ highlights. The two complements each other so well I think they’re now my favorite MCU duo!

I’ve mentioned Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Wunmi Mosaku above and they’re both great addition to the cast. I’ve been a huge fan of Gugu ever since BELLE movie, and seeing her joining the MCU just made me so happy!! I’m glad she’s not just a damsel in distress or some throwaway character, I mean her role as a judge is a pretty powerful one and I hope to see more of her in the series. I haven’t seen her in Lovecraft Country but I love seeing what Wunmi bring to this show so far.

Aside from the talented cast, I also love the production design of the series. I love the retro look of the TVA headquarter in yet another interesting and wacky universe as Marvel keeps upping the ante in its world-building ability. The cinematography, colors, set pieces, etc. has that 50s/60s sensibilities, though not quite in the same way as WandaVision did which shows the characters evolving decade after decade.

Now, of course the series just wouldn’t work without Tom Hiddleston reprising his role as LOKI. I know that everyone always have such high praises for Taika Waititi for reviving the Thor franchise, but I for one think Kenneth Branagh deserves a ton of kudos for not just casting the perfect Thor in Chris Hemsworth, but the perfect Loki as well. It’s crazy to think Tom auditioned for Thor, but clearly he’s more brain than brawn and what I love about Loki is his sharp wit, undeniable charm and sheer unpredictability!

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Tom is one of the best actors working today, so it’s no surprise he easily switches from mischief to melancholy in no time flat, and manages to make those playful and poignant scenes believable. He relishes in being an anti-hero, and this role gives him a chance to show the many sides of Loki in such a fun way. We’ve seen Loki’s not-so-nefarious side before in various movies, but the possibilities are endless given the multiverse. I love the moment he gets to be be charming + flirtatious in a dapper suit (which might re-start those Bond rumors once again). I look forward to seeing more of what Hiddleston can do with the role in this series.

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Now, there are a few quibbles I have about the series however. Some of the Jetson-style cartoon of the TVA seems a bit out of place. The bouncy clock Miss Minutes was amusing for a few seconds, but the novelty kinda wears off fast. I think we get that time travel is par the course for the series, and the thing with time travel, alternate timeline, multiverse, etc. is that the more you talk about it, the more convoluted it becomes and it’s hard at times to stick the the ‘rules’ the show-runners themselves have created. But I suppose this is just the first two episodes, so hopefully there won’t be any more exposition in future episodes and just give us what Loki does best, that is being his mischievous self!

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Overall though, I thoroughly enjoy the LOKI series! It’s delightfully kooky which definitely helps averts the superhero fatigue. The ending of episode two is infused with all kinds of mystery and it fuses sci-fi and detective elements that I enjoy. I’m really curious just how big of an impact this series will have to the MCU as a whole, as Feige has teased in many articles such as this one, reportedly saying that “[LOKI] is tremendously important. It perhaps will have more impact on the MCU than any of the shows thus far,” I also look forward to the character’s evolution, which we have seen in Wanda becoming Scarlet Witch, as well as Sam Wilson becoming Captain America. “You want to see, after six hours or so, characters change and evolve,” Feige was quoted as saying, “We don’t make these shows to not be radical, right?”

That’s a big promise, but I for one trust Marvel that they WILL deliver! Can’t wait for more of LOKI, wish I could binge them all in a single weekend!

4/5 stars


Are you excited for LOKI series?

THIS JUST IN! Ted Lasso Season 2 Trailer

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It has been a great week so far with a bunch of new trailers being released. I just posted about Shang-Chi yesterday, around the same time as Leos Carax’s musical ANNETTE that I’ll talk about in another week.

Well, thanks to my hubby who brought his laptop down for lunch as he wanted to watch Apple’s ‘Spring Loaded’ live event, Tim Cook also announced Ted Lasso‘s season 2 teaser, wahoo!!

If there’s one show I’m absolutely in love with this year, it’d be THIS ONE. I’m surprised by that myself as I’m not even into soccer or even sports-type movies/shows. I mean, I have seen a few I enjoy but I’m as clueless about sports as coach Ted is about soccer (or football for UK folks)! 😀

The series follows US American Football coach Ted Lasso heading to the UK to manage a struggling London football team in the top flight of English football.

Though it’s obviously centered around a sport, Ted Lasso is SO much more than just about football. It’s a series that celebrates goodness and wholesomeness. In fact, its tagline says ‘Kindness is making a comeback’ which is so spot on!! It’s sooo refreshing to see a series in 2021 that is so positive and not about being ‘accomplished’ or being at the top of the game. In fact, Ted takes something that’s inherently negative (being hired solely because he does NOT know anything about English football) and turn it around into something positive for everyone because he cares more about people than about winning.

I also adore the fact that it celebrates the underdog as well, not just the team but the people that get overlooked, i.e. Nate whom Ted notice as being quite the team expert that’s key in turning the team around.

Brendan Hunt, Jason Sudekis + Nick Mohammed

I love every single cast member, but of course Jason Sudekis is the star and he’s absolutely wonderful in this role. I’ve only seen him in comedies but none really made a mark for me until this series. He fits the role so well and so believable as a glass-half-full kind of guy. There are also some dramatic moments on the show and Sudekis proved himself to be a versatile actor to tackle those believably as well.

The supporting cast are superb as well… hard to pick a favorite among them: Hannah Waddingham, Juno Temple, Jeremy Swift, Brett Goldstein, Phil Dunster, Toheeb Jimoh and of course James Lance as journalist Trent Crimm.

Ok so now you’ve got some time to catch up on this series before JULY 23 when season 2 premieres!!

Let’s celebrate with some of my favorite Ted Lasso gifs:

I couldn’t find the gif but this ‘be curious, not judgmental’ quote is definitely my favorite… lots of great life lessons from this show!


Just three more months away until season 2! Are you a fan of TED LASSO?

Trailer Spotlight: HBO’s THE NEVERS (2021)

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I LOVE period dramas and the superhero/fantasy genre, so The Nevers seems to have been made for me! I saw the teaser a few weeks ago and was like, WHOA!! It’s like Jane Austen meets Marvel… ok that’s an oversimplification as Jane Austen stories are set in Regency, not Victorian era… but in any event, you get the point.

So here’s the full trailer:

So apparently the original show-runner is Joss Whedon who left back in November 2020. Per Variety, he cited that he couldn’t meet the physical challenges of making such a huge show during a global pandemic. Well, can’t say I’ll miss him. He’s been replaced by Philippa Goslett, British screenwriter who’s developed shows for networks such as FX, BBC and Channel 4, but this marks her first time as a show-runner.

Thanks to HBO’s official show page, here’s the full synopsis:

August, 1896. Victorian London is rocked to its foundations by a supernatural event which gives certain people — mostly women — abnormal abilities, from the wondrous to the disturbing. But no matter their particular “turns,” all who belong to this new underclass are in grave danger. It falls to mysterious, quick-fisted widow Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) and brilliant young inventor Penance Adair (Ann Skelly) to protect and shelter these gifted “orphans.” To do so, they will have to face the brutal forces determined to annihilate their kind.

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Judging from the trailer, looks like it’ll be an action-packed series with [hopefully] some thought-provoking commentary about the societal issues of the time. Despite having a woman reigning as monarch, that is Queen Victoria women did not have the right to vote, sue, or own property… women are basically property of their husbands. So seeing them take charge and even banding together to save the world is surely revolutionary. The trailer show these women being persecuted, well, naturally the men would be threatened by powerful women and they’d do whatever it takes to maintain status quo (what else is new?)

The cast looks amazing!! I recognize a bunch of them from previous British series/movies: Olivia Williams, Nick Frost, James Norton, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ben Chaplin, and Tom Riley. (see below for the complete list). I also noticed Jodie Comer from Killing Eve, but her name is not on the list in Part 1 of IMDb. Now the reason for that is that this is a two-part series, which is similar to Netflix’s LUPIN.

Part One of the first season debuts on April 11, 2021 with six-episodes on HBO Max. Part Two’s six episodes will follow at a later date, to be announced.

There are SO many things to look forward to in this fantasy series! A terrific ensemble cast with a diverse set of women, beautiful costumes + set pieces, striking cinematography… and gadgetry? Well one of the main character is an inventor, so she might’ve invented this steampunk vehicle which would be handy to outrun all those nefarious guys trying to imprison them!

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So here’s the full list of cast + who they’re playing:

Olivia Williams (The Ghost Writer) as Lavinia Bidlow, the wealthy benefactress funding the orphanage for Amalia’s outcasts, who are also known as the Touched.

Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) as feared criminal overlord Declan “Beggar King” Orrun.

James Norton (Little Women) as Hugo Swann, the rich and irreverent proprietor of a den of iniquity.

Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demons) as Augustus “Augie” Bidlow, Lavinia’s sweet, awkward, younger brother with a secret of his own.

Pip Torrens (The Crown) as Lord Gilbert Massen, a high-ranking government official leading the crusade against our heroines.

Ben Chaplin (The Thin Red Line) as Inspector Frank Mundi, who’s torn between his police duties and moral compass.

Denis O’Hare (American Horror Story) as Edmund Hague, a deranged doctor searching for the source of the powers.

Amy Manson (Once Upon a Time) as the tortured, murderous Maladie, who derives power from pain.

Rochelle Neil (Terminator: Dark Fate) as the fire-wielding Annie “Bonfire” Carby, one of Maladie’s motley gang.

Zackary Momoh (Seven Seconds) as orphanage doctor Horatio Cousens, whose turn equips him with healing powers.

Eleanor Tomlinson (The Illusionist) as Mary Brighton, a broken and resilient performer pursuing her dream of singing on stage.

Elizabeth Berrington (In Bruges) as Lucy Best, adaptive and streetwise, her quick-wit and high spirits mask the pain of a tragic past.

Anna Devlin (All the Money in the World) as Primrose Chattoway who, at ten feet tall and a dreamy demeanor, wishes to be an ordinary girl not taking up too much space.

Kiran Sonia Sawar (HBO Max’s Pure) as Harriet Kaur, a young Scottish Sikh and aspiring lawyer, determined to live her life as she planned.

Viola Prettejohn (The Witcher) as Myrtle Haplisch, a middle-class girl rescued from a family who cannot understand her – literally, as she can no longer speak any form of language they understand.

Ella Smith (Ray & Liz) as Désireé Blodgett, a prostitute with a power that gets her in trouble and a six-year old son who never speaks.

Vinnie Heaven as Nimble Jack, a rakish and charming young thief and an expert at breaking and entering.

So yeah, I know what I’ll be watching in April!! Perfect timing as I need something to fill the void of LUPIN and Ted Lasso, two of my new favorite shows.


Are you excited for THE NEVERS?

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Episode 1 Review

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It’s a great week for superhero fans. I know that today DC fans are rejoicing for the #SnyderCut of Justice League. Well, even though I have enjoyed some DC superhero movies in the past, I’m not clamoring to see the 4-hour slog elongated version of what I think I saw back in 2017 that I could barely remember, ahah. I did rejoice when I saw an email from Disney saying I had a screener of episode 1 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (TFATWS) earlier this week! Captain America: The Winter Soldier is my favorite film of the MCU, and also the best of my favorite MCU trilogy. The Captain America movies are all solid but I dare say The Winter Soldier, where Falcon (Sam Wilson) and Winter Soldier (Bucky Barnes) first met, is more than a fantastic superhero movie, it’s a phenomenal movie period.

Ever since Disney+ launched in November 2019 in the US (boy that seemed like lightyears ago!), THIS is the series I couldn’t wait to see. Of course the pandemic delayed everything, including this one. Well, let’s just say it’s so worth the wait!! I rewatched Captain America: Civil War in anticipation for this miniseries, and even THIS scene alone made me wish there’s a movie dedicated to these two. So getting an equivalent of 3 movies but on TV is awesome!!

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This is only one of six episodes where, like WandaVision, will not have a follow-up season. I think it’s brilliant that Marvel Studio president Kevin Feige set up these miniseries so filmmakers can dive more deeper into intriguing MCU characters that don’t have their own dedicated movies. And when you’ve got terrific actors like Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, there’s plenty of opportunities to see them flex their dramatic muscles. It’s also cool to see a female director at the helm. Kari Skogland is no stranger to directing high-profile series, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Punisher, Walking Dead, The Americans, etc. though TFATWS’s $150 mil budget (for just 6 episodes!!) is no doubt the highest she’s been involved in.

TFATWS opens with a bang! A high-octane action in the vein of the opening sequence of Winter Soldier, but focusing on Falcon instead. The fight choreography is just as good as what you saw in the opening sequence, plus we see a familiar face of the antagonist Falcon is fighting against. If you love Falcon’s flying sequences (and who doesn’t?), well you’re gonna enjoy the spectacular high-flying action scene, the best Falcon flying-action I’ve seen so far! So glad to hear composer Henry Jackman back composing his kinetic score, which perfectly complements the dynamic action Even from the trailers, you can tell the production values is top notch. There’s a cinematic feel to it, which means Marvel isn’t treating these streaming-version content like a step-child amongst the MCU.

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But what I also appreciate is the slower, reflective moments for each character. Per Disney’s production brief, Skogland promises “…an epic, character-driven story. We get to go inside these characters and their world in a much more intimate way.” Timeline-wise, this one takes place six months since the events of Avengers: Endgame known as the Blip, where half of all life across the universe returned after the 5-year period where Thanos snapped them out of existence. So obviously things aren’t exactly back to normal yet for everyone, including these two Avengers. After five years in oblivion, they’re trying to find their place in a world that is no longer the same. The miniseries addresses some of those Blip ramifications in a personal way, displaying their personal baggage and inner struggles.

In terms of his home life, we get to meet Sam’s sister Sarah Wilson (Adepero Oduye) and his nephews who runs the Wilson Family Seafood business Louisiana. It’s a real and relatable moment seeing Sam trying to help Sarah save the struggling family business, even so far as helping her secure a loan from a bank. It humanizes the hero and show that they’re not perfect humans who are immune from ‘ordinary’ problems many of us face.

Meanwhile, Bucky’s struggles is more rooted in his identity. I mean, he’s the only Avenger who has done really heinous things such as murdering a fellow Avenger’s parents. Even though he wasn’t really himself when he did it, that is still an impossibly hard thing for anyone to reconcile with. We saw him being ravaged with guilt in Civil War even when Steve still stood by him, here we see his struggles haven’t gone away for the hero-turned-baddie-turned-hero-again. No wonder he’s in therapy, he’s been through SO much trauma! This episode explores Bucky trying to atone for his past sins, with flashback scenes of him on a mission when he was still brainwashed as the assassin Winter Soldier.

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Though Steve Rogers is no longer around in this MCU timeline, Captain America’s spirit permeates through the entire episode. There is a solemn moment where Sam paid homage to his personal friend and fellow Avenger, and we get to reflect on that memorable passing-of-the-shield moment scene in Endgame and what it means to Sam personally. Obviously it’s a huge responsibility to take on that mantle… and this interview with the miniseries’ creator Malcolm Spellman talks about how he “…saw the show as an opportunity to be frank about race in America” In regards to the shield with the American flag symbol, “…being as a Black man, is it even appropriate to have that symbol? That symbol means something very different in Sam’s hands than it does in Steve’s.” It’s certainly timely to have this conversation and I’m glad they didn’t shy away from it.

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Though the tone of trailers are more comedic filled with witty, even silly banters between the two, the start of the miniseries is more serious before Sam and Bucky meet up. I actually don’t mind it as the story is still engaging and it makes me anticipate the action-packed adventure in store for these two! I’m also curious to see how the journey of some familiar characters in this miniseries, particularly Daniel Brühl‘s Zemo, the Sokovian special forces whose vengeful tactic was to get the Avengers to fight each other. Unlike Red Skull, Zemo isn’t one of those sociopath villain hellbent on controlling the world, his evil scheme was motivated by grief when he lost his family in Sokovia. Last we saw him in Civil War, he’s confined in a German prison, so I wonder what the story is with him and why/how he’s out in the world again.

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There’s also Emily VanCamp as Agent Sharon Carter returning, and the one major new character is John Walker played by Wyatt Russell (yep, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s son). In the comics, Walker a.k.a. U.S. Agent is actually a baddie called Super-Patriot. But in this miniseries, he supposedly will partner with Sam and Bucky to protect the world from a new threat. There are scenes of Falcon with a mysterious character who’s a US soldier, played by Danny Ramirez (who’s curiously missing from the IMDb page). He seems to play a prominent role but we’ll see what his story arc will be.

So yeah, so far so good! I think this episode is a strong start that ticks all the boxes for MCU fans and get us even more excited for Phase Four. I certainly appreciate that it’s not all action + explosions, it’s got a nice blend of drama, suspense and action that allow these two characters to shine. I’m also curious to see which Avenger cameo(s) we will see. The cinematography is fantastic, which I expect given the huge budget. I only wish they’d go easy on the extreme close-ups though, it’s fine if used sparingly but I really don’t need to see every strand of Bucky’s eyelash for an uncomfortably long period of time.

In any case, I won’t be reviewing every single episode, but might do a recap once the entire miniseries wraps.

4/5 stars

Here’s a sneak peek that just dropped today at the Virtual Launch:


Anyone else excited for this series? If you have seen ep. 1, well what did YOU think?

Top 10 reasons why I love Netflix’s LUPIN series

LUPIN was one of my most-anticipated series on Netflix which I’ve talked about briefly in this post. It’s a 10-part miniseries inspired master thief Arsène Lupin, created by French novelist Maurice Leblanc.

Here’s the trailer again if you haven’t seen it yet:

Now, so far only 5 episodes of the miniseries have been released. Per Wiki, the second set were already filmed by the end of 2020 and are slated to be released in mid-2021. So you have plenty of time to catch up before the final 5 eps arrives.

Here’s just 10 reasons why you should absolutely watch LUPIN:

(There might be some SPOILERS in this post but I’ll be sure to warn and hide them if you haven’t seen this series yet) 

1. Great source material

I used to read a bunch of Dutch & Belgian graphic novels like Danny & Katia (which I can’t seem to find anywhere here in the US), Adventures of Tintin, etc. I also read some thriller novels like Agatha Christie and Sidney Sheldon, but for some reason I’ve never heard of Arsène Lupin. Created in 1905 Maurice Leblanc – part Sherlock Holmes, part Robin Hood but decidedly French.

Like Robin Hood, Lupin is a force for good even though he operates on the wrong side of the law. His victims are usually big establishments or the extremely wealthy who are basically worse than him. Apparently Leblanc’s novels also inspired Leslie Charteris’s The Saint, aka Simon Templar who’s also a master of disguise.

2. Omar Sy

I had only seen Omar Sy in Intouchables and I remember he has such a great screen presence. He plays another French-Immigrant from Senegal here as Assane Diop, a stylishly-dressed gent who uses his undeniable charm as well as masterful thievery + disguise skills. Though he’s not exactly an honest man, you just can’t help but be drawn to him and that charming smile.

The first time I saw the trailer I immediately thought he’s basically a French James Bond, and well, Sy himself confirmed the apt comparison.

Given how much I wish to see Idris Elba as Bond, watching the equally charismatic Omar playing Lupin is such a treat. I can even say Assane is even better than Bond as he is his own Q-department!

3. Intriguing plot that keep you guessing

The series creator George Kay is no stranger to British TV. He’s one of the creators of the various Criminal crime thriller series such as Criminal: UK, Criminal: France, etc. and he’s also been writing for The Tunnel and Killing Eve series.

I think it’s brilliant that Kay takes the source material as a base for the lead character, but then subvert and update it to make something suitable for the modern audience. Per his interview in Variety, “…Kay kept the sense of mischievous, adventurous crooks and criminals intersecting establishment, but  felt it was equally important to take everything we loved in the books, subvert it, update it and create a really modern story through the heart of it.” 

I think that made the story fresh while still in keeping with the mystery and suspense of the novels. There’s a parallel story between Assane and the team of detectives, particularly Youssef Guedira (Soufiane Guerrab), that culminates in the fifth episode (last ep of part 1). All of that adds to the dynamic storyline that makes the show so much fun to watch.

4. Emotional backstory

I have to credit the show runner and the writers for interweaving Assane’s past in such a clever way. Sometimes flashbacks don’t work well and can slow the pace down, but here, the flashback is done quite seamlessly. It also helps that they cast the right actors for the role of young Assane (Mamadou Haidara) and his father Babakar (Fargass Assandé). It shows how Babakar used to work for Hubert Pellegrini, a powerful figure of the French elite who owns the Marie-Antoinette diamond necklace. It’s a relatable immigrant story that’s relevant in today’s world.

The tragic past that befallen Babakar is what drives Assane to do what he does now, and of course it’s also his father who first introduced the Lupin novels to him. It shows how the teenage Assane is obsessed with the gentleman thief novel, and 25 years later he uses everything he learns from it to avenge his father and expose Pellegrini.

5. Great blend of comedy + action

French filmmaker Louis Leterrier (who directed The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk, etc.) is no stranger to action-packed movies. I love how LUPIN is packed with thrilling action with a large dose of humor right from the start. The elaborate heist scene during an action at the Louvre (shot at the actual famous museum) is reminiscent of something out of Mission Impossible movies, complete with impeccable timing and a crazy car chase AND a red Ferrari crashing through the museum’s iconic glass ceiling!

There’s a foot-chase through rooftops that are really fun to watch as well, but my favorite action scene has got to be this exhilarating chase involving a food delivery bike riders through a Parisian park! It’s just one of Assane’s genius scheme to fool the cops while he effortlessly escapes from their grasp.

6. Parisian scenery

Well, that brings me to the stunning scenery of the City of Light. I think we’re all dying to be able to travel again so all we can do is live vicariously through the characters we watch on screen. I’ve been on a French kick lately, following Call My Agent! (Dix Pour Cent) which is also set in Paris, and I just can’t get enough!

This Condé Nast Traveller article lists all the locations used for the series which I’ll definitely refer to next time I go to Paris again. I love the the café where Assane meets his wife Claire (Ludivine Sagnier) in episode 1, that’s L’Appartement Saint-Martin, with views of the 17th-century Porte Saint Martin. I also love the flea market where Assane’s bestie Benjamin (Antoine Gouy) owns an antique shop. It’s located in Marché Biron, north of Paris. Speaking of Benjamin, I really like the deep friendship between these two, which apparently has started since they were in school together.

The fifth episode also takes us out of Paris to Normandy coast, a town called Le Havre. I actually did a bunch of research of that port city for my script Hearts Want (as my lead character actually took a ferry from Portsmouth, UK). Apparently there’s an annual festival dedicated to Arsène Lupin where everyone is dressed like the character with the top hat.

7. Formidable villain with ties to the hero’s past

If Robin Hood has The Sheriff of Nottingham, Assane Diop’s primary antagonist is Hubert Pellegrini (Herve Pierre), a wealthy, powerful member of the Parisian establishment. Just as power and corruption often go together, SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) Pellegrini even has police inspector Dumont (Vincent Garanger) to do the dirty work for him in framing Assane’s father.

There’s also a mysterious connection between Assane and Hubert’s beautiful daughter Juliette (Clotilde Hesme), also shown in flashback where the pretty teen seduced the young, naive Assane in her mansion’s swimming pool. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) One episode even hints that perhaps Juliette harbors unrequited feelings for Assane?

One thing for sure, the Pellegrini is a ruthless force to be reckoned with. Episode 4 is particularly suspenseful as Assane teams up with a journalist, Fabienne Bériot (Anne Benoît) whose reputation been tarnished by Pellegrini because she tried to expose him in her book.

8. Wonderfully-diverse characters

I think just by having a black French actor as the lead reflects the reality of a more ethnically diverse country. It also gives the show an international appeal, so I’m not surprised that the show’s been well-received all over the world.

It’s great that the show-runner also fills the supporting roles with non-white actors. The actor who play police lieutenant Youssef Guedira (Soufiane Guerrab) was also in a Call My Agent episode. He’s the only one who believes there’s a connection between the Louvre suspect (that is Assane) with Arsène Lupin, yet his peers always brush him off.

The team of police investigating the Louvre incident – Youssef is the one on the far right

Besides hiring a good number of actors of color, I also appreciate that the show also doesn’t always show the glamorous side of Parisians and all the chic luxury we often associate with the fashionable city. I mentioned about Fabienne Bériot above, well, the disgraced former journalist now lives in a rundown apartment with her dog. It wasn’t until Assane approached her that she finally feels alive once again. This is perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching episodes given what happens to Fabienne in the end.

9. A multi-dimentional hero

Assane is more than a gentleman burglar and master of disguise. Unlike Sherlock Holmes or Simon Templar, what sets Assane apart is that he is a family man. Right from the first episode, we see Assane meeting his ex-partner Claire (Ludivine Sagnier) and has a son together. Though they’re no longer together, they still have an amicable relationship and he still supports them.

I love the relationship between them, there’s a certain playfulness and also realism in the way Raoul (Etan Simon) behaves as a teenager. Of course, given that Assane lost his own father at a young age, he really tries to be there for his son. The Lupin novel ends up being passed down through generations as there’s a lovely scene where Assane gives the book to Raoul. Now, obviously given the difference in life circumstances, the book might not mean as much to Raoul as it did to Assane in his youth.

Assane is also not a violent man and though he’s been hurt in the past, he doesn’t become a sullen nor vicious. The way he deals with Inspector Dumont is a great example and it’s refreshing not to see any of the brutality you see on SO many shows these days. I love how he fools the entire police department while teaching Dumont a lesson in the process.

10. Fun escapism with style + plenty of heart

The series’ great production values is fantastic – the cinematography, action set pieces, locations, etc. all makes for a fun escapism series. It’s definitely the most fun crime caper series on TV right now. So many crime shows are way too serious for its own good, but LUPIN has the right balance of humor, mystery, suspense, as well as emotional familial story that makes you care for the hero’s journey.

Oh, I have to say Assane Diop’s got to be one of the best-dressed hero on TV, not surprising given the Parisian setting. My husband and I always comment on all the cool outfits and footwear he wears every episode. Whether formal or casual, Assane looks like he’s straight out of a GQ photoshoot!


Can’t wait for Part 2!!

Now the worst part of LUPIN is there’s only 5 episodes!! I don’t know why Netflix isn’t releasing all 10 episodes as I believe they’re done filming them. The cliffhanger on episode 5 has me reeling as it finally ties Assane with Youssef who’s also a big fan of the Lupin novels.

SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read)
Of course the big question is whether Youssef would turn Assane in, but my gut says no, as technically Youssef is off the case thanks to Dumont who clearly hasn’t learned his lesson and is still working with Pellegrini, ugh!


LUPIN season 2 arrives JUNE 11, check out the trailer!


Well, have you seen LUPIN? I’d love to hear 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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FlixChatter Review: Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)


HALLOWSTREAM Series

Sorry for the delay on this one! Turns out watching 9 1-hour episodes of a mini-series is difficult to do quickly when you have a full-time job, and for some reason my boyfriend didn’t want to stay up until 3am watching every episode back to back (what a killjoy).

However, I have finally finished The Haunting of Bly Manor, Mike Flanagan’s follow-up to 2018’s The Haunting of Hill House, and am eager to share my thoughts with you. Unlike Hill House, I haven’t read the book this series is based on (Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw) yet, but I plan to, and I’m looking forward to re-watching after reading it and hopefully catching more connections and references.

Victoria Pedretti

The Haunting of Bly Manor follows Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) as she starts a job as an au pair to two young orphans, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) at their enormous mansion in the small English village of Bly. Their previous au pair, Rebecka Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), died tragically not long before Dani’s arrival, and her memory, along with Dani’s own dark past, loom over her.

Tahirah Sharif

While I didn’t like Bly Manor quite as much as I liked Hill House, I still think it’s an incredibly well-done series. It’s even more of a slow burn than its predecessor, so people hoping to be scared a lot in each episode might be disappointed, although there are still plenty of suspenseful moments and creepy imagery; like Hill House, there are several hidden ghosts throughout the series, and I only managed to catch a few of them on my first watch. There’s much more of a focus on the ghosts’ lives (er…afterlives) and how their existence on the grounds of Bly Manor works, which is an interesting concept that I really appreciated.

Like Hill House, Bly Manor has an incredible cast. There are several actors from the former that appear in the latter; in addition to Victoria Pedretti as Dani, we have Henry Thomas as Henry Wingrave, Flora and Miles’s tormented uncle, Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Peter Quint, Henry’s manipulative and conniving valet, Katie Siegel as Viola Lloyd, the original lady of Bly Manor, Katie Parker as Perdita, Viola’s sister, and Carla Gugino as the storyteller. It’s a lot of fun seeing these familiar faces in different roles getting to stretch their acting muscles, especially Jackson-Cohen, who goes from this heartbreakingly vulnerable character you want to hug in Hill House to a villain you want to punch in the face in Bly Manor.

Rahul Kohli and T’Nia Miller

But while seeing the returning actors in this new season is great, the new cast members are the ones that really shine. Rahul Kohli as Owen, the cook at Bly Manor, is delightful; I adored him in his role in iZombie, and he brings the same humor and likability from that performance to this one. T’Nia Miller as Hannah Grose, the housekeeper, gives a beautiful and gut-wrenching performance, and her chemistry with Owen is so lovely. Tahirah Sharif as Rebecka Jessel is absolutely haunting. Amelia Eve as Jamie, the gardener, is so engaging. And, like Hill House, the child actors in Bly Manor are spectacular. Amelie Bea Smith as Flora is so sweet and funny, but Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Miles gives the most impressive performance, especially considering how complex his role ends up being.

Amelia Eve

My only serious gripe with Bly Manor is that it seems to have some pacing problems. This series is one episode shorter than its predecessor, which makes it even more difficult to fit in all the backstory and subplots without it feeling messy. Because there’s less time to flesh out some characters, their character growth feels unearned (specifically Peter Quint), some exposition feels clunky and rushed, and some subplots that were built up as more important are dropped altogether (seriously, what happened with SPOILER [highlight to read] Dani’s confrontation with the ghost of her ex-fiance at the end of episode 4?! They spend the first few episodes hinting at this dark part of her past, and we finally get this moment that might resolve everything, and then it’s just dropped for the rest of the series! Why?! I can understand potentially not having enough material for 10 full episodes, but if they had maybe made each episode a little longer, the pacing might not have been as much of an issue.

Despite the pacing issues, and despite it being less straightforward horror than Hill House, I would still recommend checking out The Haunting of Bly Manor. It’s visually stunning, beautifully written, and expertly performed, and I’m already racking my brain for other classic ghost stories that Mike Flanagan could possibly adapt for season 3. If you have any you think would work, let me know in the comments!

laura_review


Have you seen The Haunting of Bly Manor? Well, what did you think?

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