The Expanse: Godspeed – Eros Shrugs (Review)

The Expanse - Season 2

The Expanse “Godspeed” manages yet again to make blood pressure levels rise as the Nauvoo is launched toward Eros and the Roci responds hostilely to another ship found to be attached to the space station. Chrisjen outmaneuvers the deputy secretary and Julie Mao’s father and despite the best laid plans of Col. Johnson, and the OPA belters, Eros shrugs its way out of the Nauvoo’s path.

This episode manages to put enough suspense in the last few moments of the destruction of Eros that it turns into a nail biting exercise. Miller’s decision to die while  holding the damaged explosive device and its timer was enough to keep everyone on the edge of their seat.

The action building up to the move to blow Eros into a million little pieces of protomolecule space debris shows the mechanization behind stopping a war and the decision to control the spread of the new life form.

Chrisjen shows once again what a masterful games person she is. Deftly playing Jules-Pierre Mao against Deputy Secretary Errinwright. She does such a good job that later in the episode Mao reveals to his accomplice Sadavir Errinwright that she knows they are working together.

Mao cuts off the partnership after telling Sadavir that he is too concerned with his own governmental position to be useful.

Miller has convinced Col. Johnson to destroy the Eros using the Mormon “ark” Nauvoo.  The two eject the religious denizens and using the OPA troops outfit the ship and set it up for blast off.

Meanwhile Diogo and Miller are put together, along with more Belters, to help the Eros to detonate with some well placed explosive devices. The former cop and the lad who sold water before still have that fluctuating love/hate relationship.

When Miller opts to stay behind and manually blow up the last device however, it is clear that Diogo’s estimation of the ex cop has gone up considerably.

As Holden and his crew oversee the operation they find  another ship tethered to the Eros. A group of medical personnel have landed, they say, to offer aid to the suffering people on the stricken space station.

The leader of the group recognizes that the Roci is a Martian vessel and thinks that Holden and his crew are Martians. Holden tries to bluff the man into leaving.

Miller finds one of the medical staff from the ship in an airlock on Eros. The man has been infected with the protomolecule and now Holden must stop the medical ship from not only transmitting what they have found but stop them from leaving.

With a threat of more contamination from the medical crew, Holden blasts the other ship into oblivion.

Even with the slow build up to the final moments of “Godspeed” the ending, with the slow near miss of the Nauvoo and the realization that the Eros space station dodged the collision, was tight and darn near exhausting to watch.

After getting set to see Miller self destruct via the explosion of Eros, it was surprising to see him get a reprieve. (It was also a surprise to see Holden and his  crew ready to risk their lives to save Miller.)

The Expanse has managed to continue on the same vein as season one. It intrigues, entertains and sets the pulse racing in the quiet of space. The protomolecule has clearly moved the space station out of  harm’s way and it is, apparently, getting stronger and more intelligent by the moment.

The series airs Wednesdays on SyFy. Tune in and catch this popular and addictive show about Belters, Martians and folks from Earth all on the  edge of going to war while a new life form threatens everyone’s existence.


The Expanse: Season Two Premiere – Space Is Still Dirty (Review)

The Expanse - Season 2

Season two’s premiere of The Expanse takes up after the wholesale slaughter that took place on Eros in the season one finale. Holden and Miller are being treated for their exposure and after a long period are given injections by Naomi. These “patch” injections will need to be taken for the rest of their lives and neither man will be able to procreate, she says.

The Phoebe organism turns out to be in that locked device. Amos and Naomi work together to open the thing and they they hide the stuff in the middle of an abandoned asteroid mine.

Miller and Amos work out their issues with one another. Joe is still angry at Amos killing his friend but after Burton almost strangles the life out of the former cop, aka Star Helix, things settle down.

Back on Earth the U.N.N. quickly proves that space is still dirty, but this time around it is the political double-dealing, war mongering and back stabbing that makes the atmosphere so bad. Avasarala almost dies, hires a spy and struggles to stop the war before it can begin.

Avasarala not only hires a spy, she orders him to put her in contact with Col. Johnson (an act of treason). Johnson actually joins Holden’s crew to invade the space station and learn the secret of the alien virus.

We meet a new character, one Gunny Draper; a tough and nigh on unstoppable Martian bad-arse who looks to be a force to be reckoned with this season.  She does not get to do too much in this two hour premiere but  it is clear that she will be going up against Holden’s team sooner or later.

The big shock, and a move that almost pushes the Earth and Mars into full scale war, was the Martian move to blast Phoebe Space Station into space debris. The missiles, which just missed the U.N.N. vessel, were used to destroy any evidence of the parasitic experiments that took place there.

Once the crew board the vessel, they learn that the parasitic creature, considered to be A) proof of alien existence and B) “the first shot,” was released to help develop a cure.  As the lead scientist pleads his case to continue the work, Johnson looks close to agreeing with the man.

The Expanse - Season 2
Miller and Johnson

Miller cuts the discussion short by shooting the scientist mid argument.

The brilliance of this two episode premiere of The Expanse, was its execution. The first half of the open was pretty much expository in nature. We are brought up to speed on where everyone is at and the discovery of just how close this world is to war.

The second half, aka episode two, built up the suspense of the Roci being used to breech the space station. It allowed the colonel to join forces with Holden and his crew and gave Miller a chance to get a bit of payback and closure.

The former cop also shows that he can lead just fine. Although his followers in the infiltration operation are a bit trigger happy. This was an excellent start to season two of The Expanse.

We are shown the relationship developments between Holden’s group and Kamal’s progress as a pilot. The scenes with the simulation training and then the actual battle between the Roci, the stealth fighter and that cannon, were spot on and resulted in some edge of the seat viewing.

Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham and newcomer Frankie Adams are killing it in space. While back on Earth, Shohreh Aghdashloo rules supreme as Chad L. Coleman wears his rebel hat brilliantly.

The Expanse - Season 2
Chrisjen Avasarala

Season two looks to be as addictive as season one. The Expanse airs Wednesdays on SyFy. Do not miss this outstanding science fiction mystery.


Standoff (2016): Verbose Thriller (Review)

Poster for Standoff

Written by first time director Adam Alleca,  Standoff is a verbose thriller that stars heavyweight actors Laurence Fishburne and Thomas Jane along with the excellent child actress Ella Ballentine (who already has 16 credits to her name).  The film focusses upon this intimate cast after a murderous open and despite the claustrophobic nature of the setting  entertains. 

Bird (Ballentine) is at a cemetery to visit her dead parent’s grave. She takes her camera, although her “uncle” Roger does not want her to. A funeral service is taking place and Roger tells the girl not to photograph the proceedings.

She does though and captures hitman Sade (Fishburne) killing the small number of mourners and the preacher presiding over the burial. The murderer spies her and gives chase. Bird’s uncle is also murdered and the girl runs to the house that belongs to Carter Green (Jane).

Carter is depressed and about to commit suicide when the girl arrives at his doorstep. The Army veteran  is shot in the leg by Sade and he, in turn, shoots the killer in the stomach. He then holds off the killer with his 20 gauge shotgun.

This is a violent film.  Sade tortures a character horrifically and is all too eager to kill whoever  is in front of his gunsights.  There are long bits of verbal exchanges with small bursts of action. Said action is mostly rather intense and at times very bloody.

It is the psychological warfare between the two men that drags on that bit too long. The film feels like  a Japanese ’60s film where the protagonists have reams of dialogue between truncated scenes of action.

Fishburne chews great bloody bits of scenery with his cold-blooded and eager to kill contract hitman.  Jane’s performance is one of controlled intensity. Both men work well off the other.  Laurence making his character bigger than life works well opposite Jane’s more down to earth terse performance.

Ballentine is spot on as the girl whose parents died in a crash. There is never any point where the young  actor does not sell  her character fully. The young performer impresses with her interpretation of a young damsel in distress.

Alleca takes his story seriously and presents it accordingly. One never doubts that one, or more, of these characters will die a painful death. However what starts as a tense experience soon falters into an overly verbal bit of interaction between the two alpha males in the picture.

The cinematography by Zoran Popovic (War Inc, Shiver) is brilliantly dark,  where it needs to be,  and stark at all the right moments. The scenes in the house are dramatically shot and the lighting is spot on. Susan Maggi edits the film deftly and on point.

The feel of Standoff is similar to those westerns where the protagonists are surrounded by an enemy who demands only the release of one individual.  In this instance Jane’s character is the cavalry commander who refuses to acquiesce to Fishburne’s savage killer.

Despite the overly verbal nature of the film, it grips the viewer throughout. We care about Carter Green and the little girl he is attempting to save.  The damaged veteran who holds out against the professional hitman is not necessarily likable but we understand his misery and admire his resolve.

Beyond any shadow of doubt, Laurence Fishburne gives great “bad guy.”  His villainy is complete, even before the hammer.

At 80 minutes the film does not drag on too long. At no point, despite the verbal sparring, does the film drag.  There is also a splendid, yet small, twist at the end which is pleasing and full of irony.

Standoff is a sold 4 star film.  The cast alone makes this film worth watching. Alleca has done very well his first time in the chair and his effort reveals a man to watch.  The film is streaming on Netflix at the moment. Stop by and check this ‘R’ rated film out, you will be glad you did.

The Veil (2016) Slow Horror (Review)

Starring Jessica Alba, Lily Rabe and Thomas Jane The Veil is a slow plodding horror film based very transparently, on the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana. In this tale, written by Robert Ben Garant and directed by Phil Joanou the Jones character is called Jim Jacobs and there is only one survivor; Sarah Hope.

Screen shot from The Veil (Thomas Jane)

Starring Jessica Alba, Lily Rabe and Thomas Jane The Veil is a slow plodding horror film based very transparently, on the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana. In this tale, written by Robert Ben Garant and directed by Phil Joanou the Jones character is called Jim Jacobs  and there is only one survivor; Sarah Hope. 

Unlike the real event Jacobs and several of the most devout have a darker “God” and no-one drinks “Flavor-aid.”

The charismatic but aggressive Jacobs (Jane) is seen in flashback, through the mind of Hope (Rabe) and via archive camera footage, and a video tape  found at the leader’s special residence on the compound.

The Veil moves at a  snail’s pace.  The documentary film crew, led by Maggie Price (Alba), are lethargic and seemingly uninterested in the mundane task  of searching for clues as to what happened on the day.

Hope was a child when the 900 followers of Jacobs’ cult died and she is the group’s guide.  Jacobs’ “church” feels more of a Spiritualist movement than an actual religion where its followers worship coming back from the dead rather than going to heaven.

Jane’s cult leader is at turns charming, funny, angry and violent. At one point the man beats a follower to death with a hammer. The dead man then arises as Jacobs bellows the   command to return and the followers are convinced of his power.

There are a few scenes that actually scare the viewer, one being a rotting corpse acting very un-corpse like.   The body count is not too high and the there is a lack of overt gore, although there is one scene with Rabe’s character that is impressively gross.

The whole film feels very “Blair Witch” but without the squabbling and found footage aspect. Granted there is the use of “found footage” but it is used as research, not too unlike the 2012 horror film  Sinister.

The Veil is dark, almost sepia colored with an even darker texture to each scene from in the found footage sequences.  The present day scenes feature  more in terms of color but the the lighting is still shadowy and gloomy.

At 93 minutes, the film feels longer. Despite this dragging on affect, it is watchable, if for no other reason than to get to the punchline, or payoff.  The film follows a “And Then There Were None” (the film version of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians”) motif with the documentary film makers being killed off one by one.

Reincarnation and karma seem to play a factor in the cult’s belief system although the end of the film reveals a more sinister take on their religion.  Jane is mesmerizing and terrifying as the cult leader but there is not nearly enough of the actor to make the film truly scary.

Rabe does her usual job of being convincing no matter what role she plays.

The Veil is Alba’s third horror film. Her last was the western remake of the superlative Pang Bros film The Eye.  The “Sin City” actress underplays her role and while this grounds the film somewhat it also makes the character less empathetic at the end.

Overall the film uses mechanizations from other movies.  It does have, for example,  quite a lot in common with The Skeleton Key in terms of swapping out bodies (the reason that Jacobs wants the children saved is not down to kindness but because he needs their “shells”).

The Veil is a 3.5 star film. It could have been more but the plodding pace killed off much of the suspense.  Thomas Jane chews up the scenery in great chunks while Alba and Rabe underplay their roles. Despite not being the top name on the credit’s list, Jane makes this film his.

Streaming on Netflix at the moment, The Veil  is certainly worth a look but  not two.

The Expanse: Season Finale – Wholesale Carnage (Review)

The last few episodes of The Expanse, including the two episode season finale of Critical Mass/Leviathan Wakes featured an amped up amount of wholesale carnage.

The Expanse - Season 1

The last few episodes of The Expanse, including the two episode season finale of Critical Mass/Leviathan Wakes featured an amped up amount of wholesale carnage.  Unlike the start of the series, where death came in small doses, against a squalid and bleak background of suppression and racism, the end of season one offered up death in economy sized quantities.

A few questions are answered amidst all this morbidity.  Not least of which being who was behind the destruction of the Cant and the Martian vessel (Donnager)  that Holden and his small crew escaped from by the skin of their teeth. The horrific death of Julie Mao is also revealed as is the connection between the Earther who became an honorary Belter and Anderson Dawes.

The pacing of the show increased as Holden and his survivors discover the Anubis with its deadly cargo from Phoebe (in the episode Salvage). They also learn of the existence of Lionel Polanski (Mao) and that the lone crew member to escape the Anubis was headed to Eros; the place where the U.N.N. plans that James Holden (Steven Straitwill die.

The Expanse - Season 1
Julie Mao, aka Lionel Polanski

The Expanse may not manage to top that huge shoot-em-up aboard the Donnager, where the entire crew of the Martian vessel fought ferociously for Holden and his crew  to escape the stealth fighters attacking the ship, but it comes close in the final three episodes. In terms of death count, the carnage may not be as bloody or spectacular but the body count, in the season finale,  is massive.

After Mao’s body is found, lying on the floor with the Phoebe organism infused throughout her corpse, the dead girl’s father gives his scientist (Dresden) the go ahead to infect all of Eros while irradiating the entire populace as well.  In Salvage,  Miller (Thomas Jane)  teamed up with Holden, Naomi, Alex and Amos in the middle of the tech shootout set up by the Tycho spy, who gets away before the battle starts.

This new team stick together and once the Dresden experiment begins, where the population are herded into shelters for infection and death,  Holden and Miller scramble to escape Eros as Namoi and the rest head to the Roci.

As the finale moves to its conclusion, the former cop and the Earther team up to learn what is happening in the shelters and receive fatal doses of radiation for their trouble While  Naomi, Alex and Amos, along with Semi, head toward the Roci,  The two dying men fight their way to the ship hoping to get there before Naomi takes off.

They have three hours.

Amid all the carnage on Eros, quite a lot of it actually; with denizens killed wholesale in shelters, criminal gangs killing those who refuse to go into the areas, Holden, Miller and Naomi killing off a number of baddies and the Phoebe organism consuming everyone else, there is a moment for poignancy and a chance to consider poor Julie Mao.

The Expanse reveals the lonely death of Lionel Polanski (Florence Faivreand it is horrific as it is tragic. As this world moves toward war, players in this drama are scrambling to stay safe. Christen Avasarala decides to hide in plain sight while everything unravels around her.

Some questions are answered about the less important curiosities in the series. For instance Miller’s hat has a backstory (turns out to be Semi’s hat and not Miller’s at all) and a small slice of the ex cop’s childhood is revealed.  (A brilliant scene that takes place in a pachinko parlor.)

The Expanse - Season 1
Miller got backstory…

By the end of the season finale, The Expanse sets things up for its second season with finesse.  Miller has joined forces with Holden, Amos has shown he follows Naomi without question when it counts and that Julie Mao’s father may have shed a tear when she died, but her death will not stop his plans to exploit the Phoebe organism.

The cast have all performed impeccably in terms of fleshing out their characters and making them memorable. Kudos to Cas AnvarWes ChathamDominique Tipper and Shohreh Aghdashloo who gave their roles moments of splendid truth. 

SyFy have approved the series for a second season and one can only hope that it entertains as thoroughly as this one.

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