Category Archives: Television Reviews

IR TV Review: ANOTHER LIFE [Netflix-S1]

The texture of “Another Life” as a series revels in a structure of both existentialism but also a progression of what life or the essence of what it means to an individual person really is. Katee Sackhoff, in the most dynamic and essential character she has played since Starbuck in “Battlestar Galactica” is a commander who is brought in to lead a mission with a crew who undeniably is stacked against her. The dynamic and the subsequent ideal of perhaps a one way trip is personified in the intentions and perceptions of the crew. The one aspect that truly comes through, whether by design or organically, is the diversity of the characters and the personal interrelations. Some seem forced while others seem very fluid in the very sense of the word. The most interesting of the secondary cast is Blu Hunt as August and Jessica Camacho as Michelle simply because of their dynamic opposite personalities which shows the extremes of what space travel can do because of psychological resilience or as a coping mechanism.

The motivation of the first season (as seen in full but not revealing spoilers) involves finding the source of an alien probe which has made it’s way to Earth. Sackhoff as Captain Niko goes on the voyage as a modulation of protecting her daughter while her husband stays on Earth as a analyst trying to decode what the alien is about. The backdrop is perhaps similar to “Annihilation” which is vastly superior in terms of its texture and philosophy but more esoteric in terms of its character development. Reflexivity and what we think of ourselves play a big part as well as the hierarchy of command but also the curiosity of exploring the unknown.

The interesting structure that some episodes take on is the aspects of say a “Star Trek” episode with angles of the unknown (with a slightly darker tinge) while others can have the dread of say “Alien” or “Event Horizon” with differing levels of success.

Returning to the character work, the writers are not afraid of showing the different facets of human fallibility but also sexuality and insecurity. Some of these interactions and relationships work organically while others require a little more angling in the narrative to work. The most interesting by far but also the one that reflects Niko’s psychology even more is her interaction with William, the onboard AI who controls the ship. Like a variation of The Doctor on “Star Trek: Voyager” melding with that of Bishop in “Aliens” the context of what dictates emotions or the simulation of emotions comes to bare along with elements of the unconscious. This culminates in certain ways as the season progresses.

Back on Earth, the different paradigms reflect in the people on earth reacting to certain stimuli of the alien presence. Selma Blair as a would-be social media maven seems a little too specifically geared to the modern sensibility but her delivery especially in context of what can be perceived actually works in the long run while Tyler Hoechlin as Niko’s left behind husband reacts in understandable ways. The Earthbound story is not as engaging as the one taking place on the ship but, by extension, the stakes seem much higher up in space.

The special effects are effectively done with a certain veracity (much like the recent “Lost In Space”) and take into account some of the ideas that “Interstellar” played into with but sans the elite grandeur vying for the more practical. The design inside Niko’s ship balances between the claustrophobic but the technical much like a blend between The Nostromo in “Alien” and The Sulaco in “Aliens”. There is a dank humid element to the technology inside the ship like a submarine but with the idea that pressure or the lack of it lurks just beyond the walls.

“Another Life” is an interesting perspective into the sci-fi genre with a character worthy of Katee Sackhoff whose career choices will always be compared to her groundbreaking Starbuck on “Battlestar Galactica”. The assemblage of the crew and their dynamic plus a hidden foe which will not be named in various forms keeps the tension in play while exploring different ideas of psychology, sociology and space travel.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: JETT [Cinemax-S1]

The texture of a series like “Jett” really keys into understanding what it is but the implicit necessity of what can be done within its confines. Writer/Director Sebastian Gutierrez and his wife/actress Carla Gugino have a real sense of the way to make noir idealism with sexuality and emotional overtones without becoming melodramatic. They have done this in many of their low budget films like “Elektra Luxx” and “Women In Trouble” but were always limited by the budgets or the eyes of the independent film crowd.

In making “Jett” with Cinemax (which has delivered another interesting tale right after “Warrior”), this series takes that European sensibility that Gutierrez has created (watch his most recent film: “Elizabeth Harvest” which played SxSW in 2017), but gives it an effective almost low end DePalma make over without losing the abstract elements in part that have become a stalwart of these collaborations. Gugino famously starred in “Snake Eyes” with Nicolas Cage for DePalma nearly 20 years ago so seeing her transformation from there to this is undeniably satisfying. Though there are moments of plot driven exposition, the idea and dynamics flow along at a decent pace while still letting some of the scenes breathe.

The plot without getting into too many details follows Jett played by Gugino whose real name is Daisy who is a master thief both helping and providing intel for Charlie, a debonair gangster played with aplomb by the dynamic Giancarlo Esposito. Many different characters interplay but what is interesting is no matter how damaged they are, or how cold Jett might be, there is always a sense of what might be called malignant hope…a hope that gnaws in the plot and the characters even though you know it is bad to believe in it. Whether it is Elena Anaya (who Almodovar discovered) as the rock Maria to Gaite Jansen as the lost Phoenix to Michael Aranov as the intrepid Jackie, there is so much to rip them apart and yet certain travails keep them going and connected. The violence is motivated but also malignant in its wantonness.

Gutierrez is specific with his colors and textures as he has always been but what this medium allows him to do (as he wrote and directed all 9 episodes) is a consistency of vision but also to focus on small character moments which are made specific by the titles of all the episodes. One of the more dynamic because it doesn’t focus as much on the main characters is called “Rosalie” where Bennie, one of Esposito’s hitmen, gets into a different situation than he bargained for with one of the affected victims of a hit. It is both a diatribe on human behavior but also ironically funny and introspective in many ways. The inherent essence also behind “Jett” is that it doesn’t feel it necessary to put an air of true finality on certain relationships and yet it defines them…it gives the perceptions of the characters but lets the viewer decide on their own what they think of them.

“Jett” is by no means an excellent series but it is quite good. It is self indulgent at times. But it is also undeniably poetic and vicious, tender and dark, beautiful and messy. Gugino glides through the scenes like a crow stalking its prey but also understanding that without the surrounding messy ends around her, she would not exist. Her losses are visceral but they are also necessary. Jett is an image but also a reality in terms of the character build. And for that reason because Gugino and Guitterez can approach this material in this medium with a sense of instinct, style, fun and gravitas, it allows that kind of tone that maybe might have been difficult to give a wide breathe in an independent movie the kind of texture it needs in a cabler series like “Jett”.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: “Through The Valley Of Shadows” (STAR TREK – DISCOVERY) [CBS All Access-S2]

The essence that “Star Trek: Discovery” is trying to maintain in the sense of its progression is reflecting canon while still maintaining mystery and a sense of tension. With the aspect of “Through The Valley Of Shadows”, the foreshadowing continues and starts an infrastructure that interrelates in an odd way to aspects of “The Wrath Of Khan” but it also offers a bigger perception without either actor ever revealing it of the deep seated secrets or regrets with Spock, whether it be in the outcome of this escapade of “The Red Angel”, the perception of “The Managerie” or even Spock’s eventual second family in the Enterprise crew of Bones and Kirk and his eventual death and resurrection. To do this in a larger structure with the fact that certain ripple effects might literally wipe Michael Burnham out of the timeline at a certain point is a real perception. While reflexive, the show is still working on the basest psychological constructs. And especially within this idea, the concept of time, hinted at in the texture of “Interstellar” and its reflections of relativity, really gives an undeniably concept of the larger ideas that Discovery is playing with. Anson Mount shines in this episode as Pike and again gives clarity of the embracing of his ideas and what creates the shell of the man he becomes, both literally and figuratively. What is really reassuring is the adherence to the original series and its eventual progression and not the timeline of the new movies which while interesting for the big screen is not as integral a story as this one is turning out to be.

By Tim Wassberg

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