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Ok Folks as Promised Our Look at Scy-Fy’s Ascension the Mini-Series (2014).

Our last look at Science Fiction (for now): Ascension—the miniseries.  Once again Netflix comes through with programming that we here at JPFmovies would not normally watch.  Netflix’s algorithm that provides the viewer with entertainment ideas suggested Ascension so we took a look and were not disappointed.  There’s a lot of Battlestar Galactica (2003) in Ascension, beyond the simple fact that they’re both high-production SyFy miniseries set on giant spaceships.  And anyone who’s familiar with JPFmovies position on BSG knows this is a good thing.  Like BSG, Ascension has a population that is confined to a life in transit—living in a transient space ship as they travel to their destination of a new world.  And like in BSG not only is there the gritty reality of living in a world of very limited resources with danger lurking around every corner (in BSG it’s the threat of Clyons and in Ascension it is the rigors of deep space travel).  The viewer is also treated to the familiar face of Tricia Helfer, who played the seductive Cylon No. 6 in BSG, here she plays the head “stewardess” showing us her long back every chance she can.

The show starts with the space ship 51 years into its 100-year journey to “Proxima.” Launched in the early 1960’s right out of the “Father Knows Best” period in American social history, the 600-odd people living on the ship missed such society changing events as “the summer of love,” “civil rights” and “The Clash.”  Making the population “pure” so to speak and ripe for study.  Things get a little more complicated (as any good series would) when we find out that the inter-generational space ship was not actually launched but instead is a huge black-ops structure-experiment simulating a deep space journey.  The Ascension program is credited with such scientific advances as “complex polymers” “MRI’s” and some forms of birth control.  The program’s director states that “when you take the best and brightest” and isolate them from any outside influences such scientific advances are inevitable.  We here at JPFmovies were rather surprised to find out that the Ascension program was not an actual space ship but a simulation experiment still here on earth.  Such a premise provided the story with many avenues to go down, including the massive effort and lengths one would have to go through to keep the 600-odd people believing that they were in deep space and not still home on their home planet.

Another similarity to BSG was the cut-throat political scheming and factionalism fighting for control of the ship.  In Ascension, sex is the main form of currency which is literally controlled by Tricia Helfer’s character as the head “stewardess” whose underlings are plainly charged with satisfying the desires of the men on the ship.  Marriage is determined not by love but a computer applying a mathematic formula to ensure ideal genetic matches i.e. a quasi-eugenics program.  And like in BSG, there is also a touch of the mystic through a young girl who represents “punctuated evolution.” She sees the “globus” which is the brand of camera hidden throughout the ship used to monitor every move of Ascension’s population.  The evolved girl in the last scene also transports one of the main characters (the ship’s executive officer) to some alien world that unfortunately leaves the viewer hanging in space raising more interesting questions than it answered.

Much to many people’s dismay, Ascension the mini-series was only that, a mini-series lasting 6 episodes played over three nights on the Sci-Fy network.  Unusually we here at JPFmovies agree with the many, another season was in order not only to answer the questions left as its end but also because an entirely different and interesting Sci-Fi story could have continued.  Ascension is actually a fine science fiction show, and one should catch the series on Netflix.  However, be warned that you will need to be a little patient with it.

What does JPFmovies contributor SJ have to say about Ascension?  One slang word: “meh.”  Different strokes for different folks.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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Shogun the miniseries (1980) starring Richard Chamberlin, Torisho Mifune, John Rhys-Davies and others. One of the great miniseries of all time.

I was getting a lot of static about the number of Japanese films I’ve been watching lately so I decided to relent.  But I still wanted to enjoy the Japanese tales of the samurai then it occurred to me: Shogun the miniseries.  I was still a child when I remember when my parents watched it and I liked it back then.  So I obtained all 12 hours of the series and watched it without complaint from other because the main language was English though there was lots of Japanese spoken in it.  One of the neat film devices used in the episodes what the lack of subtitles whenever Japanese was spoken as it was from the main characters point of view (Richard Chamberlin as an English ship pilot).  I also decided to get the book and the author (legendary James Clavel) also provided no translation from the Japanese “spoken” in the novel.

During the original airing, the network ran the episodes five days in a row.  The first and last episodes (each three hours) and the three in the middle (each 2 hours) garnered about 24-25 million viewers—an average of about 32-33 nielson rating.  Talk about a marathon, I don’t think the networks would have the guts to run a series like that again.  By that I mean they would probably do one episode a week and break it up into one hour segments.  If that were to happen I believe it would totally take away from the flavor of the series.  The book (about 1200 pages) is even better than the series though both in my opinion are legendary works especially for their time.

The cast:  Richard Chamberlin, who needs no introduction, went on to make the Thorn Birds after this epic, Torisho Mifune, Japans legendary film star for probably 40 years prior to Shogun and anyone who watched Star Trek Voyager knows John Rhys-Davies (cast as Da Vinci in Voyager an often seen guest in Capt. Janeway’s hologram fantasies) playing the flamboyant Portuguese ship pilot Vasco Rodrigues.  There are more of course but these three are the best known.

After his Dutch trading ship Erasmus and its surviving crew is blown ashore by a violent storm at Injiro on the east coast of Japan, Pilot-Major John Blackthorne, the ship’s English navigator, is taken prisoner by samurai warriors. When he is later temporarily released, he must juggle his self-identity as an Englishman associated with other Europeans in Japan, namely Portuguese traders and Jesuit priests, with the alien Japanese culture into which he has been thrust and now must adapt to in order to survive. Being an Englishman, Blackthorne is at both religious and political odds with his enemy, the Portuguese, and the Catholic Church’s Jesuit order. The Catholic foothold in Japan puts Blackthorne, a Protestant and therefore a heretic, at a political disadvantage. But this same situation also brings him to the attention of the influential Lord Toranaga, who mistrusts this foreign religion now spreading in Japan. He is competing with other samurai warlords of similar high-born rank, among them Catholic converts, for the very powerful position of Shōgun, the military governor of Japan.

Through an interpreter, Blackthorne later reveals certain surprising details about the Portuguese traders and their Jesuit overlords which forces Toranaga to trust him; they forge a tenuous alliance, much to the chagrin of the Jesuits. To help the Englishman learn their language and to assimilate to Japanese culture, Toranaga assigns a teacher and interpreter to him, the beautiful Lady Mariko, a Catholic convert, and one of Toranaga’s most trusted retainers. Blackthorne soon becomes infatuated with her, but Mariko is already married, and their budding romance is ultimately doomed by future circumstances.

Blackthorne saves Toranaga’s life by audaciously helping him escape from Osaka Castle and the clutches of his longtime enemy, Lord Ishido. To reward the Englishman for saving his life, and to forever bind him to the warlord, Toranaga makes Blackthorne hatamoto, a personal retainer, and gifts him with a European flintlock pistol. Later, Blackthorne again saves Toranaga’s life during an Earthquake by pulling him from a fissure that opened and swallowed the warlord, nearly killing him. Having proved his worth and loyalty to the warlord, during a night ceremony held before a host of his assembled vassals and samurai, Lord Toranaga makes Blackthorne a samurai; he awards him the two swords, 20 kimonos, 200 of his own samurai, and an income-producing fief, the fishing village Anjiro where Blackthorne was first blown ashore with his ship and crew. Blackthorne’s repaired ship Erasmus, under guard by Toranaga’s samurai and anchored near Kyoto, is lost to fire, which quickly spread when the ships’ night lamps were knocked over by a storm tidal surge. During a later attack on Osaka Castle by the secretive Amida Tong (Ninja assassins), secretly paid for by Lord Ishido, Mariko is killed while saving Blackthorne’s life, who’s temporarily blinded by the black powder explosion that kills his lover.

As Shōgun concludes, Blackthorne is supervising the construction of a new ship, The Lady; it is being built with funds Mariko left to him in her will for this very purpose. Blackthorne is observed at a distance by Lord Toranaga; a voice over reveals the warlord’s inner thoughts: It was he who ordered the Erasmus destroyed by fire, not from a tidal surge, in order to keep Blackthorne safe from his Portuguese enemies who feared his actions with the ship; Blackthorne still has much to teach Toranaga. And, if need be, the warlord will destroy the ship Blackthorne is currently building. He also discloses Mariko’s secret but vital role in the grand deception of his enemies, and, as a result, how she was destined to die gloriously in Osaka Castle and live forever, helping to assure his coming final victory. The warlord knows that Blackthorne’s karma brought him to Japan and that the Englishman, now his trusted retainer and samurai, is destined never to leave. Toranaga also knows it is his karma to become Shōgun.

In the miniseries epilogue it is revealed that Toranaga and his army are triumphant at the Battle of Sekigahara; he captures and then disgraces his old rival, Lord Ishido, and takes 40,000 enemy heads, after which he then fulfills his destiny by becoming Shōgun.

The story has most of the elements of the warring states period and the rise of Tokugawa Ieyasu to Shogun.  He was one of the lords who pledged to take care of the Taiko, he also won the Battle of Sekigahara so anyone who is even slightly versed in this area of history can see the parallels.  It is a great series, take the time to watch it you won’t regret it.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

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Baian The Assassin–The Review.

Since I have been in an Asian mood lately, I decided to watch a popular Japanese TV miniseries entitled “Baian the Assassin” starring Ken Watanabe as Baian Fujieda, an acupuncturist by day and an assassin by night.  His preferred method of dispatching his prey is inserting a long needle into a certain place on the victim’s neck.  His friend Hiko, a toothpick artisan by day, is also an assassin by night and often teams up with Baian to assist in their complicated and diabolical deeds.  The series comes in four parts and while it was made for the general audience of television it nonetheless contains many elements of the more violent assassins like Zatoichi and the Lone Wold.

Another interesting technique used in this miniseries is a fair amount of narration. Some found the narrator to be annoying or otherwise unnecessary, however I found it quite helpful and appropriate given my general unfamiliarity with the subtle rules of assassination.

The entire series consists of four DVDs each containing several episodes lasting about 90 minutes apiece. I must say for a TV show this isn’t too bad at all. I don’t have a problem watching one of the episodes over again particularly when I’m with somebody who has never seen the series.

All in all it’s worth a watch, but it is not always the easiest flick to find. It certainly is not crap. Plus I never knew anyone could make a living making toothpicks by hand as our friend Hiko does in his day job.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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