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Replicas (2018)
5/10
Excellent premise, lousy execution
12 January 2019
In Replicas, Keanu Reeves is a scientist working for a company in a South American country focusing on cloning and trying to preserve the human mind on a computer. This turns out to be super convenient as the scientist loses his wife and kids in a car crash. Grief-stricken, he clones their bodies and transfers their consciousnesses (as one does). What results is a surprisingly amateurish effort considering the lead.

The dialogue is pretty weak. People do things that don't feel natural. Weirdly enough, the movie explains certain things pretty thoroughly and interestingly, such as the whole lazarus/rebirth process, while other plot points are just revealed abruptly and sloppily.

The acting doesn't help things either. Keanu is on autopilot here. The guy who plays his boss is hit-and-miss. But it's Alice Eve (She's Out of my League; Star Trek into Darkness) who has the worst performance. She acts like an animatronic. (And yes this is even before the cloning. It isn't a something-went-wrong-type situation.) She has two facial expressions: slightly happy and slightly worried. On the plus side, Silicon Valley's Ben Middleditch is the only one who manages to make all the dialogue work. My hat off to him.

It's sad that this movie was botched so badly because the actual general story could have worked. The concepts they explore here are fun and fascinating. A lot of thought did go into how they brought the family back.

To it's credit, the film does look really good. It has excellent color use and picturesque filming locations.

Overall, this is a bad film, but I wouldn't say it was downright painful. I didn't leave regretting having watched it. If you like making fun of bad movies, then you might want to check this out. Otherwise, I can't recommend this.
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Bumblebee (2018)
9/10
The Transformers movie we've wanted for quite a while
7 January 2019
Haven't seen the fourth and fifth Transformers, but for me this one beats movies two and three and is rather better than the first Transformers.

Best part is that with Michael Bay no longer directing, Transformers gets the simple things fans have been asking for all this time: stronger story, understandable action scenes, and easier-to-make-out Transformer designs.

The movie takes place in the 80's and it really feels it was made during it too. The movie is just fun and heartfelt. Admittedly since it's about a person who's lost a parent and befriends a non-human being, there are a lot of tropes here. You can easily see where things are going. (Plus there are some annoyingly over-the-top, stereotypical, and super-vicious-for-no-reason mean girls.) Still, the movie works well enough that it didn't matter to me.

Really helps that Hailee Steinfeld is the lead. She's acting on a higher level than you'd expect for a film like this. She nails both the comedy and drama so well. She make scenes where it's just her for a long period of time talking to a giant robot that turns into a car just so natural. John Cena is also pretty funny as the human villain.

As for any downsides, the movie does inherit the Bay curse of weird plot decisions by having one scene where you're wondering "Why on Earth isn't the army supervising this!" You'll know it when you see it. Also, the resolution of Steinfeld's character's conflict with her family is a little unsubstantial.

Especially since this got overshadowed by Mary Poppins and Aquaman, I highly recommend you see this. It is just a good action adventures that's fine for the family. (Plus I want this to do well 'cuz I want a sequel or follow-up.)
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Escape Room (2019)
8/10
Enjoyable
6 January 2019
Escape Room is about a group of strangers invited to participate in a series of escape rooms (for the unaware: group puzzle-solving activities) only to find out they're deadly. Sure, yeah killer traps and rooms have already been done in previous films, but I appreciate the idea of an escape room in general being used as a force of murder considering how popular they are these days. I wasn't sure how this film would turn out based on the previews, but I was pleased with the final product.

Yeah, the movie has some predictable characters and elements, but this is a very polished film. The script, occasional joke without sabotaging the mood, characters, and general direction are all solid. Great main cast all around, better than expected for movies of this type.

A lot of thought goes into the murder rooms, which are all impressively decorated and designed. They are a little over-the-top, but the film manages to explain how they work practically. The challenges and threats all pan out nicely.

The ending, while I wouldn't say it was bad, wasn't ideal for me. To clarify, I'm talking about the wrap-up after the final fight for survival, which works. 1) This final part breaks the tenuous suspension-of-disbelief as the antagonist or antagonists does/do something that seems impossible to pull off even with his/her/their resources. 2) There is a semi-long tacked-on setup for a possible sequel that seems more at home for a big blockbuster than a horror film.

Also, be forewarned that the reveal of the human face/faces to the antagonist/antagonists is a little underwhelming.

I wouldn't say Escape Room is a must-see, but I do recommend it to any horror fan who wants a good time.
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Doctor Who: Resolution (2019)
Season 11, Episode 11
8/10
Strong monster
3 January 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Although I do think that Daleks should be used sparingly, but I thought this was one of their better appearances. Interesting to see the Dalek without a casing as it's own threat, and the new design was freaky enough. He definitely was a threat here. Also liked the makeshift Dalek casing and the myth-like background.

Thought that Ryan's subplot with his Dad was decent but not standout. Graham again shines here. The guest characters were okay, but I didn't think there was enough time to develop them. The Doctor, however remains funny as ever.
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Aquaman (2018)
9/10
Immensely entertaining film!
29 December 2018
Aquaman is the second DCU movie to hit it out of the park. Though, I concede that Wonder Woman still had the stronger story.

The whole thing looks great. The film goes full balls-to-the wall in creating the entire fictional kingdom of Atlantis and several other underwater kingdoms and locations. The whole thing has an 80's fantasy/sci-fi/adventure feel to it. A lot of work went into the details on this. The movie includes one dress and one visual sequence (you'll know it when you see it) that really catch your eye. The fight sequences, including a full-scale battle, really nail it. I also applaud the movie's effort to bring Black Manta and Ocean Master's outfits to life without majorly reworking the designs.

The script does a fair job of balancing drama and comedy. Jason Momoa remains utterly cool and charming as the lead. He and Amber Heard as Mera have good chemistry. Credit should also be given to Patrick Wilson as Ocean Master. He is a complete jerk in this, but you always understand where he is coming from and why he feels justified in what he is doing.

The movie does try to cram in a little too much. We get Aquaman's backstory, Atlantis' surprisingly in-depth backstory, all three of Aquaman's best known villains, and practically every major supporting character except Aqualad. You do tend to get thrown from one scene to the next, and I wished Mera and Aquaman had a little more time to build their relationship. Still, I do give director James Wan credit for trying to get in as much of the Aquaman mythos as possible. There is a lot of thought put into this world. The script is busy, but it isn't confusing or particularly jerky. You are given all the info. needed, and the flashbacks about Aquaman's origin are really well integrated and don't overstay their welcome.
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9/10
More great fun!
24 December 2018
I liked the first one a little more but that is not to knock this entertaining/content-filled game.

I am a little disappointed that they switched from the time-based combat to an active attack system. The old-style is dying out, and I liked having a throwback. I do like the new combat here. It does give you a bit of variety in choice of attacking your enemy. (Plus, there is one boss who requires an interesting combination of platform elements.) The Higgledies, sort of like Pikmin, are a helpful source of offense and defense. The long-range weapons are really effective, unlike a lot of RPGS where they're mostly useful just for flying enemies and don't do as much damage as short-range.

I found this game to be very easy. Though to be fair, I did play this on easy mode. Yeah, the last game wasn't that difficult, but the last boss battle and one other were pretty challenging. Here, the last boss is a piece of cake provided you've leveled up to the 60s. Admittedly, the easiness is reliant on you exploring and actually leveling up. Otherwise, the enemies could present a challenge. There are a fewer harder monster you may have to revisit and I know there is a level 90 optional boss for completionists. The dream door paths do offer a little challenge.

In fairness to the difficulty, this is more of a kids game. It only has a T because the game has some elements that are okay for Japanese children but not Americans.

This sequel has two new features: 1) You build your own kingdom similar to SimCity or Dark Cloud. This is a fun feature that is a little addictive. Only downside is that the game could've explained the various features of this a little more as I didn't even realize that certain game features needed to be unlocked through this. 2) You command your own army and launch battles against your enemies at certain parts. This was my least favorite aspect of the game. The fighting takes too long and is a little clunky.

Ni No Kuni II should be commended for the vast quests you perform for people. They keep your missions pretty varied so completing them doesn't feel like a drag.

I am disappointed that Studio Ghibli isn't doing the design this time around. You don't get the exact same type of detail or creativity. That isn't to knock this game. It does look gorgeous, and since the world is more physically explorable this time around, I understand how the look had to be slightly less complex. The world map is far more expansive than the last one and I really digged it.

Joe Hisaishi returns as the composer, and it's another pretty good score, though it does repeat a few pieces from the last one.

The story is a little inventive. You play a young king who seeks to create a new kingdom that will unite everyone. (Though if you're really anti-socialism this probably won't be for you.) You're assisted by a president from our reality who's been given younger form, which is different. The ending is definitively more satisfying than the first game.

I had pure, innocent fun playing this and highly recommend it.
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8/10
Better than expected
24 December 2018
Considering that MLP just completed its 8th season and they've already done Christmas episodes, I wasn't sure how much energy they had for left for this. My worries were unnecessary as they really landed this one. The ponies have several story-lines as they search for Christmas presents, and each one has its own unique tone and message to it and the whole special works pretty well.
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10/10
Wow!
24 December 2018
Mary Poppins Returns, about the titular nanny returning to help the grown up Banks children, was a true experience for me that brings back the feel of the original Mary Poppins and 60's Disney in general. (It even has a nostalgic old-fashioned opening credits).

The entire thing looks and feels fantastic like an old-timey storybook. Includes a new 2-D animated/live-action segment, not something we've seen in a while and a welcome comeback. The story itself has a very old-fashioned and genuinely good-hearted feel to it.

Great cast. Blunt makes and an excellent Mary Poppins, and Lin Manuel Miranda is pretty likable as Jack, Bert's replacement. Ben Wishaw (the voice of Paddinton and the most recent Q from the James Bond films) does a surprisingly sympathetic job as Michael Banks mourning the loss of his wife and just trying to keep things together.

The songs, by Marc Shaiman (Hairspray and parts of the South Park movie and Team America) aren't as catchy or memorable as the first film, but that's not knocking these songs. I did like them all and they again captured an old-school feeling.

There were some weak points. A lot of the scenes set in London, were too darkly shot for their own good. I mean I understand that an intentional style choice as the bleakness of London contrasts with the brightness Mary Poppins brings, but it makes it a pain to watch at some points.

The movie is basically like The Force Awakens as it repeats many elements from the first film. (They even bring back Admiral Boom, now played by David Warner. I mean come on he was no spring chicken in the first film. He should be dead by now.) Also, the whole mother-just-died bit was done by Disney only a month ago for the Nutcracker movie, although this movie handles it a lot better if you ask me.

Lastly, the main antagonist is paper-thin and whose crookedness exceeds practicality. This is especially disappointing as the first film didn't need this sort of villain to drive the plot.

Those criticisms aside, I had so much fun with this movie that I'm still giving it a full rating.

There is nothing really objectionable in this but be forewarned younger children may be bored by the more talky moments. I saw restlessness in my nephew and other young children while watching this.
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7/10
Great look; so-so story
18 December 2018
I'm afraid I'm basically mimicking the general opinion on this, but Mortal Engines is more style than substance.

Visually this one of those rare visual masterpieces. Director Christian Rivers was a storyboard artist/visual effects guy on the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films, and he knows how build a world. The film contains a sort of cyberpunk-ish reality that combines the old and new. Everything from the technology to the clothing to even the natural environment feels completely distinctive. The giant tank-like city of London is something to behold. The opening where we're introduced to the place is such a breathtaking scene.

The film also has an impressively designed secondary antagonist in the form of the disturbing and relentless Shrike, a cyber-zombie with a piercing voice

Before I get into the plot, understand that the story and actors are decent, just not strong enough to sustain the 2 hour, 8 minute run time. The script is by Peter Jackson and his regular co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. Like King Kong and the Hobbit films, they don't realize less is more. Dialogue and some action scenes just go on a little too long. In fairness, the length gives the writers ample time to explain how this busy world works. Even then there are a couple script holes: a character figures out a plot point too quickly without enough plausible context and a supporting character just sort of vanishes once he served his purpose.

The film unsuccessfully romantically pairs the two main characters Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) and Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan). It does a wonderful job of building a friendship and why they'd trust each other, but the love aspect is unbelievable. It happens too quickly, and they have no chemistry.

Plot-wise the standout character is again Shrike. He has the most sympathetic story-line. In the pantheon of good villains from weak films, I hope Shrike ends up being remembered like the Darkness from Legend and not forgotten like Maximillian from the Black Hole.

Despite it's clunkiness, I highly recommend you see this just for this experience. You just may want to watch it at home while your washing the dishes or working on a project.
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10/10
Wow!
16 December 2018
I have a new favorite Spider-Man film!

Into the Spider-Verse looks amazing. I've seen combinations of two- and three-dimensional animation before, but not anything like this. The movie is very colorful and makes excellent use of action. The whole thing is supposed to look like a comic book and has some wildly creative ideas, including color slightly popping off the lines and thought captions and bubbles. This movie takes place in an alternate reality from more traditional Spider-Man timelines, giving the creators liberty to come up with some inventive visual twists on classic Spider-Man villains without feeling like real betrayals to the characters.

Now, the movie does have a couple things that I adjusted to but may bug people with more sensitive eyes. As mentioned, the color is off-line and the background in particular can be blurry-looking. The motion frame rate is a little jerky, which I assume is a stylistic choice.

The plot is equally impressive. The film features Spider-Men from multiple dimensions and multiple other characters yet manages balance and develop them all almost seamlessly. (Wouldn't have minded a little more time on Mile's relationship with his uncle, but that's a minor issue.) The comedy and drama is equally good. The movie has fun, but there are also stakes. There is real loss in this. (Parents who are more selective in what their children watch, may consider this more of a "big boy" film).

The movie stars Spider-Man Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), who started off in Marvel's Ultimate comic line. He became popular enough that when the Ultimate universe was shut down, because Ultimate Spider-Man was the only real big seller, he was transferred to the main Marvel line. Hardcore Peter Parker fans may be upset that he isn't the star, but they did such a great job with Miles' character that I don't think you'll mind. He is likable and has personal issues like Peter, but in his own unique way. He forms a mentor relationship with a down-on-his-luck and world-weary Peter Parker (New GIrl's Jake Johnson), and the two of them have great chemistry and basically make the movie.

This is one of those truly innovative steps in moviemaking and a sincere homage to comic books.
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8/10
Fun little Christmas movie
14 December 2018
Found this to be an enjoyable little Christmas film.

Kurt Russell is Santa Claus and it's everything you'd expect him to be. He manages to maintain his charm and swagger while keeping the basic core of Santa intact.

The film has a Home Alone-esque 90's feel to it with that right balance of heart and humor and like the films of that era surprising moments of darkness and pushing the edge a little while maintaining a PG rating.

Be forewarned that the movie mostly runs on the cast and presentation. The plot is full of Christmas tropes and you can pretty much predict everything.

Also, this is a modestly budgeted film. (I'm guessing that most of the money went toward Russell,) The sets and computer effects just look okay.
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Life-Size 2 (2018 TV Movie)
5/10
Predictable and bland
11 December 2018
Not my demographic and the trailer really didn't sell this, but my curiosity got the better me. It's just like wanting see behind the white covering at a deadly or really violent car crash. I just found it so odd that they decided to make a TV-14 sequel to a TV-G children's film.

And my opinion on the film: Yeeeeeaaaaah... it's not good. The plot and dialogue are pretty basic and uninspired. Plus, there's plenty of awkwardness to go around.

I'm not sure if fans of the first film will necessarily like this. Admittedly, I only saw the tail end to the original, but I'm pretty sure the tone was kinda different. Whereas Eve, the doll who comes life, grows and adapts in the first one once she's reached the real world, this Eve, who to clarify isn't the same as the original, remains childish throughout and mostly serves as support to the new main character's struggle along with being part of a hasty shoehorned-in romantic subplot. In fact, I think the children's film may have handled itself more maturely than the mature film.

Tyra Banks' still got it after all these years years later as Eve. In fact, I also liked Francia Raisa as the main lead. In fact, the whole cast ain't bad, they just can't salvage the subpar dialogue they're given.

To the script's credit, it does try to push diverse and more realistic looking doll types. Also there a few clever moments, and by few I mean three, exactly three.

Now as I said, this type of film isn't my thing. It's the Hallmark Channel type of Christmas film. (Oh yeah, it's also a Christmas film for what it's worth). If you like those types of films, then you may as well go right ahead and give this a try.
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6/10
One of those almost-there films
11 December 2018
The Possession of Hannah Grace is by no means a must-see, but I found it to be a decent time-waster.

The movie has a nice sense of direction. The beginning, where main character Megan gets a job working the night shift in the morgue in the basement of a city hospital, is especially well-done. Major exposition and the workings of the hospital is introduced in a quick and natural manner.

The hospital in this is appropriately creepy, a blend of grey concrete blended with cold, sterile white floors.

The possessed body of Hannah Grace is an affective monster. She avoids being being a generic zombie/possesed person by having a distinctive look being partially slashed and burned. Heck she's scary when she's just lying still before she's even doing anything. (I'm actually disappointed they didn't stick with the film's original title of The Cadaver). Contortionist Kirby Johnson really kills it as Hannah, not only in her freaky movements but also in her malevolent facial expressions.

Despite the praise I've just given, there is one big issue wit the film: the second act is just too slow and could've been cut down, which is disappointing given how fluidly it started. The problem is that they have one too many victims and spend a little too much time introducing them and building up to the kills.
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9/10
The Cohens do it again
5 December 2018
This new film on Netflix from the Cohen brothers may not be a new Fargo or Big Lebowski, but it is in the upper echelons of their work.

The Ballad of Buster of Buster Scruggs is an anthology of six Western tales. The movie uses the interesting framing device of the tales coming from an old book complete with color plates. In fact, each tale feels sort of like it was written back in the day. (A couple are based on/inspired by actual stories.) The tales are stuffed with the moments of darkness, humor, violence, and well-written dialogue and plot developments the Cohens are known for. Also, the segment All Gold Canyon, which takes place out in the sunny untouched wilderness.

Includes a cast of well-known or veteran actors. It's better to be surprised than to tell you who they are.

The only major weak point is the second to the last segment The Gal who got Rattled. Though well acted, it runs a bit long and the ending isn't strong enough to justify the length.

I highly recommend this to Cohen fans. If you're not into dark films, then this isn't for you.
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Creed II (2018)
9/10
Liked this
4 December 2018
Enjoyed this as much as the first Creed. Well directed, especially considering that this is the director's first big budget film.

The best thing about the film is that it has something missing from the Rocky franchise after IV, a really good opponent. Whereas Ivan Drago was like a machine, his son Victor is more like a vicious animal in his fighting style. He actually seems agitated while having to wait to fight. It doesn't hurt that he is a mountain of a man. He's also the most sympathetic villain in the Rocky canon. Once I learned his history and motivations, I honestly didn't have it in me to root against him.

The cast is great all across the board. Again, Sylvester Stallone has Rocky nailed down. Although Adonis Creed has his moments of bad decisions and lashing out in a jerky and immature manner, Michael B. Jordan does such a great job of expressing his vulnerability and raw emotion that you can't be upset at him. Although it is a small role, Russell Hornsby has an excellent scene as a pragmatic and opportunistic fight promoter. You kind of wish he was in more of this. This is also probably Dolph Lundgren's best acting.

The only major downside is that the movie suffers from following similar plot beats from other films in the franchise.
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8/10
Flawed but fun
28 November 2018
I can't put this on the same pedestal as the first film, but I was entertained.

Pros:

There are a lot of funny bits in here. The Disney princesses segment seen in the commercials is actually funnier than what you've already seen. I liked all the new characters as well.

Although the story goes with the old "close friends starting to drift apart due to new circumstances in their lives" plot, I really didn't mind that much. The plot goes into the emotional and psychological aspects of this more than you'd expect for a children's film. The movie is an introspection into unhealthy co-dependent friendships and self-doubt.

I watched the original film a couple days ago and it's impressive how much the animation still had room to improve over six years. The movement is a lot more honed here. There is also a pretty impressive visual in the final third-act action point. The world of the internet looks great. A lot of thought obviously went into the little details and how everything would work.

Cons:

The movie is more the sum of its parts than a cohesive whole. This is especially disappointing as I've always felt the original did an excellent job of pacing and presenting exposition in a natural manner. Every plot point and choice clicked, and you just don't get it here.

As much as I liked the new characters, they just sort of float in and out, and I kind of wanted a little more closure on them at the end. Unfortunately, since the emphasis is on the internet world, you don't get to see much of the other characters from the last film. To be fair, I appreciate that the filmmakers were trying to focus more on the story than fan service.

The biggest issue with this film is that the writers make Ralph rather dislikable. Yeah, he made insecurity-driven mistakes in his last film, but there all his actions and mistakes were understandable and he was ultimately benevolent. Here he's become too needy and insecure and ends up doing some baaaaaaad things.

I've noticed some some critics really liked this film and some just could not conciliate Ralph's actions. If the previous paragraph gave you serious concern, I can't fully recommend this. Still the theater audience I was with mostly seemed into the film, and I think less discerning target audience of kids will be entertained.
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8/10
Solid reboot
20 November 2018
I found this to be a smartly written reboot of the 80s cartoon. Kind of feels like the recent Voltron reboot except the show has a slightly more comic and lighthearted feel. It also does a better job of filler episodes, although there a couple episodes that are little basic, but hey it's a kids show. It's gonna happen.

The main cast is good. The big trio of Adora, Bo, and Glimmer is very strong from the start, though it is Bo who usually steals the show as a likable goober. I was surprised how fun and relatable the villains are. Adora's friend turned rival. Catra has her own group and they are surprisingly humorous. Catra and Adora's shared traumatic past is probably the most dramatic part of the show and really pays off. It's also refreshing to see the main/serious villain of the show Hordak played as reasonable and smart rather than a traditional short-tempered mustache-twirler. Only weak spot is that this show is overpopulated with supporting character princesses and most of them aren't as interesting as the main characters.

Not the biggest fan of the animation. No, I'm not one of those people complaining about the fact that they redesigned the character, I'm just not the biggest fan of this particular over-simplified art style. The character's chins are too long and there is something about the arms and legs that's off but I can't put into words why. Though I do give the show props for for featuring more various and realistic body types rather than promoting the kind of unhealthy view that heroines have to be slim. The backgrounds are flat in terms of animation style and color scheme, but they do put a lot of detail into them.
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8/10
A Weitz-heavy episode
18 November 2018
Again Jaime Alexander is killing it acting wise these past two episode!

Some pretty funny lines in this. Really loving Weitz in it. At first I had reservations about him becoming the new director, seeing how he was so different from the traditionally professional previous directors, but I really like his flexible and humorous dynamic with the team now.
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DuckTales: Storkules in Duckburg! (2018)
Season 2, Episode 5
7/10
The return of Storkules!
18 November 2018
Nice to see Storkules back. Decent episode, but not a stand-out.
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The Flash: All Doll'd Up (2018)
Season 5, Episode 5
8/10
I was entertained
16 November 2018
Has some nice character beats. The villain is delightfully freaky.
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South Park: Time to Get Cereal (2018)
Season 22, Episode 6
8/10
Things get even more cereal
16 November 2018
Continues the hilarity from the last episode. It does repeat some things, but it also includes one of their best segments in terms of pure animation.
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Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab (2018)
Season 11, Episode 6
9/10
Really strong episode
12 November 2018
As an American, I've never put that much thought into into the partition of India. I've known the generalities but haven't really thought that much about the actual violent unrest at the time. This was a really effective and informative episode, and the second second historical one to hit it out of the park. Story was emotional and the characters were compelling. Not to mention, this has the best looking aliens this season.
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9/10
A nostalgic trip
12 November 2018
We get to see past exploits in the Good Place, and though I'm liking the new path, I was nostalgic for the place.

Another really funny episode. Eleanor and Michael's excellent chemistry continues. Loved the last scene.
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Blindspot: Naughty Monkey Kicks at Tree (2018)
Season 4, Episode 5
9/10
Solid character work
11 November 2018
Again, Jaimie Alexander does a great and nuanced job as Remi. The Zapata story-line finally reaches its full potential as things get tense between her and Reade.
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8/10
The Three Caballeros
11 November 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Nice to see them bring back the Three Caballeros and the camaraderie between them and Donald really works. You even get their classic done in a nice revamp. You get to see the old Donald and Scrooge being a little selfish and comically sparring with each other dynamic from the comics.

The plant monster was appropriately threatening.
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