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22 Jump Street (2014)
These two b**ches went to college!
I LOVED this movie. As good or better than the original, which is so rare I can't remember the last time someone achieved that. Obviously, this is silly escapism humor so I think you have to view it in that light, but the movie never aims to be more than goofy laughs with some bromance mixed in.
22 successfully sets up a plot that engages while taking every opportunity to poke fun at itself and multiple movie genres, much like the first one did. It might help if you are familiar with some pop culture, as the movie is filled to bursting with quick little Easter eggs and references that are 'blink and miss it' types.
It also revels in taking movie cliches and flipping them on their head for yuks, like a "fight" scene where Jonah Hill's character Schmidt is intensely uncomfortable when one of the villains repeatedly believes the fight is about to degenerate into a sexy Mr. and Mrs. Smith battle-to-bedroom make out session or when Channing Tatum's Jenko drops his Q-Tip into another guy's meat sandwich and they gleefully declare that they are sharing a "meat-qute," a term for the scene in romantic comedies when the couple to be first meet each other in a cute and humorous way.
The movie never takes itself seriously, constantly making fun of itself, the previous movie, or other works the cast have been in; the last ten minutes of run time are devoted to absurd ideas for the next few hundred incarnations of the series, all but slamming the door on the idea of making any more while still managing to be suspiciously reminiscent of other series that didn't know when to quit.
I was never a fan of the original show, so I watched '21 Jump Street' reluctantly only to be pleasantly surprised at how fresh they managed to make the idea feel. '22' admirably carried on the tradition, building a light hour and a half around the two charismatic leads that didn't overstay its welcome and left me in a good mood.
Jake Sisko sucks so hard
I know this was supposed to be a light-hearted episode, but by this point in the show they had made Jake such an obnoxious POS that I really, really hoped there was a scene coming up where they flushed him out of an airlock. It's almost like the writers decided it would be fun to make Jake the most intolerable character on the show, but wanted to infuriate the audience by having the rest of the cast act as though he was a great guy everyone loved.
It's not worth going into, but it's absolutely bizarre that the show tried to portray Jake as one of the "good guys" that everyone respected when they had also made it abundantly clear that he was an arrogant, lazy, slovenly coward that most people would go out of their way to avoid in the real world.
Earlier in the show it was Rom, Jake's Ferengi best friend, that was one of the obnoxious characters, but at least then they had everyone respond to Rom with an appropriate level of irritation and exasperation. It's a very weird energy to watch someone be a complete jerk and then have everyone else respond as though it were normal and acceptable, and for the life of me I can't tell if that unsettled feeling was the plan all along or just sloppy writing. Either way, that dude suuuuuucks.
a great episode of a great show
This show has always been near the top of my personal 'brilliant, but cancelled' list. It wasn't perfect, but when it worked it was like a quick little action movie that you got to see once a week, which is why I still hold on to my old recordings and watch the entire run every couple of years or so. This episode is one of my favorites, not just for the fun, exciting, Indiana Jones-esque feel of a treasure hunt in South America, but for a handful of brilliant scenes that have always struck me as particularly clever.
One such scene occurs at the very beginning of the episode. Spoiler warning I suppose, although given that the show is a decade old and somewhat obscure given that it only ran two abbreviated seasons and never entered syndication that I'm aware of, I'm guessing most people who bother to read this probably won't need the warning.
The episode starts with Chance breaking out the hapless good-guy guest star who is being held by some corrupt military types that are gearing up to interrogate him about some treasure he found. Chance, dressed in military fatigues and hoping to make a quiet exit with the guy under cover of darkness, is spotted and questioned by one of the military guards. Instead of immediately cutting loose with some punches to knock the guard out, Chance thinks quick and approaches the guard as a friend, suggesting that the same irritable attitude he just greeted Chance with is the reason why his coworkers have cut him out of the loop.
I LOVE this scene. First, because it shows that Chance, whose backstory is that he is trying to atone for his violent past, makes a real effort to avoid violence whenever possible, even if it is the most expedient route. And second, because it taps into an under recognized aspect of human nature, which is that most of us harbor some secret fears that our coworkers don't like us or are quietly talking about us behind our backs. But, paradoxically, most of us also don't talk to each other about those fears out of an unconscious fear of seeming weak. Those two aspects of human nature, which I suspect are far more universal than we would guess, are exactly the kind of loophole someone like Chance would exploit to fast talk their way out of situations.
It reminds me of an interview I saw with an old Daily Show correspondent who went to Stephen Colbert for advice when he started on the show. Colbert's advice was to "not be afraid of the silence," meaning that when you are interviewing someone, being comfortable with long pauses after you ask someone a question they don't want to answer will yield results more often than you would expect, because people unconsciously hate long, awkward pauses in conversation and try to fill them with chatter that often reveals more than they would have wanted to. The mere fact that it's an open secret in the industry doesn't reduce its effectiveness one bit, because the tactic exploits a weakness in how the primitive lizard part of our brain works.
Anyway, the episode isn't perfect, some aspects of the plot might not have aged too well with respect to male/female dynamics, but I still enjoy it anyway. Great episode.
Inside Man: Most Wanted (2019)
why remake a movie, only worse?
So, this movie is practically a top to bottom remake of a 2006 Denzel and Owen film of the same name, minus the "Most Wanted" bit. Bank robbers come in, seemingly trap themselves inside a no-escape situation, then pull off some ingenious plan that's only revealed to the audience in the last act. Along the way you're meant to empathize with at least some of the robbers so that you're rooting for them to get away, and so is the main police/FBI character because he's dealing with completely unsympathetic bureaucrats and powerful one percenters that he/she hates and so does the audience.
The problem, apart from the fact that this has already been done in a better version, is that because they reveal the connection to the previous film right in the opening scenes (and the title), you already know what's going to happen by the end. They don't change anything significant, really. I watched the movie with a friend, and by the half way point when they revealed a key plot element we both guessed the twist and how it was going to happen. And, apart from a couple of minor details, we were spot on. Which means, as far as I'm concerned, that actual law enforcement types who do this for a living would have seen some element of this coming from a mile away.
The whole thrill of a movie like this is that turn. To work, it has to be subtly hinted at in ways that you overlook early on but can look back at later, and it has to come as a surprise. It's very much like a magic act. If they hide too many details it feels like they're cheating, and if they don't surprise you with the reveal you lose that sense of wonder, which is the whole point of the movie.
Anyway, despite the underwhelming finale, the main characters were reasonably charismatic and entertaining to watch. And it's on Netflix, so if you have the streaming service you don't have to pay anything extra to see it. So I suppose if you find yourself needing to kill an hour or two it's a reasonably inoffensive way to while away the time, provided you've got nothing else better to do.
In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)
an interesting mind bender
If you had a time machine, would you go back and kill baby Hitler? This ethical dilemma, which has been around since practically right after WWII, has been argued for decades. The core idea it explores is whether people who are destined to do horrible things are moral aberrations in an otherwise functional society who, like a wedge on the railroad tracks, twist the course of events off track with calamitous results or, alternatively, if people are the product of the times in which they live, which argues that killing baby Hitler would be a meaningless gesture, as someone else would simply fill the vacancy his non-existence left.
This conundrum is related to the events of the film, as witnessed through the eyes of a man exposed to a mystery that only becomes clear over the course of his life. It starts in the late 80's when a string of random murders rocks Philadelphia. The main character, an ambitious young police officer named Locke, is one of the first to respond to a number of strange homicides perpetrated by a young black woman whom he accidentally kills while attempting to apprehend her. Before her death, she makes a number of comments that indicate knowledge of events she shouldn't have access to, leaving unanswered questions in his mind.
Despite the aura of mystery, life moves on for Locke until nine years later when the woman suddenly reappears, once again killing seemingly random people before disappearing yet again. Locke begins to suspect the mystery can only be explained with supernatural elements and becomes obsessed with solving it, despite the heavy toll on his personal life it takes.
The story jumps forward every nine years to show a single day in Locke's life. By the end of the third jump a little past the half way point the movie reveals the basic outline of what is driving the mysterious events, though it reserves a few of the surprises more personal to Locke for the final act. This explanation also explains a brief ominous scene at the very beginning of the movie.
After a few more time jumps that fill in the last pieces and add an action scene or two, the movie brings things to a mostly satisfying conclusion that wraps up the mystery and personal issues of Locke's life. The ending is a tad anti-climactic since there is no "bad" guy and the big surprise is just that a relationship mentioned earlier in the movie is mixed race which, if they intended that to be shocking, would have required the movie to be made four or five decades ago.
The movie does it's best to sell an ending that's billed as positive, although I saw echoes of a much darker implication, unintentional and all the more scary for it. The way the movies sells its ending (spoiler warning!), people from the future using time travel to kill white supremacists in the past whose ideas ultimately spark a new civil war, is by having a character ask Locke "what if you could stop the civil war?" All those untold thousands of deaths, all that suffering, all that division, just snuffed out by identifying and targeting a few individuals that were the key voices behind the secessionist movement. One hundred deaths for 600,000. Provided you're not overly concerned about that pesky "freedom of speech" stuff it's a bargain, right?
Except when you stop to consider where we were as a nation before the civil war. Much as it seems fait accompli now, the prevailing attitude in the union wasn't actually homogeneously anti-slavery. Many deplored it, certainly, but many held beliefs somewhere in between and would have been fine with it's continuation so long as they didn't have to see it or enforce the practice within the borders of their state. The confederacy and the civil war crystallized and hardened beliefs; it forced people who might have otherwise preferred not to pick a side.
I can't say for certain that without the civil war, civil rights would have been set back by decades or more, but I think there is at least an argument to be made that it might have. No one likes suffering and destruction, but a thing cheaply won does not have the same value as that which has been paid for with, to paraphrase Lincoln, "the solemn pride...to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom."
So I found the end a little chilling, certainly not for the stated goals that motivated the characters, but for the way it championed the use of a godlike power without a true understanding of the potential cost of that power, and for the idea that it's presented as a good thing that a small group of individuals, however well meaning, wielded that power over the entirety of mankind as judge, jury, and executioners unbeknownst to those whose lives they impacted.
Then again, maybe I'm just thinking too much about a movie that's just a fun little bit of what-if science fiction.
The I-Land (2019)
what one thing would you bring if you were stranded on a deserted island?
To go by the ratings, people didn't seem to like this mini series much, but I actually did. To be sure, there were aspects that didn't work, but I enjoyed the out-of-the-box concept. The protagonist wakes up on the beach of a "deserted island" with no memory of who she is or how she got there. Besides a small group of others in the same boat, there doesn't appear to be much indication of activity, although there are tantalizing hints that something strange is going on such as objects buried in the sand at the precise spots where each of them woke up, little puzzles they have to solve to find useful tools, and recurring dreams/nightmares that hint at past trauma.
While the idea driving the plot isn't entirely original, it's handled in a way that's thoughtful enough to feel reasonably fresh. One thing I particularly enjoyed is how the show tried to paint people on both sides of a divisive central theme in a way that highlighted both the positive and negative aspects of their positions. It would have been easy to portray the people on the protagonists side as pure and virtuous and those that oppose her as pure villains. But the villains often have solid, logical reasons for the stands they take (even if they are obnoxious personally), and those aiding the protagonist often have hidden motivations and a callous , willful blindness to facts inconvenient to their goals; these made both feel much more three dimensional to me.
I don't want to spoil any surprises, so I'll just say that by the end of the series major portions of the mystery are solved, so you don't need to worry about a cliffhanger ending that will leave you frustrated if the series doesn't get picked up for renewal, although they do leave a number of hooks for future stories if it does. The ending, while not answering *all* of the questions, delivers enough to serve as a series finale if it comes to that.
Once the full plot is revealed and you've had some time to reflect on it, you'll quickly realize that there are some big logical gaps. The acting is also somewhat uneven as some of the supporting characters deliver wooden performances. For me the, for lack of a better word, philosophical ideas presented made up for those shortcomings and I enjoyed the series. It's also not terribly long, only six or seven forty-five minute episodes, so the plot moves at a decent pace and doesn't suffer from a lot of filler.
Overall, I'd recommend watching the first three episodes, if you have the time, to see if you enjoyed the concept.
Rise of the Zombie (2013)
dark and disturbing
This isn't a great film, but it does have an interesting premise. Zombie movies almost invariably focus on what happens after zombies enter the world, not the creation of the plague itself, or if they do show patient zero it's just a quick glance as they transition. This movie follows the last days of Neil Parker, a nature photographer who is bitten by an insect and contracts an illness that turns him into the famous monster.
Neil likes to lose himself in his work, often disappearing without notice for weeks. After his most recent trip he returns to an angry girlfriend who ends their relationship. After one last night out with a friend for his bachelor party, Neil decides to head out into the wilderness to clear his head. The trip starts well enough, but as he's taking pictures of some insects he gets bitten by something, we're never shown exactly what, and gets a nasty wound on his arm.
At first he basically ignores it, but after several days the wound is shown to have gotten bigger and uglier, with inflamed skin and large pustules. Still, he only cleans the wound and bandages it, hoping that it will get better on its own. Around this time he also begins experiencing some delirium from the illness and develops a sudden craving for insects and animals. Eventually, those cravings turn into something darker, until finally he becomes something subhuman.
There are numerous graphic scenes of him succumbing to his new hunger, but what was really disturbing to me are the scenes of his dreams. At first they start as memories of happier times with his girlfriend, but gradually they begin to get disjointed and fragmented as the illness breaks down his human side. Anyone who has ever been severely ill will recognize the symptoms of fever dreams we sometimes get when sick or under severe stress, but the way it's depicted here is as a downward spiral with no end.
Essentially, it's a front row seat to Neil's slow death, with him gradually realizing that he is losing himself. His memories change from a comfort of happier times to a torment that haunts him even as he loses the awareness of who he once was. Frankly, it's disturbing.
So that's the part the movie gets right. Unfortunately, there is a lot it doesn't. The acting is often stiff and amateurish, with the actors almost seeming like they are just regular people that the producers asked if they wanted to be in a movie. And the cinematography is real B-movie grade stuff, with wide shots that serve no purpose except to keep the audience at arms distance instead of pulling us in, or terrible lighting that makes it hard to know exactly what's happening.
But the worst aspect of the movie by far is the directing. The pacing is so bad that it makes the movie almost unwatchable. The only way I could get through it was by skipping ahead several minutes at a time to avoid overly long scenes that took forever to get to anything interesting. Watching a ten minute scene of Neil just sitting in the shadows watching the people of the village have a party was excruciating. Nothing happens, just people walking around and talking, and there are several scenes like that. And they make the odd choice of having his first indiscretions happen off screen, only hinting at the events in brief flashbacks, but bring us along for numerous animal and insect feasts.
They also linger on his loved ones, who eventually begin to realize something is wrong because Neil has been gone so long, but bizarrely these plot lines are started but never finished. So much screen time is devoted to them calling one another and asking if anyone had seen him that finishing the movie without any of them ever finding him or figuring out what happened just makes you wonder why they bothered including them at all.
Better editing might have shaved 30 minutes or so from the film and made it a better watch, but in truth it had so many problems that I'm not sure. There's a kernel of a good idea in the story, but the execution of that idea is completely muddled by dead-end story lines, bad filming, and directionless directing. Which is too bad, because some of the stuff here is pretty emotionally loaded, like the scene of Neil sobbing after losing several days to his fever and picking up his camera to try and bring back some sense of who he used to be and the things he once loved. It's a heartbreaking scene of loss and fear that, in a better film, would be a real gut punch. Ah well. It's on Netflix if you feel like giving it a watch, though I wouldn't be married to the idea of watching the full movie.
Le chant du loup (2019)
a very good submarine thriller
Two-thirds of the way through the film I was tempted to call this a great movie, but sadly things kind of didn't gel for me in the third act. Even so, this is still a remarkable movie for submarine movie buffs. There's something vaguely mystical about gliding through the water in darkness listening for the sound of other predators in a dangerous game of hide and seek that I've always found fascinating, and 'The Wolf's Call', the title a reference to that idea, is an excellent contribution to the genre.
The first act, where they setup the situation that drives the movie, is nothing short of brilliant. The screenwriters have devised a scenario that is extremely, verging on too, topical. Without wanting to give away anything important, I would just say that it is based upon a scenario that perfectly fits the Zeitgeist of Europe at the moment.
The scenario involves an element of US politics. From my perspective as an American I would say this scenario is extremely unlikely, even given the conditions that give birth to it. Europe and the US may not always get along as well as everyone would hope, but we are kin. The ties that bind us are forged in blood and stronger than any individual; for better or worse that will never change. But having said that, I can certainly see where the concern comes from.
I would also say that it's interesting to see how perspectives change. Post Iraq war, the depiction of Americans in European media painted us as at best ambiguous, and often arrogant, imperialist, or even sinister in our application of military power around the world. The views in the movie bring worry from the opposite direction, and seem to tacitly acknowledge that sometimes it's not so bad to be friends with the 800 lb gorilla in the room, even if you're not always happy about his temper and penchant for smashing things.
In any case, the scenario involves the French Navy and submarine combat. Not being a submariner I can't say that the technical details of life on a submarine are accurate, but if they aren't it is some brilliant bull because they certainly feel real. The main character is Chanteraide, played by François Civil, who is the sound guy on the sub.
This is a big deal on a submarine; modern subs all have computers to analyze the sounds in the water looking for acoustic signatures that tell them who else is out there in the depths, but as you might imagine this is a difficult task as every sub also has technology to obfuscate those sounds and keep themselves hidden. You might compare the task to, say, listening to the sound of someone type their password on a keyboard and then trying to reverse the sounds to keystrokes. It can be done, but the process is difficult and filled with uncertainty.
The middle third of the story involves Chanteraide investigating an acoustic mystery as high-stake events unfold. Acoustic signature investigation may not sound exactly thrill a minute, but between the brewing crisis and some good story pacing by the director, it remains fresh and interesting, and I enjoyed how honest to the intellectual process of solving the mystery it was.
The final act is where I was a little disappointed. The setup is too good to give away, but let's just say a misunderstanding develops and Chanteraide is called on to help resolve it. I was expecting Chanteraide to come up with something clever, a means of delivering a message using his unique skill set and training, which would have capped the movie perfectly, but the movie instead reverts to more standard thriller fare at this point.
There were a couple of problems here, in my opinion. First, the movie abandons all sense of time, moving characters between locations in minutes that, even optimistically, would have taken hours, so that they can be in the important places as events unfold. For a movie that has been so careful to get the details right, this stands out in glaring contrast.
Second,the characters and even some of the submarine functions act in a way inconsistent with previously established story. It's hard to believe that certain characters would have behaved the way they did, given what was happening.
And third, the director goes for several big, overly dramatic scenes between characters that feels unearned. If you are going to have a big 'connection across space and time' moment between characters, you better have established that connection earlier really well, or else it will come across as almost satirical instead of poignant.
But third act aside, the movie is still really solid and entertaining. It uses some very clever story crafting to develop a scenario that feels very fit to our times and sets the stakes in a believable way that keeps you engaged. The dialogue is in French, of course, so I used the English dubbing, which was automatic on Netflix and was pretty solid. If you have Netflix and enjoy submarine movies, I would certainly recommend giving it a watch.
Thank you HBO!
God I loved this movie. Deadwood was a beautiful, well written, gritty view into the much romanticized old west. Although it borrowed events from the actual town, it wasn't really what you'd call historically accurate. But it was authentic; a glimpse of where this nation came from as it was on the cusp of entering the modern world we're more familiar with.
The show was amazingly well written and acted, with rich three dimensional characters that largely resisted the traditional labels of good and bad for more realistic depictions of a community finding a balance in a hard, unforgiving environment that bred hard, unforgiving people.
It was fantastic, but because of that authentic human portrayal it could get a little depressing. The show never shied away from the fact that sometimes bad deeds go unpunished or that the winner take all nature of life on the frontier meant that powerful people could literally get away with murder and establish dynasties by doing so. On the one hand it was part of why I loved the show, but on the other it made for kind of a bummer finale.
This movie is the finale I would have loved to get a decade ago. It brings back your favorite characters, heroes, villains, and in between, for one last quick glimpse of the famous town. Many of the unresolved plots left dangling when the show ended are spun up and given some resolution. Love triangles are resolved, characters find closure for their turbulent pasts, villains get their comeuppance,and the town gets ready to move into the modern era as it officially becomes part of the US and gets hints of things to come like phone lines.
If the original show stretched things with respect to the true events of Deadwood, the movie really pulls things beyond recognition to provide some closure for many favorite characters. Multiple historical characters get revised endings that are fan service rather than any resemblance to the truth, and I loved every minute of it. It was so great to see the characters again and see them grow as people to the point where you could imagine something approaching a happy ending for them.
My personal favorite was Calamity Jane, the tortured alcoholic mess with a heart way too big for living in the wild west. Seeing her come to grips with her past was awesome. I will always be grateful that HBO opened the purse to make this love letter to the fans. If you watched the original show, I think there's at a solid chance you'll really like the movie. If you didn't, go back and watch the show and then watch the movie. Together they are a perfect combination.
rich and rewarding
David Letterman was and is a generational talent. As the era of the single late night host came to an end with Carson's retirement and Dave's subsequent departure from his network, he ushered in a change to the industry he was a leading voice of. Now, in the twilight of his career, Dave reveals what a singular talent he is by bringing something to entertainment that is simultaneously new and fresh and reminiscent of the past.
There have been, of course, numerous long-form deep dive interview shows throughout the years. And it's not uncommon for entertainers and newscasters who find themselves retired from their primary careers but with a lifetime of contacts and experience and the energy to use it, to start a slower-paced but more informative interview show. What's different here is that Dave conducts his interviews as almost a documentary that has been chopped down to something more condensed, something that is a representation of his mind and experiences from meeting people.
It isn't just about the subject of the interview or the interview itself. The show brings together cuts of Dave meeting people in their homes, in their parents homes, at their workplaces, etc., and splices it together with Dave exploring the environment around his guests, Dave warming his audience with teasers about the guest, and the interview itself. It's all mixed together with an internal logic that comes from his mind; a reflection of his personality, his sharp comedic wit, and how he sees his guest in a larger context.
Interview questions might seem bizarre and nonsensical, such as asking what his guest had for breakfast, only to lead to a deeper discussion about the medications that person takes and the conditions surrounding it. Or he might ask a young woman about school and going to classes and school games that sounds like a conversation you might have with your grandfather, only to have that merge with a discussion of a traumatic event on a school bus earlier in her life. And you begin to see this logic emerging about how Dave himself sees this person: as a young woman full of potential and intellect and passion who survived this horrific ordeal that he would almost rather not think about, but does because he's amazed at her perseverance and her resemblance to other young woman her age.
Interview questions can jump topics abruptly or include a short monologue about himself or seamlessly drift in and out of previous footage so that you have to pay attention to the broader logical thread, because you are inside his mind now. The logic is his logic and you are only along for the ride. It is an old master's prerogative: he isn't selling you anything, he is letting you tag along and he hopes you will enjoy the experience but he will not coddle you.
And the guests all seem to get this, even the truly powerful and successful ones. They let him steer the ship because they sense that being there is as much their privilege as having them is his. Dave sporting an insane Methuselah beard, wearing comfortable clothes, and asking inane and sometimes even lightly mocking questions is still Dave. Poor health and a different technological and entertainment landscape robbed the previous generation of Carson's graceful bow, but we are fortunate enough to get Letterman.
So yah, it's a rich and rewarding show and well worth watching. It won't spoon feed the interview the way late night television interviews have to, but you'll get an experience with one of televisions most complex, fascinating, and flawed personalities and a once in a generation talent.
Band of Brothers (2001)
a beautiful time capsule
This is the best mini-series ever made, in my opinion. Not that it doesn't have a couple of factual errors here and there, but they're all minor. And what it gets right, it gets perfect. It is both entertaining and historical, having taken the care to gather the remaining survivors of Easy company and interviewed them to book end each of the ten chapters along with a few paragraphs of historical context or an appropriate quote.
I watch the entire series start to finish every year, usually around memorial day. What makes the series so incredible isn't just the world-defining events these soldiers lived through or the remarkable experiences of their service, but the intensely human touch it puts on the stories. Very few movies or shows manage to capture the humanity, good and bad, of the real people whose lives they depict.
Even when people set out to, it's extraordinarily difficult to find a narrative structure that encapsulates everything without succumbing to the temptation to rearrange, combine, or eliminate events to better suite the flow of the story. Not that the series is a blow by blow of every moment, but the portions it focuses on are told with honesty and paint a coherent picture of their time. It's a testament to the care that went into creating the series that the producers found a way to tell these stories without extensively editing them.
They also found one of the most amazing casts I've ever seen. When you scroll down the imdb page for the show, it's easy to forget how many of these actors were relatively unknown when the show was made; whoever was in charge of casting had a truly gifted eye for talent. Most of the actors even managed to affect a strong physical resemblance to the people they were portraying, something you discover as the last episode comes to a close.
As far as I'm concerned, each of the episodes could stand on its own as an entertaining mini movie, but seeing them together really brings into focus the sacrifices, triumphs, and struggles of some of those who saved the world from fascism. That said, I do have some favorites. 'Bastogne', in particular, is so visceral and intense that I think of it every time I'm sitting in front of the fire on a particularly cold night.
Stories of soldiers sacrificing for their nation isn't, of course, exactly a hard theme to find in entertainment. Even just WWII by itself probably has enough material made about it that you could spend a year doing nothing but watching films. But I think the series stands out by its dedication to honesty of narrative and finding a group of soldiers who participated in so many major events in the war. The world is losing the last surviving witnesses to the events that would shape the world for a century or more; how lucky we are to have this to remind us of where we came from.
So long and godspeed, Toccoa men. Thank you for your service, and to those men and women that followed you. Lux tua nos ducat.
Good visuals but poorly executed story
This is a beautiful movie; the visuals are among the best I've seen in recent memory. Unfortunately, the story is a mess. I guess it's based upon a comic or graphic novel, and it may be more approachable to fans of the source material, but to the uninitiated I think the problem is that the movie just tries to cram too much backstory into too little time. Each scene introduces some new concept or alien race or organization, but before anything can be explored with any depth the movie is zooming off to the next thing. It's a bit like going to a really cool museum with a child who is super excited about every exhibit. They grab your arm and pull you into each room, breathlessly explaining the scene and its history, but just as you start to take a closer look the next exhibit catches the child's eye and they're tugging your arm again to see the new thing
This lack of depth also makes the movie feel like there are huge gaping plot holes in the story. And maybe there are, or maybe it's only that the movie hasn't lingered anywhere long enough to explain any situation properly. A good example of this occurs right at the beginning of the movie, when they establish the history of 'Alpha', a multi-species colony that floats in space. They show the construction of the International Space Station (ISS) up to present and then extrapolate a little, showing each new nation arriving with a new section of the ISS. This allows them to show the gradual advance of technology and provide a few bread crumbs about how human society is evolving as well. It's a clever storytelling technique.
The scene continues with the first arrival of an alien species, then many more. ISS is shown to grow to a huge size never envisioned by its original constructors, and people begin to worry about the mass of the station and whether it can sustain a stable orbit around earth anymore. The decision is made to push the ISS, now re-christened Alpha, into deep space where it will float for hundreds of years before the story begins.
At this point I have so many questions. First, in this day and age I don't think you need to be a NASA scientist to understand the basic concepts of orbiting earth. Specifically, that the overall mass of an orbiting object isn't really so much of a factor to keeping it in orbit. Angular momentum is what keeps things in space from crashing to earth, not their diminutive mass. And if you had the power to send it off into space, you had the power to simply increase its speed and orbit altitude. So is this plot point simply an artifact of the original author not understanding the physics of space travel, or was there a "true" reason this was done and the mass thing was just an excuse?
Also, why are so many aliens hanging around earth to begin with? Do all alien civilizations also cope with this problem? Or are humans considered good company for some reason? What is the nature of human/alien relations? The first contact meetings seem friendly, but later in the movie a darker relationship is implied. And is earth lost to Alpha? They have a big bon voyage ceremony that has a note of finality to it. Is Alpha still in contact with earth? Is it ruled by earth governments or are they completely independent?
These are the kind of questions that kept popping into my head during the whole movie. But like the Alpha origin story all the movie gives are a few details or a montage or a few title cards that frequently leave the viewer with more questions than answers. As I said, my suspicion is that there is just an overwhelming volume of source material and the director is just struggling to squeeze it all in, but I think the movie could have benefited from a much tighter script that left some of this background to future stories.
My other problem with the movie is the 'science is magic' theme it has going on. Numerous times they show gadgets and abilities that could only be called magic used casually by characters as if they were no big deal, like creatures that instantly know where anyone in the universe is or that can replicate any object hundreds of times by eating it or ships so massive that when they crash into a planet they literally explode the entire planet or creatures that can change their mass at will. You get the idea. Basically, whenever they paint themselves into a corner story-wise someone will suddenly remember that there's this thing or creature that has an ability that just happens to perfectly resolve the problem.
And yah, hundreds or even thousands of years in the future, I know. And I'm also familiar with Arthur C Clarkes' quote about advanced science and magic. But the movie should at least introduce those magical abilities somehow before they are needed to solve a problem to make them feel a little less deus ex machina. Fantastical is ok, just not if it seems like you are making it up on the spot.
In the end, for me the weight of the story problems was more irritating than the visuals were stunning, which is too bad because I wouldn't have minded another space adventure franchise. My advice would be that if you have read the source material you should buy this movie since you will probably love the way it brings that world to life. But if you haven't then you might want to wait and watch it for free on Netflix or HBO or whatever. Or just skip it all together.
The Larry Sanders Show: Hey Now (1992)
A glimpse of genius
'The Larry Sanders Show' has faded from memory a little over the years. You can still watch it on HBO, but a lot of the landscape of television that gave birth to and motivated it has changed so much that, unless you are old enough to have lived through it, you might not be able to fully connect with it. Which is too bad, because the show was so ground breaking and brilliant on so many levels.
Entertainment today is so different that really it's barely recognizable from two and a half decades ago. Shows still air at night, but ever fewer people watch them when they air, preferring to record them for viewing days later or catching them on streaming services. Often, younger viewers don't even watch at all but instead divide their entertainment among the new crop of smaller-scale celebrities on Youtube and Instagram and what not. But once upon a time a significant percentage of the country watched a handful of men every night before they went to bed, and the competition between networks for eyeballs was a huge deal with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.
And behind it all were the men and women who put together a full hour of entertainment five nights a week. Before my time, people didn't seem to wonder much about any of them, even the stars. Johnny Carson was just considered something akin to a family friend you invited in every night. But when I was young tabloids were starting to become a thing; people wanted to know about the private lives of celebrities. This show picked up on that trend and gave us a voyeurs look at how the sausage was made. The networks, the egos, the meeting of the rich and powerful with the every day folk, it was all on display here, and it was amazing.
This episode is a great example of why the show was so good, in my opinion. It revolves primarily around a fight between Larry, the fictional shows host, and his show sidekick Hank, an Ed McMahon type. On Carson, Ed was kind of a mockable figure in a way. His job was to laugh at all of Carson's jokes, agree with anything he said, and get out of the way when he wasn't needed. In short, his job was to make sure Carson looked good, even if it was at his own expense. Of course, people on the show might not have put it that way, but I think it's fair to say that was the perception.
But these are human beings, so of course occasionally this dynamic is going to be strained. And when Larry catches Hank nodding off during a show because he was so tired from all of his promotional side gigs, something else Hank shared in common with McMahon, he criticizes Hank about his catch phrase ("Hey now...") and a battle erupts which sends ripples throughout the employees of the show, many of whom already mocked Hank on a regular basis.
What sets the show apart is how this plays out. Hank is such an odd duck, such a constant source of eye rolling by other people on the show, that it's easy to start thinking of him as this buffoon. But every once in a while he reveals this depth of character and reveals that he knows how he is perceived, but accepts it because he knows how it helps Larry and the show. But his willingness to accept this disparagement stops when it crosses a line that really only he and Larry understand, when it goes past what Larry needs to do the show and drifts into counter-productive.
Even Arthur (Rip Torn), the no-nonsense producer of the show that spends so much time keeping Larry happy and shielding him from the frustration of managing staff like Hank, and therefore has more reason than most to be exasperated with Hank, knows instinctively to shut Larry down when he crosses a line with Hank, warning Larry that he doesn't have so many friends that he can afford to just toss them aside.
This display of the subtle and complex dynamics of friendship, power, and ego is part of what made the show so great. It would be so easy to write these characters as two dimensional, but the show is better than that. It puts their quirks, neurosis, and humanity on display for us to watch, and it's remarkably entertaining.
The Predator (2018)
I was surprised to see the low scores for this movie. I'm not sure why people disliked it so much; I think this is probably my favorite "Predator" movie barring the first. But that one gets extra points for being the original idea and featuring Arnold getting his Rambo on.
For me, what makes these movies fun is a charismatic cast and a plot that isn't completely absurd, relatively speaking. This is probably the most talented cast in any of the movies, so check there. And the plot, while of course having a number of huge plot holes, actually adds some dimension beyond "Predator lands, Predator hunts." We get a little more detail about the Predators and what drives them, and some glimpses into their society, all of which I liked. And the film was smart enough not to take itself too seriously, throwing in some nicely done humor, so again check and check for what I enjoy.
I thought using soldiers with psychological issues was a great choice. Patriotic, as they all served and sacrificed for our country, but also sympathetic because of the frankly all to real trauma they endured. The story does occasionally suffer a little because of the size of the cast; some of the characters don't get fleshed out enough for us to really care about them and their scenes feel shoe-horned in, but I don't think the pacing was too badly damaged.
I suppose the movie could have taken a slightly more serious approach, but that's a fine line. The first movie took itself really serious, and a lot of that intensity has become kind of mockable over time, like a certain infamous scene where two tough guys lock arms and flex in a supposedly masculine show of camaraderie.
But I suppose everyone has their own favorite formula for action movies. I like a movie that's exciting but also relaxed enough to have fun, so this movie was right up my alley. Is it Shakespeare? No, obviously not. But is it fun and exciting? Yah, I think so.
This episodes main story is about the death penalty in general, and lethal injections more specifically. Full disclosure, I happen to be against the death penalty myself, but a part of me can understand why victims of horrific crimes could potentially want this punishment on the table. What I can't understand is what is the focus of this episode; the outdated and occasionally cruel way in which the death penalty is administered.
There are largely two methods of state execution used today: lethal injection and the electric chair. This episode focuses on the absolute horrors that can accompany the former if it is not done properly and the rationalizations being used by states to continue the process.
What I find acutely distressing is the fact that inexpensive, easy to administer, and most importantly painless options like inert (nitrogen, helium, etc.) gas exist and could be readily obtained, but for the bureaucratic red tape. This causes states to continue utilizing methods that could be considered a form of state-sponsored torture, or to put it in constitutional terms cruel and unusual punishment.
I will say that this is one area where I disagreed with the show, as Oliver mentions inert gas in passing, but only says "there are problems with that" but fails to elaborate and lumps it in with other methods that have more obvious drawbacks. Since he is obviously taking a hard, uncompromising stand on the issue, my strong suspicion here is that he's glossing over these ideas because he doesn't want to present any method as even potentially suitable, but does want viewers to believe he has ruled these methods out for reasons similar to those for lethal injections. I disagree with that not because I support capital punishment but because I don't think we can have an honest discussion about important topics like this with deliberate half-truths.
I hope one day that if people hear about the ugly reality of capital punishment via shows like this one, that we can end capital punishment all together. Or, if we feel as a society that we still need it, that we can at least switch to a more humane way of things. Great, if disturbing, episode.
Defending Your Life (1991)
an interesting film
This afterlife movie stars Albert Brooks as a middle aged man who dies young (ish) in a car accident and finds himself in a purgatory-like world where you spend five days having your life examined (really prosecuted, although everyone goes out of their way to insist it isn't a trial despite the fact that there is a defender, prosecutor, and judges) to determine if you "move on" or get sent back to the mortal realm to have another go at living.
Interestingly, his defender, played by Rip Torn, states that there isn't a hell, though people who don't grow enough lifetime after lifetime are "thrown out". So the implication is that it isn't about good vs evil so much as your overall level of enlightenment, which is measured by how much of your brain you utilize. Brooks' character, of course, is pegged at a measly 3%, which is frequently referenced for comedic affect, with more "enlightened" staff referring to humans as "small brains" while simultaneously insisting that it isn't a put down.
Over the course of the film you watch his life unfold in key moments, followed by cross examination from the prosecutor and his attempts to deny her accusations, though more often than not it seems clear that she's correctly pegged his motivations.
Meanwhile, he meets a young woman played by Meryl Streep and the two form a quick bond that grows romantic. This is aided by the fact that everyone is modified after they die to remove concerns about those they left behind; in her case a husband and children and in his case a dog. It quickly becomes clear that she is moving on while he is likely to be sent back, a fact reflected in the smaller number of her life moments being reviewed and the less stressful nature of her trial compared to his, as well as her upgraded living accommodations. This then becomes the central tension of the film as their relationship grows closer to love.
The movie is funny in a low-key kind of way, relying heavily on Brooks' charm and self-deprecating humor and jokes about the "you'll never understand" nature of existence for the higher beings, as well as some gags about television in the afterlife. To be honest, I don't think a lot of the humor has aged very gracefully, particularly the television stuff. For example, one of the "shows" he watches on the old CRT television in his hotel room (with 3 channels that you switch with a dial on the front of the set) depicts a late-night style talk show with a woman being interviewed by a Leno lookalike about having slept with Benjamin Franklin in a previous life ("he was fat," she complains while the audience oohs and laughs).
Obviously, the point of the movie isn't to establish a viable theory of the afterlife, it's basically just a love story with a few laughs thrown in, but the logic is pretty uneven. Fear, specifically overcoming it, is presented as the big factor in determination of moving on for us "small brains" rather than values we traditionally associate with enlightenment. But the measure of progress is continuously stressed as the percentage of our brains that we utilize, with single digits for mortals and over 50% worthy of bragging. First, of course, percentage of brain utilized is an outdated concept that's been thoroughly debunked over the years, but beyond that it's also more of a measure of intelligence than anything related to fear. It's a bit like saying "I bet that orange juice is delicious, look at how crisp and ripe the apples on the carton look!"
During his trial Brooks' character is frequently grilled about why he didn't seize more moments in his life; kind of a carpe diem deal. The impression of him as overly cautious and lacking in self-worth is reinforced both in his trial and with his hesitant, waffling approach to falling in love, but the same logic doesn't appear to hold with others. During a dinner out he meets a man who is pretty obviously meant to represent a less evolved human. He is reviewing nearly twice the number of moments in his life as Brooks, and made a living selling adult books and operating strip clubs. In short, he's not evil really, but he is a bit blech. What he is not is lacking in self confidence. So is a sleazy porn king considered more advanced than a nice guy in this universe if he fears nothing?
There's also another moment in the movie that gave me pause, though I'm certain it was an unintended thing. Early in the film Rip Torn is asked what happens to children when they die and he states that they automatically move on, which is clearly meant to be a nice thing. But when you consider the implications for a bit, you realize that you could interpret that as meaning that in this universe killing a child is potentially a good thing, since their death lets them advance in the afterlife and avoid any trial or risk of being "thrown away". As I said, I'm 100% that this is just overthinking their afterlife rules, but as I also said, the rules are a bit uneven.
In the end, I think the movie is decent but unspectacular. Brooks Streep, and Torn are all great and fun to watch,but this vision of the afterlife where you check in to a Holiday Inn and your entertainment options consist of bad stand up, golf, and 3 channels of daytime TV in between sessions of a trial about your life in a small corporate conference rooms sounds just plain depressing to me. Also, the idea that your relationships in life are basically forgotten about and really don't matter at all in the greater scheme of things is also kind of depressing. Or maybe it was just seeing that old CRT TV with a channel dial and rabbit ears. Yikes!
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Mariska Hargitay/Thomas Middleditch/Hootie & the Blowfish (2019)
Hootie & the Blowfish?
A decent episode. Colbert's monologue is about AG Barr and his attempts to mis-characterize his interactions with Robert Mueller. Mariska Hargitay tells an embarrassing story about meeting Snoop Dog, Thomas Middleditch talks about his stand up work at Carnegie Hall, and the musical act is Hootie & the Blowfish singing 'Hold My Hand'. Jokes about the special prosecutor, a star from the Law & Order franchise, and Hootie & the Blowfish. I know they sometimes pre-tape episodes for airing later;apparently they taped this episode in 1995.
The Twilight Zone (2019)
So, you only need to read a few reviews to know why some people have a pretty severe negative reaction to this show. No two ways about it, this show has a very left of center "woke" perspective. But honestly, that's not what bothered me, or at least it's not the message so much as the delivery. Science fiction and fantasy have a long history of social commentary. It's a big part of why I like it, but the reason why I like it is because it allows you to communicate ideas to people in a package that slips past the barriers we all erect against the views of people we don't like or don't agree with.
You will never get through to someone by screaming at them "you are a coward and a liar and a bigot." Yes, if you're angry it might feel good to unleash the bile and spew it at the straw man version of people you hate, and those who already agree with you might enjoy the catharsis as well. But that's where it ends, because everyone else will either not listen or actively hate you right back. And in so doing I think you lose the biggest opportunity that science fiction offers you; the chance to make people realize that they have things in common, that they aren't so different from one another. That maybe there is common ground to find.
But this show would rather get in peoples faces and tell them what it really thinks of them, and that is disappointing to me. It feels like a missed opportunity.
What an amazing time capsule
If you have some way to access the original shows episodes, I cannot recommend this episode highly enough. First, of course, it's the first ever Twilight Zone show; the one that, as others have said, sold the show to a 1950's public. But more than that, it references a subject of great interest to the public in its day that we, having the benefit of decades of history, see in a much different light. It really is just such an incredible glimpse into the psyche of 1950's America. It blew me away to think of when it aired, before I was even a glimmer in anyone's eye and when my dad was only a young man. Things like this that reference pivotal moments in human history, but from before those moments changed our society, are like nuggets of gold. Don't be afraid of the black and white low-res video; believe me, watching this is completely worth every minute.
Black Summer (2019)
bring out your dead
This will invariably draw comparisons to the 'Walking Dead' franchise, but the creators are actually the same people who made 'Z Nation'. However, where Z is a semi-comedic, absurdist take on the zombie apocalypse, 'Black Summer' is both dark and very serious.
Each episode is presented as a series of mini stories or themes, typically only a few minutes long. The narrative is character specific and occasionally untethered in time, showing the experience of an individual or small group and later switching to a different perspective where you see the same events occurring from a different participant's pov or with the previous events unfolding in the background of new events. This allows the viewer to see additional details or get more nuance about what happened and highlights each survivors unique world view.
The overriding goal of survivors the first season is to get to the "stadium", a football arena converted by the military into a staging area for the evacuation of citizens. I say citizens instead of survivors because one of the major themes of the show are socioeconomic class and status differences; the military is only evacuating people who have their "papers". Additionally, one of the characters starts the story under arrest for unspecified crimes, older survivors complain about the millennial work ethic, and female survivors are frequently openly nervous about being alone with or encountering males. Much like the overlapping narrative, the show aims to show the different ways in which people experience the same external events because of their unique backgrounds.
The series doesn't really break any new ground when it comes to zombie lore. The zombies are your standard fast variety that can only be killed by destroying the brain, death of survivors from any cause except traumatic brain injury leads to the creation of a new zombie, the transition from dead to zombie happens in seconds, and zombie bites are always lethal. Zombies are fairly mindless, attacking anyone they see, although they do display some rudimentary intelligence such as object permanence, meaning that they won't always forget about someone they saw just because they don't see them anymore.
Although zombie intelligence is applied somewhat unevenly. One zombie in particular hunts a survivor with single-minded ferocity across multiple locations, going so far as to try buildings systematically looking for his target after the survivor gives him the slip, while others pound on windows when they see survivors inside but calm down once the shades are drawn. It's unclear whether these differences are intended or are just the result of uneven writing, but there are multiple examples of the zombies applying tactics to their hunting, so I tend to think that the behavior is intended to be cannon.
One thing the show does well is show how civilization could fall in the face of a zombie apocalypse. It can be fun to indulge in these kind of dark what-if ideas, but in general I'm of the opinion that society wouldn't be as easy to topple as is often depicted in disaster movies.
Still, the show does a pretty decent job of laying out how things could go from bad to worse, something usually done off screen or presented as fait accompli.. Survivors panic when charged, even when they know that head shots are the only effective deterrent, and shoot zombies pointlessly in the torso and then get overrun. That, combined with the general air of confusion and panic and the rapid conversion of survivors into undead, paints a believable picture in scenes depicting the breakdown on the show. One scene in particular is really well choreographed, depicting how a group of heavily armed and wary survivors are quickly thrown into chaos by overlapping fields of fire, people running in random directions, multiple people shouting orders, and how confusing it becomes to tell where threats are coming from.
A major theme of the show is the deterioration of social norms and civilized behavior after a breakdown of governmental authority. In particular, the fluid nature of human decency is well depicted, showing how few people fall into black and white boxes of "good" and "evil". Instead, survivors act with kindness when there isn't a large cost to themselves or when they fear the consequences of not cooperating, but readily resort to theft, deceit, and murder when it's the most convenient route to things they need (or to avoid things they fear) and has little risk of consequences.
And when they do commit acts of cruelty, they don't dwell on them awash in guilt but rapidly rationalize and move on, and the show doesn't smite them with supernatural karma for doing so. Although the show does do a good job of depicting how those utterly lacking in loyalty or kindness are often abandoned by the community with self-same callousness, doing a nice job of showing the danger of acting too selfishly even if you won't be smote by god for only looking out for yourself.
I enjoyed the first season of the show quite a bit and I hope they make a second season. I guess there's some confusion about whether this show and 'Z Nation' exist in the same universe. Originally that was the intention, but now some of the cast would like this show to stand alone, and I would tend to agree. Television can be a powerful tool for long-form story telling, but there is always a danger from the commercial side. The people making money from a show would like it to go on forever, but I've always felt that a show should be a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Otherwise you get what happened to 'Walking Dead', in my opinion: a great show that gradually lost its way because it became aimless.
The Silence (2019)
Quieter Two: The Dinos Can Hear You
I'm sure everyone and their mother is going to make this connection, but come on Netflix. You basically re-made a worse version of a movie that came out only a year ago, right down to the main characters being a family with a deaf daughter.
Apart from the fact that the movie should have been named 'A quieter place with Stanley Tucci', the movie is reasonably well produced. The cinematography is decent, although the cgi beasties look a little like they were pulled from the discard pile of a Jurassic movie and their backstory leaves something to be desired.
Just as a side note to film writers out there: if you take an aggressive, carnivorous species and entomb it for a million years underground, they won't become a super apex predator, they'll become moles or snakes or something. Or more likely, they'll just die. I mean, what were they feeding on down there that they were able to breed a population millions strong? Rocks?
Also, I'm pretty sure that somewhere in this movies America there is a Home Depot staff that will rise to power when they realize they can defeat the Vespa menace with a couple of wood chippers and a bunch of glue traps.
The movie ends with many questions unanswered, chief among them how the daughter was able to get Internet in a rural, back-woods cabin fast enough to have a seamless video conferencing chat with her boyfriend. Because crazy religious nut jobs with bags of weaponized cell phones I can buy, but high speed Internet in the middle of the woods after the apocalypse requires a leap of faith that I just don't know if I have in me.
Alien Warfare (2019)
"B" movie fare
So just to be upfront, this isn't a good movie. But if we're being honest, it wasn't really intended to be; it's your classic "B" movie fare. A fix for people who like certain themes, in this case alien stuff and military stuff, but otherwise a pretty forgettable enterprise.
What's interesting about this film is two things, in my opinion. First, I have to hand it to the producers. B movies used to be just universally awful. Bad cinematography, bad dialogue, bad acting, just plain bad everything. But the industry has come a long way from when I was a kid. While the camera is clearly a less expensive model that doesn't look quite as good as a mainstream flick, it doesn't look absolutely horrible either. It just looks a little home movie-ish. In the hands of a more experienced operator it might have looked pretty close to regular cinema quality.
And the angles and framing of the scenes aren't bad at all; I mean, they're kind of generic, but the scenes feel fairly well thought out and reasonably executed. It may lack artistry, but it's clear someone put some thought into it. It feels less like someone who always dreamed of being a movie director self-funded their own film and more like the people who made the movie were just inexperienced.
The dialogue is similar. A little generic, but (mostly) short of being painful. The delivery, on the other hand, is where things kind of come apart. It's funny, in the first five minutes of the movie I had this hunch that one of the actors actually had some military experience and the rest were struggling actors, so I jumped on IMDB and sure enough, the guy I suspected of having military experience is in fact a former navy seal.
He's the other stand out of the film. I won't even bother to name him, you'll see it almost immediately. He has a kind of coiled energy that's hard to describe, but something that you recognize instinctively. A predator.
It's too bad they couldn't have packed the movie with others like him. He's not a half bad actor, and it might have made the movie more immersive. As it is, it feels very uneven, like there's a team with one true warrior and a bunch of civilians that he's been tricked into thinking are actual soldiers. They puff and strut while he hunts, and you keep expecting him to blink, shake his head, and ask "who the hell are you guys?"
So I wouldn't really recommend this movie, but I will say that it's certainly better than it could have been. And it's on Netflix, at least as of this writing, so you can see it at no cost if you are already a subscriber. Make of that what you will.
Key and Peele: Terrible Henchman (2014)
really dark, but funny
This episode contains a short sketch at the end of the episode that's really, really dark and might also be the most profound sketch I've ever seen. The setup is simple: a man in a restaurant has just been served a cup of coffee and he's preparing it for drinking when something happens. He calmly observes the event, pauses, then switches up his preparations.
That's the whole sketch; it lasts maybe 30-45 seconds. The joke is in how minor and almost petty his reaction is, but what cracked me up is that I've had a very similar thought regarding this type of situation. There are shows and websites and even an entire industry built around planning the "best" response to the type of events depicted in the sketch, but I've frequently wondered if the best response wouldn't actually be something along the lines of what's depicted here. Sometimes the optimal reaction to the overwhelming is to accept the inevitable and appreciate the joys still available.
maybe ahead of its time
This show had some interesting ideas related to genetic engineering and ecology. In some ways it was ahead of its time, but it suffered the curse of network television. That is to say, it found the wrong home to explore the premise in. Network TV has a voracious appetite; shows need to aim for producing 20 episodes or so per year. Problem is, the premise just doesn't support that much material, so instead of staying focused on the interesting portions they had to spin up all kinds side stories that weren't remotely interesting to fill the space.
There are four basic plots in the show: a top secret government investigation into a strange and possibly dangerous new species, a researcher who accidentally encounters the species while doing underwater research, a man who loses his brother to one of the creatures while spear fishing, and a kid who finds an egg on the ocean and hatches it at his house, then bonds with the animal when it is born.
Of the four plots, only the first two remain interesting for more than a single episode. The man who loses his brother is the story that runs out of runway first, in my opinion. It quickly just becomes this depressing and extremely predictable breakdown of his family life, a la Close Encounters. They throw in some nutty stuff about visions of his brother but honestly, I stopped caring almost immediately.
The story of the kid raising one of the creatures remained kinda-sorta interesting for a while in an ET kind of way, but even that got old pretty quickly. His family, in particular, were so annoying I started hoping the creature would develop a taste for human. This story completely lost me once there was "creature in the back seat but mom doesn't notice" followed by a "chasing the creature no one else notices through the store" scenes.
The fundamental problem with these last two stories is that they just don't remain interesting for 5 hours, let alone a whole season. How many times can we watch a concerned-wife-looks-concerned-while-her-husband-acts-crazy scene or a kid-hiding-creature-is-almost-discovered-hiding-creature scene?
The only interesting parts were the scientists trying to track down and study the creatures and the mystery about where they came from. If the show had aired on basic cable and had a run of only, say 10 episodes, they might have been able to tighten up the story and keep the focus on the more interesting bits of the show. As it was, I'm not really surprised it got shut down after one season.
Mortal Engines (2018)
the problem with "from the people that brought you..."
Since it's splashed all over the promotional material, just about anyone who's seen this movie knows that it was made by some of the same people that made the LotR and Hobbit movies. Obviously the idea was to imply that this movie had some of the same magic as those franchises, but really this movie isn't even remotely in the same league.
Unfortunately, this kind of thing isn't terribly unusual in the movie industry. I think the thinking goes like this: "Well, there's this other story and the movie based on it was really successful, so let's borrow all of the same themes and basic ideas, update the parts we think are outdated, and make piles of money."
So, let's see how they did. Threat to the world from an ancient power? Check. Some object that needs to be brought to the ancient threat to destroy it forever? Check. Noble warriors to facilitate the heroes journey? Last of a race of powerful creatures disappearing from the world forever? Huge, sweeping battle where evil is about to triumph until at the last second the hero completes their quest? Check, check, and check.
And yet, despite clearly following the same basic recipe, the movie doesn't really work very well. Nor did it make big stacks of cash; in fact, I believe it actually lost tens of millions of dollars. So what went wrong?
Well, in a nut shell the same thing that always goes wrong when the movie industry tries something like this: they only got the parts of the movie they actually understand correct and screwed up the rest. Specifically, the industry understands the visual side of movies. The sets, the actors, etc. Those parts of this movie work quite well. The movie is really very beautiful.
But the plot is very meh. There are plot holes galore that pulled me out of the story constantly and despite a fairly long running time, many of the characters feel extremely one-dimensional and uninteresting. Even the romance feels half-baked., The two leads meet, travel together for maybe two days, and then declare themselves in love. It doesn't feel organic; it feels more like someone said "hey, people like romance, add some romance to the story."
The bottom line is looking cool won't stop me from wondering why building massive tanks that carry entire cities on their back and hunting other cities is more efficient than cultivating crops and livestock, or why they think Twinkies will last for literally a thousand years, or why they can build floating cities but they stock their armories with medieval weapons like swords and halberds, or why they can manufacture munitions but not missiles, or--well, you get it.
With a budget of $100 million, I'm sure the studio was hoping to develop its own IP they could turn into a string of movies. But poor writing and a ho-hum story make this kind of a snooze. I wouldn't bother.