Category Archives: Movies

TV superheroes taking a break (#SFWApro)

So once again I didn’t get much movie viewing in last weekend. But as it’s the end of the TV season, let’s look at the super-shows.

SUPERGIRL had an excellent second season, starting off with Tyler Hoechlin’s appearance as Superman/Clark, very much in the mode of Chris Reeve rather than the grim-and-gritty take of Man of Steel. The season that follows include Alex’s coming out (and starting a relationship with cop Maggie Sawyer), Win getting a girl, Jimmy becoming the Guardian and Kara herself getting a romance with Mon-El. I thought the final episode would suffer from being yet another alien invasion, but they did a great job, including a Superman/Supergirl fight (and as others have noted, managing to keep Supergirl the star despite her more famous cousin). Nicely done (cover by Mahmud Asrar, all rights to current holder)

FLASH‘s third season opened with a riff on the Flashpoint event, with Barry living in a changed timeline  where his parents are alive and he’s happy with that. Unfortunately changing time has consequences, and they haunt Barry even after he puts things right: the self-proclaimed god of speed, Savitar, begins reproducing the Flashpoint metahumans in the real world, leading up to his plan to kill Iris. Which a time-traveling Barry knows will already come to pass … Lively as it usually is, though I really hate Savitar’s armor.

GREEN ARROW has Oliver struggling as mayor of Star City while expanding Team Arrow to include Mr. Terrific, Wild Dog, Ragman and Artemis. Pitted against them, Prometheus, a villain out for revenge on Ollie and always two steps ahead of him. What worked best this season is the way it forced Ollie to look back at his first season and the ruthless way he killed people (I love the episode where the new team learns how Oliver was doing all the violent things he’s now telling them not to). The flashback plotline involving Russian mobsters was uninspired and the Vigilante shows up for several episodes but his plotline never goes anywhere. Overall, though, a good season with a good final episode bringing back lots of familiar faces.

AGENTS OF SHIELD has never really clicked for me, and this was another season of not-quite-clicking. It has lots of elements such as the accursed Darkhold, the Ghost Rider, and a renegade Ai, but also a lot of tedious bureaucratic struggles over SHIELD and its direction. Then in the last third of the season we plunge into a computer generated virtual reality where everyone’s living alternative lives … and that didn’t grab me at all.

Looking forward to the summer hiatus and the chance to catch up on various other shows on Netflix and Hulu.

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Blind Spots and satisfying endings (#SFWApro)

So last week the second season of NBC’s BLIND SPOT wrapped up. I wasn’t a big fan of S1, but this season seemed a marked improvement, making the unsatisfying season finish a disappointment.

The premise of Blind Spot (all rights to image remain with current holder) is that Jane Doe (Jaime Alexander) shows up in Times Square amnesiac and covered with tattoos. All of which turn out to be complex clues to upcoming or ongoing federal crimes. So she winds up working with a special FBI task force run by Kurt Weller (the guy in back) as she’s also a deadly fighter, marksman, martial artist …  Over the course of the season we learn Jane has ties to a terrorist mastermind Shepard; her presence on the FBI is part of Shepard’s master plan; Jane herself signed off on becoming an amnesiac.

This season we learn more. Shepard is the leader of Sandstorm, a conspiracy that believes the American government has become utterly corrupt and must be destroyed. It turns out Weller is a part of Shepard’s plan, which involves something called the Truman Protocols and COGS. In the next to last S2 episode we learn (as do the cast) that COGS is the Continuity Of Government Subcommittee. Under the Truman Protocol, in the event of a major threat to the government, the COGS — deputy heads of various government agencies — are relocated to an underground bunker so that if the government takes a hit, they’re ready to rebuild. Weller realizes this is Shepard’s plan — an attack on Washington followed by this entirely new cadre of leaders (some of whom are, of course Sandstorm) taking over. Shepard has used the tattoos to manipulate the FBI and the government all along to activate the protocols.

Needless to say, in the following episode Shepard’s attack is averted, she goes down (Jane’s brother Roman escapes) and Jane and Weller finally act on their burning passion. Cut to two years later: Jane has left the FBI for undisclosed reason, but then Weller shows up to tell her that most of the team has been kidnapped — he needs her to find them. Oh, and he has a mysterious McGuffin that makes her tattoos glow … Cue S3 (which I imagine will be past/present alternating timelines a la Lost, Once Upon a Time, Arrow, Quantico).

After a solid season, I found the finish disappointing. Ratings were right on the edge for cancellation and it felt very much like they’d wrapped it up fast so that if the axe fell there would be no leftover issues. Which is good, but …

I think my biggest problem is that I simply can’t buy the entire two seasons were all part of a plan. Maybe with more explanation I could buy it, but like Silva in Skyfall, Shepard would have to be a precog or a time traveler to calculate exactly how this would all play out (I may be wrong but I’m not rewatching the show to find out).

The ending also doesn’t convince me why Shepard worked so hard to look out for Weller. S2 showed she’s been watching over him for years — that seems like an awful lot of work just to fill one slot in COGS. Though that’s easier to explain: maybe she took an interest in him independent of her agenda, and later slotted him into her big plan later. Still, its a flaw.

And last but not least, while the finish is certainly lively (can Patterson the nerd deactivate the doomsday weapon in time?) it seems that it left a lot of the emotional arcs (and there were quite a few of them) unfinished. We did get Weller/Jane but that wasn’t really an arc this season — it felt more like the simplest way to provide a convenient happy ending.

I’ll give S3 a try, but right now, I’m not enthused.

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Westworld: I like the movie more than the series (#SFWApro)

Due to a slightly crazy last weekend (I donated blood and TYG had multiple demands on her time), the only film I caught was WESTWORLD (1973), which is probably Michael Crichton’s most influential work besides Jurassic Park. Influential in the sense that it led to one film sequel (Futureworld), a TV series (Beyond Westworld) and most recently HBO’s Westworld (which I finished up shortly before watching the film.

The movie’s premise is simple. The Delos corporation runs a trio of theme parks (Westworld, Romanworld, Knightworld) where most of the people are automatons. Guests can cosplay to their heart’s content, engage in gunfights in the street, participate in Roman orgies, then go back to their regular life. And the computers regulating the automatons keep everything nice and safe.

Unfortunately, as you might guess from the catchphrase at the bottom of the poster, it doesn’t work like that. We learn early on that a glitch is causing the robots to act outside their programming, and apparently spreading from automaton to automaton (it shows the film’s age that there’s no mention of computer viruses). Westworld vacationer Richard Benjamin sees gunslinger automaton Yul Brynner gun down Benjamin’s buddy James Brolin, then has to flee for his life from the relentless killer (it gets very Terminator). Like Jurassic Park, the people in charge assume they can control everything, but it turns out they can’t. Another way the film shows its age is that the subtext is Computers Cannot Be Trusted; today, we seem to accept similar possibly lethal glitches as a fact of life (the nature of the glitch is never explained). It’s still a neat little thriller. Contrary to what you may read elsewhere, it isn’t based on a Crichton novel — it started life as a screenplay.

Futureworld and Beyond Westworld go in a different direction, with a bad guy using the robots to replace important, powerful people (I covered both in Screen Enemies of the American Way). And then we get the HBO series, which charts a new direction, and clearly aspires to Serious Deep Thoughts. I wasn’t impressed.

Foz Meadows covers everything I disliked about it — gratuitous rape (and an implication that in context, the rapes were a good thing), a whole lot of hookers (though the Westworld staff gives us more female representation than we got in the original film), and catering very much to a white male gaze (we have brothel owner Thandie Newton aggressively hitting on female guests, but no male prostitutes available). I like it much less than Meadows, though. It’s got excellent acting but preens too much on exposing the human id (suffice to say, people are much more vicious to the robot “hosts” than in the film) and offering recycled thoughts about AI and human existence. The ending makes me think the second season won’t be anything but a cliché. So I won’t be back. I’ll pick a light thriller over an ambitious but clunky Serious Series any day.

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Hookers and bridesmaids, a living planet and Woody Allen: Movies viewed (#SFWApro)

TRUCK STOP WOMEN (1974) is a serious sociological study of the lives of women who work at truck stops — okay, no, it’s about the owner of a combination truck stop/brothel/hijacking ring (Lieux Dressler) who find herself at war with the syndicate when a couple of mobsters come out to New Mexico to take over her operation. And will her restless daughter (Claudia Jennings) side with Mom, or with the mob? Like a lot of 1970s drive-in fare, this was nowhere near as interesting as it looked. “These days every waitress along the highway has hinges on her heels.”

BRIDESMAIDS (2011) is the rowdy comedy in which Kirsten Wiig’s personal crises threaten to ruin her best friend’s wedding when Wiig overcompensates for apparently losing her buddy to a newer, cooler bestie. Very, very funny; with Melissa McCarthy as a raunchy bridesmaid (“I’m going to climb that tree.”), Jill Clayburgh as Annie’s mother and Chris O’Dowd as a nice cop (“Missing girl found safe at home — that’s the kind of adrenalin pusher cops live for.”). “At first I didn’t realize it was your journal, I thought it was a sad, handwritten book.”

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2 (2017) has a botched mission for an alien race scattering the team, then Star Lord discovering his dad is Ego the Living Planet in his mortal avatar of Kurt Russell). Not as tight as the first film but still a lot of fun. However I don’t really buy that a pre-teen kid abducted from Earth in the late 1980s would be such a big cheers fan (Knight Rider, sure). With Sylvester Stallone in a brief cameo as Starhawk. “Yondu and David Hasselhoff both had crazy kickass adventures and hooked up with hot women.”

TO ROME WITH LOVE (2012)isn’t up to Midnight in Paris but it’s the best of Woody Allen’s other European fantasies. In many ways it harks back to his early sketch-comedy style with a mix of multiple unrelated plot threads some of which — Roberto Benigni becoming the most fascinating man in the world — are cheerfully absurdist (and The Singer Who Can Only Perform In The Shower was a comic shtick back when I was a kid). The only weak story is Alec Baldwin revisiting his youthful romance and his flirtation with intellectu

ain’t up to MIDNIGHT IN PARIS but it’s also a lot better than most of Allen’s European fantasies as Alec Baldwin visits his flashback booth, Roberto Benigni becomes the most fascinating man in the world, hooker Penelope Cruz disrupts a young couple’s trip to Rome and Woody Allen tries to make an opera star out of a man who sings in the shower. Reminiscent of his old sketch comic stuff (The Guy Who Can Only Sing Well In The Shower is, of course, an old, old warhorse), the only weak story is the Baldwin one — Ellen Page plays an intellectual seductress and the character is no more convincing here than the femme fatale in Melinda and Melinda.  “We shall report on his shave from the first to the last stroke.”
Switching to TV, BLANDINGS (2013) adapts PG Wodehouse’s best known series next to Jeeves and Wooster, the stories of Blandings Castle where Lord Emsworth (Timothy Spall) fusses endlessly over his prizewinning pig, his nitwit son keeps getting into trouble (think Bertie with no Jeeves to save him) and Aunt Connie (Jennifer Saunders) scowls on everything. Funny as hell, and with a great cast (better overall than the version Peter O’Toole did for the BBC). “His mustache looks like a maggot crawled onto his upper lip and died.”

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A few quick covers (#SFWApro)

First we have this great Superman cover from Nick Cardy:

Then an absolutely amazing Buy This NOW! cover by Curt Swan.

Operation Kid Brother (AKA OK Connery) isn’t much of a Bond riff, but I do love that poster.

Here we have the incomparable Powers (Joseph Payne Brennan is a good writer, too).

And one by Richard Brillhart

All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Movies: from Whoville to Brooklyn to Idaho (#SFWApro)

Hanging out in Greenville last weekend, I wound up watching a different mix of films than usual—

To my surprise, HORTON HEARS A WHO (2008) works much better at movie length than How the Grinch Stole Christmas Did, probably because the story expands better — simply expand the campaign against Horton rather than giving him a backstory like the one the Grinch was stuck with (there’s also a lot of family stuff involving the mayor of Whoville). With Jim Carrey as Horton, Steve Carrell as the mayor and Carol Burnett as the evil kangaroo.“I’m sorry, but I’m going with Vlad.”

Irish miss Saoirse Ronan moves across the sea to BROOKLYN (2016) where she slowly finds her footing as a Real American, helped out by her kindly landlady (Julie Broadbent), priest Jim Broadbent and True Love with an Italian plumber. However the death of Ronan’s sister leaves their mum determined to bring her little girl home for company, forcing her to choose between old life and new. Low key, but very well executed. “But we hate the Irish!”

For this week’s Screen Rant article I rewatched IDAHO TRANSFER (1973) Peter Fonda’s hamfisted ecological time-travel drama in which a talentless cast jumps forward in time to rebuild civilization ony to wind up stuffed in the car trunks of future families instead. Really bad. “We could give the boys girls names and the girls boys’ names and nobody would know the difference.”

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Incest. Nostradamus. Vagina dentata. It’s my WTF time travel films Screen Rant column (#SFWApro!)

Which is very cool. Ever since Now and Then We Time Travel came out, I’ve been pitching various venues on a time-travel movie column of some sort. And now, finally, I got to do one! 15 truly weird time-travel films, 10 horrible and five good. Dimension 5 is on the not-good side (in case you were wondering).

I think my writing style for these continues to improve, too. “Jason Voorhees with a katana” is a nice turn of phrase, even if I do say so myself. All rights to poster image remain with current holder.

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