Wednesday, December 31, 2014


2014, Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) -- cinema

I too often rag on trailers for being out of context caches of the best bits of a movie, often misleading and misdirecting. But the trailer for Interstellar was perfect, spot on, completely covering what the movie is about. The dust bowl of the future, corn farming and the dialogue of Matthew McConaughey  explaining how we used to be explorers, in his best car commercial voice -- it sets the tone of the movie. The world is dying and he is going to leave his family so he can save the planet, but not really, for he is going to save his family. Skip comparing it to 2001, it is its own device, its own view of leaving the planet.

Surprisingly the movie is not really about exploring the stars, nor much about the wonder of space. Its about saviours. The movie is not focused on new journeys via new technologies to unseen stars. That is an element of the movie, but not its focus. Despite the monologue, and how I just said it was spot-on, the movie focuses on even bigger pictures -- the survival and progression of the human race.

So, we have earth in a not too distant future. Or maybe very distant, as they have succeeded in creating and have already abandoned working AIs, because technology is no longer where its at. Growing food is. The blight has come along and wiped out just about every planet material, except corn and okra. Okra's on its last days. The soil is tainted and in the deaths of plants, all plants, said soil turns to dust and blows into our atmosphere making world wide dust storms reminiscent of those during the Great Depression. The world is winding down, most of its population gone and very little to look forward to.

Yet people live on. McConaughey is Cooper, a pilot, engineer now farmer. He keeps his neighbours robot tractors working. He steals solar panels from automated Indian surveillance drones to power his farm. He rails against his son being denied university, so he can become another farmer. He loves his kids dearly. They work, farm, drink beer (synthesized?) and don't ponder the long way off, just the next day. But circumstance and a bit of mystical intervention leads Cooper back to his old job, to pilot a starship. They are to check out three likely planets that previous ships have been sent to. Maybe one will hold life, one will take on the remainder of Earth's people. Maybe. But he has to leave his family behind, he has to travel for unknown years (space still is made up of long distances) and he has to go through a worm hole. His family is devastated. So is he.

The first act of the movie focuses on Cooper and his family and what he is leaving behind. The second act is the journey, the worm hole and the new planets. But unlike a solidly exploratative movie, it still plants itself firmly with Cooper's objectives. Sure, there are really cool AI robots, imposing distant planets and weird space-time anomalies and edge-of-black-hole time bending, but the movie rests itself on Cooper's goal to get this done and get back to his family. And love. I fell into this vortex, wrapped up in these emotions. But the purely logical part of me wrestled with some of the decisions the people make, that are solely based on emotion and not the reams of scientific data they are presented with. That is the point, the theme as you may have it, of the movie. Science only carries you so far; the rest has to be left to faith.

The third act is where all the 2001 comparisons come from as it takes a precisely mind-bendy turn into advanced physics and extreme science as magic. It does away with our reality and lets Cooper's emotions take hold of everything. And lead the entire planet along a path focused on love.

Yes, I loved the movie. It looked good, sounded good and drew me in. I highly recommend.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

X Days of Xmas: Tokyo Godfathers

2003, Satoshi Kon (Millenium Actress, Paranoia Agent) -- DVD

This is easily one of my favourite Xmas stories and definitely in my top 10 for all Anime.

As I mentioned last year, its loosely based on 3 Godfathers, a western about 3 bank robbers who find a baby and take care of it, at their own expense. The anime movie (stand alone, no TV series) is about three homeless people who find a baby and via a handful of Christmas eve misadventures, return it to her mother, while being exposed to Xmas miracles. Or coincidences. You decide.

There is Gin, the classic bum, always drunk and smelly. He claims to have a tragic past involving dead children and thrown bicycle races but really, he's just a drunk with a gambling problem. Hana is a drag queen (and drama queen) and kind of obsessed with motherhood. She ended up in the streets after losing her partner and is generally a broken person. I say 'she' not to ascribe to the politics of trans folks, but because she spends the entire movie playing an overwrought mother desperate to take care of little Kiyoko. And then there is teen Miyuki. She's a brat living on the street because of some altercation with her father, a knife and a cat. She won't go home because she stabbed her father, over a cat. That cat came home shortly after, so there is probably an immense amount of shame there. All three work the streets together, squabbling and fighting over space in the box they share, setup in a central Tokyo park. All three end up basically playing godfather to this abandoned baby.

The eve and the following day is played out in so many layers There is the exposure of Tokyo and Christmas culture in Japan, as the three talk about trees and presents and good cheer for all mankind, but stop at a temple to pray surrounded by incense sticks. It takes place on an atypical, snowy night in Tokyo, the kind of night quickly collects on their hats and slows the walking down. And affects the subways and gets cars stuck, like that of the Yakuza oyabun who gets trapped under a car but is rescued by the trio. He takes them to the wedding of his daughter, where Gin recognizes the groom as someone who scammed him into a bad bet, and his current deep state of debt. And then a Spanish speaking gunman shoots up the wedding, taking the baby and Hana gives chase. Characters continue to cross into each other, all solidifying Hana's statement that Kiyoko is a gift from God, on this Christmas eve. Things go wrong but always end up well for the trio. She may be right. And each of them get to acknowledge and deal with their troubles, as only the connecting thread of the baby allows.

The movie is funny and sentimental and tragic and hopeful, as any Xmas movie should be. It is not what you would expect from anime but somehow, I don't see the movie as being as charming if it wasn't animated.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A festival of Rewatch

10 Things I Hate About You -- 1999, d. Gil Junger (DVD)
Scrooged -- 1988, d. Richard Donner (Netflix)
Back to the Future -- 1985, d. Robert Zemeckis (TV)
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace -- 1999, d. George Lucas (DVD)
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones -- 2002, d. George Lucas (DVD)
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith -- 2005, d. George Lucas (DVD)


I like many romantic comedies and certain teen comedies, but I wasn't always so open and welcoming of these genres of film making.  As a teen and 20-something, romantic comedies were "girl stuff"(obviously overlooking the fact that seeing them with girls was totally the point), while teen comedies seemed so crass and patronizing.  As I matured in my film viewing, embracing indie, foreign, horror, short, documentary and other marginalized genres, I came to accept that even rom coms and teen movies in the right hands can be quality viewing.  Of course, quality instances are few and far between... and to actually wade through all the bad ones to discover the good ones is a special circle of hell (or perhaps fodder for a Satellite of Love? Teen Rom Com Theatre 3000 anyone?)

10 Things I Hate About You I passed up in a big way back in 1999.  I was 23, so a teen romantic comedy just didn't seem made for me.  Looking at its promotion, poised around its handsome young star, Heath Ledger, you could tell he was being poised as the next teen heartthrob (and it worked).  No, this wasn't something for me at all.  Years later, an ex-girlfriend put it in the DVD player, and I, being a good boyfriend, didn't object (I was learning), and to my surprise found myself invested and amused, but the experience was largely forgotten.

Years later, my wife (not that same ex-girlfriend) requested a copy of it.  I puzzled as to why until she clarified that it was an adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, and she's a bit of a Shakespeare nut.  Having since seen at least one or two other performances of Taming of the Shrew, the film does indeed take on additional relevance, but I also appreciate it for a few other things, primarily the strong-willed sisters Kat  (Julia Stiles) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), although quite differently so.  Kat is very intelligent, headstrong, a proto-feminist, and confidently against-the-herd, leaving her a bit of an outcast in high school and apathetic about it.  Bianca on the other hand is the pretty, popular, boy-crazy cheerleader type who feels under her sisters shadow, largely because her overbearing single father holds Kat up as an example to live by.  Despite Bianca's rebellion and her animosity towards Kat, I see either of them as role models for my own daughter.

The film doesn't shy away from frank sex talk, although the relatively sterile upper-class high school environment the film is set in is probably its biggest weakness.  But then again, Shakespeare didn't really dabble in much class clashing in his original play, so it's mainly the source to blame.  The culmination of the film at the prom or spring formal or whatever it is is such a hoary teen movie staple, but at the same time, the film rather works by playing into conventions (the egregiously 1990's live band excepted).  There's some solid laughs as well as some incredibly forced ones (most delivered either David Krumholtz's dialogue or physical comedy), which should be awful but remain kind of charming, just like the entirety of the film as well as its cast.


Oh, the holiday season is upon us.  I don't have many holiday films that are a must watch each year... in fact I don't think I have any.  Most of my "must see" of the season stem from television.  My wife and I run through all the Community Christmas episodes on Christmas Eve, and I try to plug in Father Ted's "A Christmassy Ted" most years too.  I have to get the Muppets Family Christmas in as well (thanks youtube), but no film has endeared itself to me as a "must watch" every year.

Scrooged I've seen a handful of times over the years, like 10 Things I Hate About You, it's a "modern" adaptation of a classic story ... Dicken's A Christmas Carol if you hadn't guessed.  I put "modern" in quotes, because, well, 1988 hasn't aged very well.  Within Richard Donner's Scrooged is a skewering of 1980's entertainment and big commerce, but its skewering is so broad and cartoonish that it extends beyond reality.  The film opens with a fake-out, an absurd production where Santa's North Pole workshop is under attack by a black-suited swat team, only to be bailed out by a rugged Lee Majors.  The fourth wall is broken and the soundstage is revealed.  It's a pretty ridiculous and sharp opening which summarizes the excesses of '80's entertainment quite well, but it falters beyond that.

Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, a programming executive at a fictional major network.  He's solely numbers focused -- viewership and money -- and he doesn't take well to contrary opinions.  As Christmas approaches his network is prepping a live rendition of A Christmas Carol (starring Buddy Hackett, Jamie Farr, and Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim) which takes a charming air of prescience with NBC's now annual foray into live musicals.  I don't know if it's 80's film stock, costuming, or just the overall atmosphere, but the film is grimy from head to toe.  For a holiday film it's dark, dark, dark, but it's not a dark comedy, it's just gross looking.

Frank is visited by his dead mentor (John Forsythe) who warns him of impending ghostly visitations.  Through manipulations of the plot he gets back in touch with his ex-girlfriend of 15-years past, played by the always radiant Karen Allen.  She still seeds the seed of humanity in Cross' dead heart, but he's unable to see it himself.  The ghosts visit, starting with a grimy cab driver Buster Poindexter (ahem David Johansen) taking him through his past sad Christmases.  Carol Kane turns up as the sadistic fairy of Christmas present, and steals the entire movie.  It's a short journey through the present day, but Kane's cartoonish, Bugs Bunny-esque performance is howlingly funny still (did this inspire Harley Quinn from Batman?).  Finally it ends with a grim reaper like ghost who takes Frank on a brief journey to his morbid future where he comes face to face with his own death which turns him around immediately, and unbelievably.

There's no real excuse for Frank to become the man he is (particularly when we see how well-adjusted his brother is) so our sympathies never lie with him, which makes his turnabout even more unbelievable. Add to it Frank's interruption of the live performance so that he can wing a feel good speech at the audience which gets even his irate boss dancing in his living room, and it becomes one of those unearned, saccharine endings that the 80's often would deliver.  The cartoonish levels of absurdity are hard to let go of.  The ghost are an expected suspension of disbelief, but Bobcat Goldthwait's one-day descent into misery and attempted murder is problematic, particularly in Frank's subsequent manipulation of this character into taking hostage the control booth.  There needs to be a film documenting the fallout of Frank's actions, starting with his career suicide, followed by his accessory to kidnapping.

I don't hate this film, not by a longshot, but wow, is it ever a product of its time.


Even though Scrooged time-traveled with the Ghost of Christmas Past bringing Bill Murray to his 1950's childhood and 1970's early adult life, but it never felt production-wise or stylistically that it left 1988.  Back to the Future, on the other hand, lives in two eras, 1985 and 1955 and at once feels at home in both and yet makes them both its own.  The 1985 Marty McFly starts the film in is identifiably 1985 in many respects, but there's also hints of another reality at play, making Back to the Future a universe of its own: Doc Brown's place with it's Rube Goldberg dog food dispenser and his cuckoo clock collection and his giant speaker system are utterly surreal, but from the onset they inject us into the fantasy of the film, that there's something other going on here.

Marty is your average 20-something-looking teenager who is best friends with the town's resident nutball, has a solid relationship that's going to the next level (sexually), and, despite his size, he's not afraid to stand up to bullies (probably after watching his nerd/wimp father be oppressed for so long).  Michael J. Fox seeps both charm and confidence as Marty, he's such a winning protagonist.  Nobody else could wear his "life preserver" vest.

Christopher Lloyd's Doc Brown, meanwhile, finds the perfect balance between genius and lunacy, ably providing comic relief without making the character the film's jester.  Likewise, Crispin Glover's George McFly provides the perfect blend of helpless, nerdy pathos and weirdness that he transcends being a punchline.  Even Tom Wilson's singularly one-note bully Biff embraces the cliche and embodies it fully.  Then you have Lea Thompson, so fetching as young Lorraine, with wide, batting eyes that betray her lack of innocence.  The uncomfortable ease with which she seduces Marty is perfect for the film, and Fox's awkward reactions in those moments is so note perfect, conveying surprise (because in the future his mom is such a prude), horror at his mother's romantic advances, and even a little confusion over it all (because she is indeed so alluring).

Sure, it's a film from 1985, and yet, its adventure remains timeless.  It subtly addresses sexuality, bullies, rape and racism without ever patronizing, and there's nary a note wrong throughout the entire picture.  Its effects are so deceptively simple that they have barely aged, and it's so easy buying into every conceit the film presents.

I hadn't seen the film since the early 1990's, and I'm a dozen years into swearing off Robert Zemeckis films.  What Lies Beneath, Castaway, Forrest Gump and so many other Zemeckis pictures are so cloying, obvious, manipulative, and patronizing that I just couldn't take it anymore.  I had written Back to the Future off.  But, having just rewatched it on a random TV airing, none of those Zemeckis-isms are present in Back to the Future; it's virtually flawless.  I was drawn in by nostalgia at first but very, very quickly the film's sense of spirit, humor, adventure, and sheer wonder absorbed me completely.  It's so entertaining.  If there's one flaw, and it is a minor one, it's the 1985 make-up job to make Biff, George and Lorraine look 30 years older.  Aging make-up today is rarely successful, so 1985 aging make-up is pretty crummy.  But, again, it's such a small, small thing to quibble about over an otherwise pristine production.


Oh boy, here we go.  The Star Wars prequels.  *deep breath*
I don`t hate these movies.  I never have.  They`re incredibly flawed, unbearably so at times, but at the same time, I genuinely love elements of the films.  I love how they expanded the Star Wars universe without necessarily doing so in telling a story that advances anything.  There were drawbacks to those universe expansions, so many limitations the films were bound by since they had a predetermined ending, in some respects they`re just filling in the blanks.  But those blanks, they did not exist before.  We had no real concept of what the republic looked like before A New Hope.  We only knew the Empire.

With The Phantom Menace we were introduced to a galaxy of politics, a counsel of Jedi Masters, and all manner of new space ships, alien creatures and weapons technology.  We were also introduced to George Lucas' inability to get a good performance out of his actors, but at the same time the incredible advances in CGI and blue screening make a galaxy teem with life, where it seemed pretty cold and desolate before.

Of the three, The Phantom Menace is the weakest.  Lucas' first directorial effort in decades finds a man unsure of how to negotiate characters with story, and it's evident his interest was far more in using the technology to tell the story than the people.  His story outline isn't the problem, but his execution of it is dire.  All of the actors in all three of the prequels I give a pass to, because it's quite clear that Lucas just didn't care about how they were delivering their lines, instead more focused on ensuring they find their marks and that they get the words right, not the tone.  Actors like Ewen McGregor and Liam Neeson are people that can carry films in spite of their directors, they know what they're doing.  Natalie Portman, though already a veteran by this point, needed guidance, and young Jake Lloyd absolutely needed some.

The thing about The Phantom Menace I realized in this latest watching is it's a kids movie.  My daughter was already a Jar Jar fan before even seeing the film, and upon seeing the podracing sequence, we watched it four times over before advancing to the rest of the film.  The larger political ramblings are a drastic misstep for a kids movie, but the bulk of the action (a bloodless CGI war of clumsy battle droids versus clumsy Gungans is totally meant to appeal to children).  I was 4 or 5 when I first saw Star Wars, and I watched it dozens of times on video before I was 10, so it's always had that appeal.  Childhood nostalgia carried my, and many others' interest in the original trilogy and its off-shoots for decades, so why would it not stand to reason that a new generation's Star Wars should do the same?

Watching The Phantom Menace with my daughter, watching it as a kids movie, it made it much easier to forgive it for its tepid adventure, and to see someone actually appreciate Jar Jar made me dislike him and the Gungans quite a bit less.  Still its fatal flaw still is supremely irksome, the introduction of "midichlorians" demystifies the Force in a manner that continues to slap any fan in the face every time it's mentioned.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones is leaps and bounds a better film than its predecessor, for two acts at least.  The film opens with an attempted assassination that eventually leads to a dynamic chase sequence through the city-planet of Coruscant.  Obi-Wan dons his noir-ish detective hat as he tries to track down the bounty hunter, which leads to the discovery of a missing planet in the Jedi archives, which leads to the discovery of the cloning facility secretly building an army for the republic.  It's an incredible journey with fantastic set pieces, and McGregor own the role and delights in the task before him.  The cloning facility, its exotic operators,  and its rainy, watery planet provide one of Star Wars' most unique environments, the perfect setting for a face off between one of the galaxy's preeminent Jedi and likewise preeminent bounty hunters.

At the same time, Anakin (now played with dead-eyed, monotone anti-charisma by Hayden Christiansen) is assigned to protect Senator Padme Amidala, the older woman he was crushing on 10 years earlier as a mere boy.  The age disparity seems far less than it did in Episode I but at the same time Portman had advanced in prominence as an actress and held some weight in her role, while Christiansen desperately needed direction and received precious little.  The flurry of confused emotions and all the manipulation Anakin faced needed far more nuance than Christiansen provided (and nothing I've seen him in since even indicated he was capable of it).  Christiansen does nail the odd scene, as when he's meant to provide arrogance or menace, he does it ably, but it's the softer touches that escape him.  His romance with Padme is stillborn, there's absolutely no life.  He creeps her out initially, and with good reason.  How he ever wins her over is never satisfactorily shown.  The film tells us she has feelings for him, but we never clearly understand why.  When they go to Tattooine in search of Schmee, Anakin's mother, Christiansen does an admittedly decent job of conveying not only his stress but outrage at her passing, but Padme's consolation after he murders an entire clan of Tusken Raiders seems off.  Where there should be more concern, there's only sympathy, and it doesn't ring true.

The two threads merge in the third act, as Anakin and Padme set out for an ill equipped rescue of Obi-Wan on the planet Genosis.  This leads to a painful video-game challenge sequence in the battle droid factory (with banal physical comedy from R2-D2 and C-3PO) and ultimately Anakin and Padme's capture. They're left strung up in a gladiatorial arena (again, the film noir, the gladiator sequence... Lucas overtly displays his homages and influences) where giant creatures are pushed out from behind gates to go and eat them.  But the Jedi prove to be more of a challenge, and then the cavalry come to the rescue, first a couple dozen Jedi knights and masters, and then the Clone Army.  The fighting is dull, poorly staged, and tedious.  The actors look like LARPers more than skilled warriors as they square off against green screen constructs.  The closing duel between Count Dooku, Obi-Wan, Anakin, and, most surprisingly, Yoda, is better, but still has its share of problems.

Most of Attack of the Clones' first two acts  is on par with the best Star Wars has to offer, Christiansen's awkward delivery, and bland romantic chemistry with Portman notwithstanding,  It leads into the Clone Wars cartoon which manages to redeem Anakin as a character (the voice performance giving the character much more nuance and even making him likeable, something Christiansen never achieved).  In fact, Clone Wars in many ways validates and redeems the trilogy by expanding the galaxy even further, giving the background Jedi more prominence and even introducing some new characters that never appear in the films (Ahsoka, Rex, Ventress) that make Star Wars a better place.  By bridging the second and third movies, the Clone Wars actually make Episode III even more engaging viewing.

Revenge of the Sith opens with a fantastic and dizzying space battle the likes we haven't ever seen in Star Wars (or, really, any other sci-fi to that point).  There's all manner of ships of all different sizes engaging with one another, and it's just inspired.  Lucas' characters may often fall flat, but he knows how to stage sequences like this extremely well.  Anakin and Obi-Wan, more partners than master and student now, five years later, are on a mission to rescue Chancellor Palpatine, who has been kidnapped by Count Dooku's droid army leader, an asthmatic cyborg called General Grievous. The repeat showdown between the Jedi and Dooku displays Anakin's growth in skill, but also his embracing of the Dark Side, with Palpatine goading him on.  Not the kiddie fare of the first film, nor the uneven tone of the second, Anakin has Dooku at his mercy and takes off his head, with Palpatine grinning as he looks on.  The conflict with Grievous that follows is tremendous fun...I have a lot of affection for the wheezy robot man.  The R2-D2 antics that occur concurrently fall too close to unnecessary slapstic, though not the painful comic relief of Jar Jar in the first film, or C-3PO in the second.

Episode III is a lot darker and a lot more nuanced than any Star Wars film before it.  With the Clone Wars cartoon backing it, one understand the dynamic between Dooku, Grievous, and Palpatine much more, and Palpatine's manipulations, his long con, bear the fruit he's sought all along.  There's actually an epic story in the fall of the republic at the hands of a maniacal scheming Sith lord, it's just unfortunate it takes back seat to the inevitable and largely mishandled fall of Anakin to the dark side.  Episode III negotiates this unevenly, but at times believably.  The additional attention to Palpatine's manipulation of Anakin was sorely missing in prior films (and even doesn't have enough prominence in The Clone Wars) but a valiant effort to make up for it here is made.  While the fall of the Jedi at the hands of the Clones ("Order 66") is such utter poppycock and a brutal shorthand to force the story to wind up where it has to by the end of movie, the climax of Obi-Wan and Anakin's showdown is heart-rendering, with McGregor's aching disappointment the most tangible feeling of any of these three films.  Obi-Wan, for his often cold exterior towards Anakin, had such love, hope and promise for him, that his betrayal, one which he had desperately been trying to avoid, hurts tremendously.  He can't bring himself to kill him outright, nor can he in good conscience save him.

The closing moments, again, shorthanded to get the film to a place where it needs to be for the original trilogy to start, are clunky and take away from a largely well made film (it seems any time a montage is used in Star Wars, it's always unnecessary and always poorly done).

For a lot of people, the Prequels were not just hugely disappointing, but soul crushing.  Years of investment were destroyed by some very poor choices on the part of its creator.  But I can't help but see the positive elements through the weaker ones.  I can't help but marvel at some of the lavish settings and costuming, admiring those actors able to shine in the face of an apathetic director (Ian McDiarmid is great as Palpatine throughout, and McGregor rarely has a false move), and enjoy all the universe expanding bits that get lost amid the cartoonier parts of the films.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Pair of B Movies

The Anomaly, 2014, Noel Clarke -- download
The Hybrid, 2014, Billy O'Brien -- Netflix

B ? C ? Not so bad as to be Z grade but definitely of the straight-to-video ilk.

Noel Clarke (Mickey on Doctor Who) stars and directs in this scifi flick about mind control and terrorists. It takes the premise of someone awakening, finding themselves in the middle of a caper, but not knowing why. Then, only minutes later, they black out and the movie skips ahead to the next time they awake. We learn more as Ryan (Clarke) learns.

When I saw the trailers and clips, I had somehow assumed it was a time travel movie and he was skipping around in time. Alas, no, it was just a middling depiction of evil scientists inventing body/mind control technology and using it to expand their own agenda. A decent if thin premise that they attempt to stretch into a scifi actioner.

Ian Somerhalder (Vampire Diaries, Lost) is one of the Evil Scientists, but also a kickass fighter and gun smith. Don't let the bow ties and tweed suits fool you, he's a mean machine. His father, rarely seen, is Brian Cox suffering from a debilitating disease. Thus his desire to control Ryan as his own new, fresh body. There are further agendas, including tailored viruses and such, but it comes down to Ryan trying to extend the time he is control of his own body so he can stop the bad guys and rescue to Prostitute with a Heart of Gold.

Clarke has ideas. Clarke has ambitions but he is still learning. He obviously had a fondness for well choreographed fight scenes, as this movie is packed with them, obviously padding out the lack of any real plot. The movie also takes place in a glossy, plastic & glass filled future, but at the beginning we are not properly introduced to that so for a while we are not sure if Ryan is aware he is supposed to be then either. I usually love science-fictiony future imagery, but this seemed tacked on for no good reason but to use up the CGI effects budget.

B-Movies can be good, well paced and decently enjoyable and I hope Clarke gets there soon.

Meanwhile, The Hybrid is one that the director does seem to know how to build a good scene but is completely lost without any sort of real plot.  We begin the movie with a man being tortured in an African prison but rescued by his handler, so he can perform a difficult job, for the owners of said prison. There is something a scientist wants in a war torn section of eastern former Soviet block, and his team will get her in and get it out. While his team don't seem to be all that capable, no impression of intense skill or experience but we accept them as seasoned. John Lynch, a North Ireland actor with good intensity plays their leader and carries off his role decently. The rest, including Antonia Thomas from The Misfits just seem to phone it in.

The pacing is decent, the muddy forest could be anywhere and I got the sense this was a 20 minutes into the future setting -- another former eastern European country that has fallen into chaos and desperation, full of guns and ruins. They sneak their way into the bad guy's lair and down into tunnels, to be stalked with creatures left over from a low budget version of Hellboy -- sepia tinted bubble dome helmets, alien clicking sounds and darting moves. The movie falls apart precisely here, as they lose one of their team to swelling pustules and enter the Evil Scientist's lair proper. Things just seem to get ... directionless.

Said Evil Scientist has been experimenting with DNA recovered from a meteor. They have merged it with human DNA and made something creepy, all blinky eyes but not very bright, at least from her limited point of view. Yes, you have a single scientist whose speciality is DNA, genes, etc. also making opinions on the progression and intelligence of a new species. Of course, she is being made a fool of, as alien hybrid boy is much more than he appears to be.

The hybrid is what the movie wanted to be about, but he ends up being just a monster, a terminator, a predator for the mercenary team and the bad guys to fight and be killed by. He is not presented like a horror movie monster, so I assume they wanted to do much more thoughtful exploration of the Frankenstein monster he represented, but they didn't. The plot fell apart very quickly with exploding heads and gun fights and the killing off of the mercenaries one by one to no effect.

The movie left me very disappointed and no whatsoever interested in seeing the next one, which takes place after he magically gets himself and his freaky eyes (and no money, clothes, etc.) to London. For some reason.

I also hesitate in liking a movie that so obviously was renamed for the dull witted.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: Winter's Tale

2014, Akiva Goldsman (writer A Beautiful Mind, I Am Legend) -- download

This is Goldsman's first movie as director, based on a 1983 novel, and also called A New York Winter's Tale. It is a movie about magic, love and destiny. This is urban fantasy, something in my wheelhouse as they say, and I think is going to be my word of the season. But its not just that, it also takes place in a world that is only very subtly different than our own but still very very much not our world. Does that make sense? Its concerns a term called 'magical realism'. Magic is very real in the world of this movie, but it doesn't play out big. The average person still does not believe in it, see it or acknowledge its existence. And there are fine details to the movie that state very clearly, this is not our world.

Colin Farrell is Peter Lake, an Edwardian street thief on the run from the crime boss Pearly Soames. Soames is not exactly a man, but not fully a demon. Peter stumbles into the house of Beverly Penn, who suffers from a magical form of consumption. I say magical because a symptom is that she runs too hot -- she needs to be kept unnaturally cool and spends her winter nights sleep in an open penthouse pavilion in a sheer gown. Beverly is going to die, it is known and accepted, but despite this they fall in love. And she does die. Her death throws Peter out of his mind to wander NY, lacking any memories of who he was, for decades. He returns to defeat Pearly and find his place in the stars.

The first act of the movie, and I only truly see two clear demarcations in this movie, is what I fell for. Pearly Soames with his scars and imposing figure, only missing a curl of sulphurous smoke from one nostril, was quite the villain. Russell Crowe does a great job. Jessica Brown Findlay as Beverly is ethereal and utterly stunning, in this weird generic British young actress way that I am attracted to. Even with my ability to recognize people, I am constantly mixing her, Lucy Griffiths and Michelle Ryan up. Colin is passable as the hero, even with the annoying undercut haircut. But the latter half of the movie, set in current day, just fades out for me. It seemed tagged on, as if Goldsman really likes the first part of the novel and you could see his love embedded, but didn't put as much passion into this part. Its just not as magical, for me.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

3+1 Short Paragraphs: The Maze Runner

2014, Wes Ball -- download

Despite never getting a feature film for Ruin off the ground, Wes Ball was given the adaptation of the young adult novel The Maze Runner, another of the highly bankable post-apocalyptic young adult book series.  Because adaptation is always more value than new content these days. Disappointing as I would love to see that short film come to life on the big screen.

Skipping right past what the movie is about, can I just say it is the most ridiculous explanation behind a high concept plot that I have ever seen? You know the basic premise from the trailers, right? Kids wake up at the centre of a maze, one of high stone walls and moving paths. Why? For frickin' SPOILER sake, to challenge them against adverse conditions and monsters, in order to understand why they are immune to a disease that is ravaging the planet. Seriously, you build a massive structure, and I mean MASSIVE, solely to study kids being tortured, for medical purposes. How long would that take and how many people would die while you submit RFQs to the world's remaining construction companies? And let's not even consider the cost, especially in a post apocalyptic world that is already low on resources. It is a silly silly premise for a decent torture box plot.

But, saying that, the actual depiction of the maze is pretty damn tight. The kids wake up at the centre of the maze, and really the "main character" is so weakly fleshed out, that he is more McGuffin than person. They are without memories but slowly some things come back. They either don't remember they are in a post apocalyptic world or don't bother telling us. But as the movie starts, it is three years since this started happening so a Lost come Lord of the Flies society has built. They support each other, running the maze (yes, they have already mapped it out before the movie starts) but basically playing it safe, sticking to their self imposed rules. New Guy Thomas does not want to play it safe, so he breaks the rules and runs into the maze. Amazingly, or really just because he is Main Character, he survives. And by the end of movie one, they are out of the maze are realizing they are pawns in some weird medical experiment.

I enjoyed the pretense of the movie, the setup of the maze and its dangers. Its tense, exciting, well acted and mysterious. The plot should have just stayed mysterious, not that there are any really good ways to explain such a device, other than maybe aliens or god creatures. But I could not rise above that reveal. And it probably killed my interest in the books.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Strap On Those Sandals

300: Rise of An Empire -- 2014, Zoam Murro -- download
Hercules -- 2014, Brett Ratner  (Red Dragon, X-Men: Last Stand) -- download

No, this isn't the beginning of yet another new recurring segment on We Disagree. Just a way to blend the commentary on two somewhat related movies, i.e. they are both of ancient Greek persuasion. Unless Kent agrees to a series review of all the Sinbad movies, there won't be enough fodder for a new category.

Well, maybe if we do Spartacus, in honour of our visit to the Kubrick exhibit.

300: Rise of an Empire is the side-quel for the Zack Snyder, Frank Miller graphic novel become green screen movie. It happens roughly at the same time as the first movie, but following different characters. This time, not owing its style to recreation of comic panels, it opens up more. The movie connects the first's Battle of Thermopylae to the battle at Marathon, where our main character Themistocles slays the King of Persia but spares his son, Xerxes. It is that event that leads to the fantastical nature of the Persian army that invades Greece ten years later, i.e. Xerxes becoming a god king.

When I mentioned not really having an internal vision of how Persia should be portrayed in fantasy fiction, this movie didn't really help. This is typical of the brown skinned exotic Evil Empire approach. But there is history, so its forgivable, I guess. What isn't history is the backstory they give to Xerxes, the god king of the Persians. Tall, golden and basically hairless, the man walks into a magic bath bearded and normal sized, but emerges as a cross between a diva and a giant. This sort of flies in the face of what the first movie wanted to portray, that he was mortal, after all. Magical transmogrification for appearances only?

His right hand man, er, woman is Artemisia, a Greek who hates Greece and is played by Eva Green channeling her usual scary, sexy goth. Not that I am complaining. She is capable, manipulative and is portrayed as the intelligence behind the whole invasion, with Xerxes as just a pretty golden puppet, albeit 10 feet high.

This is a movie for those who enjoyed the first one and for anyone who has watched the Spartacus: Boobs & Blood TV series. Every battle scene is slow-mo, digital blood spraying every which way, good guys cutting down bad guys with dramatic swipes of their swords, ignoring the armor of the Persians while they fight in speedos. But rather than just men with spears and swords, they toss in a sea battle, ships crunching against each other with a dramatic battle where numerous boats are stuck together and the Greeks and Persians fight from deck to deck. Still not sure why a horse as considered a secret weapon when they could not have predicted the configuration of the tangled decks. These movies are all about cool factor in battle with little sense behind them.

The movie was fun, stylish, well shot (decent CGI) and dramatically acted (I will always enjoy watch Eva Green hamming it up, as long as its not Camelot) but generally forgettable.

I know very little of the graphic novel Hercules is based on. Despite my pirate access to all and every comic, the lack of visits to comic shops has diminished my awareness of the hot titles.  Maybe it wasn't so hot, as the lack of Googlish data says something.  Anyways, I was not aware of it being a comic before the trailers of the movie came out, and I was not aware of the type of movie it was, based on the trailers.

The trailers do a disservice to this movie. They depict a typical, expected adaptation of the Hercules myth, showing his greatest feats, i.e. his Labours. But the movie is not so. This is Hercules, the man behind the myths, picking up years later as he leads a group of mercenaries who bank on his reputation. Whether real or myth, the name sells. Enemies and the rulers of Greek city states believe he did all the feats of heroism by himself, not knowing that this D&D party of variously skilled adventurers helped him accomplish it all. That is what this movie is about.

Even without the myth, Hercules is a dominant warrior, hired for good reason. The movie brings him to Thrace, in eastern Greece, to help a king go up against ruthless rebels. The king needs his army trained and the rebels vanquished. Hercules is not so sure about sending more young men to their deaths, but he wants the coin, so his men and he can retire. Things never go as planned in these movies, as betrayals pile up and Herc must decide who he really is.

Every time someone, usually Iolaus the storyteller, reminds us of how great Hercules was, we get a flashback to his battle with a legendary creature. But we also get hints of the truth behind the hero. These CGI monster laden scenes are what the trailer was telling us to see, but the core of the movie is how Hercules himself can both rise above his mythos and those around can learn to depend on the man. His men (and woman!) trust him, but he must learn to trust himself.

Its a fun movie, where The Rock gets to try his hand at a tortured hero trope. I doubt it had the weight the graphic novel was supposed to have, but it did a decent job of portraying something other than a big screen adaptation of familiar, typical mythos movies.

Really, that is my usual fallback to describing these movies. I don't expect great, I don't even expect good, but if I have fun, then I am usually satisfied. This one fell short of being added to my Swords & ... collection, and I would never have the intention of adding the first one, but I could not not see them. I always see them. And yes, I am the guy who will see Seventh Son with Jeff Bridges, should they actually ever get around to releasing it.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


2014, David Ayer (Street Kings, End of Watch) -- cinema

I love this poster.  It is simple, pure and emotive. A weathered Brad Pitt, tank commander and leader of a crew that have been with him since Africa, carries the weight of what he has to do. A heavy burden. The sky is grey and war is grey, and both are heavy with impending doom. He leans on the barrel of the tank for support, that is painted with its pet name, the tool of the fury he has inside of him.  I saw much in that poster and hoped for much in the movie. While I got a movie I enjoyed I did not get the heaviness I hoped for.

Pitt is Don 'Wardaddy' Collier, and his crew are a bunch of gawdawful, nasty men. Shia LeBeouf is Bible, a little full of himself, constantly quoting scripture and seeking out dying men to "save". Jon Bernthal is Coon-Ass, a hillbilly who I doubt will ever be clean again, with probably engine grease blackened teeth and a foul sensibility. Michael Peña is Gordo, quietest of the bunch but just as home in the tank sharing whores with his buddies. And there is Norman (later Machine), come to replace their assistant driver and bow gunner. Their previous one is all over the inside of the tank and Norman's (who was a typist a few weeks ago) first job is to clean out the tank.

These are seasoned, hard, filthy men traumatized by the loss of one of them and resentful they are stuck with a green non-combatant. But Wardaddy feels he needs to protect them all and understands that doing so requires Norman to become one of them. Norman does not want to be here, here beyond the borders of Germany, as the Allies press deeper into enemy land. A land that is running out of proper soldiers and tossing everyone and anyone against the allies. They are pressing past front lines, through towns and villages and churning the countryside into mud with their tanks and boots and shells. Norman's tank crew doesn't want him either but nobody is arguing orders or with Wardaddy.

American tanks didn't stand a chance against Panzers. You know what they say about the life expectancy of a tank crew. That Wardaddy gets them this far is astounding, and they all know its the end of the war, but... will they survive? Based on how quickly each of the other 4 tanks are picked off, I doubt they have much confidence in it. These men are resolved to do what they have to do. Pitt never argues with commanders (Jason Isaacs as a tired Captain, wearing a battered winter jacket that looks like roadkill) who give him impossible missions, just does what he knows best. Best job they ever had, they all intone. They are probably right. None of the men strike me as the kind who ever did well, States-side. With Wardaddy leading, they have gone up against german tanks and lived.

There is a brief respite where we see a more relaxed Collier, kind to some German women who allow him to wash, shave and feed him. He is quiet, respectful (he speaks perfect German) and protective when the rest of his crew arrives, assuming they are getting ass, not fried eggs. Its a respite before the horror of war falls on their heads, again. Norman is left, no longer a typist,  a machine, cutting down German soldiers.

So, there was drama and horror and heroism and death. And there was Wardaddy escaping to parts of camp, unseen, to collapse under his burdens almost in tears and distraught to distraction. He hears a voice and straightens up again. This should have been heavier, it should have been heartwrenching. But it wasn't. The movie is not as much weighed down as the clouds are in the poster. Whether it is nuances that are lacking or just that Pitt cannot portray them, we only ever get hints of the fury that is in him. Not enough for me to say this was a great war movie, just an OK one.

Friday, November 28, 2014

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Autómata

2014, Gabe Ibáñez (Hierro) -- download

Before I get around to rewatching I, Robot again (watched it about 6 months ago when I snapped up the cheap Blu-ray) I will talk about this movie inspired by the laws of robotics. Rather than just blatantly rip off Asimov and his three laws, this movie narrows it down to two -- they must protect humans and they cannot alter themselves.  So, it just borrows. Unfortunately, the whole movie seems to be about borrowing plot points and ideas from better movies. And yet, running entirely through it, there is a fondness for the world and the core plot, of how people will deal with the emergence of robotic intelligence, i.e. AIs, when they find themselves almost at the brink of extinction.

Yeah, I have been watching a lot about AI emergence. Its in the pop culture focus right now, and that's probably why this one was greenlit. The prevalent idea is that we are scared of it. Even in this movie, where robots have been developed extensively to work in zones we can no longer (sun flares have devastated the Earth), the status quo is terrified of what will happen if they get smarter than we allow them to be. I don't subscribe to the fear that we will be wiped out by whatever child race we are responsible for; I guess I don't have the staple insecurity of our species. Or more cynically, I think we will be very good at enslaving whatever intelligence we bring into this world.

Jacq (Antonio Banderas) works as a claims investigator for the company that makes the robots. They come with insurance and he makes sure his company doesn't have to pay out. So, he knows & understands the robots well. Why a world that is completely falling apart would even have an insurance concept is beyond me, but in its best Blade Runner-ish dystopia, sometimes a boring job is the best character. Antonio Banderas is actually pretty good as the tired working man, afraid of what he is discovering but pretty sure it should emerge. So, as he is about to become a father, he also becomes the godfather of robots coming into their own.

The use of real looking robots, as in slow, clunky and plastic-y, was a mistake. If its the future and these things are our working class, you should expect more of the movie I mentioned when I started this review. They should be mobile, hardy and versatile. Instead, they are not much more than Sony's AIBO. I guess this was retained so that the robots would need to rely upon a human to protect them, being more fragile than your average man. The best parts of the movie have Jacq discussing their existences, the robot's and his own, in the halting Stephen Hawking voices. The worst parts have thugs in trenchcoats shooting at everything and Melanie Griffith looking more artificial than the sex robot she takes care of.  I felt Ibáñez needed a collaborator who was not afraid to be harsh with him as well as someone who could stand up to the money, so the movie could have been pure to the vision at its centre. In the end, the movie made a better short or trailer, than feature.

Rewatch: Minority Report

2002, Steven Spielberg (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Hook) -- Netflix

Almost anytime I review a movie set in a non-spaceship future, I mention my fondness for I, Robot and Minority Report.  Its about time I rewatched and blathered about them.

Minority Report is the Steven Spielberg adaptation of a Philip K Dick novella.  Dick's story is more about the views of multiple timelines and choices made, while the movie was more about the moral implications of convicting people for something they technically have not (yet) done. Its a flashy movie of near future technical marvels and exciting action, but with a hint of thoughtful ideas. I am not all that concerned about which is better. I like both equally.

I wonder who first decided that data of the future would be stored on glass. Data crystals, as the usual science fiction nomenclature. At the Stanley Kubrick exhibit (, I was reminded of the idea, as Dave slides rectangular blocks of numbered glass into slots, or maybe out of, while HAL sings slowly. Why glass? Is crystalline structure really perfectly built to replace magnetic tape, liquid crystals in disk format or even integrated circuitry? What will be the next level of data storage?

Set in 2054, the authorities in Washington, DC have discovered a way to manipulate the precognitive abilities of three young people, to predict potential murders. They stop the murders before they happen. But they still incarcerate the potential criminal. The "investigative" magic takes place in a room with a giant, curving, clear glass monitor. Images sucked from the brains of the precogs are tossed onto the screen and investigator John Anderton (Tom Cruise) manipulates them via gloves with finger-tips of light. I guess they never imagined one's movements could be tracked merely by the movement, not requiring balls of light at reference points. He grabs images, wiggles his fingers, swings his hands, moving things about like items attached to a white board with magnets, but working in three dimensions.

The glass is clear, yet he sees clearly (ba-dump bump). I have yet to see that idea represented well in real life. I think we would be too distracted by what is on the other side of the clear screen.  This was ten years ago, when the idea of mobile & wireless technology was still young, thus they still have to use "flash drives" to move data from one workstation to another. Large, flat, slates of clear glass grab the data, represented by video clips on their surface, and allow it to be slid out from the slate onto the big, clear screen. Later (other movies & TV) representations feel more fluid, more real, as people grab data and just toss it from one screen to the other, effortlessly, wirelessly. But all this glass is pretty, and futuristic. Given the current popularity of clear glass smart phones in science fiction movies, too bad Nokia didn't use the opportunity to display a concept for a future phone, instead just dropping their latest model into the movie. And it looks really outdated now. Think Neo in The Matrix and his slider phone.

Being overdone for the sake of being overdone is the technological standpoint of the movie. Sure, the cars are typically concept-model type and auto-driven isn't too far fetched, but they slide up and down, and all over the place. Highways run up buildings, down buildings, with vast stretches that must be atop buildings. It just seemed frivolous and potentially dangerous. Want to kill hundreds of people? Kill the maglev control centre of a highway. And then there were the cops in jetpacks. Yes, I understand its the future and jetpacks are to be expected, but I didn't see the purpose they served, other than Action Sequence, which I honestly found more annoying than exciting.

The use of targeted advertising, in which the store sees you as you walk in, checks your buyer history and starts talking to you, was innovative and believable. Except for the idea that there should have been dozens of reactions to dozens of customers, all competing with each other in a cacophony of Google ads. And no chance to opt out? Maybe close your eyes just as the retinal scan happens.

Finally, there was the technology seeded into the movie to help substantiate Anderton's motivations, his utter obsession with his son's abduction. Memory enhancing drugs were combined with the lamest representation of 3D video ever depicted. Key reference objects from the video, his son, are stretched out in a horrible, bleeding aspect, sort of like a video pop up book. It looked terrible in the movie, and probably intentional to show not fully developed but possible tech. They should have stuck to holograms which felt more real because of the drug he was inhaling.

Don't get me started on the laser lathing of wooden balls just to announce Murderer.

The focus of the plot is that Anderton is framed for a murder, but doesn't believe he can possibly commit it. But his whole career has been based on believing exactly what he saw on the screens. If anything our current age has taught us, is that everything seen on the New Fangled Technology (i.e. The Internet) is not to be believed. And if Anderton can be framed, then so can anyone else. And if anyone can game the system, then it should be shut down and every single criminal released from their tubular incarceration. Whoah whoah there Nelly. I would imagine most of those criminals were going to do exactly what they precogs saw them doing. They already had the idea of red balls (crime of passion) vs blue balls (*snicker* planned murders) -- they were blue, right? So a planned crime could be substantiated after the fact, with all the details confirmed. But no, social outcry against it won out and people were freed. I wonder how many took the chance to actually murder the person they had considered earlier? Would double-jeopardy come into play? The Law & Order: Washington, DC 2054 episode would have been great.

And yes, these are the sort of things I think about when I see a movie again. I also made note that Cruise as Anderton is a very unlikable main protagonist. He is rude to his coworkers, dismissive and condescending. And it played out, because as soon as he was a suspect, his direct reports jumped into action to have him arrested. Samantha Morton was great as the traumatized Agatha, an unbalanced precog dragged out of her milk bath and into the real world by Anderton, who really only cares about himself. And there is Colin Farrel's bit part, whom was written to be disliked, but in the end, is the understandable character. In the remake, he would play Anderton.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: Into the Storm

2014, Steven Quale (Final Destination 5) -- download

Back in the 90s I read a Bruce Sterling novel called Heavy Weather, sort of a cyberpunk stormchaser eco-story. I loved it. It left with me a fondness for tornado stories, which meant I saw Twister not long after the book. I was sorely disappointed, not because of all the inter-personal stuff that interfered with all the proper storm chasing, but because there just was not enough proper destruction. For its time, it was quite impressive, but the novel (p.s. they are not related, just both released around a time when tornado alley was getting nasty, by pop culture standards) was about the onset of an F6, something that has yet to be seen in reality. Later, my fascination with tornadoes became tempered by the reality of them, the late spring storms in the US constantly wiping out towns being too too real. And also, because anything else tornado related came out of the SyFy Channel / Asylum collection of terrible terrible movies.

Not that this movie is much better.

Seriously, it feels exactly like one of these Asylum movies sans sharks and with more of a budget. OK, that is being a little too harsh, as it actually has more of the feel of a made-for-TV movie of the normal ilk, not bad for bad sake. The characters are hollow, the interactions wooden and there are fabricated sub-plots that exist solely to put characters in harms way. And the only unique element, that it is entirely *yawn* found-footage, was left entirely out of any promotional material, which says how much the studio had faith in the gimmick being used. In this case it worked because it gave us a reason to see beyond the eye of the storm and into the heart of the destruction.

Like any movie about tornadoes, it has to be about storm chasers. Mixtures of thrill chasers and meteorologists, they pack scientific equipment and cameras into a couple of trucks and chase around the storm fronts, hoping they will turn into killer tornadoes. Partially they are there for the data, partially there for the footage that can be sold. And then there are the hillbillies on ATVs. And then there are highschool kids in the path of the "biggest tornado in history". You won't recognize any of the actors besides Laurie from The Walking Dead (Sarah Wayne Callies) and maybe chief stormchaser Pete (Matt Walsh), who has played that guy in a handful of movies and TV.  And no you won't recognize Thorin Oakenshield as the high school vice-principle. The CGI tornadoes are the real stars, damn impressive and shot waaaaay back and occasionally inside, when cameras get sucked up. They step up the destruction, not only tossing cows around (i think it was plastic) but including semi-trucks and an entire airport. In the end, the storm chasers get their footage but at great cost, with the resignation of hoping it will be worth something in future predictions.

Monday, November 17, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: The Wolf of Wall Street

2013, Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York, Shutter Island) -- download

This movie, a big movie about big people starring big stars (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill), is almost a parody of Scorsese styles with the monologues, the period setting, the big personalities and the grand locations. And it is immensely enjoyable while I weirdly cannot exactly say I liked it.

Jordan Belfort is not exactly the kind of guy you can root for. He's a bit of a dick. Well, more than a bit. But he's rich and loud and exuberant and knows how to make people feel important; as long as its making him money or getting him laid. Jordan is a stockbroker, one that gets hit by Black Monday pretty much on his first day. So, he turns to penny stocks and applies his scuzzy salesmanship to them. And thus are the millions made.

If this movie is about anything, its about rooting for the downfall of a terrible person. Its from a memoir but I doubt the real Belfort liked his less than shining portrayal. DiCaprio does a brilliant job of playing both competent and charismatic while keeping that scuzbag personality intact. He's backed up by mostly unknowns but, wow, does Jonah Hill make his scale pay on this one. Maybe it was those teeth, but this didn't seem quite Jonah Hill, less stoner aesthetic and more frat boy who doesn't mind paying for his popularity. But really, what makes the movie is Scorsese's style. He is very good at making in-the-gutter BIG, of idealizing a sub-human lifestyle, making us yearn for it but cringe at everything it stands for.

Monday, November 10, 2014

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Another Earth

2011, Mike Cahill -- Netflix

As I was saying, it was this film that Kent professed his fondness for the "low-budget, dramatic science fiction" sort of movie. The science fiction of this movie is the wrap around premise of the movie, less science and entirely fictional, which involves a second planet earth appearing in the night sky on an intercept course with us. Interestingly enough, it was one of two "second planet Earth" movies that showed up that year, the second being Melancholia, with Kirsten Dunst. When I say "wrap around premise" I mean that it plays a significant part in the plot, as in it constantly plays a part in the movie, but it is not the focus of the movie. The focus of the movie is the dramatic, the interaction between the two main characters. That is what the movie is about while the second planet is the impetus of their interaction.

Rhoda was a teen with everything ahead of her on her way to MIT, when the new planet appeared in the sky. Distracted by this, the invulnerability of youth and alcohol, she slammed into John Burroughs car killing his wife and daughter. Years later she is paroled, moves in with her parents and is understandably obsessed with her accident. Everyone else is obsessed with the planet in the sky, which has proven itself to be exactly the same as our Earth, continents and all. She seeks Burroughs out, pretending to be a cleaner, and begins a rather strange relationship with him based on deception and a desire to do penance. Both are entirely damaged by the events she orchestrated. Or perhaps, the planet above orchestrated?

The TV constantly talks to people about the implications of a second, replica planet Earth. Metaphysics aside, people discuss how different it could be. Or more precisely, how similar it could not be. As the planet gets closer, this is frustratingly the only topic discussed by those pondering the planet. No one is talking about the danger it could cause as it comes into our orbit, what it could do to the moon or our own gravitational forces. These are conveniently ignored so that our planet can decide to travel to their planet, without all the complications of ... physics. The questions of shared destiny, perhaps having diverged on that fateful night when she first appeared, come into clarity for Rhoda who hopes that over there is a planet where she did not kill Burroughs' family. And she sacrifices her contest won seat on a shuttle heading there. The movie ends in a brief, mysterious, abrupt confrontation between Rhoda and ... Rhoda. And we are left to interpret.

Of late I am wondering, after relating what I saw in the movie, do I have to say what I thought about the movie. I don't often seed the movie "review" with the obvious details of how I felt about it, as that tone should become apparent in the words I use and my descriptions. Bland, toneless re-telling should impart a certain amount of blasé viewing. The more fervent my statements, the more I thought of the movie. Stated obviously, I liked this movie and how it was done but it didn't leave an entirely indelible mark on me. It was well done, composed and understated but eventually forgettable for me. And in saying something so obvious, I feel I have devalued my viewing. I should save those statements for love and hate. In between allows for more pondering, more interpretation.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

3+1 Short Paragraphs: The Signal

2014, William Eubank (Love) -- download

Kent mentioned, and I recently re-read, his fondness for independent scifi, or more precisely "low-budget, dramatic science fiction." The Signal does not subscribe completely to the dramatic, but the lower budget and independent nature of the movie shines through. Think of Monsters and its almost entire run of slow travel punctuated by conversation, while monsters dot the background. Here in this movie, we have young kids, Nic, Haley and Jonah travelling to California to drop her off at university. Nic is with Haley, but she is leaving him for school. Haley loves Nic but there is a weight between them, an injury Nic sustained that leaves him with crutches. And Jonah, the best friend, obsessed with tech and this hacker NOMAD, who keeps taunting them. The opening act follows this, in gentle close shots that introduce the characters.

And then gears shift. Abduction, imprisonment and confusion. The kids find themselves in an underground facility where containment-suited Laurence Fishburne interrogates Nic. He asks lots of questions while telling him little of what happened between then and now. There are aliens mentioned and contamination and paranoia. Its all so intense, so mysterious playing on familiar tropes but with a sense of playing outside the rules. Then there is a brief reveal behind the curtain, or more accurately (*SPOILER*), under the sheet --- Nic's legs have been replaced by mechanical prostheses. Nic, who has been letting his disability define him for so long is given something. But why? For what purpose? Make your guesses. You may or may not be right, more than likely only partially correct.

I loved this movie, buying into its use of familiar plot points and alien abduction milieu. Area 57, strange desert folk and technology that is disturbing and intriguing. But its not completely cliche and its not a monster movie, as so many of these devolve into. Oh, there is the conspiracy, the explanation behind it all. But it is not a quick run to the explanation. This was partly because of Fishburne, who has learned a few things about drawing out the nervous confusion in his run on Hannibal. He is just creepy and unsettling in this movie, making a later reveal completely believable.

In the end this reminded me of Chronicle. The ending is grand and revealing, but not completely satisfying. This is, of course, because sequels are in mind and it has to leave a wide open landscape of possibilities. Young people have been enhanced by alien technology and it brings into question how human they will remain. But really, does it? I don't believe we are defined, as a species, by our limitations but by how we use of our tools to surpass them.

P.S. Don't mix this up with the other alien technology movie called The Signal which was more horror movie, but had a great three perspective story technique.

P.S.S. Kent saw Love and now I will have to go back and watch, see how a slower, more dramatic piece compare for Eubank.

Friday, November 7, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: Lawless

2012, John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road) -- Netflix

You can expect a couple of things from a screenplay by Nick Cave -- inexplicably badass characters and blood, lots of blood. Considering I got that all of two screenplays, I have to admit, its the tone of his song writing that influences the statement. Nick likes tough, legendary protagonists. In Lawless he gives us Forrest Bondurant, played by Tom Hardy. Ever clad in layers of (likely rarely washed) sweaters, Bondurant and his brothers are moonshiners in Prohibition period Virginia. Forrest has a reputation that he is unkillable, a rep he got in the war. They are hillbillies selling booze to hillbillies. But when the business expands, they catch the eyes of a local attorney, who wants a cut. Forrest refuses and a nemesis is introduced with Charlie Rakes, a sociopathic cop from the city, played by Guy Pearce.

This is Tom Hardy in his thick state. Hardy seems to flow between thin, stylish characters (think RocknRolla and Inception) and muscle covered thick brutes (Bronson, The Dark Knight Rises). I saw Bondurant as once the muscle bound brute, now aged and growing a layer of fat under the sweaters. He is settled in his life as a moonshiner, running the business and keeping his brothers' safety intact through his iron willed reputation, and his own personal belief in it. He shuffles about, mumbling through a beardy face thick with a mountain accent. But when violent action is called for, his eyes flash with awareness. He is the visible focus of the movie and the centre of the story.

These movies are always about plucky criminals going up against the more than despicable lawman. Yes, the Bondurant brothers are breaking the Prohibition Act but other than mild squabbles between them and their competition and more violent interactions with those that wish to take from the brothers, they are more local heroes than anything. And then there is the fool brother Jack (played by media fool Shia LaBeouf) who not only expands their business  but is responsible for  the tragic death of lame mechanical genius Cricket (Dane DeHaan, who is doing quite well for himself since Chronicle) and the broken heart of Bertha. Catalysts. Deaths. Retribution and eventually aging. The criminals become legends, high above the truth yet bound to it.

Retro One Episode: Get Smart, The Green Hornet, The Man From U.N.C.L.E,

Get Smart (1965-1970)
The Green Hornet (1966-1967)
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968)

I was a fan of Get Smart as a kid.  Even though the show aired 20 years before I eventually saw it, it still seemed fresh and funny to me.  The wobbly sets, retro style, and clunky technology were all part of the show's charm and atmosphere.  I'm fairly certain that I had watch some of the made-for-TV reunion  movies and the short-lived revival show, which probably made me quite the receptive seed for the repeats airing weekdays around dinner time (I'm thinking on YTV).  Not to mention being raised on Inspector Gadget, which is just Get Smart to even sillier extremes.

I've been quite keen to revisit Get Smart since I started doing the James Bond recaps, and learning that it was created by Buck Henry and Mel Brooks (which somehow I didn't know before) I was expecting some undiscovered comedy gold to match my youthful recollections.

It's unfortunate then that the pilot episode is a bit of a clunker.  Horrendously dated attributes like the opening narration, incredibly protracted comedy bits which seem to take forever to get to the joke (with the joke coming a mile off, but that's because these jokes have become staples, part of the comedy language and done much better), and, ouch, that laugh track.  Then there's the jokes at the expense of Little People (the C.H.A.O.S. boss is the ironically named "Mr. Big").  In its pilot, the show was almost trying to have a serious spy story with jokes surrounding it.  Maxwell Smart isn't a complete bumbling buffoon, but also isn't the agile super-spy that's earned his reputation.  It was a surprise when Smart actually turns out to have some competency.  Equally unsettling is 99's tendency to make googly eyes at Max.  Is part of the joke that everyone's oblivious to how incompetent Max is?

Don Adams is perfect for the role.  His unwavering tone of voice even in the face of his own ignorance is there right from the beginning.  The character evolved slightly into a more Clouseau-esque fool, but Adams had found Max's voice from the onset.  Barbara Feldon as 99 spends too much time awkwardly mooning over Max, a conscious effort to be sure.  It hampers her performance. Edward Platt as Chief of CONTROL is equally note perfect. The seeds of greatness are in the Pilot, but it's much too slow and labored compared with what follows later on. Skip the second episode too, it's quite racist. Just hitting up random episodes on youtube is probably your best bet.

I watched plenty of Batman reruns growing up too, once again, even though it was 20 years after the fact.  None of my hometown stations ever aired Batman, so I really only ever got to watch it when traveling and visiting family.  Even at a young age I didn't like it, but I was fascinated by it.  It wasn't the Batman I knew and loved, it was the highest camp, almost insulting to comic book fans with it's "BIFF" "BAM" "POW" effects and overt melodrama.

I always assumed The Green Hornet was much the same, a high-camp riff on costumed vigilantism.  I'd never seen an episode, and, quite frankly, it wasn't until I watched the Seth Rogen film that I realized I knew nothing about the character.  He's more a pulp radio hero in origins, not a comic book character, so he just never crossed my path.  The pilot blew my mind, if only a little, because it's a dead serious interpretation of the character.  It's not tongue in cheek at all.  It has no cheek.

I'm fascinated by the fact that it starts with the Green Hornet already in action.  He's the series hero but he operates as a bad guy, controlling the underworld in order to keep the underworld under control.

The theme song is insane, a classic.  Set design is pretty great.  The Black Beauty is, well, a beaut.  Bruce Lee!  It's got a lot of good things going for it, but the chief detraction, and it's a huge one, is the direly dull Van Williams as Britt Reid/Green Hornet.  He's not menacing, or charismatic.  He's not heroic or dangerous.  He's just sort of there.  With the whole show rotating around him, it's a problem.

The pilot isn't bad, but it feels like it's an hour long when it's only a half.  I read that the Hornet doesn't square off against any other costumes in the show (except during the crossover with Batman), which leads me to believe the show never reaches to be anything more than what we see in its first episode.

Interestingly enough it was The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968) that Get Smart was aping, complete with its complicated hallways and sliding doors entrances.  The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was taking its lead from Bond as well as the British spy series of the time, The Saint, The Avengers and the like.

Now unlike Get Smart which I watched, and loved, and the Green Hornet which I had preconceived notions of, I have no experience whatsoever with TMFU.  I'm not really familiar with its stars (I sort of know Robert Vaughn) and I don't really have any sense of what the show's impact on popular culture at the time (or after) was.  My guess on the latter was that it was negligible, as Bond was really the forerunner of these things at the time.

The pilot episode introduces us to Vaughn as Napoleon Solo through a complex and confusingly edited opening sequence.  Agents of T.H.R.U.S.H. infiltrate U.N.C.L.E.'s New York headquarters and in the end it's Solo who stops them.  He gets his money shot as the bad guy fires off three rounds at his silhouette only to be stopped by the bulletproof glass before him.  The light turns on to reveal our well dressed, well groomed lead.  But he's no Bond.

The pilot, excellently titled "The Vulcan Affair", has a fairly interesting story, which involves Solo enlisting a housewife to help him infiltrate a millionaire industrialist's ball.  This industrialist, Vulcan, is suspected of being a THRUSH supporter, and is going to murder a visiting President from a young African nation.  The housewife used to be a lover of Vulcan, and they set her up with a false background to make her much more posh.  The actress Pat Crowley, is eminently watchable, and I think they missed a true opportunity to have an awesome espionage show about a stay-at-home mom who is a part-time spy.  She's quite the looker too.  She's like Betty Draper on Mad Men but with personality.

In the pilot Vaughn doesn't seem to have full awareness of who Napoleon Solo is yet, so he seems softer around the edges than he should.  A hardened spy like him probably wouldn't smile so much.

While there's nothing fancy to the visual aspect of the show, the tone is quite perfect.  It takes its material serious and it earns itself some nice character moments.  The action is quite stilted (as 60's TV action generally is) with bad guys going down with one punch to the back.  These are things easily overlooked.  I hear the later seasons start to devolve into camp, succumbing to some of the more ridiculous tendencies of the spy genre.  I'm definitely going to carry on at least to that point.  It's good stuff .  (Caught the first few minutes of the second episode and it's a terribly clunky opening sequence with a voice over introducing U.N.C.L.E. and then the three main characters introducing themselves to the camera...woof).

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Nerdfall: Gotham, The Flash, Constantine, Star Wars: Rebels

Gotham, Mondays @ 8 on Fox/CTV
The Flash, Tuesdays @ 8 on CW/CTV
Constantine: Fridays @ 10 on NBC/Global
Star Wars: Rebels: Sundays @ 8 on Disney XD

Nerds may not be ruling the world (the world still belongs to the rich), but we're certainly dominating pop culture as of late.  Cinema and Television are both under the sway of what has traditionally been considered "geekstuffs", like sci-fi, fantasy, superheroes, horror and anachronistic period pieces.  They may not be the most popular shows, but they certainly cater to more than just a niche audience at this point.  I don't want to complain about this, as this is what I've dreamed of for a very long time, but at the same time, it's completely overwhelming the abundance of it.  I've gotten over the hump of feeling obliged to watch it all.  I've long since abandoned The Walking Dead, I have an on-again/off-again relationship with Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and light fantasy like Grimm, Supernatural, Sleepy Hollow,and Once Upon A Time (among others) I don't feel compelled to watch, nor do I feel guilty not watching since I know they have found their audiences that are pefectly happy with them.

Perhaps it's a safe bet taking up with primarily known quantities like Flash and Star Wars: Rebels, and it could be limiting my exposure to other, potentially enriching programming because of my lack of available time, but I'm not to concerned.  I will support outright the shows I like, and pick up upon buzzed about or intriguing-in-hindsight shows later on when the interweb sites I trust start convincing me to invest my time.

But that's what the fall is all about, as a TV watcher isn't it?  "What's worth your time?"  The harsh thing is pilot episodes are so rarely indicative of what the series will wind up being.  They're just a hook, but it almost always takes a few episodes, if not the bulk of a season for a show to find its true legs and the actors to find their characters.  One of my current favourite shows, Person of Interest,I skipped over a half dozen episodes in the middle of its first season because it wasn't going anywhere, at least that's what I thought.  Same with Fringe, where I watched only an episode or two of the first season before coming to the opinion it was another X-Files rip-off, only to step in partway through the second season to find it dealing with parallel dimensions and hooking me right in.  Revisiting Fringe's first season revealed a planned roadmap for the rest of the series.

This year's TV crop sees an unprecedented number of comic book-base programming coming to TV. Even after the success of Arrow and Marvel's AoS, it was surprising.  Arrow still feels like a cult hit, but with a stellar second season that abandoned most of the usual hoary CW romantic drama tropes, it was already seeded as a launching pad for the Flash, introducing Grant Gustin's Barry Allen midway through the season with the intention of turning a later episode of Arrow into a backdoor pilot for a Flash TV show (executives were so confident, however they just went to full pilot instead).  But the CW, despite providing some really solid entertainment over the years, still isn't the same as the major networks, so Gotham winding up on Fox and Constantine arriving on NBC are still rather surprising.

Gotham was first out the gate, and of the three DC Comics related shows, easily the one I was least excited about.  The advertising hit hard the "l'il Batman" and "l'il rogues" angle of the show, something I was thoroughly disinterested in.  I don't need to see Catwoman or Riddler or Poison Ivy or any other bat-villain before they are a bat-villain, nor do I really need to watch in painfully slow detail a 12-year-old Bruce Wayne already exhibit defining signs of Batman.

The show does actually center on the corruption-laden Gotham City Police Department and the crime families which run the city, and through them it does manage to build something unique, but unique here doesn't exactly equal good.  Ben McKenzie plays Detective Jim Gordon, the new transfer to the PD who prides himself on being clean as a whistle by-the-book.  His partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) is halfway to hell already and none-to-pleased that his partner isn't willing to play ball with the bad guys.  The crime families are two fold, the Falcones and the Maronis, currently at a stalemate in their turf war, but the flames are getting reignited as Boss Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) wants to climb over Falcone, and her underling, Oswald "Penguin" Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) wants to climb over everyone.

The show has it's intriguing points, particularly the colorful underworld, with Pinkett Smith chewing up scenery with an Ertha Kitt joi de vivre, and Lord Taylor masterfully navigating his unevenly written it's always fun to see Dexter's David Zayas, and he seems to be having tremendous fun with Boss Maroni.  Where the show falters is in its presentation of Gordon and the Gotham City PD. Logue can do no wrong but McKenzie is so self-serious, clenching his jaw thorugh every scene that he comes off as posturing and cliche, less as a future leader.  There's internal affairs drama, and the most useless of characters in Gordon's girlfriend Barbara Kean (made even worse with Erin Richard's soulless performance) but it all feels stuffed in and unnecessary.  More effective is that each episode throws the GCPD into some weirdo murder plot that underlies the strange nature of Gotham City crime, and its oddball criminals.  It's actually one of its better touches.

Just as unnecessary is the "young Batman" storyline.  Having an ever-present young Bruce Wayne denies the show its ability to escape beyond the shadow of the bat.  I can understand why they tread so heavily to start, introducing so many young bat-villains but when you realize that Wayne is at least a decade away from putting on a cape and cowl it seems excessive and forced.  Not to mention it hinders the showrunners in developing characters like the Riddler and Catwoman at earlier stages knowing where they must wind up.  Edward Nygma, particularly, is a purposefully annoying character who does little else but exposit and annoy.

Six episodes have aired so far and I've caught at least 30 minutes of most of them.  It's not an altogether unwatchable show, but it hasn't yet justified its existence.  I like it's late-'90's setting, perhaps the show's best and subtlest touch.

As essentially a spin-off of Arrow, I knew The Flash was in good hands.  As I said we'd already met the lead character in season 2 of Arrow and Grant Gustin was absolutely charming...likeable, smart, nerdy, awkward, excitable.  Barry Allen from the comics of yore was kind of stuffy and a bit of a bore, but his sidekick, Wally West, was much more personable and energetic (as viewers of the Justice League Unlimited cartoon could attest), and Gustin sort of merges the two into the perfect TV Flash.  He even starts off each show with a voice over monologue as he races through the streets on patrol or on a mission, something that happened with each issue of Wally West's tenure as The Flash.  It's a delightful touch.

It was predetermined that I would like this show.  I flat out love the 1990 The Flash TV show (even still) and it took pains to try to separate itself from being a "comic book show".  It was direly serious at times, a result of Tim Burton's Batman's negative influence, but just to have a b-level character like the Flash on TV was a treat in itself and I liked the cast.  This iteration of the character, which featured comic book and former Flash writer Geoff Johns as producer and writer, promised to keep more in line with the comic book representation of the character and not shy away from it's more colourful aspects.  And it has succeeded to an utterly charming degree.

While many a comic book show in the past has teased their comic book origins through background easter eggs or tongue-in-cheek dialogue referencing something, The Flash does these things as seeds for the future. It's the first comic-book derived TV show that isn't embarassed by its roots, instead embracing the character and his world whole hog.

The pilot episode introduced the world of the Flash well enough, providing an origin story for his superpowers,  costume, and raison d'etre, as well as his super-powered villain.  The same accident that gave Barry his superpowers have also granted other people theirs, and he's taken it upon himself (and his support team of STAR Lab technicians) to police them.  Along with this general premise, there's the ongoing background thread of Barry's mother's murder from his childhood (by a man inside the lightning) and his father (played by 1990's Flash and Dawson's Creek dad, John Wesley Shipp) taking the fall for it.  Beyond that is Tom Cavanaugh (of the awesome "Mike and Tom Eat Snacks" podcast, among his many television an film credits) as Dr. Harrison Wells, who a) caused the accident that gave him his powers and b) somehow has access to news from 10 years in the future reporting the Flash's death.  Wells seems to be out to protect Barry, but we aren't altogether sure what his motivations.

Less interesting is Barry's crush on Iris Allen (Candice Patton), the daughter of Police Detective Joe Allen (the great Jesse L. Martin from Law and Order).  Barry lived next to Iris as a kid until his mom died and dad went to jail at which point Joe wound up raising him.  So Barry's crush is all kinds of weird considering that Iris is essentially his foster-sister.  On top of that, episode 4 of this season brings Felicity (from Arrow) to Central City and the chemistry between Barry and Felicity (even more than it was in Arrow Season 2) is note perfect.  These two characters are perfect for each other and the only reason the producers don't thrust them together is because Barry and Iris are a couple in the comics.  It seems ironic to say this, but at some point they need to understand that these shows can live their own life an not have to adhere to what their source material.  When you can run 200 miles per second, having a long-distance relationship isn't much of a challenge (but I guess sharing a character between two shows is).

If the first episode of The Flash didn't wow me as I'd hoped, it was because the visualization of the character's powers wasn't really what I was hoping for (see X-Men: Days of Future Past for the perfect super-speedster action sequence), but by the shows 4th episode, they seem to be getting a much better handle on how it can work and be exciting and fresh.  Plus the 4th episode introduces Wentworth Miller (Prison Break) as Captain Cold and he nails the character with absolute delight.  This set up the first real key player in Flash's Rogues Gallery (and the end of the episode teases Heat Wave, who I've learned is played by Miller's Prison Break brother, Dominic Purcell ,..this show knows how to have fun).  It is quite literally the most comic-book-feeling TV show we've ever had, and I love it.  I can't say it's the greatest show ever made, and that it's in any way flawless, but damn if it isn't tremendous amounts of fun.

John Constantine was created about 30 years ago for DC Comics and has had his own series for almost that entire time (first Hellblazer, and more recently, Constantine).  If he's widely known it's primarily from the 2005 supernatural thriller feature film wherein the character -- whose four main traits are being blond, British, a chain smoker and being quite an asshole -- was turned into Keanu Reeves.  It was a decent film, despite the miscasting, but it would have be exception were it, say, Guy Pierce (I know, he's Australian) or Daniel Craig or  Jason Statham, or, well, anyone who could fake an accent and look the part.

The new Constantine TV show has cast an actor that indeed looks the part with relative unknown Matt Ryan donning the tan trenchcoat, unkempt red tie, and rocking the scruffy blond hair and stubble.  Ryan's not a natural blond though, and because of the general attitude towards smoking in America, he doesn't smoke on screen, but his cigarettes and lighter are quite present.  He's also a bit of a prat, knowingly keeping people at a distance, and rousing others to punch him.  In the case of the former, he's seen far too many of his associates die because of him, and the latter, probably accepting it as some form of penance... if you want to read into these things.  Even though, I'm not well versed on Constantine, in my opinion showrunners Daniel Cerone and David S. Goyer have nailed the character quite well.

The pilot was an exceptionally well directed mini-movie that looked utterly expensive and fantastic.  It got mired in a lot of nonsensical magic mumbo-jumbo a few times, but overall was an enjoyable experience, with at least one hella creepy moment (when that dead body that had crashed through the SUV's windshield, neck at 150 degree angle, comes back to life and starts nasty). The second episode really gathers the tone for the series to follow.  Constantine has a map of America with blood drops showing where evil may erupt.  Whenever a droplet turns wet, John must jump into action.  There's an X-Files meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe, which in every sense is a positive thing.  It allows there to be these weird of-the-week mysteries that are entertaining on their own, while seeding in a larger seed of evil that will span the season.

Constantine has a supporting cast -- Chas Kramer (Charles Halford) who can't seem to be killed, Zed (Angelica Celaya) who has second sight abilities, and Manny (Harold Perrineau) an angel warning Constantine of dire things to come -- but one gets the sense they're incidental and disposable, which is not a bad thing.  Creating a varied roster of associates, as well as having the ability to kill of cast members almost expectedly (but in unexpected ways) gives Constantine a bit of a Doctor Who-gone-horror vibe, which we know can work.

I like the show.  It's fun and easy to get into, with the potential for some really interesting things to happen (being Fridays at 10pm, and given what NBC has permitted Hannibal to show on network TV, they could really amp up the gruesome and terror factor on the show).  The potential for DC Comics guest stars is high, but almost  unnecessary given the show's template.  Even after two episodes I've lost my craving for easter eggs (like Dr. Fate's helmet in the pilot).  All we really need is for enough people to buy into an asshole-as-hero to make it last.

And finally this Nerdfall, we have Star Wars: Rebels.  This takes place about 15 years after Revenge of the Sith, and is set to showcase the rise of the rebellion against the galactic empire.  They kicked off the series with a 1-hour (well, 40-something minutes) mini-movie introducing the cast, and bringing street-rat Ezra into the Rebel fold.  It was a choppy, oversimplified story, with obvious set-ups for future plot lines, and it has so many faltering points it could be easily dismissed.

But then, I thought the same of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and it's taken me 7 years to discover that it actually turned into a great show worth watching.  Rebels has a few saving graces.  To start, the characters are actually quite likeable.  They may not be given the right things to do episode to episode, but they're nonetheless charismatic in a way the prequels never quit got.  Secondly, the show is starting to transition from the designs of Episode 3 into the designs of Episode 4 (aka Star Wars), and easter egg in visual teases of things that we know are coming up.  This could get too cutesy if it persists too long, but as an early hook it helps.  Thirdly, the show utilizes a lot of Ralph McQuarrie's early production designs for the original film.  The old stormtrooper helmets, some of the wardrobes, Zeb (one of the last surviving Lasat, and the original template for Chewbacca...the show makes a crack about this when they go on a Wookee rescue mission).  It`s a fun touch for the die hards.

It's far from hitting its stride already, and in advance we know there are limits to what the show can actually accomplish in the scope of the Rebellion vs the Empire, but if Clone Wars can make a half-dozen mostly compelling seasons out of a conflict with a predetermined outcome there's no reason that Rebels can't work either.  It`s unfortunate that they had to trot out Artoo and Threepeeoh in the second episode already, but it does catch us up on Bail Organa (not Jimmy Smits`voice, sadly) and his part in the Rebellion.

Two of the characters, Ezra and scruffy-looking pilot Kanan, have force powers, which is kind of mind blowing.  After consuming the original trilogy so many times as a child and being so immersed in that world, the thought that there might`ve still been other Jedi still alive around the galaxy never even entered my mind.  Kanan survived the Order 66, and he senses the talent in Ezra (Ezra, meanwhile, discovers Kanan`s lightsaber and holocron), so it will be interesting to see how they explore Jedi-like things a decade and a half after the Jedi should be extinct.

I also quite like Tiya off the bat, the Mandalorian, and look forward to learning more about her.  Chopper is a ramshackle astromech droid who looks like he will fall apart if you sneeze on him too hard.  He`s full of even more personality than Artoo, which seems like a stretch.  He also seems too much like BOB from Disney`s The Black Hole, so while I am amused by him, I don`t like him on principal.  But I guess it makes sense that if Artoo can develop a personality then why not any other droids.

The animation on Rebels is at once an improvement and a step back from Clone Wars.  Gone are the wooden beards and hair, but also gone seems to be a lot of the refined detail that the Clone Wars had.  Rebels seems to be on a bit more of a budget.

Somewhere in the past year I've turned the corner on Star Wars apathy and have come back around to "fan" again.