Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Dark Season 1

Netflix

We had a few rare spare cycles in our ever-shrinking TV watching schedule and it just so happened that Dark came out on the same day and came highly recommended from io9 (honestly, I didn't make it past the headline before we started watching...it all kind of just happened very quickly).  And, well, damn, this show is freaking amazing.

It's hard to describe Dark without getting spoilery, so I'll try for a paragraph then drop into light spoiler territory afterward.  But my heartiest recommendation is to stop reading now and just watch it to let it's multitude of mysteries unfurl and discoveries reveal themselves.

The influence of Lost is rife throughout Dark and yet, it's a completely different beast.  It has the same sense of layering mystery upon mystery with a set cast of characters, slowly revealing their pasts and how it affects the modern day.  Like Lost it has character drama that works independent of the central mysteries of the show, so there are always multiple layers in any given scene.  Unlike Lost, however, these layers of the personal and historical begin to inform the overall narrative thrust, often in unexpected - yet completely logical - ways.  Even as the mysteries begin to get solved, there's so much momentum to the character arcs, and so many smaller, curious pieces left unexplored, that you're investment never wanes.  Most shows that have tried to replicate the Lost structure wind up either drowning in their own complexities or have to abandon the complexities for something more straightforward for the long haul.  Now, Dark is only 10 episodes for its first season, so it remains to be seen if it can carry this propulsive strength through a second or even multiple additional seasons, but this is Stranger Things-level engrossing.

Okay, that wasn't very spoilery...but this will be:

SPOILERS AHOY

Dark is set in the almost-there future of 2019 in a small German town.  Its chief economic supplier is the nuclear power factory, those iconic cooling towers often looming ominously in the background.  As the show begins, a man commits suicide in his attic art studio, leaving a note that tells the reader not to open it until a very specific date and time.  Then, months later, the man's son, Jonas, returns to school after spending some time in a psychiatric facility, only to find his best friend Bartosz is now dating Martha, the girl he kissed just before his father died. He also returns to a town riled with anxiety over the disappearance of a missing teenager known for dealing drugs around the school.  Martha's mother is the high school principal while her father, a police detective in town working the disappearance, is having an affair with Jonas' mother.  Bartosz' mother runs a hotel which is struggling in the wake of the disappearance, while his father is the current plant manager at the nuclear power facility, scheduled to shut down in 2 years. One evening, Bartosz, Martha, Jonas,  and Martha's older and younger brothers Magnus and Mikkel join them in the woods to search for the missing boy's stash of drugs.  They find the drugs near the entrance to a cave, but Franziska, a girl disliked by the other teens, has found them first.  A scuffle ensues when the kids' flashlights flicker and a foreboding noise erupts from the cave.  The kids all run, but in the end Mikkel has gone missing.

The show introduces effectively four different families, and at first seems like a teen drama, but eventually reveals that every character from various generations has a role to play, and that the characters are all interconnected in various ways.  The teens are just one component.  An opening narration hints at the connective threads using the visual of adjacent pictures and colored yarn stringing between them.

There's a theme of repetition, that time can cycle and that the events of the past can return again.  33 years prior, a boy went missing and was never found.  It was Martha, Magnus and Mikkel's uncle.  Now Mikkel is missing but a body is found in the forest the next day, face mutilated wearing clothes from the 1980's, a walkman laying next to it.  It's not Mikkel, and the police can't figure out who it is.  There's a strange type of mud next to the boy not native to where he was found, but Franziska's mother, the chief of police, knows there's that type of mud near her father-in-law's cabin, but she can't be sure there's a connection.  Franziska's grandfather has dementia but seems to ramble on about events repeating themselves and knowing how to stop it.

Martha's father is desperate to find Mikkel, and becomes increasingly reckless... deep in the cave he finds a steel door with a radioactive warning sign.  He suspects the boy may be on the power plant's grounds, or perhaps even that Bartosz' father knows something more about it.  But the power plant keeps its security tight and refuses to voluntarily let the police search the grounds, and wields its influence in delaying a search warrant.  Meanwhile a stranger to town sets up in Bartosz' mother's hotel.  He seems to wander around town knowingly, and his room is set up with a completely different set of connecting threads from the show's beginning.

Eventually we learn some of the parents history, with trips to 1986, and grandparents history in 1953.  The layers they reveal are incredible, and their role in the larger mystery of deaths and disappearances is integral.  It's how the show navigates both old wounds and repeating patterns that is its true brilliance though.  We see among the teens similar drama that their parents engaged in, and the parents cant seem to escape wounds made long in the past.  The grandparents cycle are that much further distanced and yet the threads still connect.  Long held beliefs about certain characters that seem to be a certainty at the start are called into question the more time we spend with them through the various ages.

By the end most of the mysteries are revealed and yet they just seem to ask more questions.  By the the half-way point it feels like the show is barreling towards closing a full circle, a satisfying 8-hour movie complete upon itself. However, by the end it turns out to be more a celtic trinity knot, and this may just be the first loop.  It's a complicated show, in part because of its large cast seen across multiple decades (it's often challenging to keep who's who straight, but rewarding to do so), but also because of the interwoven cause-and-effect that aren't always directly connected for you by the show.  What's even more brilliant is how effectively Dark manages to show you just enough to draw conclusions but not enough to do so conclusively.  It manages to give itself just enough leeway to pull the rug out from under you if it needs to.  It never does, not quite that dramatically anyway, but whenever the inferred logic is supplanted by the reality, it's just as logical.  This show doesn't get lost in its own complexities.

The cast is uniformly great, having to depend on a lot of child and teen actors.  Of course, I don't understand the language, so subtitles can be quite forgiving on line delivery (Netflix has an English language dubbed track, but I couldn't watch that past the first 2 minutes).... the emoting, then, is completely on point.  It's also a great looking show, heavy in shadows adding weight and darkness, with an almost David Fincher-like touch.

In this "Golden Age of Television" there are still surprises, like a German-language program with no discernible stars that can compete or even better some of the best television we have going.  Dark is a genre drama that interweaves the genre and a the drama in utterly compelling ways.  It's a show that doesn't dumb itself down, but it gives you just enough help to not get totally lost amidst its intricate knot work.  If there's anything disappointing about it, it's that we have to wait for more.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Crisis on Earth X

Supergirl, Season 3 episode 8 (part 1) - CW/Showcase, Nov 27, 2017
Arrow, Season 6 episode 8 (part 2) - CW/CTV, Nov 27, 2017
Flash, Season 4 episode 8 (part 3) - CW/CTV, Nov 28, 2017
Legends of Tomorrow, Season 3 episode 8 (part 4) - CW, Nov 28, 2017



I last year's "Invasion" crossover among the DC CW "Arrowverse" shows was quite disappointing.  My chief complaint was that it wasn't a cohesive unit.  Despite being a crossover, each episode still tried to remain a Flash or Arrow or Legends episode first and foremost.  The comic book analogy is when there's a big event comic, like Crisis on Infinite Earths or Invasion or Zero Hour where all the big, fun, important stuff happens in the event book, and then there are tie-in issues in the ongoing titles.  "Invasion" last year had no event book, it was just made up of tie-in issues, and thus the event was barely an event.

Creators/producers/writers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg (who was literally just fired for being a sleazebag) seemed to understand the faults of last year's "event" and tried so much harder this year with the two-night, four-part "Crisis on Earth X".  The fact that each episode opened not with the usual Supergirl or Arrow, Flash or Legends title card, but instead the "Crisis" title card alluded to this fact: this would be the event story, not the tie-ins.

"Crisis" was exactly what I had expected from "Invasion" last year... a seamless crossover that delivered a single epic adventure for a multitude of characters.  But this isn't just a 170-minute movie, it's a true comic-book styled event, where the status of the characters at that time isn't just as much a part of their story as the crisis they face.

Barry and Iris are getting married, which reunites Oliver and Felicity with team Flash, as well as the Legends who spun out from Flash and Arrow - Sara, Mick, Stein and Jax.  Stein and Jax are still fighting like family members because of Martin's looming departure and Jefferson's father issues.  Kara is reeling from the return of her boyfriend (who is now married), while her sister Alex is still upset following her break-up with her partner, so the wedding is a perfect opportunity to forget about it.  Oliver uses the wedding as an excuse to take a break from being Mayor, and under investigation from the FBI, and a new dad, and focus on his relationship with Felicity.  Obviously there's a lot of supporting cast members not invited to the wedding but most are not forgotten.

The introduction to Earth X, or the reality where the Nazis won WWII and many of the superheroes we know and love either don't exists or are the bad guys, we first see the Black Arrow (or whatever the Nazi Oliver calls himself) facing off against James Olson as the Guardian.  We know they're playing for keeps here when Oliver murders James without any hesitation.  Nazis suck you guys.  Throughout various cast members are seeded into the crossover: in the opening act Joe West gets to make a toast, and Wally is charged with protecting Joe and Cecile (effectively explaining why Kid Flash isn't part of the ongoing fight); in the second act Mr. Terrific, Wild Dog and Black Canary showing up after the Earth X-ers invade STAR Labs (and proving that even together they're still not a match for Oliver); in the third act Winn's doppleganger shows up as a hard-bitten General on the good guys' side, while Quentin Lance is a high ranking official on the bad guy's side; and in the third all the rest of the Legends come to the rescue, to join for the big finale showdown.  Even Diggle makes an appearance at the end, continuing the ongoing gag where he barfs after Barry moves him at super-speed.  Where last year most of the supporting cast were cast aside when it wasn't "their show" here there's no reason why characters shouldn't be all over this thing.

What I wanted most out of "Invasion" last year was character interaction, a sense of discovery as people from different teams meet each other for the first time, and this delivered in spades.  The best of which was Sarah and Alex hooking up during the rehearsal dinner, and having that play out in an exceptionally meaningful way (more for Alex than Sarah, because Sarah's cool like that) across all four episodes.  Alex, of all people, probably has the biggest character arc here, but a lot of characters have meaningful events by the end... Barry and Iris, Felicity and Oliver, Jax and Stein.  Hell even Leonard Snart (albeit a much different Leo Snart) is back to torment Mick.   This event doesn't leave our characters in the same place where they started, which is amazing.


As for the Crisis on Earth X story itself, well...hell, it's better than Justice League.  The basic strokes are Barry and Iris' wedding is interrupted by an Earth X invasion.  Their goal is to capture Supergirl and steal her heart to save her dying Earth X counterpart.  After that, their plan is to take over yet another Earth.  By episode 2 our main heroes are captured and deported to Earth X for episode 3, where they escape, meet the Freedom Fighters led by General (Winn) Schott, The Ray, and Leo Snart, and have to return home.  Episode 4 is the big showdown climax, because of course it is.

While there are moments -- as the CW shows always have its moments like this -- where the needs of the story more dictates the events than logic, it's a hugely entertaining crossover.  There's so much to delight in.  The fact is the crossover is so joyously LGBTQ positive, with Sarah proudly declaring to her father's Nazi doppleganger her bisexuality, the wonderful interactions between Sarah and Alex (every.time.), and the so adorable pairing of The Ray and Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller's new take on Captain Cold is even more delightful than the last one).  The show isn't even trying to make a huge deal out of it (otherwise that interaction between Mr. Terrific and The Ray would have been about being gay instead of their charming discussion of their superhero identities).

Likewise, for an event written by a guy who just got fired for sexual harassment, it's resoundingly awesome in its depictions of female heroes.  Not just Sarah and Alex, who make for a fantastic, and deadly, duo, but the trio of Zari, Vixen and Frost get to wreck a Waverider doppleganger, and Iris and Felicity tag-team to save Supergirl using smarts and moxie. Even the Earth X Felicity is a hero, just by being a good person amidst such evil.  Hell I even count it as a win that they remembered to bring back Clarissa, who has rarely been mentioned with all the talk of Lily and baby Ronnie.  There's a real sense of equality in this event, which is important when facing down against fascists and bigots.

I had to admire the event for not ever trying to make the Nazi Earth-Xers into anything remotely approaching sympathetic.  Oliver frequently tries to appeal to various opponents sense of humanity and finds them sorely wanting at every turn (including to the surprise reveal of Earth X Prometheus...probably one of the biggest surprises I've gotten from any entertainment in a long long time).  Thankfully there's absolutely no sympathy for straight up killing these top-tier a-holes, and there is even something mildly cathartic about it.  I mean, from a character arc perspective, Oliver has been wrestling with being a killer for quite a few seasons now, so it's a little uncomfortable seeing him do it with such relentless efficiency...but I feel no sympathy for the generic stormtroopers.  Barry on the other hand, when faced yet again with Eobard Thawn (somehow alive after the end of Season 2 of Legends), still can't bring himself to kill.  That even in the background we see the lethality of some characters and the non-lethal nature of others shows a remarkable attention to character detail.

It's almost impossible to not bring up Justice League when looking at "Crisis on Earth X" given the timing.  I mean they're two different beasts, but at the same time "Crisis" manages to entertain on an even bigger scale than Justice League on a fraction of the budget and time.  Sure there's hundreds of hours of character set-up backing "Crisis" up, but the payoff is huge, and constant, where Justice League flounders at even coming up with an antagonist with any real motivation or character.  Even at a fraction of the cost, "Crisis" still manages to deliver action sequences that, while maybe not as polished, are more dynamic than Justice League.  That even with the time and budget they had, Justice League's Flash effects are somehow inferior to the TV show.  "Crisis" legit feels like an event, Justice League feels like a small, forgettable story arc.

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Looking at the Ivan Reis-drawn "cover" for Crisis on Earth X above, it's totally inspired by the late-70's/early-80's Justice League/Justice Society crossovers.  It sparks a fury of nostalgia, which the show legitimately harnessed and executed upon.  If the goal is to outdo themselves every year, I can't wait to see what comes in 2018 (especially if they get Black Lightning in the mix). But seriously, there's 15 heroes namechecked on the cover, with a few more even missing:

Everyone who appears:
HEROES
1- Supergirl
2- Green Arrow
3- Flash
4- White Canary
5- Firestorm
6- Heat Wave
7- Vibe
8- Killer Frost
9- Black Canary
10- Wild Dog
11- Mister Terrific
12- The Atom
13- Vixen
14- Zari
15- Citizen Steel
16- Alex Danvers
17- The Ray
18- Captain Cold
19- The Guardian
20- Red Tornado
21- Iris West
22- Felicity Smoak
23- Kid Flash
24- J'onn J'onzz
25- Mon-El
26- Winn Schott
27- Joe West
28- Cecile
29- Clarissa Stein
30- Lily Stein
31- John Diggle
32- Kid Flash
33- Harrison Wells
BAD GUYS
34- Dark Arrow
35- Reverse-Flash (Thawn)
36- Overgirl
37- Metallo
38- Quentin Lance
39- Prometheus

That's an epic scale cast list we're not going to see again until Avengers: Infinity War.




Friday, December 1, 2017

10 for 10: "Netflix and chili" edition

[10 for 10... that's 10 movies TV shows which we give ourselves 10 minutes apiece to write about.  Part of our problem is we don't often have the spare hour or two to give to writing a big long review for every movie or TV show we watch.  How about a 10-minute non-review full of half-remembered scattershot thoughts? Surely that's doable?   ]


In this edition, 10 teevee programmes watched on Netflix.

1.Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23 - season 1 & 2 (Netflix)
2.The Crown - season 1 (Netflix)
3.The White Rabbit Project - season 1, 3 episodes (Netflix)
4.The OA - pilot (Netflix)
5.Chewing Gum - season 1 (Netflix)
6.Dear White People - season 1 (Netflix)

7.Maron season 1 & 2 (Netflix)
8.Friends from College - season 1, 4 episodes (Netflix) 
9. Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later (Netflix) 
10. Big Mouth -season 1 (Netflix)

aaaaand...go!

I remember seeing promos in 2012 for Don't Trust the B... and thinking "what the hell"?  From the mouthful of a title to the "James Van Der Beek as himself" it seemed like a show that was trying waaaay too hard to be part of the new wave of TV sitcoms that Arrested Development bore.  I gave it a hard pass.  Through the year and a half-ish that it was on television I saw people I knew who had good taste giving it a go and liking it, review sites giving it favourably passing grades, and I thought "how".  I mean, I have friends who watch Big Bang Theory and I know that's garbage, surely this goofy-titled poseur was just another hot pile in disguise, right?  I mean, I'm not a John Ritter fan at all, and I didn't think I'd be a fan of his kids either, nepotism and all.  But after coming to love Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones and learning she's not, in fact, even related to John Ritter, I needed to get more of a Krysten fix.  I hesitantly pressed play on Don't Trust The B... on Netflix and had a quick laugh very early on, plus saw  Nahnatchka Khan's name as creator (also created Fresh Off the Boat) and I was hooked.  Ritter's morally spurious Chloe is both just as nasty as her reputation suggests and nowhere near as nasty, really.  She could have been fairly one note, but I love how Ritter takes her on journies without ever getting "soft" (her on again/off again Aussie boyfriend/soulmate/nemesis is a show highlight).  Van Der Beek adds some "Sad Hollywood" humour and the extended cast of Dreama Walker, Eric Andre, Ray Ford as Luther (JVDB's assistant), Liza Lapria (Chloe's ex roommate and stalker), and Michael Blaiklock as the perv in the window across from them are all ridiculously fun.  This show hits it instantly with only a couple duds early on, and leaves a lasting impression.  I want a rewatch.

[12:46 -- oops]

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Oh the Royal Family.  We shouldn't care, and yet, we do.  I don't know why.  There's something about Rulers and Monarchs that is so ... other.  Especially in modern times of democracies and governments, the idea of a monarchy and royalty seems solely symbolic.  Thankfully The Crown elucidates on that symbolism by taking us into Queen Elizabeth's early days as ruler, taking over after her father passes away and her uncle abdicates to be with an unlikable American socialite.  The show zeroes in on how the titular crown affects Elizabeth's relationships, with her husband Philip who expects to be king (and is sorely disappointed/emasculated), with Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Churchill's story takes on its own fascinating sub-plot of calculation and back-biting within his party to oust him), and with various members of her staff, not to mention the colonies she visits and her receptions, both the ones she's aware of and the ones her aides attempt to shield her from.  It's a phenomenal show, Claire Foy amazingly inhabits the role and expresses the weight of it tangibly.  Ex- Doctor Who Matt Smith puts in a great turn as Philip, his jealousy and pettiness combined equally with sympathy and love.  Surprisingly outstanding is John Lithgow in his Emmy winning turn as Churchill... it shouldn't be surprising that he's so go but he's above and beyond.  I was utterly engrossed at both the historical and fictional recounting of this time as well as with the care to show it in a reflective lens of modern concerns.  Just a beautiful production.

[23:01]
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I miss Mythbusters.  I've been an on-again-off-again viewer of it since its inception, but it was in its final season when my daughter and I started watching it together.  It's science and entertainment, rolled into one, and highly educational while also being ridiculously silly.  It'll be back in some form soon enough, unfortunately The White Rabbit Project, which stars the Mythbusters b-listers Grant Imahara, Kari Byron, and Tori Belleci, doesn't quite hit the mark.  The basic premise of the show is to focus on one topic, find 5 or 6 prominent examples of the topic, look at the science of those examples, conduct some experiments and then judge which of them is the best based on whatever criteria they establish on the show.  The main problem with this is they go through their experiments much too rapidly on the show.  With 5 or 6 examples to get through every story and experiment feels rushed and the exploration factor, the trial-and-error part that Mythbusters did so well, is lost in the process.  Grant, Kari and Tori are capable, amiable hosts, but the premise of the show puts them in talking mode more than action/experimentation mode.  I really wish it were better.  As it is, I didn't get past the third episode, even with an enthusiastic 7 year old ready to watch.

[29:52]
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The OA opens with a feature-length pilot about a woman (played by Another Earth's Brit Marling, also the show's co-creator) who famously disappeared as a teen and then returns inexplicably seven years later.  She has some oddities that surround her, mysterious scars, and she starts calling herself "the OA".  Meanwhile her adoptive family tries to reconnect with her with difficulty, and she begins establishing perhaps inappropriate connections with some of her neighbours (mostly all younger than her).  Eventually she starts to open up, both about who she is and what she went through, but her tale of lost time is a difficult one to believe.  The believers though, gather with her, and experience a touch of the supernatural.  It's all a little too self-serious, hitting the same tenor as Another Earth but leaning hard into its more bizarre elements (specifically leaning into Marling's more bizarre and frustrating behavior).  The pilot, around the 50 minute mark, takes a dramatic left turn, as the OA recounts her tale as a young girl in Russia.  It's a lavish production, a harrowing half hour story that seems at once a tangent and absolutely the reason why one should watch this show.  And yet, I haven't gone back to it.  I'm definitely intrigued, but the tangent being more engrossing than the main tale to me was problematic.  That said I'm not sure I was particularly invested, and I've not quite decided whether Marling is a good actress or painfully one-note.  The show's tenor doesn't exactly allow for a broad range from its lead.  The facebook reaction at the time it came out seemed to be "it's mostly good but what the fuck"...which leads me to believe it has a frustrating ending that may not make the journey worthwhile.... I need someone to sell me on continuing with it...

[40:37]
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Haha, this show is great.  Just thinking about it makes me smile.  This British show is just goddamn fun.  Written and starring the formidable comedic talents of Michaela Coel as Tracey, it's a show about a repressed 20-something finally coming into her own sexuality it the the low-rent flats of suburban London, while still living with her mother and sister, both direly religious.  The show's explicitly frank sexual talk is utterly refreshing, and coupled with Tracey's ignorance, it's utterly hilarous.  It's a show that could easily fall into a cringe comedy trap, but because the characters are largely so open and honest with each other, the cringe factor rarely (I won't say never) manifests.  Tracey's just a supremely joyful and awkward person, naive but willing.  The supporting cast from her mother and sister, to her almost-kinda boyfriend and his invasive, liberated mother, to her in the closet ex, to her promiscuous friend and her suffering boyfriend, the show is full of amazing supporting characters, most delivering comedy gold.  (Tracey's sister having her own sexual awakening is just one of many, many highlights).  If you're not put off by sex or sex talk, give the pilot a shot.  If it doesn't hook you in then the show won't be for you, but it's practically genious.  So gloriously vibrant, fun, and riotously funny.  I don't think I've ever seen Coel before, but with this series, she's already a comedy legend to me... just a phenomenal spotlight for her.

[48:32]
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Oh, the heavy stuff.  Well, heavy, but not, but still heavy.  Dear White People is an series extension of the film of the same name which I've never heard of before.  The series itself is brilliant, exploring issues of race in America, largely African American but not solely.  The series uses its microcosm of a black dorm on an Ivy League campus to explore the macro issue, without ever forgetting that some of its characters who seem to have all the answers are still, in effect, kids without a lot of real world experience.  I loved the exploration of different black thought, and it's not that the show manages to come from every possible perspective but it does effectively reiterate that there's not just one voice when it comes to the black experience, but it equally effectively reiterates that there are common experiences across the board that are largely a result of systemic and even unintentional racism.

The genius of the show is in how it plays out.  It starts with an event, a campus party, an un-PC party put on by the campus humour/satire publication (a Harvard Lampoon of sorts), and it approaches it from our main character, Samantha.  Or at least we think it's our main character.  She hosts a campus radio program with the same title as the show that seeks to incite and inform in equal measure.  But the next episode our lead switches to Lionel, the demure side character from the first episode, as he becomes fully aware of his homosexuality, and we see the party and events leading to it from his perspective, but advancing slightly.  Each subsequent episode retraces steps with another character, but moves things forward, by midway the rather lighthearted take on race relations becomes in your face and dire, as an encounter with campus security turns almost deadly and the show does an incredible job at hitting to the core of what the police violence against black people means, the lack of safety in the world, the crawling unease.  Eventually the show swings back to it's lighter perspective, but after that it never lets go of the fact that America (and many other places, let's not kid ourselves) still treat black people as "other".  The show explores the roots and continued fight for equality in a systemically corrupt reality.

It's not a straight comedy, it's not a drama, but it manages both incredibly well.  The cast is incredible, and many of the characters become instant favourites, such that we're eager to see the spotlight circle back on them but also disappointed that it's to the detriment of other favourites.  Just an incredibly well put together show.

[1:02:16]
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I've reviewed Maron once before, back when IFC threw fans a bone and place a couple episodes on youtube.  In the years since Maron had four seasons and is now finis, but has been available on Netflix for some time.  I've slowly worked my way through the first half of the show in fits and starts, pretty much the same way I consume Marc Maron's podcast now.  The podcast has hundreds of episodes, each with a famous or semi-famous person, always with a cold open of Maron discussing his life.  The TV show flips that.  The show is mostly about his life with a bit of the podcast where he's interviewing a celebrity creeping in.  It's Maron's angst that leads the show.  Nearing 50 at the show's inception Maron's past the mid-life crisis, has done a ton of self-help, and is a much better person than he used to be.  He's not a slave to his demons anymore, but they occasionally return to remind him of who he was, which only surges him on to try and do better.  But old habits die hard.  Maron is a compelling central figure, a solitary man not looking desperately for love, a man only marginally burdened by his parents, a man whose friends are as messed up as he is, only generally more secretive about it.  Maron's life, especially towards the end of season 1 and the start of season 2 spiral out of control when a particularly destructive and invasive relationship begins and then decays.  It's a relationship I knew from Marc's real life told through the podcast but it's fascinating to see it play out in fiction.  Part of my fun was recounting to my wife the reality of the situation which was actually just as crazy if not crazier than the show.  There's a hint of cringe comedy to Maron, but most of it is Maron fighting with his own worse tendencies in a given situation, sometimes side stepping the cringe, and sometimes stepping right into it, it's not knowing which way it will go that makes it so satisfying, and funny.  With a tinge of DIY and a hint of melancholy, few other comedies have felt like Maron, and few others trying to find this balance are as successful at being funny.

[1:10:51]
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Oh I was so looking forward to Friends From College as an exploration of how friends you made from one of the peak times of your life have grown or not grown with you, how friendships have evolved or stagnated, how those old habits and tendencies you have with those friends crop up every time you see them, and how those same things impact your significant other when they're invited to join in yet are perpetually the outsider.  Ostensibly these things happen in Friends From College, but the show is less a broad exploration than it is a very specific one, for this very specific group of friends.  I dunno, I just couldn't relate.  Nick Stoller has done some fun, funny, accessible films, but this, this was off putting, despite it's fantastic cast which includes Keegan Michael Key, Cobie Smulders, Nat Faxon, Annie Parisse and Fred Savage.  The show opens with Key and Parisse engaging in a post-coital discussion in a hotel room, their long-standing relationship obvious by the familiarity they have with one another.  As the conversation progresses, these are obviously people who are in love with each other and still good friends after all these years, a real solid relationship to start the show on...except when it becomes clear that these two are not married to each other, and in fact have been cheating on their own spouces with each other since before either were ever married.  It makes the show wildly uncomfortable from the get go, and despite the likability of both actors, it's hard to like or sympathize with the characters at all, and it's hard to find something to root for... do we want them to break up their otherwise happy marriages/families (Parisse has a child, Key and Smulders are going through IVF to try to have a child) and friendships?  It's a no win situation for the show, even if Key and Parisse choose to never sleep with each other again.  After four episodes of this horseshit sneaking around and cringe-inducing situation comedy around covering tracks and friends finding out, I couldn't really take watching anymore.

[1:20:00]
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The first Wet Hot American Summer Netflix series, First Day of Camp was great for how it played with the timeline of the original movie in relation to the actual timeline in real life...that is to say, it was old comedians attempting to play teenagers, the results were never not funny.  This sequel series Ten Years Later takes its cue from the end of the film where the characters promise to regroup in 10 years time, and we get to see where they all wound up.  The First Day of Camp succeeded in spite of its logistical challenges, bringing together its repetoire of now very successful actors and comedians, and having a script that juggled their availability in any one scene adeptly.  Ten Years Later feels less well planned, the logistics not working out as well, and rushed in spots.  The excuses they make for replacing Bradley Cooper with Adam Scott, for instance lends its own spot of comedy, as does the retroactive inclusion of two new players Mark Feuerstein and Sarah Burns and the continual flashbacks that insert them into sequences of the film or preceding series where they never were.  This would be more amusing if the show didn't spend so much time with them.  The cast of characters was large enough that spending (a lot of) time on two new characters only makes them stand out more as outsiders (and for them to be quite unlikable as well doesn't help anything).  There's an absurd plot involving George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan that also doesn't quite take off, primarily for how much cheap comedy circulates around them, and yet the show's under-arching plot pretty much hangs off it.  There's a lot of fun stuff in Ten Years Later but not nearly as much as First Day of Camp.  Like most comedy sequels, it's diminishing returns on similar jokes.

[1:28:38]
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I can't say that Chewing Gum inspired Big Mouth, but these are two peas of the same pod, despite one being very British, the other very America, one a live action cartoon being about people in their 20's discovering their sexuality, and the other a highly animated cartoon about teenagers discovering sexuality as they go through puberty.  Both are incredibly frank and hilarious, although I might have to give Big Mouth  an edge largely for what it dares to do with it metaphors come to life.  Created by Nick Kroll and his childhood friend Andrew Goldberg (with Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin) its a mostly fictional recounting of their pubescence, with Kroll playing Nick and frequent collaborator John Mulaney playing Andrew.  Andrew's puberty is hitting him hard, and he's shadowed constantly by the Hormone Monster (also played by Kroll), who's like the little devil on his shoulder telling him to get into trouble, only there's little sinister about it, it's just a personification of urges.  Nick and Andrew hang out with Jessi (Jessie Klein) who has her own Hormone Mistress played brilliantly by Maya Rudolph and, for some reason, Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) who is that kid who's just the filthiest kid, extremely annoying, you never want to be around them, and yet you're friends with them for some reason.  The show's exploration of pre-teen sexuality is very daring, but necessarily frank, and absurdly true to life, despite its grandiose metaphors.  At one point Jessi has a conversation with her vagina (as played by Kristen Wiig) and there's a sequence where Nick, still having not hit puberty, catches a glimpse of Andrew's post-pubescent crotch and can't think of anything but...it's penises everywhere.  The casting is brilliant, the show is largely spot on (one episode's spotlight on Jay's relationship with his pillow is, perhaps, too weird, stretching the metaphor way past its breaking point), and it's full of quotable quotes (as often based on inflection as cleverness).  I'm a huge fan of Kroll, from his stand-up to Kroll Show to Oh, Hello on Broadway and now this... it's not just about how talented Kroll is, but the people he surrounds himself with.  Outrageous, and again, like Chewing Gum, not for prudes.  Watch the first episode, if it puts you off you won't want to continue.

[1:42:22]

-fin-


Thursday, November 30, 2017

We Agree: The Babadook

2014, d. Jennifer Kent (no relation) - TMN

As David writes at the start of his 31 Days of Horror (you really need a "31 days" tag for that Toasty!) each year "Kent is not that much of a horror fan".  It's true.  I don't hate it but I also don't really enjoy it.  Large parts of "horror" exist only to try and out gross-out the viewer, most other parts of horror exist to jump scare an audience through a series of convoluted or obvious set-ups (like action set-pieces, both of these are the horror set-pieces a film builds itself around).  In both cases story and character are largely dispensed with.  Rudimentary frameworks for gags and boos.  I find most horror off-putting or tedious.  The horror I like most is ones that are mythology heavy, crossing into fantasy/sci-fi conceits with the level of exploration.  The 80's were rife with these, where horror creatures became icons...Michael Meyers, Freddie, Jason, Alien, Gremlins, Ghoulies, C.H.U.D.s, Critters, Leprichauns, Poltergeists, Chucky dolls... too many franchises to count.  Even still most of the big franchises would offer only the smallest amount of mythos-building.  What the average fantasy or sci-fi story would do in one film, you're often lucky to get half that over the run of an entire series of a horror franchise.  So, because I get bored, or put-off, or generally feel unfulfilled by horror, I stay away from it.

There have been some horror movies in the past 20 or so years that I really liked.  Most of them have been very meta in nature, such as Cabin in the Woods or Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.  Even Bride of Chucky which was mid-90's alongside Scream, Wes Craven's New Nightmare or Halloween H20...those are kind of my stand-out horror flicks.  They're the ones that look at the genre and say "well this is stupid, we know it's stupid, we're going to fully acknowledge how stupid it is, and we're going to scare/entertain the pants off you anyway".  I mean, the scares are fairly light in these kinds of meta flick, but they are entertaining.

Every now an then I'd get suckered into watching some "new, great thing" in horror only to find it direly like all the old, tired horror I've seen before.  I assume this is what people who get bored by action movies feel like every time someone tells them how great The Raid or John Wick or the latest Fast and Furious are and how they take things to another level.  The Babadook was my latest suckerpunch.

For starters, it stars the great Essie Davis (star of the wonderful Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries available on Netflix), second it's directed by a woman (with my surname no less) which usually infers a different viewpoint for a genre film (since they're so male-dominated), and third it's Australian, so perhaps the tropes of horror aren't the same Down Under.  Now that the Babadook has become a pop-culture icon (with all that Pennywise/Babadook slash fiction and meme-ery blossoming) , I figured it was time to watch.

And jeebus was I bored.  Davis plays a single mother with a child who, to put it lightly, is a handful.  But he's no more a handful than most kids out there, she's obviously been depressed for a long, long time and as such has been light on discipline with the boy (I don't mean punishment, I mean more in setting boundaries and holding him accountable to them).  As a parent I can attest how hard it is to be mindful of your kid all the time. Even with a dedicated partner in parenting it's still brutally taxing, so as a single mother battling depression it's got to be utterly crushing when your child refuses to easily cooperate.

It probably doesn't help that this mother character reads her child ghoulish tales at bedtime.  I'm not sure why she thinks this is a good idea.  Pulling an unfamiliar book off the shelf, a scratch-line-illustrated, black and white pop-up book called the Babadook, she reads it to the boy and sends him off to his restless, nightmare-filled slumber.  She doesn't sleep well either.  Soon the boy is seeing the Babadook everywhere, and her world starts to fall apart.  Is it the sleep deprivation or the depression, or is there really a mythical entity that's trying to get in?

This is a tedious movie, one which I really struggled to get the message of.  Yes, parenthood, especially single parenthood is hard...doing it while combating depression probably makes it so a hundred fold.  But what is the Babadook supposed to represent?  The personification of you "not being yourself"? The biggest failure of the film is to establish the Babadook's mythology.  The children's book is irritatingly opaque in its story to suggest anything about what its motivations are (it wants to take over people..."Let me in" it screams... or is it "Let me out"?  This movie didn't leave much of an impact). 

I left the Babadook, as I do with most horror, feeling unfulfilled.  Effective horror for me leaves me either entertained or contemplative, or both.  I like a romp of action-horror, or a strong metaphor (still need to do that Get Out review), or a rich mythology to process.  Like David, I found the boy to be more irritating than sympathetic.  Davis does an excellent job appearing beaten down by her depression and lack of sleep and general life situation, but the editing and camera techniques designed to sell it even further are distracting, sometimes looking like cheap television. 

When Davis' character is finally overcome by the Babadook,it doesn't feel right... it's too overt.  The film's riding on subtlety, so that when it finally cracks, and the monster reveals itself, it's too cartoony, too over-the-top.   The resolution is similarly pat in a way that feels like cheating.

I wished I liked it. I wanted to like it, but it just didn't click.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Justice League

With Toasty taking an internet hiatus I better pull up my socks and post with regularity.  He's been keeping this thing floating for a couple years now, suppose it's my turn.  Come back soon David, I'm tired already...
 
2017, d. Zack Snyder (*cough*andJossWhedon*cough*)

Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy
Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality
The biggest problem Justice League had facing it was everything that Zack Snyder established before it.  Man of Steel was a big enough problem on its own: Snyder produced a decently interesting film, but his fundamental lack of understanding/dislike of the character made for a terrible Superman movie, one where a beacon of hope and altruism became a dour, glowering, brooding, put-upon Christ-like figure.  For the sequel, rather than tone shifting, Snyder basically doubled down on the brooding otherness of Superman, and pitted this sickeningly gloomy version of the character against a bitter and broken Batman.  If there's a bright spot to the 150+ minute Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justiceit was Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, something even more recognizable when Wonder Woman finally got her own film on the big screen (in fact the only not great part of Wonder Woman was the wholly unnecessary prologue/epilogue that shoehorned it back into the Snyder-verse).

The events of Man of Steel are integral to the plot of Batman V Superman, and likewise the events of Batman V Superman are integral to the plot of Justice League.  But Warner Brothers, following the wild success of Wonder Woman, and the critical lambasting of every other DC Comics-centric film they have made, determined Justice League needed to course correct...and since Justice League had already finished principle photography by that point, it was like making a U-turn on a cliffside highway.  Snyder had a vision for a 3-hour Justice League acting as "Part 1" set-up for an even greater "Part 2" menace.  The 3 hour run time would have given enough time to properly introduce three core members to the cast in Cyborg, Aquaman and Flash (as well as establish their own smaller realities and supporting casts) while also running through the gathering of the team and (blowing yet another possible Superman solo outing) shoehorning in the rebirth of Superman. 

By the time Snyder left the project (due to a personal tragedy) this past summer, he had already expressed that Justice League would be lighter AND that it was no longer going to be a two-parter.  When Warner Bros. brought in Joss Whedon as a replacement to handle the reshoots, everyone became very aware that the Warners were likely undercutting, if not attempting to eschew entirely the Snyder aesthetic.  The film that made it to theatres bears that out.

Justice League is a hot mess.  It's a film that's less cobbled together than stripped down.  Gone is the 3-hour runtime, in place is a rather brisk 1h 50 (plus 10 minutes of credits).  The film opens with the world facing the weight of Superman's death (though what it signifies completely flies in the face of what Snyder established in films previous), it tries to catch us up on Batman, Wonder Woman and Lois Lane some time later, but it's all quite rushed.  There's no time to think about the weight of prior events, something else is happening. 

All the dream sequences and all the foreshadowing of Batman V Superman were not for naught, but almost for naught.  They have no real weight or relevance in this film.  What was supposed to be a tried and true sequel now feels like the cinematic equivalent of a U.S. politician distancing themselves from a campaign aide who was discovered to have ties to Russia.  They would just rather you forget about the past altogether, but it's hard when the past keeps creeping into the film.  Despite only having 4 months to reshoot, edit, score and animate, I'd guess about anywhere from 1/4 to 1/3 of the film is made up of the reshoots, so there's totally a rushed feeling to this at times.  I'm sure if this had been all Whedon's vision it would have been completely distanced affair from Batman V Superman.  Likewise if this had been all Snyder's vision, it would have been much more polished (and utterly laborious).

What Whedon brings to the table is an understanding of comic book superheroes and what makes them fun. Snyder wants them to be capital-i "Important" while Whedon mostly thinks you should enjoy their adventures.  What Whedon also brings to the table is relentless quipping.  Every damn character now has quips edited in as asides (Batman has far too many, and while it humanizes Bruce Wayne, it demystifies Batman), to the point where it's always obvious and often annoying (it was pointed out to me that these were probably extracted from longer scenes in the editing process).  Ezra Miller's Flash is almost all quips, with not much else to his character.  At the same time, I appreciate his enthusiasm.

Whedon also brings us a Superman we actually recognize.  Death was probably the best thing to happen to Snyder's Superman, because he came back a much happier, sunnier, uncannily-vallier person.  Almost every scene of Superman is obviously from the reshoots, as evidenced by the now infamous CGI mustache-mask (Cavill was working on the latest Mission Impossible as the villain when the reshoots call came in, and the MI producers refused to let him shave it, so the producers had to edit it out with not enough time to make it look anywhere close to natural).  But in spite of Superman's creepy upper lip, damn, this is the Superman we've wanted Henry Cavill to be for 6 years now.

In fact all the main Justice Leaguers wind up coming out of this okay.  Everyone's getting the short shrift, here, especially supporting cast, but of the main team there's enough there to like, and even want more of.  The same can't be said for the villain, however.  Steppenwolf might as well just be a sharknado that the Justice League is fighting, he's just a force of nature.  There's no personality, no defining traits, nothing remotely close to drive or real motivation beyond plot necessity, and almost no emotional connection for the characters.  Think of the worst of the Marvel Cinematic Universe villains... he's right in league with them, and probably beneath them. 

It's almost the worst case scenario.  While it would have been awful to have two bloated, Snyder-directed Justice League movies, at the same time at least it would be presented as a whole saga alongside Man of Steel and Batman V Superman.  No matter how bad it was, at least the vision would be fulfilled.  Like, imagine if Guy Ritchie stepped in for Christopher Nolan to complete The Dark Knight Rises... it's a flawed series but the consistency of vision makes up for it.  I don't even like Snyder's vision, and somehow I still kind of wish it were allowed to be completed.  Because otherwise we get this, where Steppenwolf, meant as the set-up for Darkseid, but is now just a generic nobody that closes out half of the damn point of Batman V Superman with such a whimper.

Justice League isn't a film you suffer through -- it's actually somehow kind of fun -- but I've been waiting for a Justice League film for almost 40 years (and others have waited much longer than I), and this is just barely serviceable.  This is a starting point, albeit a highly unfortunate one.  This is the WB recognizing that they were wrong and course correcting.  They messed up Superman, twice, they messed up Green Lantern, they've messed up the Joker, and they damn nearly messed up the Justice League (the box office is so underwhelming that, in reality, they did mess it up).  If it weren't for the resounding success of Wonder Woman (and the fact they have an Aquaman feature already finished shooting), I'd be certain they would plan yet another universe reboot in two years time.  But they're committed now.  They so desperately wanted to play catch up with Marvel that they've done just about everything wrong.  The fact is, even with the Wonder Woman/Justice League course correction, the entire DC Cinematic Universe is situated on an foundation that will always taint it.  No matter how good it might get (and let's be realistic, the odds are kind of against it getting really good), it's going to still have Man of Steel, Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, and, yes, Justice League to answer for.*

(*unless the Flash-based "Flashpoint" movie completely reboots the Universe)








Friday, November 24, 2017

A Netflix Thursday : November 2017

A day off work.  What to do?  Do I waste half my day traveling to and from a theatre to watch a movie?  Do I binge watch a season of a TV show I've been meaning to check out (or finish)?  Do I play some solo board games? Do I read some of my stockpile of comics? Do I continue slowly plodding through my current book? Do I fart around on my phone and the internet, just killing time?  Or do I work through my all-too-long and ever-growing Netflix queue?  A real Sophie's Choice?  Ooh, should I watch Sophie's Choice?

Colossal - 2016, d. Nacho Vigalondo

The film opens with brief prologue of a giant monster suddenly emerging in Seoul.  25 years later,  party-girl Gloria (a bewigged Ann Hathaway) gets dumped by her boyfriend after yet another night of, well, partying and kicked out of his New York apartment.  She returns to her parents furniture-less rental home upstate to help find herself, hoping that perhaps distancing herself from the wrong people will change her behavior.  She reconnects with Childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudekis) who has never left, now running his father's bar.  After a night drinking at the bar with his friends and an awkward interaction, she passes out at home.  When she wakes up she learns that a monster (the same one from 25 years earlier) has attacked Soeul.  It dominates the news, and everyone's world is a little different.  The next night, she gets blackout drunk, and the monster emerges again...not attacking so much as making weird gestures, and Gloria sees her own actions mimicked by the creature, but she's not certain if she's the cause, and her guilt weighs upon her.  She investigates and finds the manifestation is tied to a specific location and a specific time in her hometown.

I thought perhaps this was some form of allegory or metaphor, that the manifestation of the monster was reflective of Gloria's self-destructive behavior.  And in a way it is.  On another drunken night she shows Oscar and friends what happens, and it's confirmed, but she stumbles and she's the cause of more deaths.  Her recklessness affects more lives than her own, but in the process Oscar learns that he becomes a giant robot in Seoul as well.

To this point, Oscar has been very helpful to Gloria, very sweet and giving.  But after Gloria leaves the bar with his friend Joel, he takes a very sudden and very dark turn.  At first Gloria sees a reflection of her own self-destructive behavior in Oscar's actions, and then Oscar starts manipulating and controlling her by threatening lives.  It's here where the film falls apart, the rather light touch the film had to start turns ugly and dark in a very unpleasant way.  There's a backstory as to why Gloria and Oscar are connected like this to Seoul, why they manifest the monster where and when they do, but it's terribly silly and doesn't make a lot of thematic sense.  Oscar's statement "I'm the robot, you're the monster" doesn't hold water, metaphorically.

As Gloria has to fight Oscar to protect Seoul, it becomes really ugly (as, inexplicably Joel just kind of stands by to watch...Gloria gets no real support from any man in this story...and it's rather unpleasant once I realized that there's no other female characters in this film either).  Yeah, I get that some people are not good people, that their inner demons get the better of them, and that some people can wrest control from those demons while others succumb to them, but the way the film turns the metaphor into physical conflict is ham-handed.  I was hoping this would be all drama, all the way, that Oscar were truly a robot that needed to be reminded about his heart and that Gloria would see that she's not the monster.  In a way the latter happened with her becoming the hero, but it's unrewarding to see what seemed to be a metaphysical light-drama become a muddle drama-action.


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Okja - 2017, d. Bong Joon Ho


Lucy Mirando (a perky Tilda Swinton) has taken the lead of the troubled Mirando Corporation from her unlikable sister, and seeks to reinvent the company with a new super-piglet found in Chile.  They've reproduced 26 of them and scattered around the world to be raised by local farming traditions for 10 years, ending with the Best Super Pig competition prize winner and the debut of new Super Pig food products.  Given the animal's size, yet low consumption, are meant to revolutionize food consumption and ecological footprint.

10 years later we meet Okja, a sweet and gentle giant, we first meet one with a bramble stuck in its paw, and gently begging for food.  She is raised by Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her grandfather live on a conservation in the mountains of South Korea.  A moment of Mija in peril highlights the creature's intelligence and cleverness, and also her heart, compassion and bond with others.  I think Bong drew a lot of inspiration from My Neighbour Totoro in presenting Okja and her relationship with Mija.  It's certainly effective.

But Okja is not Mija's to keep, and with the 10 year anniversary up, the Mirando corporation takes Okja to Seoul before transporting it to New York for the big competition finale.  Mija runs away to rescue her leading to a big farcical romp in Seoul where activists from the Animal Liberation Front hijack Okja's transport, setting the creature free.  Mija manages to run off with the creature through town, causing much havoc.  In the end the ALF has designs to use Okja to expose Lucy Mirando's white-faced lies to the world, exposing their "natural super pig" as an actual genetically modified aberration.


Lucy is not a cackling supervillain, Swinton gives her a real well-meaning intentions, a real desire to help change the world, but through a through small deceptions.  It's when things fall apart and we meet her sister, who reasserts control, that we realize the machinations of big corporations, whether openly honest or deceitful, tend to succeed regardless as a result of the consuming populace's own willful ignorance.

Is this an anti-meat movie?  Not at all, actually.  What it instead is preaching, if anything, is awareness.  Just be mindful of what you're consuming.  The second half of the final act takes place in a slaughterhouse, a place where Bong could have turned the film into a real horror-show, with stark angles and lighting and skreetchy soundtrack, but it's all presented very matter-of-factly.  Though the animals are fictional, it's pretty true to the reality of mass-production slaughterhouses.  It's a film that doesn't pretend to have the answers...how do we feed the world with compassionate farming.  It knows the conundrum.  It ultimately is merely the story of a girl and her super-pig.  The weight of the reality surrounding it is up to the viewer to decide what to do with it.

It's a sweet, enjoyable, exceptionally well-crafted adventure film, which is always to be expected from Bong.  With a few tweaks (language mostly, but the extremity of a couple of scenes) it would practically be a children's film, although I imagine the heavy dose of reality might be somewhat traumatic for children, which is why it's not a kids film.

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It Follows - 2014, d. David Robert Mitchell

A young woman runs out of the house at dusk in her underwear and high heels.  She keeps looking behind her.  Her neighbour is concerned but she dismisses it.  Her dad is concerned, she avoids him and runs back in the house.  The soundtrack, a pulsating, crunchy electronic score, kicks in, riddled with momentum, and Annie takes off with her family car.  The chase is on.  It ends on a beach in the middle of the night.  There's nobody else around.  At dawn Annie's body is in the same spot, horrendously mutilated.

Jay (Maika Monroe) has been on a couple dates with "Jake".  She has sex with him, after which he chloroforms her.  She wakes up tied to a chair in a run down garage where a clearly paranoid Jake explains the premise...it was passed along to him the same way he passed it along to her, it's something following him, it can look like anyone - friend, family, a complete stranger, a face in the crowd - but it follows.  Never go anywhere without two exits, don't let it touch you, and don't let it kill you or it will come for him again...try to pass it along.  Jake drops Jay off on her curbside at home and runs.  A police investigation reveals he's not Jake and that Jay didn't contract anything from him, not anything science can detect, but it's not long before Jay begins to understand his paranoia.

Goddamn this film is freaky.  No matter where she is...at school, in the house, in her room, there's no safety.  She can't sleep, always on guard.  Her neighbour Greg takes her to a "Jake's place"...an abandoned house that seems set up for hiding out from ...it.  Cans and bottles hanging in front of the covered windows, a bed and supplies among the dirt and detritus, a stock of pharmaceuticals in the drug cabinet.   As Jay, her siblings and friends Scooby Gang their way through finding Jake, the camera pans around the premises, just scanning.

There's an awesomely weird sense of style to this film.  The grinding 80's synth score, the differently advanced technology (an e-Reader that looks like a make-up compact), the lousy black&white sci-fi films on TV, clothes that are modern and retro from multiple generations, the old picture tube TVs, the 70's decor of Jay's family home, the station wagon... as if it's reflecting upon horror films from across decades.

It Follows is an amazing suspense/horror film... an absolute classic of the genre.  It doesn't just live in the suspense of Jay's predicament, but establishes an awkward dynamic among the Scooby Gang.  The film builds a metaphysical entity with a past, and no clear method of stopping it.

(David's take)
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Shimmer Lake - 2017, d. Orin Uziel

Oddly writer-director Uziel conscripted a bunch of typically comedic actors in a crime drama.  Rainn Wilson, Adam Pally, Rob Coddry, John Michael Higgins, and Ron Livingston are the most notible names in a solid cast of character actors muddling their way through a series of murders and betrayals after a bank robbery in a small Ohio town.

The film is told in four chapters, begining on a Friday and works its way back to Monday, the story starting out as fragments, but the puzzle eventually filling itself in the further back we go.  There are so many characters, so many common family names, it's initially a bit of a maze, but by Wednesday the connections and motives start to gel.  A bank robbery, a schlubby Joe on the run, two dull feds, a dead Judge, and the town sheriff, and a meth lab explosion all intertwine to form a rather engaging story, even if the mystery of it is rather obvious.

There's a bit of a Fargo feel (more the TV series rather than the Movie) except there's something off about our lead Sheriff played by Benjamin Walker.  Where in Fargo the Sheriff is our moral compass, the most upstanding person in the town, here Zeke is "the smartest person in the room" but there's an edge to his placid demeanor.  Small moments - a vile distaste for his sister-in-law's cooking for example - doesn't inspire the same smooth calm that we got from Frances McDormand, Allison Tollman, Carrie Coon or Patrick Wilson.  But then it's not Fargo, it's just Fargo-esque.

There's a sense of humour to the proceedings (with all these comic actors there would have to be), odd exchanges of inane banter, more than a bit of bumbling from our crooks after the robbery and even during.  I enjoyed how each day starts with a character waking up with a start, and the running gag of Pally's Deputy having to sit in the back seat of the squad car every day made me wish there were more than just four days being covered.  It's like jeopardy comedy where the big payoff comes first, and then the joke slowly builds to it's starting point.

It's a film that could've tried to be too clever for its own good with its structure, but it's just the framework it hangs an enjoyable story upon...I'm not certain it's ever even really trying to outsmart its audience or be too impressed with itself.  If anything the downside to its structure is its inability to have a coda, to see how things worked out for the schemers.


The Hiatus Post: Blade Runner 2049

I am taking a break from the web. Not being on the web, but contributing. I have been posting something to something blog related since 1999. I have had unintended extended breaks, but I always felt the pressure to do something. This time, I am under far too many other pressures and I just need one fewer thing that I feel compelled to do. The photoblog is paused, this blog will be paused. On my side, at least; Kent will do as Kent's life allows him to do.

2017, Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) -- cinema

Disclosure. I haven't felt compelled to watch Blade Runner in quite sometime. Disclosure. I actually enjoy the original version, with it's noir over-dub. Disclosure. I never really liked the idea of Deckard possibly being a replicant himself. Disclosure. While I never avoided spoilers, apparently I did because I never caught the first one, till the opening footage.

So, thirty years since the last movie took place, 35 years since the last movie came out. And Villeneuve still wonders why this movie didn't do better. To me its obvious; the original's fanbase was not only late in coming (the original didn't do well either) but they are now old & jaded. Sure, the younger fanbase of all things scifi and retro is there, but again... jaded. As for the rest of the world, the world that makes up the population that determines a movie being a success or not? Despite "hey girl" Ryan Gosling being the lead, its slow paced, atmospheric scifi. And it cost a fortune to make. So, really, not so much of a mystery Denis.

But still dude, I loved it. Fucking loved it. But get it, this is not big grins and rush-right-out-to-see-it-again loving it. This is knowing my expectations and having them met, if not exceeded. It is a lush, colourful (no, really it is) homage to the original while being a powerful, standalone movie. I just wish the plot had been tighter, as in the end, after all the exposition about the powerful central theme I still couldn't really tell you anyone's motivations beyond Joe's. Why exactly did the Bad Guy need Deckard? The replicant underground? Hell, other than the option of tossing the old pigskin back n forth, why did Joe need Deckard? But meh, who cares, I just watched the fuck out of this movie.

The visuals, the aging anachronistic world (remember, now was The Future of the original) where the decay of mother earth is apparent. Is that snow? Ash? Ashen snow? Isn't this LA ? No plants, no real animals no nothing but industrial decay and bodies everywhere. One can assume that the humans left on earth exist for no other reason than to fuel the off-world colonies exodus, through labour and spending. At some point that spending will be done, and ... abandonment.

Speaking of the visuals, I must admit, I am in the camp of being disappointed about the female centric sex machine of the movie. C'mon, I get it, you think the girls get Gosling so we get Joi, the Not Real Girl. But, what about the background? Wouldn't the Joi advertising try and appeal to all ? Unless they didn't want to interfer with the whole Joe-Joi unreal couple thing. The how about the pleasure droid brothel? There wasn't a single sexual exploitative male image, and that just seems ... unrealistic.

In the end, after two-plus hours, I was left satisfied. And more than eager for another part of the story, even moreso than after the dozen plus times I have seen the original. I want to see where the offworld colonies go, what is left with Earth, and now that Replicants know they can procreate, what is next for them?

Friday, October 27, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Stranger Things S2

Netflix, 2017, The Duffer Brothers -- Netflix

Disclosure: This is it. This is the last review for this season. We binged on Season Two over the three days of the birthday weekend. We didn't close out the season. And to be honest, I didn't even keep up with the postings, despite the date on the post.

loved Stranger Things S1.  So did Kent. And for season two, as it was released on my birthday, it was my gift to myself. I took the day off work and we watched a handful of episodes. No, we do not Whole Show binge.

I, again, loved it. Just loved it. They did a successful followup to an astoundingly popular and successful first season. They did it, they found the niche with which to follow the first season, which was again a mix of familiar genres and tropes related to the 1980s.

Some people lamented the lack of D&D in the second season, and I get it, kids wouldn't just abandon D&D over one summer, despite the trauma connecting their campaign to real life. But as film, as art, opening this season in a video game arcade was downright perfect. And playing the reviled but loved DragonQuest just oozed icing on my birthday cake. You seem, I loved Don Bluth. Even back then, an arcade game that had fantasy and Bluth was perfect. But that 50 cent quarter eater was a fucking fucker of a game. I loved it, I hated it.

So, the first season ended with the defeat of the DemoGorgon and the loss of Eleven. Will is back but she is gone and their lives are changed forever, especially Mike's. Will is just not the same and continues to have nightmares and ... flashbacks (flashovers?) to the UpsideDown. The research lab has been co-opted by a bunch of other scientists who are trying to understand the breach (into said UpsideDown) and seal it. And they are studying Will, under the guise of therapy. But really, they are not the Big Bad this season, and are kind of helpful in a top secret government lab sort of way.

I said it on FB, and I say it here. If season one was Alien (single alien, eerie, dark) then season two is Aliens with its bigger scope, tactical thinking and Paul Reiser. There is one episode that makes that comparison obvious. But this is genre mashing, so we go all the way, even giving us a cabin in the woods and a high school dance.

If the season made one misstep, it was with the after-show. The Walking Dead does it, Game of Thrones did it; almost everyone is doing a show after the show, where cast & guests talk about the show, all meta fanboy like. But the mistake was having this as a "you binged the series, now binge the aftershow". I like to pace things, so I would have liked to flip back and forth, listening to people talk about each episode and savouring it. But instead, I had to listen to the kids struggle to have concrete discussions about themes and ideas, that they didn't actually grasp until it was mentioned to them out loud. Sure, they are a charming bunch (but, Finn Wolfhard [that's his D&D character name, right?] is probably going to grow up to be a Corey) but they are adolescents, so I only have so much patience.

The season ends without any real closure. It was very much a setup for a coming season. They don't so much as defeat the Mind Flayer (what, no one got pedantic and said "It's called an Illithid") as get away from it, and keep it at bay in the UpsideDown. So, darkness is still out there and our world is still in danger.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Creep

2014, Patrick Brice (The Overnight) -- Netflix

This one has stuck with me. Its another from the list of standard recommendations but the premise never caught. But near the end of this month's event, we always just go "nope nope nope nope" and finally settled on, "OK, sure why not."

Its another Found Footage movie, but not from the usual fare. A guy answers a Craig's List posting where someone needs to record footage of a couple of days of his life. In order to leave a legacy for his coming son, as he is dying of cancer. So, guy with camera shows up to house in the woods. Not creepy house, just a twisty, windy house at the top of some long steps. And guy is fucking weird, that uncomfortable guy who is too open, too touch-feely and really, just creeps you out. Thus the movie's title.

But camera guy needs the money and buys into the sob story. Big mistake.

Eventually he figures our our creep is just that, some lying weirdo with no discernible agenda other than getting this camera guy to be his friend. Every encounter is weirder, until things start getting downright criminal. The movie does a wonderful job of just driving us out of our skin. With a personality mixing up a car salesman, a needy new-ager and a dangerously mentally damaged individual, the creep just keeps on escalating the connectivity until... well, until we learn his true agenda.

Chop.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Godzilla

1998, Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow) -- Netflix

Another cheat, but not because we watched it prior, but because its not horror in the least -- but it IS a monster movie!

I hated this movie when I first saw it. They so quickly went from doing a nouveau Godzilla movie into doing a Jurassic Park ripoff when the newly hatched Godzooky's chase Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno around Madison Square Garden. But the early scenes of the mutated Gila Monster, if you take the opening sequence with any credence, are rather awe-inspiring. You can so easily see the inspirational bits used later for Cloverfield, especially with the idea that a 400' monster can hide & sneak up on you.

But I have warmed to the movie, in the way I have warmed to Independence Day. The lunacy of it is heart-warming, which is probably exactly how it was intended. And its a Emmerich movie, so his style which I love when applied to disaster movies, is apparent. But migawd, is it bad. Even less than the oft whinged about new Godzilla movie, they barely use the titular monster. He should be the front & center man, but they keep on hiding him and distracting us with eggs and screaming reporters. If the bad Japanese movies taught us anything, its that we have to bring the monster to the forefront -- he is the leading man. I look forward to the sequel of the current franchise, to see this done.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Alien Covenant

2017, Ridley Scott (Kingdom of Heaven) -- download

Another cheat insert.

I am not a fan of Prometheus. I found it a re-hash of what had been done before and even more plot hole filled than the less popular follow-ups to the original movie. So, I did not have many expectations for this sequel to the prequel (not sequel!). But I was pleasantly surprised that he at least gave us a decent horror movie.

But first the kick-off that pissed me off to no end. The last movie ended with Elizabeth Shaw and David the Friendly Android following a beacon back to the homeworld of the Engineers. That gives a lot to work with, with a first contact by a lone human and android. But no, that's too much for Scott to build a story around, so he kills them all off. An entire planet of Engineers is killed off by the Not-Friendly David android that Elizabeth has reassembled. He has re-engineered (pun intended) the planet into something ruled by whatever the Engineer black ooze virus does when there are no more lifeforms for it to destroy. And Elizabeth is dead. Not since the death of Newt, did I feel so pissed off.

But this is the planet that the next crew of unsuspecting unfortunates arrive at. Its a colony ship, a nice shiny well crewed spaceship filled with frozen humans & embryos and one toned down version of the android David, named Walter. They can re-program the line, but I guess they liked the Fassbender model. The crew has to be awakened when an accident happens, killing their captain.

So, like last time, there is a nearby planet that some want to explore and others want to avoid. They have a destination, but a quick pitstop won't hurt anything, right? Wrong. As said above, David has destroyed the place. They find the devastated Engineer city, but not before inhaling lots of spores left over from the black goo death machine. This is at the source of all the terror; you don't need face huggers to kick off the expected events.

What happens is a decently done, lots of shadows and things that eat you in the night horror movie. Ridley also does an annoying good job of giving us the greater threat, the machine that man made -- David. My namesake android is rather insane, and despite Walter's attempts to explain to him the error of his ways, David proceeds to work with the xenos to kill off the crew. We are left with the Ridley analog, played by Katherine Waterston still bearing the horrible bob haircut from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, having to defend herself and the colony ship from David and the Xenos (my favourite new band name) but we know it will lead into a new sequel aboard the ship.


Monday, October 23, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Incarnate

2016, Brad Peyton (San Andreas) -- download

OK, this is one of our cheats, to fill in the blanks. Because, to be honest, by this point in the month, things had petered out. Work was overwhelming and I was coming home later and later.

Possessions seem to be a popular thing of late, not at the level of vampires or zombies over the years, but still, an up-tick of such movies and TV shows. But you can only do so many straight forward "family having issues, bring in the unorthodox Catholic priest" plots. Something different, like Outcast, is always a death rattle or grave air. Incarnate brings in the idea of what is happening inside the mind that is possessed, what is going on with the person while the demon runs the body. The expert of diving into the minds of said possessed is Dr. Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart), wheelchair bound and still suffering the trauma of the loss of his wife & child to a demon possession.

Despite the reviews that beg to differ, I found this one not so bad. At the very least, it was novel in its approach, if pedestrian in its path. It just isn't different enough. Someone is always brought in on a tough case, an important case, one that greater things hinge on. The best comment from one of the reviews I read, likened Ember to Constantine, which is on the nose. Ember is supposed to be that not-so-Catholic guy who knows more than the supposed experts on demonic possession. But they didn't explore THAT aspect enough to satisfy me, in the end.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: 1922

2017, Zak Hilditch (These Final Hours) -- Netflix

Long gone are my obsessive Stephen King days, but I remember distinctly back then, that I always loved his less-than-horror stories. I liked the way he wrote characters and dove deep into his world building, whether it was small town American (usually) or a period piece. I am not familiar with this novella, actually didn't even know this was to be a King adaptation, until I saw his name in the credits. I almost cringed, because we well know that most of his adaptations suck. Terribly so.

This tale of a man haunted by a decision he made, and all the ramifications, did not suck. In fact, its quite good, if a little one note. Thomas Jane, whom I always like, plays Wilfred James, a farmer in Nebraska whose wife has just inherited some land that could increase his own holding, or benefit her greatly if they sold it to a local conglomerate. To him, a man's land says everything about him. Arlette is a rather independent woman, and she wants them to sell all the land and move to the city. That offends Wilf to his core, so he conspires with their son to kill Arlette and hide her body, claiming she ran away. Nobody would argue; its 1922 Nebraska.

Once the murder is committed, Wilf is haunted almost immediately. First it is the rats he saw gnawing on his wife's body, before he fills in the well. And then its her, surrounded by her rat brood. Is it a hallucination? Is a ghost actually haunting him? It matters not, for the real focus is the guilt it represents, the gut feeling that he has done great wrong, and now nothing but wrong will visit him.

Jane is incredible as Wilf, doing a teeth-clenched accent but more, just wearing the rough-spun farmer's clothes like a unform. You never quite sympathize with him, but you do feel a bit sorry as everything that can go wrong does. He never actually gets caught for the murder, but the consequences are much much worse than jail.