Monday, May 8, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Assassin's Creed

2016, Justin Kurzel (Macbeth) -- download

Yes, that Macbeth with Fassbender. This time, Kurzel comes along with a video game adaptation of a popular franchise, well at least the first game, the intro game, that most people would tell you has pretty much been glossed over since the first game. In other words, not even the big fans of the game enjoy the origins of their popular franchise. So, part of me think this is another Assigned Director Syndrome situation, where a bunch of producers have the idea that this game would make a great movie, so they dig up the latest hot new director and pitch it to him. And they are kinda right; this premise is really neat even if I didn't enjoy the game. But... you know how well video game movies do.

In Assassin's Creed, Fassbender is the descendant of a great family name in a long line of legendary assassins. Fassbender's family got out of the killing business just before they were all killed themselves. An organization, a Templar organization, takes the broken man that Fassbender grew into, from his very last hours, from the moments where he is executed for capital crimes. So, he is technically a dead man, a man they can do with whatever they want. They use him in an experiment, where they draw upon the trace memories in his DNA, so he can jump into a memory based virtual reality of the distant past, and help them recover something, a lovely red herring called The Apple.  Yes, this is the Apple, the one that Eve plucked, and it contains the genetic code for free will. The Templars want to eliminate it from mankind, to return us to a state of compliant and peaceful bliss. The assassins were against that.

This is a lovely lovely movie. It just looks so damn good! And Fassbender buys into the story so very completely, but even that cannot save it. The story, like the game, involves jumping from the VR / Time Travel sequences in the past to the current era's super science experiments. There was a reason the game abandoned it; people wanted one or the other, not both. And the past won. The current wins in the movie and it devolves very quickly into a low rent Dan Brown religious conspiracy flick complete with final chase before the Templars do something nefarious with The Apple. Maybe the sequel will just forget the first movie existed and embrace the jumping and stabbing?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ghost in the Shell

2017, Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) -- cinema

Yes, I went to see it. By myself, at 10:30am on a Saturday morning. Of course, I wasn't seeing it in the first few weeks, nor in 3D, but not long after it had been bombed down into only a few theatres. And the only one accessible to me was downtown, with showings while I was at work. So, this weekend, I made the effort, got up for the only Saturday showing and sat as the Only Other Person In the Theatre to see it.

And I enjoyed it.

But let me get this out; I am a rather big fan of the franchise. I saw the original anime movie ages ago, Ottawa ages ago, cinematically and adored it. English printed Manga was not big back then so, other than a few American comics out since, it was all I knew of it. And not until here in Toronto, many years later, the two TV series came out, Stand Alone Complex and  SAC 2nd Gig, and I bought them faithfully as soon as the DVDs hit the shelves. Eventually I did read the Manga, but to be honest, Motoko's even more overt sexualization turned me off, and of course, the books are incredibly dense reading -- there are almost more addendum and footnotes than there are main story. But still a fan. Action figures everywhere, and a little plastic tachikoma travels with me from desk to desk wherever I work.

So, when a movie was coming out, live action starring Scarlet Johansson, I was simultaneously excited and bothered. The early visuals seemed to capture a lot of the intent which made the original movie so popular. But why white wash her? Theoretically I know why, as its obvious for there to be American appeal, an American actress has to play her. Or so the industry keeps on  telling us. But no, they didn't really have to cast her that way. Anywayz, I moved on, cuz to be honest, I like ScarJo --- remember, I am the one who really enjoyed Lucy.

But the lingering bit that really bugged me was the idea that her name was now Major. Not Major Motoko Kusanagi, and not even as a rank. But her first name seemed to be Major. "This is Major, " the character says while standing on a rooftop, in the trailer. And as more data came out, her name had been further revealed to be Major Mira Killian. But still, not always used as rank, but as name. And then Marmy played me a bit where Sanders mispronounces a supporting character's name. Bleah. Losing further hope.

But still, I knew I would see it, and pretty much expected to like it. And I was right, but... there were as many raising of expectations as there were minor disappointments.

Let's get the spoiler stuff out of the way!

The whole white washing turns out to be a misfired intentional plot and marketing campaign element. Her character is actually white washed in the movie itself. If you don't know already, the idea is that Major (or Mira) is a full body mod, the "first of her kind". They have taken the brain from a dying girl and transplanted it inside an incredibly advanced robot body. The process wipes her memories. But in fact, they actually kidnapped a girl, the young Moto Kusanagi (Japanese refugee) and stole her life from her. The Evil Corporation actually does white wash the person into the cold, white, beauty that is ScarJo. So, not exactly the best way to handle the situation, but at least it is clumsily handled.

Also, despite the Director, everyone else knows how to pronounced Batou, which rhymes with gateau. And his character is rather well portrayed, right down to his dog. The actor gets his character

But how is the movie?

Meh.

Again, it looks good. But Rupert seems intent on recreating some of the most memorable scenes in the anime (like the hand to hand fight in the inches deep water) but only tenuously connecting the scenes together into a viable story. Gone was the density of plot from the anime, replaced by a simple, accessible story of it being bad to kidnap people and force them to become your new ultra-cyborg military source. Like I said in my post about Passengers, there could have been more dialogue about the ramifications and the questionable terms about how much can be replaced, and leave you still "human" but those are reduced to a handful of snippets of conversation and mournful looks from ScarJo. In the end, the whole story is rather pedestrian.

As a nod out the door, I am known to blame the producers for reducing movies to lower than their original intent. While much of the blame lies heavily in Sanders hands, I think I am noticing a new trend -- Chinese producers. This movie is another in the growing line of Hollywood movies funded by Chinese production companies. This time, inserting Asian actors was not the requirement, but the evening out of dialogue sure was. There are many scenes that reminded me of the dramatic structure of a Hong Kong action flick, with characters speaking in short sentences, strong enunciated, interspersed by dramatic pauses. Places that could have had dense dialogue were reduced to one liners and stares. Cultural transpositioning? Perhaps. Or just bad direction.

Friday, May 5, 2017

I Saw This!! What I Watched (Time Travel After Time Travel) Pt. v

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is our feature wherein Graig or David attempt to write about a bunch of stuff they watched some time ago and meant to write about but just never got around to doing so. But we can't not write cuz that would be bad, very bad.  Miss a Next Big Thing bad.

Part iiiiii, and iv are here.

Timeless, 2016, NBC -- live/download

Meanwhile, the latest show from Eric Kripke (Supernatural) was one that took me time to see, forgive the pun. Seriously, I don't know why as a time travel series show-run by him should have been in my wheelhouse. But the commercials and the familiar time travel chase plot didn't do much for me.

On that, why does the show seem so familiar? I swear I saw this show before, right down to the statement from the lone black time traveller stating that few American historical periods would be safe for him. Some day it will come to me.

[Edit: Thankyou Netflix! Obviously, someone in their employ saw the same connection and added Rewind to their roster. That was a 2013 SyFy pilot that never got picked up, based on that old show The Time Tunnel. But it also has a trio of a man, a woman and a black man doing pretty much the same as this show.]

So, chase through time. Two time machines, the new clean one stolen by a terrorist who wants to alter time. The old, broken down one containing a soldier, a scientist (the black guy, Malcolm Barrett, Lem from Better Off Ted) and a historian. The former messes with time, the latter do their best to contain his damage and not doing any more. Butterfly effect and all that.

I rather liked the show.

It had charm, it had wit, it had a manageable conspiracy and its time period jumps were fun. They even did a Hidden Figures episode, where I am pretty sure they recreated the whole "walking on a black woman fiddling with the IBM computer" scene, but this time she's Lem's hero. The whole time changing plot is rather convoluted, and a lot of things have been changed/damaged but part of me thinks that in the end, they are going to swing around and end up with our world, i.e. the one they started with was rather unlike our own.

As far as I know, the show was probably cancelled. Maybe not. [edit: cancelled may 10, 2017, but back on again on May 14]

Travelers, 2016, Showcase/Netflix -- download


This show, with its classic Vancouver look & feel and done by Brad Wright (Stargate: Everything) was right down my alley. Of course, time travel, but this time in a rather disturbing version. From a distant future, where things are not so good but at least technologically advanced, key agents are sent back into the bodies of those seconds away from historically recorded death. The details on life and death of the host body may be fuzzy, but the "travelers" show up and assume the identity and life of the host. Their agenda is to contribute to a great conspiracy to end the future they came from. Groups of travelers work together while avoiding making any other major changes to the timeline, other than the one that might help them in the future. And they cannot reveal themselves, for the future can still punish them.

Eric McCormack (Will & Grace) is one such traveler, in the body of an FBI agent, and the leader of a new, small group. His "fix" has something to do with diverting an asteroid that severely changes climate and lifestyle in his time. With him are a high school jock, a heroin addict, a developmentally challenged young lady (miraculously cured, from the eyes of her social worker) and an abused single mom.


The whole show plays out rather enigmatically, with the above fix not being revealed until much into the season, but not really contributing much with said reveal. But we do wonder whether they are being played by evil future overlords or if they know truly why they are doing things. I am yet to download the last few episodes of the season, but it was stylishly done, more dramatic than action oriented and asked some new, nagging questions about their particular method of time travel. How much responsibility to they have to the life they are now in? If they have a record of people who have died, why not save some people? What changes can they make that won't have big future effects? And if they do succeed in wiping out their dark future, does that mean they never went back in time in the first place? That is the bit that is fun, as they sort of ... wait for it to happen at any moment. They will know they succeeded at a task, by not having to worry about the ramifications of said completion. That doesn't work out so well.


If you enjoyed Stargate: Universe, which was the most Brad Wright show of his myriad Stargate contributions, you will enjoy this show.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

I Saw This!! What I Watched (What Got Cancelled) Pt. iv

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is our feature wherein Graig or David attempt to write about a bunch of stuff they watched some time ago and meant to write about but just never got around to doing so. But we can't not write cuz that would be bad, very bad.  Miss a Next Big Thing bad.

Part iii and iii are here.

Conviction, 2016, ABC -- download

OK, let's get this out. Fuck TV.  Fuck you. You cancel Agent Carter, not only a great vehicle for Hayley Atwell but a great turn of quality for Marvel TV -- I like S.H.I.E.L.D. but it isn't top notch; Agent Carter was. And then TV follows it up with Conviction, a show that is supposed to be based on Chelsea Clinton's life, and that would just be a reason not to watch the show. It is a sub-standard procedural in the CSI, Criminal Minds construct mixed with a bit of court room drama.

Hayley Atwell's charisma almost pulls it off, almost. She is a spoiled daughter of an ex-POTUS who is brilliant but non-committal and a disaster to her family's reputation. She gets bribed into running a Conviction Integrity Unit, which review old cases to see whether the conviction should stand. Of course, every case they review is a Great Injustice That Needs to be Righted.  Toss in a bit of high falootin' sex-scapades, ala The Good Wife and you have a mixed up formula doomed to fail.

And it did.  Cancelled after completing its first season. But still, fuck TV for saddling Hayley with this. She deserves something cable channel brilliant. Or I should say, cable TV deserves to have her in something.

Incorporated, 2016, SyFy -- download

This show, which I rather looked forward, ends up looking like a mix between the Brazilian show  3% and the old Ethan Hawke movie, Gattaca. We have a dystopian near future American after global economic failure and the onset of massive climate change damage. America is broken into have's and have-not's. Ben has infiltrated the have's while looking for his childhood love, under the auspices of working for a revolutionary group. Like all dystopian futures, it's beautiful, luxurious and rife with paranoia and unwarranted persecution.

As much of the show as I got around to watching was quite good looking, with above grade production values from SyFy and a solid cast. But I guess my initial thoughts of the show just going with a  familiar and unimpressive plot held true. The audiences must have felt the same, as it got sucked under pretty quickly. One season on SyFy is a damning death knell.

Time After Time, 2017, ABC -- download

This remake of the 70s movie with Malcolm McDowell as HG Wells showing off his new time machine to his dinner guests, one of whom happens to be Jack the Ripper, was a sure-win from my point of view.  Part time travel, part Bad Guy Chase, part romance, it had all the parts for a winning series. The original movie was charming and one of my favourites in my memories, i.e. I haven't seen it in over 20 years. Unfortunately, ABC made a terrible terrible show.

This show wanted to be a CW show with sardonic wit and beautiful people. It came with no recognizable cast, a lead male who you wanted to pat on the head and a lead female who never convincingly left behind her Dumb Bimbo roles, even though I am pretty sure she never played one. Oh, and it had to have a patent conspiracy which it fumbled from the get-go.

But let's harp on one thing. Genesis Rodriguez played Jane Walker, a museum curator who is there when HG Wells climbs out of his time machine. So, she is a curator, something that requires education and intelligence. But everything about the way her character is played, and I want to blame direction, as Dumb Supporting Female. Not only that, but they have to mash in the romantic connections from almost moment one. This is I Just Met You But I Love You in the extreme, and really has no supporting reasons, but for the fact that Wells has the look of a beaten puppy all the time.

I stopped watching after two episodes, and ABC dumped it after five.

Monday, May 1, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Keanu

2016, Peter Atencio (Key & Peele) -- download

Keanu Reeves is the nicest celebrity in Hollywood. What? You didn't know that? Of course you knew that, so why wouldn't a pair of nice suburban guys name their kitten after Keanu? Keegan-Michael Key (no, not Keenan Ivory Wayans) and Jordan Peele are a comedy duo Key & Peele, and again, no not Keenan & Peele. This is not the post where I will muse on the state of Black in North America, but suffice it to say a lot of their comedy seems to be about making Black Comedy accessible to middle of the road white people. Or at the very least, diverging from most white people think Black Comedy should be. They also did a hilarious D&D sketch.

The movie continues that, as the two suburban cousins get mixed up in what is typical (???) urban culture, i.e. drugs and gangsta antics. Keanu, the kitten of a fallen drug lord, finds his way into the hands of an emotionally broken Rell, the classic pop culture nerd - they bond. His cousin Wallace, a straight laced danger-free repressive ends up joining Rell on his hunt for his kitten, when Keanu is stolen by drug dealers who raid Rell's apartment, instead of the pot dealers next door. Hilarity ensues.

The movie is rather hit and miss, joke wise, but these guys pull off the fish out of water quite masterfully. Oh, it's easy to toss two white suburban kids into a strip bar full of gangsters, and expect hyuck-hyucks, but despite what the parents in my own white suburb thought, not every black kid would feel at ease there. Alas, they have a kitten to save! And the whole scene with an unhinged Anna Faris as herself is worth the price of the download.