Back Down Memory Lane…Again

Cleopatra 2525 (2000-2001)

Even though I watched this show for its entire two season run,  I don’t actually remember a whole lot about this show, except that it was cheesy, cheap, and starred the modern Goddess, Gina Torres, She of the Divine Facial Features. Perhaps that’s all one actually needs to know about this show to be intrigued.

This was girl-power before such a phrase existed, or rather, somewhere around the same time that it came into being. The term girl-power has been around for a very, very, long time. I remember it being mentioned on The Powerpuff Girls, when I watched that show with my baby sisters, when they were, in fact, actual babies!

Anyway, the basic plot is that the young blonde girl, whose name is actually Cleo, although she’s not important while standing next to Gina,  was an exotic dancer, who got put in a Futurama type situation, where she wakes up so far into the future, that the world has become completely unrecognizable to her. She joins these two young women who are fighting against some type of totalitarian authority that likes to use drones, cameras, and an evil clown type guy to oppress them. Its really is kind of like Tank Girl meets Futurama meets Charlie’s Angels, as there were at least some good action scenes.

Once again YouTube has full episodes of this show, so check them out and let me know what you think, unless of course, you are going to argue against the beauteous divinity of Gina Torres, in which case you can keep that shit to yourself!

 

 

Special Unit 2 (2001-2002)

Not to be confused with Special Unit, which was your standard police procedural, this is Special Unit 2, a standard police procedural starring paranormal creatures. I remember eagerly looking forward to this becasue Buffy the Vampire Slayer was airing around the same time ,and this was a cheap, funny knockoff blend of that and a cop show.

The show really didn’t take itself at all seriously, it was zany and cheesy, and actually pretty funny. Or rather, it fit my idea of deeply funny, at the time I watched it, since I was just a kitten then. I don’t know that my humor has changed all that much, but I’m about to find out, as I plan to watch it again, since a lot of the episodes are available for free, on YouTube.

The show is about Nick and Kate, two seemingly regular cops who are part of a special unit of the Chicago PD, who deal with things like dragons, unicorns, elves, and gnomes, while trying to keep these creatures a secret from the rest of society. Needless to say, a lot of lying is involved. The show really did try to mine the Buffy and X-Files shows for some of its plots, and occasionally got a little serious too, although there was a lot of it that was played for laughs, including a gnome type character who worked in the office, and specialized in being a thief. I remember really enjoying the acting on this show, which was played very tongue in cheek by both Nick and Kate, with surprisingly little of the “will they-won’t they” dynamic that seemed required of such shows.

In fact, of all the characters Kate was probably my favorite, next to the, highly irreverent Carl, the Office Gnome. The show was interesting because Kate was the show’s regular everyperson, who stumbles onto some grand secret of the world, and is the audience’s stand-in, as we learn about this world at the same time, and this was probably why I liked her, since female, audience stand-ins, are kind of rare in this genre.

 

 

Haunted

I remember really liking this show, at the time, because there really wasn’t anything else like on the air at the time, except maybe Millennium, and the X-Files, and Angel, and even those shows attempted some occasional lightheartedness. This show did none of that. It remained horribly gloomy right up until the end of its seven episode run, and the dark gloominess of it was probably why.  There was almost no color in this show, except for the presence of that one Black guy these shows had to hire, to reach compliance for diversity back then. The show starred Matthew Fox, before he became famous for starring in the show Lost. I did not understand his appeal in that show but I did get the whole brooding loner thing in Haunted.

Matt Fox is a private detective, named Frank, who once got killed by a serial killer of young boys,  who now hunts for missing people. Oh, and because he died that one time, he can now see ghosts. Specifically he is haunted by the spirit of his own missing son, whose disappearance caused the collapse of his marriage, and he can also see the spirit of  the serial killer, Simon, whose accidental  death he caused, which also cost him his job. I loved the show, and it was largely because of the presence of Matthew Fox’s acting skills, and the cinematography, because the show was gorgeous, with lots of black, grey, and rain.

I managed to find a couple of episodes on Youtube, which is where dead shows go, apparently, and I’ve actually re-enjoyed the couple I watched.

 

 

Reaper

This was another show that I remember was a lot of fun. Not so much for its first season, but in the second season the show made a  u-turn, and kicked the plot into high gear. The writing got better, and the characters were energetic and fun, unlike the first season where the actors tried to take things a little too seriously for the silliness of the plot.

It starred that guy from Tucker and Dale Vs Evil, Tyler Labine ,who was the sidekick of the lead character, Sam, a slacker who had  somehow been  coerced into collecting souls for Satan. I don’t remember liking Sam very much in the first season, but in the second season things got better when he found out the reason why he’d been chosen to be a Reaper was because he was Satan’s son, with Satan being played by the most excellent Ray Wise, who for some reason, was named Jerry. I remember thinking Wise was waaay out of league for this show, becasue he made what was otherwise simply a “meh” show, a very good one.

Despite Sam being the son of Satan, he continued to be whiny and incompetent at his job, and was most often saved by his accomplices, an ex-girlfriend from school, and Tyler’s character. Strangely, it’s often Satan who comes off looking sympathetic in this show, even while committing what are clearly evil acts, or acts that are at least deeply annoying ones for Sam. He and Sam used to have interesting discussions about the nature of Heaven and Hell, and why Satan can’t eat ice cream.

 

Witchblade

This was a very short lived series based on the comic books. I had actually been reading the comics right before the series was announced so I was very excited to see what they were going to do with the show. The trailers were intriguing and I liked the actress Yancey Butler, who I had last seen in the movie, Hard Target, years before. The show proved to be not as exciting as the trailers lead me to believe. The actng was fine, but the plot didn’t actually seem to go anywhere, and some of  had nothing to do with what I read in the comics. On the other hand, there were some hot guys in it, so there…

I feel like I need to explain what the Witchblade is to people who have never even heard of it, since this show has been off the air for almost twenty years, and has largely been forgotten except by its die-hard fans. Its a mystical gauntlet, suit of armor, that’s intelligent, chooses its wearer, and forms a partnership with them. They can hear it speaking, although I saw no evidence of this ability in the show. It was an extremely powerful McGuffin, that all of the other characters seemed to want, even though those who werent worthy of wearing it could potentially lose their arm.

Now we need to talk about the actress Yancey Butler. This is complicated because for the past twenty years, she’s had some substance abuse issues. At one point, getting arrested for passing out, and crashing her car, after which she was ordered to enter a rehabilitation program. I had to read about that on her IMDB page. She has started acting again (and is as beautiful as she ever was despite all her troubles), and is active on Twitter now, which is how I heard about her newest movie. At any rate, her problems didn’t start with the show, and I distinctly  remember reading about some of the problems she had  on set because of them.

Yancey,  like  countless women before her is a beautiful woman who developed substance abuse issues while working in Hollywood. I don’t know for sure if this was a problem before she started work as an actress, but I do know that Hollywood is a toxic place, that regularly chews up young actors, and then spits them out, severely damaged. And after #MeToo brought this knowledge into the mainstream, in a different way than before, its very difficult for me to believe that sexual assault and sexual exploitation doesn’t have at least some role to play in the massive amounts of substance abuse that we see in its participants. I sincerely hope that was not the case with Yancey, that she has gotten the help she needed, and worked past her demons.

 

 

 

 

Kindred: The Embraced

This show was loosely based on the role playing game, Vampire The Masquerade, which I never actually played, although I did read a few of the guide books, so I knew a lil’ sumthin-sumthin’ about that universe. So when I say it was loosely based on it, I mean exactly that. The show was pretty damn loose. So loose,  that all it seemed to have in common with the game, was its vocabulary. It was like someone read the books, but then  decided to base the show on a school book report about those, instead.

That said, I actually, sorta, liked the show. It was bad, yes, but it also had some really intriguing shit in it that kept me watching. Since the show only lasted 8 episodes, I guess other people felt the same way. Its not that the show was awful. It had some great characters in it, but it did have some terrible acting, and the plot became more convoluted with each episode. I guess the closest I can get to describing it is a Vampire Godfather, as it involved clashes between the various vampire clans in a city, along with their rulers, followers, and hangers-on. All of which has something to do with a renegade cop, named Frank, who stumbles across their existence when he falls in love with a female vamp.

The lead character was Julian Luna, played by Mark Frankel, who I thought was Latino, then later believed to be Italian, but turned out to actually be English. I found him interesting mostly because I thought he was pretty, and had a very nice voice. The best character was a member of Clan Nosferatu ,who are very old, deformed, and look somewhat batlike, with talons, long teeth, and pointed ears. Daedalus, as he was called, was played by one of my favorite actors, whose name I forget now, but that actor performed like he was in a Shakespearean play, while Luna acted like he was in the movie The Godfather III, and Frank the cop’s girlfriend, busily being extra, acted like she was in a Gothic soap opera. So the acting and dialogue was all over the place, but it best written for Luna and Daedalus.  I do remember the two had frequent conversations with one another, and that I looked forward to the times when they were onscreen together.

Whenever anyone else was onscreen, the dialogue and acting were cringeworthy at best. There were a couple of star struck young lovers from different clans, who were abysmal in their acting, especially, and I had to look this name up, Brigid Walsh, who played the human descendant of Julian, named Sasha Luna. Dear Jeebus! she was awful, which was not helped by her horrid dialogue. She played that role, as  someone who had perhaps heard of “acting”, by rough description, like she was playing the role of a  “professional angry-face” Model!

I would also like to offer my  apologies in advance for subjecting y’all to these images. Trigger Warning for: music video bad attitude, smirking, sniping, sarcasm, general batshittery, and horrible acting.

 

But the cancellation of this show seemed inevitable,  as soon after, or just before, that happened, Mark Frankel died in a traffic accident, while riding his motorcycle. I distinctly remember the reporting of this on the news,and  feeling some type of way about it.

Geeking out About: The Watchmen TV Series

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Last Sunday was the season finale of the nine episode Watchmen TV series, on HBO,  and I’ve been having all kinds of thoughts. From the first episode, to the finale, my thoughts have just been all over the place. This show took me on a journey, but it was satisfying, and I’m not as angry with Lindhelof as I was when the series began. This makes up for some of his past transgressions, like Prometheus, and the ending of Lost. I was exasperated by some of it, some of it galvanized me, and some of it made me feel really, deeply, some type of way. The plot is a little too intricate to get into here, but I have provided plenty of links, for those who are curious.

First off, the series is a direct sequel to the comic book, and not the much maligned movie from a few years ago. This story (most of it) takes place thirty years after the events in the book, with flashbacks to some periods in between. I talked about the setting  in a  mini review.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2019/10/28/october-viewing-list-ii/

 

Review

https://tv.avclub.com/life-on-earth-gets-a-lot-weirder-but-watchmen-continue-1840145375

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And People’s Thinky Thoughts:

 

https://www.vulture.com/article/watchmen-hbo-easter-eggs-references-episode-guide.html

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https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a29592776/watchmen-redfordations-racial-injustice-act-explained/

https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a29565670/watchmen-hbo-backlash-controversy-white-supremacy/

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https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/10/20/20919750/watchmen-hbo-regina-king-review-damon-lindelof-race-policing

https://www.thedailybeast.com/hbos-watchmen-pisses-off-comics-fanboys-its-woke-propaganda

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https://www.motherjones.com/media/2019/12/the-best-tv-show-about-racism-was-a-comic-book-fantasia-heres-how-watchmen-did-it/

Hannibal Season Three: Dolce

I know its been a while since I posted a Hannibal review. I promise I’m not neglecting what I’d said I’d do with this show, which was do in depth reviews of all three seasons, which are currently available to stream on Amazon Prime. Here’s my review of Dolce, which is episode six of season three.

In the sixth episode of this season, we see the long awaited reunion between Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham, and naturally, by the end of the episode, the two of them try to kill each other, because that’s just  how  they are.

Jack Crawford and Will Graham meet at Pazzi’s gruesome murder scene for the first time since last season. It turns out that this was always the plan between the two of them. We had been led to believe that Will had simply run off to be with Hannibal, but it turns out, that Will went to Europe to find him, while Jack could follow later, and by a different route, so that the two of them would not appear to be in tandem. At their meeting, Will asks Jack why he didn’t kill Hannibal, and Jack says he was saving him for Will.

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Throughout this entire series, Will has been a hound caught between two masters. Earlier in season one, Hannibal referred to Will as Jack Crawford’s  hound, and this is an apt description, because Will has the instincts of one, Lecter and Jack sent him out to do their bidding, and often fought over their possession of him. At one point Jack just comes right out and asks if Will is his man, or is he Hannibal’s, and Will had to think about that for a minute, as he neatly sidestepped that question.

When viewed from one angle, Will’s actions make no sense, but if you take into account that Jack Crawford and Hannibal represent opposing sides of who he is, and what he wants: stability, justice, and order, or mayhem, lawlessness, and the freedom to do what he will, then it is understandable why Will is torn. If Lecter is coded as a satanic figure, then Jack is God, or at least Will’s better angel, (in fact, Jack says as much to Lecter, in a later episode), and naturally, Lecter exists in opposition to all that Jack represents. Does Will want to serve, or be served? Hannibal’s power, and ability to flout authority, is intoxicating to a part of Will’s personality, and he seems to constantly be at war, not just with Hannibal, but that part of himself.

Hannibal is severely injured after his fight with Jack Crawford, and limps his way back to his quarters, where Bedelia has already crafted an excuse for her dalliance with him in Rome. She tells him she is preparing for his eventual capture, and wonders if he is drawing his enemies to him. If he, in fact, wants to be caught. One of the biggest movie tropes about serial killers is that they secretly want to be caught, because if they don’t, how can they have their egos fed by becoming famous? How can they be known if no one knows who they are?

 

In the movie Seven, the killer turns himself in to the police at the end of the movie, for this exact reason. How are people to know his grand plan and admire it, if he doesn’t get caught. There is a real life basis for this common movie trope. For example,  mass killers often leave manifestos for why they kill, because they want to be known and admired, and on occasion a serial killer has tried to insinuate themselves  into their own investigation, by contacting the detectives involved, as in the Son of Sam investigation. But largely, the idea that serial killers want to be caught, is a myth.

Gillian Anderson is excellent this episode as Bedelia. Her performance is just one of the highlights. Up to now, she has appeared to be Hannibal’s prisoner, she is with him because of the constant underlying threat that he will kill her. In a sense she is keeping her enemy close to her, because its better for her to know exactly where he is than to be free, and not know where he is, or what he’s doing, which is an issue that will come into play later in the season, between Will and Hannibal.

But Bedelia is going to need to explain to the authorities why she stayed with him, She comes up with the excuse that she was out of her mind, with the same drug cocktail Hannibal used to subdue Miriam Lass, (in season 2), so she genuinely believed herself to be Lydia Fell, the wife of the man Hannibal is impersonating, Norman Fell. Hannibal admires her cleverness, and the two of them agree to support each other’s stories.

When Hannibal leaves, Bedelia shoots up her special cocktail, and is found first by Chiyo. Bedelia seems to be one of those people who develops a semi-adversarial relationship, with everyone she meets, and Chiyoh is no exception. Probably because Bedelia is one of those characters that seemingly every TV show must have, that person who speaks uncomfortable truths to the other characters.

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Then Will and Jack encounter Bedelia, in Hannibal’s apartments, and she already has her answers ready. Jack and Will are not buying any of her story, but I can’t tell if the police inspector does. There’s definitely some kind of “frission”, or attraction, going on between the two of them. One of the more amusing scenes is watching Bedelia’s interaction with  Jack and Will. Gillian Anderson, always brings her A game to every project, she looks like she’s having a helluva lot of fun, and that entire scene is hilarious to watch, as Bedelia drunkenly slurs her way through the initial interview, and its one of the few scenes of genuine humor, in the series.

Hannibal doesn’t leave Rome. Instead he makes his way to the Uffizzi Gallery, to view Boticelli’s Primavera, which I talked about in my review of the second episode of the season, titled Primavera. For some reason he is obsessed with this panting. He had a arranged one of his murders to resemble the painting, many years ago, before he left Italy. Here we see him drawing another representation of the painting but replacing the faces of the angel, Zephpyrus, and the nymph Chloris, with the faces of Will Graham, and Bedelia, his two closest “associates”.

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Will’s unexpected presence is a source of unmitigated happiness to Hannibal, and he almost loses his chill, telling Will, in a somewhat poetic manner, how much he missed him, and how overjoyed he is to see him again, (for Hannibal, this is practically gushing), even though he had the chance to see him when the two of them were running around in the catacombs, in an earlier episode, but admittedly that was before Will, supposedly,  forgave him. The two of them leave the Gallery together, and Will, feeling some type of way again, pulls out a knife and tries to stab Hannibal. I’m unsure if he was trying to incapacitate him, to capture him, or if the stabbing was revenge for Hannibal stabbing him last season, or just general assholery on Will’s part. Chiyo, sitting on a nearby roof, shoots Will through the shoulder. Since she only kills under the most dire of circumstances, as she did in Lithuania, she would not have killed Will, but she would not allow him to harm Hannibal, either.

Hannibal is, naturally, completely unperturbed by Will trying to kill him, because what’s a little homicide among friends?. He takes Will back to some rented rooms, and minsters to his woulds, before deciding (and I don’t know if this is revenge for Will trying to kill him, or general asssholery on his part), to eat Will’s brain. Notice how he takes the opportunity ,while dressing Will’s wounds, to give him a warm hug, since Will is in far too much pain to fight back, or try to stab him again.

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Now, let’s be clear here, Hannibal does love Will, but he still wants to eat him.  He wants to be with Will, but Will is still dangerous to him. One of the many philosophies behind human cannibalism (outside of desperation) is the idea that eating someone is a way of keeping that person close, so that they can never leave. This was the motivation behind the serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. Either that, or he believes he will gain Will’s power and energy through consumption. Normally Hannibal’s reasons for eating others is because he has nothing but contempt for them, so treats them like food.

In the meantime, the police have allowed Jack Crawford to leave, urging him to go back to America, which, of course, Jack doesn’t do. How he manages to find Will and Hannibal is carefully not mentioned, but in a funny moment he encounters Chiyo in the elevator of Hannibal’s building. She either knows who he is, or senses he is a cop, or is just generally cagey, but she manages to avoid his, too close,  attention, although they each sneak suspicious glances at the other.

This entire time we keep switching back and forth between Italy and America where Mason, Alana, and Margot, have been plotting to capture Hannibal, so that Mason can cook and eat him. Alana’s and Margot’s relationship is revealed in this episode, along with Mason’s plans to have a Verger baby with his sister, to be carried by Alana.

We’ll talk more about that particular trio in the next post.

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Jack makes his way to Hannibal’s rented apartments, (I’m unclear how he found them, but he was following Will, at the time). Jack gets there, not just in time to watch Hannibal begin his meal of Will Graham, but to be ambushed by Hannibal,  taken prisoner, and made to watch the ordeal, which he vehemently protests, to no avail. Will’s face gets attacked a to this season, for some reason. I think somewhere in there is a statement about the actors prettiness. He is  more attractive than previous actors who played Will Graham, who looked a little more  like Will’s  working class roots.

Hannibal’s feast is interrupted by the Florentine police, who found the apartment by following Jack, in the hope that Jack (and Will) would lead them to Hannibal, having been suspicious of Jack’s motivations, for visiting their city, right from the beginning. They are still in the employ of Mason Verger actually, and they kidnap Will and Hannibal, and send them to the Verger’s Muskrat Farm, for the reward money. They attempt to kill Jack, but Chiyoh, hiding out on a nearby rooftop, assassinates them. Jack is freed by Chiyoh, after arguing that he just wants to go home, and in exchange for telling her where Will and Lecter were taken.Can I just add that Chiyoh is a total bad ass who is not to be trifled with, and that she really should have just had her own show?

Will and Lecter are taken to Muskrat Farm, and trussed like prized birds, while Mason gloats over his victory.

One of the things we haven’t talked about much in the series is the subject of Classism. Particularly the class differences between Will and Hannibal, and Hannibal and everyone else. Its especially important considering Hannibal’s philosophy about  the people he kills, and his attitude towards Will. One of Hannibal’s guiding philosophies is to “Eat the Rude.” so we get lots of instances where Hannibal kills and consumes people he believes were disrespectful to him. And not just to him, he kills and eats one of Abigail Hobbes friends, after seeing her be rude to her own mother.

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I am a firm believer that at least part of Hannibal’s motivations for killing and consuming his victims is because of class prejudice. Hannibal’s family was once Lithuanian nobility, and while it may not be a major factor, I certainly think it  informs his feeling of entitlement to respect. he doesn’t feel he needs to earn respect. He thinks he should be given respect by dint of having been born, and all beings should recognize his inherent superiority. When looked at from this standpoint, it is unsurprising that Hannibal would kill (and even eat) those he considered less than, because that is entirely in keeping, with the proletariat philosophy, that the wealthy are parasites, who prey on society.

Next episode however, the tables have been turned, as Hannibal is the one about to be eaten. Mason Verger has Hannibal exactly where he wants him, to exact his revenge for what Hannibal did to him, over a year ago. Unfortunately he has captured Will as well, and we’ll find out just how far Hannibal is willing to go to save them both from an ironic fate.

 

The Irishman (Netflix)

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*****Here Be Spoilers****

 

Let’s  get something out of the way first.

Yes, I’m aware of what Scorsese has said about the current crop of superhero movies, and yes, I was offended, until he clarified his statements in a recent Vanity Fair article. I’m glad he did, because I was prepared to stay mad at one of my all-time, favorite directors. Well, I’m not as angry, but he is not wrong. He’s not right though, mostly because I don’t think its fair to compare the two types of movies. They serve very different purposes for their audiences in that one type of film consists of exciting power fantasies (like the first half of the movie Goodfellas), and righting wrongs, and Scorsese’s films seem to be about the consequences of that amount of unchecked power,  and what it actually gets you. Superhero movies make no claims of depth.  They are not dramas, although movies like The Dark Knight, The Winter Soldier, and Logan come very close.

The Irishman had a brief theatrical run, of about a week or two, before it settled on Netflix, which is where I viewed it, with a great deal of anticipation. There’s a lot of backstory about why the movie is airing on Netflix, but I’m not covering that here. Like a lot of people, I went into this expecting something similar to Goodfellas, and Casino, since Scorsese seems to have some sort of lock on the depiction of  White men in the mafia life. The movie is definitely about gangsters, and appears to be having some kind of dialogue with the other two films. It would be interesting to watch all three of these movies back to back, to see what they are saying to, and about, each other.

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I loved this movie, and I wasn’t expecting that. Everyone involved is at the top of their game. I didn’t think Scorsese had a lot more to say about the mafia life, that he hadn’t already said, but he does.

Like the other two films in this trilogy, it’s a meditation on crime and regret. I think a lot of people have had a  very wrong takeaway from Scorsese’s movies. Although he seems both fascinated with , and terrified of, this lifestyle, he definitely does not approve. These are the kinds of people he knew growing up, and he seemed to have kept, in the forefront of his mind, that they were not good people, no matter what their claims of nobility, or  how fascinating their lives were.

These films are not a glorification of their lifestyle.  Henry Hill, in the last third of Goodfellas, just flat out states this. Scorsese has never sugarcoated who and what these people are. The violence in these films is always  sudden, and brutal.  Hill spoke on the topic in Goodfellas, but here its just shown. Scorsese always  has  his characters realize, by the end, the horror of the decisions they’ve made. Every participant ends up  dead, or regretful, and there is a an onscreen commentary, on the fate of each one of the character’s introduced, in the film. The bottom line is, if you choose the mobster life, because you have romanticized notions about it, it will end badly.

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I knew a young Italian man, in college, who told me that his father met some people in the life, but he also told me that one of the key things is never to invite them into your life. Don’t ask them for favors, don’t hang out with them in their places, don’t befriend them. They’re like vampires. You have to let them in.

A classic example, is the restaurant owner from Goodfellas, who allows Tommy, and his friends, to frequent his restaurant. Just like Henry did as a child, he thinks its exciting to be associated with these men. He admires the life, and believes he is friends with them, until the time comes for Tommy to pay the massive bill he’s run up on his tab. These guys are just taking advantage of him, but he is still too enamored of their life to see that. In an effort to get Tommy to pay his bill, the restaurant owner goes to Paulie, (Tommy’s boss), and makes Paulie a partner, in exchange for taking care of Tommy’s bill. Paulie takes advantage of him too, until he  goes out of business, as they steal  him blind, eventually the restaurant gets burned down for the insurance. The owner romanticized their lifestyle. He failed to see them as the unprincipled thieves they were. He invited them in, and he lost everything. The same thing goes for the character of Spider, a mirror of the young Henry, who romanticizes their lifestyle, and gets killed by Tommy, for standing up for himself, with not a single tear shed by any of the witnesses.

The Irishman  follows another low grade member of a mafia crew, a hitman named Frank Sheeran, (Robert DeNiro), as he befriends various mobsters, and paints houses (carries out mob hits). Most of the movie is about his friendship with Jimmy Hoffa, (Al Pacino), and his confession that he killed him, after being assigned to do so by his then bosses, one of which is also a close friend, Russell Bufalino, played by Joe Pesci. The movie is based on a book by Charles Brandt titled “I Heard You Paint Houses?”, which is the line in the movie said by Pacino, when he and Frank first meet over the phone. So once again, you have someone who invites these people into his life. Hoffa knows who, and what, these people are, but he romanticizes the life, and has an outsized sense of his worth to them.

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Right away, the mood and setting are very different than the other two movies, (Goodfellas and Casino), which open with exciting scenes of violence, (and interestingly, with men in cars). This movie is reflective and melancholy. The opening scene is a quiet shot of Frank, in a senior citizen’s home, reminiscing about his past, to his lawyers. The movie is a flashback, but unlike Henry Hill”s story, Frank has no misty-eyed remembrances for the things he’s done. He joined the mob because he was a soldier who needed to do something with his life, after he came back from the war. He didn’t join because he loved the life, or glorified its denizens, and this is probably why he survived, although that’s no consolation, either. He is an old man filled with regret, and we come to have some amount of sympathy for him, although Scorsese never lets us think, for a moment, that he is a good guy. Nor does he show Frank as vicious or evil, for its own sake, although the things he does, are indeed,  vicious, and evil. Scorsese presents him as just a guy, who made the best choices he could, in the circumstances presented to him.

Deniro definitely deserves some form of recognition for his role here, but the two major highlights of the movie, for me, was Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa, and Joe Pesci’s much quieter turn, as Russell Bufalino. You want to be reminded of his role as Tommy in Goodfellas, but this character is wholly unlike him. Bufalino is smarter, and more calculating, with a cool menace that the hotheaded, showboating, Tommy lacked. He and Frank become friends, and get to be quite close, but Frank, (and hence the audience), never forgets the power dynamic between them. Russell is his boss, and should Frank prove to be a threat, or an inconvenience, Russell could have him killed, and it would be just business.

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This was the most interesting part of the movie for me. Y’all know me. I love to watch different types of  characters interact. It’s interesting because movie audiences don’t often get to watch the  process of two grown men, who have been steeped in pride and machismo, their entire lives, put themselves in the vulnerable position of trusting a stranger, while navigating the power and violence of their positions,  to  become friends. You can see them feeling the other out, trying to reach a place of comfort. I found myself totally caught up in the moment. The faint distrust, and the questions they ask of each other, without actually asking them: What do you want from me? Are you a stand up guy? Will you give me straight answers? Can you be trusted?

Frank’s relationship with Hoffa is covered just as deeply. The most  fascinating part, is comparing how trust is shown between Frank and Hoffa, and Frank and Russell. Scorsese doesn’t fall into the trap of having the characters make grand declarations of how much they love and trust each other. There are scenes with Frank and Russell hanging out with each other’s families, or having dinner together. Some scenes with Frank and Hoffa are just them talking in Hoffa’s bedroom, before he goes to sleep. At one point, Hoffa nods off while talking to Frank, he trusts Frank so completely, and Frank just quietly sits there for a while, watching him sleep, and glancing out the window, and that scene is unexpectedly moving. It’s hard to know what Frank is thinking during that scene. The specter of violence hangs over everything he does, and that scene is even more tragic, when you know what happens between them later.

There are not a lot of women in this movie, and none of the men have any moral standing. The moral center of this film is Frank’s daughter, Peggy, (Anna Paquin) who sees her father beat a man on her behalf, when she is a child, and this impacts her relationship with him, for the rest of their lives. She gets probably three lines in the entire movie, but Scorsese sets her up, by giving us long closeups of her face, and her disapproval, and fear, of her father, (and by association, Russell), is apparent. We don’t need a loud, dramatic shouting match between them, to know that she has seen what kind of man he is, and  will never love him. Frank tries to reconcile with her before his death, but she will have none of him.

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Frank doesn’t just regret the things he did when he was younger, but all the familial relationships he let fall by the wayside, while prioritizing his relationships with the men he worked for, all of whom are now dead. He has to pay for his own funeral, buying his own tombstone. There’s no one alive, who would come to his funeral, anyway. The movie ends with Frank, alone in his room. He is the last one left of that old life, and he has nothing to show for it. Once again, Scorsese presents the mobster lifestyle as empty and meaningless. If you don’t die horribly, at the hands of someone you trusted, then you die alone, with no one to care.

There’s a lot of the movie I didn’t talk about, like the cinematography, and music, which are pretty standard for a Scorsese film, with some upbeat sixties songs, the most prominent song being, In the Still of the Night, by The Five Satins, which bookends the movie. There are two opening scenes, one with Frank beginning his story in the nursing home, and the other, the beginning of the story, which features him and Russell, taking a road trip, with their wives. The movie starts out really cute, with the wives fussing with their husbands in the car. Everyone is very comfortable with each other, at first, but as the trip continues, the tension begins to mount, as we overhear increasingly nervous phone calls between Russell, Frank, and Hoffa, finally culminating, in the last third of the movie, in Russell’s order to Frank.

The cinematography is superb ,as usual, but there are a few uncanny valley moments in the film as Deniro, Pesci, and Pacino had to be de-aged in a few of the scenes. The de-aged faces aren’t as emotive as their actual faces, so I kept getting jarred out of the story, by wondering every now and then, how the actors got de-aged for their roles, but this doesn’t happen a lot, and is easily ignored. If you’re not a fan of Scorsese’s mobster films, this still may be worth a look for you, because its very different in tone, but I do have to warn you,  that just like in the other movies, the violence is flat, graphic, and unforgiving. When it comes to acts of violence, Scorsese does not fuck around, or wince. People get beaten and shot, and there’s a harrowing scene where Frank shoots up a restaurant full of people. I have become a lot more squeamish, as I’ve gotten older, and these scenes were hard for even me to watch.

Despite its three hour run time, the movie didn’t make me feel restless at all. I sat through the entire three hours, and never missed them, or a moment of dialogue. The movie simply pulled me right in. It was moving, with moments of sheer horror, and is a testament to Scorsese’s skill as a director, as nothing is explicitly stated by any of the characters, yet its message is loud, and clear. I don’t know if this movie will be nominated for an Oscar. It, and everyone involved, should.

The Irishman is the best movie I’ve seen this year.

Things Are Gonna Be Fun II: Electric Bugaloo

I wrote a version of this post, earlier this year, in which I listed all the movies I was interested in watching, and I just want to offer a sequel to that post, with mini reviews of movies I, did indeed, watch, and one I didn’t get to see, even though I wanted to.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/things-are-gonna-be-fun/

I’ve noticed a pattern of saying I’m not gonna see something, because I wasn’t interested, but later I rent the movie, or watch it on cable, so obviously I’m an unreliable narrator, when it comes to determining which movies I’ll be watching in a given year. So, you can take me at my word, at your own risk. Plus my track record of movie watching has been thrown off by my mom’s insistence that we go see every killer animal movie that gets released! I don’t dislike those types of movies, but I told her she’s messin’ up my movie schedule. (Note: No, she does not care about that, and just finds the whole thing deeply funny.)

Anyway these were the movies I showed some interest for, and ended up actually watching.

Glass

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Unlike a lot of  people, who saw this,  I actually liked this movie. Yes, there was a bit of a twist n the movie, in the sense that things do not play out in any way you think they’re going to play out, but it still did have a satisfying ending. I was interested to see how David Dunn ended up in the asylum with Mr. Glass and The Beast, and I though  the team up between Glass and Beast was interesting to watch. In a lot of ways the story plays out exactly the way such stories work in comic books, and I think the twist really threw a lot of people off, especially if they were expecting the movie to go on that way to the end. About halfway through the movie, there’s  a monkey wrench thrown into the story that changes it to be about something else entirely,  and while I was initially dismayed by the change, it ultimately proved to be satisfying for me.

 

Akita Battle Angel

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I read the manga a few years ago, before the movie was announced, and it was okay, but I found this movie rather disappointing. There are a few elements in it that I liked, but ultimately I didn’t finish the movie, and it was mostly  because of the acting, which is both restrained in some places, and over the top in others. And yeah, I did have a problem with the big eyes. They were distracting, even though big eyes are not distracting in anime. I also loathe sports movies, and about halfway through this movie, this turns into one of those made-up sports movies, that’s supposed to be an analogy for revolution, or something.

Sports movies are absolutely the one genre of movie I will not happily watch. I will watch a cop movie before I sit down to watch a sports movie. On the other hand, I did enjoy the world-building, and the special effects were excellent, but ultimately, those two things were not enough to keep my interest.

 

Captain Marvel

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I liked this movie far more than I thought I would. I wasn’t greatly enthusiastic about it, preferring to see her in Avengers Endgame first, before watching this, but it turned out to be okay. I thought its messaging was a bit ham-handed, but I loved the characters most of all, especially the Rambeaus, and the cat loving Nick Fury, and it was  unexpectedly funny, and deeply emotional in some spots. Is it as good as some of my MCU favorites, that I’ve watched multiple times? Nah. This movie doesn’t even break my top ten, but it also doesn’t land in the bottom ten either. Its a good, solid, competent, middle of the road, action movie, with a feminist message, and some acceptable special effects. If I watch  it again, it will be for the character relationships and action scenes.

 

Shazam

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I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of this movie, but it turned out to be a heckuva lot of fun. The ads for it lead you to believe the kids in the movie are kind of obnoxious, and at first the are, but they quickly grow on you, and I started to really like the lead character ,and the movie is actually pretty funny, in a cringey, covering my eyes sort of way.

I’ve always been fascinated by Billy Batson, not because I thought of him as a power fantasy for children, though. Frankly, and this is where being a PoC, and a woman, comes into me having a very different opinion about movies, I was kinda horrified by Billy’s story. This isn’t a whole lot like the TV show I watched as a child. For one thing, Billy Batson is actually a little kid in this, unlike the teenager in the show, and no kid should ever be put in that sort of position. Billy fucks up a lot, and its really frustrating, and mildly upsetting to watch the villain beat his ass because he has the physical/mental sensibilities of a child. I don’t know how to explain it, but Shazam has always struck me as more of a horror story than a fantasy.

On the other hand, despite my anxiety, this movie was a lot of fun, and I liked the other kids in it, because they were really cute, and they all defeat the villain through teamwork, and superpowers, and stuff. Its a good, lightweight, piece of fluff to watch, on some Saturday afternoon, with your nieces and nephews.

 

Hellboy

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Whoo boy! I have a lot to say about this movie, so watch for my post comparing the Del Toro movies with this version, and the graphic novels. I didn’t hate this movie like a lot of people did. In fact this movie may prove to be better liked at some later date, but I didn’t love it either. It had a lot of problems which are outweighed by how incredibly gorgeous it is.

 

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

As I said in the original post, I only know as much about Pokemon as raising my sisters would allow me to know, so I was kind of walking into this clean. I didn’t know that the various Pokemon had personalities and stuff, so I didn’t know what to expect. I knew some of the character names, and I liked the premise, and heard that Ryan Reynolds was doing the voice of Pikachu, who is, naturally, my favorite.This movie was as cute as you think it is. Its a nice, funny, piece of fluff. Its got a couple of dark moments, but is mostly safe to watch with kids, as its not that deep, so you can enjoy it without too much anxiety.

I was mostly distracted by the kind of world in which Pokemon live side by side with people. Where do the Pokemon got to  the bathroom? How do the largest Pokemon navigate through the society, and did the biggest ones I saw belong to anyone, or were they just hanging out in the city? Some of the Pokemon were pretty dangerous, so are there humans who hunt them down and exterminate them when they get out of hand? Or do they lock them in jail, like people?

Well, I had questions!

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John Wick 3: Parabellum

This movie was every bit as wild and crazy as it looks from the trailer. I’ve been watching this franchise, and really the entire thing is ridiculous, with Assassin’s guilds, mobsters, dog attacks. Its kind of unrelenting and you may need to have a rest about halfway through it. This time there’s some type of regulatory organization involved, and its purpose is to weed out everyone who helped John in the first two movies. So, not only is John still being hunted by all the top assassins in the world, (namely Mark Dacascos, who it was nice to see again), his friends are in danger too, and this all  escalated from the killing of John’s dog, left to him by his late wife, by a no-account mobster’s son.

I loved Halle’s character, with her two guard dogs. She talked in interviews about the training for the dogs, and what it was like being on set with them, and that was fascinating. In fact the entire thing is fascinating because the creators have no qualms saying the movies are just stunt showcases, with a loose plot attached to it, and going into detail about how they do everything. Its fun to watch, not just the film itself, but the making of it, as well.

Halle Berry plays a character named Sophia, who owns two Belgian Malinois. She is fifty three years old. This is a very demanding film and most of its stars are older men and women, so that’s interesting.

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Men in Black International

I was ultimately so disappointed in this movie, that I didn’t even finish it. I mean Thor and Valkyrie team up to save the world from aliens but there’s really not much of a plot, the acting was a little lackluster. It wasn’t as funny as the first two movies. it was really just lacking Will Smith.

I wouldn’t mind seeing more stories set in this universe, and Tessa and Chris were really cute, but it really does need to have the imagery and the humor, and with actually funny actors, which is something that started to go wrong in the second film. Tessa and Chris are funny, from time to time, but they are not known for their comedy, and it showed, because the writing simply wasn’t there. Its been diminishing returns on the humor ever since that second film, really, but I  expected a lot from this, because the trailer made it look like fun. The wild enthusiasm I had for several other films, that were released around the same time, wasn’t there, but I thought this would be okay. Ultimately, I’m glad I  didn’t spend money to see this in the theater.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home

I missed this one in the theater becasue I was broke around the time this movie got released, but I rented it as soon as the it started streaming ,and I was not disappointed. it has a few slow moments, or moments I didn’t particularly care for, but those moments were not enough to stop me from overall likage. Its not as good as the first film, which had that element of novelty, but its very satisfactory.

I loved a lot of things about it, but mostly it was the relationships between the characters.  I liked the cuteness between Peter ,and MJ. They really did sell the idea of them being awkward teens beginning a romantic relationship. Peter’s friends, and co-stars also get some nice story arcs, too. The action was a lot of fun and didn’t go on interminably long, which is something that always makes me start to squirm, as I get easily  distracted. I’ve watched this about three times since then, and I keep discovering new things ,and its been fun each time.

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I don’t often do sequels to my forthcoming movies posts, but I was going back through some of my older posts, and I saw that I’d watched nearly all the movies in it, and had not given even mini-reviews. so here are some of my  mini-mini-reviews.

10 Terrifying Books For Halloween

Here’s a really good collection of unconventional books to read for Halloween. So pick one up, (or all of them), and prepare to be frightened. Best time to read them? Halloween night of course.

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Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

You might remember these books from your childhood. I remember reading the first of these in elementary school and being scared out of what wits I’d managed to scrape together at age eight. The other two books in the series are less scary, but Gammell’s drawings  were always deliciously disturbing, and I loved them. Is this series just as effective when reading it as an adult? Yes!

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The Institute – Stephen King

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This is a horror novel for people who don’t like horror novels. I just finished this about a couple of weeks ago. While it started off kind of slow, and King really needs to stop writing any Black people into any of his books, until he can write us to sound like regular fucking people, I ultimately found it very satisfying. This is a story for people who think the Harry Potter universe wasn’t dark enough. In fact, this book slaps that universe in the face, kicks it a few times, and then electrocutes its gonads.  In other words, its got a lot of unpalatable stuff in it, including the (bloodless) torture of children. I listened to the audio-book version of this and some parts were hard to get through, and had I been reading it instead of listening to it, I probably would have put the book down and not finished it. What I can say, in King’s favor, is that the torture isn’t  gratuitous, and does serve the plot.

I don’t usually like the endings of King’s books, although I’m okay with the journey to get there, (I prefer his shorter stuff), but this had a nicely bittersweet ending, that made everything that came before it worth crawling through, and I appreciated it. The kids really did come across sounding and acting  like kids, too. Despite his complete inability to make Black people sound like, ya know, people, he really is pretty good at writing White people who are not men. The lead character is compassionate, smart as fuck, and brave, so that helped, too.

Warning for torture of children.

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Mystery Walk – Robert McCammon

This book is from waaay back in the 80s, and is a great Halloween read, as its one of the few pantshittingly scary books I remember fondly. McCammon writes dark Historical mysteries now, so a lot of people aren’t as aware of his Horror past, as perhaps they should be. He didn’t ever quite rise to the level of King, but his grand novel, Swan Song, is right at the top of apocalyptic fiction along with The Stand, as it should be.

Mystery Walk is about a young man’s journey to adulthood, after he finds out that he has inherited the ability to not only see and speak to ghosts, but he can lay them to rest by consuming their pain. There’s also another character with the same ability that is a dark reflection of him. The book builds up to their eventual confrontation, with one using his abilities for evil and gain, and being manipulated by a demon, while the other, having resisted the demon’s temptations, tries to save him.

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God’s Demon – Wayne D. Barlowe

This is another one of those journeys through Hell books. I have a whole collection of these. I love strong imagery in a book, and Wayne Barlowe, being an artist (who has done at least two illustrated books on this subject) is a master craftsmen. But its not just the images that grab you here, its the characters too, from the  repentant Lilith, to the foot soldiers of the demons major, Hell isn’t just made up of damned souls, and the unredeemable, as Sargatanas, one of Hell’s most powerful Fallen, fights a war to prove that he actually belongs back at God’s side, again.

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FantasticLand

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Okay, I got this book from NetGalley because the plot sounded like it might be funny. I thought it was going to be a satire about Disneyland or something.

This book was not funny.

This book was harrowing, but in a good way. I felt like I had been on a serious journey after I read this. Its not like the other books on this list, in that all the monsters here, are entirely human.

You might get the same idea that its a comedy or satire, as the basic plot is a  bunch of  young people get trapped in an amusement park called FantasticLand, during a hurricane, and over the next couple of weeks, all civility breaks down, as they start to hoard food, break into different tribes, and factions, and begin  warring against each other. In the meantime, they are still dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane, and the resultant flooding.

This is told in reports and interviews after the event. with the people who were involved, various rescue workers, and the media. So its an excellent use of the World War Z format, and unlike the Lord of the Flies book, there are plenty of women, there’s a lot more death, and some very clear reasons behind why everyone starts behaving the way they do, that’s beyond people just being stupid or bad. The book has a lot more depth than I expected, and is a more realistic depiction of how something like it could occur. What’s interesting is that even though the reason why the events happened were pretty clear, the public is still massively puzzled about why it happened.

I can;t praise this book enough, even though it was really hard to get through.

Warning for off-screen rape, and lots of ultra-violence.

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Nocturnes –  John Connolly

This is an excellent collection for Halloween, and one of my favorite anthologies. All of the stories here are straight up horror, ,and very well done. From Mr. Pettinger’s Demon, to the Inkpot Monkey,  with many of the stories consisting of people dealing with different types of demons, both real and imaginary. There are also a couple of really good monster stories, The Wakeford Abyss, and The Man From the Second Fifteen. It also includes a less horrific, but still pretty dark Charlie Parker story, The Reflecting Eye.

“Children go missing, lovers are lost, creatures emerge from below the ground and demons lurk in the shadows as Connolly, clearly having the time of his life, does his best to scare the wits out of his readers.”

 —Gold Coast Bulletin (Australia)

 

I also want to rec the sequel, Nocturnes II, Night Music, with its long form short stories, The Caxton Library, which is not horror, but still lots of fun, and The Fractured Atlas, which is deeply disturbing in a Lovecraftian sort of way. There’s also a fun Sherlockian story, where he meets the man who authored him. The sequel has fewer stories, but The Fractured Atlas more than makes up for the lack of scare in the other stories. Other stories of note are The Lamia, which is not about a vampire at all, and The Children of Dr. Lyall, where two men break into a house, and get trapped in alternate dimensions.

 

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We Are Where The Nightmares Go – C. Robert Cargill

The first story in this collection is one of the most unique zombie stories I’ve ever read. Cargill has this thing, where he can take a well worn trope, like zombies or ghosts, or even Indigenous mythology, and pull out some truly interesting stories, that are not like any other types of those stories. In The Town That Wasn’t Anymore, an entire town is so haunted, that most of its citizens are  afraid to go out at night. There’s a Sin Eater and a Soul Thief’s Son, and the title story is an Anti- Alice in Wonderland tale, as a  little girl goes through a doorway under her bed, and finds herself in a very dark world.

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The Haunted forest Tour – Jeff Strand

If a horror novel can be classified as Pulp, than this is it. I thought it was great, horrific, trashy fun, as a magical forest takes over several acres in America, when it pops out of thin air. The forest just happens to be haunted by every sort of monster that has ever inhabited a horror novel. The whole thing has a very Cabin in the Woods feel to it, right down to its  premise.

This is a story that’s best listened to rather than read. I did both, and the narrator for the audio-book does an excellent job of capturing the incredulity of the characters, and  the horribleness of the monsters.

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The Wide Carnivorous Sky – John Langan

Most of the stories in this collection would best be described as haunting. The first two stories are zombie stories but there is less of a focus on gore, and like any good zombie story, more of a focus on how the end of the world affects the survivors. The title story is, very probably, one of the scariest vampire stories I’ve ever read, not because the vampire is so frightening, although yes it is scary as fuck, but because of the mood. There is a feeling of dread in it that heavily reminds me of The Thing ,as a bunch of afghan vets deal, not just with the aftermath of the war, but the PTSD from encountering the vampire.

The Wide Carnivorous Sky is an excellent story to read on Halloween night.

You will be scaredt!

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The Scarlet Gospels – Clive Barker

If you’re a fan of Hellraiser, this chronicles what happened after the events of the second film, Pinhead’s journey across Cenobite Hell, and  his attempts to gain more power.  This is also good book for  fans of Harry D’amour from Barker’s The Last Illusion, as he travels to Hell to rescue a friend who gets caught up in Pinhead’s machinations, and their eventual confrontation.

This was a deeply satisfying book, but then Barker has always been able to capture me through the vivid imagery he presents, and the depth of his characters. I don’t remember many of the plot details but that is one of the dangers of reading a Barker book.

Warning for torture and rape scenes.

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October Viewing List

Raising Dion

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I binge-watched this entire series last weekend. While it wasn’t entirely what I expected, it wasn’t bad, and I will be back for a second season. It was a pleasant series, not as intense as I thought it would be, pretty fun in a lot of places, with the occasional thrill of tension  in others.

I did go into this with some assumptions based on the trailers. I thought it was going to be a straight superhero origin story, but it turned out to be as much about Nicole, his mother, as it was about Dion.

Nicole was a  professional dancer, now turned single mom, after the death of her husband , and she and Dion have moved to Atlanta. Nicole is one of those people whose life always  seems to  careen from one disaster to another, and when Dion develops superpowers, that just complicates her ability to find and keep a job. When we first meet them, she is still job searching, with the help of her older sister, and she still has not yet told Dion that his father is dead, and won’t be coming home, which is rather heartbreaking. (She eventually gets around to telling him.) Dion’s dad died under mysterious circumstances, and Nicole is still in  mourning, while her sister and her girlfriends do their best to console her.

 

The show mostly turned out to be a mystery, and not the government thriller I thought it would be, as Nicole delves into how her husband died, while he was  working for a Biology corporation. She’s spurred on this journey by Dion’s development of powers, so while trying to figure out how Dion got powers, she is also trying to find out what happened to her husband.

I wasn’t into the plot too tightly, but I did enjoy the secondary characters, like her husband’s best friend, Pat, who starts out  endearingly dorky, and obviously crushing on her, and  great as Dion’s godfather. Later in the series, his story changes, and I wasn’t ready for that ,and I was kinda mad about it. Her sister is one of those likable/unlikable people, who at first, seems super critical, but will totally ride or die for her little sister, which made me like her more. I liked these two characters okay, and Nicole was okay too, although I could have done with a lot less dancing in a couple of the episodes.

The two stand out characters for me though were Dion and Esmeralda. The actor playing Dion is as cute as a button, and Dion is imaginative, and kindhearted, which goes a long way with me. Esmeralda is a gem ,and that actress reallt endeared herself to me. Esmeralda is especially smart and insightful and I was glad to see that the show didn’t focus all her personality into her disability, but it does inform certain aspects of her personality.

Esmeralda uses a chair, and when we first meet her, is around the time that Dion discovers he has powers. He declares that he is a superhero, but Esmeralda reminds him that he isn’t a superhero yet, and has to earn that title. One of the things she says about herself is that she can turn invisible, and this is important, because people’s disregard of her allows her to be especially attentive. Because people don’t pay close attention to her, she is able to pay attention to things other people ignore, as she is the first person to figure out, (outside of his mother), that Dion has powers.

So yeah, I already like the characters, and the show is pleasant enough. There are no world ending stakes involved this season, as the story remains mostly small and personal, which will give the show room to expand, as Dion grows into his abilities.

 

Batwoman

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I can’t say that  enjoyed this episode, but I didn’t hate it either. It was a busy episode and I’m still processing it. Let’s just say there is some real potential in the show, and that there is room for some improvement. It was occasionally cheesy, and yeah, some of the dialogue needs help, but it wasn’t actually a bad show, and I’m gonna stick around for the rest of the season, because the action scenes were top notch and I just like Ruby Rose, the actress who plays Batwoman.

I’ve been a fan of Batwoman/Kate Kane fan since she was re-introduced a few years ago, and Rose just perfectly fits this character. Once again, I was not heavily invested in the plot, and I wasn’t  really feeling many of the side characters either,  except for Kate’s bubbly stepsister, Catherine, who is the daughter of her father’s second wife, and is a medical student. Kate lost her mom and bio-sister in a car accident, when she was a child, and she hates Batman because he was there to save them, but left the scene, and Kate watched them die.

We meet up with her while she is undergoing some Bruce Wayne type training with some sassy Indigenous guy, with long White hair, at the behest of her father who, for reasons of love and safety, is trying to keep her out of his hair, after she got kicked out of military school, for fraternizing with another female, her girlfriend, Sophie.

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She and Sophie are given a choice. They can reject their relationship and stay in school, or they can be expelled. Kate chooses to be expelled, but Sophie chooses to deny the relationship and stay. At first, I  was mad about it, but Sophie is a Black woman, from a modest background, who worked damn hard to get where she is, and while she appears to love Kate, she is not willing to sacrifice her potential career for her, as she may not get another chance in life. As she tells Kate, she doesn’t have the luxury of being able to take a stand, while Kate comes from a wealthy family, who will always take care of her, and I thought that was a nice touch.

So Kate’s dad sends her away for some training, and Sophie stays behind and gets a job with The Crows, Kate’s father’s security agency, something which Kate covets, but her father gives her the runaround about. When Sophie gets kidnapped by a villain called Alice, Kate returns to a Gotham which has been missing Batman for  three years. Kate is desperate to save Sophie, and prove herself to her father, and we get some twists and turns in the plot, and some fairly emotional scenes between Kate and Sophie, and Kate and her dad. I thought all that  was too much too soon, as I don’t feel we had enough of a setup to warrant tearful conversations, yet.

Anyway, there was a lot to unpack, as the show covers a lot of emotional  territory, along with Kate finding the Batcave, and meeting one of her father’s  security consultants, named Luke, who appears to have no actual security skills beyond having a big brain. We get a little bit of backstory, and a subplot about a traitor among The Crows.

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I liked that the show made some real efforts at diversity. There are plenty of poc in the cast, and they all have distinct personalities. There are only two White guys in the cast, Kate’s dad, and  one of the villains, and I find it interesting that shows are doing this thing now where they do cast White men, but only as secondary characters, or villains, the way it was done in Star Trek Discovery. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens often enough that I’ve noticed it.

This isn’t my first run in with Kate Kane. I first saw her in a crossover episode with Legends of Tomorrow, a show i still like and occasionally watch, and will be watching this season  because there’s supposed to be another crossover with Arrow, and Supergirl, called Crisis on Infinite Earths.Now, i’m probably one of the few comic book readers who has not read that particular series of books. As I’ve said, I was a Marvel fan at the time of that event, and I could care less what happened in the DCU comic books. I don’t dislike the DCU. All the characters I know are all current, or former, members of the Justice League, Teen Titans, or Legion of Superheroes. Of those characters, the only ones I truly cared about, at the time, were the members of the Justice League.

I will will watch all the shows and some of the movies, though. I’m picky about a lot of pop culture, but  I’m not entirely sure why some things capture my attention, while being indifferent to other things. For example, I didn’t ever give a flying rat’s ass  about Aquaman in the comic books, but I liked the movie version just fine. Well, anyway the big new event this season on the CW is the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, with multiple Supermen, which should (and it better) be exciting.

 

 

 

The Dead Don’t Die

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This is an exceedingly odd zombie film, which I had a lot of fun watching. Even though most zombie movies give me anxiety, I watch them anyway, because, its zombies, and there was a little of that tension here, but the movie was more comedy than horror. Its not the kind of comedy seen in Shaun of the Dead, or Evil Dead II. Its more of an intellectual kind of comedy, that doesn’t make you laugh out loud, so much as make you nod, and chuckle,  which is the hallmark of a Jim Jarmusch film, really.

The movie has an all star cast of Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez, Tom Waits, Tilda Swinton, and a bunch of others, and is a very oddball film. it heavily reminded me of the movie Rubber, a movie in which a telekinetic car tire goes on a killing spree, in Southwestern America, and if you have not seen that movie, then you probably should. At the very least it will prepare you for watching any horror  movie directed by Jarmusch.

According to the movie, there is a worldwide zombie outbreak because the earth has been thrown off its axis by fracking, or something, but this isn’t important, and barely mentioned in the film. Ronnie (Murray) and Cliff (Adam Driver), are the Sheriff and deputy of Centerville, a small Midwestern town. The first time anyone notices things have gone off kilter is when Cliff notices that the sun has not set at the correct time, and  the town crankypants, (Buscemi), notices his chickens and cows are missing. When the diner is attacked by two zombies, Ronnie and Cliff investigate, and Cliff reaches the swift conclusion that it was zombies.

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There are long moments of characters standing around, or sitting somewhere, having bland conversations about the situation, the world, or sometimes each other.The town is visited by what Cliff calls hipsters from Cleveland. Cliff takes a liking to one of them, but its all pointless since everyone in the movie gets eaten, even after Cliff warns them to stay inside and not go out at night because of the outbreak.

The humor comes from the laconic acceptance, by  all the characters, that the town has been invaded by zombies, and from the activities of the zombies themselves.  The director has taken the idea of the zombies being attracted to the the things they did in life, and just ran with it, which results in the Chardonnay quote, seen in the trailer. From time to time, one of regular humans will freak out about the situation, which is only meant to offset the calm of the other characters. This movie is the exact opposite, in mood,  of The Walking Dead TV shows. The zombies are given odd quirks of personality. They still eat people, but they also like tennis and coffee. There’s a country song that plays throughout the movie, called The Dead Don’t Die, and I kind of liked it. When Ronnie asks why that song keeps playing on the radio, Cliff explains  that that is the theme song.

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Tom Waits plays the  homeless guy, who lives n the woods, named Hermit Bob, who makes voiceover observations of the events happening in the town, and  whom everyone thinks is crazy.  He’s also the only survivor at the end of the film. I  liked Cliff, who is both pragmatic and intelligent. He occasionally mentions that he’s got a bad feeling, and when Ronnie asks why, he says he read the script, and that things do not end well, which is correct. They don’t. Ronnie is unperturbed by Cliff’s insistence that there is a movie script for their scenario, and that he read it.

Swinton plays the new town mortician who also turns to to be an alien. You could tell she was a strange one, because she  made weird observations, and  carried a samurai sword that she was extremely good at using. She is both delighted and unbothered by the zombie outbreak. Yes, there is a UFO in this movie. From time to time, one of the characters will  forget that they are in a Jim Jarmusch movie,  and behave as if they are actually in a big budget zombie movie instead, and try to do something heroic, but it doesn’t work. The movie ends with the deaths of all the other characters, and  Hermit Bob shaking his head with the  observation that the world is a messed up place.

What I Watched In September

I haven’t been very diligent in my television viewing the past few weeks. These shows are what I was able to get through in September. What with the glut of  genre programming, I’ve gotten a lot pickier about what I watch the past few years. There are some shows, I thought I’d be interested in, but after watching a bit,, I lost interest. There are a few I barely got thirty minutes into, before getting tired of the premise, like The Dark Crystal. This was a show I was initially excited about, but once it came time to sit down and watch it, I just didn’t fee like making the emotional investment, no matter how shallow. Of the shows below, I at least managed to get through an entire episode.

 

Carnival Row

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Well, first  of all, the show is gorgeous, but ultimately, I probably will not finish the show because I got really tired of looking at the lead actress’ face looking all sad. She just glowers through the entire show, and we spend far too much time looking at the same facial expression, sometimes for minutes at a time. You know what would be radical? If she smiled. But I don’t believe that actress knows how to do that, because I have never seen her do it. Ever!

On the other hand , it’s fascinating to watch Legolas be a human detective. He glowers a lot too, but he looks more handsome doing it, and he has the exxcuse of looking at mangled bodies all the time. The show does have some other bothersome shit in it, like the fact that there is one, light skinned, woman of color in the show, and she is a one of the Fae, and a sex worker. There is one Black man in the show, and he is a rich,  aristocratic, Fae, who has decided to woo a regular human/White woman, who is a kind of fairy bigot.

Its’ obvious that the Fae are stand-ins for people of color, and the situation on the show is an echo of our current immigration system. For the record, this show takes place in an alternate universe, where certain things in history didn’t happen, like slavery (I think), and magic works, and multiverse travel is a thing. The Fae in the show are all from a parallel universe, which is at war with  some human looking invaders. They are flooding into the current universe as refugees, along with some type of monster, that’s preying on Fae homeless and streetwalkers, while Detective Legolas is on the case.

There’s also a frustrated romance,  which I wasn’t too interested in, between Legolas and the lead character, but I will tolerate it, I guess, but just wasn’t buying the relationship. The two actors have no chemistry at all, and all their drama was unconvincing, but then I haven’t seen anyone that that particular actress (I think her name is Carla Delevigne) has ever had chemistry with. Maybe she’s just a bad actress? I don’t know. I want to like her ,and she is very pretty, but I’ve never liked her in anything I’ve watched her in. What she does have is intensity, and gravity ,and I wish she would choose the kind of roles that better highlight those qualities.

There are parts of the show which are fascinating, like the worldbuilding. I’ve also been told by a friend of mine, that I trust, that the show does get better as the season moves forward. And let me say it again, the show is absolutely gorgeous, to look at. I want to dislike the show, but I can’t, because I’m a ‘ho for a pretty show. I don;t know. Maybe I will finish it.

 

 

Titans

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I started the first episode of season two, and it took a minute for me to be impressed. The last episode, Raven brought her father, the demon Trigon, to Earth and asked him to resurrect Garth, in exchange for her soul or something. Outside her house, the rest of the team were trying to figure out a way to get inside and save her, and they do manage to get inside, but one by one, they all succumb to the worst part of their egos, and Trigon takes over their bodies, or something, and they turn all black-eyed and evil. Trigon gets defeated by Raven, and she absorbs his powers or something, and that frees the others from his influence. Or something. Honestly, I really don’t care about the plot,  which is pretty pedestrian for these types of shows.

But I am interested in the individual characters, and their  relationships to one another, because I find them fascinating, for different reasons. This is one of the reasons behind my love of ensemble shows and movies. Last season, it was the relationships I saw developing between Garth and Raven, and Dick and Kory, that captured my attention. Donna Troy, also known as Wonder Girl (Wonder Woman’s little sister) was introduced at the tail end of the season, and I like the relationship I see developing between her and Kory/ Both of them are close friends of Dick Grayson, and I  wonder how that works. There’s still never enough Garth, who turned out to be my absolute favorite of last season. I’m still indifferent to Raven, even though I loved her in the comic books.

I’m still not a fan of Hawk and Dove. I just think they are the two least interesting characters in the entire show, and I wish so much time was not devoted to them. On the other hand, I would love to see more of Jason Todd’s bratty Robin, and his conflict with the elder Robin, now Nightwing. Bruce Wayne makes a cameo too, but I don’t know that actor, and I found it difficult to wrap my head around the idea that that was Batman.

I plan to finish up the rest of the season, in time, because there will be lots of nice cameos, including Cyborg, who is now starring in Doom Patrol. New shows air on Thursdays, on the DCEU streaming app.

 

 

American Horror Story 1984

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This season is built on a number of slasher movie tropes, all of which should be instantly familiar to anyone who watches Horror movies. A lot of slasher movies get referenced, like Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Cabin in the Woods. It contains the usual cast of characters that make up such movies, where the basic plot is introducing a group of unlikable people to an environment they can’t escape, and dropping a monster into it. But the show also interposes real life serial killer Richard Ramirez into the plot in a big way.

Brooke is the virginal/ good girl, who meets the slut archetype, named Montana or Monique, or something, in aerobics class, along with the handsome pretty boy, the dumb and angry jock, and the token negro, named, naturally, Ray. Those were the only names I got out of this episode. I will be watching more of this show because it does seem like the season will be fun, and since this is Ryan Murphy, I know that its going to get more and more batshit as the season progresses. It certainly seems like more fun then the rather gloomy last season. Perhaps I will actually remember some names by the third episode.

This group of barely likable/unlikable people (I have decided that I like Brook) decide to become camp counselors for the Summer, to get away from  Richard Ramirez, The Night Stalker, who went on a house invasion/killing spree of  the women in LA at that time, for …Satan. I guess.

The night before they are set to leave, Brooke is actually attacked by him, and survives, although he threatens to get her later. On their way to the camp they hit a traveler on the road, and take the severely injured man to the camp with them. I do have an objection to the addition of Ramirez to the show because I think it glorifies, real life killers, and his deeds, which were truly atrocious. He shot, bludgeoned, and  even macheted his victims. I feel like the show will run into the same problems, with this character, that Netflix did when it showcased Ted Bundy, in a couple of dramatic documentaries. But then that seems to be the risk anytime television references serial killers. There will be a contingent of people who glorify and empathize with the killers.

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Once they get there, the camp owner turns out to be a deeply religious evangelistic woman, who expects them all to abstain from sex. It turns out, like Brooke, she is the survivor of a serial killer massacre, at the camp, when she was a child. Her survival is the reason behind her religious fervor. The guy who killed her camp mates, (named Mr. Jingles), escapes from the asylum, where he was kept, and hheads to the camp too. So you’ve got a head on collision of various killers, an injured stranger, religious extremism, and horny young people.

I know I was a little dubious about watching this because the fashions and music are every bit as annoying as I remember, (even though I generally like 80s Pop culture). However, it was nice to hear Salt N Pepa, or some Whitney Houston, because usually, when White people remember any pop culture after the 70s. they never seem to remember the existence of Black culture, and/or music of that time. I mean how the hell do you forget the existence of Prince? At least I think I heard this music, and if I did, then its a bit anachronistic, since neither one of them produced albums until 1988, and 1985, and I thought the show was only referencing music from 1984.

Anyway, the second episode has already aired, and it looks like fun. I’m not necessarily a fan of serial killer movies, but I have watched my share of them, and I do have at least a couple of favorites, so I’m looking forward to seeing references to them, at some point in the season. Also, I remember studying Ramirez in college. (By studying, I mean that I read a lot of books about serial killers and profiling, because apparently, that’s a phase that a lot of autodidacts go through.)

 

 

Prodigal Son

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Speaking of serial killers, there’s this thing. I’m not exactly sure what to call it, since it wants to be a whole lot of different shows. I want to like this  because  of the vibes I’m getting off the actors, but its hard, because everyone acts like they are all in a different show, and there is an unusual comedy aspect that keeps cropping up at odd moments. The show cannot seem to make up its mind if it wants to be a comedy, a drama, a detective show, or a buddy cop show, but is only doing one of those things well. Guess which one.

The show stars Michael Sheen (Woohoo!!!!) as a serial killer who has been caught and jailed. He has a strong relationship with his son, played by Tom Payne, who looks vaguely familiar (He played Jesus in The Walking Dead. I’m glad to see hie’s still working.) and yeah, he’s kinda cute. The lead character’s family was torn apart when his father was discovered to be a serial killer, after which he decided to study serial killers as an agent of the FBI, while using his father as a resource. The two of them eventually have a falling out (which we don’t get to see in this episode) and he doesn’t see his father for ten years. After being fired from the FBI, for being reckless, he becomes  a New York city detective, and he has to see his father, to solve a case where the killer is copying his father’s crimes.

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Now, I really want to like the show for the characters, but like I said, they all act like they are in different shows. The lead character has a mother and a sister. His mother is essentially useless, as a character who thinks she is in a soap opera, while his sister thinks she’s in a teen dramedy, even though she is not a teenager. The coroner, a cute, and  tiny, older Asian woman, acts like she is in a completely different, yet zanier, comedy, and she is obviously attracted to the lead character. There’s a very young Black woman detective, who is obviously supposed to be a future love interest, and who acts like she is in a police procedural, and Lou Diamond Phillips is also present, but thinks he is in a buddy cop movie.  You know what the show could do to change things up a bit, have a romance develop between the older woman coroner, and the lead character. I happen to like that pairing, and they  actually seem to  have chemistry. It could also tone down some of the comedic aspects too. Michael Sheen should be the only funny person on the show.

This show caught me by surprise. It wasn’t on my list and I caught it by accident. I was  intrigued because of the dynamic of a father who is a serial killer, who intensely loves his son. Michael Sheen is superb in the role of course, appearing to be warm and genial, while giving off just enough off-kilter vibes, to seem menacing. Plus there are  the Hannibal the series vibes I’m getting, as both shows are about the intense relationships that develop between a serial killer, and another man, close to him, whose trying not to get roped into madness. I think I’m gonna stick around for a little bit and see where this goes. I generally don’t watch cop shows, or network broadcast television, but it is Michael Sheen, and Tom Payne is just really, really, cute.

 

 

Treadstone (Preview)

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One of the creators of this show is Tim Kring, and I trust him with this show because he at least has some experience working with an ensemble cast, on a global scale, having been one of the creators on the series, Heroes. This show is based on the Bourne franchise, which is based on the Bourne books, and is about the clandestine organization that created Jason.

In the first episode, we ‘re mostly just meeting the primary characters, three sleeper assassins, called Cicadas in the show, who awaken to their special skills with no knowledge of their former selves. Some White guy in Alaska, another White man, being held hostage by the Russians, and a Korean piano teacher. We also meet a Black woman journalist, who is set on uncovering the  purpose behind Treadstone and the Cicadas, by a Korean defector.

I really enjoyed the action scenes, which are smart and well shot. These are people who know how to shoot acceptable action scenes. The show follows the protocol of the movies, by respecting the female characters, and giving them plenty to do. They are smart, capable, and know how to kick ass as well as any of the men, giving as good as they get. One of the major set pieces of the episode is the Korean piano teacher, duking it out with the Korean defector. It’s not simply a good action scene, it has a story in it, with suspenseful moments. There are a few things that seem farfetched but I’m willing to let those things slide because the Bourne franchise has moments like that too.

I think I’ll stick around for this show, which doesn’t actually air until October 15th, because this was a free preview. It’s not too emotionally heavy, and it has just enough intrigue and action to be interesting.

 

PS: Sunday Night was the final episode for the Preacher series. I’ve been watching this crazy-as-shit show, off and on, for about three seasons, so I’ll be reviewing the finale sometime in October.

The Truman Show (1998): Questioning Reality

During the late 90’s there was a spate of existentialist movies, that asked questions about the nature of reality, the self,  and questioned our sense of who we were. Movies like Dark City, The 13th Floor, Pleasantville, The Matrix, Existenz, and yes, The Truman Show, all questioned if the world we lived in was truly real, if we were real, and if nothing is real, does anything we experience matter.

The Truman Show didn’t just question reality. It asked questions about freedom, and self determination, as well. Truman is a man who has been imprisoned in a pleasant middle class, artificial, bubble his entire life, with a pretty blond wife, a non-descript job, one close friend, and a tragic past that’s specifically designed to hold him in place, and keep him from moving forward. His life is comfortable and certain. It is difficult not to see parallels to our own lives in Truman and his circumstances.

Truman has a daily routine. He does the same thing every day, with the same catchphrases, ordering the same food, the same magazines at the newsstand, driving the same route to and from work. Truman is mostly happy with his life, but its not an exciting life, so he fantasizes a lot.

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One of the first images we get of Truman is his childlike fantasy of being an astronaut. Truman longs to do something different, go somewhere else, be someone else, but he is trapped in place, as so many of us are, by our jobs, our circumstances, monetary concerns, our families, and other obligations, that we consider more important than our freedom to do as we please. Like Truman many of us fantasize about being  someone else, someplace else, and for most of us, fantastical visions of riding dragons, or pretending to be a favorite cartoon character, are enough.

Many of us live in comfortable bubbles, occasionally  chafing at our restrictions, and any attempts to break free of those restrictions can get you branded with labels like mentally ill,  mid-life crisis, or hysteria. Your desire to  break free, can often make other people deeply uncomfortable, and can prompt them to deploy tactics that will get you back into your bubble, to be quiet, and complacent, once again.

Truman is a man who has been held in captivity, since he was born, by an avant-garde filmmaker, named  Christof, who adopted him, kept him imprisoned in a fake world, with actors and actresses as friends and family, and put his entire life on live television. Everything in Truman’s life is manufactured, his job isn’t real, his marriage was carefully orchestrated, his best friend is an actor, his father was conveniently killed when he was a child, and he has been socialized with a number of phobias (aqua-phobia) that make it near impossible for him to leave the fake set.  In other words, his world is carefully designed to keep him in place, keep him from questioning it, and keep him from growing, changing , or progressing.

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Many of us live the kinds of lives we are reluctant to leave, it can be difficult for us to grow and move forward because we’ve become used to how our life is. It can be difficult to try new things, or make big changes in our lives, even changes we need to have, because we fear the unknown future. If you’re someone who has a great fear of the unknown, then moving into a future you cannot see, would be very difficult. This is how Truman engages with the world in the first half of his life, until a monkey-wrench called “first love” throws everything he knows into question. He falls in love with a young woman named Sylvia, who wasn’t chosen for him, and she is, rather traumatically, removed from his world. Truman developed such a special longing for her, that she came to represent the one thing in his life he didn’t have, uncertainty, and the unknown.

He begins to question the world he lives in. In other words, he starts to wake up, especially after  he experiences a series of strange events. like seeing his supposedly dead father, chunks of sky falling on his car, a photo of his wife with her fingers crossed behind her back (which indicates that she was lying). Truman attempts to express his nascent suspicions to his wife, mother, and best friend, who only try  to gaslight him, with temporary success. Over time, Truman begins to test his theory, and finally reaches the conclusion that the world he lives in, and the people he knows, is not real.

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Truman only begins to ask the right questions, after he sees the patterns around him, and starts putting those patterns in the correct order. When he sees his dead father on the street, the man is immediately whisked away by a group of strangers. Later that week, there is a radio mix up, where he hears one of the camera men narrating what he is doing. He notices a pattern in the people who cross in front of his house. He notices  patterns and reaches proper conclusions. He begins to see the artificiality.

For example, he suspects that he is being watched, that the people in his world are fake, and  don’t know what to do when he does  unexpected things. So he disrupts his routine in small ways, like walking into a different building, or deciding to accompany his wife (a nurse) to a surgery that was made up in an attempt to explain something he saw earlier that day. By behaving unpredictably, he has introduced uncertainty, and the unknown to the set, which disrupts everyone else’s routine, as well.

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Ironically, many of us suspect that the world we live in is a facade, as we seek to explain the uncertainty of our life, rather than the certainties. This theory was especially popular during the last years of the 20th century, which accounts for the popularity of  films, in which the protagonists question the randomness of their lived experiences. In the Matrix, Neo tells Trinity about a number of events that happened to him when he was unaware he was in the matrix, and asks her what that means. Trinity’s answer is that the matrix cannot tell you who you are. She is in essence telling him that when he lived in the matrix, that he was not his true self.

Since the events that occurred to Neo can be said to have been contrived by computer programs, his reactions to those events were inauthentic, and not evidence of his true self.  Another argument that can be made, however, is that such contrived events are not any different than random events contrived by a god, and if we can accept that our authentic self is in evidence when under the aegis of a mythological figure, than why can we not accept the authenticity of self while under the control of an AI?

One of the reasons that Truman gives for desperately trying to escape Christof’s prison, is that he wants a real life, an authentic life. Christof tries to talk him into staying in his artificial world by telling him that life is no more authentic, in the “real” world, than it is in his fake one. he tells Truman that there is no truth, thereby  illustrating a fundamental misunderstanding of Truman’s motives. Truman is not searching for truth. He is searching for “the real”, which is not the same thing.

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But, as we all must do, if we hope to move forward, to progress in our lives, Truman takes a leap of faith, into the unknown. At some point, if we hope to meet our real selves, we must all walk through a mysterious door, into an uncertain future. Truman has no idea what is on the other side of the door he’s about to walk through, but like Red, from the Shawshank Redemption, he hopes to see Sylvia, and take her hand. He hopes to find himself. He hopes to be happy. He hopes to find love.

He hopes.

And so must we all.

 

Jet Li Unleashed (2005): Surviving Abuse

 

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One of the more unusual martial arts films I’ve  seen, is one which stars Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), and Jet Li. Yeah, I said it. Morgan Freeman starred in a martial arts film. Okay he didn’t do any martial arts, which I definitely would have watched. He was a piano tuner, but that’s okay, because Jet Li engaged in enough rock’em, sock’em for everyone in the movie. This is an unusual movie, not just because of its dissimilar cast, but because it is as much of a drama, as it is an action movie.

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The movie’s first title was Danny the Dog, when it was released overseas in 2004. When it was released in the US, in 2005, it was renamed Unleashed, and received moderate reviews, probably because most people didn’t get to see it, and the ones who did see it didn’t quite know what to make of it. Its not a bad film, but it is a tonally odd movie, that somehow manages to work, and that is entirely due to the acting, and what mindset you bring to it.

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Morgan Freeman, as Sam, is his usual excellent self, and so is Bob Hoskins as an abusive gangster named Bart. Jet Li is Danny the Dog, and  does surprisingly well, as an emotionally stunted and abused young man, They are joined by Kerry Condon, as Danny’s bubbly love interest, Victoria. I actually enjoyed this movie, but then I walked in not really knowing what to expect, even though I had heard of the movie with its previous title.

Bart has been raising Danny, the son of a young woman he exploited and killed, as a beast who wears a metal collar, which, when it’s removed, is Danny’s cue to kill whoever  Bart has pointed his finger, first as one of Bart’s enforcers, and then in  underground fight clubs. Bart styles himself as a kindly uncle, who is just taking care of the helpless Danny, but he is horrifically abusive, treating Danny like an animal, putting him on a leash, making him eat out of dog dishes, and live in a  cage in the basement. He is a cartoonish example of abusive parenting, and clothes himself in virtue, by calling it love.

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One day Danny accidentally stumbles across Sam, fixing a piano in an antique shop, and the blind Sam, is kind and friendly to him, something Danny has never experienced. He becomes fascinated by the piano, and later, asks for one from Bart, but a rival gangster takes Bart out of the equation, via car crash. Danny is injured in the attack, but manages to find his way back to the antique shop where Sam works. Sam takes Danny in, and patches him up.

So thirty minutes into the movie, it turns into a found family story, that’s rather endearing, carried mostly on the strength of the acting. Danny is from a highly abusive, even life threatening, relationship with the man who raised him, while Victoria and Sam have an open, loving, and healthy relationship, with more than enough room to welcome Danny. A significant portion of the film is taken up with montages, and scenes, of Danny discovering the joys of ice cream, kissing, and both familial and romantic love, learning to cook with Sam, and  play the piano with Vic, and just be happy. He starts to regain memories of his mother and begins investigating his origins.

Victoria is also an adopted child, but she had the good luck to be raised by Sam instead of  someone like Bart. Victoria’s biological father died when she was small, and her mother married Sam. After her mother died, Sam became her father, and moved them both to France, so that she could go to music school. Sam’s love for his child, is as it should be, sacrificial, and supportive. They are a  family that prays before each meal, and fully embody the Christian principles of charity and kindness, and become a model for Danny for how a healthy family behaves.

Sam and Victoria are the stellar opposite  of  Bart, and the various flunkies who surround, and obey him, who all witness Danny being treated abusively, and say and do nothing. Bart is a man with many pretensions. He is a user who pretends  at kindness, a gangster with pretensions to class and upbringing, and a bully, who pretends to be a father figure. Thanks to Bart, Danny is emotionally underdeveloped, withdrawn, anxious, and extremely focused on any given task.

The first time Danny wakes up in Sam’s and Victoria’s home, he is frightened and nervous, and hides under the bed. At dinner, he doesn’t know to use a spoon for his soup, and he is still wearing his metal collar. But Sam and Victoria adapt to him as he adapts to them, and are as loving and supportive to him, as they are to each other. They suspect that he comes from a violent situation, and are sensitive about how they treat him, by not asking questions they think would cause traumatic memories ,and they teach him how to live a normal life, as Danny has never been taught to do anything but kill and is completely inured to violence.

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At one point, a fight breaks out in a local store that Sam and Danny frequent, which Danny entirely ignores, saying he was unconcerned because the fight didn’t involve him. This is how well trained Danny is with his collar on. Later, when Victoria reaches to take the collar off, saying its the last vestige of his old life he needs to get rid of, he is terrified that when she does so,  he will attack her, because the only times it was ever removed, he would kill. You can see his adrenaline spike just thinking about it, but he allows her to remove it, and when nothing happens you can see the relief on his face. He trusts himself now, in a way that would not have been possible, earlier in their relationship. As it turns out, he is not the natural born killer Bart trained him to be.

**************

https://www.loyola.edu/department/counseling-center/students/concerns/abuse

When children are exposed to abuse, they learn to protect themselves through denial, withdrawal, approval-seeking, turning off their feelings, acting out, and self-blame. Using these coping mechanisms during childhood has long-term consequences, which can include lack of trust, a fear of change and resultant difficulty in adjusting, difficulty knowing or showing one’s own feelings, being easily stressed and acting on that by abusing substances, food, and one’s own body, and feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth.

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Sam and Victoria model for Danny how a loving relationship between a stepparent and child is supposed to work.When Sam and Victoria have a disagreement, they argue, come to a truce, and then make up. They disagreed, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still love each other. Contrast that with Danny’s relationship to his evil stepfather  Bart, who gives the orders, and, according to Bart, “the dog obeys!” There can be no disagreement with Bart. When Danny insists that he wants a piano, Bart is angry, manipulative, and cajoling. He screams and/or lies, to Danny, to get what HE wants.

Later, Danny refuses to fight, deciding he doesn’t want to kill people anymore, and Bart becomes increasingly angry and more violent, but is unable to force Danny to do what he wants him to do. Danny sees this powerlessness, and finally connects his mother’s death (which he witnessed as a child) to Bart. He rebels completely and leaves him. This move may or may not be especially cathartic to abuse survivors, but its was certainly good to watch Danny reject Bart. After experiencing so much happiness with Sam and Victoria, he can’t possibly make himself go back to that life.

Bart follows him to his home, with Sam and Victoria, and attempts to kill them, because threatening Danny’s new family is the only leverage he has to make him obey. Danny nearly kills Bart, but is stopped by Sam and Victoria who tell him that he cannot begin his commitment to peace by killing Bart. Bart’s life isn’t saved because Sam and Victoria care about him. Its saved because they love Danny and believe, as he does,  that he should stop killing.

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https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/03/survivors-child-abuse-remind/

#3. You Are Still Loved, Even When It’s Uncomfortable to Accept Love from Others

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At the end of the movie, Victoria tells Danny  his life was saved by music, and this may be true, but really Danny saves himself, by the choices he makes. Like a lot of abuse survivors, he is presented with the option of staying, as the abuser tries to sweet talk him into coming back, and how everything will better, and the abuser will be a nicer person, who really loves them. Classic abuser speak, basically.

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Danny realizes he actually has choices. He chooses to stop killing and commits to it,  he chooses to leave Bart, and sets the terms of it, and finally chooses not to kill Bart, not because he cares about Bart’s  life, but because he cares about his own. But one of the biggest choices Danny makes is the choice to accept  love and support, which is healing for him. With Sam and Victoria, Danny starts to do things he never contemplated when he was with Bart. He makes plans for his future, sets goals, and claims what he desires.

This is not a completely accurate depiction of surviving child abuse, because this is, after all, an action film, but it makes some interesting points about  it. I’m pretty sure  most of the people who walked into the theater to see this, had no idea this would turn into a movie about surviving domestic abuse, but I found it uplifting and fun to watch. True, not all martial arts movies have this level of  depth, but like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, they sometimes have messages, and deal with  serious issues.

 

 

  • Next up on martial arts movies: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and  Colonialism

 

 

Mini Reviews: Swamp Thing; Good Omens; NOS4A2; and “Ma”

Swamp Thing

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I read these comic books like they were religious texts, way back in the eighties, when they were being drawn by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, when it was called Saga of the Swamp Thing. The books existed before these two artists worked on them (since 1972) but I only read a few of them, sporadically. I had a general idea of the history of the character when I started reading the books, and from the beginning, Swamp Thing has always been heavily based on body horror, with occasional excursions into mystery, dream logic, humor, and  psychedelia, especially during Alan Moore’s run in the mid-80s.

The original story is a scientist, Alec Holland, working on a sort of bio-restorative formula involving plants, for  Arcane Industries. The CEO’s niece is Abigail Arcane, and she develops a relationship with Alec after he becomes the Swamp Thing, which occurs after he falls into the swamp during a murder attempt. Alec spends most of his early years trying to find a cure for what happened to him, and running from the Arcane corporation. Arcane himself is eventually killed, after turning himself into a hybrid insect like creature, in an attempt to reproduce the Swamp Thing effect.

I started reading the books in earnest when Alan Moore started writing the story and his approach changed the entire plot and nature of the story. He crafted a story that was beautiful, majestic, and terrifying in brand new ways. If you’re going to read any of the Swamp Thing books, start a few issues before Moore’s run, (when Len Wein was the writer) so you can get an idea of what the main character was like before that big change. Alan Moore’s run starts with the story The Anatomy Lesson.

That said, the TV show contains little of these qualities. It moves too fast and paradoxically moves too slow, in that we keep waiting for events to happen on screen. Why? Because these are some of the least interesting characters in a TV show. Abby is an earnest, but essentially boring young woman, and a lot of it has to do with the actress who was chosen, I suspect, more for her looks, than any kind of gravity she may have as an actress. The man playing Alec Holland is both unlikable and boring. There a a handful of exciting moments when the plant life in the movie gets a bit rambunctious, and attacks everybody, but those moments are not scary. There is a little bit of the body horror element from the comic books. Why the plant life in the swamp is acting a fool, I don’t know. I must have missed the explanation when I tuned out for a moment.

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I simply could not get into these characters, which is important if I expect to care about a show. I didn’t care about either of these people. I realized this when Abby experiences some pointless drama in the form of a mother figure who hates her for accidentally killing her other daughter, and makes a scene at a party. I tried to care, but this dramatic moment, this pathos, happens too soon, and I don’t know this character enough to give a flying hot damn who does, or doesn’t, like her in the show. Alec likes her, and the two of them flirt a little bit, but since I didn’t like him, and she doesn’t have enough of a personality, I didn’t buy their budding romance. It doesn’t help that the two of them have all the chemistry, and  romantic passion, of a pair of titmice. Nor did I care when Alec gets killed later in the episode and gets turned into the Swamp Thing. I should have cared. I wanted to care. I didn’t.

I feel like the show’s creators put in too many pointless action scenes that don’t actually help the story, or build Abby and Alec’s relationship, or give them much character. We start the episode off with the plants attacking a boat of strangers in the middle of the swamp. The show immediately gets on my bad side, when the only Black man I’ve seen in the entire episode, gets killed in the first ten minutes of the show, and it serves no purpose other than to introduce us to the plants, the only creatures that have a strong personality. I’m hoping that’s the point, and that its a callback to the most famous Swamp Thing story ever written, The Anatomy Lesson. Alec gets turned into the Swamp Thing at the end. I felt that was too soon, and also  that the show had just been vamping to reach that particular moment, because things happened to these characters, and we’re meant to care, but we haven’t spent enough time with either of  them to care about anything that has happened, or will happen to them,  and we wouldn’t want to spend more time with them anyway, because they are  boring. There’s just no spark to these people at all.

I cannot recommend this show. I’m going to persevere  because there’s the possibility of improvement, and the rest of the season may have better tone and pacing than the premiere. The show has since been canceled, so I have all the time in the world to  get around to watching these episodes. I don’t think it was canceled because it was bad. There was some kind of internal fight going on between the creators, the networks, and the producers.

 

+

Good Omens

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This is the total opposite of Swamp Thing. It helps that I’m a fan of David Tennant, who always plays somewhat the same character in everything, but since he’s so charming, and funny, he can get away with it. I even like Michael Sheen, although I’m not as familiar with his career as I am with Tennant’s. The two of them star as an angel and a demon who are trying to prevent the apocalypse because they love living on Earth.

The show is heavily based in Christian mythology, but you don’t need to know all of that to like the show, since a lot of things get explained to you, even as you get thrown in the deep end. There’s a lot of information that gets thrown at you, in voiceovers, and characters speaking their thoughts, but it never feels overwhelming, because the imagery is so much fun. This show doesn’t take any of itself seriously.

Keep in mind that although I’m familiar with the book, I haven’t ever read it. I’m a Neil Gaiman fan, and I’ve read a little bit of Terry Pratchett, and I can’t think  of two more interesting people to write a biblical mythology story together. I like to think of this as a love letter to Christian mythology, sort of like the biblical version of Galaxy Quest. None of this story is done from a place of hate or disrespect. Its an irreverent show, naturally, but its not mean-spirited.

The two celestial entities were both responsible for trying to bring about the End Times, but end up botching the whole thing by losing track of where they put the Anti-Christ. The two celestial entities eventually find the Anti-Christ a week before the apocalypse is set to begin, having been working with the wrong boy who was suspected to be the Anti-Christ, but wasn’t. Just the whole lead up to the two of them losing the Lucifer’s son is hilarious, involving various dim witted and jealous demons, a sect of Satanic nuns, and the pregnant wife of some nobody from a small town in England.

God is portrayed by a woman (Frances McDormand), Adam and Eve is played by a Black couple, and Benedict Cumberbatch is Satan, (but we already knew that). I loved all the colorblind casting going on in the show. The demons are played by every race of humanity, including an Asian woman, and a Black man with a tiny lizard living on top of his head. I’m still unsure if the lizard is the demon controlling the man, or if he is just wearing the lizard for decoration. We get the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse on motorcycles, some of which are women, and the gateways to Heaven and Hell are the escalators in  the local mall. I love the dialogue, and the acting here. The show is just fun to listen to, and watch, and its utterly ridiculous.

But the highlight of the show is the relationship between the demon and the angel. The two of them are meant to work together to bring about the end of the world, and have known each other for centuries, having developed a great deal of affection for one another. Neil Gaiman himself says that its a Romance. Since both of them are asexual beings, they have to express their love and affection for one another in different ways, and they often do. The actors have such great chemistry and its a joy to watch them interact.

I have not finished watching all the episodes, but I don’t think you need me to say that as wild as that first episode was it just gets zanier. Good Omens airs on Amazon Prime.

 

NOS4A2

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Yeah, I was gonna write this long thing about how I loved the book, but was disappointed in this show, but Imma be frank. I fell asleep on it. Zachary Quinto is his usual creepy, yet excellent self, but the lead actress is bOOOOOring! And it is definitely the actress. On the other hand, the show looks great!

NOS4A2 is written, not by Stephen King, although I can see where people might get that idea.  It was  written by his son, Joe Hill, who I’m a big fan of. Charlie is a young lady with the ability to find any object. She discovers this power by riding her bicycle through a magical covered bridge. This draws the attention of a vampire like creature named Charlie Manx, who for decades has been abducting children, and feeding on their innocence, which  turns the child into  a cannibalistic vampire-like creature not unlike himself. All of these feral children live in what Manx calls Christmasland, a perpetually wintry land decorated like Christmas.

Now, I do like to give shows the benefit of the doubt, when the premiere does not inspire enthusiasm, and give the rest of the season a cursory glance at least, but I really don’t want  to sit through that actresses’ lackluster acting for the rest of the season. There’s also the possibility that the show is just too complicated to be written for TV. So, here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna try again, and see if it gets any better, because I want to like the show as much as I liked the book.

*

I have watched a couple more episodes of the series, and I’m starting to actually like it. The acting is better, I like the lead actress more than I did in the pilot, there isn’t any less of the family drama that I cared so little about in the pilot, but I understand a little more of the family dynamics in the show, and the villain is suitably creepy. Zachary Quinto is his usual elegant self. I could really do without the Magical Negro though.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Negro

The Magical Negro is a trope created by white people: the character is typically, but not always, “in some way outwardly or inwardly disabled, either by discrimination, disability or social constraint”. The Negro is often a janitor or prisoner.[7] The character often has no past but simply appears one day to help the white protagonist.[8][9]He or she usually has some sort of magical power, “rather vaguely defined but not the sort of thing one typically encounters.”[8] The character is patient and wise, often dispensing various words of wisdom, and is “closer to the earth”.[6] The character will also do almost anything, including sacrificing him or herself, to save the white protagonist, 

This character definitely fits that trope. We know nothing about her personally, and she shows up right when the lead character needs her,  so she can talk her into fighting the villain, which she knows all about, but seems unable to fight herself.  This actually is a character from the book, although I don’t remember that she was a Black woman. I wouldn’t be surprised because Stephen King has always had this problem of adding Magical Black people to his stories, and Joe seems set to follow his father in that regard. It ‘s also very distracting that she looks like one of my favorite YouTube,  makeup tutorial, personalities, and that’s all I can think about when I see her.

In one of the season previews there’s a scene of that character, being beaten up, and I’m not here for that, because I’m just fucking tired of watching Black pain on TV right right now, no matter how necessary the writers think it is. On the other hand, I suppose I should be grateful that at least her story doesn’t involve police brutality.

I don’t know that I want to watch the rest of the season. The show has gotten better, since that first episode, but my enthusiasm still isn’t up there yet.

 

 

Ma

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I had no plans to go see this movie. It wasn’t even on my radar, but my Mom managed to talk me into watching this with her after I abruptly lost interest in watching Godzilla. I’m a Godzilla fan, but I was just too tired to sit through two hours of Kaiju fighting. I thought Ma would be a bit more relaxing, in the excitement department, and it kind of was, but it was also kind of emotionally wrenching. Ma is a very sad movie. There’s also a few moments of graphic violence, and one full frontal scene of Luke Evans, but I can guarantee you will not enjoy it.

Octavia Spencer plays a woman named Sue Ann, who works at a veterinary clinic, in a Podunk little town, that people desperately want to escape from. She is a lonely, and put upon woman, and one of the few Black people who live in the town. The movie doesn’t have an obvious racial message, but as I’ve said before, there is a racial component, simply because they cast  Octavia, rather than the White actress the role was written for. So, because Tate Taylor cast a Black actress, there’s an element of racism in how she is treated by all these White people in the story, and there is a tiny bit of awareness of this when Sue Anne attacks the only Black man in the movie by slathering his face with white paint. She is condemning his “go along, to get along”, attitude with his White friends, by  whitewashing him. I think that particular moment was added by Spencer, because it is so specifically a Black condemnation. In the Black community, one of the worst insults you can give someone is to say they’re a “Wannabe White”, or that they are “acting White”, and that is her way of showing contempt for him.

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Sixteen year old  Maggie is moving back to the little town with her mother, Erica, played by Juliette Lewis, after her parents divorce. Luke Evans plays the town’s local hottie, Ben Hawkins, who all the girls lusted after back in high school, and who owns a small fleet of vans for his small security company. They all have children, and Sue Ann runs into them while they are trying to buy beer at the market. She get them the beer, but the makes them promise to only drink at her house. After a while, all the local teens are partying at Sue Anne’s house, and Sue Anne is getting to experience what its like to be liked and popular in a way she didn’t get in high school. The original teenagers, sensing her neediness, start trying to avoid her, which pisses her off. driving.

This is one of those little towns where everyone grew up together, and everybody knows everyone, because they all went to the same school.  A lot of what happens in the movie arises out of events that happened when Erica, Ben, and Sue Ann were kids. Sue Ann and Erica were supposedly friends, and both of them had crushes on Ben. Ben thought nothing of Sue Ann, who became emotionally disturbed after he orchestrated her sexual humiliation in front of the whole school. Sue Ann has a host of issues, and yes, she is mean, and she is a killer, and while her  long standing need for revenge against Luke, and the others,  is completely out of proportion,  you get why.

You’ll probably hear a lot about how insane this movie was and there are elements of crazy in the movie, but its really not all that wild. Its been advertised as a Horror/serial killer type of movie, and while  there are some horrible elements, its mostly a Thriller, a campy movie with moments of uncomfortable laughter, because a couple of the characters are a little over the top in their performances, and there’s just a tiny hint of subversive humor. This movie doesn’t take itself completely seriously.

I have to take a moment to  scream about the performances. Octavia Spencer tears it up wonderfully. You can tell she was having sooo much fun making this, but just manages to miss chewing the scenery. Its a fine line, which she just manages to skirt. Her performance is phenomenal, and scary, and surprisingly sympathetic. There’s one scene where she is in a rage, sitting in her car, and some teens drive past and throw a can of beer at her, and she breaks down and cries. She has been mistreated by lots of people up to that moment, but apparently that was just one time too many, and she just loses it. She very cold-bloodedly kills at least three people in this movie.

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It’s rare to see a movie villain in a vulnerable moment, though, and its not until a little later that you understand why she’s like that. Sue Ann is a sad, angry, little woman, desperately seeking the love and attention she was denied as a teenager, and after you see her back story, you have some idea why the town folk treat her the way they do. She just wanted what any ordinary teenager wanted, which was to be the  popular girl, and get the popular guy, and that guy betrayed her trust. By hosting the teen’s parties at her home, she gets to relive her teenage years, the way they should have been, and she gets addicted to that.

Make no mistake, she is a villain and what she is doing is absolutely wrong, but like Eric Killmonger, you feel for her, and her story resonates with you, although you can’t agree with any of her tactics. Now, this is what I mean about what happens when you change a single component of the story. You end up with some deeper moments than you thought you would, because in the hands of a White actress, this would have become your run of the mill, crazy, killer woman story, but changing the race of the lead character only, adds an uncomfortable racial component, that wouldn’t otherwise be there. This same thing happened with the movie Alien, whose principal role was written for a man. At the last moment they cast Sigourney Weaver, and inadvertently made her a Feminist icon in doing so, without being an overtly Feminist film. Ma isn’t in that league, but it is a more interesting movie than it would have been, because of Octavia’s casting.

The second best actress in the movie is Juliette Lewis as Erica. I really feel that Lewis is one of the finest actresses in Hollywood, but because of the kinds of characters she plays, she really doesn’t get enough love and/or recognition. She is one of the few White actresses I stan, but because she always seems to play working class, and poor women, people tend to equate her with her characters, and think of her as not being especially bright. I would love to see a movie with just her and Spencer,, because together, the two of them are awesome.

Here, Lewis plays a newly single Mom, who is feeling some amount of guilt for leaving Maggie’s father, and moving them back to her home town, which  she was so desperate to leave. There’s an element of shame in her return, as well. None of these things are explicitly stated. Its all in her performance, and her interaction with the other characters, and their thinly veiled contempt of her. There’s also a certain amount of guilt in her seeing Sue Ann again. You can see the tension between the two of them, when Sue Ann visits Erica at home, and Erica acts relieved, as if she’s glad Sue Anne doesn’t hold a grudge against her. Erica never came to her aid, or did anything to help, after Sue Anne’s humiliation.

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Later in the movie, Erica drops the civility mask  between her and Maggie, who she has been coddling since the divorce, even though you can sometimes see her disapproval  at Maggie’s decisions. She puts her foot down, and gets her daughter in line, to try to save her life, and my Mom loved the moment she stopped trying to be Maggie’s friend. One of the rawest moments in the movie is when Sue Ann is threatening Maggie, and Erica pleads for Sue Ann’e  forgiveness, in an attempt to save her daughter’s life. Lewis really sells it, and you feel for both these women, who still feel as if they’re paying for mistakes they made decades ago, but nobody will allow them to forget.

I’m still not sure how how I feel about this movie two weeks later. I should say I liked it. I can’t say that. I didn’t hate it though, and its not a bad movie, and the performances make it worth watching.

Let’s Go Waaaay Back

Now and Again (1999-2000)

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I remember this show aired for one magnificent season, waay back in the 90s, before its very abrupt cancellation. I was totally in love with this show and it was my first huge disappointment in standard network TV. This was a little while before Firefly ever happened. At the time we didn’t have the vast internet systems in place to save worthy shows, so while there was a bit of an uproar, the show didn’t have that vast following of teens and twenty year-olds, with social media accounts, because this was before Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Interestingly enough, the show also has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so somebody’s heard of it, and been watching it. I do know that several of the episodes are available on Youtube, so check them out.

The first episode stars John Goodman, as Michael Wiseman (get it?) as a tired businessman, who gets killed on the NY subway one night, leaving behind a wife and daughter, played by Margaret Colin, and Heather Matarazzo. He’s given a brand new bionic body (sort of like Steve Rogers) in the person of Eric Close. He is now an asset of the US government, his handler played by Dennis Haysbert.

The show ended on a cliffhanger, as it was abruptly (and by abrupt, I mean absolutely no fucking warning at all) canceled, after Michael Wiseman had, illegally,  teamed back up with his wife and daughter, and would have been on the run from the US government. Its been twenty years, and I still feel some type of way about getting burned like that. I learned a valuable lesson from that, and to this day, I keep my distance from most of network TV.

I was initially interested in the show solely because of the song from the trailer. A couple of years earlier, Janet Jackson had a hit song, using the same melody that was used in the trailer, and since I loved that song (I played the hell out of that song all year), I loved the show, and I made sure to tune in to watch the opening credits, since I didn’t have a DVR back then. The opening credits are gorgeous and I think the lyrics were specially written for the show.

The best parts of the show are the dialogue, and acting, although the plots were ridiculous. It doesn’t hurt that Eric Close is a fine looking White man, and Haysbert is just icing. Somewhere somebody is shipping these two characters. I just know it! The weakest part of the show are the uneven characterizations of some of the characters, and the occasional weird plot points, that raised more questions than were answered.

I loved the show for the interaction between the characters. Haysbert’s Dr. Morris, and Michael, had the most interesting and volatile relationship, as Morris, the head of the program that created Michael, was alternately threatening and very protective of his subject. He tried desperately to keep a tight rein on Michael, but Michael insisted on interacting with his past friends and family. The Wiseman ladies are the real heart of the show, especially Margaret’s Lisa Wiseman. Colin had to carry a lot of the episodes, sometimes entirely on her own.We spent a lot of time with her, and her relationships with all the other characters is key to the mood of the show.

There’s something about all these shows that aired before Buffy that is incredibly shippable, often consisting of two handsome men, of any race, and usually  opposite  personality types, who got on, either very well together, or not so well, but with great chemistry. The two men usually spent a lot of time together, often living with each other, so that a certain level of intimacy was expected. For some reason this happened in a lot of  the less well known SciFi /Horror type shows, and this show was no exception. At any rate, you cannot convince me that at least some of these shows weren’t trying to have LGBTQ representation, in a kind of low key manner, during an era where Gay and Lesbian characters were  forbidden to be out on mainstream TV.

It was the abrupt cancellation of this show that made me start examining the making of TV shows, and start looking closer at which shows got made, which ones, got renewed, and which ones got popular, and why. I also never fully trusted the Fox network ever again, so by the time that shows like  Firefly and Sleepy Hollow were getting  canceled, I was mostly calm about it, while for other people, this was their first time getting burned by that network.

 

The Others (2000-2000)

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I’ve been looking for this series forever, having only memories of the basic plot. I remember that I liked the show, but I couldn’t remember the names of the characters, or the dates it aired, or even the title. Well, I went on an all out search recently (I really just googled the plot and linked it to IMDB) and finally stumbled across the title.

The Others is about a small group of psychic individuals that get brought together to fight some nebulous evil that eventually takes human form, and approaches them in the form of a red-eyed woman, who confronts them with their worst fears and insecurities.

The group consists of a young girl just coming into her psychic abilities, played by Julianne Nicholson, an older gentlemen, who tries to be her mentor and teacher, as he’s an old hand at interpreting psychic phenomena, played by Bill Cobbs, a handsome standup looking guy, with formidable mental powers of his own, played by Gabriel Macht, Kevin J O’Connor plays the groups resident unstable flake, and a pretty young thing played by Missy Crider, who is the only character whose name I remember, Satori. The group, which most of the time acts as a kind of support group for psychics, is led by John “Neelix” Billingsley, who, I don’t believe, had any mental powers, at all.

I clearly remember liking this show, and I was fortunate enough to find all the episodes on Youtube. The show only aired in the year 2000,  lasted for 13 episodes, and then it was quickly forgotten.

*Sigh* I seem to remember a lot of forgotten shows.

 

Wild Wild West (1965-1969)

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The Wild Wild West is another show that originally aired before I was born, from 1965 to 1969, but that didn’t stop me from watching the re-runs of the show when it aired on weekend afternoons during the 70’s. I told you about how I used to watch Westerns with my Mom, like Bonanza. This wasn’t a show she watched, but I was inspired to watch it, because I liked TV westerns, and by the time I started watching it, I was into my SciFi phase, and this show had gadgets, (and funky theme music), like Lost in Space.

It starred the very handsome, Robert Conrad as Jim West, and his smarter and less handsome partner, Artemis Gordon, played by Ross Martin. It also starred the little person, Michael Dunn, as the villain Dr. Loveless. For me, one of the highlights of the show was the technology and gadgets created by Gordon and Loveless. Jim West had clearly been modeled after James Kirk, because his job was to finesse his way out of the various traps created by the show’s villains, and romance various female characters, who showed up to distract him from his job.

In hindsight, this show is clearly in the  Steampunk genre, and yet another one of those eminently slashable shows where all of the proper elements were there but, for some reason, the show didn’t get the Spock/Kirk treatment. You’ve got two handsome White guys living together, and  a merry go round of female characters, who have no intention of ever becoming permanent, but something about this formula was just a little bit off, possibly the show’s timing in the aftermath of the cancellation of Star Trek, and the show never really took off, even though it lasted four years.

I do remember that though Loveless was the villain, none of the things he did was ever alluded to his size, and for some reason that stuck with me. He wasn’t a villain because he was  a dwarf. He was just a man  who kept coming up with  nefarious plans that Jim West kept getting in the way of.

 

 

Millenium (1996-1999)

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Chris Carter isn’t only known for having created the X-Files. He created a couple more shows that were X-Files related in the sense there was a thematic dialogue between all of them about paranoia, state cover-ups, and government conspiracies. Millennium was more along the detective show spectrum and aired during the end run of the X-Files, when Carter’s star had reached its highest point.

Millennium aired in 1996 and lasted for three years. It featured one of my all-time favorite actors Lance Henriksen of Aliens fame, as a forensic profiler, with an uncanny ability to suss out paranormal conspiracies and serial killers. This uncanny ability is presented as the ability to see though the eyes of serial killers. He was retired from the FBI and worked as a consultant for his friend, played by Terry O’Quinn, who worked in the local police department. He had a beautiful wife, and a maybe psychic daughter, named Morgan.

I remember watching the show ,and I even liked a few episodes. I was mildly upset at its cancellation, but I wasn’t too put out, as the show really had run its course, and there were times when the show was a little too grim, and dark, and gloom-filled. Since it was something of an offshoot of the X-Files, this was to be expected. America was going through a specifically angst filled moment.  Some shows are only meant to run for a specific length of time, and then stop, and it was clear that in the third season the show was trying to figure out what to do with itself.

I think one of the shows biggest drawbacks was the acting of the side characters. Henriksen’s acting  was okay, but his wife and daughter were especially cringeworthy. Everyone on the show was deeply, deeply, serious, and dedicated to never smiling about anything. Also, that whole angst filled era, in the 90s, of dark conspiracies and government cover-up-itis, was starting to wind itself up, and seem less urgent. Millennium is one of those shows that, unless you were a huge fan of the X-Files, you didn’t even know existed, or you forgot about, the moment the show was canceled.

The most memorable moments for me was a brief crossover with the X-Files ,and the show opening credits which were suitably creepy, and the shows theme song. I have a head full of theme songs from long extinct shows, and this one is at the top somewhere in my mind. The creepiness factor is something that permeated the entire show, and every character interaction, no matter how light hearted the actors tried to be.

Frank’s interactions with his wife and daughter rang false, and a lot of the characters seemed weighted down by the show’s heavy gloom. This is not a show that was ever going to last. I think audiences just eventually got tired of that level of grim and gave up on it. I gave up in the second season, only tuning in to catch the occasional episode that hinted at Frank’s daughters psychic abilities.

Frank’s denial of his abilities, by the way, were the only funny highlight in the show, as he kept insisting to people that he was not psychic. In fact, I do wonder if the creators of Hannibal the TV series borrowed heavily from this show. Frank’s abilities were never illustrated,  so I’m not sure how they worked. It was only shown that he had a strange ability to encounter killers, which he did in nearly every episode of the first season. By the second season, the conspiracy stuff starting creeping in, and by then I think the audience had simply had enough of Carter’s doom and gloom. That doesn’t mean it was a bad show. It’s definitely worth watching, but  maybe not a weekend binge-watch. Small doses is  the key here.

 

Brimstone (1998-1999)

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This show had one season and during that time made quite an impression on its fans despite its low ratings. People loved the show, and wanted more of it, but there just weren’t enough of us watching it. Satan walking around and interacting with people is clearly a very popular concept, or we wouldn’t have shows like Lucifer or Sherlock, and if this show had aired anytime in the past ten years, especially during our current social media boom, it would have taken off like a rocket.

The show’s major claim to fame was its secondary star, John Glover, who was a really hot actor in the 90s, and who played a very laidback and snarky Lucifer. The lead character was played by Peter Horton as Ezekiel Stone, a cop who ended up in Hell for killing the man who murdered his wife. When 100+ evil souls somehow manage to escape from Hell, Zeke gets suckered into hunting all of them down, in exchange for a second chance at life on Earth, and the potential of getting into Heaven. The Devil is powerless on Earth, but seemingly has no problem harassing Zeke at every opportunity, and watching Zeke grow ever more irritable, and flustered, at his interference, especially since he and the viewers are the only ones who can see him. The two of them had great chemistry, and watching their interactions is  really the best part of the show. Plus its always fun to see John Glover just be snarky. It wasn’t always snark though as the two of them would have some fairly deep discussions about Heaven, Hell, Good and Evil.

Every week Zeke would hunt down some new bad buy, the most memorable of which was the soul of the man he killed, just before the series end. There were a handful of complaints  read on a few message boards about how he was only hunting evil men, most of whom had been serial killers in the world, and some viewers wondered if there were not  female serial killers. Well the writers had to have thought of it because later in the season there was an evil female who, according to my memory of these events ,was eiter a Bonnie and Clyde type character, or some form of a Typhoid Mary. Let me look it up…

Okay, there were several women souls that were hunted and returned to Hell. One of them was a partner in a Bonnie and Clyde type situation, and the other was a Typhoid Mary type, who caused diseases and pestilence. There was also a young French girl who killed the men who raped her in 1458.

That’s another thing. The souls spanned all of history. I particularly remember Richard Brooks being in an episode as a Roman soldier, and some of the souls had backgrounds that were not dissimilar to Zeke’s, in that they were sympathetic, and did not believed that they belonged in Hell because they were righting some wrong that had been done to them, like the French girl. And there were some who were just evil.

At any rate someone put a lot of thought, not just into the interaction between Zeke and the Devil, but into the creation of these one time character’s backstories, and I thought that was pretty cool, as I wasn’t expecting that. I expected the characters to just be one thing. I didn’t expect to care about any of them. If any show that’s ever been on TV is rife for a remake, or re imagining, its this one, but as I said, it may already have been done in the show Lucifer, which also mixes crime investigation and detectives, with the Devil.

What Am I Watching

Here’s a list of shows I’m actually watching and ones I plan to watch. Here are also some shows I’m interested in watching but may never get around to for some time, as I’m afraid my dance card is quite full.

Gentleman Jack (Sun.9P/HBO)

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I had only recently heard about this show when I saw the ad on HBO, and I watched the first episode and now I’m hooked. It was so much fun watching the lead character, that I watched the next two encores.

The show is set in the mid-1800s, and is based on a true story about a woman named Ann Lister, who lived her life openly as a lesbian at the time. The show is based on her diaries that chronicled everything about her life, including the women she loved, and the one she actually married. Like a lot of Queer people, I’m off the Tragic Gay Stereotype. I really don’t want to see any more gay and lesbian characters in pain or getting killed just for fun.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/28/anne-lister-blue-plaque-lesbian-marriage-church

“She never experienced any difficulty in reconciling her lesbian sexuality with her Christianity,” said Helena Whitbread, who has studied Lister’s diaries for 35 years and is writing a biography. “Her firm belief was that as God had endowed her with her sexual nature, it would be wrong to act against it.”

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I loved her character immediately, especially  her outfits. In the first episode, Ann comes home to find her father too ill to collect rents from their tenants, and sets out to do it herself. This is a lot of the reason why I liked her. She is always being admonished to behave in a womanly manner, but she is the kind of person who sees that something needs to be done, and when no one steps up, simply does it herself. When we first meet her, she is recklessly driving a coach through the streets of the nearby town after the driver was injured.. When she was asked why she did it, she just says that no one else stepped up to do it, and she didn’t want to wait for the injured driver to get better.

She discovers that a  coal seam has been discovered on her land, and she decides, against everyone’s judgement, that she wants to mine it, so she can make that paper. She is having an affair with a local woman, whose husband leaves her alone too much, and yes, there are sex scenes. The show is not shy about it, and its filmed very matter of factly, rather than in some kind of soft porn type of way. Her future wife (yes, there is a happy ending) is a shy young woman, who lives in the nearby town, and Ann makes a strong play for her affections. It also doesn’t hurt that the woman is very wealthy.

I actually liked most of the supporting characters, except for her harridan sister,who keeps telling her what she can’t do. Ann usually just explains things, or waves her away.  She lives a very open life, and everyone knows her business, and her aunt and neighbors try to set her up with eligible young women, especially after they find out about her recent breakup with a young woman who loved her, but bowed to tradition, and  chose to marry a man.

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I can see the show is setting up some interesting issues for later. She has a bi-racial, Ladies Maid, who is secretly (or maybe not) pregnant, and one of the house servants keeps giving her significant glances, which makes me think that Ann maybe dallied with her once, or twice, and the servant is jealous to see Ann in relationships now. From time to time, Ann breaks the fourth wall ato address the viewer. She is very bold, and charming, and brash, and I liked that about her. The show packs a lot of information into that first hour, becasue the series is  only about eight  episodes long, and is written by Sally Wainwright.

There’s  some brief discussion of social issues like voting rights for women, and some of the show is taken up with plotlines that have her come fact to face with men seeking to thwart her aims, and her finding ways around them. At one point, she almost comes to blows with one of her tenants, who is trying to cheat her out of her rent money.

https://www.indiewire.com/2019/04/gentleman-jack-hbo-review-anne-lister-1202126654/

So, if you’re looking for some wlw representation, then you need to check it out.

 

 

What We Do In The Shadows (Wed. 10P/FX)

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This show is, hands down one of the funniest vampire shows on TV. Of course it helps that there are only a few of those on TV, at any one time. It’s based on the movie, What We Do In The Shadows, which stars Jermaine Clement, and Taika Waititi (the director of Thor Ragnarok), and centers around four vampires, who are  living as flatmates in Wellington, New Zealand, and are being followed by a film crew. This is the second spinoff from the movie. The first one was called Wellington Paranormal, and centered around the police, and a film crew, dealing with supernatural creatures and events in the city.

This second spinoff from the movie repeats that formula, but makes some significant changes, centering around four vampires, who  live on Staten Island. The characters are rough equivalents to the ones from the movie, except that the writers learned from their mistakes from the rather low budget film, and added a female vampire, who is one of the smartest and funniest of the group.

There’s Nadja, her husband Lazlo, and their flatmate, Nandor the Relentless, who is relentlessly obtuse. There’s also a new type of vampire, an emotional vampire named Colin, who is both incredibly funny, and tremendously boring,  but that’s his superpower. There’s  also the addition of  Nandor’s long suffering, put-upon, familiar, Guillermo, and a recurring character, the several thousand year old Baron, who has come to oversee the group’s takeover of NY.

I don’t think I can express how much I love this show. Almost as much as I love Brooklyn 99. I usually get into a show through my attraction to the characters, and I was immediately drawn to, of all people, Colin. This is probably because I work in an office space, and have met plenty of Colins.

All of the characters are well drawn.. The each have their own adventures, which is the hallmark of a good multi-cast show. Nadja gets restless and occasionally cheats on her husband, with various humans she finds attractive. She turns a young woman she is attracted to, and at some point this is something that’s going to come back to bite her in the ass, as Nadja and the others are unaware this has happened.

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Nandor seems to think he’s actually in charge of things. He’s neat, fussy,  and detail oriented. He’s the one who comes up with ideas to do certain things, or go certain places. Sometimes he remembers to be nice to his familiar, Guillermo, who he’s been stringing along for ten years. His most recent adventure involves losing his Witch’s Hat, which he refuses to believe is cursed, and a fight with a local werewolf pack, who are every bit as lamely funny as they are in the movie. Nandor enjoys trimming the shrubbery around the house into various animal, and erotic, shapes, and  is constantly hypnotizing their neighbor into not noticing the things going on at the vampire’s house.

Lazlo is the most hapless and clueless of the group. He’s completely devoted to Nadja, who was the one who turned him. Lazlo is not the brightest vampire. His most recent adventure involved turning into a bat, and being unable to change back, so he gets captured by animal control, and locked in  a shelter. The other vampires have to go rescue him, while Nadja decides to ignore the whole thing, and go off to have an affair with a parking garage attendant, that she believes is the reincarnation of a past lover.

Colin Robinson is a non-descript vampire that feeds off other vampires. He’s incredibly boring and also kind of petty. He openly delights in the other’s misfortunes, actually feeding off their unhappiness. The subjects he uses to drain people of their vitality are boringly hilarious. He drains other vampires, so the others always try to avoid him, or disavow knowing who he is. He loves to tag along on their adventures anyway, often just inviting himself. He mostly feeds at work, or goes to public civic meetings.

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Colin’s latest adventure involved meeting another psychic vampire. At first they try to drain each other, but then have the great idea to team up. and  end up draining the entire office too much. Its a testament to the writers that she is a different type of emotional vampire than Colin, Colin just drains a person’s will to live, while she feeds on sympathy, by  being pathetic. Something horrible is always happening to her, like dead grandparents, a dog with autism, getting kicked out of her apartment… In some ways, vampires like her and  Colin are the most ruthless, as they are completely opportunistic, and will feed on anyone, at any time, anywhere.

One of the most recent episodes was groundbreaking, in that it featured vampire guest stars from other shows and movies. Those vampires that didn’t show up in the show were name checked by the others, in a kind of Vampire Council, headed by the three actors from the original movie. The three primary actors used their character names, but the other actors just used their regular actor names, Wesley, Tilda, Paul, Evan Rachael Wood, and Dave Bautista. Once again we get to meet some more familiars, and its always funny when they all get stashed in a room together to talk about their particular vampires.

I like that the show remembers that other types of vampires exist besides the White ones, and its hilarious how they call attention to/call out, the different types of tropey modern  vampires, including two sisters who aren’t actually sisters, and a hip-hop Asian vampire, who only talks in rhymes. The trio also meet other types of supernatural creatures, including the werewolves, and of course they have a fight.

The show has just been renewed for a second season.

 

Of Interest

Now Apocalypse (STARZ) is a show about various pretty, gay, people having adventures in LA, while trying to avoid the coming apocalypse, that only one of them can see coming.

 

 

Barry (HBO) is about a former assassin who is attempting to leave that life to become an actor. He takes acting classes, but keeps being drawn back into his former life by his classmates, and the people he used to work for.

 

 

Shrill (Netflix) is about an oversize young lady, along with her Black, lesbian, roommate,  having various love adventures. The show is surprisingly positive about her size, and actually, pretty funny and uplifting.

 

 

Killing Eve (BBC) is a show I keep meaning to watch, but never actually getting around to, outside of a single episode a season. I love the two lead characters, and Sandra Oh absolutely deserves her Emmy. She is incredible in the show. This show heavily reminds me of a female version of the show Hannibal. There’s  a love/hate/fear relationship, developing between the two leads that’s fascinating.

 

 

Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix) just got canceled after two seasons. I had been meaning to watch it, but never got around to it, about a woman who becomes a flesh eating zombie, who gets aided and abetted in her hunt for human flesh by her husband. In the meantime, they deal with perfectly mundane neighborhood and household issues.

 

Good Omens (May 31st/Amazon) is something I’m really looking forward to at the end of this month. It stars David Tennant.  I’m always up for watching what he’s getting up to, and the original story was  written by Neil Gaiman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Gods Season Two: Finale

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This season simply wasn’t as strong In its narrative as the first season, but the first season had the benefit of a single creator with a vision. This season there are two or more creators, so the fact that we had some kind of narrative cohesion is pretty good. It wasn’t a bad season though. I liked the character development, and the visuals are always strong, although, once again, this wasn’t as strong as the last season, which had the benefit of novelty. It also seemed like the writers didn’t know what to do with some character, like Bilquis and Anansi, but their presence was not undesired either..

I’m not going to talk about the plot as much as I’m going to discuss characters and their development. We lost two of the gods, or four, depending on how one sees it. The first god to die was the eldest Zoraya sister. Her brother explained that there is a resurrection ritual for her, but without any believers, the ritual wouldn’t work, so currently there are only two sisters left. i’m a big fan of Cloris Leachman, and I hope she makes her way back to the show. She as great as the eldest sister.

We also lost Old Media and the old version of Technical Boy (whose origin we also got to see). Media, which was first played by Gillian Anderson, was resurrected and is now played by Kahyun Kim. I have tried really hard to like New Media, but I don’t, and I think that’s a very interesting point. She exists as a form of Media that I’m mostly bored and exasperated by.. Her general  demeanor is annoying, and after I gave it some thought, I figured out why. She is every bit as annoying to me as actual new media. She prances around as a sexy anime chanteuse, squeaking, and breathless, in that way that I hate in actual  anime, so I think she’s meant to be annoying to people like me. I’m usually cringing when I see her on screen for any length of time, it also doesn’t help that she is hypersexualized and kind of useless, exactly like actual new media.

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Mr. World was starting to get a little bit frustrated because his gods (Argus, Technical Boy, and New Media) were not coming through in the pinch, and getting him the results he wants, which is to find, and kill, Shadow Moon, and capture Wednesday. However, in the season finale we see the final iteration of New Media, who has truly just come into her power, and it is scary as Hell.  I certainly fucking respect her now!

The old Technical Boy was destroyed this season, but he was resurrected by his original creator as a kind of God of Surveillance, taking the place of the Argus Array, and working once again, in tandem with New Media. The original  God of Surveillance was killed by Laura, and the new Technical Boy has much to do  with computer hacking, surveillance, and spying and also has a brand new, sleeker, look, and attitude. (Incidentally, the first God of Surveillance was an old god, named Argus, that had made a deal with Mr. World.)

Needless to say, almost none of the things that happened this season, took place in the book. There’s a broad correlation, but otherwise…Shadow gets kidnapped, gets free, meets Sam Black Crow, makes his way to Cairo, works at a funeral home, and then Mad Sweeney dies. Everything else in the season was an add on, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like the add ons. I especially liked the episode where we got to see Shadow Moon’s and  Mad Sweeney’s real backstories, which I’ll get to soon enough. One of the side effects of this is that the series contrasts badly with the book. Gaiman may just be adding stuff to this show that he’d always wanted to add to the original story. There are a lot of things in the series that should have been in the original story, like Bilquis, and Mad Sweeney, and Laura’s activities.

I do want to talk about more of the mythology presented this season, and a few of my favorite character interactions, something with which this season excelled. From the beginning we met a lot of new /old gods, and caught up with Shadow’s backstory, and a little bit more of Wednesday’s past.

 

We get to see Shadow’s backstory, which answers a few questions about why he is the way he is, but also opens up more questions about exactly who his mother was. Was she the spirit of America, and did she die of cancer because of 9-1-1? We’re getting closer and closer to Shadow finding out he is Shadow Odinson, and we also met Odin’s other son, Thor, and saw their falling out with each other. Thor eventually commits suicide, and it becomes apparent, through his statements to Shadow, that Odin was devastated by that and still misses him. He often refers to Shadow as “Son”, or “My Boy” and at one point said Shadow reminded him of his son. Now in the mythology Odin has a lot of children but another of his most famous children was Baldur,

He’s loved by all the gods, goddesses, and beings of a more physical nature. So handsome, gracious, and cheerful is he that he actually gives off light.[1]

https://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/the-aesir-gods-and-goddesses/baldur/

…and there are a few things about Shadow that echo Baldur’s story,

https://norse-mythology.org/tales/the-death-of-baldur/

…right down to Baldur’s prophetic dreams about his death, as mentioned in the Prose Edda, and that he is seen as a being of light by everyone who encounters him. It is his death that precedes Ragnarok, the war of the gods. Shadow Moon is also another name for an eclipse, and he radiates light, which is how Laura sees him. In the book, Laura refers to him as a beacon of light in a dark world. In the series, his mother mentions that he is a being of light, too. Its my theory that Shadow is what was once mentioned by Wednesday, although he did it in jest, as The King of America. In the book, two of the powers, that Shadow possessed, was knowledge, and the ability to see truth.

We’ve been watching Wednesday’s machinations all season, but we have  also been witnessing Shadow’s journey to self. We watched his journey to knowledge of the gods in season one, and in this second season, we are witnessing Shadow’s journey to realizing who and what he may be.

If he believes.

In season one, he was constantly chided to Believe, because if he didn’t, he would not survive what was to come, his imminent death at Wednesdays machinations. Next season, his task is to believe in himself. There is a reason that Shadow was allowed to join in the congregation of the gods, at the beginning of the season, because he is a potential god himself, and a relatively new one that has been raised in ignorance of that life.

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Yes, Shadow!

The end of the season also leaves a lot of questions. We got to see the full unleashing of New Media who is kinda terrifying. She starts a fake news siege against Shadow, so that Mr. World not only doesn’t have to look for Shadow, but so that in all likelihood Shadow will be killed when he is found, since New Media tells several lies about him being a heavily armed terrorist, who has killed several cops. Shadow manages to elude capture at the end of the episode,which opens another mystery. Did that event happen, and Shadow removed the police from the premises in the same way he created snow in the first season? Or was it something he saw before it happened and he just moved out of its way?

Shadow gets snagged by the miniature Yggdrasil tree growing in Mr. Ibis greenhouse and pulled into it s branches, where he begins to have visions. During the entire raiding scene he has flashbacks of Shadow as a young boy playing with police action figures, and overhearing snippets of  conversations between him,  Wednesday,  and others. At one point the child sweeps his arm across the action figures, knocking them all down, and removing them as obstacles. At the same time, the police outside the funeral home all vanish, and so does the tree, taking Shadow with it. We then see Wednesday in a diner, smiling about how his boy is going to be okay.

The ending is quite surreal with Shadow having visions of being back in the Bone Orchard at the beginning of the series, because it always comes back to that initial vision. Its hard to say if these were prophetic visions , or actual events, as the rest of the gods on the premises seem unperturbed, and Anansi seems actually happy. Once again, Anansi seems to be the one character who know more than anyone what’s going on, including who Shadow is, Wednesday’s motivations, and even the final outcome.

People don’t understand why Anansi keeps being so mean to Shadow, but part of being a Trickster god is pushing on people, so as to engage them  into committing  some kind of action. His bullying of Shadow is meant to goad Shadow into doing something he is supposed to do, instead of being so passive about his circumstances. Notice how he is constantly attacking shadow’s intelligence. This is meant to anger Shadow, and goad his ego into trying to prove that he is not stupid. It will prompt Shadow to ACT, because Angry get shit done, and it is one of the few vulnerabilities Shadow has, because in  the other areas of his life, he is very competent. I think he is cheering for Shadow to be the Wild Card in Odin’s plans for the war, because Trickster’s love that kind of thing.

My one regret with Anansi is that we still have not gotten the story from him of The Tiger’s Balls, which is one of the best short stories in the main book, but otherwise this character has been good, but not great, this season.

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The reason why Anansi gets all of the best speeches on the show is because its part of his mythology. Almost all of his stories are part of the oral tradition in Africa, and he is the god of storytelling. When we first meet him he is goading a ship’s hold full of captured slaves into angrily rebelling against their captors. Anansi does not like passivity, which is why all his speeches are so incendiary. He is a fire being that prefers action, and that’s what almost all his speechifying is geared toward, because, “Angry gets shit done!”. And in his speeches to Ibis and Bilquis he tries to get them angry enough, about the plight of African Americans, to join in Wednesday’s war, but is unsuccessful. Ibis and Bilquis continue to keep their distance from Wednesday’s plans, and what’s interesting is that Anansi seems okay with that.

… Anansi was often celebrated as a symbol of slave resistance and survival, because Anansi is able to turn the tables on his powerful oppressors by using his cunning and trickery, a model of behaviour utilised by slaves to gain the upper hand within the confines of the plantation power structure. Anansi is also believed to have played a multifunctional role in the slaves’ lives; as well as inspiring strategies of resistance, the tales enabled enslaved Africans to establish a sense of continuity with their African past and offered them the means to transform and assert their identity within the boundaries of captivity.

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Bilquis has been something of a mystery this season She too is in the process of upgrading and adapting to  the modern world, by seeking worship from human beings, in some other manner besides sex, and I think she hopes to rid herself of her reliance on Technical Boy’s aid in the recovery of her godhood. If she becomes her own woman, she no longer needs to abide by any agreement she  with him, and can then do as she pleases. She attends one of the funeral services, where she gets the congregation all hot and bothered,  even though she says nothing that’s overtly sexual. At this point, she is just testing her new role and how to receive worship of some kind.

Bilquis is also playing both ends against the middle, but we don’t know if she’s there for Mr. World, there for herself, there to prevent the war, or there to serve Odin, who she also seems to hate as much as she does Mr. World. She approaches Shadow and gives him an apple, (I think it came from Yggdrasil), which is a callback to the story of Adam and Eve, but really it just represents the idea of  temptation, and knowledge. She is essentially offering him the temptation of knowledge, but of what is unclear. She tells Shadow that their futures and destinies are entwined. We do know that at the end of the episode, Shadow is sitting on  the knowledge that he is Wednesday’ s son. How clear on that he is, is a matter of some debate.

Laura’s actions are also another mystery. Sweeney died in the last episode, in his final fight with Shadow, echoing the very first fight the two of them had in the first season, but that was when  Sweeney had his gold coin, which he lost to Shadow. In their last fight, Shadow loses Gungnir, (Odin’s war spear), which he had been tasked to protect by Wednesday, to Sweeney who, with his dying breath, transfers Gungnir to the golden hoard, where his phantom coins come from. Laura finds Sweeney’s body laid out in the funeral home and steals it. What her plans are, are unclear, but its speculated that she is taking him to Louisiana to be resurrected, so he can help her kill Wednesday. She asked Bilquis for aid, but she turned Laura down, and Laura still has that vial of blood that was given to her by Baron Samedi, who told her that it can be activated to resurrect her full humanity, with an act of love.

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This is a callback to a conversation, earlier in the season, that Laura has with Mama Ji, who she tried to strong-arm her into helping her. Mama Ji will have none of her sass, and gently reminds Laura that she is also the Lord of War, as well as the Divine Mother, and she  is unimpressed by Laura’s zombie strength. Laura also receives advice from Bilquis, when she goes to her to request her aid in killing Wednesday. Bilquis denies her, but does admit to hating Wednesday.

The most charming character in the series is Salim, because he represents the every-man in this scenario. I’m glad he’s still around, and that he is still committed to his relationship with the Djinn, and what’s more, the Djinn is just as committed to him, although he has been questioned by the other gods about having a relationship with a mortal. As we get closer to the idea that Shadow is himself a god, we need a regular person, through whose eyes we can see the other characters, the one normal human being who can express the audience’s feelings about what’s happening, and with whom the audience can identify, now that we are moving to a place where we cannot identify with Shadow, the way we did in the first season.

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This is groundbreaking because not only is our every-man of Middle Eastern descent, and a devout Muslim, he is also a  gay man. Salim is essentially taking the space that I argued about Shadow, in the first season, before he became totally entrenched in Wednesday’s plans, and his scenes are utterly hilarious. His reaction to what’s happening, especially after he gets named as an enemy of the state by New Media is priceless, actually questioning whether or not he committed the crimes he’s been accused of, and being blandly reassured by Mr. Ibis that he’s been in the house watching television the entire time. I’m happy to see that nothing happens to either of them and the two of them manage to walk away unscathed.

At the end of the episode, we get some idea of the next chapter in Shadow’s life. When his bus is stopped by the police, as they are searching for him, he escapes their notice because the name on his ID card has been changed.  In season three, he will get a chance to ruminate on everything that just happened to him as he spends a quiet  interlude in the small town of Lakeview, where he’ll encounter a creature called a Kobold(?), that is feeding on the town’s young women. In the book, this is part of a long period where Shadow is hiding out at the behest of Wednesday. In the show it has been orchestrated that he is hiding out from the authorities.

It will be some time before we see a third season of the show, possibly as long as a year. In that time, I expect to have re-read the book, and probably will have some new insights into the characters by then. Until next time:

TTFN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Defense of After Earth (2013)

Only straight, White men have the luxury of being lazy about watching a movie. The rest of us always seem to have to be on guard, just in case whatever White guy who wrote the movie, fucks up and traumatizes us with surprise images he didn’t give any thought to showing. Sometimes, when watching films, we have to constantly be wary of either being freshly traumatized by something on the screen,  or desperately clinging to whatever tiny nuggets are in the film, that we can apply to our lived experiences, in order for us to like it.

Not that White male reviewers are all particularly lazy, but there’s a very shallow sort of film critique that a lot of them engage in, that’s only about whether the movie is objectively good or bad, or the technical details. (And ranking movies seems to be really popular with such people, too.) There’s nothing inherently wrong with those kinds of reviews, but often people from marginalized groups require reviews that are a little more in-depth.

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White men don’t get a lot of  practice of thinking about movies through different lenses, the way marginalized people often have to do. Many of them only have one lens, because most movies are made with them in mind as the audience, so they don’t NEED to look further into a movie, in order to like or dislike it. I’m not particularly interested in  a shallow review, or in ranking things from best to worst. If the word “suck” is mentioned anywhere in their critique, I  automatically dismiss anything else they might have to say about the movie. I want more from a critique than “It sucked!”

Yes. This is yet another essay on how White male film geeks review movies which star people of color!

After Earth (2013)

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I have a real issue with how badly this movie was treated by everyone. The critics made it very clear that this was an awful film. It was not. And when this movie was released, Black people were not in the social position we’re in right now, where we could see how groundbreaking this was, (it was released just before BLM), and we were not in a position to provide pushback to the narrative that this was the worst film ever made.

No!

What it was, was a  film that was attacked with the agenda of demonizing  M. Night Shyamalan and Scientology. Will  and Jaden Smith were simply caught in the crossfire. This movie, while not a masterpiece, was vilified entirely out of proportion to its effect on the landscape. At any other time, especially any time after 2014, it would have been recognized as a middle-of-the-road, Summer blockbuster.

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After Earth can be seen through both a thematic and racial lens, as  an example of Afrofuturism. Seeing this movie through a racial lens means that I need to put on my Black filmgoers glasses, and view the movie through the historical depictions of Black people in film, and whether or not the film has any messages in it that are about racial stereotyping, or agency, for example. This movie contains these things, not because it contains overt messages about race, but because it stars Black characters, and  our mere presence in the source material is enough to make whatever we say and do a political issue.

 

In After Earth, which stars Will Smith and his son Jaden, a father and son reconcile their feelings about each other, as the son comes of age, while set against the backdrop of planetary survival. A thousand years after Earth has been abandoned, their ship crashes, and  an alien predator the ship was carrying, called the Ursa, is set loose. Will and Jaden Smith are both Black men. The movie has no White characters in it. There are spaceships, alien/human cityscapes, and futuristic weaponry. This is as much Afrofuturism as Black Panther, and there is definitely some sort of dialogue occuring between the two films, though they were released several years apart, because they both involve sons dealing with the emotional legacies of  powerful fathers.

https://drmillerjr.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/after-earth-is-afrofuturism/

Traditionally, Black people have been erased from futuristic narratives, and Afrofuturism is an attempt to center us, and our cultures, and priorities, in those narratives. Will Smith, in particular, has a long history of starring in Science fiction films like Men in Black, Enemy of the State, and I Am Legend, movies that tackle the subjects of alien immigration, dystopian state surveillance, and the apocalypse, all features of what is, traditionally, White futurism.

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After Earth has much to say about the relationships between fathers and sons, how sons want to live up (or down) their father’s legacies, and how father’s must reach out and connect with their children. Cypher Raige is a man who is cut off from his emotions because that is what has helped him to survive. In our world, it would be said that he suffers from a toxic form of masculinity, but Cypher’s ability to cut himself off from his feelings has made him one of Earth’s greatest soldiers against an alien race  that uses human fear to hunt and kill human beings. Cypher has gotten rid of fear, but in the process he’s also gotten rid of some of the  more positive emotions. He is a controlling, authoritative, and grim father figure, without much humor or warmth.

This lack of fear has made him a great Ranger, but it has made him an indifferent father to his son, Kitai, (a name which means “Hope” or “Prince of the Air”). Kitai wants not just to be like his father, follow in his footsteps, and become a great soldier, but to emotionally connect with his father. He wants desperately to know his father loves and supports him, especially after he fails his last exam to become a Ranger. He believes his father thinks he’s a failure because its what he himself believes. He is also suffering from the trauma of the death of his sister, who sacrificed her life to protect him from one of the Ursas, his guilt at being unable to save her, and his father for not being there when it happened. These are the motivations behind many of the decisions Kitai makes after he and his father crash on a long abandoned Earth, and Cypher is too injured to walk.

This set up puts the two of them in a position where they are required to rely on each other, not just physically, but emotionally. Kitai’s character arc involves learning that he is as capable a soldier as his father, and does not need to carry all these emotional burdens,  and Cypher’s character arc means having to open up to his son emotionally, and expressing how he really feels, and that that will be the only way his son can save both their lives. And all of this is an allegory about the emotional connections between Black men,  living in a White supremacist society, that is intrinsically dangerous to them, and requires that they be  hypermasculine, and emotionally cut off in order to survive it.

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Cypher Raige Everything on this planet has evolved to kill humans. Do you know where we are?

Kitai Raige No, sir.

Cypher Raige This is Earth.

Viewing a movie through a racial lens requires that I provide some historical context to my opinions. I could discuss how the American version of the performance of toxic masculinity is based on a White supremacist dominance hierarchy, that requires violent domination and oppression of non-Whites, and that to survive this oppression, Black men have have felt the need to “out man” their oppressors. To essentially be more dominant, and more manly, than the White men who established this hierarchy to keep them in their place, and that their emotional disconnect with each other is not only what is ultimately desired by this dynamic, but leads to worse oppression, because attempting to compete with White men, to be more manly, dehumanizes them, and doesn’t allow them to unite against a system created just for that purpose.

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https://oliviaacole.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/black-children-and-after-earth/

This movie had messages, moments, and dialogue,  that greatly resonated with me. The scene in which Cypher believes he has lost his son, in the same manner in which he lost his daughter, (both of them trying to win their emotionally distant, father’s approval),  was deep for me, as I suspect it was for many of  the Black men who watched it, and  who considered  their relationships with their own fathers, or their sons.

I watched After Earth several times, and it’s one of my favorite movies, which is why I was interested in why so many critics hated this movie,

 

(https://news.usc.edu/144379/usc-study-finds-film-critics-like-filmmakers-are-largely-white-and-male/)

and while there are a few legitimate criticisms that can be made about this movie, most of the criticism I saw wasn’t any different than the criticism I could lob at films with White stars. There is nothing wrong with the acting in this movie that is wrong in any of the other movies Will Smith has made, nor is there anything wrong with Will Smith making a movie with his son as the star, as he did in The Pursuit of Happyness, nor is this movie Scientology propaganda, any more than the other movies in which Smith was the star. (Will and Jada Smith have clearly, and emphatically, stated that they are not Scientologists, only sympathizers.)

I believe a lot of non-professional critics didn’t approach criticism of this movie in good faith, and I believe more than a few of them used the flaws in this movie as an excuse to express their racial resentment about the fact that there were no White men centered in this movie. There are also plenty of White people who felt some type of discomfort at not being centered, or even depicted, in the movie at all, and unwilling to attribute their discomfort to their narcissism, attributed their discomfort to the film being bad. The message of the movie, the relationship between young men and their fathers, is a universal one, (and I’m certain that many White men understood and enjoyed it, but then they’re not film critics), and it is well documented that  White audiences have always had trouble identifying with Black characters on screen.

https://www.salon.com/2016/10/05/luke-cage-and-the-racial-empathy-gap-why-do-they-talk-about-being-black-all-the-time/

https://www.indiewire.com/2014/01/why-white-people-dont-like-black-movies-162548/

https://mic.com/articles/74291/why-white-people-won-t-see-black-movies#.J55x1mpgF

 

Will Smith is an especially beloved actor, so many critics would not attack him directly, but they can get away with tossing insults at Shyamalan, and questioning his motivations for making the movie. One of the major criticisms I encountered were White critics who said the movie was a thinly veiled attempt to recruit viewers to Scientology. Why? Because Will Smith and Shyamalan are Scientologists. This is suspicious to me since none of these critics have ever given one thought to Smith being a follower of Scientology in any of his other Scifi movies.

And sometimes people will express racial resentment towards individual people that they don’t feel they can express against an entire group of people. So rather than saying “All ____ are ______.” , what they will do is vehemently call out the mistakes of individuals from those groups, in order to disguise their loathing for the entire group. The individual becomes a stand-in for racial sentiments they are reluctant, for whatever reasons, to express out loud. (And since they only ever attack individuals of that group, they never have to admit whatever phobia or -ism there is, to themselves.)

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For example, witness some of the more  interesting criticism that White male film critics have said about Captain Marvel being military propaganda, when the same could be said of nearly every other movie in the MCU, at which none of them lobbed this complaint. And one can witnesses the same dynamic play out in the Jussie Smollett case, where people tried to hide their homophobia by expressing deeply vehement criticism of him, and his circumstances.

This type of criticism is dishonest, and disingenuous, and serves to protect the critic from backlash if they state their actual reasons for not liking some film, which is really ,  “I didn’t like this movie because there were no White men in it for me to identify with.” (This is not a hard and fast rule, all the time,  because plenty of White people liked Get Out, Black Panther, and other Afro-centered movies, but it is far too common, and there are too many, who  think they’re not being racist because they liked two or three highly popular movies that starred Black actors. It’s  basically, the critical equivalent of, “I have Black friends!”

I’m not the only person to notice this type of bullshittery either:

https://heraldiccriticism.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/when-criticism-becomes-agenda-setting-in-defense-of-after-earth/

 …but when you’re trashing a film based on its star’s belief system, you’ve ceased to criticize. You’re now spearheading an agenda.

Fred Harris touched on some of my suspicions, here:

Did a perception that this is somehow a “Black film” have anything to do with its poor opening? I know that this is a question that Hollywood producers (black and white) must be asking as they prepare for a summer of Black films.

https://newsone.com/2530136/after-earth-movie-review-racism/

And if you are wondering why I haven’t brought up “The Pursuit of Happyness” just yet, which was given 4 out of 5 stars by IMDB, it’s because Jaden was cute and fuzzy back then — and it was his debut. But the moment it seems that the Smiths are actually on to something, meaning leaving a life-long legacy for their children, now all bets are off.

Now we will call Jaden’s acting with his blockbuster dad an exercise in “vanity,” now we are disgusted with the apparent nepotism that this type of pairing suggests.

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This movie was nominated for a Razzie, and was panned by almost every White male critic with a pen and an ax to grind. All of them questioned whether or not Will Smith had lost his Star power, and what that would mean for his future films. Even Bright, a film I intensely hated, wasn’t panned as badly as this movie.

Outside of my usual critical ranting, I also want to shine a light on why my opinions on a lot of movies can sometimes diverge from that of critics, what criteria I  use, what lenses  through which I can,and will, see a movie,  and how I approach watching and critiquing movies and TV shows, vs how White film critics might view movies I happen to love, and how these two ways of seeing a movie are sometimes not compatible.

This is a mindset I have had no choice but to develop though, because, as a Black woman,  I am generally not the audience  that a lot of these movies of are made for. I have had to look beyond surface issues, like whether or not it was better than some other film in a franchise, to find reasons to like movies that White people love, and sometimes I’m successful, but sometimes, I also get tired of making the effort to care, and skip the movie altogether, as I did with Ready Player One, and Back to the Future.

White men have never had to look deeper than the technical aspects of cinematography, plot, pacing, or whether or not the hero of the movie looked like them, and what that might mean if he did. For them, the movies they love don’t even need to have any meaning. When you hear them complaining about entertainment being political this is what mean. For such men, movies and TV really are not political, because they don’t need to have any deeper meaning to enjoy a movie. They can just be flatly judgmental about whether or not a movie is just “good” or “bad”, because traditionally, the movies, which are aimed at them as the audience, are supposedly universal, and  appealing  to everyone. Too many critics never go beyond the mindset of ,”I liked this movie, so naturally, everyone else must like it, and here’s why it’s so great.” I can  critique a movie from that angle but its shallow, and  “unsatisfying” for me.

It has always been my rule since I was a teenager, really, to only rely on myself to determine whether or not a movie is any good, but after examining this for some time,  I have come to the conclusion that I most definitely cannot rely on  the opinions of White men to determine if a movie is bad or good for me, or indeed, anyone, other than themselves.

I have always tried to be honest about why I did or didn’t like something. Even if I don’t know why  I feel the way I do, I’m willing to say that too, and state that, where I found nothing in the movie to intrigue me, the movie may be of interest to someone else. I will flat out state, I’m not interested in a movie because it lacks racial nuance, or because its not feminist enough, the way I did for Wonder Woman.

This is not a mindset I’ve seen, from some critics, that a movie simply might not be made for them. One of the key warning signs that you are with a bad critic, is their insistence that a movie is objectively bad or good, and that if you disagree with them, then something is wrong with you. I’ve seen far too many critics assert that, because they liked a movie, it was good, and that a movie was bad, because they didn’t like it, and then, on top of that, say that that they gave an objective review. I have hated plenty of movies that are, in fact, very good and cohesive films. But I’ve also loved plenty of movies that just aren’t great movies. Just like After Earth.

No! There’s nothing wrong with you. You are simply looking at the film through a different lens, and using different criteria than them. and you must be confident that YOU know what you like in a film.

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Side note: I do not believe in “guilty pleasures”. I am never ashamed of loving or liking  a movie, or television show. I have my reasons for why I like something, I have actually thought it through, and I’m secure enough in my tastes that I know what my reasons are, even if the only reason is that it makes me feel happy, or that it looks pretty! I may occasionally be ashamed that I didn’t catch something seriously wrong with a movie, in my zeal to praise it, but I  am generally not ashamed when I like something, or to admit that I do, nor will I feel guilty about it.

And you shouldn’t either.

As a corollary to that general rule, I refuse to shame people for their own tastes, even if I find those tastes “puzzling”… If you can explain to me in a coherent manner why you love something (even if your only explanation is it makes you happy, or its just pretty), I can get with that. Your feelings about a movie are entirely valid, and you will never hear me describe anything on this blog as a “guilty” pleasure, and I would prefer that you don’t either.

Own your feelings!

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https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/after-earth-2013

https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/in-defense-of-after-earth-the-m-night-shyamalan-movie-we-misunderstood

*Coming Soon: Why We Loved Suicide Squad and Venom, and Why They Didnt’