Friday, January 28, 2022

Old Directors Need to Stop Hating the Players and Hate the Game

 A couple months ago, legendary director Ridley Scott's movie The Last Duel flopped at the box office.  Hard.  Like, really hard. (I don't think his Gucci movie a month or so later was exactly setting box office records either.)

No surprise then the director went on record, first whining about superhero movies (two of which, Venom 2 and Shang-Chi made more in one night than his movie made domestically its entire run) and then whining about Millennials and their cell phones and whatever, whatever, whatever.

Scott is just the latest to whine about superhero movies and all that stuff.  The thing is, it usually comes off as the old man screaming at kids to get off his lawn.  These guys who came up in the 70s like Scott or Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorcese need to understand that it's 2022 and the world is different.  Basically the entire structure of the movie industry is different than when they started.  Back when Scott first did Alien there were barely VCRs or Betamax and probably only like 100 people in the world had them.  Multiplexes weren't even a huge thing yet.  It was pretty much theaters with maybe a couple of screens and drive-ins.  Now you have chains of multiplexes with fake IMAX screens and 3D and you have streaming, DVD, Blu-Ray, 4K.  It's a whole new world.

For old directors there are really just a few options.

1.  Adapt:  maybe not make superhero movies but something more appealing to younger audiences.  Not historical dramas about French knights or whatever.

2.  Die:  not literally but figuratively by retiring

3.  Go small:  do passion projects in small release and/or streaming.  Basically accept that your audience doesn't go to theaters much anymore.

For someone like Scott, who in 20 years has only had one hit movie (The Martian) it's probably better to do 2 or 3.  Quit or if you don't want to, just accept the inevitable that people aren't going to theaters to watch historical epics anymore.  You got lucky once with Gladiator, but that was it.  I mean, it's not the 1950s and 60s when you were watching movies.  Contemporize, man!

I think Scorcese has pretty much been doing 3 by mostly doing movies for Netflix though I think that Irishman one was still pretty expensive.  Coppola has been pretty much doing smaller movies for a while through his own studio.

The only one who's really been able to walk the fine line between commercial movies and serious movies is Steven Spielberg.  Since the 90s he would sometimes do a commercial movie like Jurassic Park and then the same year do a serious movie like Schindler's List.  Not many others have really managed to do that.  Kenneth Branagh is another who has directed Shakespeare movies but also Thor and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.  Sometimes a more commercial director will do a more serious passion project like Michael Bay doing Pain & Gain, which was I suppose about as serious as he gets.  It's hard to go do both, so most wind up doing one or the other.

One of the hard things to get writers to understand in critique groups and stuff is that if you want to succeed, you need to understand the market.  You've got to know the audience and gear towards them.  If you're someone like Ridley Scott you can still get movies made even though it's stunningly obvious they'll flop, but if you're an unpublished author (or just have a couple of small credits) it's very unlikely that your passion project is going to get published if it's not commercially viable.

First, publishers are probably not going to want your 2000-page tome about Swedish goat herders in the 19th Century or whatever.  Second, even if they don't reject the notion just from the surface, you're probably not as good as, say, Thomas Pynchon or David Foster Wallace, both of whom could get epic tomes published and somewhat commercially successful.

You have to think about what people want.  They aren't going to read your book just because you love it.  That was Scott's problem with The Last Duel.  Why the hell should Millennials (or anyone) want to watch a movie about French knights?  Besides just that it's a historical drama, the marketing also didn't really spell out what the movie was about or how it could relate to modern audiences.  When you throw Covid into the mix as well, it was a recipe for disaster that everyone--Scott, the movie's producers, and the studio execs--should have seen coming.  Poor marketing+Pandemic+Unrelatable Subject Matter=Flop.  

As a writer or would-be writer, you have to do that math too.  Does my subject relate to today's audience?  Am I marketing it as well as I could?  If you're not doing those things, then you're not likely to get it published or to get much interest if you self-publish.  That's just the sad reality.

It's like a coworker says far too often:  it is what it is.  The market is what it is and you can either go along with it or you can quit.  There's no use bitching about it even if you're a legendary, award-winning director.  It's like trying to fight the tide or an avalanche--you're pretty much guaranteed to lose.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Eternals is a New Low for the MCU

 Almost two years ago I ranked all the Marvel movies to that point and slated Thor: Ragnarok as the worst one.  Few would agree with that, but I really hated the shift in tone and ruining one of Marvel's better comic book stories in the last 20 years.  But after watching Eternals on Disney+ we have a new "winner" for the worst of the MCU.

Admittedly there were a couple of things that hurt my viewing for this.  One was I was kinda grumpy--big surprise.  And two, as I mentioned at the start of the year, I had read three volumes of comics from three different eras:  the original by Jack Kirby, a 2000s reboot by Neil Gaiman, and the most current reboot by Kieren Gillen.  It turns out that was a bad idea because this movie is not faithful to those comics almost entirely.  And a lot of what they changed wasn't really for the better.

Like The Last Jedi, a lot of the people who hate it are probably hating it for racist and misogynist reasons.  I don't really care that they changed the gender and race of some of the characters.  Though I don't understand why they made Ajak the head of the Eternals when in the comics it was Zuras--aka Zeus.  He was a guy but then so was Ajak so they still could have gender swapped it.  Maybe it's because in the comics Thena--aka Athena--is Zuras's daughter so they maybe didn't want people thinking that.

Anyway, I was more annoyed at how they changed some of the characters' personalities and powers, especially Sersi--aka Circe, the witch in The Odyssey who turns Odysseus's guys into pigs.  In the comics--all of them I read--she's confident and mischievous, sort of like Loki.  But in this she's just a dull, not confident schoolteacher.  And for some reason she can't change anything living, just inanimate stuff.  So this Sersi can't even do the thing that Circe is best known for!?  WTF?

Ikaris--aka Icarus, who was not really a god or demigod, just some kid whose wings melted when he flew too high--was more like the comics I read in that he is kind of an arrogant dick.  But he wasn't really capable of the kind of deception and deviousness of this version of the character.

Sprite they more or less got right, though like Sersi she's a little more mischievous in the comics I read than in this.  But at least there were no awkward scenes of Ikaris trying to spank her.

Besides not being Zuras's daughter, they made Thena basically have dementia when her memories weren't erased after thousands of years.  Other than that she can create a spear out of air and twirls around fighting stuff.  Why did they get Anjelina Jolie to play a fairly unimportant character like this?

Druig they got completely wrong as in most of the comics I read he's not a good guy.  In most of them he's a scheming villain type.  He's the one who should have been the traitor, but maybe the writers figured that was too obvious.

Makkari wasn't deaf in the comics I read but otherwise there wasn't much to say about her in this movie.  She's deaf and she has super-speed and she was just hanging around their ship a while.  The end.  Phastos was pretty much like the more recent comics I read, though he was a traitor in that.  I don't remember Kingo at all in any of the comics, though if he were in them I doubt he would be a Bollywood actor.  He was probably in the comics, but like with this movie he just wasn't important enough to remember.

So as you can see reading the comics put me at a disadvantage because they pretty much threw most of that out the window.

Mostly I found it really dull, lacking a lot of the "fun" that people love to crow about with MCU movies--even ones like Infinity War or Endgame that are not fun at all.  There's some slogging through a bastardized version of history that leads to the modern-day problem where apparently Earth is just a giant incubator for a Celestial.

In the comics I read, Deviants were a race that was just as intelligent as humans or Eternals (in the most recent comics Thena even has a history of fucking them), but in this they're reduced to mini-kaiju from Pacific Rim things.  At least until one absorbs Ajak's power and then they get smarter.  Maybe the writers thought a race of people living underground was too corny. 

Instead of Jack Kirby's original version of the Celestials making three essentially equal races--Eternals, humans, Deviants--in this the Deviants were made to clear away any predators from Earth and then the Eternals were made to kill the Deviants.  It's like the Deviants were cats brought in to kill rats in a house and then the Eternals were dogs brought in to kill the cats.  And humans just sort of happened but our presence helps the Celestial grow...somehow.  Wouldn't the Celestial have grown better on a lifeless world like Venus?  There'd be a lot of heat and pressure to incubate it.  Or why not a gas giant like Jupiter, Saturn, or Uranus? (Pause for snickering.)

Anyway, as the time comes near for the Celestial to be born (thus destroying Earth) Ajak was having second thoughts and so Ikaris killed her and gave her power to the Deviants to distract the other Eternals.  Sprite helped him because she loves Ikaris and since she can't grow up she wants to die or reboot or something.  And meanwhile as earthquakes and stuff rock the planet, the Avengers and the roughly 200 other superheroes on Earth spring into action, right?  No?  Someone paged Captain Marvel, right?  No?  Really?  There's not a single cameo at all?  Huh.  Weird.

But never fear, because they use the Uni-Mind (something pretty common in the comics) to boost Sersi enough that she can save the day.  Or whatever.  But then the head Celestial abducts three of them so like Q in "Encounter at Farpoint" he can judge humanity, which unfortunately sets up a sequel.  Ugh.  And that sequel includes Thanos's brother Eros who is just some redheaded guy, not a big purple monster.  So maybe they're brothers from another mother?

Kit Harrington plays Sersi's boyfriend, who's supposed to become the Black Knight.  I assumed that he would be the new guy to join the crew who would serve as our introduction to all the Eternals stuff.  Sort of like in Hellboy where that guy gets hired to be Hellboy's new handler to introduce us to all that.  Or in the first GI Joe movie where Duke and Ripcord get brought in as newbs to introduce us to all the GI Joe stuff.  But instead...he really does nothing.  He's not even in most of the movie, including all the fights at the end.  It's only in a cookie scene that he's even going to get out his cursed sword thing.

For the most part I found it dull and plodding, the kind of dull where I paused it at one point and groaned because there were still 51 minutes left.  It was not fun.  It was not really faithful to the comics--not just for "woke" reasons.  And since most of this next Marvel Phase seems about multiverses and time travel and shit, I'm not sure what it even adds to the overall MCU.  So it was a big, dull waste of time.

Really since this came out so deep into the MCU they should have gone with Neil Gaiman's take on it where the Eternals were living as normal humans because they couldn't remember their past thanks to Sprite.  That would have helped to explain why they hadn't done anything about Thanos or the Chitari invasion or any of that shit.  It also could have made it a little more grounded in reality.  I'm just saying.

(Fun Fact:  Apparently Superman exists in the MCU--at least the comics or movies or whatever.  That seems kind of odd to give a shout-out to a rival company's hero.  Aren't there any other flying, laser eye heroes in the MCU?  Since they haven't brought in Hyperion--aka Marvel's Superman--I guess not.)

Monday, January 24, 2022

Hit Monkey is Not Your Kid's Marvel Show

 Earlier in 2021, Hulu released MODOK, which was a more adult-oriented show based (very loosely) on the Marvel villain.  Near the end of the year, Hulu added Hit Monkey, which is even more an adult-oriented show based on Marvel comics.  I thought it was a crazy awesome show, but it is definitely not one for the kiddies despite that it's Marvel and the monkey is cute.

The premise is pretty bananas (see what I did there?):  a hitman named Bryce goes to Japan to kill a politician, which he does.  But afterwards his client tries to double-cross him.  Bryce is wounded and ends up being taken into a colony of white monkeys--whatever the technical name for them is.  One young monkey in particular hates Bryce and warns that he'll draw other humans to the colony, but the old monkey in charge sees caring for Bryce as a moral obligation.

But of course the younger monkey is right in that bad guys come looking for Bryce and in the firefight, pretty much all the monkeys are killed, except the young monkey.  He picks up a machine gun and kills all the bad humans.  By that point Bryce is dead but he lingers as a ghost that pretty much only the monkey can see.

Things get more bizarre as the monkey travels to Tokyo and winds up getting a suit and some weapons to start killing those responsible for the attack that killed Bryce and the monkeys.  The stakes keep going up as the monkey is confronted by Yakuza hitmen, cops, and even a spirit named Yuki, who claims to be the protector of Tokyo.  Meanwhile the monkey struggles with his conscience and Bryce maybe starts to find his conscience.

After nearly getting a human friend killed, Monkey retreats to his old home after trapping Bryce in a bathroom with a ring of salt.  (Salt is said to be a barrier against demons and apparently Bryce qualifies as one.)  In the most emotional episode of the series, Monkey finds you can't go home again as he tries to save a new tribe of monkeys from the nastier "red stripe" tribe.  Meanwhile, Bryce flashes back to his past in rural Texas, where he was basically trailer trash with a girl and a baby until he accidentally kills his mother's latest scummy boyfriend.  Then he goes on the run and becomes a killer-for-hire.  When the battle with the red stripe tribe leads to tragedy, Monkey embraces his destiny as the "killer of killers" who walks between the human and animal worlds.

So Monkey returns to Tokyo and frees Bryce for the final showdown.  As the election for a new prime minister reaches its end, there's a stunning twist that makes a lot of sense.  Then there's a final battle that brings back pretty much everyone introduced earlier who's still alive for an epic brouhaha.  

The ending is not Happily Ever After and sets up a season two, which would be awesome.  It is a weird and yet wonderful show if you like action and humor and don't mind a lot of blood and gore.  A monkey in a suit going around killing people with guns and swords and shit?  And he has a wisecracking human sidekick who's a ghost?  It's crazy but it's so crazy it works.

I wasn't too surprised to see one of the production companies behind Archer on FXX also is involved with this, because there is some of the same DNA, only a different animation style.  This is more traditional animation that's not exactly anime but closer to that than what they use in Archer and not at all like the stop motion in MODOK.

Anyway, I've liked these first couple adult Marvel offerings on Hulu; maybe they will have some more that will be just as good.

(Fun Fact:  At one point during a news broadcast on the bottom of the screen it mentions someone buying AIM from MODOK, which probably means the two shows--despite the difference in their animation--are part of the same universe.)

Friday, January 21, 2022

The Expanse TV Show Ends With a Short But Mostly Sweet Season

 Amazon brought back The Expanse a few years ago but is ending it after three seasons.  This third season predominantly covers the sixth book, which really is a good place to end.  I really thought the series could have ended there instead of doing another three books that take place like 30 years later.  I suppose between viewership and cost, Amazon decided that too.

Like Hawkeye, while the series started dropping in December, I didn't start watching until about a month later because of the holidays and other stuff to catch up on.

The show starts with a scene on Laconia with young Kara and her brother Xan, who at least in the books became protomolecule experiments of the evil Dr. Cortesar.  It ends by cutting up to the space above the planet, where you see they're making a huge battleship or something.

That kind of struck me as odd as really with only one season left it would seem easiest to just leave out the Laconia stuff, but they go back to it at the start of episodes.

When it gets back to the Rocinante out in the asteroids, another odd thing is that they apparently didn't get anyone to replace Alex as the pilot.  In the books Alex survives all the way through to the end but since the actor in the show got cancelled last year, they had to kill him off.  So it mostly seems like Holden is piloting the ship now and later Bobbi.  The crew's chemistry is also a little messed up as a result as there's lingering guilt over Alex's death (especially for Naomi, whom he was rescuing when he stroked out) and in large part in the books he's kind of the peacemaker, the one everyone can like.  It's too bad they couldn't just recast it.

Anyway, it's unfortunate too that they only did 6 episodes this season because it really only allows them to hit the main points.  I read the book two years ago so I don't really remember all the smaller things, just the broad strokes, and this season gets to all those.  Of all the seasons, this one was probably the most straight forward because it is pretty much just a war between Marco Inaros and his "Free Navy" of stolen Martian ships against what's left of Earth and Mars after a bunch of Martians defected to go to Laconia and Earth was devastated by asteroid attacks.

Holden and the Rocinante find a spotter ship Marco is using to guide rocks to throw at Earth and when they capture it, it provides the first real victory for the allied Earth-Mars forces.  It also lets their ships finally stop lying back to protect Earth from debris to go on the offensive.  They head to Ceres Station, but Marco is a step ahead; he strips the station and leaves its people with few supplies so the incoming Allies have to find a way to take care of all these people, limiting their supplies to use to go after the Free Navy.

There's a subplot about a ship that is destroyed when it tries to go through one of the alien rings.  Holden shows it to Naomi, and she soon discovers that this happens a lot under certain conditions.  That becomes crucial in the end.

Meanwhile, Carina Drummer, who defected from Marco, is being hunted but manages to survive and find some of Marco's supplies floating in space.  She takes them to Ceres to help the people there and reluctantly joins forces with Earth and Mars.

A few Martian ships go rogue and try to take the station in the middle of the "ring space"--the nexus for all 1300 or so alien ring gates that allow transport to other systems.  But the Laconians have armed the station with advanced rail guns that wipe out the Martians in seconds.

For the final battle, Earth, Mars, and Drummer's ships take on the Free Navy while the Rocinante goes to the ring to try to disable the station.  To do that they use a regular ship and sort of piggyback on that.  Their assault on the station doesn't go well and so they aren't able to take control of the station, though they do take out some of the guns.

Meanwhile, the Free Navy has been bloodied but not defeated.  They head towards the ring to set up in the ring space and essentially choke off all traffic from the Sol System to any colony worlds.  Plus Marco has a boner to kill the Rocinante because Naomi is his ex and if he can't have her, no one can!  Also she betrayed him and escaped from his ship in the prior season.

This is where all that subplot about the disappearing ships comes in.  Naomi figures out how much mass is needed in the ring area to trigger the effect.  So by positioning the ship they piggybacked on and some other shit, they're able to make it so when Marco tries to enter the ring, his ships all vaporize.  At the last minute, Marco and Naomi's son Filip bails out in a repair skiff, changes his name, and heads back to the Belt, never to be seen again.  

It's kind of funny to think in the end the good guys use math to defeat the bad guys.  Stay in school, kids!

There's no big celebration or awards ceremony like a Star Wars movie.  Instead, there's a meeting of all the leaders to decide what to do next.  Since there wasn't a lot of time left, the negotiation is truncated, but in the end they create a new Transport Union to oversee the traffic in the ring space.  Holden is picked to run it, but right after being sworn in, he resigns to make Drummer the new president.  So finally a Belter has some real, legitimate power.

Meanwhile the Laconia thing doesn't really go anywhere.  The head of Laconia, Duarte, refuses to help Marco more than he already has.  Xan is hit by a car, but some alien "dogs" revive him as a hybrid with creepy black eyes who basically can't die.  That's pretty much it for that.  Like I said, it doesn't really go anywhere.  I'm not sure if the producers are still hoping to get another season somewhere or a movie or what.  There are still 3 books in the series, all taking place about 30 years later when Laconia emerges to take over everything--see the previous blog entry.

But basically this was a good season that covered most everything important.  If there had been more time maybe the final battles could have been a little more epic and there could have been a little longer goodbye.  It did get in a couple of characters from previous seasons like Prax the botanist from the second book who helps find a way for Earth (and other places) to grow food easier and there was a brief segment with a minister who was in the third book and is helping people on Earth.

Unlike some other shows--Game of Thrones for instance--this didn't really feel too rushed or incomplete or unfulfilling.  If there never is another season or movie or anything, then this is a mostly satisfying conclusion.  It's not perfect, but it got the job done.

Fun Fact:  There aren't any cookie scenes at the end but when it shows the ring gate during the credits there are all these red lights crackling like Marco's ships disappearing in the ring.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Expanse Books End Well After a Frustrating Start

 I usually don't pay full price for books over, say, $5 but with the final book of The Expanse series, Leviathan Falls, I decided to say fuck it and pay (mostly) full price.  I think I had a $1 discount or something but still I wound up paying like $13 for it.

So it was a little annoying to me when I got around to starting to read it in January that the first 80% of it was pretty rough sledding.  I mean it was fine if you like a bunch of talky pseudo-science about unknown alien shit like Star Trek The Motion Picture.  There were a couple of action scenes sprinkled in, but mostly it was frustrating just waiting for things to come together.

The last 20% or so redeems all that wait for the most part.  Finally everyone gets together in the "ring space" and there's a desperate battle while Holden does what Holden does best:  something stupid and dangerous and heroic.  Along with the return of the ghost of Detective Miller, it really threw it back to the first three books when the alien rings (gateways to other star systems) were being established thanks to Holden.  So, really, who should be the one to end all that?  

My only problem with the end was that it was pretty predictable; I literally predicted what would happen a while before it did.  In a way I suppose it was the only thing that made sense.  The only other option was to wire everyone's brains together like this crappy book I read called Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman.  In that book the secret to world peace was for basically everyone to create a hive mind by having an implant installed in their neck.  And those who wouldn't (or couldn't) do that were stranded on islands so they wouldn't bug everyone else.  If you know anything about human nature, exactly none of that is plausible. 

Fortunately the authors opted for another course, one that sort of put everything back to how it was at the start of the series, except now there are humans spread out all over the galaxy and not just the Sol System.  The epilogue is neat in that it sort of riffs on 2001 or Planet of the Apes (the movie) or maybe that song 2525.  I'd have liked to get one last update on all the characters we followed through 9 books, but at least we have some idea what happened to one of them.  And maybe the final novella will fill some of that other stuff in?  Or not. 

My only other complaint with this book was the villain, a woman named Tanaka, was too villain-y.  She was just a bit too one-note, like most Marvel movie villains.  She goes around being a total bitch, screwing subordinates and killing without remorse; she might as well have had a sign over her head saying EVIL!  But I suppose the point of that was how she struggles when her brain gets wired with other people's and she starts having thoughts leading to compassion or empathy.  Yuck. lol

Anyway, if some of the pseudoscience had been taken out to streamline the book more, it would have been better, but it wasn't a bad way to end the series.  Much better than Rise of Skywalker or Endgame anyway.

At the end, I suppose the most unsatisfying thing is we never really know who the aliens are who created the rings or the ones trying to destroy them--and humans.  I suppose introducing the latter aliens would have been hard to pull off.  Really I think the whole Laconia trilogy could have been one book if Holden had just gotten some protomolecule and went to the alien station to blow up the rings in book 7.  I'm just saying.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Grumpy Bulldog's Crazy Star Wars Sequel Trilogy Sequel Trilogy

 Before Episode VII came out, I goofed around with my own version of it.  After Episodes VII and VIII, I wrote my own replacement Episode VIII and Episode IX, which I still think would have been better.  

And then a couple months ago, I got thinking of how to do an Episode X-XII trilogy.  It wouldn't really ignore VII-IX, but it would sort of minimize that and move on.

First thing I had to think of:  who's the bad guys?  This is incidentally what they should have thought about before Episode VII instead of just slapping something together with sorta imitation Empire guys.  Anyway, I got thinking that in the "Legends" books the Yuuzan Vong were pretty stupid, but I liked the concept of some outside force attacking the galaxy.

And then I got thinking that we want something relevant to today.  We could have cut-rate fascists, but you know what else is relevant?  AI.  So what if instead of the fairly silly droid army of "clankers" from Episode I-III you had a highly-evolved AI that created an army of robots that didn't suck?  Sort of like the Terminator franchise with SkyNet.

The other thinking on this was that it would be good if we have a bad guy where we really need Force-sensitive type people.  Against highly advanced robots and computers, having the Force with those honed reflexes, instincts, and abilities would really be helpful.

So that's my starting point.  How I imagine it starting is in the title crawl we already have the invasion underway and say that they've swept through the Core Systems and are moving on to clean up the Outer Rim.  Then we go to a nice, foresty planet where a fleet of bad guys show up, chasing an X-wing fighter.  

The X-Wing should be piloted by someone in the sequel series (probably not Poe but maybe Snap Wexley or someone like that) who's under attack by the bad guys.  Their fighters are just too fast and maneuverable for him to escape and eventually he crashes on the planet.

A roughly 18-ish black girl is going about some farm chores when she sees the X-Wing go down.  She goes to investigate and the dying pilot tells her to get his droid (probably like a BB-8 model) to someone named Rey.  (Or Ahsoka or whoever.)

The bad guys land nearby and the girl and the droid have to elude them to go back to the farm.  She tells her parents what happened and is surprised when they actually know who Rey is.  They have a ship hidden on the farm but as they're getting it ready, the bad guys show up.  The girl's parents buy her time while she and the droid escape.

The girl gets away from the planet, but her ship soon breaks down.  She's rescued by a New Republic freighter with some guy on board.  She tells the guy what happened and he says he's delivering supplies to what's left of the New Republic forces.  The droid gets his attention and then plays his message for Rey and so they eventually agree to go look for her.

They come under attack by the bad guys until an old X-Wing scares them away.  And so the girl and guy meet Rey.  She's been honing her abilities and working to end slavery and such on Outer Rim planets like Jakku.  She's reluctant to help until she realizes the girl is the daughter of Finn and Jannah and is sensitive to the Force.

Then they fix up the freighter and put the X-Wing inside and go to recruit a few other people who are all Force sensitive.  They go to some hidden base and then start training a bit with the Force.  Before they're really ready to do anything, though, the bad guys find them (maybe a traitor among them, either flesh or droid) and Rey dies to buy them some time to escape.

The main girl rallies everyone else and they use their skills to blow up the bad guy ships and deal them a blow.  Then they head to wherever the remnants of the New Republic Navy are, where Poe invites her and the others to help keep the fight going.

At the end, the evil AI studies the footage of the battle and decides it needs a weapon to fight the Force sensitive people with.  So it unthaws a clone of a young Mace Windu (or Vader or Maul or Palpatine or whoever) with some cybernetic implants to make it docile and loyal.  Cue the Imperial March...

(At first I thought a Palpatine clone because we've seen that, but then I thought a Mace Windu clone would be cool because A) It's Mace Windu and B) there could be a romantic plot without people freaking out.)

[The next two are less detailed because a lot depends on what happens in the first one.  This is what Disney didn't seem to understand and why you shouldn't have 3 creative teams trying to make all 3 parts of a trilogy at pretty much the same time.]

Then in the next episode, the main girl is getting strong with the Force, as are the other recruits.  Probably her and the freighter guy are also getting close.  They score a victory or two while the Mace clone is zeroing in on them.  He sets a trap, by claiming to be in distress.  The girl goes to rescue him and they fight.  During the fight, the Mace clone's implants are damaged, freeing him from the AI control.  He tells the girl that somewhere is the source of the AI, though he's not sure exactly where.  Then he leaves, though he's taken captive by the AI and the implants fixed.  But when it searches his memories, he's managed to suppress what he told the girl.

The girl goes back and tells the New Republic what the Mace clone said.  And so there's hope to end this thing..

Which of course is the next (and final) episode!  The girl and her friends go on a hunt to find where the AI's source is.  Eventually it all leads to a big battle over and on some planet.  The girl has to fight the Mace clone again and puts him out of his misery.  Then she finds the AI's source and manages to destroy it.  The bad guys all shut down and the day is saved!  There's a victory celebration though probably some indication that at least part of the AI is hidden away somewhere...

There you go, I winged that off in like a half-hour and it's still a better story than the last sequel trilogy.  There's a lot of familiar elements to a Star Wars trilogy without it just being a carbon copy.  At least I think so.  Of course it will never happen, but I can dream, right?

Friday, January 14, 2022

Hawkeye Didn't Quite Hit the Mark

 It wasn't until late into the holiday season (almost the new year) until I watched the Hawkeye series on Disney+ though it came out on Thanksgiving.  It was pretty much the same for Discovery, The Expanse, and other shows.  I mean it's nice they released a bunch of new content but in the holiday season I like watching holiday stuff--and tangential holiday stuff like Die Hard or Iron Man 3.  I suppose this does fall into the tangential category as it takes place in the week before Christmas.

As far as Marvels' Disney+ shows I will rank them as follows:

  1. Captain America & The Falcon
  2. What If...?
  3. Loki
  4. Hawkeye
  5. WandaVision

But to be honest there's not a lot of separation between 2 and 5.  Like the MCU movies most of it is not terrible but I also don't really love most of it either.  So when I put Hawkeye 4th it's not that it's really bad--it just wasn't as good as the other ones.

Like the Black Widow movie, the reason this exists is mostly to introduce the next generation Hawkeye, ie Kate Bishop.  After a prank at her college goes wrong, she comes home for the holidays.  And then she stumbles onto a secret auction where they're selling the suit Hawkeye wore as Ronin that was found...somehow by...someone.  When she puts the outfit on to disrupt the auction, she winds up being targeted by the "track suit mob" whom the real Ronin had a run-in with.

The real Hawkeye is in town with his kids and tracks Kate down to get the suit back, but before he can it winds up in the hands of a LARPer.  By then things start getting out of hand with the track suit gang and Kate starts to realize her mom is in business with some bad people.

The relationship between Clint and Kate works for the most part despite the premise that's pretty thin.  This is supposed to be based off the celebrated Matt Fraction run on the Hawkeye comics (he's even an Executive Consultant or something like that) but like most MCU stories it's really watered-down so it can fit within the movie universe.  But there's still bonding and for whatever reason Clint has hearing loss and "pizza dog" and trick arrows and such.

But the main difference is the drag imposed on this Hawkeye because of his secret family introduced in Avengers Age of Ultron.  Since he already has kids (and they were even in town with him) there's really less need for Clint to bond with Kate because he literally already has a daughter.  And though it's kind of rude, the actors playing his kids aren't exactly the Caulkins.  They were fine for a scene or two six years ago but you can probably find better kid actors in toy commercials.  I'm just saying.  Really all his kids do is exist to provide motivation for Hawkeye to get his shit back--which includes a watch belonging to his wife.

The other thing is something common to the MCU:  the villains are pretty blah.  The tracksuit mafia is a joke except their leader is a bad-ass deaf woman who I guess is called Echo and is something bigger in the comics.  Kate's mother is kind of wishy-washy and her beau Jack is kind of a dick but I guess in the end he's not really a bad guy?

Then there was the return of Vincent D'Onofrio as the Kingpin.  Which would have been cool, but this version of the Kingpin was pretty flat.  What really made the Kingpin work in Daredevil and Into the Spider-Verse (voiced there by Liev Schreiber) is his love of his wife Vanessa.  Without any mention of her, he's just a fairly generic mob boss guy.  It really wasn't much better than Michael Clarke Duncan's version in the 2003 Affleck Daredevil movie because again in that there wasn't the wife angle that humanizes him.

For those who watched Black Widow there was also the return of Natasha Romanoff's "sister" Yelena, who tries to kill Hawkeye before they work things out.  It was kind of surprising they didn't work her into it a little sooner.  They didn't even seem to rehash the cookie scene from Black Widow where Julia Louise-Dreyfus's character tells her Hawkeye killed Natasha.  So Yelena just kind of shows up to attack Clint when they're on another mission.

In the end I think the plot could have been tighter and the villains better.  So this wasn't a bullseye for me, but at least it didn't completely overshoot the target.  Maybe a Season 2 could work things out better.  There's no tease for another season, just a annoyingly complete version of the song from Rogers:  The Musical in the credits.  Like a lot of people I watched that wondering if something would happen, but nothing really did.  It was like a long time ago when South Park trolled its audience by airing an entire episode of a fake Terrence & Philip show instead of telling the audience who Cartman's father is.  Though at least this wasn't 30 minutes, so that's something, because I could not do that all day.

Boom, "dad joke" to end it!

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Deregulation Makes Discoverability Difficult

 In the world of music, especially since the 1950s, the radio has been the #1 tool for people to discover new acts.  When "rock n roll" first started, DJs of local stations became celebrities.  The "payola" scandal referenced in Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" was when record companies basically bribed DJs to play their songs.

A couple months ago on Facebook, my former Gather buddy Chas Andrews reposted this thread about music in the 90s.  It talks about how music in the mid-to-late 90s suddenly changed from grunge and alternative to sunny pop like the Spice Girls, Hanson, and the Backstreet Boys.  Part of it might just be tastes changing, but there was something more insidious this thread talks about, a kind of corporate payola.


There was a lot of deregulation in the 80s that continued into the 90s, allowing a lot of mergers.  Sometimes it seemed every month the banks would change their names as they got bought up by another bank chain.  Part of the merger mania was that regulations for owning radio stations were loosened.  As the thread mentions, Clear Channel bought up a bunch of radio stations in the mid-90s and I'm sure other big companies did the same.

What that means is that you have all these stations under one banner.  And so you have one company deciding what music people should be listening to on the radio.  If they decide to push "MmmBop" or "Mambo #5" or some other crap like that, that's what a lot of people will hear on the radio.  It mostly eliminates the autonomy of local DJs to play unknown groups or local acts.

There is still this corporate control today in radio and TV, which can create problems when for instance the Sinclair group of TV stations hands down an edict not to do any negative stories about Donald Trump.  

Since Sirius and XM merged a while ago, there's that same problem with most satellite radio too.  There might be 500 stations, but it is really one company in charge of those stations.  They get to decide what to push and what not to push.

Apps like Pandora let you have more control, but a lot of people are probably not going to put the work in to really find much new music.  It's always easier to just bring up a playlist someone else made or turn on a premade station than to fine-tune things yourself.  Though personally, I like finding lesser-known artists like Josh Joplin, Drew Blackard, or Sons of Bill.  Or even "discovering" better-known artists like John Prine whose music I would not have heard on a normal radio station, unless maybe I listened to country.  It can be difficult to find those hidden gems and people are lazy.

This can of course relate to writing.  The "Big 5" have long been gatekeepers of the industry.  They usually get to push what they think you want to read.  In the last 10 years there have been times when they get subverted by an indie book like 50 Shades of Grey, though they're usually quick to assimilate that author and add their distinctiveness to their own.  

Like music, you can find great indie authors and books, but most people are not going to put the work in.  Not even me.  I read indie books by people I know, but I rarely have inclination or need to go looking for others.  For most of us who aren't getting the push from the gatekeepers, discoverability remains the biggest problem and the fewer gatekeepers you have, the harder it gets.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Streaming Stuff I Watched

Thanks to Covid I haven't gone to a movie theater since 2019 and I can't remember the last time I rented something from a Redbox kiosk.  But I do occasionally stream newer movies that aren't Rifftrax movies.  If you follow me on Facebook I've probably already mentioned these.  I started a little before Halloween and it kept snowballing...

The Selling:  this is an indie horror comedy from 2020 that I watched on Amazon Prime.  A guy trying to flip a house to pay for his mom's cancer treatments finds out it's haunted.  With the help of a female blogger, he tries to exorcise the demons.  Mayhem ensues.  There are some laughs and for a small movie the acting and visuals aren't bad.  (3/5) (Fun Fact:  San Francisco Sketchfest founders and Rifftrax contributors Janet Varney and Cole Stratton play real estate agents in the movie and at one point, it shows Vincent Price's House on Haunted Hill, which was an early Rifftrax feature.  And no, I did not know any of that before I put it on.)

Max Reload and the Nether Blasters:  This is an indie action comedy also from 2020 that I also watched on Amazon Prime.  The titular "Max Reload" aka Max Jenkins (the last name being a reference to the infamous Leroy Jenkins video--Google it) works at a video game store with his friends when one night he receives an ancient Colecovision game thought to not exist.  He records himself playing it and inadvertently unleashes a potential apocalypse when the game starts turning everyone into zombies with glowing red eyes.  Max, his friends, and the game's creators have to then save the day.  There's a lesson about teamwork and for the most part it's fun, especially if you're into video games.  It mixes in some animation that's supposed to look like an old 8-bit video game along with more current video game footage.  The main characters are all played by nobodies but the video game's creator is played by Greg Grunberg, aka that guy in every JJ Abrams movie, who looks like if you mashed together Tony Stark and Happy Hogan.  Kevin Smith is super annoying as the boss of the video game store, making you wish he were still playing Silent Bob.  Ubergeek Wil Wheaton has an off-screen cameo narrating a video game documentary.  Not surprisingly there's really only one female main character and she spends most of her time yelling at Max.  There are a couple of cookie scenes that just wrap up a couple of loose ends instead of setting up a sequel while at the end of the credits are some outtakes that go on a little too long.  Still, it's mostly a good time, in some ways better than Spielberg's Ready Player One. (3/5) (Fun Fact: For some reason Greg Grunberg's garage has a huge Robotech poster in it and Robotech is thanked as one of the "brands" in the movie, though it really contributes nothing.)

Max Cloud:  This indie action comedy also from 2020 and also on amazon Prime is not all that similar to Max Reload.  Rather it's more like Jumanji as a girl in 1990 is pulled into a video game about the titular hero, who's a goofy over-the-top hero like The Tick, only without the costume.  Her friend (the second Firestorm in the Arrowverse, I believe) is in control of her as the character in the game.  But she only has one life, so if she dies in the game, she dies for real.  It was fairly amusing, though I'm not sure the Max Cloud game was a great representation of side-scrolling action games in 1990.  The system they use seems more like a Genesis than a Nintendo.  At one point they reference using "R1" for reloading but the original Nintendo did not have an R1; that didn't happen until the Super Nintendo a few years later.  What really made me love this movie was using "Dare" by Stan Bush early on and in the credits.  That was one of two Bush songs in the soundtrack of Transformers The Movie but far more people have heard "The Touch" because it was sung by Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights.  "Dare" has always been my favorite, though.  (3/5) (Fun Fact:  Max Cloud is played by Scott Adkins, who stars in another movie on this entry.)

Boss Level:  Despite the video game title and references to video games in the movie, this isn't really a video game movie.  This Hulu original is in that subgenre of films since 1992 where you can say, "It's like Groundhog Day, but..."  In this case it's like Groundhog Day, but this former Delta Force guy (Frank Grillo) keeps getting killed by assassins.  Each time he comes back to life to repeat the same day, he gets a little farther along.  Though he's kinda dumb in that it takes him 140 tries to realize he should try opening the gift his ex-wife gave him.  And even more tries to realize they're tracking him.  Director Joe Carnahan uses a lot of his cut-rate Tarantino shtick from Smokin Aces in having all these varied, goofy assassins starting with a guy with a machete, then football star Rob Gronkowski in a helicopter with a Gatling gun, then a soccer mom in a minivan with Hitler's gun, an Asian woman with a sword who always says after a kill her name and "I have done this," and a redneck who uses kind of a harpoon to drag kills behind his truck.  Mel Gibson cashes a paycheck as the villain who really doesn't put up a boss level fight, and Naomi Watts is unrecognizable as the main guy's ex-wife, who's a scientist at the heart of it all.  Michelle Yeoh appears as a sword fighting champion in the most Groundhog Day-like segment where the guy uses her to learn sword fighting, each day getting a little better at it.  Overall it's a fun movie even if not particularly deep or meaningful. (3/5)

The Man Who Killed Hitler & Then the Bigfoot:  From the title this movie wants you to think it's weird and maybe fun.  It's not really either of those things.  I mean it's not early Tim Burton or David Lynch or Richard Kelly weird.  The core of the story is pretty good, even if a lot of it is cribbed from Legends of the Fall, a favorite of my late sister and probably some other movies.  Sam Elliott is an old man who left his sweetheart to join the army in WWII and went undercover to kill Hitler--at least A Hitler; the implication being there were multiples.  Which makes sense when you consider how other despots like Saddam Hussein had a double (or more) to serve as decoys.  By the time he gets back, his sweetheart is dead.  Years later, he's recruited by the governments of the US and Canada to kill a Bigfoot creature that's poisoning all life in an area.  And he does so, obviously.  And then it just kind of peters out.  The Bigfoot part really seems to serve little purpose.  I mean does it redeem him for losing his sweetheart?  No.  (We don't really know how she died let alone whether he could have saved her or anything.)  Does it bring him fame or glory?  No, it's a secret mission.  Does it help him connect with anyone at all?  Not really, though he does later go see his brother.  So other than adding some zing to the title, it doesn't contribute much.  Earlier the young him gets a shave from a mystic Russian, who cuts him with the razor and says he will succeed in his mission (killing Hitler) but will be cursed the rest of his days.  So maybe him not dying and killing Bigfoot was to show how he's cursed or something.  I would have liked something more conclusive. (2.5/5) (To explain my Legends of the Fall reference, in that movie Brad Pitt and his younger brother join the army in WWI and when the younger brother is killed, Brad Pitt slaughters a bunch of Germans and then spends years traveling the world, unable to live with the guilt.  By the time he gets home, the girl he loves has married his older brother, Aidan Quinn.  Some of this was parodied on an episode of Archer with his valet Woodhouse in the Brad Pitt role.)

Infinite:  This was on Paramount+ and for no good reason I decided to watch it.  Mark Wahlberg is a guy who's reincarnated from a guy who's an "Infinite," or people who can remember all their past lives.  Except he can't and gets caught up in a war between two sides.  One side wants to destroy the world so they can't ever reincarnate again.  The other side doesn't.  Marky Mark in his previous life knew the location of a bomb that could destroy the world, aka the MacGuffin.  There's a lot of action set pieces and noise that's not very interesting.  One of those dumb things the supposed writers did was have the female main character in love with someone the bad guys had captured, eliminating any real romantic subplot.  Why do movies shoot themselves in the foot like that?  My question is:  the guy who wants to kill the world, why doesn't he just shoot himself into space or something like that?  Then wouldn't it be impossible for his soul to find a new host?  It's really selfish to kill 7 billion people just because you're tired of living.  I'm just saying this guy probably has more money than Bezos so just make a rocket and fly out to the moon or Mars and die there and save the rest of us the headache. (2/5)

The Tomorrow War:  This is an Amazon original despite that Paramount was also involved.  It stars Chris Pratt as a science teacher/former Army guy who is recruited to go 30 years in the future to fight xenomorph/mini-Cloverfield monsters called the "white spikes" because they shoot white spikes.  A third of the movie is Pratt working with his now-grown daughter to create a virus to kill the monsters.  And when they do that and he goes back to the past, you think it's over, right?  Nope.  He has to team with his dad (buff JK Simmons) to go to Russia and find where the aliens crashed and have been hidden by ice so they can use the virus to kill them.  Except (spoiler alert!) the virus doesn't really work that well, pretty much making that whole third of movie an exercise in futility.  It was all pretty messy with tons of plot holes.  Like why does the world instantly believe the soldiers from the future who show up at a World Cup game to the point they almost instantly start meat grindering people from the present by sending them to the future to get chowed down by white spikes?  Why didn't the soldiers from the future try to make better weapons and defenses in the past so that we could repel the aliens when they showed up?  What kind of lame bullshit is it that the time machine can only go back to one point and keeps moving forward at the same rate as the past?  Like Infinite it's a lot of action and noise but it doesn't really make a lot of sense. (2/5)

Shang-Chi Legend of the Ten Rings:  I'm not really into kung-fu fantasy so I wasn't anxious to go watch it.  It was good despite that.  It didn't just regurgitate the Marvel formula like some of their other movies.  Shang-Chi's father makes one of the better villains in the MCU, which is a pretty low bar.  He's basically like Ra's al Guhl only replace the Lazarus Pits with the rings that make him immortal and replace the League of Shadows with the Ten Rings gang.  At the end his daughter is basically Talia al Guhl; maybe she'll get a crush on a Marvel superhero and make a baby with him.  Like people did with Eternals, you have to wonder why he didn't go use the rings to kick Thanos's ass.  It was a little surprising Awkwafina winds up being the love interest but I guess since the other young woman was his sister there was really nowhere else to go.  And who else but the MCU can relegate an Oscar winner like Ben Kingsley to comic relief? (3/5) (Fun Fact:  I mentioned on Facebook that since Michelle Yeoh was in this she's been in the MCU, Star Trek, and James Bond universes so now she needs to get into a Star Wars movie or show.)

Black Widow:  After years and years of dragging its feet, Marvel finally made a Black Widow solo movie (after killing her character off) and Disney finally released it--and then had to pay Scarlett Johannson a settlement for putting it on streaming.  Anyway, it's not a bad movie but what's the point?  Mostly to set up a new Black Widow, her "sister" Yelena.  They have to take down the resurgent group that made them Black Widows with the help of Red Guardian (David Harbour) and their "mother" (Rachel Weisz, still looking good) and defeat the Taskmaster, who's kind of a cyborg and a complete deviation from the actual character in the comics.  It was OK but a six-episode series on Disney+ probably would have been better to flesh out some of the characters and background.  But thankfully it solves that great mystery:  where did that green vest Natasha wore in Infinity War come from?  I mean, wasn't that keeping you up nights too?  (Fun Fact:  in the beginning when they're in Ohio, I didn't realize Natasha was a girl until it mentioned it in the captioning.   Just saying.) (3/5)

Muppet Haunted Mansion:  As I mentioned in another entry, if you like Muppets, you'd like this.  If you don't, then this won't make you a believer.  It's a lot of the dad jokes, gags, and silly songs that people who have watched the Muppets since the 70s have come to expect.  While the story focuses on Gonzo and a jumbo shrimp exploring a haunted mansion, the other familiar characters like Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Fozzy also make appearances.  Mostly I liked it but I was annoyed by how many times Gonzo says, "Cool."  Was the writer's thesaurus missing?  The end was very nice with a lesson for us all thanks to slightly pudgy, florid-faced Will Arnett.  Other celebrities who appear are John Stamos, Yvette Nicole Brown, Danny Trejo, and Ed Asner in what is probably his final credit.  Ironically Asner played a ghost since by the time this aired he had already passed away.  Spooky. (3/5)

Queenpins:  Based on a true story (I guess) it's about two women (one is Kristen Bell) who decide to resell coupons for free stuff.  It's actually pretty easy to get their scam working; they just go to Mexico where an employee at a coupon printer tells them how he can steal some extra coupons the company was just going to throw away and ship them to the two women in America, who use a website to sell the "free" coupons for a little money that soon gives them over $5 million.  A supermarket chain investigator tips to the scheme pretty quick, but it takes a long time before anyone higher up gives a shit, until finally a postal inspector (Vince Vaughn) shows up to aid in the fight.  At about 2 hours it starts to feel long and I have the sense that this was really Hollywood-ized.  By that I mean I'm sure there were a lot of liberties taken with the real events.  But a lot of it is funny to me because my dad was pretty much like these women at the start, only he'd use coupons on shit we'd never even use.  In the pantry at home there might still be some Chicken Tonight from the 90s or C-3PO cereal from the 80s.  Anyway, you can stream it on Paramount+ (2.5/5)

Lansky:  This is a recent movie on Amazon Prime.  As far as recent gangster biopics, it's better than 2018's Gotti with John Travolta or 2020's Capone starring Tom Hardy.  It's not as cheesy as the former or weird as the latter.  It's a pretty straight-ahead story with the familiar framing device of the old Lansky (Harvey Keitel) calling down a reporter (Sam Worthington, that guy who seemed poised for stardom in 2009 but was unknown again by 2012) to tell his life story.  Meanwhile, the reporter has financial/marital troubles and conducts an affair with a woman in his motel. In flashbacks we see Lansky and his friend Ben "Bugsy" Sigel creating a crime syndicate in New York and starting up Las Vegas's casino industry.  He also claims to have helped the government root out German spies in New York in WWII and donated a lot of money to the future government of Israel.  This is one of those movies where I'm not really sure how much you can trust entirely or how fast-and-loose it might be playing with the facts.  Also kind of irritating when you have both Keitel and Worthington taking turns on the narration.  Whose story is this? (2.5/5)

The Marksman:  In some ways it's similar to Clint Eastwood's Cry Macho which I haven't seen:  an old white guy gets involved with helping a young Mexican boy and mayhem ensues.  In this case it's Liam Neeson, whose casting in this is probably waving a white flag to Father Time and admitting that he can't kill roomfuls of Albanians or punch wolves anymore.  He plays a rancher about to lose his home because his dead wife's medical bills were so expensive.  Between that and finding a Mexican woman and her son on his land, the movie is ham-handedly front loaded with a lot of social issues that it mostly doesn't deal with.  Anyway, the woman is killed by a cartel and Liam Neeson promises to get her son to Chicago to a relative.  Another movie you could compare this to is Logan as the gruff, retired hero (this case a former Marine instead of a mutant superhero) goes on a road trip with a kid who at first it seems can't speak English but then we find out he can.  And along the way they have to dodge cartel goons and they bond and the fate of Neeson's character is pretty much inevitable.  (If you've seen Logan, you can take a guess.)  What I didn't understand is: what was his relationship to the young woman who works for the Border Patrol?  Since she referred to his dead wife as "her mom" I guess she's his stepdaughter?  It's never really spelled out but at least they never go to bed together. (2.5/5)

Out of Death:  One of those cheap, forgettable action movies starring Bruce Willis.  A woman witnesses a deputy murder a drug dealer and goes on the run in the Georgia woods.  Bruce Willis is a Philly cop staying nearby for some R&R and then he helps her against the corrupt cops.  The technical aspects are fine, but Willis seems bored and definitely mails it in while the lesser-known, lesser-paid actors at least try gamely to make the weak story interesting. (2/5)

Rogue Hostage:  Imagine if you filmed Die Hard in an Ollie's or Big Lots instead of a huge skyscraper?  That's pretty much this movie.  Three rednecks go to a discount store to take a congressman who owns the chain (John Malkovich) hostage.  Tyrese Gibson is a former soldier/Child Protective Services guy who fights the bad guys.  It was pretty meh.  The store looked less real than the supermarket of Supermarket Sweep in the late 80s.  You can tell the people setting it up tried to use the bare minimum of fake merchandise and the signage looked pretty cheap too. (2/5)

A Score To Settle:  One of those straight-to-Redbox/streaming Nic Cage movies from 2019.  It's a typical Death Wish-type revenge movie combined with Insomnia and The Sixth Sense.  Nic Cage is a guy who went to prison for 20 years to cover for a mob boss's murder.  He took a payoff thinking it would just be a few years in the joint but he got double-crossed and sentenced to life, during which time his wife died and son became a junkie.  He finally gets released because he has some issue that makes him unable to sleep.  If he doesn't sleep, he will get hallucinations and ultimately die.  When he gets on the outside, he meets his son and digs up some money to go stay in a fancy hotel that seems weirdly placed in the middle of nowhere (actually in British Columbia) and soon uses the money to buy a suit, Corvette, guns, and a hooker called Simone he becomes smitten with.  Then he starts shaking down and killing mob guys.  SPOILER ALERT:  the Sixth Sense twist is that his son is actually dead and the one he thinks he's hanging out with is a hallucination.  Which when you look back is why the son never eats anything or drives and why his phone number and Facetime weren't on Nic Cage's new phone.  As far as twists go it's OK and the movie itself is pretty watchable even if most of it is cliché.  Despite the premise, Nic Cage doesn't quite go full Nic Cage crazy, which is a little disappointing. (Fun Fact:  At the beginning of the movie, the young Nic Cage is played by Bailey Coppola, his nephew and great nephew of Francis Ford Coppola.  There actually is a pretty strong resemblance to the point I wondered if they did that deepfake stuff like in Civil War with Tony Stark or The Mandalorian with Luke Skywalker.)

Pig:  This was a 2020 Nic Cage offering.  Imagine John Wick if it were really slow and depressing with pretty much no body count, but a lot of going to restaurants and bakeries and talking about food.  Nic is a crazy former chef who retired to the wilds of Oregon to live with his truffle pig.  Then some tweakers steal the pig and he goes to Portland to track it down with the help of a young guy who buys his truffles.  It was mostly OK but not really much fun to watch. (3/5)

Willy's Wonderland:  Another 2020 Nic Cage offering on Hulu.  In this one Nic's Camaro's tires get blown out and he ends up in a small town with no ATMs and no credit card machines.  So he has to clean up the old Willy's Wonderland, which is basically like a Chuck-E-Cheese only they served hot dogs instead of pizza.  The animatronic animals, led by Willy Weasel, are possessed by the spirits of serial killers and the townspeople sacrifice strangers to them.  What's weird (beyond all that) is Nic Cage never says anything and every half-hour or so he stops no matter what--even if there's a fight going--to drink some kind of energy drink and play pinball.  Why?  It's never said.  There's a group of local kids who go inside ostensibly to destroy it, but mostly just to be fodder for the machines.  It's a pretty silly movie but kind of fun if you can suspend disbelief that apparently a small town's whole economy is based on some shitty Chuck-E-Cheese clone. (2.5/5)

Mom & Dad:  I had this Nic Cage masterpiece on my Hulu list for a while but then it was no longer available there.  Unluckily for me, it was free during an XFinity Watchathon-type weekend.  The premise for the movie is that one day parents just start going nuts and trying to murder their kids.  Nic Cage and Selma Blair are two middle-aged parents who try to murder their 17-year-old girl and 9-year-old son.  When the kids take refuge in the basement it becomes kind of like Home Alone as the parents try to get them while the kids set a couple of clever traps.  And then the movie takes things up a notch when the grandparents show up and try to murder the parents!  And then...it just kind of peters out with the kids chaining up their parents in the basement.  I thought maybe there'd be a cookie scene or something, but nope.  So even though it's almost 2 hours long, it feels like only half a movie.  We never get any idea of why this happening or if it's going to stop.  Just an utter lack of resolution. (2/5) (Fun Fact:  One of Tony Laplume's favorite comic book writers, Grant Morrison, has a cameo as a scientist for some reason.)

Ash vs Evil Dead, Season 3:  The only other thing I found to watch during that Watchathon-type weekend was season 3 of Starz's Ash vs Evil Dead.  I had watched the previous two seasons a few years ago but never had the chance to see the third and final season.  So then I did.  After defeating the evil at the end of Season 2, Ash and his buddy Pablo settle in Elk Grove, Michigan (actually New Zealand) to open a hardware/sex toy store.  But of course evil isn't done with Ash as Ruby (Lucy Lawless) targets his illegitimate daughter Brandy.  Meanwhile, Kelly, another of Ash's crew in the previous two seasons, is approached by a guy who looks sort of like one of the dudes from Supernatural who claims to be a "Knight of Sumeria."  They go to help Ash and company.  And then like the previous seasons there's a lot of gross, splattery mayhem mixed with slapstick humor that echoes the movies.  The addition of the daughter, though, allows Ash to grow a little more as a character as he bonds a little with her.  The last couple of episodes play for keeps as a giant monster is summoned to destroy all humanity and only Ash can stop it--in a tank!  SPOILER:  The end that might have been a dream or coma fantasy has Ash waking up in the future by a cyborg Knight of Sumeria.  His old Delta has been tricked out with missiles and machine guns like something from a Mad Max movie and he sets out into a decimated world to fight evil.  Overall it was fun and a good sendoff for the series. (4/5) (Sad Fact:  Recently, Bruce Campbell said he will no longer play Ash because he's too old for the stunts and such.  It's too bad but at least he knows when it's time to hang up the chainsaw--looking at you, Harrison Ford.)

The Debt Collector:  I mentioned this movie once because I was thinking of a story with the same title, only really different.  This is about an MMA instructor (Scott Adkins--see, I told you he was in another movie on this list!) whose gym is failing, so he decides to become a collector for the mob.  He's teamed with a retired boxer called "Sue" (short for Sulinski) and they go to people's houses and or businesses to collect money, which usually leads to the MMA instructor getting punched or kicked or shot at.  Unfortunately then it tries to have a bigger story.  Something about an Irish guy and his kid and some bad guy played by Tony Todd.  And then everyone dies except the Irish guy and kid.  Seriously.  What a shit ending. (2/5) (Fun Fact:  The Sulinski guy looks like he could be a stand-in for Bruce Willis; they probably could have got the real Bruce Willis for about as much money.)

Crossing Swords, Season 2:  I was surprised this Hulu original actually got a second season.  Made by most of the same people who make Robot Chicken, it uses similar stop motion animation, only the characters look more like Fisher Price's Little People.  Set in medieval times, it's about an idealistic young squire named Patrick.  At the end of Season 1 he saved the kingdom after a girl he loved tried to take it over.  As a reward he's tried and sentenced to have his face eaten by rats unless he can find some leprechaun gold.  Which he does, along with a bunch of cursed gems.  After a few miscellaneous episodes, his ex returns to take over the kingdom and again Patrick saves the day.  In the end he's knighted just in time for a massive army to invade, setting the table for a season 3.  It's OK but not really my favorite thing by the RC team.  (2.5/5)

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Season 15:  When this series started on FX it had 13 episodes per season.  When it moved to FXX it got cut down to 10.  Now like Archer it's down to just 8 episodes and for whatever reason they aired two per week so the whole season aired in a month.  The first couple of episodes addressed 2020 and the Lethal Weapon 5 & 6 blackface controversy; to me they felt like someone's rejected South Park scripts repurposed for Always Sunny.  Then there was a flashback episode that's one of those things like American Dad does a lot where it only works if you forget everything that's been established the last 14 years.  The last half of the season has the gang go to Ireland when Dee gets a small part in an Irish movie or TV show, though for such a small part I doubt they'd pay to fly someone all the way to Ireland.  Dennis goes nuts from Covid (much, much too soon for that to be funny) while Charlie finds his father (Colm Meaney, ie O'Brien from DS9!) and Mac struggles with finding out he's Dutch.  Overall it wasn't really good.  The best part was actually a dramatic part where Charlie laments his father not being in his life.  Considering "the gang" is in its mid-40s if not pushing 50 by now, it's probably time to just quit, but then nothing else the cast except Danny DeVito has done outside of this has really succeeded, AP Bio being recently canned by NBC, so I doubt that will happen. (2/5)

Fatman:  I probably could have watched this last year on Amazon Prime, but this year it's free with commercials on Peacock.  If you're a fan of Terry Pratchett's Discworld the premise is similar to his holiday novel Hogfather in that an assassin is hired to kill Santa.  But in this case it's more of a straight-ahead action movie instead of a clever light drama.  A rich boy who got a lump of coal in his stocking calls up the hitman he has on speed dial to hire him to kill Santa.  Like in Hogfather, the assassin has actually been toying with this idea and is willing to take a crack at it for real.  In this case he drives to Alaska to track down the old fat man--Mel Gibson--who to stay afloat has leased his elves to the government to make parts for a fictitious jet fighter. (In today's world, making drones would probably be more appropriate.)  And so then there's a showdown and all that.  It was amusing even if Pratchett's version is better. (3/5)

I'll Be Home for Christmas:  After inexplicably becoming a teen heartthrob on Home Improvement in the 90s, this Disney movie is Jonathan Taylor Thomas attempting to pivot to a slightly more mature role.  He's a cut-rate Ferris Bueller at a California college whose father bribes him to come home to New York by offering his vintage Porsche as a prize if he shows up for XMas Eve dinner.  But then some unsatisfied customers of a scam to cheat on a test knock him out and leave him in the desert in a Santa costume.  So he has to make his way home with no money or other resources.  The real problem is unlike Trains, Planes, & Automobiles or even John Hughes's other holiday road trip movie Dutch, JTT doesn't have a wingman to serve as a comic foil.  That's what makes movies like this work, so really this never reaches its full potential.  It probably would have worked better to have his dad (Gary Cole) show up in California and the two of them travel together, bonding along the way.  But it's not completely terrible.  And his girlfriend is a young Jessica Biel--though being a Disney movie of course she's not getting naked. (2/5)

Copper Mountain:  I don't usually bother putting Rifftrax movies in these because I know y'all will never watch them, but this one was pretty special.  It's a 1983 "movie" that stars a young Jim Carrey and pre-Growing Pains Alan Thicke as two guys who go to the eponymous Club Med ski resort for...reasons.  The story is paper thin and padded with concert numbers by some 70s adult contemporary and country singers.  Carrey does some really lame impressions of Sammy Davis Jr, Steve Martin, and Charles Bronson while Thicke is a dick who goes on and on about how fat this bartender who's not really fat is when they're supposed to race for a spot in a skiing pro am.  As the Riffers wonder, who the hell was this made for?  Was Club Med planning to use this to advertise their resort somehow?    Anyway, it was pretty terrible but you might want to check it out for the secret origin of Jim Carrey; you'll immediately wonder how fifteen years later that guy could be the highest paid actor in Hollywood. (Fun Fact:  For Rifftrax fans, the movie was "written" and directed by the same people who seven years later would write and direct the Jesse "The Body" Ventura vehicle Abraxas Guardian of the Universe.)

Revivals (aka old stuff I watched again):

Hocus Pocus:  they're making a sequel after 30 years and it's become a cult favorite of people like my sister and one of her friends, so I watched it on Disney+ for the first time pretty much since it came out on VHS in the 90s.  And...meh.  It's the kind of thing without nostalgia to prop it up, there's just not much there.  Three dimwitted witches get brought back to life by a teenage boy (because he's a virgin) and mild mayhem and hilarity ensues.  At the time Bette Midler was really the only one with name recognition, but when you watch it in 2021 you see that her sisters were played by Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City) and Kathy Najimy (King of the Hill) and the teenage boy's sister was played by Thora Birch, the hot girl in American Beauty and the zombie guy is played by Doug Jones (Shape of Water, Star Trek Discovery) so there's so much talent to make a movie that's just OK. (2.5/5)

Mr. Boogedy:  This was one of those TV movies when Disney used to do that on ABC in the 80s.  The story is that familiar Poltergeist-type thing where a family moves into a house that's haunted.  In this case by a gross-faced Puritan guy called "Mr. Boogedy."  Obviously there's not a lot of real scares or terror to be had.  It's kind of amusing, in part when you realize two of the kids are Bud Bundy and the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (2.5/5)

Bride of Boogedy:  People liked the first movie so of course they rushed to throw together a sequel--and it shows.  The plot is slow and lame.  The "bride" doesn't show up until almost the end and then it's just a possessed version of the mom in the family of main characters.  And as often happens in sequels, Kelly Swanson was replaced by a brunette girl, because I guess it was really hard to find a blonde in Hollywood. [eye roll] But Bud Bundy was still there! And Eugene Levy as a jerk who owns a rival shop--despite that in the first movie they said there were no joke shops in town.  So that's something.  (1/5)

(I really wish they'd add the sci-fi miniseries Earthstar Voyager that like the Boogedy movies was made by Disney to show on ABC in the 80s.)

It's A Wonderful Life:  To be honest, I've never really liked this movie.  I've said before that for me it's kind of reverse-catharsis because it makes me feel worse about myself.  I did buy the special Rifftrax version because at least it would have funny commentary.  The problem, as I noted on Facebook, is to avoid royalties they had to cut out the best part, ie the entire alternate universe sequence.  WTF?!  Without that it highlights just how boring and tedious this movie is.  That Dr. Rick guy on those Progressive commercials would be appalled because the entire movie is about Jimmy Stewart turning into his father and ending up being rewarded for it.  Without the alternate universe part the movie is still an hour 40 minutes, mostly giving us Jimmy Stewart's whole life story that frankly isn't that interesting or special.  He grows up, takes over his dad's bank, keeps it afloat through the Depression and WWII, and meets a girl, marries her, and has kids.  Big whoop.  Merry freaking Christmas.  (1/5)

Jingle All the Way:  Thanks to the Fox merger with Disney some Fox movies are free on Disney+.  Unfortunately this was one of them.  A lot of lame, unfunny gags and you have to wonder what about this made George Lucas think Jake Lloyd should be the young Darth Vader.  Ironically there is a lot of Marvel product placement. (1/5)

Deck the Halls:  I guess this was too peppery for Disney+ so they put it on Hulu.  Maybe it's the gratuitous hot twin girls giving Matthew Broderick's 10-year-old son his first dirty thoughts?  Anyway, like Jingle All the Way it's a lot of lame, unfunny gags as Danny DeVito tries to get his house bright enough to see from space.  But I did like the Brendan Shanahan Red Wings jersey he wears for the ice skating race. (1/5)

The Santa Clause 2:  It takes a while to get the story going so that the love affair seems a bit rushed.  Then there's the contrasting cheesiness of the evil Santa. But I did pilfer this for the core concept of Transformed for Christmas 4:  The Missus Clause.  (2/5) (Fun Fact:  As I noted on Facebook, Lucy, the daughter of Judge Reinhold and Tim Allen's ex-wife is played by Twilight Zone and Babylon 5 alum Bill Mumy's daughter Liliana.)

The Santa Clause 3:  The idea of using sort of a It's A Wonderful Life device was interesting but done really, really poorly.  It takes forever to get going and then it's so weak that it's lame.  And a Disney movie complaining about a theme park commercializing Christmas?  Hey, pot, meet the kettle. (1/5) (Fun Fact:  As I noted on Facebook, Curtis the elf is played by Abigail Breslin's brother and she appears in this one during the framing device scenes.  Alan Arkin is also in this and he and Abigail Breslin were also in Little Miss Sunshine that year--a much, much better movie.)

Merry Freaking Christmas:  This was on Amazon Prime and is a decent little movie about a dad (Joel McHale) who goes on a late night road trip from rural Wisconsin to Chicago to get his son's gift.  His grumpy, formerly alcoholic father is played by Robin Williams in one of his last roles.  It's fun without being stupid and there are valuable lessons learned by everyone.  At 84 minutes it really could have been longer. (3.5/5)

All is Bright:  This is another indie-type movie on Amazon Prime.  Paul Giamatti is an ex-con who comes home to a small town in Quebec to find his ex is going to marry Paul Rudd (huge upgrade).  He convinces Rudd to let him come to New York City to sell Christmas trees.  There he meets a Russian housesitter played by The Shape of Water's Sally Hawkins.  For a holiday movie it's kind of depressing but in the end Giamatti manages to steal a piano for his daughter, though it's probably too big to fit in their house. (2.5/5)

Surviving Christmas:  This movie was released in October of 2004 or so and didn't even make it to the Christmas season that year.  But I don't think it's really that bad.  There are some lame gags but mostly it's a fun story and I empathized with Ben Affleck's single guy desperately trying to capture Christmas nostalgia.  Besides Affleck there's a great cast including James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara (the mom in the Home Alone movies and Schitt's Creek), and Christina Applegate who in her hatred of Affleck's character got to reheat some of her Married With Children zingers.  I think mostly the problem was it came out when Affleck backlash (version 1.0) was still in full swing. Give it a chance sometime. (2.5/5)

Reindeer Games:  The first Affleck Christmas movie!  This late 90s movie was shot in Canada but is supposed to take place in Upper Michigan as Affleck is mistaken for his cellmate and is forced to help a group of truckers rob a casino.  Besides Charlize Theron (who doesn't really have any great nudity) Gary Sinise, Danny Trejo, and Dennis Farina make up a decent cast for an OK action movie/heist.  Give it a chance! (2.5/5)

The Long Kiss Goodnight:  Like I've said on Facebook, if you consider Die Hard a Christmas movie then you have to consider this a Christmas movie too.  The core concept is sort of like The Bourne Identity as it's about a secret agent type (Geena Davis) who loses her memory.  Only in this case she buys into a cover story of being a normal woman in a small town who becomes a teacher and raises her daughter with some dude.  Samuel L Jackson is a cut-rate PI who stumbles across some old stuff of hers and when they go to check it out they wind up becoming the target of government assassins.  It's not exactly "cinema"--there are a couple of plot contrivances for instance--but a capable action movie that's fun to watch.  (3/5) (Fun Fact:  Brian Cox plays Geena Davis's former handler and 5 years later he would star in the first two Bourne movies.)

Trapped in Paradise:  This 1994 movie stars Nic Cage and SNL alums Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz as three brothers from New York who rob a small-town bank in Pennsylvania but get stuck in town by the weather and like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day start to love the town and have a change of heart.  It's not a great movie but it's not terrible.  There are a few funny bits and some lamer gags, but it's pretty fun. I found it free on Tubi last year.  (2.5/5)

The Ice Harvest:  This has a similar plot to Trapped in Paradise though it came out about 10 years later.  John Cusack is a Wichita Falls mob lawyer who steals $2 million from his boss with the help of pornographer Billy Bob Thornton.  They're planning to leave town early on Christmas morning, but the weather and some complications make it increasingly difficult.  Unlike Trapped in Paradise this is more of a neo-noir with some black comedy.  It's not the greatest movie but it's a nice change of pace from schmaltzy movies or even Die Hard. (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  The movie was written by Pulitzer-winning author Richard Russo and Robert Benton, who directed the excellent adaptation of Russo's Nobody's Fool about 10 years earlier.)

Scrooged:  An 80s twist on A Christmas Carol starring Bill Murray.  I guess since only 4 years earlier he had starred in Ghostbusters, who better than to be visited by ghosts on Christmas Eve?  It's kind of the prototype for Groundhog Day with Murray being a jerk until he learns a lesson and gets the girl.  Like the previous two it's not my favorite but it has some fun bits. (3/5)

Miracle on 34th Street (1994):  Like A Christmas Carol, people will swear by one version or another of this.  Most would pick the original 1947 version just because it's traditional.  I like the John Hughes 1994 version.  Not only is it in actual color (not colorized later, which always looks weird) but I think the way the lawyer gets Kris Kringle off is a lot better.  It is still pretty corny and it seems like most everyone still dresses like it's the 40s even when it's the 90s.  And take it from me, creating goodwill by telling people where to find something for cheap (or free) will not make people shop at your store; it will just make them want more cheap or free shit.  I'm just saying. (3/5)

All I Want for Christmas (1990ish):  A sentimental favorite.  This is basically a Christmas version of The Parent Trap as two kids (Ethan Randall who starred in Dutch and Thora Birch who starred in Hocus Pocus, see above entries) concoct a scheme to get their divorced parents back together on Christmas Eve.  There are some gags and shit that like Home Alone would either get someone killed or someone put in juvenile hall, but it's a fun movie.  And like I said a sentimental favorite. (3/5)

That's basically it for now.  Huzzah!

Friday, January 7, 2022

What Do Batgirl and The Scarlet Knight Have in Common?

 Not quite 4 years ago, I scribbled out an idea for a Batgirl movie.  Of course now they're going to do one not based on my idea.  Which means it'll probably suck.

Any excuse to use this photo

I was thinking that I could repurpose part of that idea into a Scarlet Knight story.  Instead of a sequel or a prequel, it'd probably be a midquel.  There are plenty of places between books where I could fit it in:  between 1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 4-5, or 6-7 would be best as at the end of 5 Emma is pregnant and there's really no gap between 7 & 8.  Between 1-2, 2-3 or 4-5 would probably be the best because between 3-4 Emma is struggling to find a job and between 6-7 she starts getting more brutal and crazy after her baby "dies."

So anyway, the Batgirl story was about Barbara starting a new life after learning to walk again but then she's stalked by someone who turns out to be her crazy brother James Jr.  I wouldn't really need all the stuff about her rebuilding her life (though I could use it in the gap between 4-5 where Emma is starting a new teaching job and moving in with Becky) but the rest of it would work.

I never go too much into Emma's parents before they had her.  So maybe one of her parents had an illegitimate kid.  A kid who's a bad seed and starts stalking Emma.  And maybe finds out she's the Scarlet Knight.  And then she has to stop him without killing him because he's her brother.  It could also be her Aunt Gladys's kid, which might fit into the 2-3 gap just after Aunt Gladys dies and Emma briefly got her parents back in an alternate timeline.  There would probably need to be another villain to provide the action; I don't really know who or what that would be.

I probably won't ever get around to it; it's just one of those thoughts I had one day.

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