Actually Excited About ‘The Last Ship’

Mild spoilers…

With the wave of new shows coming out for the summer, in general I’m somewhat “blah” about the new prospects.  It takes a lot to get my anticipation of a new or returning show up these days.  It has to be on the order of The Walking Dead.  In fact, it pretty much has to be The Walking Dead.  Television just isn’t doing it for me as much anymore. Even if the show concepts are good, the execution usually stumbles.  Defiance came back for season two.  It’s on my DVR.  It was just in the OK category. A new show from Syfy Dominion premiered last week.  Don’t expect a review of it from me.  I’m not a skilled enough writer to fill an entire review with all of the adjectives to describe how stinko that show is.  OK there’s one…stinko.

Falling Skies, Under the Dome… I’ll watch them but I don’t think they’ll get me excited to watch television.  With no Walking Dead and no Game of Thrones on, TV is only just TV.

Or is it?

TNT’s The Last Ship debuted last Sunday night, and sitting down to watch it, I expected just another OK show, but this was more than OK.  This was great!  So great that on the commercial breaks I turned to my wife and said, “This is great!”  My wife, who mainly tuned in for Adam Baldwin, who plays the ship’s executive officer, agreed, “Yes, Adam Baldwin is great.”

The gist of the show is a guided missile destroyer, the USS Nathan James, is sent incommunicado to the Arctic on the twin missions of some Top Secret weapons testing and to ferry along two scientists to study birds.  Now, when you put it like that, it sounds ridiculous.  I can see either having a Top Secret weapons test or having scientists study birds, but not on the same mission. You might think that the Captain should have at least raised that question, but it apparently raises no red flags.  But then, the Captain is there just to look good.  Played by Eric Dane, who formerly played…what, Dr. McCreamy or something?  In some Young-Doctors-In-Love show, he seems to see nothing unusual in combining bird watching and highly classified missile testing.

So after the completion of bird watching/missile testing, the crew is excited to return home and restore contact with the outside world, but a sudden attack by Russian choppers makes them aware of how out of contact they’ve been for the past few months.  The Captain, via teleconference with the President (a different President then when he left) learns that almost 80% of the world population is dead, and that most governments are no longer functioning, including the Russians, and that the two scientists had known the whole time, since they were not there studying birds, but looking for a primordial version of the same virus that was decimating the planet.  With the a ship that has the two scientists who may have the information to make a cure for the virus, the course of the show is set; if they can survive long enough.

So the pilot did a good job of setting up the premise, although I do have a quibble.  The ship comes across a dead in the water Italian cruise ship.  Hoping to loot it for food and fuel (diesel doesn’t grow on trees) they send a small boarding party; who has a member exposed to the virus.  Now I think this plot point could have been handled better.  It would have been a good opportunity to show what sort of skipper the Captain is by how he would handle the situation.  Should he abandon the crewman, kill him, set up quarantine on the ship and bring him back on board?  All of those are tough calls, but instead the crewman decides to shoot himself, sparing the Captain from making any hard decisions. That was a dramatic moment lost in my opinion.  And I would be surprised if that situation doesn’t arise again and again in the series.  Not everyone is going to decide to instantly kill themselves.  Then what do you do?

Anyway, I’m apparently not the only one who liked the show.  The premiere episode garnered 5.3 million viewers, which is big for cable.  Let’s hope the excitement can continue.

 

 

My Netfix Review: Season 2: Orange Is the New Black

Season 2 of OINB dropped into the Netflix queue on Friday, and apparently plenty of people had time to go through all 13 episodes.

Sheesh!

I’m not a binge watcher and I think it’s unfortunate that binge watching has become a thing for our time shifted TV watching.  Frankly, I just don’t see who has the time to actually sit down for that many hours on a weekend to watch an entire television season.  Are there that many people with that much free time?  Or are unemployed hipsters the new must reach TV demographic?

So I’ve only seen three episodes so far, but I think it’s enough to know that I’m going to enjoy the season.  When last we left Piper she was beating the crap out of Pennsatucky in the yard, a season long culmination of evolution from prissy upper class WASP to what she she’s been all season and just hasn’t acknowledged; just another inmate.  Piper, with no knowledge of Pennsatucky’s condition, is roused from solitary confinement and flown via con-air to Chicago, all the while with no idea why she’s been sent there or when if ever, she’s coming back to Litchfield.

Back at Litchfield, things proceed without Piper, with interesting flashbacks on Taystee and Crazy Eyes to see what began their journey that would end up in prison.  And Red confronts a new/old rival who intends to take control of the prison.

One of the things I like about the show is that none of the inmates are who we think they are, including Piper.  Our impressions undergo a convergence.  It’s not that Piper becomes like her fellow inmates, it’s that she already had a part of her that was like them, and it slowly becomes uncovered.  And the other inmates?  They were always more complicated then we gave them credit for.

Any time there is a show with a diverse cast there will be some sort of racial controversy, however  in general, the reviews are fairly positive in that regard too.  The Root has a second season review called, Today’s Best Black Show has a White Star.  NPR’s review is New Faces Keep ‘Orange is the New Black’ Humming in a New Season.  This review is written by Eric Deggans, a man whose racial sensitivity meter is always turned up to 11, also gives a positive review of the show.  In a previous incarnation as writer TV & Media critic for the Tampa Bay Times, Deggans managed to almost single handedly get a syndicated radio show kicked out of the Tampa radio market because it crossed his racial line. So are we supposed to think there is a racial agreement on the merits of the show?

Not quite.

There is the show, and then there’s the image of the show.  One of the many blogs I frequent had, not a review of the show, but a review of billboard advertising of the show.  Particularly Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Aduba).

The gist being, based on the billboard advertising, Orange is the New Black is a minstrel show that debases and degrades the image of black women.  As Spike Lee might say, it’s “coonery and buffoonery.”  I waded into the discussion with the argument, based on watching the entire first season, that the idea that show degrades black women is a severe misreading of the show.  The intent of the show is exactly the opposite of that; however my knowledge of having watched the entire first season couldn’t counter impressions of the show made by a few images.  Normally I enjoy a good internet argument, but quickly saw that this one was already  doomed based on the way the commenter’s were taking this show personally, felt that feelings supersede actually viewing and knowledge of the show, and was told to stop by the blog owner.

That’s fine, and although I feel I’m correct that the show does the opposite of what those commenters said, the fact is it probably would not have occurred to me to view those images as offensive in any case.  I’m not even attuned to my image and representation being constantly shown in a degraded light by the media; just the opposite.  Of course I have many identities and some of them I am sensitive to their portrayal.  As a dad, I’m well aware that dads have been treated as clueless idiots in TV and movies since the early 1980’s.  It’s the rare TV dad that shows the common sense, wisdom, or maturity of Ward Cleaver or Mike Brady.

I’m also sensitive to the portrayal of military veterans; again because I am one.  Frequently they are shown as damaged goods, crazy, homeless, suicidal.  That’s not the typical story of military veterans in general, but it’s common enough on TV and movies.  Of course the argument could be made (and it has been) that the show really hates men.  All the good men are weak and useless; all of the strong ones are jerks. As a man however, I didn’t really care. I think those portrayals made sense in the context of the show.  Just because a show shows dumb dads, crazed vets, or evil men doesn’t mean I won’t watch the show.

And that’s the difference, I think.  Since my image isn’t generally attacked in media, I don’t view media impressions as a personal attack on me.  Clearly the image of white men in the media is positive.  For every Django Unchained or 12 Years a Slave, there are literally hundreds of other movies in which white guys are the heroes. Even if these white guys get arrested for a crime-they-didn’t-commit, they can be assured of facing a black female judge in court.

 

From Dusk till Dawn: The Series

“The film was the short story, the series is the novel.”     Robert Rodriquez

 

That quote from Robert Rodriquez is probably the best answer to the question, why make a TV show from the movie From Dusk till Dawn.  The movie, a combination gangster-vampire-martial arts film, had a great cast and as horror movies go, was pretty entertaining.  But I wouldn’t have thought it was ripe material for a TV series.  And I should say, although making TV from movies is a practice going back almost since the dawn of television, its unusual when the TV series takes the movie plot and stretches it out over 10 to 13 episodes.  It’s a much fuller retelling with more detail, more back story, more characters, in fact, more everything.

I was first clued in on this by a post on another blog promoting the show.  The show runs on the El Rey Network, which I confess I’d never heard of.  I did a little research and found out it was a new cable network started by Robert Rodriguez that intended to focus on the type of films that Robert Rodriquez liked:  Grind house, Kung Fu, and cult horror flicks.  I’m not sure if there is a market for Rodriquez’s personal preferences, but part of the uniqueness of the movie From Dusk till Dawn is that it combined all three, so who knows.

As for the From Dusk till Dawn TV show:

 

Having seen a couple of episodes already, I have to say the show is fulfilling its promises.  This is a high quality production with a great cast and I love the gradual movement from crooks on the run to the supernatural elements, with a much deeper look at the peculiarities of Mayan Vampires.

So if you actually have El Rey on your local cable provider, I would recommend giving this show a look.  They are having a back to back marathon of the show starting with the pilot on April 30th, so it’s not too late to catch up.  Set your DVR and enjoy a Vampire show that pretty much has it all.

 

 

Syfy Needs Show Ideas? I Got ‘em

English: Syfy Logo

English: Syfy Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Syfy Channel is undergoing a change of direction and is going to try a new angle.  Science Fiction TV.  Who would have thunk it?  As the Hollywood Reporter notes:

Almost five years after a rebrand that abandoned the Sci-Fi moniker and enraged fans,

NBC Universal brass is aware that its attempt to lure a broader audience might have lost it some clout in the increasingly lucrative genre that shares its former name. Now Syfy President Dave Howe is trying to rectify the perception problem with changes in the executive ranks that will translate to new programming more familiar to its core audience

“We want to be the best science-fiction channel that we possibly can, and in some respects, that means going back to the more traditional sci-fi/fantasy that fans often say they feel we’ve exited,” Howe tells THR. “We’re going to occupy that space in a way we haven’t for the past few years.”

It’s about time.  I was despairing of seeing much of real science fiction on this channel.  So to help them produce a show that does not include ghost hunting, reality, wrestling, or a ghost, a werewolf, and a vampire, here is an idea I would like to pitch to the network big wigs:

 

The Pitch:  Space Pirates!

My son and I came up with this idea while waiting for pizza, so it didn’t take a lot of time to bounce this around.  I mean, we weren’t writing a novel; this is for TV.

Basic Concept:  This takes place about 150 years in the future.  The asteroid belt is a vast source of wealth in minerals to send to Earth.  The belt is settled by a variety of miners, failed miners, nonconformists, and various religious, ideological, and ethnic groups that live in all sorts of habitats from O’Neil Space Colonies to hollowed out asteroids.  They support themselves by trading minerals for supplies that they need from Earth.  Although they think of themselves as independent, Earth doesn’t recognize them as such.

Pilot:  Earth’s main space elevator is destroyed in a terrorist attack and a previously unknown belt terrorist group takes credit.  The UN agency responsible for trading with the belt enlists a fleet of space warships from the various national space navies to get revenge on the belt and take over the mining operations for Earth.  Even though the belt has no military to speak of, they hastily form a committee to prepare for the military attack from Earth and enlist mining ships and crew as privateers, offering a bounty for each destroyed or captured earth vessel and their crews, who they hope they can ransom back to Earth.

The Characters:  A roguish belt captain who disdains everything of Earth and loves the freedom that his ship gives him.  Think a Malcolm Reynolds type.  His antagonist is a young, newly minted skipper an American warship assigned to the UN fleet.  He is an earnest, all American duty-honor-country type who believes in what he’s doing, which is stopping terrorism.  Think Captain America.  They spend the first season in a cat and mouse game of attack-counterattack.

Subplots:  Yes, the terrorist attack on the space elevator is what else?  A false flag attack by “corporate interests” that don’t want to pay for the minerals they are buying from the belt, and need a reason to wipe out the belt culture so they can grab them instead of paying.

Story Arc:  I prefer stand alone episodes.  That’s the problem with TV today is that you can’t just sit down and watch an episode of a drama cold and know what’s going on.  But I envision one story arc for the first season. The two space captains begin to find clues that the attack on the space elevator was an inside job.  Over the course of the season they discover the conspiracy and realize that they are really on the same side.

Gimmicks:  There should be at least one space battle per episode of the submarine vs destroyer type or the aircraft carriers sending their planes out to destroy each other type.  Not to mention some good old fashioned firing broadsides at each other’s ship.  This will provide variety but at the same time will be familiar enough to be understandable. Of course, the primary weapon should be linear accelerators firing… cannon balls!  I tried to explain this concept to a friend of mine who found nothing remarkable about linear accelerators firing globes of iron as a kinetic energy weapon.  But the point is…Space Pirates!  With Space Cannonballs!

When not using their main drives to move around, the ships unfurl solar sails that both collect electricity and of course provide cheap low speed propulsion from solar radiation.  Again, sailing ships, it’s all about the Space Pirates.

So there you go Syfy.  One series idea for you, and I ask very little in return, merely the enjoyment of watching an entertaining science fiction TV show.

Oh and producer’s credits and a percentage of the gross.

 

 

 

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Lilyhammer 2: This Time (Just like season 1) It’s Personal

With surprisingly little fanfare, Netflix dropped the new season of Lilyhammer into the my Netflix queue, giving me a difficult choice on how to prioritize my viewing considering the 190 plus other shows waiting for my attention.  I had reviewed the first season here and with season one I was left a bit unsure how I felt about the show. I ultimately decided to go ahead and power through it and if I hated it, just drop it out of season two.

Well I didn’t hate it.                 

In fact I loved it.  There was a major jump in quality, story, and comedy from season one to season two.  Part of that is that season one spent so much time putting all of the pieces in place that it distracted a bit from the story. Also, as an American viewer, I centered on the sole American character, Frank Tagliano, aka Giovanni “Johnny” Hendrickson, as played by Steven Van Zandt. But after a season, the Norwegian characters are coming into their own, particularly Torgier, Frank/Johnny’s business partner, second in command, and general idiot. Johnny and Torgier’s relationship evolves quite a bit from a simple business relationship to a fairly loyal friendship.  Torgier makes some huge errors along the way which jeopardize Johnny’s various businesses, but Johnny can’t seem get too angry with him.

As season two opens, Johnny’s capture of the Lillehammer criminal underworld (such as it is) is nearly complete.  He’s welded the tools of extortion and blackmail to such an effect that he’s got much of the town owing him a favor. Although his relationship with Sigrid is over, they have a cordial relationship and Johnny is stepping  up to do his part as dad to his infant twins, as long as it doesn’t interfere with time at the club and “business.”

I don’t want to really give anything away for season two, however it involves English hooligans, daycare, a Moose and a murder, a bank robbery by multiple Justin Beibers that put Johnny’s real identity at risk, a gay African cook from the refugee center, a Khat addiction, another murder, a cult, an engagement, reindeer games, and finally a fairly satisfying season finale that takes place back in New York, which pits Johnny’s new Norwegian mafia against the New York mob.  In terms of a season wrap up, that was probably one of the better season finale’s I’ve seen.  Too many times I’ve found myself disappointed with season finales.  This one hit all the major points I look for.

My only complaint is that the storyline with the new sheriff seems to be incomplete.  After blowing into town and taking the job of new sheriff, she unaccountably sleeps with Torgier; a man with at best average looks and no game.  She then introduces herself to Johnny by pulling him over and smashing out a taillight, in true southern sheriff fashion.  Although Johnny hands her a tin victory to try to get her off his back, it felt as if that storyline just stopped with no resolution.

Hopefully there will be some resolution in season 3.  Yes there will be one.  Netflix has a far better grasp on how many people are watching their shows than a regular Nielsen dependent network does, so there must be many more people who agree with me.

Walking Dead Mid Season Finale

I wasn’t planning on writing a review of this episode, the mid season finale (technically Season 4, Episode 8), so this comes a little later than the usual TV episode review, but I was inspired by another blog I read occasionally that absolutely trashed the episode!  Did we watch the same show?

Anyway, this blogger had issues with the following aspects of the episode (warning, all below is spoilerific so if you’ve not seen the episode yet, bail out now):

Is Rick’s prison the only safe place on Earth?       

And if so, why destroy it with an armored attack?

Can a corpse be bullet proof?

Rick’s babysitting arrangements

Everybody is both starving and chubby

Hershel

And of course; the car seat.

Is Rick’s prison the only safe place on Earth? 

I’m sure there are plenty of safe places.  Practically any place that is protected by either a wall or strong fence could be a safe place.  That could be anything from a National Guard Armory to warehouses.  But the Governor had unfinished business with Rick.  He needed a safe place for his new community, but he needed closure by getting rid of Rick’s group more.

And if so, why destroy it with an armored attack?

Although a compelling case could be made that the Governor was just crazy and didn’t see the contradiction of firing repeated 105mm shells at the place he hopes to call home, he may have reasoned that the prison was vast enough to sustain the damage and still leave plenty of undamaged living space for his little group.  One thing I’m sure of; the Governor would rather have destroyed the prison than leave it for Rick’s group.

Can a corpse be bullet proof?

As far as the bullet proof corpse goes, eh… it’s possible.  The M-16/M-4/AR-15 variants that the Governor’s group was armed with fires a 5.56mm round.  If my memory serves me from Basic Training, the round is supposed to hit the target and rotate, tearing up the human body along the way.  The purpose isn’t to penetrate and then exit the body.  So although I agree that a walker body might be a bit too squishy to provide the padding needed to protect someone hiding behind it, I could see that it might just be possible that bullets fired at it wouldn’t exit and hit Daryl, who was using it as a shield.  Since there was body armor at the prison, I think I might rather take my chances with that.

Rick’s babysitting arrangements

Agreed.  Rick is no father of the year.  I don’t recall a single scene this season where he has spent any one on one time with his daughter.  He’s basically farmed out the job of parent to Beth.  Maybe it’s because he suspects that Shane is Judith’s real father and he’s keeping emotional distance. The Governor’s sudden arrival prevented Rick from trying to keep tabs on Judith even if he wanted to and I suspect that he didn’t think of her once up until he saw the … but more on that later.

Everybody is both starving and chubby

One of this blogger’s oddest complaints is on how fat this starving group of survivors have gotten.  I admit, I didn’t even notice.  This may be strictly a woman thing where everyone’s weight is kept tabs on constantly.  But even if the group has put on some pounds, it’s perfectly reasonable.  They’ve been at the prison for months and that’s provided a safe location with plenty of room for food storage and ample kitchen facilities.  Rick’s vegetable garden, although healthy enough, probably provides only a supplement to the food consumed by the prison group.  The bulk of it would be stores of food that would still be good after almost two years.  That would be canned goods, and boxed goods like rice, and instant potatoes. Considering the haphazard lives they were living before the prison, it’s easy to see how they could put on a few pounds.

Hershel

When a cast member, particularly one as important as Hershel has been to the show, is killed off, you have to show the death.  All of it.  This blogger complained of the rather graphic nature of the beheading, and the clumsy nature of it requiring several tries.  Gruesome?  Yes, but also necessary I think.  What I didn’t like is that I knew Hershel was going to die, and I’d known it for over a month.  One of the annoying habits of the Walking Dead promotions is that a killed off character is sent to do promotion for the show, so when you see a cast member calling into radio shows, you know he or she is not long for this world.  So true to form Scott Wilson (Hershel Greene) called in to the Monsters In The Morning radio show last month, just to promote the show in general, I was sad since I knew we were losing him.  But that spoils the surprise.  Why couldn’t Carl have called in?

  And of course; the car seat

And of course, we get to the most disturbing part of the show, at least to parents.  First, I can understand this bloggers revulsion, and I shared it, but that only made the scene more powerful.  Towards the end of the firefight, during that transition between the human’s battle being decided one way or the other, and the true winners of any battle, the walkers, coming to take their gory prize, Rick and Carl, reunited, finally realize they don’t know where Rick’s daughter, Judith is.  Like I said; parent of the year.  So what Rick and Carl view is Judith’s care seat; her bloody car seat.  In that kind of world, Rick and Carl come to the obvious conclusion that the walkers have gotten Judith.

That was tough to watch.  But that’s why this is such a great show, they “went there.”  So the episode was an emotionally draining success.  The group went from relative comfort and security to being scattered out in a Walker filled world, suffering crushing losses.

I don’t know whether Judith is dead or not.  The ending was certainly open ended, but in the comics, Judith was killed.  Of course, this show has veered away from the comics time and time again so who knows.  But if Judith was killed, at least it was an off screen death.  People would lose their minds if the show actually showed a Walker chowing down on a baby.  The television audience, even a Walking Dead audience, isn’t ready for that.

Anyway, when the show returns in February, I’ll be there, and I hope this blogger has gotten over her disappointment and will ready to bear down on the show again like a Walker bearing down on a femur.

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What I Watched Last Summer

I didn’t spend the summer traveling around the world.  I neither toured the Grand Canyon, getting lost while chasing an Indian kid, nor did I go to Hawaii and find an old Tiki idol and get cursed.

But I did watch television.

Back in, what is euphemistically called,” the day,” there was one television season.  It started in the fall, and ended in the spring.  And as a kid, you were expected to go play outside all summer because what else were you going to do, watch reruns?  But now, the new shows never end.  There are at least three TV watching seasons now, the traditional fall season, the mid season replacement, beginning in January through February, and of course summer.  With cable, there is never a time when there isn’t a run of new shows.  So this summer, I gave two summer shows a try.

Siberia

Although this show has been described as a mocumentary; that’s not really accurate.  It would be fairer to say that this is a faux reality show that gradually turns into something like a thriller, and it could probably be said to go in other directions. The design, music, first person filming, and graphics are all that of a typical reality show.  Sitting down watching the first episode, if no one told you that this was anything other than the normal, run of the mill reality show, you would have no reason to think otherwise.

That fades quickly as the series move on.  From a survival contest in the Siberian wilderness, the show gradually comes more urgent as odd things happen and the contestants aren’t sure if they are being messed with by the producers or if there is something else going on.  Eventually the show’s production camp is discovered abandoned with all the signs of an attack.  The “button” that lets you quit the show and call for transportation out of the area?  Not only does it not work, it was never hooked up in the first place.

Curiouser and curiouser as they say.

It would be giving away to much to say much more, other than the show looks like it could go in several directions, a thriller, a science fiction tale, or something of the supernatural, however don’t expect all, or even most of the questions to be answered by the season one finale.  So whether this show is worth jumping on depends on whether the show is renewed.  Right now, that doesn’t look likely.  But stay tuned.  If the show does get renewed, it’s worth giving a look.

Under The Dome

I’ve not read Stephen King in ages, so I have not read the book this show was based on.  That was probably for the best given previous attempts to translate King’s works to both the big and small screen. Still this show was mildly entertaining, although too kid-heavy, as King’s works tend to be.  I doubt kids are drawn to shows that have kids in them unless the show is about kids, like the shows on the Nickelodeon or Disney.

The show has all the familiar King tropes; only the kids know what’s really going on, crooked ministers and a total misunderstanding of  actual human behavior. In one episode, the evil town councilman “Big” Jim Rennie (Dean Norris) manages to talk virtually the entire town to turn in their guns.  During a time when food, water, and medicine are in short supply, and the police are seriously undermanned, the last thing people would be willing to do is line up and meekly turn in their guns so the town councilman can store them at his house.  Not even people in Maine would do that.

The town councilman character is supposed to be based on Dick Cheney, but knowing that from the beginning of the show, I didn’t see any comparisons between Dick Cheney and Rennie.  I don’t know what they are supposed to be other than Rennie is evil, and I’m sure per King’s thinking Cheney is evil… a thin reed to base a character on.  Frankly, if I was in a town trapped under a Dome, I wouldn’t mind a Dick Cheney there.  At least he wouldn’t try to take my guns.

King’s total ignorance and/or hatred of religion continues in this series in the same vein has many of his other works.  The minister is not only crazy, but he’s involved in some crazy drug manufacturing scheme with the town councilman.  Unlike Breaking Bad, which shows step by step how a good man can go bad, the minister starts off as both crazy and bad, and therefore just doesn’t seem realistic. As was pointed out on the Lion of the Blogosphere blog, the lack of religion on the show seems quite a contrast to an actual small town in the United States. A dome descends on a typical small town USA, and no one thinks there are any religious implications to that, nor do they even think about going to church or seeking some sort of spiritual guidance.  It takes almost the entire first season before that occurs to the townspeople. There may be an atheistic small town or two somewhere in America, but I doubt there common enough for the town’s strange behavior to seem normal to a regular viewing audience.

So there is much to critique on this show, but when it comes back next summer, I’ll probably watch it.

Hey, I want to see who made the dome!

Man of Steel Leaps to a Justice League Movie?

Although I was a fan of Superman comics since childhood, I had no great love for Richard Donner’s Superman movies.  It was not a fan boy disdain for a movie that wasn’t an exact copy of the comics, but that the 1978 Superman The Movie just didn’t live up to the hype.  Mario Puzo, writer of The Godfather, wrote the story for both Superman and Superman II, so for me, the expectations were pretty high.  Instead, I got a story in which at the end of the film, Superman goes back in time and fixes everything.  That’s functionally no different than the character waking up to discover it was all a dream.  To me, that has to be one of the worst endings for a major motion picture.  No matter  what they paid Mario Puzo for that, it was too much.

Title sequence from show opening; containing f...

Title sequence from show opening; containing from left to right, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, Flash and Hawkgirl. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I didn’t have exceptionally high expectations for Man of Steel. I suppose that’s the best way to go into a movie since I ended up enjoying it without bringing my Mario Puzo baggage into the theater.  It was Superman recast as more of a Science Fiction movie.  Superman who grew up not knowing his origins and who he was, and a Superman who (spoiler alert –bail now if you haven’t seen the movie) actually goes too far and kills his nemesis, General Zod.

Although Man of Steel was no Avengers or Star Trek, it was on a tier just below that; a good retelling of the origin and a good possible springboard for future movies involving superheroes from the DC Universe including a Justice League movie.  Warner would love to capture the magic that The Avengers has brought.  I just don’t think it’s possible to replicate that with the DC Universe.  There are too many differences that would prevent that.

For one thing, the known characters are lame.  With the exception of Batman, most of the DC characters that Warner has to pull from their grab bag just would not be interesting on film.  Wonder Woman is a character that has been attempted for movie and film for years, including a series developed for this fall, and one planned for last fall and they just couldn’t make it work.  It’s hard to take a character inspired from Greek mythology and fit it into the same Science Fiction Universe that Man of Steel has created.  The Martian Manhunter is so powerful as to be almost god-like, and would look ridiculous outside of an animated treatment.  Green Lantern, although it didn’t exactly bomb, failed to generate any excitement and it would be hard to argue that character deserved another shot (although The Hulk got exactly that kind of makeover for Avengers).  It’s possible though.  There are multiple Green Lanterns to choose from.  If Hal Jordan doesn’t work, there is also John Stewart, Guy Gardiner, and Kyle Rayner.   One of them is bound to work.

And then there is Aquaman.  Less said about him the better.

Although it’s just in the rumor stage, it’s possible that Warner may try to pull a reverse Avengers and do a Justice League movie first then spin out stand alone movies from there.  That would be an exceedingly bad idea in my opinion.  None of the Marvel characters used in the Avengers were really that well known (with the exception of the Hulk).  They had name recognition, but no knowledge of the characters and no reason for the movie going public to have an interest in them until that interest was created by the stand alone movies.  Those stand alone movies made the appearance of characters like Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man appearing in a single movie an event.

Marvel walked before it ran, and that’s what DC needs to do.

How, you may ask?  If it were up to me, I would make the Man of Steel sequel a Superman/Batman movie.  Since Batman has to be recreated and reimagined anyway, why not make the next movie one in which the Batman character is introduced as living in the same movie Universe as Superman?  Given the popularity of Batman, if you can’t draw fantastic box office numbers with a movie that has both Superman and Batman, there is no point doing a Justice League movie.

Creatively I think it would make for a great movie.  In the comics, Batman was often able to get the upper hand on his super powered buddies by thinking several steps ahead. Superman plays checkers, Batman plays chess.  Naturally enough, a super powered being would tend to rely on those same super powers as a solution to any problem, but in a world of super powered people, how does a normal human compete?

With his mind of course.

Just an idea, and if it doesn’t work, Superman can always go back in time to fix everything.

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Star Trek Wrath of Darkness

I went to see this movie the first weekend it was out but I held off on posting this to avoid violating any sort of unwritten rule on spoilers, but at this point, enough time has passed  that knowing that the character Benedict Cumberbatch plays is Khan is either already well known, or totally irrelevant.  If you’re not familiar with the Star Trek Universe and are just interested in an action movie in space, whether the villain is named Khan or John Harrison is hardly a spoiler to anything important to the movie.  If you are a long time Trek fan, the fact that the villain is named Khan is… frankly it’s not a spoiler either way.  Unlike Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the villain’s real identity isn’t really important to the plot of this movie, and he could really just been named John Harrison without really adding or subtracting from the story.  Khan’s identity is more of an Easter egg than a spoiler for this movie.

But that’s fine if JJ Abrams secrecy on this point seems a little overdone.  That is part of how Abrams markets his movies.  I liked the Easter eggs in this movie and makes me feel as though the people who made the movie really care about the source material, and they are winking, just to me, that “Hey, we really get Star Trek!”  Even though Abrams probably didn’t know the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars before he took over the project.

As movies go, it was a thoroughly entertaining film, and it both answered some old questions and raised some new ones in the new Star Trek universe.

One of the things that had bugged me from Abrams first Star Trek film was how quickly Kirk went from cadet in trouble to Captain of a starship.  Really?  Even if you save the world, I’m thinking that Starfleet still doesn’t want to give a relative newbie the command of one of its top of the line starships.  How do you skip all of those ranks anyway?  Surely there are some Starfleet regulations having to do with time in service.  In this movie, that’s rectified by how quickly Kirk loses his rank and position when he’s caught violating the Prime Directive.  Kirk, busted down to First Officer, held the rank of Commander.  So just extrapolating here, but that leads me to believe that Captain was only a brevet rank, meaning he was assigned to the rank of Captain based solely on his position as skipper of the Enterprise, not as a rank he had actually earned and been promoted into.  So Commander was probably Kirk’s permanent rank.  Still, that’s not bad for someone who skipped most of the junior officer rank structure.

The other thing that I had an issue with was what was up with the white Khan?  Don’t get me wrong, I think Benedict Cumberbatch did a fantastic job playing the villain and really upped the ante on the level of acting in this movie, but he’s a man without a trace of melanin in his system, and he was cast to play Khan Noonien Singh, an Indian character.  I understand that in 1960’s Hollywood, you probably wouldn’t even think of casting an actual Indian to play an Indian.  They went with a Latin actor, Ricardo Montalbán instead.  Montalbán turned out to be an inspired choice.  He had not only the acting chops, but the sort of command presence that’s required to successfully play someone who was a deposed leader.  And boy, did the ladies love him!  Check out this clip from the original series Star Trek when he turns on the Alpha game on one of Kirk’s crewbabes.

That’s total Alpha Game, but fair warning; don’t try this at home kids.

It goes without saying that Montalbán steals every scene in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

When JJ Abrams was looking to cast his new Khan, once again he was looking at Latin actors.  Casting a Latin to play Indian in 1967 may have made perfect sense, but why would you do that in the 21st Century?  There are plenty of actual Indian actors who could have played that role.  But instead, the actor who wins the role is the whitest person from an island whose populace is already known for being pasty faced.  I’m not the only one who noticed this, the folks at Racebending.com made a big deal about it as well.

So how does this fit into the overall Star Trek alternate timeline?  Based on 2009’s Star Trek, JJ Abrams made his divergent timeline from Kirk’s birth, so every event from that point on was up to be changed or altered.  But Khan was from the 20th Century.  He preceded the divergent timeline and should have still been an Indian actor with a Mexican accent, rather than an Indian character with a British accent (I know, an Indian character with a British accent makes more sense).  If you allow me to geek out a bit, a couple of possibilities present themselves.

It’s possible that the Original Series Kirk altered the timeline.  The episode Space Seed, established the character Khan, his origins as a genetically engineered superman, and his role in the Eugenics Wars, which took place from 1992 to 1996.  Remember the war years?  Good times…  Within the three seasons that comprise the Original Series, the crew of the Enterprise was involved in time travel incidents that could have altered Earth history on at least three occasions:  Assignment Earth, taking place in 1968, The City on the Edge of Forever, which has Dr McCoy drastically altering events in depression era San Francisco, and Tomorrow is Yesterday, taking place in 1969.  Although all of these incursions were “fixed,” they were fixed via the band-aid approach.  Except in the episode Tomorrow is Yesterday, they didn’t undo the original timeline alteration; they merely made other changes to repair the original changes.  With that method, who knows what differences in the time line seeped through that were not obvious initially?

It’s also possible that the Temporal Cold War, from the Enterprise TV series could have altered 20th Century events.  In the two part Enterprise episode Storm Front, aliens from the future drastically alter the 20th Century by providing assistance to the Nazi’s so that they win World War II.  By the end of the episode, the timeline has been “reset” and things are back to where they are supposed to be, although what exactly that is seems unclear.  The Eugenics Wars and Khan could have all been reset as well.

Just so I’m clear, one of the changes that I’m discussing is whatever DNA that was used to create Khan in the first place may have been altered.  Khan was genetically engineered after all, so different timelines could mean different strands of DNA could have been selected to create Khan.

In other words, the genetic material could have come from a different Cumber-batch of DNA.

Get it?

How about, a whiter shade of Khan?

No?

Anyway… by the time the crew of the Voyager get their opportunity to mess with 20th Century Earth, in the episode Future’s End, the Voyager crew wind up in 1996, supposedly the last year of the Eugenics Wars.  However everything seemed… much like our 1996.  No major world wars featuring genetically engineered supermen.  Nor did the Voyager crew seemed to be expecting a Eugenics War.  Maybe it had been shifted or eliminated from the timeline?

My guess (and really, this is all nothing but guesses) is that the Eugenics Wars did happen, only not in the 1990’s as they did from Khan’s original timeline.  They probably happened some decades later, but they still happened, since the Eugenics Wars were still an issue during the time period of the Enterprise TV show.

This is the type of trivia that only a nerd could love, but it’s important.  That’s why JJ Abrams pulled the alternate timeline trick rather than just do a re-imagining of the series like was done with Battlestar Galactica.  Doing a hard reboot of the series and ignoring what came before would have been the easiest path, but it would drive Trekkers crazy.  Who needs that?

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Elementary Is Holmes

When I reviewed BBC’s Sherlock last year, I noted that CBS was planning its own rip-off version of the Sherlock Holmes character, seemingly to ride on the success of the BBC version.  After watching the first season of Elementary, which concluded with a two hour season finale last week, I’m glad I waited to do a review of the show, since my conclusions now are vastly different from the ones that I would have drawn when the show was just a few episodes into its freshman season.

The set up of the show is that Sherlock Holmes lives in New York City (yes he’s still British), while recovering from a stint in rehab after crashing from a serious heroin addiction problem.  Dr Joan Watson is hired by Holmes’s off screen aloof and distant father to be his sober companion, to assist in Holmes’s recovery.  As part of her job she moves in with Holmes and follows him around to make sure he doesn’t relapse.  From that starting point, Holmes resumes his relationship with the NYPD as “consulting detective;” similar to the position he held in London with Scotland Yard.

After watching the first couple of episodes, my feelings toward the show was that it was a well crafted TV show, well done in the sense that CBS has long experience with putting together solid television programming, with solid leads in the roles, but that it wasn’t Sherlock Holmes.  Although the Holmes stories are the template of the eccentric detective and side kick, which have proliferated on television since the beginning of the TV era, those shows were not Sherlock Holmes stories.  Psych is a good solid show with witty wordplay and a humorous bent about an eccentric genius detective and his down to earth side kick that helps keep him grounded.  Monk was a good solid show with light fun stories about an eccentric detective and a down to earth side kick… well, you get the idea.  It’s a common TV template that’s been replicated over and over for years; with various degrees of success.

That was my initial conclusion.  Elementary was a good solid show, but there was no need for the characters to be named Holmes and Watson.  They could have any names and it wouldn’t have mattered to the show.

Until it mattered.

The last half of the season very slowly began to explore the reasons for Holmes’s spiraling drug abuse, the murder of his one true love, Irene Adler, and Holmes inability to solve her murder.  In the episode, “M” Holmes confronts murders done in almost identical matter to the one that killed Irene Adler and revealing whom may be ultimately responsible, Moriarty.  From this point, the shows seem a bit less stand alone adventures and more interlinked stories that eventually form a story arc leading to a fantastic and fulfilling season finale.  All of the pieces finally fit.

So that’s why I’m glad I waited to review the show.  It turned out to be much more than I initially thought, and even if CBS is trying to ride the coattails of Sherlock, since it leads to a quality show that deserves to be Holmes in its own right, who cares?

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