My Netflix Reviews: Time Travel Edition

As a long time science fiction fan, I can tell you that traditionally, much of what passes for science fiction in movies and TV is crap.  Some of it campy crap, which can still be fun (like Sharknado) but most of it is just crap-crap; earnest low budget attempts that are just not well thought out and terrible.  However I’ve has a bit of good luck recently on Netflix with a couple of recent time travel related movies.  These are two I would actually recommend without embarrassment.

First up, In the Shadow of the Moon, begins in 1988 when a young Philadelphia cop, Thomas Lockhart, with a pregnant wife is on the trail of a seeming female serial killer who he corners in a subway station where she begins mentioning detailed information about his life, before being hit by a train and killed.  The police close the case and that’s that until 9 years later when the exact same type of murders occur, with an identical suspect.  Since I’ve already said this was a time travel movie, you can put two and two together and guess there is a connection.  However how the connection reveals itself gives us a moody drama as Lockhart’s life implodes as he becomes more and more obsessed with tracking down the serial killer and discovering the why of these victims.

There are plenty of SJW points to be accumulated here as a white supremacy group plays a role.  This is the Trump era after all! However, the clever conclusion of the film more than makes up for whatever social justice points the writers are trying to score.  It’s still a well done story.

Time Trap was originally a video-on-demand film before Netflix obtained it.  An archeology professor who has spent years trying to find his hippie parents who vanished in the 1970’s discovers their old van, apparently untouched after all these years, outside a hidden cave system.  He goes into the cave exploring and…

…some of his students, trying to locate the missing professor, organize a little search party, find the van, the professor’s car and a cave system, go exploring and…

…and it’s a trap.  It’s no spoiler to say that time moves differently inside these caves.  That’s actually part of the movie description, but how that affects the characters, and how long it takes them to figure out what’s going on, is part of the fun.  They have either all the time in the world, or almost no time at all, to figure out the mystery.  That’s a matter of perspective.

Anyway both of these movies were surprisingly thought provoking and I give them two thumbs up.

 

When Hollywood Makes Conservative Movies

The other day a buddy messaged me a link to a Quillette article titled, The Conservative Manifesto Buried in ‘Avengers: Endgame,’ asking what my take was on the thesis. I didn’t even know he was reading Quillette.  Didn’t he know that’s part of the “Intellectual Dark Web” and therefore crime-think in polite society?  That this was a gateway drug to the Alt-Right?  The New York Times concern trolled the Intellectual Dark Web last year in its Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web.

Here are some things that you will hear when you sit down to dinner with the vanguard of the Intellectual Dark Web: There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. Free speech is under siege. Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart. And we’re in a dangerous place if these ideas are considered “dark.”

Today, people like them who dare venture into this “There Be Dragons” territory on the intellectual map have met with outrage and derision — even, or perhaps especially, from people who pride themselves on openness.

In other words, today’s dangerous ““there Be Dragons” territory” was yesterday’s conventional wisdom.  Of course for that very reason, the IDW isn’t any sort of intellectual movement; it’s simply a catch-all term for public intellectuals who found themselves on the wrong end of the SJW guillotine simply by not changing their entire worldview every time there is a new outrage trending on Twitter.  The fact that they make such a tiny fraction of opinion makers is troubling though.  An honest intelligentsia would almost always find itself on the wrong end of Twitter madness.  I guess we don’t have one of those.

But on to Endgame and the answer to the question, is there a conservative manifesto buried in Avengers: Endgame?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Also No.  I loved Avengers: Endgame, as I wrote about here, but the author’s contention, that the MCU version of time travel is more conservative than what he calls the “standard model,” seems like nonsense. The standard model is that when you time travel, you are going back to your actual past and can influence things in your past to change your present.  This was amply demonstrated in Back to the Future among other films. Marty McFly’s changes in the past actually give him a better present.  In the MCU however, Dr. Banner/Hulk calls this nonsense.  You can’t change the past.  What’s done is done.  All you can do is go back and, by actually being in the past, create a new and distinct timeline, where your past changes will have no effect on your own past or history, only on the new timeline you’ve created.

As a theory of time travel, this actually makes more logical sense and is more up to date with Quantum Mechanics as nonscientists such as myself know it (to time travel, they go through the ‘Quantum Realm’) than the old version.  But there is nothing particularly political about it. The fact that you can’t change the past in the MCU time travel version doesn’t mean you are trapped by consequences, since in one sense, that sort of time travel frees you from consequence.  You can go back to the past, do anything you want, like kill your grandfather, and it won’t affect you, your history, or anything about your “present” since the consequences are borne by the alternate universe created by the time traveling.  As a consequence, Tony Stark gets a heart to heart talk with his father in 1970, Thor gets a heart to heart talk with his mother in pre-Ragnarok Asgard, and Captain America gets into a brawl with his own 2012 self.

So instead of conservative manifesto, I see clickbait.  You can do better Quillette.  However I do acknowledge that the villain Thanos is a Paul Ehrlich-like enviro-nut. Frankly, Endgame was such a dense movie that they barely could fit a single “you go gurrls” scene in the film.

That’s not to say that liberal Hollywood doesn’t make unintentionally conservative films.  They have to, because like it or not, they live in a world that mostly runs along conservative (small c) rules.  Juno of course is a great example.  Although screenwriter Diablo Cody seems horrified that the film as viewed seems to have a pro-life message, and has stated she regrets she wrote it in such a way, the truth is that’s what makes it a heartwarming film.  There is no version of that movie in which Juno decides to go to the clinic to get rid of a clump of cells and everyone shares the same heartwarming ending. The movie just would not have become the hit it did or even have gotten made.  If they could, Hollywood would make movies all day about women who exert their choice to abort their babies, but that doesn’t make a movie concept that sells.

During the 1970’s, when street crime was much more of a thing, and was a cause of real fear and anxiety among the general public, the Dirty Harry and Death Wish films were highly popular, because they represented a real fear of street crime among the public.  Hollywood was just as liberal then as now, but they recognized the money making appeal of the average guy getting revenge on criminals, or a cop bending the rules to provide street justice when it wasn’t available through the system.

Red Dawn was a rare exception to the rule that cold war fears were to be exploited solely by the left.  “Because…we live here” is probably the most right-wing thing said in American cinema.  Try using that as an argument for immigration restriction in your college Social Issues class and see where that gets you.

Hollywood will continue to make movies that are outwardly lefty and lose money, and movies that really do have a conservative bias (like The Dark Knight Rises) which totally slips by the Hollywood censors, but I don’t think Endgame falls in either category.  For that, you’ll have to wait for Marvel Studio’s Phase 5, The Intersectional Avengers.

 

Return to Krypton

So popular are super hero properties these days that they are actually making TV shows that don’t include any actual superheroes.  The long running Gotham concluded its series run this spring by finally showing Batman in its series finale, after 5 seasons.  Under development on the DC Universe streaming platform is Metropolis, a TV show set in Superman’s city without Superman.  And getting ready for its second season premiere, once again without any Superman, is Krypton.

But even among a group of odd takes on super hero locales sans actual super heroes, Krypton is different.  Taking place 200 years before the planet explodes the series revolves around the adventures of Superman’s grandfather, Seg-El. But rather than just being a Gotham-esque deep dive into DC history, the series has current Earth character Adam Strange (no relation to the Marvel sorcerer) somehow time traveling and space traveling to this pre-destruction era on Krypton.  Strange has a mission to save the timeline and Superman in the “present” by keeping the destruction of Krypton on course.

As a premise, this is messed up.  In the first season Strange and Seg-El team up, with Seg-El only half buying Strange’s story about being from another planet in the future, their team up is contingent on Seg-El not knowing that Strange is really rooting for Krypton’s destruction.  But then how would Seg-El ever find that out?  Enter General Zod (as in “kneel before…”- that guy), another time traveler, who most definitely wants to alter the planet’s fate.  If Superman is never born in the process; so much the better.

So putting yourself in the place of an average Kryptonian, or just a person in general, which is the more moral position? To allow or cause for an entire planet to blow up, killing billions, to make sure one man (Superman) is born or to prevent an entire planet from blowing up, saving billions, even at the cost of one man (Superman)?  The answer seems rather self-evident, placing the villain Zod as the guy with the moral high ground, while Earthman Adam, who just wants to save Superman, as someone trying to ensure genocide happens on schedule.

There are plenty of gaps in the basic premise big enough to drive the entire Fortress of Solitude through.

How did Adam, a scrappy kid from Detroit, get hooked up with the alien Sardath?  Why would Sardath pick Adam, of all people, to go back in time?  How did Sardath even know the timeline, and Superman, were in danger?  What exactly was the cause of that danger (never explained)?  Why did Adam assume that Kryptonians would care about Superman more than their own world’s destruction?  How did Zod end up going back in time and why?

And for season two, with the timeline changed, Krypton saved, no Superman, and Brainiac conquering Earth, why would any Kryptonian help Adam reset the timeline ( in other words, destroying Krypton)?  The entire series seems as if it went to production long before the basic premise was worked out with major gaps missing from the set up.  It’s a tribute to the production that I actually found the show very watchable in spite of the gaps in the premise.  Or, these guys are geniuses and all will be revealed, in a way that makes sense, over time.

Who knows?  But I’m interested enough to stick around for another season and find out.

 

Let’s Talk About Avengers: Endgame (with spoilers)

Hey just remember, I said SPOILERS right in the title!

You’ve been warned.

In the movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is probably one of the greatest film creations in movie history.  With 21 interlocking movies, each adding to a larger story that culminates in Avengers: Endgame, there has really been nothing like what Marvel Studios has accomplished, and it may be a feat never to be repeated. Certainly the rival DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has faltered and not even come close to competing with its Marvel rival.

In in that spirit, I feel (at least in this moment) that Avengers: Endgame is the greatest movie I’ve ever seen.  Not as a standalone movie by itself of course.  I imagine that if you were a casual movie goer, and had dropped in on Endgame without any familiarity with the previous MCU movies, it would be almost incomprehensible.  It’s a three hour densely packed film filled with various callbacks, easter eggs, and nods to previous films. It’s the sequel to the sequel to the sequel… Not to mention it’s the last chapter of a saga that began in 2008 with Iron Man.  Without having that background, the aforementioned casual movie goer would have walked out in disgust long before hitting the halfway mark of the three hour film.

And that’s the really amazing thing about it.  There have been plenty of movies with sequels and spin offs.  Some have been successful (think Terminator 2) and others have faltered (think Smokey and the Bandit 3), but they’re usually dependent on the viewer having seen the previous movie (or being fairly familiar with) to “get it.”  Endgame on the other hand, depends on the viewer probably having seen 15 or so of the previous 20 movies to appreciate the story arc.  That is an incredible ask of a movie goer, yet Avengers: Endgame did dare to ask and it paid off as one of the most successful films of all time.

I don’t see this particular feat being repeated in my lifetime, although I didn’t expect it the first time either, so whatever magic formula that Marvel Studios has bottled, keep it going.

The movie was jam packed, which probably explains why 3 hours didn’t seem like 3 hours, but it left so much left over to think about, that I’m still mulling some of the implications.

No redo for the “snap.”  There had been rumors for a year that Endgame would involve time travel of some sort, but I admit the actual way they used time travel took me surprise, with the consequences that they couldn’t go back in time and stop the decimation from actually happening.  It happened and couldn’t be changed.  That makes the MCU Earth radically different.  They dealt with half of Earth’s population vanishing in 2018 and returning in 2023.  That’s going to radically effect every single future MCU film since they will be living in a world where half the people in the world (and of course the universe) were, for all practical purposes, dead for 5 years, then suddenly came back.  It’s hard to quantify how that would change the world, and virtually all of the characters.  Not a single person would be unscathed by that.  Since the next MCU movie coming up is Spider-Man: Far from Home, that will be our first taste on how that’s handled.

Captain America’s Happy Ending.  The MCU time travel rules are that you can’t change the past, and going in time really means you are creating an alternate time line where anything goes, leaving your own “present” unchanged.  This really opens up a lot of fun opportunities because it’s time travel with no consequences, hence the fight between Captain America and the 2012 version of…Captain America. So at the end of the movie, when Cap goes back in time to return the infinity stones, he’s set to return 5 seconds later, however he doesn’t return.  Or rather he does, but as an old man sitting on a park bench.  Steve Rogers decided to get his happy ending by going back in time to the forties and marrying his best girl Peggy Carter.  But…we’ve had two seasons of Agent Carter, in which Rogers never returned so what happened?

The Russo Brothers, directors of the film, cleared that up in post movie premiere interviews.  Captain America didn’t change the timeline, he went back and created an alternate timeline in which he married Peggy Carter and…lived his life.  So there is a timeline where Captain America returned at the end of World War II, with all of the radical changes that would go along with that, but that didn’t change the MCU past.  In the MCU Prime Timeline, Carter married someone else, raised a family, and eventually died of old age. Left unexplained is how Steve Rogers got back to the main timeline to show up as an old man, but apparently there is an entire untold story as to how that happened.

A path to add X-Men & Mutants into the MCU.  With Disney’s purchase of Fox, all of the other Marvel characters can be brought under one roof, meaning characters such as the X-Men and the Fantastic Four can be brought into the MCU.  How can that be accomplished?  This is just an idea of mine, so I’ll toss it out there with no support at all, but Tony Stark, in designing his own Infinity Gauntlet into his Iron Man suit, must have given a little thought to what he might actually want to accomplish.  Some list of macro wishes might have been prepared ahead of time, such as that a tiny number of the people returned after the decimation might exhibit some powers…Mutant X-Men powers.  This isn’t the comic book version of the X-Men of course, but the MCU has been great at repurposing comic concepts and this would be version that would explain why we haven’t seen any mutants up to this point.

Tony Stark created them.

So my hat’s off to Marvel Studios for betting a lot of money on something that no movie studio had ever done before, and pulling it off.

Quick Movie Reviews: Comedy Dictator Edition

The Death of Stalin

I came across this little gem on Showtime.  If it ever hit the movie theaters, I don’t have a memory of it, however this film has a great cast with some…interesting casting choices (Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev?).   Wikipedia called this a “political satire black comedy,” which is one way to describe it.  I would have called it an absurdist comedy, but in any case, the movie takes a real historical event and makes it absurd.

In 1953, Josef Stalin abruptly dies, throwing his coterie of yes men and toadies into a frenzied panic.  After years of being kept in an almost continuous state of terror in which one wrong slip could land one in prison or worse by the mercurial Stalin, they suddenly find themselves in a continuous state of terror by each other, as they maneuver to preserve and extend their power and keep their heads.  It’s no spoiler to say that Khrushchev eventually wins the power struggle, but the constant scheming and casual betrayals makes for some high comedy.

Of note is that the character of Lavrentiy Beria, played by British Actor Simon Russel Beale, is probably one of the most evil men of the 20th Century (Beria, not Beale of course).  However in this telling, he comes across as the most sympathetic, as he moves to undo some of the damage he caused under Stalin. Naturally, no good deed goes unpunished, and no; that’s not a spoiler, its history.  Educate yourselves (as any college freshman is happy to tell anyone twice as old with twice the formal education).

This is 1984 if done as a comedy, and if you look at it just the right way, totalitarianism, and its oppressive orthodoxies, are comedic.  As Stalin’s inner circle changes their opinions to fit the current party line, we can laugh at such an absurd society, and carefully delete what we just wrote on twitter, since what was an ordinary comment yesterday becomes a thought crime today. The bobbing, weaving and careful choosing of words among Stalin’s men might be reminiscent of a modern college social science class, making this a movie that is relevant in the current year.

Plus, this movie is banned in Russia!

 

My Netflix Review: Look Who’s Back

Finally, here is the story of a politician who is literally Hitler.

In the same way that the buffet at the Golden Corral is larger than my stomach, my list in Netflix is much larger than my available time to view the cornucopia of shows. However prompted by a friend’s recommendation, I pulled this one out of my list and into the “watching now” category. Look Who’s Back is a German language film that I still thought Germany wasn’t ready for.  How to deal with Hitler has been an annoying hangnail of German discourse for over seventy years, and this movie is an interesting take on Germany’s “Hitler Question.”

Instead of pulling the trigger in his Berlin bunker, Hitler finds himself hurled forward in time to the far future year of 2014. Found by recently fired TV producer, Fabian Sawatzki, Fabian plots to return to TV by filming a documentary on the person he perceives as a Hitler performance artist. So Hitler and Fabian go on a road trip across modern Germany to film German’s reaction to “Hitler.”  Hitler of course, sees this as the groundwork to return to power, and much of the film is devoted to laughing locals asking Hitler questions and Hitler responding.  In one scene, while talking with a married couple, Hitler asks for their vote.  When they laughing decline to vote for him; Hitler asks for their address for the first round of mass arrests.  They laugh again because that’s the bit; no one takes him seriously, it’s all a joke; a gag for television.

For Hitler, it’s not a joke.  And eventually, even Fabian starts to get suspicions that this “performance artist” may be a bit darker than he thought.  But it’s still all fun and games until finally, someone really recognizes him for who he is.

As an American, I’m not a fan of foreign films that are filmed in funny talk, or as most people know it, a foreign language.  I’m also suspicious of foreign comedy films since comedy is a shifting target across cultures and languages.  However this was a comedy that was actually funny, even across cultures and language.  In fact, it provided a couple of laugh out loud moments, which is becoming rarer in so called “comedy” movies.

So my advice is to go see both of these films.  The Party commands it.

 

 

Super SJW Girl

After the wrapping up of the CW’s annual crossover, Elseworlds special among its CW DC “Arrowverse,” we’ve seen the last of new CW DC shows for the calendar year.  Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, and The Flash are taking a much needed Christmas break after saving the nature of reality. But Supergirl’s never ending battle against hate, fear, and Trumpery is just getting started.

Of all of the CW’s DC “Arrowverse” shows, Supergirl is the most woke super hero show currently on the air.  And when I say woke, I mean I honestly don’t think the writers understand how ridiculous they are.  Supergirl season four, for all of its Red Son like hints, spent the first few episodes focusing on the 2018 midterm elections.  Not directly of course, but in the never ending battle between good people against “hate.”

Apparently on Earth 38, the 2016 electoral battle between a woman breaking the glass ceiling and “that man” was decided in the woman’s favor.  I mean, this is science fiction after all. The previous season revealed that the President of the United States, Olivia Marsdin, was secretly an alien.  Living under a fake (yet apparently pretty convincing) identity, Marsdin ran for President, won, and spent her political capital to get the Alien Amnesty Act passed ( a bit self-serving don’t you think?).  So now alien refugees can come out of the shadows and have a legal path to citizenship.  The federal agency responsible for dealing with aliens, the DEO, Department of Extra-Normal Operations, was in on the secret.

So to review, when season 4 opens, a deep state federal agency has engaged in a conspiracy to cover up that the President of the United States is not who she says she is, but is an alien living under an assumed identity and fake birth certificate, in violation of the constitution (not a natural born citizen).  These are the “good guys.”

The season premiere had a “hate group” that successfully reveals to the public on live television that the President is an alien.  This of course creates a political and social crisis, which the President tries to diffuse by resigning. This gives the Supergirl writers a chance to pull out every trope in the book about hate and fear. If you have “fear” because the Presidency was occupied by a lying alien, you’re a bigot. And the group that revealed that the President was an alien?  These are the “bad guys.”

Episode 3 “Man of Steel” was a look back at the origin of the season’s big bad, Agent Liberty. The episode couldn’t have been more unintentionally hilarious if they had asked an NPR reporter to describe the life of a West Virginia coal miner.  Agent Liberty’s family owns a “steel factory,” and is put out of business by the competition both by the superior alien steel, but also by the superior alien workers.  Mere humans can’t compete.  Two previous alien attacks directly impact Agent Liberty’s family, and as he turns more radical, he loses his job at the University.

Quicker than you can grab a tiki torch Agent Liberty is a radicalized terrorist.  Meanwhile, what is the lesson that the Supergirl team draws from these malcontents who have issues with aliens colonizing their world?

They are simply afraid. It’s all about fear.

The comparison to what passes for political analysis at an MSNBC roundtable can’t be overstated. And I’ve no doubt the writers think they are oh so clever.

Luckily for Supergirl, she has the assistance of new character Nia Nal.  Played by actual transgender activist oops I mean actor Nicole Maines, the character is revealed to be not only trans, but also an alien.  Think about that; a trans-alien.  This opens up a whole new branch of intersectionality!

So when the show returns in January, how will Supergirl deal with these alt-human nationalists (or is it human supremacists?  I can never keep track…).  I’m unclear, but I’m pretty sure it ends with the show’s privileged white alien giving a speech on fear and ignorance.

 

Quick Takes on the New Fall 2018 TV Shows

Manifest

I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved in another Lost-like “mystery” show.  You know the type; the “mystery” is the central premise of the show and you hope that eventually the show will unravel the “mystery” with some satisfying and clever clues along the way. Certainly the reviews I read warned that this was exactly that type of show.  But…I decided to give it a try anyway and based on the first few episodes, it’s better than I thought.

The “mystery” is “…Montego Air Flight 828 landed safely after a turbulent but routine flight, the crew and passengers were relieved. Yet in the span of those few hours, the world had aged five years and their friends, families and colleagues, after mourning their loss, had given up hope and moved on. Now, faced with the impossible, they’re all given a second chance. But as their new realities become clear, a deeper mystery unfolds and some of the returned passengers soon realize they may be meant for something greater than…” blah blah blah.

Surprisingly, the show is interesting.  Besides the usual soap opera drama of people presumed dead for 5 years, they are hearing voices and are having psychic visions.  So…what’s up?  Assuming there is really a showrunner out there who actually knows what’s going on (instead of faking it week to week) then this could be a good show.  Just please don’t “Lost” me.  So thumbs up for now.

The Neighborhood

Cedric the Entertainer tries to pull a reverse Archie Bunker in this show about a Midwestern-nice white couple moving into a black neighborhood, disturbing the segregationist Zen of the main character. The over the top curmudgeon Calvin doesn’t really explain his over the top hatred of whites so it’s hard to take the character seriously.  He’s simply being played as mean guy who will learn some sort of lesson about togetherness each episode.  Meanwhile the white couple, the Johnsons, will learn supposedly some valuable lesson about black people, but are so clueless about…everything, that they first need to learn how to call a plumber when having plumbing problems.

In theory, I’m in favor of the reverse-Archie, and think TV needs more shows that can pull it off, like the late lamented The Carmichael Show, which really got the formula down pat.  However this show, with it’s ridiculous white family playing the role of clueless whiteys (like Tom Willis from The Jeffersons) gets a thumbs down.

Happy Together

Hands down, the dumbest new show of the season.  In fact, I tuned in because I couldn’t figure out what the show was about from the promos, and having seen the pilot episode, I get why; it’s too dumb to think they would actually produce a show like this. Damon Wayons, Jr and Amber Stevens West (who manages to bounce around from show to show and land on her feet) star as a couple who has an Australian pop singer move in with them so he can avoid the paparazzi.

That’s it.  Thumbs down.

The Cool Kids

This show is supposed to be The Golden Girls, only with dudes.  Since I never liked The Golden Girls, I’ve no idea if this show succeeds or not, I just know I found it boring.  That doesn’t mean the show isn’t going to be a success; after all, The Golden Girls was a massive success. But it does have Vicki Lawrence.  So that’s something.

Thumb drop.

I Feel Bad

Of the new sitcoms, this is one I had the most hope for, mainly because you can’t have enough bickering Indian parents on TV.  Sarayu Blue stars as a hurried mom who is “just figuring it out like the rest of us.”  In other words, this is a show by women, for women, about women doing it all in a man’s world…you get the drift.  Although I’ve bailed, this may have an appeal that I can’t see.  Let your own thumb decide.