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.

 

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.

 

Travelers on Netflix

Welcome to the 21st…       

When it comes to TV these days, there is just so much content! As it is, I can’t keep up with the shows on regular cable TV.  I’m at the point where I watch almost everything from the DVR and at best,  I’m about a week behind.  That of course doesn’t even count streaming shows, where I may be months behind on.  It’s hard to avoid spoilers for a show that’s dropped on Netflix 8 months ago.  I do my best…

However because there is so much content, some shows get little attention, unlike media hyped shows like Stranger Things, which had a ridiculous amount of promotion, Travelers has barely made a whisper.  In fact the only reason I even heard of the show was because some guy on the radio found it by accident and really got into it.  So on that recommendation, I gave it a try.

Wow, was a blown away!  And it’s not because the premise is particularly clever or ingenious.  In the future, humanity is hanging on by a thread with the Earth largely uninhabitable, so to save themselves, they go back in time to make corrections to history to prevent whatever future disasters have occurred. That idea has launched many science fiction books and stories over the years.  Their method of time travel is only slightly less unoriginal.  Apparently matter can’t travel through time, so they send human consciousness into the “present” to inhabit the bodies of people that history records will die.

The actual results of this may be what make this show uniquely entertaining.  They maintain the cover of the bodies of the people they inhabit.  FBI Special Agent Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormick) is inhabited by a Traveler who continues to pretend to be…Grant MacLaren.  Although he’s briefed on the subject’s life, he’s not really that person, so whether it’s dealing with personal friendships, his computer passwords at work, or his “wife,” he’s faking it until he makes it.  Other members of his team include an engineer who in the future, is the oldest man on Earth, but in the 21st Century, finds himself in the body of a high school jock and bully.  The team’s doctor Marcy finds herself in the body of a mentally disabled girl, immediately raising the suspicions of her social worker David. The teams soldier finds herself as a single mom with an abusive boyfriend (one who was, by history, destined to kill her), and the historian finds himself in the body of a heroin addict.

For most of the team dealing with their new lives, there isn’t the constant scrutiny and observation, but MacLaren is married, and his wife, although used to dealing with an FBI husband who can’t speak about his work, is suspicious of his abrupt change of diet and personality. Team doctor Marcy has social worker David Mailer constantly in her business and finds herself under even more scrutiny.  Of course, she wasn’t expecting to be overwriting the mind of a mentally disabled woman.  David and Marcy’s relationship becomes the closest, and potentially most threatening to the Traveler’s anonymity.

This is Marcy (actress Mackenzie Porter) by the way.   

Well future knowledge isn’t perfect.  A mentally disabled woman and drug addict are not great candidates, but the limits of knowledge include not only official records but social media…so take that Facebook.

Ethically, the body snatching is justified by the fact that all of these people were destined to die within minutes of being taken over, so either way, they would have been dead. I’m sure that philosophers can debate the morality of that, but it has to be weighed by the good of changing the future to prevent multiple catastrophes that threaten the existence of the human race.

The show does a great job of gradually doing reveals, so that each episode you learn a little bit more about the Travelers, their mission, and the future they come from.  That’s a far superior approach than the old JJ Abrams idea of “I promise this will all makes sense in the end!”  And then it doesn’t make sense.  At least this way, I don’t feel cheated because the story gradually becomes clearer without curve balls and purposefully irritating misdirects.

So there are real payoffs on this show.  By the end of the first season, you have a clear idea of the Traveler team’s main mission, and by the end of season two…well I don’t want to spoil it, but it was one of the best season finale’s I’ve seen.  It had a really satisfying payoff, which is what all season finales should have, instead writing them into a corner.

Of course I have quibbles…  Why does Maclaren work so hard to keep his marriage together?  It’s like he’s trying to really make the marriage work, even though he is, by necessity, lying to her every step of the way, and he’s only just met her.  He doesn’t have the years and years invested in a real relationship with his “wife” Kat.

Also, I don’t think they really addressed the issue that the team has abandoned their original bodies in the future for what’s really a one way trip in someone else’s body.  You would think that the psychological trauma of looking at someone else’s hands, and someone else’s face in a mirror would be a trauma that would have to be addressed.  Instead, they seem perfectly comfortable in their new bodies.

I do hope this show gets a third season.  It made the top ten most binge-watched show for 2017, so that certainly gives me hope we’ll see more of Travelers.

 

No Paid Days Ahead for Kathy Griffin

Kathy Griffin, famed D-list comedienne and cousin of Family Guy star Peter Griffin is in somewhat of a career rut according to an article in The Daily Wire.  “I just want you guys to know, when I get home, I do not have one single day of paid work in front of me.”

Whaah.

I watched the first two seasons of Griffin’s show, Life on the D-List, in my never ending search for a truly funny female comedian.  That search is an entire post in itself, but the consequences for the purposes of this post is that I’m familiar with Griffin’s work, and her life somewhat.  Or at least as much as “reality” TV actually shows.  She really only had one unique hook, and that was her willingness to talk trash about other Hollywood celebs.  But of course, that has its own limiting ceiling.  You can’t leave the D-list if you keep trashing the A-list.  Still, Griffin hustled for work and made a pretty good living.  But entertainment is a fickle business.  Rape one teenager, or put out one jihadi picture, and suddenly the prudes start attacking your business model.

Still, there might be a little career left for Griffin.  Her famed jihadi picture was what effectively ended her career in the West.  Even those who hate Trump and love pictures of a Trump beheading hate being embarrassed by having their deepest fantasies revealed.  So are there new horizons that Griffin could explore?

Just a modest proposal, but since Kathy Griffin has worked the USO tour circuit before, she’s familiar with the Middle East.  Why not try working the other side of the street?  With the fall of Raqqa, ISIS and its associated groups must be really in the doldrums right now.  Fleeing from bombing, and losing your sex slaves could be a real kick in the teeth for moral.  So maybe…Griffin could find a fresh comedy market among the various jihadi fighter groups that dot the world.  Those guys could probably use a little fresh comedy, and what may seem stale in the US might be fresh as can be in the deserts of Syria.  “Look Ahmed!  The red headed, uncovered whore!  I would kill her but I am laughing so hard!” To me, this sounds like a win/win for everyone.  Griffin gets a refreshed career, and we have something to take the terrorist’s minds off of bombing something.

But Kathy, save the severed Trump head for the encore.

 

Yet Another Alt-History Show, but PC Approved

On the heels of the pearl clutching involved with the proposed HBO series, Confederate, comes yet another alternate history take; this time meant to be the reverse image of Confederate, Amazon’s Black America.

It envisions an alternate history where newly freed African Americans have secured the Southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama post-Reconstruction as reparations for slavery, and with that land, the freedom to shape their own destiny. The sovereign nation they formed, New Colonia, has had a tumultuous and sometimes violent relationship with its looming “Big Neighbor,” both ally and foe, the United States. The past 150 years have been witness to military incursions, assassinations, regime change, coups, etc. Today, after two decades of peace with the U.S. and unprecedented growth, an ascendant New Colonia joins the ranks of major industrialized nations on the world stage as America slides into rapid decline. 

My first thought is that this actually would be a show I would watch.  This isn’t Amazon’s first foray into Alternate History.  They are currently producing The Man in the High Castle, an alt-history in which the US lost World War II and the country is partitioned between the victorious Japanese and Germans.  Of course, that was a show that I actually thought I would want to watch too, but the execution just seemed boring.  Maybe it’s the source material.  I read Phillip K. Dick’s novel years ago, and of the many alternate history Germans-win-world-war-two books I’ve come across, it was a nine on the dull meter.

Still who knew I would live to see an age when there could possibly be three (counting Confederate) alternate history TV shows?  What an age we live in…

Unlike the backlash (or is it blacklash?) to Confederate, black twitter loves the idea of this show. So this tells me that now Amazon is committed to producing at least one episode for Amazon pilot season, or forever face the wrath of SJW social media. So since I’ll have at least one episode to view, I admit I’m wondering what they’ll do with it, but one thing I’m sure of, New Colonia won’t look like its real universe counterpart, Liberia.  Liberia was supposed to be a promised land for freed slaves, and instead, after a brutal civil war is just one more African semi failed state.

But as the description of the show indicates, New Colonia will be a major industrialized nation, leaving the pasty United States in the dust.  One hopes the producers will at least put some effort into putting together a timeline of the show to explain how that would happen, since currently Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama are not exactly industrial powerhouses.  Here’s an idea producers: After World War II, the New Colonia Armed Forces capture a lot of Nazi scientists and factories and ship them back home, forming the basis of the New Colonia space program.

Well now I’m getting excited about the show, and if it’s successful, how about a crossover special?  My pitch: In the same way that Netflix took several Marvel properties to lead up to a combined series (The Defenders), maybe Confederate and Black America can have a massive crossover event in which The CSA and New Colonia find a way to cross dimensions and discover each other and immediately go to war.  That certainly takes race war to a new, science fiction level.  And which side do you root for?

Hah!

With 12 Monkeys, Cable tries to Binge

When Netflix started to do original programming and released the entire season at once, I thought, “What an original idea!  But how are you going to keep up the excitement of a show if you release it one shot and you’re done?”  Although it does limit the time frame of “buzz” it turned out to be a successful business model.  People can move at their own pace, which could be anywhere from watching the show on the traditional once a week schedule to all at once, bleary eyes and lost weekend included.

But I was surprised when the Syfy Channel decided to do the same thing for returning show 12 Monkeys. Airing season three over three nights, the network is trying something different.

It’s an odd choice for a cable network.  They have airtime to fill, so why blow an expensive season of an original show over a weekend?  And before you say it, no; this is not like showing successive Twilight Zone episodes over New Years. That’s simply to fill airtime during a period when viewing will be exceptionally low.  But dropping an original show is a streaming service move, which Syfy definitely is not.  So what’s up?

Well after watching Friday night’s initial 4 episode blast, I have to say I agree with both the TV Guide and TV Line reviews: This show was meant to be watched in a binge format.  Having watched Season’s 1 & 2 in the traditional once a week format, you often forget where you left off.  After all, this show is complicated.  Each episode takes place in more than one time period, sometimes with the same characters at different points in their lives. Sometimes, death comes first, as for the character of Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), who’s skeleton was discovered in the very first episode way back in season one.  Sometimes it’s in the middle, like for former asylum patient Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), who’s death was shown last season.  Not to worry though Jennifer fans, her younger self is featured pretty prominently this season.

And a good thing too.  The character steals every single scene she’s in, adding humor in otherwise grim situations without detracting from the grimness of the situations because…well she’s crazy.  So far my favorite episode of the season is episode 2, which is a Jennifer-centric episode.  Jennifer trapped in the past tries to figure out ways to catch the attention of the future so she can be rescued.  It’s entertaining and still moves the plot along.  So more Jennifer.

 

One character that I like, but has been degraded somewhat is Deacon (Todd Stashwick), the formerly ruthless leader of a violent gang in the future.  In earlier seasons, Deacon made a great foil as a villain more interested in looting the time travel facility than saving the human race. Unfortunately, the violent, evil, but witty bad guy has been tamed somewhat by his attraction to Dr. Railly. It’s not the first time on TV and movies an alpha male bad guy has been tamed by love, but it isn’t very realistic.  Hopefully Deacon gets his evil mojo back.

So maybe binge watching cable isn’t a bad idea after all.  Particularly if it encourages the production of more complicated dramas that may be digested better in very large bites, rather than doled out bit by bit on a weekly basis.