Saturday, July 2, 2016

Loose Threads #6

Looking Up

I look up and see the couple, shivering and sharing. He warms his insides with one last drag, passes it to her, and then warms his hands, rubbing them together.

He looks up and sees the trash bin outside the entrance to the general store. Somebody left a cigarette on top. Others shuffle past, he darts in between, picks it up, and wags the clean white stick. "Babe, can you believe that? That's a good smoke right there."

The day is looking up. The cig goes into his jeans pocket. The couple goes into the store.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Listen. I was told there would be a fight between Batman and Superman, and, lo! There was a fight! That’s what I came for, that’s what I saw, and that’s why I left fairly satisfied with the viewing.

In this iteration, Bruce Wayne is older, pissed off at the aliens destroying our planet, and out to excise some of that pent up rage on Superman’s head. Superman is being called to carpet and feeling bummed out that he can’t even bring his girlfriend flowers without someone questioning his power and privilege. Probably that’s why, as Clark Kent, he’s so dogged in pointing the finger at this other vigilante who is skirting law and order and whom no one is going after. Never mind Batman cannot shoot lasers out of his eyes and topple whole buildings, but okay, Superman. Totally the same thing. Lex Luthor spends much of the movie working the levers of government power to get what he wants until he gets tired of that, as one would expect, and goes full evil villain. Wonder woman is in there, doing her own mysterious thing.

That’s about as much sense as the plot makes, really. Everyone has their goals but they don’t all mesh into a fluid story, especially with the flashbacks and dream sequences cut into it, and Luthor’s plan holds very little water, if any. I don’t think his plans ever have in the movies.

No matter! I came to see these titans throw down, and I got not one, not two, but three awesome fight sequences. And Batman v. Superman wasn’t even the best one. You heard!

But let me take a second to rank the performances. Ben Affleck > everyone else.

Now to the fights.

Batman v Superman: obviously Batman had to do something to make it a fairer fight or he would’ve been cooked in 30 seconds like a microwaved burrito. But I liked that he put a lot of thought and time and energy into the brawl, from the gadgets he brought to setting the fight in an abandoned ruin. It didn’t just happen in a fit of rage (for Batman), dude was like “I’m ready. Come at me, bro.” Somebody definitely took the L on that fight, regardless of how it actually ended.

Batman v Henchmen: This fight right here!  A room full of heavily armed henchmen, a hostage, and one guy in a bat costume. You know this level. It’s the one you may have gone into as a novice using all your big guns, but once you mastered it—blap, blap, blap! Tactical, precise, badassery. Dude just cleared the room like a legend. No gun? No problem. This large crate will do as a freaking projectile. I had to laugh when, finally, in the film history of goons not using their guns, one guy got in a close range kill shot —and it did nothing. The setup and context around the fight made it much more satisfactory. Batman finally got his head straight and was all the more deadly, and I was Here. For. It.

Batman, Superman, & Wonder Woman v Doomsday: Slightly edged out the previous as my favorite brawl, because Wonder Woman and her epic theme music! Preview of the Justice League! Good guys banding together! Wonder Woman and her epic theme music!

Seriously, this woman was trying to catch a flight like “Oy, what are these foolish humans up to now?” and then just showed up like “Interesting fight going on here. What sort of creature am I about to slay?” No introductions, no fussing around. They just went to town on Doomsday. I thought the theme music paired with the visuals of the moment when she landed was pretty iconic. It was stuck in my head for days and has me really excited for her standalone and the Justice League movies. (Do not screw this up, PTB!)

Batman did what he could, given he had no superpowers—and that mostly consisted of not dying— but Supes and Wonder Woman had some cool tag teams. She even whipped out the lasso. I don’t know if Superman would’ve done what he did to defeat Doomsday had Batman not given him a physical and mental beat down earlier, but in a movie where much of the plot was loosey goosey, this gesture tied in nicely with that earlier critique. One could only hope they don’t forget about these motivations going forward.

And so, going forward! We got cameos from the other members of the League, which some people thought was lame, and I agree only where that first whacked out Flash cameo is concerned. I didn’t expect Wonder Woman to have a major role throughout the film—the title is a clue—and so I didn’t much mind that we didn’t get into her character and what else she was up to outside the plot. I do expect her to shine in her own movie, though (do NOT screw this up, PTB). This movie could’ve been much tighter, but it was attempting to introduce a whole new Batman and Wonder Woman and kickstart the whole Justice League franchise in two hours. Standalone introductory films for its cast would’ve helped lighten the load.

But like I said, I didn’t come looking for jokes or lighthearted banter or deep social commentary. I wasn’t even expecting to have tons of fun, given we are dealing with two angry and powerful dudes who think it’s their burden alone to right the world. I say, let ‘em knock some sense into each other. This movie did what it said on the tin, and I enjoyed the crap out of that.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Watching TV: The Player

I grew up on Wesley Snipes action movies and there really has been no one else like him in Hollywood. So, even though the commercials signaled me that this show may be lame, I'd at least show up for the premiere for Snipes.

A funny thing happened, though. I actually really enjoyed it with the exception of the cliché death at the end of the episode, plus the obligatory long-arc mystery about who the deceased really was. And are they even dead?! Dun dun dun.

Flashback to CBS's Intelligence, RIP.

But then came episode two and three, and I was still enjoying myself but also wondering: Why the heck is this so entertaining? Simply put, it doesn't try too hard to be something it's not. But here are some more reasons.

The gimmick. It is usually a mysterious conspiracy with some sort of thematic imagery, and can sometimes just be a macguffin, paired with some procedural challenge to tackle each week. On Blindspot it's the tattoos, which was Prison Break's gimmick before that. On Blacklist it was the list. Here it is the Game, which is reminiscent of the movies The Game and Hard Target. So, it's not even an original gimmick.

Despite that, I find I can better tolerate this gimmick because it is not so open ended as to suggest almost anything. Unlike Lost. Unlike Blindspot. The reason she tattooed herself and wiped her memory could be damn near anything, so you just have to accept whatever they throw at you as a possibility. That's not engaging to me.

Here we have a group of shadowy elite gambling on crime, betting on whether or not The Player, (Kane, our protagonist,) can stop the criminal of the week. The House provides the Player with a Dealer (Cass, his techie), and is supervised by a Pit Boss, (Mr. Johnson) who ensures the game remains a secret, unimpeded by prying detectives--like Kane's friend.

The game has been going on a long time and our current iteration is not the first. In fact, the show starts with the last Player dead. So our protagonist is fairly expendable. I like those parameters.

The game exists as a form of entertainment. There's no open ended mystery in this gimmick, unless you care why a bunch of elites get their jollies from betting on human lives and to what end. I'm only as interested as maybe getting to see one of these twisted gamblers in a future installment. The focus is how Kane will navigate this seedy underworld.

Next, the cast of characters. Wesley Snipes is just a natural badass who is fun to watch. As the Pit Boss he doesn't get up to much action (yet) but you just know he can kick anyone's ass if they mess with him. Kane learned that in the first episode. And it's that undercurrent of dangerousness that makes his character effective as a calm, calculated cleaner. The keeper of the secrets. You don't know whether he's totally nefarious or just out of necessity, as cold as the faceless gamblers or forced to compartmentalize how he really feels about all this. I mean, for a second there I really thought he was going to kill that hacker guy.

As for our protagonist, I was duly surprised how likeable he is, given the potential for the Action Hero to be growly, angsty cardboard. I've never heard of the actor before now. Now, I hear he was in a previous show with the lead dude from Blindspot. Say what? Neither are great actors but Winchester is leagues better than the other guy, IMHO! Maybe it's because he gets to be funny, serious, aggrieved, heroic, and smart in this role that he doesn't feel like he is on autopilot. So far, I'm rooting for this guy.

Evil Felicity. That's what I thought as soon as I saw Cass. Thankfully, I was wrong. Episode 3 especially gave her major points from me. She's not just the pretty techie with the cute accent. She'll snipe a mofo. All we know so far is that she trained in special forces in the UK and the US (no I don't recall the organizations. Sue me!),  she has a boyfriend, and she was pals with Kane's "dead" girlfriend, unbeknownst to Kane. Since she's the one working closest with the Player, Kane is often trying to pry info out of her about herself, Mr. Johnson, and the Game overall. Their banter is pretty agile and sometimes witty when it could easily have been lead-footed and eye-rollingly clunky.

The weakest link is Kane's friend Detective Brown. The actor is usually pretty good but here he seemed over the top in his frustration and anger with the secrets Kane is keeping. This might turn around now that he is getting an assist from another agent  investigating profiles similar to Kane's. He's got somewhere to channel the emotions. But that way lies danger and I won't be surprised if Brown gets killed.

The action. At first I thought the music was odd. Then I thought it oddly fitting. It sounds almost like video game tracks which, yeah, this is a "game" after all, and Kane is often racing somewhere or other. The fast pace works wonders for a show like this that doesn't purport to be deep or too realistic. Before you can think too hard about why X happened instead of just doing Y, the ride is over.

The action scenes themselves are not outstanding but I've not yet been so offended by any sequence that I was thrown out of the watch. You'd be surprised how easily that happens nowadays--what with nonsense like a radio going all static for no reason, or the protagonist taking her eyes off the road and crashing her car, or saying hi to a suspect and spooking him instead of cornering or restraining him first (Yeah, I'm talking about you Blindspot!)

There was one major forehead slap on The Player. I straight up laughed at Kane and Cass jumping off a building, hanging onto a crane hook, shooting off a helicopter, and then getting back onto the roof within a minute. Are you kidding? LOL! It helps when the show isn't too serious to begin with.

The dialogue. This may as well be a review of Blindspot too, because I cannot tell you how robotic the dialogue on Blindspot gets sometimes. "What if you got hurt? What if I lost you?!" Ugh. "What if I was a bad person?" "Bad people do bad things and good people stop them." Ugh!

But we're talking about The Player. Like I said, Snipes is a natural at delivery, and the banter between the Player and the Dealer highlights an interesting dynamic ("You speak of yourself in the third person? " "The Dealer will get the jet ready." *walks away* "Where do you stay?" "Are you asking if I'm homeless?") Heh.

Given the race-against-the-clock nature of the show, it is often easy to slip into heavy exposition. Even the best of them, like 24, did that. But these writers seem to manage it in the same way, by timing it right, multitasking, and keeping it moving. People are rarely ever just standing around talking, or taking time out to discuss inanities or their feelings. There are some action-oriented shows where that is beneficial and integral, like Agents of Shield. This is not that type of show and thankfully it seems the writers are aware of that.

And how about the criminals and crimes? Nothing special here--heists, murder, kidnapping. They've all been serviceable with the last assassin being on the cheesy side.

I'm also not too invested in the mystery of Kane's "dead" girlfriend. My money is on her being an agent for the game, in some capacity, and that's enough intrigue for me for now. (I mean, sure, if you think about it, she could be way more complicit than that.) They are dropping indirect clues, with Cass knowing her and the Pit Boss doing what he can to sabotage Kane looking into it, but it is unobtrusive to the rest of the plot. As it should be.

All that said, I know The Player, like other NBC shows I actually found entertaining, will be cancelled. Hopefully not abruptly before the season is over. Until then I'm looking forward to the next episode.

What are you watching?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Loose Threads #5

Three Generations

One is tired but determined.
Another frustrated but obligated.
The third is just a kid, oblivious as her brother who sleeps in the stroller.

She doesn't know they're supposed to have a car, supposed to be going somewhere fast, somewhere safe and sure and secure. Somewhere called home, not Motel 6.

But they have to walk, and it's a scorcher.

One leads with a quick hustle.
Another follows with a steady march.
The third is just a kid, just out walking with her grandma and mom and baby brother.

One picks up a coin from the parking lot pavement, pockets it. Hustles.
The third picks up the blanket that fell from the stroller and puts it inside.

The other scolds her, drapes the cloth over the stroller. It's to keep the sun off the baby, not put dirt and germs on him. Doesn't the third know anything?

It's a stupid mistake. Life is full of stupid mistakes and generations still making up for them.

One cuts across the grass going uphill, but stops for a moment to make sure they're all together.
The other follows, pushing the stroller along the paved sidewalk.
The third stays close to her brother who still blissfully sleeps.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

This Is a Test

Hover* for spoilers: and you'll see the new spoiler function in action.

*sadly, this doesn't work on mobile

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Spoilers! Animal Farm Ch. 10

See all the previous spoilers:

What I've read: Ch 10

Years have passed, old animals die, new animals are born. Some animals are purchased and brought onto the farm, and few--Clover, Benjamin, and others--remember what it was all like in the beginning of the rebellion. The pigs now walk on two legs,  while the sheep bleat  "four legs good, two legs *better.*" They wear clothes and the farm returns to its original title "Manor Farm." A new era of cooperation with humans has risen.

The story ends with the lower animals peering through the farmhouse windows at the pigs and humans dining together, drinking and playing cards, congratulating each other:

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again;  but already it was impossible to say which was which."

And that's where it ends. Like, sorry, no hope for you. It is very much fitting for this chilling tale.

I quite enjoyed the story overall and am
amazed something so short packs a punch powerful enough to last for ages. But then this is Orwell at his best. I'd recommend it just for your reading pleasure. It's a good story even setting aside the allegorical references to real life inspirations.

How'd you like the story the first time you read it? What do you think of it today? Discuss, comment, spoil!

Image Credit: "", available under by-nc-as 2.0

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Spoilers! Animal Farm Ch. 9


Boxer dies. He collapses while carting boulders, and the pigs claim he'll be sent to the veterinarian. He's instead sent to a slaughter and glue-making place.

It's such a sad scene. The animals are all wishing him farewell, but Benjamin the old donkey reads the sign on the van. When they realize what's happening, they try to stop it but it's too late. They can't catch up and Boxer is too weak to kick his way out.

Just sad.

The rest of the chapter is boring, parades and pigs being pigs. The story has done a good job making me detest the creatures,  because I'm sick of Squealer's lies.

One chapter left. I don't see this ending well.

Image Credit: "", available under by-nc-as 2.0