9.21.2017

Television: The Orville, "Command Performance"

I figured out part of what bothers me about this show (at least thus far, given it's all of two episodes into its run). The characters are constructed as very plug-and-play. They don't have depth. The whole thing is plot driven, and since the plots are formulaic and cliché, there's really very little to engage me as a viewer.

For one thing, they have already done the Ed-and-Kelly thing to death in less than two hours of show. Like, we get it. And we're already sick of it. STFU. Because you've made us care exactly not at all about you as people or your relationship past or present.

Oh, and look: the cute little prodigy of a security officer struggles when put in command? Bah. Don't care about her or her problems either.

The show is going to have to work a hell of a lot harder to form a connection between the audience and the characters. Instead, it wants us to just take things at face value. "This is a really smart, strong girl." Uh... Okay.... So? You can tell me that, and even show me that, but it won't make me care.

This guy sits on his egg and it hatches and—gasp!—it's a female baby, something that shouldn't exist! Don't care, don't care, don't care. You've barely introduced me to the character, you haven't shown me his relationship with his S.O., and you expect me to give a damn about their baby? Nope.

I usually try to give shows three episodes. I'm not sure I can choke down another one of these however. It's just so stale and has nothing new or interesting to say. Nor is it saying anything we've already heard in a new or interesting way. It feels like empty calories. I've got better things to do and better shows to watch.

9.20.2017

Center Stage

Hey! I'm here to toot my own horn a little and direct you to the author spotlight on SF Benson's site, where yours truly is being featured. 😀  I hope you'll pop over and read about my weirdest stories, the ones hardest to write, and which of my characters reflect me. Leave questions and comments here or there!

9.19.2017

Television: The Magicians, "Unauthorized Magic"

Okay, I know I'm really late to this particular party, but several people have suggested I try this show, so I decided to, uh, try this show. I watched the first episode last night, and . . . I don't know.

The Magicians is about a socially awkward grad student named Quentin who basically gets admitted to the American university equivalent of Hogwarts, I guess? Brakebills. ::shrug:: There is the requisite nerdy girl who, for all her primness, apparently can't find dresses that go past mid-thigh, and she has something against leggings to cover the rest of her. She's also unnecessarily unkind, though I'm sure we'll learn all kinds of things to make her more sympathetic. In this episode we discover her brother Charlie died and no one will tell her what happened to him, so she tries to contact him but it ends badly. Namely, it ends with some guy partially made of giant moths stepping through a mirror. We know he's bad because, well, moths, but also he messes up clocks, freezes everyone (though they're cognizant of being frozen, so it's not really like stopping time), and pulls the dean's eyes out.

Meanwhile, Quentin's overachiever friend from the normal world Julia was rejected from Brakebills and it's messed her up. She's not used to being rejected because she's good at everything and therefore always accepted. It turns out Julia does have a modicum of magical talent, and so a rival group swoops in and admits her into its ranks. It doesn't take much foresight to guess Julia and Quentin are being set up as rivals and/or potential enemies.

I don't know. There's something very pedantic about the whole thing. My understanding is that The Magicians is based on a book (or books), but that it's fairly different from the source material, too? I might need to look into that. As it stands, I don't find Quentin an endearing or compelling central character. And his hair annoys me. It's hard to watch a show with a lead character I don't want to look at, one that is so whiny and irritating.

That said, as you know, I try to give everything at least three episodes. I don't know *when* I'll circle back to this one, but Netflix will at least remind me I watched it. Once upon a time.

9.17.2017

Movies: Baby Driver

As a rule, I generally really enjoy Edgar Wright movies. This one is no exception.

Ansel Elgort plays the titular Baby, whose job is to drive a getaway car for Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby is evidently in Doc's debt and digging his way out via this gig. But of course one is never really "out." So just as Baby is getting his life straight and trying to have a steady girlfriend, he gets pulled back in for one more big job. That goes all to hell. Yes, it's cliché. But still an engaging story. Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx pull nice turns as badass baddies.

Wright has, in my opinion, a wonderful style. For me, watching his films is a treat. His tracking shots, the way he frames things—just very visually interesting and entertaining. But he's not perfect at everything. He's weak when it comes to love stories. I didn't love the one in this film, particularly the early banter between Baby and Deborah in the diner. Wright also tends to have very long third acts that sometimes go on longer than absolutely necessary. I found that, despite all the action going on, my interest began to waver.

[SPOILER BELOW - HIGHLIGHT TO READ CLEARLY]

I understand why the film ends the way it does, with Baby going to prison rather than he and Deborah taking off. I think Wright wanted the definitive, "happy" ending that showed Baby and Deborah free and clear instead of on the run for the rest of their lives. I get that, but I found it not terribly satisfying. I don't know why.

[END SPOILER]

These are minor gripes. On the whole, Baby Driver is highly entertaining, and all the actors do an awesome job. Another winner from Mr. Wright in my book.

9.13.2017

Television: The Orville, "Old Wounds"

Okay, so . . . I'm a fan of Star Trek. Have been since I was a kid. Loved the original movies, made my parents rent the VHS tapes of the original series so I could watch that too. (Remember when not everything was streaming?) The Next Generation was my favorite. My first fan conventions were Trek conventions, which I went to with friends and, on one occasion, with my journalism teacher. So, you know, that's my pedigree. I'm a Trekker or Trekkie or whatever we call ourselves nowadays.

As for The Orville, well, I have seriously mixed feelings.

Seth MacFarlane stars as Ed Mercer. The year is 2417, and apparently over the course of 400 years we've really upped our technology and met a massive number of alien species. Okay, fine, I wouldn't poke at Star Trek for this, so I won't flag The Orville for it either. But I think maybe I no longer have the optimism that I used to, the belief that the human race was "going places." (Besides straight to hell.)

The opening scene is just so standard and cliché that I could hardly stand it. Mercer comes back to his quarters to find his wife in bed with a blue alien. Ugh.

Fast forward a year and he's being offered command of the titular Orville. And—wait for it, cuz you'll be astounded—the ex is his XO. (No, not Kiss Hug. It means "Executive Officer.")

So much of the exposition is in dialogue it's tragic. And the story is so rote it's, well, double tragic. And Mercer's best friend Gordon Mallory, whom he hires as a helmsman, is pretty unlikeable. When he's introduced, he's not too terrible; he comes off as a bit nerdy in a Simon Pegg way. But when he "drives drunk" in the next scene, he gets frat-boy obnoxious and my enjoyment of the show spiraled downward like the stupid shuttle. Exhibiting drinking and driving as "cool" is not a great move.

Part of my problem with the show, too, is that it doesn't quite seem to know what it wants to be. A parody? Straight comedy? Or an actual sci-fi show? There are elements of all these things, and I'm not saying these things can't work together, but as presented they don't appear to be stirred into the same soup. That's a weird metaphor, but I don't know how else to explain it. Sci-fi soup with chunks of comedy? Could be tasty but, as far as this episode goes, the blend isn't quite right.

The Orville is a throwback kind of show, which as far as I can tell is the intention. I'm just not sure how many people will make the time for it, or appreciate where it's coming from, particularly in the current television landscape. We have amazing shows, stuff that is better than movies (as the summer box office shows). In comparison, The Orville might come across as that dented can of off-brand beans at the bottom of the grocery shelf. If the price is right and you're desperate enough, you might buy it?

That said, I'll give it another couple episodes to see if it finds its footing. Many shows start out rough, particularly the sci-fi ones. There's something promising in The Orville, I'm just not sure what yet. Or whether it will live up to that promise.

9.09.2017

Movies: Kong: Skull Island

Even the title sounds more like a video game . . .

Look, I'm not really into this kind of movie, but I'll watch Tom Hiddleston in just about anything. (I say "just about" because I did try to watch High-Rise and, ugh, no.) But this movie, well, it was pretty much what one would expect, which means it bored me.

Let's start with an overview. The Monarch company (repped by John Goodman and Corey Hawkins) wants to go to this island that no one goes to because it has a perpetual storm raging around it. Ships and planes get lost out there. But whatever, they talk some senator into funding them and giving them military support. So Samuel L. Jackson and his band of home-bound Vietnam vets get detoured into this gig, and Tom Hiddleston gets hired as a tracker, which apparently is just a living compass, meaning he's supposed to keep people from getting lost? And Brie Larson is there as an "anti-war" photographer, which begs the question why a military operation would hire her? But we all know she's really just there to be the Fay Wray.

You'll notice I'm using the actors' names instead of characters, and that's because this is the kind of movie where there are so many characters that one can't be arsed. It's the kind of movie where, as you watch, you say, "Oh, Samuel L. Jackson is about to..." and "John Goodman is about to bite it." You don't bother with character names. Because you're not into these characters at all. The movie tries—I'll give it that. It tries very hard to make you care about these people. But you just don't.

And Tom, much as I love him, walks around with a pretty vacant expression most of the time. He's probably reminding himself how much money he's making for this, that it will all be worth it in the end, no matter how bad the movie ends up being.

It's not a bad movie. Let me be clear. It's just not great, either.

I take issue with Samuel L. Jackson's role as a caricature with little depth. I take issue with the clunky dialogue. I feel like John C. Reilly's scenes came from some other movie entirely, but okay. ::shrug:: He's, like, the best thing in the movie, so I kinda wanted the John C. Reilly movie instead of all the rest, but whatever.

What's very nice is that this movie is 1 hour and 58 minutes long. It's not some epic length. That felt refreshing. Though I guess it's pretty sad when you count the fact that the movie ends earlier than expected as a bonus.

9.02.2017

Documentary: David Lynch: The Art Life

Love him or hate him, David Lynch is certainly an interesting guy.

A little background so you know where I'm coming from: when I was a pre-teen, I remember liking the movie Dune. (Yes, I said "liked.") My best friend's mom showed it to her daughter and me. The long version. It enthralled me. I bought a poster and hung it in my room. I read the books (well, the first three). But I didn't know who David Lynch was.

Twin Peaks aired my freshman year of high school. I really enjoyed it, too . . . Or the first season, anyway. It's been a long time, but I have the sense that I wasn't as enthusiastic about the second season. At that point I had a scrapbook and would cut out articles about my favorite stars and shows and tape them in. So of course I began seeing the name David Lynch in the Twin Peaks articles. But I never connected him to Dune, never had much curiosity about anything else he might have done.

Then I went to film school.

Enough said, except to add that aside from Dune and Twin Peaks, I can't say I'm much of a fan of Lynch's work. Not my thing. In fact, this third season of Twin Peaks—I walked away from it. It tried my patience too much. I'll probably still watch the finale on Sunday though.

So. This documentary. I actually really enjoyed it. It's very watchable. It's really just Lynch doing art and telling stories that go from his childhood through his grant at AFI to make Eraserhead. It focuses on his art, so there's no delving into his personal life, just sort of a glossing, but there are lots of photos and home videos incorporated.

DL:TAL is really just Lynch talking, and he speaks in a deceptively simple and matter-of-fact way. It's as though all his internal complexities come out in his work, but it's not clear whether that's because he saves them for the work or he literally can't articulate them any other way. A couple of things he says and stories he tells . . . You kind of go, "Oh, well that explains a few things."

I believe art should stand on its own in the absence of its creator. That's the point of art. You shouldn't have to know things about the writer, painter, etc. in order to appreciate the work. BUT. Watching this documentary added depth for me to some of Lynch's work.

At one point Lynch says that, when he was starting out as an artist, he knew his work was crap. But that he had to keep painting and keep painting to find his style or whatever. And as an author, I totally get that. We all start out crap. You have to prime the pump and get all the dirty water out before the good stuff comes up.

Anyway, whether you like Lynch or not . . . If you're even just a little curious about him . . . This is a good one. They don't talk to anyone but Lynch, so it is a bit one-sided, but at the same time, hearing solely from him gives perspective on his work.

9.01.2017

Podcasts: James Bonding part deux

Because apparently today is my day to blog about podcasts.

I've written about James Bonding before, and then it went away for a while and I was sad and sort of shiftless, but now it's back! So go find it on Earwolf or whatever. (I can't be arsed with branding. One day it might matter where my podcasts come from, but today is not that day.)

So why am I mentioning it again, you ask? Well, I just listened to the episode where Matt and Matt and Paul Scheer detail their ideas for a James Bond theme park. And I had some thoughts about that.

  1. The first hotel has got to be called HQ. It's somewhat basic, but that's just the starter hotel. It's the Disneyland Hotel for Bond, nothing fancy, just somewhat themed—the padded leather doors in the M Suite or whatever. Then you can branch out to the upscale hotels like Casino Royale.
  2. When you arrive at the park, you're given a dossier. It's like a daily itinerary or one of those passport type things where you have to get something stamped, you have to get photos of something or find someone.
  3. You are not Bond. You are an agent of some other number, possibly tasked with aiding Bond or finding him.
  4. There is a park-specific villain. Yes, the other villains will also be showcased, but the theme park has its very own story and unique villain. We can't lean on Blofeld for everything.
  5. There are multiple ways to enter the park based on (a) which hotel you're staying in and (b) where in the park you want to go first.
  6. Yes to areas themed by environment. There are too many movies to do a separate area for each, so we'll have to Epcot the place and divide it by location. Bond is a world-hopper, after all.
  7. 007 Land? 007 World?

I think I need to be on this podcast. I think I need Matt & Matt to help me flesh out my next Peter Stoller novel, or really a Jules Maier novel, since he's my Bond character.

Follow James Bonding on Twitter: @JamesBondingPOD

ETA: We just re-watched Skyfall, which is probably my favorite of the Daniel Craig Bond movies (with Casino Royale a close second), and we decided Silva must get his henchmen from calls to Spectre. They have some kind of service, right? "Yes, I need half a dozen men dressed as Met police, oh and a helicopter..."

Podcasts: No Extra Words

Complete with minor demon disguised as cat.
Hey! So I'm on a podcast today, giving a virtual tour of Little London (my home office). Curious minds should click here.