Thursday, June 20, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

I have this line I say to myself whenever a character dies in a movie:  No sequel for you!  I found myself saying that a lot while watching the first John Wick.  I found myself saying it just as much with Chapter 2.  Almost an entire mob outfit dies at his hands, all because Iosef Tarasov saw a car he liked and had to have it.  It wasn’t even about the car, though.  Iosef made the mistake of killing John’s puppy.  Chapter 2 begins with John killing the remnants of the organization, starting with Iosef’s uncle, who had been selling the stolen cars.  Yes, John is out to get his car back, which he promptly totals.

The movie’s real story starts with Santino D’Antonio, who visits John to call in a marker.  He wants his sister, Gianna, killed.  Being that she holds a seat on the underworld’s high council, Santino can’t do it himself.  John initially refuses, but eventually accepts.  Lots of people get in John’s way and die as a result.  Once John completes his mission, a lot more people die.

In fact, Santino calls in a hit on John.  (As he points out, what kind of brother would he be if he didn’t?)  So, yeah.  The rest of the movie is John evading and/or killing bad guys while searching for Santino so that Santino might be denied a major part in Chapter 3.

Sure, the plot is little more than a vehicle for the fight scenes.  And yes, the plot is at least coherent.  Still, you’re not thinking about watching this because of the plot.  You came for the fight scenes, which are as impressive as the first movie.  In this regard, there’s a part of me that wonders why one needs a coherent plot line for action like this.  You could easily have three (or, shortly, four) separate movies with different characters.

That’s how stylized the fight scenes are.  John Wick has earned the right to be called franchise.  I’ll be going into Chapter 3 with a pretty good idea of what I’m getting.  And yes, there is a story going on.  It’s nothing deep, nor is it high art, but there is something to follow between fight scenes.

So, I will be seeing Chapter 3 and, probably, Chapter 4 when it comes out.  The funny thing is that I’ve never particularly been a fan of fight movies.  This is most likely the result of having access to movies at the library and paying for the movie theater by the month.  You come to realize that an action movie can be exciting.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 12 (Vaulting Ambition)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major plot points for this episode, including the major twist at the end.

I have to admit that things got a lot more complicated on Star Trek: Discovery.  The ship is in the mirror universe and things are what you might expect.  Many of the same people exist there, albeit in different positions.  The deceased Captain Georgiou is now Emperor Georgiou.  First Officer Saru is now servant to Michael Burnham, who went from mutineer to Captain.  Tilly also made a similar move, from cadet to Captain.  Lorca was supposed to have killed the alternate Burnham, though.  Stamets, the chief engineer, actually meets his counterpart.  The two seem to get along pretty well.

The episode deals with Burnham trying to get information on the U.S.S. Defiant.  This isn’t the Defiant from Deep Space Nine.  Rather, it’s the one that the Tholians tried to put their web around.  It was sent back in time to the Mirror Universe and might be useful if the Discovery crew can get their hands on it.  Or, at least, an unredacted report.  You see, anyone who has come in contact with the ship has gone crazy.

You might be asking how they got there in the first place.  Stamets was able to navigate between universes, but that’s what put him in a coma.  Even though he comes out of it by the end of the episode, trying it again would be risky.  So, The Discovery is their best bet right now.

Here’s the thing, though.  Lorca is actually the Mirror Lorca.  It would explain a few things, like how his former ship got destroyed.  (Incompetence as a captain or covering up that you’re not who we think you are?)  It also creates a rather interesting bootstrap paradox.  As I said, the ship traveled back in time about ten years.  This means that the ship would have information on the Prime Universe’s major players, including Burnham.  It casts much of what happened so far in a new light.  It also explains why Kirk and Crew wouldn’t have discussed the events of the series so far.  This is one more thing that would have been heavily classified.

Interestingly, Burnham makes the decision to level with Emperor Georgiou.  It turns out she already knew about the Prime Universe.  At least she has the Emperor’s help.  Alas, Burnham realizes that she’s eating what might have been Mirror Saru. 

I’m watching the series on DVD.  This was the last episode on disc 3, meaning I’ll have to wait a while to see the next episode.  A lot of people had the same idea I did, which is to get the DVDs from the library rather than pay money for CBS All Access.  I’d recommend at least starting the series the same way to help gauge your interest in the series.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 11 (The Wolf Inside)

WARNING: I will be giving out major spoilers ahead.

After Star Trek’s first dealings with the Mirror Universe, Kirk asked how Spock was able to identify his counterpart so easily.  Spock noted that it was easier for our Kirk to impersonate his alternate than it was for the alternate to impersonate Kirk.

Michael Burnham would find that of little comfort.  She’s had to take her alternate’s place and make some of the same decisions Kirk had to.  She’s tasked with wiping out a group of rebels, and the Terran Empire shows no mercy.  She manages to stall, saying that she’ll beam down to at least pump some information out of them or something.  She then gives them an hour to evacuate.

During this time, we learn several things.  Commander Saru’s counterpart is Burnham’s slave, which is a little troubling, but not unexpected.  Ash Tyler is also starting to lose it, which…is a little troubling, but not unexpected.  At the end of the episode, we find out who the mysterious Emperor is.  (This time, it’s not really that troubling and totally expected.)

One might say that the series is easing into the mirror universe.  I think someone had the idea early on to split the season between the two universes, not realizing how hard it would be to write for the Mirror Universe.  I can totally understand those that feel that the pacing is slow.  I can’t say that it’s unnecessary, as everything seems to havfe a purpose.  (For instance, Burnham lies to Saru about his having a Mirror counterpart.)

Also, whoever programmed Tyler did a horrible job.  Spoiler alert:  He’s a Klingon spy.  In the original series, we know that Klingons have done this at least once and that Tribbles will rat them out.  Granted, this isn’t for another ten years.  It’s possible that the procedure hasn’t been perfected yet or that the Klingon who did it this time was a hack.  Either way, there were some indications that something like this was coming.  I just wasn’t expecting this.  The one down side is that Samets was blamed for killing his husband.  (I would hope that all of that will be straightened out.)

It’s an interesting episode.  Tilly, the talkative cadet, has to play a confident captain.  She’s also shaping up to be Discovery’s version of Wesley Crusher.  She’s young and inexperienced, but seems to have some really great ideas.  At least the series seems to be playing that character a little better.  Tilly is a cadet and, as such, has had some training.  These are also unusual circumstances, meaning not many people would be qualified.  (In fact, the one person we know is qualified to help Samets is Samets, and he‘s in a spore-induced coma.)

So, some aspects of the episode are promising.  The show seems to be going the 24 route with each episode ending with a major revelation.  It gets a little tiring having to get excited each week.  (It was also odd that, on 24, major plot twists happened every hour on the hour.)  I’m still wondering what they’re going to do with the rest of the season.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Late Night (2019)

Katherine Newbury is not an easy person to work for.  When someone asks her for a raise, she fires him.  His main reason for asking is the birth of a child, who will contribute nothing to the show.  Also, most of her writing staff has never met her.  Many haven’t even seen the stage where she hosts her late-night talk show.

She’s pressured to add diversity to the writer’s room because all of her writers are white and male.  As luck would have it, Molly Patel is looking to become a writer for the show and happens to show up moments after an opening becomes available.  Yes, Molly does have comedic talent, but she’s coming from a chemical plant where she worked in quality control.

It’s a rough ride at first, but Molly starts to find her place.  She even gets a joke in the monologue after convincing Newbury to be more daring.   Success doesn’t last long for Molly.  She has to put up with seven men who aren’t happy to see her there.  Her boss doesn’t really much like her, either.  (Molly finds herself fired twice during the course of the movie.)

She’s also constantly reminded of the fact that she’s a diversity hire.  (The workplace is so dominated by men that they’ve taken to using the ladies’ room, as there are no women there.)  She’s faced with a choice, though.  She can concentrate on the ‘diversity’ aspect of her employment or she can focus on the ‘hire’ part of her employment.  She has the job she wanted.  Does it matter how?

Newbury also has some facts to face.  She’s trying to hold on to a show she’s been hosting for nearly 30 years.  She’s not willing to admit that she’s stuck in a rut.  Just because it was successful before doesn’t mean that it will connect with today’s audiences.  She’s not getting any tweets or followers on social media.  What she is getting is replaced and by a comedian who’s very crude.

The movie comes across as a showcase of problems in the motion-picture industry.  Male privilege, age discrimination and Tokenism are addressed.  None of it seems forced, though.  It’s more a way of using the movie as a way to introduce various talking points while not being too pointed about it.  (Molly finds herself crying in the ladies’ room until she’s kicked out by a man who needs use it.)

So, Newbury and Molly need each other.  They both have similar stories.  Each is trying to make it among a crowd of men.  Each has issues they have to face because of that.  Ultimately, each will succeed or fail on their own terms.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Men in Black: International (2019)

I was so excited for a new Men in Black movie.  It didn’t have Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones in it.  Ok.  Fine.  That’s not the end of the world.  Emma Thompson’s there, offering some bit of continuity.  Frank the Pug has a cameo, as do The Worms, so there’s that.  Even thought it’s a mostly new cast, this could still work out.

The Men in Black are facing two threats.  One is from the Hive, an insidious organism that absorbs races rather than kill them.  The other is from an apparent mole in the organization.  When Agent M and Agent H are tasked with protecting an alien dignitary, said dignitary is killed under their watch.  Agent M is understandable, as she’s the probationary agent.  H is more experienced, although it doesn’t really show.

So, the two go off on a planet-wide adventure to figure out what’s going on and to protect the Earth from aliens that might do it harm.  Not everything is what it seems, though.  Friends might be enemies.  Enemies might be ordinary people just trying to protect themselves.

While the movie was fun, it didn’t quite capture the magic of the first three movies.  K was a straight man to J’s comedic personality.  The first three movies seemed to flow naturally as almost a single story.  This seems to be a case of trying one too many times.  Yes, it hits a lot of the marks, like fast action sequences and interesting aliens, but it’s just not the same.

Part of it might be that the first three movies had a clear enemy.  (Edgar the Bug, Serleena and Boris The Animal, respectively.)  The Hive is a little too amorphous and hidden to be taken seriously.  I get that having your own people pose a threat is something in itself, but the movie focused too much on the chase scenes and not enough on any real sense of urgency.  Agents M and H get to spend the night in the desert repairing an alien motorbike.

I also get that the stories for J and K had an arc and that arc came to an end, but it seems kind of sudden to simply replace them as lead characters.  It might have worked better to replace one or the other first.  Having cameos by other characters isn’t enough.  It’s too much of a clean break to really carry the momentum.

The London branch seems like a pale comparison of the New York branch.  How, exactly, did H become an agent, anyway?  He seems too laid back to be taken seriously.  I get that he does have skills, but the first time we see him, he’s “meditating” on the job.

While we’re at it, it’s evident that there are more than 26 agents.  New York didn’t seem to have that many agents and could have done with letters for names.  London has a lot of people.  Do they reuse letters?  MIB 3 had an agent AA, if I recall, but all of the characters shown on screen have a single letter: Z, J, K, O, M, H or C, for instance.  It’s also possible that people just use their first initial.  James D. Edwards became Agent J.  Molly Wright became Agent M.  Dealing with two agents with the same letter might be like dealing with two agents with the same name.  It also might explain why Liam Neeson’s character is called High T.

There are a few other issues that I have with the movie, some of which can’t be asked without spoiling the ending.  While it was a fun movie to watch, I was a little let down.  It’s just not the same.  I suppose another installment might do better, but this could very well be a case of a franchise going one movie too far.  It might have been better to leave well enough alone.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Happy! (Season 1)

There are some characters that may get to the right place, even if they’re willing to bend or break a few rules.  In 24, Jack Bauer is framing his actions as part of the greater good.  What’s a few broken fingers if millions of lives are saved?  He’s the guy you send in when conventional means aren’t an option.

To be clear, Nick Sax is no Jack Bauer.  Nick used to be a cop, but he made a series of bad choices, like sleeping with his partner.  He’s become about as apathetic as one can get.  He’s working as a hit man when he gets an unexpected visitor:  Happy.

Who is Happy?  Happy is a purple winged unicorn who happens to be the imaginary friend of Hailey Hansen, who has been kidnapped by Very Bad Santa.  She sends Happy out to find her father to help her and the other abducted children.  Nick is reluctant to help, mostly because it’s hard for an imaginary friend to be that persuasive.  (He’s also reluctant to believe that he has a daughter.)  Nick eventually comes around and starts tracking Hailey.  Also on the case are his former partner, Meredith McCarthy, and his ex-wife, Amanda.

You might wonder how a show about an imaginary friend would work.  There are some rules, like imaginary friends disappearing when the child dies.  (If the child stops believing, the imaginary friend still exists, unseen.)  It would also appear that imaginary friends are more real than one might expect.  Happy is able to relate information to Nick that Nick might not otherwise have access to.

Nick and Happy make for an extremely odd couple.  Nick is about as jaded as you can get.  Happy is about as optimistic as one could make a cartoonish character.   Nick can’t stand Happy and Happy is mostly doing this for Hailey’s sake.  In fact, may of the relationships can be defined as unwanted.  His ex-wife and ex-partner don’t want to work together, but do.  McCarthy is also being pressured by the show’s main antagonist, who is, in turn, being pressured by a client in a giant bug suit.  I’d say they only two characters that want to interact with each other are Hailey and Happy, who see the least of each other during the first season’s eight episodes.

It’s surprising that SyFy put out such a dark show.  It’s a lot closer to Breaking Bad than 24.  It’s almost like Breaking Bad and 24 were put into a blender with a heavy dose of sarcasm.  Even though it features a kids’ show, this is definitely for adults.  There’s plenty of graphic violence in each episode.  There’s also more subtle imagery, like two teletubby-like characters, shooting a rainbow between their respective places where the sun doesn’t shine.  (You may not even want to know where Smoothie got his nickname.)

The first season was ridiculous in a few areas, but generally worked pretty well.  The plot twists seemed to be in all the right places and none of them seemed unnecessary.  Part of this is probably because the season was so short.  You can only miss the bad guy so many times before it becomes a cliché. 


John Wick (2014)

I got the DVD out of the library in preparation for John Wick 3.  (I’ll be seeing John Wick Chapter 2 in the next few days.)  the story is very action oriented.  There‘s an XKCD where two characters are discussing Summer blockbusters.  One laments that there haven’t been any good action films.  At best, the films were at least 60% non-action.  While John Wick isn’t River Tam Beats Up Everyone, it’s probably the closest I’ve seen so far.

The movie starts with the title character grieving for the loss of his wife.  In anticipation of her death, Helen Wick arranged to have a puppy named Daisy delivered to John after her death.  She knew that the only other thing in this world that he paid attention to was his car.  The puppy would allow him to have someone there for him as he grieved.

Enter Iosef Tarasov.  He’s the entitled son of mob boss Viggo Tarasov.  When Iosef sees Johns nice, shiny car, Iosef wants it.  John rebukes Iosef, which ;leads to Iosef breaking into John’s house one night.  Iosef steals the car and kills Daisy.   Normally, this might be the end of the story, but John Wick used to work for Viggo as a hit man.  As Viggo points out, John’s not the bogeyman.  He’s the one you send after the bogeyman.  That’s who Iosef pissed off.

The rest of the movie is John seeking revenge on Iosef.  Viggo tries desperately to protect his son, including putting out a $2,000,000 bounty on John’s head.  Viggo has essentially sentenced his entire organization to death.  Anyone who gets in John’s way is shot.  Both of the people who take the contract also end up dead, even though one is John’s friend.  (I suspect that John Wick will be the only one who will make his way to Chapter 2.)

The world that John lived in is pretty complete.  There’s even a cleaning crew that takes ‘dinner reservations’ when bodies need to be disposed of.  Services are paid for in gold coins.  There’s even a hotel where hit men can rest without fear of being killed.

I suppose if you’re going to do a movie like this, you’d better do it well.  I didn’t really have many issues with the movie that weren’t to be expected.  Yes, it’s cliché when one person manages to kill dozens of armed people that are chasing him, but John Wick is supposed to be that good.  I was a little surprised that he didn’t sleep with a gun under his pillow.  (Granted, he wasn’t expecting someone to break into his house, but still…)

My only other question deals with the end of the movie and I’ll probably have it answered shortly.  I don’t want to ask it here so as to not potentially ruin the ending.  However, I may ask it in the next review if the answer isn’t clear.

I would say watch this movie only if you like very violent stories.  Consider the death count.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)

In The Secret Life of Pets, we learned that Max is a very lucky dog to have a home and a human named Katie to care for him.  He’s still lucky.  He has the same home and all and a canine roommate that he learned to get used to.  Things rarely ever stay the same, though.  Max and Duke receive a shock when their human brings home a boyfriend, Chuck.  Chuck becomes Katie’s husband.  Then, Katie becomes pregnant.

Yes, Max is going to have to put up with a rug rat.  After seeing what small children do to other dogs, Max isn’t thrilled.  However, he learns to love Liam.  Max and Duke are like an extra set of parents, doing what they can to help their newest family member.

The trouble is that Max isn’t as good as Duke at handling stress.  Now that Max has to worry about Liam, he sees danger everywhere.  This leads to a nervous habit of scratching his neck, which leads to a visit to the doctor.  And…Max gets The Cone of Shame.

We now have three divergent storylines.  Max, Duke and family go to a farm for a vacation, prompting Max to entrust fellow dog Gidget to watch over his beloved toy, Busy Bee.  Meanwhile, Snowball gets to play hero and rescue a tiger from a circus.  The three stories converge at the end, making for an interesting chase scene.

I’ve been reading complaints about having three story lines.  It’s not that bad.  Each one is at least entertaining and it’s not unusual for a TV show to do the same thing.  (CSI would often have two cases per episode.)  My impression is that the movie was written this way rather than having several otherwise-rejected story lines being merged together.

I could see them having been written as filler.  It’s not clear why Max would need someone to babysit his toy.  It would be more likely that Katie would bring it with them.  That does seem like it’s being done to set up the detour into The Land of the Crazy Cat Lady.  However, that was a pretty epic journey.

Having Snowball save a tiger was also strange.  At this point, circuses are anachronistic.  (Do we even have any traveling circuses any more?)  If I were writing the movie, I probably would have gone with a collector of exotic pets.  It would have made more sense.  It’s also a little odd that the tiger is so docile.  Tigers are wild animals and have been known to attack their captors, even after years or decades in captivity.

It still ends up being a fun movie.  It would seem that many of the errant details are done more for a joke, like having the tiger act like a house cat might.  It’s going to be fun for both kids and adults.  I just wonder how many kids will want a pet tiger.