Episode 189: House of Cards

April 29, 2014

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“There are two kinds of spoilers. The sort of spoiler that makes you strong, or useless spoilers. The sort of spoiler that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.”

Wow. House of Cards is a powerful indictment of the American political system. And that in itself raises some questions…

  1. Is it really like that on Capitol Hill?  The lobbying, sure, we all know about that, but the more subtle Machiavellary? That can’t really exist in real life, right? And yes, I just coined the noun “Machiavellary” (feel free to use it).
  2. If it’s not really a corrupt knot of tangled webs, do Americans actually believe it is?
  3. And if people don’t believe it is, then do Americans kind of wish it’s really was like that? (Better than believing your country is run by incompetent buffoons?)

As someone who lives outside of America (barely), these questions fascinate me.


Episode 175: Hemlock Grove

August 30, 2013

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Hemlock Grove is perhaps the truest definition of a “Netflix Folly” in that it’s a “Netflix Original” series so any lack of quality is the sole fault of Netflix. I talked about the series briefly a few posts ago thinking I’d washed my hands of this dog’s breakfast of a teen horror soap. I wrote:

A Netflix original version of Twi-Blood-Diaries. We watched a whole four episodes before giving up. It wasn’t bad exactly but they were really dragging out the story at about a 2:1 episode to plot point ratio. Actually by episode three it felt like they’d told about one episode’s worth of story. One thing Mandi appreciated was finally there was some vampire enjoying menstrual cunnilingus action—a “sexy vampire” genre pet peeve of her’s is that they never indulge in this obvious opportunity. Anyway, sometimes I think about watching another episode and then… don’t bother.

It turns out I did end up bothering to return to Hemlock Grove a few days after posting the above having found myself in need of something to watch while I ate dinner when Mandi was away for a few days. So I watched another episode, cringed, watched another the next day, sneered, watched another… and so on.

When Mandi returned from her trip, she found herself in the unfortunate position of being forced to watch the remain three episodes with me, I’d passed the point of no return and needed to know how it ended. Welcome home, Mandi.

At this point I’d like to rescind a statement in my previous review: “It wasn’t bad exactly…”

Hemlock Grove really is exactly bad.

It’s partly because they took a book that was more suited to a six episode mini-series and stretched it out to a full 13 episode season. Yet they somehow still manage to rush the ending in the final two episodes. I’ll admit this is only a theory as I haven’t read the book, but I’ve placed a hold on it at the library in order to do a proper comparison—and to answer some lingering questions I have about the plot.

These pacing issues are a good deal of the problem with the series. Also that every second or third scene feels like a non sequitur as characters embark on courses of action for which writers seem to have forgotten to establish solid motivations. It’s unclear if this is a script problem, an issue with the actors’ performances, or if a bunch of interconnecting dialogue ended up on the cutting room floor (or never got shot) for whatever reason.

It doesn’t help the two male leads spend every scene they’re in together trying to out-James Dean each other. The palpable “too cool for school” disinterest in everything that surrounds them makes it difficult to buy their investment in their “quest” to find the rogue werewolf terrorizing the town. The  effect isn’t unique to them, all the characters seem to merely be drifting through life in a state of blasé detachment. Of course this is something that could have had a legitimate narrative or thematic purpose if done artfully.

But it wasn’t.


Episode 174: SEASON of the BLACK DEATH

August 23, 2013

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Perhaps an unexpected pairs of  movies for us to pit against each other, we compare and contrast the cinematic masterpieces SEASON OF THE WITCH (Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman) and BLACK DEATH (Sean Bean, a bunch of random unknowns).  Just don’t say we never scrape the bottom of the barrel.


Netflix Follies: Let Me In, Cargo, Pandorum, Predators, more

August 12, 2013

FOLLIES

 complete viewing  ♠ partial viewing   television series 

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 Let Me In: A relatively faithful American adaptation of the Swedish vampire film Let The right One In. So faithful—at times seemingly shot-for-shot—it begs a series of questions: 

  • Why bother to set it in America?
  • Given change in location, why keep it set in 1983?
  • If you’re going to be so faithful about certain aesthetic aspects, why jettison the element that made the original so intriguing ambiguity?

Though it’s laudable Hollywood didn’t Hollywoodize the film, it’s ultimately a kind of pointless exercise. Rather than bringing this story to a wider English-speaking North American audience, they still ended up making the kind of film that would generally appeal to people who aren’t turned off by reading subtitles. Only this time they did it with two leads who, though really pretty good, are just a few ticks less interesting than their Swedish counterparts. At best, anyone who sees this version first will probably want to see the mesmerizing original but will have had the experience spoiled for them slightly.

I had the unexpected sensation of actually wishing they’d bastardized Let The Right One In into some kind of Near Dark meets Twilight mess because then at least I’d be able to say, “Well, I guess they really did have to dumb it down for American audiences,” and then just enjoy it for whatever piece of crap it is.

Of course, if they had gone that route, I’d probably actually have been pissing blood on it, calling their version a travesty. So…

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 Cargo: This is a Swiss mash-up of Alien and The Matrix. Yeah, that second reference is a spoiler but they telegraph it so far in advance you’re spending half the film clawing at the screen willing the characters to figure out the obvious. Definite pacing issues. Also, the horror/suspense “hunted by something unknown in dark corridors” element should have been cut in favour of the main sci-fi story. It felt entirely shoe-horned in like they thought you simply can’t have a space voyage movie without it. Since it was ultimately inconsequential to the over-arching story, it wasn’t even thrilling. Otherwise, Cargo is not a the worst twist on the something-goes-terribly-wrong-on-a-long-space-voyage trope—but the bar is set pretty low.

 Pandorum: This is another something-goes-terribly-wrong-on-a-long-space-voyage film, of course recommended to me after watching Cargo. Reading the synopsis, I wondered if it was actually a Hollywood remake of Cargo so I gave in to my curiosity. It’s not a remake, but it’s another film in this sci-fi sub-genre that probably could have done without the “hunted by something unknown in dark corridors” element and been stronger.

Of course, then it’d be more Silent Running meets Event Horizon and less Aliens meets Event Horizon. Maybe that wouldn’t have been significantly better. Still, as with Cargo, it felt like they were making two different movies and sandwiching them together. The titular space madness “pandorum” didn’t add much to the sort of Noah’s Ark gone Planet of the Apes story, only distracted from it.

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Netflix Follies: TV edition

August 9, 2013

FOLLIES

 complete viewing  ♠ partial viewing   television series 

≈ Fantasy Island: Shocked that Mandi had never watched Fantasy Island, I made her watch an episode. And wouldn’t you know? It was the one with the escape artist escaping from Devil’s Island (succinctly titled “Escape”). I must have seen this episode a bunch of times as a kid because when I think of Fantasy Island, I think of this episode. It seriously made me terrified of going to prison. I think it must have been the first time, at five or six, I really got the concept. Anyway, I didn’t remember the other story (“Cinderella Girls”) at all which co-starred John Saxon (who I wrongly insisted was Terry O’Quinn, from Lost). Tattoo was less offensive than I remembered and Mr. Rourke was more chillingly sinister. Is he supposed to actually be the Devil or some kind of benevolent wizard? Anyway, it’s worth watching just for the Rourke bits. Ricardo Montalban puts the gravy in gravitas.

≈ The A-Team: To balance off what I assumed was going to be a terrible experience for Mandi watching Fantasy Island, I agreed to watch The A-Team. When she liked Fantasy Island I bellowed “D’oh!” and shook my fist at the sky. Well, The A-Team wasn’t as bad as I remembered. That is to say the action was still just as hokey but the dialogue and character interactions were a lot more entertaining than I expected. I guess that’s why it was a hit. Anyway, John Saxon was the baddie! What’re the chances? (Pretty good since he was on an episode a week of something pretty much for a whole decade).

≈ Hemlock Grove: A Netflix original version of Twi-Blood-Diaries. We watched a whole four episodes before giving up. It wasn’t bad exactly but they were really dragging out the story at about a 2:1 episode to plot point ratio. Actually by episode three it felt like they’d told about one episode’s worth of story. One thing Mandi appreciated was finally there was some vampire enjoying menstrual cunnilingus action—a “sexy vampire” genre pet peeve of her’s is that they never indulge in this obvious opportunity. Anyway, sometimes I think about watching another episode and then… don’t bother.

≈ Orange Is The New Black: A Netflix original series about a middle class woman’s experience in prison. Mandi’s watched a bunch of these but I only watched the first episode and, maybe, part of another. Perhaps it gets better but I couldn’t shake the feeling the balance between comedy and drama felt really, really off. Or neither were done particularly well. I think the fact I was a little (completely) put off by the lead character didn’t help. I kept thinking, “Well this couldn’t have happened to a shallower, more annoying person.” Which I’m sure was intentional. She’ll grow as a result of her experiences. Which was a little too obvious, too pat. Anyway, I felt like they were trying go for a kind of Breaking Bad feel but didn’t get that same dark, dark humour working. Also, Kate Mulgrew’s Russian accent is atrocious. I was baffled about why they went with that and then found out the show is based on a book. Well, that explains why the character is Russian, but not why they didn’t get someone who could do a Russian accent to play her. It’s not like Mulgrew is any kind of draw. Anyway, when she’s not talking, Mulgrew is the most engaging, least cliched, character on screen. So there’s that.


Netflix Follies: Hot Fuzz, Knight and Day, Transformers 3, Arena, more…

July 4, 2013

FOLLIES

 complete viewing  ♠ partial viewing   television series 

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 Hot Fuzz: I’d seen this before and thus had been deflecting Mandi’s suggestions we watch it on the assumption I’d remember every single gag and the “who” in what there is of a whodunit. Or ANYTHING about the film at all. Other than the “our hoodies problem” and the two leads watching Point Break, I didn’t remember a thing. At any rate it’s silly, it’s charming, it’s a nice play-up of american style cop movies in a distinctly British manner. It’s got some nice gore even. Must see? Hmm, must see eventually. And then eventually watch it again.

♠ Beverly Hills Cop III: On the other hand, not a good cop/buddy movie is Beverly Hill Cop III, which I was under the impression I’d never seen before despite the first film in the series being my “favourite movie ever”. For at least a whole two months in 1984. I suspect I really might not have seen this one as you’d think I’d remember the surreal, Spy Kids-esque theme part sequence which contains a baffling series of events that include:

A) an extended mash-up of the “disaster movie” and “Battlestar Galactica” segments of the Universal Studios tour; and
B) a fucking GEORGE LUCAS cameo. I turned of off at this point.

But not before deciding Jason Segel has basically made a career out of stealing Judge Reinhold‘s schtick.
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Netflix Follies — Terminator 2: Judgement Day

June 24, 2013

FOLLIES

 complete viewing  ♠ partial viewing   television series 

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♠ Terminator 2: Judgement Day

I wanted to watch this again because I’ve thrashed it hard over the years (23 of them to be precise) and lately have begun to suspect I was being unfair to it. Judgement Day seems to be the franchise favourite among fans and sometimes I have a knee-jerk negative reaction to popular favourites.

So what were my issues with the film going in? Basically just that they’d taken the gritty, ultra-violent, campy B-movie, sci-fi action/horror of the original Terminator and sanitized it into an almost family-friendly, Spielberg-esque boy-and-his-robot buddy movie. I remembered it being basically E.T. if Elliott was a juvenile delinquent and E.T. had been a time-travelling hunter-killer cyborg. While I’ll always have a nostalgic love for E.T., doing a Terminator version was just a terrible concept from the get go.

The heart-warming tale of boy and his robot

Rehashing the same time-travel paradox gambit from the first film was probably a bit dodgy to begin with, but I had a huge problem with the switch-up in making Arnie a good guy this time around (at his insistence if I remember correctly). The concept might have been okay if, instead of playing a reprogrammed T-800 sent back to protect John Connor, he was  a human being—the one that the T-800’s appearance was based on. Having this “good guy” version of the T-800 completely destroys the character. He’s simply not interesting unless he’s indiscriminately killing people without mercy or remorse. Maybe human-Arnie could even have been fighting robo-Arnie! Or maybe someone like Dolph Lundgren could have been a T-900 cyborg? Anything would have been better than this neutered version of the T-800 and the weird liquid man.

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Netflix Follies: Battle Los Angeles

June 7, 2013

FOLLIES

Battle: Los Angeles

Under the impression it had been universally panned by critics and audiences, I’d been avoiding Battle: Los Angeles. Also, I’d heard the words “shaky” and “cam” associated with the title which meant I had to wait until Mandi was out of the house to watch it.

Perhaps it was a case of low-expectations engendering a forgiving attitude, but I was impressed. It’s a by-the-books war movie though, not strictly an alien-invasion story. The enemy are aliens but they could easily have been Nazis, Viet Cong, Iraqi insurgents or even Red Dawn era Soviets. It doesn’t matter who they are. The film is really about a platoon of grunts thrown into a relentless FUBAR situation for about an hour and a half.

After watching the film, I wasn’t sure why it’d gotten panned so I looked it up

Rotten Tomatoes: “Overlong and overly burdened with war movie clichés, Battle: Los Angeles will entertain only the most ardent action junkies”.

Roger Ebert:  “Noisy, violent, ugly and stupid… Generations of filmmakers devoted their lives to perfecting techniques that a director like Jonathan Liebesman is either ignorant of, or indifferent to. Yet he is given millions of dollars to produce this assault on the attention span of a generation.”

Time Out: “… flat military characters… hackneyed dialogue and corny sentimentality”.

Well, I can certainly see where these reviewers are coming from but I also have to cock an eyebrow at them. It seems almost like they were rating the film using The Hurt Locker as a standard and not summer popcorn movies like Aliens.

I think The Miami Herald got it about right:

“Not so goofy as Independence Day, not so terrifying as War of the Worlds, and it utterly lacks the imagination and emotional resonance of District 9.”

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Netflix Reflux

May 15, 2013

FOLLIES

After writing the additional reviews for our Netflix Follies episode shownotes, I realized I forgot to review my favourite film from the bunch, Lock Out. And, of course, we’ve watched a few more shows since. So here’s a few more reviews— aindicates a partial viewing of the film.

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Lock Out: This film excels were The Expendables fails. Sly Stallone seemed to think people fondly remember ’80s action flicks because of a lot of overblown brawn and even more overblown explosions. Yeah, sure, that’s part of it. But in Lock Out we see Guy Pierce (and the writers) nail what Sly forgot (or never really understood): ’80s action heroes were quick-witted, wise-cracking, every-man smart-asses as well as buff superhuman brutes. Pierce’s character Snow is basically Bogart‘s Sam Spade mixed with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine (minus the claws). You almost wonder if they had Pierce bulk-up just because Jackman turned down the part. Anyway, the film is basically just Escape From New York in orbit with a bit of a noir mystery à la Total Recall tossed in. For what it is, Lockout really works. Thanks pretty much entirely to Pierce’s performance (as well as the not-terrible writing).

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Episode 168: Netflix Follies

May 9, 2013

Click to download episode 168. Thor, Ex-men First Class, In Time, Kick-Ass, and more

We’re pretty late to the Netflix party. For years now everyone has been saying we should drop by, so here we are. So far, yeah, we’re having an okay time. The chips are pretty good though the pop’s a bit flat. We’re meeting  some people we never would’ve had a chance to (lemme tell you, some are total D-bags) and hanging out with some old friends we’d forgotten about.

This week we cover the various things we’ve watched in the last month: Thor; X-Men First Class; In Time; How I Met Your Mother; Mad Men; This Means War; Starship Troopers; Kick-Ass; Puss In Boots; Portlandia; The IT Crowd.

A few movies we didn’t talk about on the episode (or that I watched on my own while Mandi was oot and aboot):

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