Monday, January 11, 2016

Remembering David Bowie

Last night's news of David Bowie's passing hit me hard. I was devastated. Many of you know I've been seriously ill for a month or so, but I've been making forward progress and trying to be positive - but this loss was a physical blow and crushed my spirits. I loved and love Bowie, he was a favorite, an idol, an inspiration, and the man marked my life.

My first exposure to Bowie, and also to the offensive gay epithet that starts with an F, was when I saw the "Little Drummer Boy (Peace on Earth)" duet with Bing Crosby originally air. I remember seeing him on "Soul Train," and in drag and as a puppet on "Saturday Night Live." "DJ" from Lodger (which I had on 8-track) was probably the first proper music video I ever saw, another field in which Bowie was a pioneer.

I remember vividly the first times I heard many of his songs. "Golden Years," "Cat People," "Station to Station," "I'm Afraid of Americans," "Let's Dance," "Sound and Vision," and a dozen others all hold specific memories for my first listens. How many other artists or songs can one say that about?

I saw Bowie once, during his Glass Spider tour. Squeeze opened, and both Peter Frampton and Toni Basil were part of his entourage on stage, but Bowie shined like a supernova in that dying and falling apart JFK Stadium. He was mesmerizing and amazing, a burning, singing, dancing light enthralling the thousands there. I'll never forget it.

This weekend, the weekend of both his birthday and death, was filled with Bowie for me. I watched him on "Storytellers" telling tales and performing for a small audience songs from his then-new album Hours. I also finally got around to listening to Blackstar, a fabulous collection. In an iTunes age when one can just cherry pick the songs one likes, I preordered Blackstar in its entirety as I have Bowie's last few.

And today I am crushed, numb, and indescribably sad. Rest in peace, man, I love you, you changed my life.
A slightly different version of this appears at Biff Bam Pop!. Please pop over there for more remembrances of David Bowie by the staff there.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Jessica Jones S01 E02: AKA Crush Syndrome

If you're a listener to The GAR! Podcast, you know we talk about "Breaking Bad" a lot, and in the past when it has come up in conjunction with the then-upcoming "Jessica Jones" Netflix series, I have always had one roadblock. Who the hell was/is Krysten Ritter? I get beaten up every time, most recently right here.

I'm sorry, but some folks may have thought Ms. Ritter was amazing as Jesse Pinkman's girlfriend Jane Margolis in her nine episodes of "Breaking Bad," but she never left an impression on me. It's only when I have to be reminded of her role that I remember her, that I recall her, in my opinion, lackluster performance. Ritter in "Breaking Bad," to me, was very similar to her scenes with Mike Colter in the first episode of "Jessica Jones" - a cold fish hardly trying but surrounded by otherwise brilliance.

Don't get me wrong. Krysten Ritter's voiceover and solo bits as Jessica are brilliance, the same with her interacting with the other actors and characters. But. The one relationship that is the single most important to the character of Jessica Jones, the one with Mike Colter's Luke Cage, is the one that last episode I just did not believe. Sorry. It doesn't get much better this time around.

I hope this changes with this series. It should be noted that I am reviewing this Netflix series the same way I did with "Daredevil" - one episode at a time, as I watch it. So all you folks who consumed this entire thing in a mad binge watch, chill with the spoilers, because if I get something wrong or am misguided - I probably just haven't gotten there yet. Be patient.

We open on Jessica doing the right thing. Last time she had fallen into The Purple Man's trap for her, and allowed his will to make Midwest girl Hope kill her own parents. Instead of running, Jessica's first instinct, she takes the heroic turn - inspired by her friend Trish - and stays to deal with the authorities. Here at the police station, in mock interrogation, Ritter continues her cool modern day noir character.

The cop asking the questions, Oscar 'Ozzy' Clemons (Punisher supporter cast if memory serves), is played by one of my all time favorite actors - Clarke Peters, who was probably one of the single best things about both "Treme" and "The Wire," not just two of best shows HBO has ever produced, but also on television, period. Clemons is very close to his character on "The Wire." It's a small part, but Peters' inclusion here is a gigantic plus.

If "AKA Ladies Night" was meant as a tour through a day in the life of Jessica Jones, this episode continues that trend, further exploring the people and tactics in her life. We learn more about her relationship with Trish, we see her check in with Jeri, with Hope, and with Luke. We even meet her upstairs neighbors, bizarre fraternal twins who would make great 21st century additions to the tenants of 1970s horrors Rosemary's Baby and The Sentinel.

We also see what makes Jessica a great detective. We see her at work, we see her methods. The show is still pumping that film noir vibe hard, but I can't but imagine a watered down version of Jessica fitting in well with folks like Jim Rockford, Sam McCloud, and Columbo, just as much as Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. I like this, she's not just physical, but a thinking detective.

Speaking of physical however, one of the highlights of the episode has Jessica 'saving' Luke from a rugby team, not that Power Man needs saving. There is a certain harmony that she calls "teamwork" while they're fighting the jealous husbands club. Perhaps the chemistry works better when they don't talk. Important about the scene is that he sees that she's stronger than a normal woman, and she sees his effortless strength and unexplainably tough skin. They're peas in a super power pod, kindred souls.

There is also the horror that is Kilgrave. In Jessica's investigation we learn that he did not die by getting hit by a bus a year ago. In some medical stuff just a bit too close to home for me, we learn where this episode got its title and how Kilgrave lost the function of both kidneys, and then mind-controlled his way into two new kidneys. As one who knows the path, it is indeed gruesome.

David Tennant also makes his presence known by appropriating a stranger's home for his own. We still haven't seen him face the camera, but he is intimidating and powerful just off screen. Like the neon purple flashes that send Jessica into PTSD, it's more what we don't see than what we do. Speaking of what we don't see, is Trish already Hellcat, or just possibly training for it? Patsy fans want to know!

The episode was written by Micah Schraft who worked for the CW on shows like "Jane the Virgin" and "The Tomorrow People," notably neither of their hit superhero shows, "Arrow" and "The Flash." He might think of making that jump based on this episode.

More, please.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Arrow S04 E07: Brotherhood

Before we go anywhere this week, I just want to note why the emergence of John Diggle's brother as an actual character on "Arrow" is so weird. Diggle was named in homage of Andy Diggle, one of the Green Arrow writers in the comics. When the opportunity came up to give Diggle some backstory, someone clever behind the scenes thought it would be fun to give him a dead brother named Andy.

Now, this brother is figuring heavily in the current storyline, and it's odd to keep hearing the name Andy Diggle and seeing an actor play him. This is a step beyond the Neal Adams remark a few weeks back, because I doubt we'll ever see Neal. The Andy Diggle thing is different.

Speaking of homages, the trail to find where the H.I.V.E. ghosts are coming from leads to a raid on another corporate entity peddling in super science. Since it doesn't matter the name, at least they decided not to tease us with a real DC Universe company this time like Kord Industries to get our hopes up. This one is Wolfman Biologics, named for writer Marv Wolfman, who did his share of Speedy stories during his reign on New Teen Titans. Ironically, it's also where Diggle finds his brother.

Andy Diggle is alive, and working for H.I.V.E. To get to the point where we find any real information about it is a long road. This episode seems to be about quick action scenes to get to the slow dreary soap opera parts - as opposed to the other way around. Thea is juggling an undercover romance (again?) with Davis, and dealing with her Lazarus Pit blood lust (again??), although it's always nice to see John Barrowman.

The Andy thing brings back the annoying bugaboo between Oliver and Diggle over family and secrets. It seems that the H.I.V.E. ghosts are definitely enhanced by a drug, as well as bound by Darhk's suggestion - and probably dead as well. Ray, coming out his back-from-the-dead funk, pinpoints their home base. It was a thrill to see the Atom join the fight after so long.

The big deal however is Darhk's mini-confrontation of the week. He corners Thea, noting her fighting style as that of R'as Al Ghul, then flips it by asking how her father is. But the whammy is that when he tries to take her heart a la Mola Ram, he surprisingly can't. Lazarus Pit immunity maybe? Weirdly though, the encounter took away Thea's blood lust.

Flashback Island has unearthed a revelation for me in that boss man Reiter was referenced as 'Baron.' Now I am able to place him in the DC Comics mythos. This is the TV version of World War II baddie Baron Blitzkrieg. This Nazi super-villain clashed with the All-Star Squadron frequently, as well as Earth-Two versions of Wonder Woman and Superman. In comics it should be noted the Baron never really had an interest in magic, and on "Arrow," he won't be going by his Blitzkrieg monicker.

Next: the big Arrow/Flash crossover, when Heroes Join Forces, against Vandal Savage!

And then there's this...

Friday, November 20, 2015

Jessica Jones S01 E01: AKA Ladies Night

I guess I should probably make this confession up front. I came to the character of Jessica Jones late. When writer/creator Brian Michael Bendis controversially came on board the Avengers franchise to much fanfare and derision, I sought out his other work just to see what we Avengers fans were in for.

My first impression was mixed. Bendis was, and is, a fantastic writer, but his style, no matter how things turned out (and they turned out well, he turned the comic into a million dollar franchise), was not for my Earth's Mightiest Heroes. I did not want Wolverine or Spider-Man on the team, or Spider-Woman or Sentry or Ares for that matter. I did not want the years long story arc of Secret Invasion. And most of all, I did not want deconstructionist thinking in my comic books. Bendis did all of these things, and yes, in hindsight, they all worked. But it wasn't my Avengers.

However, that said, in his other projects - before, during, after (and including) Avengers, they did work. Most notable and critically acclaimed was Alias, the title that brought us Jessica Jones. Operating outside and within the superhero universe that was the Marvel Universe, Jessica Jones was a former super-heroine, Jewel, who was now a private investigator. Later continuity implants placed her among the Avengers, and in the present day involved her with Luke Cage, now an Avenger, living with the team along with her and Luke's child. Because comics.

Now I normally dislike retcons unless they make sense and are absolutely necessary. Sometimes they are the mark of lazy writing. Bendis wanted Jewel to have a past with the Avengers so there it was. Don't get me started. Alias had some great stories, and some great storytelling, but the climax was what happened to Jessica to turn her from superhero to private investigator? This big question was the floater in the pool until we found out, and it appears to be the thrust of the Netflix TV series as well - the Purple Man.

"Marvel's Jessica Jones" was created for Netflix by, and the first episode was written by Melissa Rosenberg, and she's also an executive producer, and the showrunner. She is the award winning head writer of "Dexter," who also adapted most of the Twilight saga for the screen, and worked on "Birds of Prey," which was far better than anyone wants to remember. I am hopeful, and have faith in her abilities - despite how "Dexter" ended.

Also among the numerous executive producers for "Jessica Jones" is the character and series co-creator Brian Michael Bendis. Shouldn't he be busy wrecking the Iron Man comic or making the "Powers" TV series better? Yeah, that was sarcasm. Pardon me, I'm still bitt er about what he did to my Avengers…

The opening credit sequence is very cool, with graphics showcasing the art of David Mack, and I like the theme by Sean Callery. He's also scored "Homeland," "Le Femme Nikita," and "24" in both television and videogame formats.

I love the opening line of the series: "New York may be the city that never sleeps, but it sure does sleep around." Jessica is very old school Raymond Chandler down and out private dick, but one must wonder - would we have gotten such a gratuitous panties shot out of a sleeping Philip Marlowe?

From the first second we are thrust into the mood and vibe of this world. Film noir but in vibrant dark neon, mood music, and classic voiceover from private investigator Jessica Jones. Whatever my reservations about Krysten Ritter, they dissolved quickly. And without fanfare, even if one hasn't seen the trailers for the show, we get the hint, less than three minutes in, that Jessica may be more than we think.

There's also that longer than needed shot of the bus ad - the "Trish Talk" radio show - introducing one of my favorite comic book characters, one technically older than the corporate name of Marvel itself, Patsy Walker. No relation. And in this incarnation, she's blonde and going by Trish. I can't wait for more of her, whether she's 'catty' or not.

Carrie-Anne Moss' Ms. Jeri Hogarth is a gender-switched womanizing lesbian version of Jeryn Hogarth, a lawyer who worked closely with Danny (Iron Fist) Rand. We also get our first glimpse of Mike Colter as Rand's partner from the comics, Luke Cage, while Jessica is on stakeout and peeping tomming it while trying to stay awake. The scenes with Luke Cage are the only places where Krysten Ritter falters. The words are there as is the direction, and Mike Colter is great, but there is no chemistry at least for me. This is the only time where Ritter seems remote, robotic, almost as if she's reading the words. I didn't believe her at all.

And then we also got our first taste of David Tennant's Kilgrave, the series' big bad, known as Zebediah Killgrave - The Purple Man - in the comics. I love the purple neon effect of his powers, and now we know why Jessica drinks herself to sleep. The Purple Man's power is such that he's caused post-traumatic stress disorder in Jessica. The drinking helps, and reciting street names helps. Either way he still haunts her. When Jessica finds that he has set her up with her current case, finding a Midwestern couple's daughter, solely to bring her back into his web, she freaks out. A drop in on her old friend Trish to ask for money to get away polarizes Jessica to do the right thing and rescue the girl.

And that's when we find out just what kind of sociopath Kilgrave is. The ending is horrific. If "Daredevil" raised the stakes in what can be done in comic book superhero television, "Jessica Jones" takes it to a whole new level. I can't wait for more.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Terminator Genisys

Terminator Genisys ~ There's a joke we have frequently when I run superhero role-playing games, because it's a storytelling device I use so often, and that's "Time travel makes my head hurt." The line is even spoken in this film. That's pretty much the phrase that best describes Terminator Genisys, because its continuity exists in a reality where things have been so messed up by repeated time travel that no one can keep the 'real' reality straight any longer.

We've got at least four movies and a short-lived TV series full of continuity that has been changed and reset more times than a videogame. Play. Reset. Play. Over and over again so that much of what you know is different every time you hit the reset button. Add to that the concept of alternate timelines, alternate pasts, and alternate futures, it just gets worse. For all those "Doctor Who" fans out there quoting David Tennant's 'timey-wimey' monologue, you get the picture.

Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor are still trying to destroy Skynet to prevent the machines from killing the human race, and a variety of Terminators are out to get them. That's all still true, it's the rules and variables that are different, and of course it's been updated. There are surprises, young Arnold, old Arnold, Lee Byung-hun as a T-1000, and... well, that would be telling. But then again, that's one of the big problems with this flick, all the big surprises were given away in the trailers.

Like earlier Terminator films, it's action propelled, thrills as heroes race against time, and stunts and special effects galore. Arnold Schwarzenegger is perfect, former Doctor Who Matt Smith (billed as Matthew Smith) rocked, and JK Simmons is fun in his much-too-small role. All are good except for the real lynchpin of the flick - Emilia Clarke, the Kalissi from "Game of Thrones," as Sarah Connor, is worse than bad, she's completely unbelievable. HBO has her right, the less dialogue, the better the performance.

I really could have done without the 'lesson' that technology is bad for us, and that being plugged in and online is a bad thing. Perhaps that is another reason this flick did not do as well as it could have - the anti-internet message of the Genisys application. Bad idea, folks, don't alienate the young demographic, don't bite the hand that feeds...

Here's the bottom line. I saw this flick for free on the TV loop in my stateroom of a recent cruise. It was enjoyable for free to watch as I pleased or not. If I'd had to pay for it, I think I might have been mad. See at your own risk.