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.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

X - The Man with the X-Ray Eyes

X - The Man with the X-Ray Eyes ~ This is one of those films, much talked about and rarely seen (at least by me). As a longtime listener to Mr. Movie Steve Friedman, I had heard about this movie on an almost weekly basis, and especially the ending. I was very pleased to finally have the chance to see X - The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, especially on the TCM Classic Cruise, and introduced by Ben Mankiewicz and producer Roger Corman himself.

Corman is 89 years old, and after his cancellation on last year's cruise, and seeing him at the port in a wheelchair before boarding, understandably there were some health concerns. There needn't have been. Though with a cane, he walked out onto the stage of the Buena Vista Theatre to a thunderous standing ovation.

Roger and Ben talked mainly about X, as the film's actual title card reads, and how it was made. In typical Corman fashion it was made in three weeks for $300,000. The mad acting skills of star Ray Milland and first timer Don Rickles were also up for discussion, and well deserved. Milland has always been one of the good ones, and I've always thought Rickles was a pretty amazing, if underrated, actor myself. The cast was rounded out by Diana Van der Vlis, an almost dead ringer for Elizabeth Mongomery, and a young Dick Miller.

The existence of another ending was discussed, and that had me both confused, and sitting through to the end of the credits like it was a Marvel Cinematic Universe flick. There's no alternate ending. Much like the urban legend of two different endings to King Kong Vs. Godzilla, it just does not exist. Corman states that the much-talked-about scary ending was made up by Stephen King, but that doesn't sound right either. Sounds like a job for Snopes.

Here, on stage, Corman claimed that the ending was the sole construction of Stephen King, in his book Danse Macabre, but according to Wikipedia (always the worst source on such things, but Snopes had no listing) Corman has in the past said that an ending was shot where Milland, after having torn his own eyes out, screams, "I can still see!" I guess we'll never know for sure.

The movie centers on Milland, an obsessed scientist working to improve human vision. So obsessed is he that he tests a new formula on himself, gaining an approximation of x-ray vision. The more formula he puts in his eyes, the more extensive his vision becomes, and of course the more insane he becomes. He wanders through the film, through a carnival, a scam, Las Vegas, and a tent revival, before taking a step into the still-horrific ending.

This was a fun watch, but not much beyond the typical early 1960s scifi fare, but decidedly ahead of its time all the same. Not as cool as I thought it would be, but that said, it just doesn't get any better when it's on the big screen and introduced by the director, a living legend himself.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Arrow S04 E06: Lost Souls

After the seriousness of past seasons, and especially this season so far, the old school scifi horror of Damien Darhk looking in at the shrunken Ray Palmer in a jar might seem childish, but let me assure you this would fit in quite nicely with the Silver Age Atom comics. As a matter of fact, this Doctor Cyclops vibe reminds me of the last couple episodes of "The Flash," because Doctor Light once trapped the Atom in a lightbulb.

Had things stayed in that vein of Silver Age goodness, I think this could have been a good episode. The only time it even came close was when Team Arrow (with two Black Canaries!) raided Kord Industries, but even that fizzled, without even a hint of Blue Beetle-ness. The episode never seems to want to commit.

Even with distractions like some weirdness and bad decisions on Flashback Island and the side plot of Felicity's mom in town - that last almost as bad as the sitcom-iness on "The Flash" last week. In the same vein, it looks like Felicity's mom and Laurel's dad are hooking up. As are Thea and the possible Dr. Davis. Let's not even get into the time wasted on Ollicity this week.

I wanted to like this episode a lot. I had high hopes when Green Arrow and Damien Darhk faced off momentarily, but again no real pay off. Ray is back, Sara is gone, and I was mostly bored. Bring back Constantine, bring back John Barrowman, do something, please.

Next: Pretty much more of the same, it looks like…

We really can't get here fast enough…

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Raven

The Raven ~ Vincent Price was my gateway drug to Edgar Allan Poe. I remember in tenth grade, Mr. Tomasello apparently didn't like teaching English all that much and we had movie days pretty often. Perhaps it had to do with him being in charge of the A/V department or perhaps he just needed naps, but we had movie days a lot. Trust me, no one minded, and sometimes we really dug what was shown. Case in point, Price and Poe.

Vincent Price did these terrific, dramatic, and scary readings of Poe stories. The movies were just him, a dark background, and the mad words of Poe. The most dynamic was "The Tell-Tale Heart" and I'm pretty sure there was also "The Cask of Amontillado," and a third lost to the ages, perhaps it was even "The Raven." No matter my memory, I loved it, that I do remember.

That said, I've never been much of a fan of the Hammer horrors, at least not the remakes of Universal monsters, but the Poe stuff is so much fun. Seeing The Raven with Roger Corman on the TCM Classic Cruise would be the first time I'd seen it since a long lost Saturday afternoon horror feature decades before. I couldn't wait.

Robert Osborne interviewed Roger for a few minutes before the showing of the film. They talked of the difficulties of dealing with Peter Lorre who winged it as an actor and constantly ad-libbed and Boris Karloff who was always on script. As far as the rest of the cast, it included an extraordinarily young Jack Nicholson and Vincent Price, who, to paraphrase Corman, could do anything. The director got everyone to a happy medium.

The decision, after a few serious horror adaptations of Poe to do a comedy horror like The Raven. Corman felt he'd played all the horror out of Poe, and went in another direction. Based on the middle tale of Tales of Terror, also comedic, he felt it would work. They also talked about The Terror, which was created and filmed in just a matter of days because Corman still had time with the sets of The Raven. Oh, that Corman ingenuity!

The Raven begins and ends with that amazing Vincent Price recital of "The Raven" but the story has bits from the poem, mixed in with a tale rival sorcerers, culminating in a magic duel that, while long, puts similar magician's duels - like in Disney's The Sword in the Stone - to shame. The mad limited special effects are marvelous. Richard Matheson provided the script under Corman's direction. This was a lot of fun. Now I want to go back and watch all the other Corman/Poe flicks!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

TCM Classic Cruise 2015

Folks who know me know that The Bride and I love the Disney Cruise Line. We've talked about it countless times on The Make Mine Magic Podcast, and are now platinum cruisers, with all sorts of bonuses and privileges. We love it. So last year when TCM announced they were having their Classic Cruise on the Disney Cruise Line, I jumped at the chance to combine two of my big loves - three if you count The Bride.

Of course we signed up again this year as soon as possible, and even though scheduling difficulties had us on two Disney cruises in the space of two weeks this past month, we decided it was something that just had to be done. ;-) Oh, the agony... just kidding it was pure heaven.

As we learned the hard way last year, you just can't do everything, sacrifices must be made as many events are scheduled opposite each other, and you gotta sleep sometime. Things that were missed this year were an interview with TCM host Robert Osborne, one of Alex Trebek's trivia events, and sadly, seeing Rio Bravo with guest Angie Dickinson. And yes, I can hear Derrick Ferguson screaming at me through the internet about that last one...

However I did get to see an interview with Roger Corman, as well as see the man introduce both The Raven and X - The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. I also saw The Razor's Edge (1946) with Robert Osborne and Alex Trebek (one of their favorite films), and presentations on Vaudeville and Aloha Wanderwell Baker, and Roger Corman. I also got to see interviews with Lou Gossett Jr., Eva Marie Saint, Ruta Lee, Ben Mankiewicz, Illeana Douglas, and Angie Dickinson.

I also got to see some amazing classic films on the big screen for the first time including In a Lonely Place, Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear, Spellbound, and The Mark of Zorro from 1940. There was also the terrific music of the Hot Sardines, the special TCM Anything Goes party night with 1930s cosplay and fireworks, and Illeana Douglas' "The Living Room Show" live on stage. All that, and so many good times with friends old and new. We're all looking forward to next year.

Keep an eye out here at Welcome to Hell and in upcoming episodes of The Make Mine Magic Podcast for more from the cruise.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Arrow S04 E05: Haunted

I've never been all that much of a big fan of the Hellblazer comic. I can acknowledge its quality, but it was never really my thing. In the comics John Constantine is many things - magician, con man, antihero, cynic, detective, punk - full of snark and sarcasm making him a poster child for not only the grim and gritty 1990s, but for DC Comics' mature line, Vertigo Comics, or as I like to call them, comics for folks who hate superhero comics.

Honestly I only really kind of started to dig John Constantine when he was swept fully into the DC Universe in the New 52. I know I'm in the minority with that, but there are a lot of folks, who like me, really loved the NBC television series "Constantine." I was sad when it was canceled, and sadder that I wouldn't see more of the Spectre or see Doctor Fate, hinted at so often. You can imagine how thrilled I was to hear John Constantine, as played by Matt Ryan, was coming to "Arrow." And apparently based on ratings, I wasn't alone there either.

As we open, Sara is stalking the streets of Star City while Oliver settles in for his run for mayor. Thea introduces him to an Alex Davis, a political strategist. The name Davis has meaning in the Green Arrow mythos, from the criminal inventor Dr. Davis from back in the Silver Age to a name on The List back in season one. I have to wonder if it's a coincidence. Davis is trying to protect Oliver from controversies that might ruin his campaign in an upcoming interview with Bethany Snow.

And yes, that's a recurring name as well. News anchor for Channel 52, she's appeared several times before starting in "City of Heroes." In the comics she was not only under Brother Blood's control but also his voice in the media. I am sure we haven't seen the last of her.

Finally something interesting is happening on Flashback Island, it's where Oliver first meets John Constantine. He apparently is on the island looking for something, and Oliver helps him find it, saving Constantine's life while he's at it - setting up the favor owed in the present day. We may also have discovered how Oliver knew about the prison under the island. And is that the Orb of Ra that transformed Rex Mason into Metamorpho (or here and here)? Nope, Horus, wrong Egyptian God and artifact.

While Team Arrow clashes with mad soulless Sara, there are other subplots afoot. In a seemingly desperate attempt to tie up loose ends, Diggle and Quentin Lance are working for Darhk to erase computer files of military who have worked for H.I.V.E. Weak or badly planned, this one isn't doing it for me. It's like Curtis Holt being a Bronze Medalist in the decathlon. It's too easy, too convenient. And Ray Palmer's message from beyond, is this whole season of "Arrow" (and "The Flash" as well) just one big set up for "Legends of Tomorrow"?

As expected, Oliver calls in that favor from Constantine and together with Laurel, they go rescue Sara's soul from the other side. It's a good sequence that I wouldn't mind seeing again, a Green Arrow/Black Canary/Hellblazer team up. I dug it, more please. Is there any way that the CW could pick up "Constantine" for another season? It would be an awesome addition to your growing DC TV Universe... please?

Next: The search for Ray Palmer!