What I'm Watching: Jurassic Park III

Jurassic Park III (2001): Oh sweet Raptor Jesus this starts out with the worst green-screened "para-sailing" fake I've ever seen. Lovely helicopter shots of the island, tho. A couple scenes of Laura Dern with appallingly bad hair/wig and lame new husband, but she does no science. No trace of Goldblum, alas. Sam Neill back as Dr Grant is great, and William Macy as the idiot plot hook patron. Every time I see Téa Leoni I think I've seen her in something good before, and I haven't; she's lovely but she's an awful actress, a walking meatstick who rarely hits her mark and mumbles out lines; in one scene the director apparently tied her to a tree so she'd stay in shot, and even then she flails around looking everywhere but who she's talking to. Sidekick Billy and the other disposable characters are unremittingly incompetent, and it's a mercy when they die.

Massive improvement in up-close dinosaurs and bloody action. Spinosaurus as the primary antagonist is interesting, tho I always thought it more likely to be an aquatic predator than on land, the fin is useful in swimming and it has an elongated jaw like crocodilians for snatching fish; and lo, it does some swimming in this film, so the writer knew this, too. Tyrannosaurus ought to kick its ass on land with much stronger legs and jaws.

One thing that annoys me about the writing in these films, everyone either has a gun or runs away from dinos. Nobody ever picks up a melee weapon. Theropods had lighter bones than reptiles, not quite at bird fragility, but a good hard hit from a club should shatter them. A spear would work fine. Fire, like on a torch, should terrify them like it does all other animals. Humans are the dominant species because we're tool-users, and our simplest tools would kill anything except the apex predators. But no, only guns allow you to fight in these films.

So in this one, the "Raptors" which are fantasyland variations on Utahraptor, but we never see them use their switchblade claws, can caw like crows, and are as smart as primates or wolves, able to set traps, work around novel obstacles, and negotiate hostages. I don't buy this. I don't think their environment was complex enough to evolve intelligence, and they didn't have the brain case for it.

Pterosaurs! Vicious and beautiful Quetzalcoatlus northropi swooping down and carrying away annoying characters! And they sorta fly like a condor and not an airship! This makes me so very happy. I forgive a lot just to have some competent Pterosaurs; it'd be nice to also have little Pterodactyls pecking your face off, but I know when to say "thank you".

Gratuitous shot of peaceful riverside/plain full of Ankylosaurs, Apatosaurs, and Duckbills with the first movie's theme.

Alas, the down side as always: Annoying children. Lost boy scout is not the worst, but I could do with him being eaten. It would be good. The other one subjects me to a minute of Barney the "dinosaur", which is infuriating. The literal Deus Ex Machina: One phone call (and how they get that phone is so stupid… whatever) brings a carrier group to rescue everyone from the sky. But my beloved pterosaurs get to fly free and terrorize the Holocene, so I'm fine with it.

There's a lot to bitch about here, but this film works as a dinosaur island adventure, which the second one sure didn't. ★★★★½

What I'm Watching: How It Ends, Lost World: Jurassic Park

  • How It Ends: Mellow lawyer and Forest Whitaker's most annoying asshole character ever, take a road trip to rescue fiance/daughter in an indestructible Cadillac (sponsor!) from Chicago to Seattle after an unclear apocalypse. I can't stress enough how much I dislike Forest's character, even after he turns out to be useful. But the lawyer is OK, and Rikki picked up along the way is OK. Pretty exciting, realistic fight and car chase scenes. It's not a combat film, but there's some.
    The early parts of the apocalypse behave like atmospheric nukes: EMP, weather disruption, low-latitude aurorae borealis. Except no city is actually nuked? Later there's other effects that don't fit that, and I don't know what or if the writers had any clear idea.
    The response is that every community arms up a militia and there's bandits everywhere, the military are seen at distance but never live and doing anything useful. It's a fine post-apocalypse setting, but 1-5 days after the end is silly. It'd take months or years to fall apart like this. When Seattle lost power in terrible storms and flooding for days some years back, there was no mass hysteria, no banditry, no refugees, just generator rentals, calmly fixing things, and everyone got on with their lives.
    Still, I enjoyed this despite being almost the definition of cheap shovelware video. ★★½☆☆
  • Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997): So as to prepare myself to watch the new stupid JP movie, I went back to almost the beginning. I've seen the original Jurassic Park (1993) a dozen times, it's great; sure the dinos are leathery-skinned and it left out much of the novel's best parts like the Pterodactyl dome, but a classic good film, a ★★★★★.
    This second one is Hollywood sequel disease at its most fetid. I watched this one in theatre, and had forgotten almost everything about it, and I see I have made a terrible mistake watching it again. The first third is a tenuous premise and then a ripoff of the original with little charm; the cast is a lot to blame. Goldblum is fun but he spends half the film clutching at his face "OH NO my child!", Burke (Thomas Duffy?) is a shitty Sam Neill and I was happy to see him eaten, and Julianne Moore is not any kind of Laura Dern, Vince Vaughn and the late Pete Postlethwaite ("Best actor on the set of JW!", says Spielberg) aren't the worst, but they have very limited, stiff writing. The child is so annoying there should be a special Oscar award for most annoying child in a movie.
    Then a long running/being hunted sequence with disposable mooks, then San Diego. SD has potential to be fun, but Hammond Jr is pathetic, the dinosaur rampaging thru the city for comic effect is lame, the bloodless PG-rated kills are beyond lame. The very end shows a Pterodactyl hovering like a balloon, not like a hundred-kilo Condor-like glider. Goddamned horrible. I dread what is to come. ★☆☆☆☆

What I'm Watching: The Forest, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

  • The Forest: French gendarme captain arrives in a small town surrounded by wilderness just as a girl goes missing, presumably abducted in the Fay Woods. The cast includes a feral wolf-girl grown up into a sexy French teacher, woods people, nosy townspeople full of secrets, half-assed local flic, dead girl's moody and secretive friends. Very Twin Peaks-like, without being a direct ripoff as so many in the genre are. Beautifully shot, lovely music (tho not enough of it). ★★★★★
  • Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: I only saw a handful of his shows in his lifetime, but always liked his Kitchen Confidential writing. The Tangier, Morocco, ep is fantastic. I love William Burroughs' writing and spoken-word-poetry albums, and Tangier was Burroughs' muse. The other beats and Tangiers expatriates are interesting, but perhaps less so. Bourdain was always polite and treated well in Muslim countries, despite his atheism and Jewish ancestry, but as another infidel I'm leery of such places, so his travelogue is as close as I'm likely to get. Randomly wandering thru other eps as long as Netflix has them. ★★★★☆

The Last Star Wars Movie

Star Wars, in descending order of quality/interest:

  1. Empire Strikes Back
  2. Star Wars
  3. Return of the Jedi: Tatooine only
  4. West End Games' Star Wars RPG, 1st Edition only
  5. Star Wars Holiday Special: Boba Fett cartoon only
  6. The Saga Begins, by Weird Al Yankovic: What a pity they never made this movie
  7. Marvel Star Wars comics
  8. Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye
  9. Brian Daley's Han Solo novels
  10. L. Neil Smith's Lando Calrissian novels
  11. Timothy Zahn's Thrawn novels
  12. Dark Horse Star Wars comics
    Below here there is only trash:
  13. The Droids cartoon
  14. The Force Awakens
  15. All Star Wars licensed media not otherwise mentioned
  16. The Ewoks cartoon & movies
  17. All the shitty new movies: Rogue One, The Last Jedi, Solo
  18. Prequels which I deny even exist

I can't tell you how important hundreds of viewings (some in theatre, rest on laserdisc) of Star Wars and Empire were to my young brain. And duels between little Luke and Vader action figures in cardboard and styrofoam sets I made. And weird and annoying rogues and freaks smuggling drugs and blowing things up for the Rebellion in SWRPG.

But I don't think it can ever be captured and repackaged again. The kids today are too whiny to be competent heroes or sympathetic villains, so it doesn't work. The original movies must look incredibly derivative because everyone's been ripping Star Wars off for 40 years.

It's OK to let old properties die out. Let it die with a whimper.

The same thing's happened with Dr Who. The original series (for me, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison) was low-budget, and you had to pay attention for a half-hour a day for a week (500% longer than modern attention spans), but it was actual science fiction with ideas; everything since the awful American TV movie and the reboot's been a dumb Hollywood action show with a magic wand and a lot of screaming and running around nice sets. They would have been better off making a new franchise, and sort of tried with Torchwood, but any pretense that NewWho has anything to do with an old man and granddaughter quietly investigating the past is nonsense.

What I'm Watching: Low Winter Sun, Marcella, The Staircase, Goliath

  • Low Winter Sun: Terrible train-wreck ending to an otherwise great show. Was it intentional that the show fuck up and choke to death on its own vomit just like Detroit, or ironic coincidence?
  • Marcella: Season 2! I somehow didn't write about S1: Mentally unstable woman detective comes back to work chasing a serial killer or copycat of her old case. She has another breakdown, commits as many crimes as she solves, and then tries to cover up her shit. That was good, if at times heavy on the melodrama. ★★★½☆
    S2 follows her chasing a child murderer. Unfortunately this is Law & Order: SVU bullshit; reality is that child rape or murder by strangers is incredibly uncommon, so their approach of looking at randoms instead of family, teachers, or priests is unproductive.
    Marcella's also being pretty high and mighty for as shitty a person as she is. In S1 she lasted whole eps before melting down. This is all badly written by idiots, everyone spends half their time screaming incoherently at everyone.
    I bailed on this after S2E1. ☆☆☆☆☆

  • The Staircase: Documentary of Michael Peterson's alleged murder of his wife Kathleen. Between the writer suspect, and some of the very weird lawyers and experts, there's much more interesting speech and events than most of these true crime shows. Still pretty dry but not stupid.

  • Goliath (Amazon Prime): A man blows up on a boat. Two years later, the sister recruits a wannabe strip-mall lawyer who recruits a washed-up drunk lawyer (Billy Bob Thornton!!!) to sue. Slightly overwrought legal drama against the evil supervillain lawyer (William Hurt!), and then the crazy conspiracy levels start ramping up, babykillers keep their lawyers in the dark. Good conspiracy show with scruffy protagonists. They ought to play the Imperial March every time the Evil Lawyer Firm is onscreen. The one down side is Amazon Prime's unspeakably shitty video player, which makes me hate watching any serious show where I may need to rewind. Fuck Amazon. But ★★★★½ for the show.

What I'm Watching: Annihilation

Heart of Darkness with 5 female soldier/scientists, in Roadside Picnic crossed with Chaga, ending in Alien and 2001. I haven't read the books yet, I like some of Vandermeer's stories & anthologies, but the film really does feel like pastiche. Some of that is the director making a "subjective" adaptation.

The characters are wafer-thin, even Lena (Natalie Portman) and husband Kane who are closest to being people. I love Jennifer Jason Leigh from being Allegra Geller in eXistenZ, but as Dr Ventress there's nothing there.

Most of it is walking-in-woods scenes like any no-budget B movie. Possibly the weirdest part is it's supposed to be Florida… But they filmed it in England, and the plants and just the atmosphere are wrong. Which to some extent doesn't matter, since the area's "alien", but it's the wrong thing that's wrong.

The three "monsters" are… fine, really not that weird, the first one is like one of those terrible Jaws-ripoff flicks, the last one is literally just one of those creepy spandex bodysuits after some CGI bullshit. One monster scene is good (the chairs), the rest needed help from a horror director.

I'm disappointed, but none of it was terrible, just mediocre pastiche of better stories and movies. I expect people who aren't well-read think it's amazing.
★★★☆☆

What I'm Watching: The Lava Field, El Ministerio Del Tiempo, Low Winter Sun, Intelligence, The Break with Michelle Wolf, Steve Martin & Martin Short

  • The Lava Field: Dour, sometimes angry Icelandic cops chase down a faked suicide, with drug-dealing bikers named "Skipper" (no Li'l Buddy), and gloomy mourning at a child's grave. Basically perfect, even if it's only 4 eps. ★★★★★
  • El Ministerio Del Tiempo: A modern paramedic with a death wish, a smart 19th C girl, and a Renaissance swordsman become time cops in Spain. Very smart and funny, possibly the regionalism and low-budget classic Dr Who-isms will grate after a while but it's good as of a couple eps in. ★★★★½
  • Low Winter Sun: Detroit cops murder one of their own and then try to cover it up. Detroit is bleak, bleaker than you probably even think. Some police procedural, some small cop shop dramedy, some lives of the would-be gangsters in this shithole. Slower than I'd like and doesn't wrap up anything per ep, but I'm still along for it as of s1e4. I have to have the subtitles on for some accents, even tho they supposedly speak English in Detroit. ★★★★½
  • Intelligence (2005): Never heard of this when it was on, Canadian major crimes & espionage (much closer to post-9/11) try operating snitches and surveilling criminals. They kinda suck at it, but Canadian criminals aren't that terrifying, either. Matt Frewer (Max Fucking Headroom!) is a good treacherous bastard. LOOOONG-ass pilot movie. ★★★★☆
  • The Break with Michelle Wolf: Fresh from defeating the humorless orange gibbon at the White House roast, sure, I'll give her a short stand-up shot. Rude question: Did she have a stroke? Thus explaining the weird smirk and her voice? Yow, very hard to look at or listen to. Hit with a few jokes. The Alexa and Strong Female Lead video clips were amusing but not hilarious. She may improve, she did infinitely better than my final guests… ★★★☆☆
  • Steve Martin & Martin Short: I used to like Steve Martin on SNL and a while after, and then he fossilized. Marty Short is like a ventriloquist's puppet loose and off his meds. I dunno what I hoped for, but this was the opposite of it in every way. This is where humor goes to die. ☆☆☆☆☆

Deadpool 2

I don't bother to see Star Wars or anything else opening night in theatres anymore, just Deadpool, Guardians, and Tarantino if he ever releases again.

SPOILERS? Not really but I'm gonna talk about themes which you should've seen coming.

PRO:

  • Mr Pool saves the Marvel Universe by undoing all MCU movies from Avengers Colon Civil War and X-Men Colon Apocalypse on. Pity it's not canon, right?
  • Domino is cute AND effective.
  • X-Force 1.0 "because someone couldn't draw feet!" is hilarious.
  • Fight scenes are creative and fun, just like the first.
  • Broader but not as iconic musical selections as the first movie.

CON:

  • Women in Refrigerators score: 3! If you know a Hollywood writer, kill their girlfriends/spouses/any female relation to motivate them to more creatively deal with female characters.
  • Drink every time they say "faaaamily" and you'll be 99% alcohol by volume. I hate all this family shit and I blame the corpse of Paul Walker. I'd kill him again if it'd stop this "find your family" Gen-Whine shit. I also blame the rise of step-sibling/parent porn on Gen-Whine's family fetish (literally).
  • Long stretches of unfunny dramatic shit, calling someone's name instead of making an argument (I refer to this as Heathcliff/Catherine syndrome).
  • Obvious solution to kid's problem is obvious but no, then you'd be just like bad guy.

★★★½☆, it's not a great movie like the original, but sequels rarely are.

What I'm Watching: Santa Clarita Diet, Frankenstein Chronicles, Expanse

  • Santa Clarita Diet: S1 was a fun but messy set of episodes with no structure, but I like Drew Barrymore, still a very talented and pneumatic girl, and Timothy Olyphant, who gets to do more comedy here which he's better suited to. S2 finally found a plot and upped the brutality and farce of keeping friends, neighbors, coworkers, cops, classmates, other zombies, etc from catching them. But now I'm out of eps until they make more! ★★★★½
  • Frankenstein Chronicles: A London copper chasing a conspiracy of Mary Shelley making real monsters from dead children presumably to resurrect Percy, could be made fun. He visits William Blake, one of my favorite artists and poets, on his deathbed and gets a book of art! But instead he's always sad about his family who died of the syphilis he gave them, unbearably whiny and miserable. And it's the peak of English aristocrats driving the poor into literally shit-gathering ("pure", they called it) and workhouses and then using their corpses, and shot with endless sad-music flashbacks or fantasies of Heaven instead of moving the plot along. Loathesome show, loathesome people, with no gallows humor. I stopped after S1E4 and wish I hadn't started. ★☆☆☆☆
  • Expanse: Watched S1-S2, I like it but the books are better. S3 is still $$$, so I wait on that. Bobby Draper is a very cute Samoan, not as ripped as the books but pretty badass. ★★★★☆

My to-watch list is all but empty, I need suggestions. I have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Crunchyroll, and I'm ill-inclined to pay for another service.

I dunno what's good on Crunchyroll currently. I have a queue that'll never end, but it's all trash I watch while barely paying attention. Since Akashic Record of Bastard Magical Instructor ★★★★½ ended, I've been bored.

Westworld alone isn't worth HBO to me. Maybe when the season's over I'll binge it in one month. Is there anything else good on Hey Beastmaster's On? Last season I ran thru their back library pretty fast. No, I don't watch "Game of War of the Roses for C History Students", except sometimes by fast-forwarding thru all scenes not containing Tyrion or Jon Snow.

I'm desperately lacking a light-hearted murder show. I got in the habit with Dexter, and growing up with Rockford, Columbo, and Murder She Wrote. Death in Paradise has been good for that, ridiculous and formulaic but pretty, and decent puzzle murders. Too much of the English detective, but the French/island cast were great. But I'm out of eps!

Most everything else like that is very English, and I can't stand them. I tried watching Fallet, which would be PERFECT if it didn't have the whinging English cop; Swedes are funnier on their own. There's an Aussie show The Strange Calls, but the protagonist is so whiny and sad I didn't finish S1E1, maybe it gets better?

Star Wars

  • Auralnauts Star Wars
  • Ep 1: Rewriting the Jedi as belligerent drunks looking for a party and disrupting chain restaurants makes far better sense than whatever late-stage-dementia Lucas was doing.
  • Ep 2-3: (Didn't watch, never saw the Lucas versions. Maybe I should?) Later: Have watched, was unbearably awful even in parody and short form, and 1.5x speed. I can't imagine how bad the original is.
  • Ep 3: Later: Even more awful for a while, then the music video, dance-fight, and end are pretty great.
  • Ep 4: LASER MOON. Creepio's psychosis and Leia's dating profile are to blame for everything.
  • Ep 5: The parade is adorable and the Bespin after-party is the bleak morning after we all deserve, but surprisingly this is the weakest ep.
  • Ep 6: The Last Laser Master is Star Wars on Ice plus Laser Floyd, and finally makes sense of muppet planet.

Fantastic. ★★★★★