What I'm Watching: Travelers, La Mante

New year, new Netflix; it's kind of weird how quickly Netflix has gone from "I want to watch old TV shows & movies" to "source of all good new shows".

  • Travelers[sic] S2: Most eps this season are either the big flu story, a plot by the Faction, or pursuing Traveler 001. The problem is, the Faction is right, and their solution would work better than incremental tiny changes by a tyrannical AI. Traveler 001 is an unusually skilled person to send back as a guinea pig, and not the kind of mistake I believe the Director capable of.

Still, burned thru the season in 3 days. S2E7, "17 Minutes", is the best actual time travel story of the entire series yet, repeated attempts to use minor changes and "reloading" to solve a bigger problem.
★★★★☆

  • La Mante: The Mantis is a woman vigilante, like a female Dexter, whom they imprisoned and call a "serial killer" despite her only having killed people who deserved it. Now a serial killer copycat is recreating her executions, and she offers her "help" on a condition.

The French police in this series are much less professional than other such dramas, occupying nice historical buildings with dubious security, doing everything off the books, half-assed, keeping secrets they shouldn't keep. They bunch up and walk into ambushes like complete amateurs.

Having the heir apparent outsider supercop (in comparison to the other idiot flic) be named "Captain Carrot" is obviously a Terry Pratchett reference? But they aren't that fun, this is a grim, maudlin, humorless show, and at no point is anyone sympathetic except Jeanne, our Mantis.

As the eps go on, the coincidences get less and less plausible, the last suspect to be the killer is ridiculous but telegraphed far ahead. There's an exchange, "We'll rescue you safe and sound. Everything will be OK." with Carrot and The Mantis, which just made me laugh and laugh, since so obviously she's not the one who needs protection.

I don't know that I liked it, but at just 6 episodes I was willing to keep going.
★★★☆☆

What I'm Watching: Bright, Longmire, Magicians, It Comes at Night, Fortitude

  • Bright: Shadowrun 2017, crossed with Alien Nation and Training Day.

    "Everywhere I go, why have Orcs always gotta be the bad guys?" "Don't look at me, man, Mexicans still get shit for the Alamo."

    Well, the racist assholes have a point with the Orcs. I dislike the green-pale streak makeup, and they just have penis-noses instead of proper pig-noses. They're doing properly menial and militant work, but I got no sympathy for the species. Elves are as graceful and psychopathic as you'd like. Other than a single shot of a Centaur, and mention of Dwarfs, no others of the "9 Races" are ever brought up. Humans of every color seem to have no beef, since they can "Other" the non-Humans.

    Somehow culture & tech are the same as our 2017, despite a massive war against a Dark Lord 2000 years ago; I think the Dark Ages starting 400 years early and full of magic races would change things. Shadowrun had the excuse that magic and monsters were gone for thousands of years (since 3113 BCE), until the Sixth World started (in 2011 CE).

    Almost all the secondary chars are awfully written, and parts of the plot just dangle and vanish.

    Reasonably good fight & chase scenes. The Magic Wand ("a nuclear bomb that grants wishes") is a good McGuffin, but far too OP.

    The fighting skills of even high-level Elven mages are overstated. Maybe the Elven assassins, sure, but a mage without her Wand?

    Mostly I enjoyed it, but it's basically a B-movie with a huge budget. Hawk the Slayer is a better film. Netflix is already working on a sequel, with Will Smith coming back.
    ★★★½☆

  • Longmire: Final season was adequate, but almost entirely resolving dangling plot threads from the characters, not standalone cowboy/Indian rez mysteries which is what I started watching for. Lou Diamond Philips as Henry Standing Bear has very little to do, and semi-useless NPCs spend a lot of time on screen. Even so, the Cheyenne (and one Crow) characters and politics are worth watching it for.
    ★★★☆☆ for S6, ★★★★☆ or more for S1-5.

  • The Magicians: Pretty young rich white people (PYRWP) discover they have magic (no Hagrid) and are spared the hardship of going to Harvard or Yale. Whiniest of the PYRWP discovers his favorite fairy tale book is real, so doesn't mind that his only friend is kicked out. Token minority is an unbelievable asshole who should get cancer of the hate organ. Ice princess, catty slut, and gay slut PYRWP follow whiny boy and token asshole around despite their average Intelligence, Wisdom, & Charisma scores of -6. Gay slut kinda grows on me as he has some self-awareness. Ice princess has unrealistic expectations of her whiny, mentally ill "boyfriend".

    Magic school rejects turn on each other like New York rats with less empathy. The magic system is nonsense which exists only to show cheesy visual FX and make hedge mages behave like crack junkies.

    Racism is overwhelming. Don't be black in this show: SPOILER: Black Dean is blinded & hands maimed. A black magician goes catatonic & is "mercy killed". In S2 the four PYRWP all get crowned as kings and queens, while the token asshole gets his hands cut off like a slave in Columbus' Hispaniola or the Belgian Congo. I don't know if this show is made by actual Nazis or just ignorant honkies.

    But the plot saves this from being a total train wreck. I love the fairy tale world gone bad and the broken kids who went into it; it's not TOO fairy-tale but doesn't operate according to reason. The villains are there for good reasons, and are willing to do anything. Everyone uses what shitty skills they have to solve problems.

    With a totally different cast and less entitled, racist premise, this could be a good show instead of a hate-binge.

    This also matches somewhat with the magic school RPG I've been designing, tho the PCs aren't required to be PYRWP, and my magic system isn't finger-twiddling gibberish.
    ★★½☆☆

  • It Comes at Night: After a deadly plague, taking in tenants is a bad idea especially if you're paranoid. Excruciatingly slow and often repetitive, setup as something like a monster movie but it's not at all. Like The Road without the sense of camaraderie, adventure, and hope. Credit: The racially mixed cast is not abused for racism.
    ★★★☆☆

  • Fortitude (Amazon): Arctic outpost town, surrounded by hungry polar bears. Norwegians funding a hotel, wrecked by local problems. "We have no crime. So we don't know if he's a good sheriff or a bad sheriff." The latter, it turns out.

    And then there's a really weird murder. Kinda deliberately like Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure with only a very little humor. I don't like anyone but the crazy old guy and the American investigator, everyone else is self-destructive in annoying ways. And yet… Still going. Good winter viewing. As the emergency gets worse, people get worse to each other, which is what I like to see.

    Accents are all over the place, London English, but then there's Irish, American, and some spectacularly bad Russian-like English, some of which are supposed to be Norwegian. I watch too many subtitled Scandinavian crime dramas to be able to tolerate this lack-of-translation bullshit anymore.

    I dunno if having Frank and his son, the only black people for 1000 miles, who SPOILER REDACTED, is racist but it's not great.

    Very unhappy with their "Next Time" spoilers right BEFORE the fucking credits with no warning. Hate you, stupid Sky TV producers who do this shit.
    ★★★★½

I don't want to be harping on the racism, it's not my fight, but it's so obvious in some shows. I feel like the last few years have had more non-white characters but treated them with far worse racism than before.

There's a lot of sexism, rapes, and sex-shaming in The Magicians and Fortitude, too, but I have a hard time telling that apart from "normal" TV prudery where all sex except in obedient 1950s marriages is Bad & Wrong.

MARK-13 Thursday Music

Just discovered that iTunes Store has Hardware (Richard Stanley, 1990) for $9.99 in HD! Blu-Ray is out of print, DVD was a trash VHS port. Best punk rock SF apocalypse flick. "It's horrible, I love it!"

One rewatch later…

Looks even more prophetic now than when young cyberpunk Mark would watch the VHS over and over on a shitty CRT. Get used to the world of ecological disaster, locked into your apt by security systems installed by panopticon-watching perverts, terrorists with trucks smashing open buildings, people squatting & scavenging in the ruins. When a billion people near the uninhabitable equator starve and try to migrate away from global warming, you think anyone's gonna take them in? Or will we just irradiate the planet fighting wars, sterilize the mutant population, and let Google's autonomous killer robots knock us down to carrying capacity? I never believed in a future, and here it is.

… So, that went a little dark. Have a drink, a joint, a fuck, make some art, and play some cute distracting videogames to forget about the end of the world.

The soundtrack's another OOP classic, but here's the day's music based on it:

What I'm Watching: Hand of God, Stranger Things, Michel Clayton, Jack Taylor, The Gates

  • Hand of God: Ron Perlman as a Judge who has hallucinations leading him to the man who destroyed his family. I saw S1 last year and loved it, but the cliffhanger dangled annoyingly. S2's chasing down the consequences of his God-or-not-fueled crimes. I love his desperation and horror. And Dana Delany is still the hot slightly older chick. ★★★★★
  • Stranger Things: S2 is a predictable, fairly lame repeat of S1. I'm not done, but maybe won't finish. I want new horrors in new crappy '80s towns. ★★★☆☆
  • Michel Clayton: Boring person's name is a terrible movie title. A good slow-burning, tense, psychological thriller, in the style of Grisham novels/movies but less trite. I'm a little astounded this got made, tho Hollywoo inserted one good explosion scene, and played it 3 times. ★★★★☆
  • Jack Taylor: In this show, all Irish people are drunks, sluts, crooks (mostly learned from the English), and bums. Which is fine, if rude. But it makes it hard to empathize with Jack or his shitty clients or shitty suspects. ★★★☆☆
  • The Gates: Trashy suburban drama with vampires, werewolves, witches, and a new cop with an even more fantastical panopticon surveillance system. This isn't high art, and it's not the kind of grim horror or splatterpunk I usually like, but I'm amused, at least when drunk, at the stupid catty shenanigans they get into. ★★★½☆ but don't judge me for watching this.

Halloween

"I love Halloween, the one time of year when everyone wears a mask, not just me. People think it's fun to pretend you're a monster; Me, I spend my life pretending I'm not. Brother, friend, boyfriend, all part of my costume collection. Some people might call me a fraud, I prefer to think of myself as a master of disguise."

—Dexter, S1E4 "Let's Give the Boy a Hand"

Movie Policy

My movie policy is "with rare exceptions, don't watch adaptations or sequels".

Movie adaptations of books are mostly horrible. What I read a book for is complex new ideas, setting, plot, very slightly writing style and characterization. Those are almost impossible for movies to capture; they can have attractive sets, cinematography, and soundtrack, and adequate hitting-marks-and-saying-lines by the walking meatsticks we call "actors", but there simply isn't time for a complex plot or any exploration of an idea in a film, and few of them even try.

Competent SF/F/H adaptations are almost nonexistent:

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
  • "It's a Good Life" (1961)
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
  • Altered States (1980)
  • A Clockwork Orange (1981)
  • "Who Goes There?"/The Thing (1982)

These are not competent, despite what some fanlings will scream in all caps:

  • Solaris (1972) and Solaris (2002), both are slow, tedious, and almost unwatchable. Stanislaw Lem's hard to film, but these are terrible.
  • 2001 (1968) was a collaboration, but the book has an actual ending.
  • The Shining (1980) is beautifully-shot, perfectly-acted nonsense which loses everything interesting from King's book.
  • Every Philip K Dick adaptation. I didn't hate Screamers (1995) or Radio Free Albemuth (2010), but neither are great films.
  • Watchmen (2009) and Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) tried, and about half of each succeeds perfectly, wrecked by the other half being trash.
  • Pirates of the Carribean 2+, which had sometimes spectacularly good ideas and amazing visuals, wrecked by Disneyfication, incoherent plots, bit part actors who aren't competent for limelight, and Depp's Mick Jagger impersonation wearing thin fast.
  • Harry Potter. Films 1-5 are fun trash, then 6-8 are grim, dull, melodramatic trash. I quite like the books, even the grindingly slow later ones, but these aren't quality adaptations.

Competent genre adaptations (I don't read romance or no-genre "literature", so I can't comment on those), I can think of:

  • The Godfather (1972), and the movie is far better than the book.
  • The Wages of Fear/Sorcerer (1977) perhaps, but I haven't read the French novel, only seen the French movie; Sorcerer has deeper characters and literally explosive tension.
  • Lonesome Dove (1989)
  • "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption"/The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  • Fight Club (1999)
  • American Psycho (2000) and The Rules of Attraction (2002), but the Less Than Zero (1987) "adaptation of a title" almost cancels out both positive adaptations.
  • Man on Fire (2004) is better than the book, dumping the trick ending of the book helped.
  • A History of Violence (2005)
  • Jesse Stone: Stone Cold (2005) and all the sequels have done justice to Robert B. Parker's novels, though Tom Selleck is about 30 years older than the Jesse Stone of the books.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), the Swedish films are pretty close to the books' brooding tone, technophilia, and fucked-up psychologies, and the actors are great for it. NEVER watch American remakes.

Competent sequels are just as rare. After quite a while thinking on it, I have:

  • Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955)
  • Sanjuro (1962)
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1967)
  • The Godfather: Part II (1974)
  • Dawn of the Dead (1978)
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), also an adaptation, but the book is terrible.
  • The Empire Strikes Back (1982)
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  • Day of the Dead (1985)
  • Aliens (1986), but only barely: It's written by a pack of syphilitic monkeys compared to Dan O'Bannon's perfect Alien, it's not even a horror movie, it's just another of James Cameron's trashy Vietnam-in-space flicks. Still, you take what you can get.
  • The Killer (1989), not technically a sequel to A Better Tommorrow (1986), but close enough.
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
  • New Dragon Inn (1992), I found the original 1967 film grim, dull, and unloveable despite great swordfights, the remake/sequel is fun while still menacing and having even better swordfights.
  • Léon: The Professional (1994), not technically a sequel to La Femme Nikita (1990), but close enough.
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), considerably better than the first, and more like the comics.
  • The Dark Knight (2008)
  • While I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) as fun trash, it's not as good fun trash as the first.

I bring this up because of jwz's unhappy review of Blade Runner 2049. It's like they did everything I hate in films. And jwz likes Blade Runner, I barely tolerate it as moving wallpaper.

Philip K Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" is vastly more interesting than the very pretty but vapid Blade Runner, and the new one is a sequel to an adaptation, so it's a hall of mirrors reflecting horrors. All the philosophy and setting of DADOES is thrown away for visual flair & a nice Vangelis album, which you can listen to without a movie talking over it.

Why in Blade Runner are there artificial animals & people? Why is the city so empty except for little gaggles of people? Why is empathy their test for humanity? None of this is even hinted at. So the movie is just a psychopath murdering and raping what appear to be human slaves who try to run or can't quite pass his test.

So they doubled down on pretty nonsense instead of background or plot, and introduced stupid new ideas. The only good thing Jared Leto has ever done was American Psycho, especially the Huey Lewis scene. Every use of him in any other film should just be a remake of that scene.

Scary Things on Netflix

  • Mindhunter is fantastic, David Fincher-produced '70s period piece serial killer interviews. They made a show just for me!
  • Slasher was so tedious and badly paced I couldn't make it to a second episode. Will try again later, after the first few people are dead.
  • Curse of Chucky, Cult of Chucky: Child's Play keeps on going. When Don Mancini wrote the original, a Teddy Ruxpin/Cabbage Patch Kid/My Buddy gone rogue was impossible but creepy. Now we're on the verge of making robots that can do this. The movies are still fun trash, but don't you ever let a talking redheaded doll in your house or insane asylum, it'll kill you.
  • Patton Oswalt opens his comedy special with shit about Twitter and politics. Nope nope nope. I closed my Twitter for a reason.

Waiting for Rick Godot

Sunday evening. No Rick & Morty yet. So what's on?

  • The Bitch in Apartment 23: Krysten Ritter (alias Jessica Jones) is adorable as a mean slutty girl, but the show doesn't work for me. I lack the ability to empathize with perky people, and screaming blondes exist only to be chased by guys/mothers in hockey masks.
  • What Happened to Monday: Grim, serious, pretentious stylistic imitation of Children of Men, Demolition Man, and Blade Runner; total nonsense unleavened by humor or science or characters. A "European Federation" facing overpopulation and starvation from climate change puts ID tags in everyone and cryofreezes multiple siblings like Simon Phoenix. People are buying dead rats from street vendors. Reality: The birthrates in Europe are far below replacement rate, and would have zero impact on climate change. China showed that one child policies don't work. Rats don't look like chicken inside, and are an inefficient food source; you cannot feed seven people on one Rattus norvegicus. Also cryofreeze doesn't work except on dead bodies, and you can't possibly get people to put their six-year-old child in a death freezer as shown. Rick & Morty is hard science & social theory compared to this.
  • Witnesses: French crime drama? Seems dry and dull, gloomy cinematography (they found a part of France as grim as Seattle or Scandanavia?), but opening with a weird graverobbing crime is interesting. I kind of like the characters, which is better than most shows. Despite my toddler-level French, I distrust the subtitles because they translate "le flic" (rather rude) more politely as "the force" instead of "cops" or "pigs", and a few other tone shifts. Gonna keep watching this.

The Defenders

  • Why are they fighting in a sewer with glowing blue walls?
  • Fight choreography brought to you by people not even in the same shot.
  • Oh good we're starting with racist rich white trash cultural appropriator Danny Rand, this can only go up, right?
  • "New York City"? Who says that, unless it's followed by "Git a rope."?
  • Alias is still a mopey drunk, so characterization is established.
  • Cage is boring, so there's nothing new there.
  • Murdock takes all the best cases of chemicals (they're in everything!) either crippling or superpowering people, gets $11 million in settlement = $1.1M + court costs for him, but he still wants to go beat up bad guys instead of blowing coke off a stripper's ass.
  • Sigourney Weaver! In a terribly staged scene with awkward dialogue. I wish this shitshow would kill me, but sooner than weeks or months.
  • Long dramatic scenes going nowhere. I need to drink more than Alias to blackout thru this.
  • Cage: "Hero's your word, not mine." No, in the comics he & the less shitty Danny Rand ran a biz called "Heroes For Hire".
  • Oh no it's a natural(?) disaster which occurs about once a month in some places, so New Yorkers panic and light up Murdock's windows with gel lights, not that he can see.

Well, that was Ep 1. I can't even rate this, it's just random scenes leading to nothing. Maybe I'll watch E2 and see if it coalesces. Maybe I'll just self-flagellate some other way.