What I'm Watching: Undercover, L4yer Cake, Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse

Undercover S1: A Belgian/Dutch crime drama, based very loosely on a real case, with Anna Drijver as a Dutch woman cop (and rather sexy when she cleans up, or if you like dirty biker chicks), and Tom Waes as a Belgian asshole man cop, setting up an undercover observation of a drug kingpin. Except the drugs are mostly ecstasy, the action is mostly in a campground trailer park, and everyone is just pathetic and low-rent. It's barely above reality TV at times, the filmmaking is not excellent, and the plot is glacially slow. The tension between these cops who have to pretend to be a couple, and the shitty crime boss, his pathetic wife, and ever-changing roster of idiot henchmen, is much better than you'd expect. Watch it in the original Dutch/Flemish. Don't expect a fast burner, this is one to watch a bit, go on with your life, watch a bit more…

★★★½☆


L4yer Cake: Great crime book, if a little heavy on the "oo eck 'e're so 'ery English wot wot" shit. Movie's about 50% of the book, plus 25% new shit out of the writer's ass, not always seamless. Movie ending is bullshit—in the book the same asshole shoots him but he lives and then delivers his "if you knew my name" line.

Never said in the book or movie, but his name is Bond, James Bond. Thus XXXX and the fake posing as Bond, sudden development of Navy Seals level murder skills, and fucking another man's wife (which is rarely brought up in the Bond movies, but in the books it's a common theme, also common to Ian Fleming himself—adultery made philandering without consequences easier for him/them).

I don't especially like Daniel Craig as XXXX or Bond, but if you're gonna do both, he barely passes. Book XXXX is just short of 30, Craig was 36 at the time, but looked 40+, a dried-up ballsack face already. Bloated tub of lard Colm Meany will always and only be sad, pathetic Transporter Chief O'Brien to me; he just looks constipated and confused when he's trying to be menacing, or really all the time. George Harris as Mortimer is too pleasant much of the time to be the borderline personality of the book; it's legitimately shocking when he does snap. The girl, Sienna Miller (named for the shittiest color crayon), is about a 7 or 7.5, not the perfect femme fatale of the book; tho the English have a lower scale of hotness so she's probably as good as they've ever seen; and she has few scenes to even establish the adultery subplot.

Funniest moment of the show was the "Serbian" gangsters speaking Romanian; I couldn't tell everything they were saying with my half-assed Spanish and quarter-assed French, but all Romance languages are recognizable. The English filmmakers probably didn't know the difference; anywhere east of Germany is Poland, eh, limey?

★★★☆☆ — aggressively mediocre interpretation of better but not amazing source material.


Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse: So, up front: I don't especially like Spiders, or Men, or Spider-Men, and as noted in The Boys, I don't trust anyone with super-powers not to be a super-jerk. I grew up with the Electric Company Spider-Man, but by the '80s that motherfucking bug had his own live-action TV show, cartoon, cereal, toys, Japanese sentai show, and more, raking in $millions a year. Plus the police, military, and civilian applications of his web-shooter goop must be worth $billions. If he's married to MJ she's worth at least as much as an actress. The poor white boy from Queens act is offensive.

But I needed something light and dumb after the hash they made of L4yer Cake.

Miles Morales is certainly a more humble protagonist than '60s-era Peter Parker; less Hardy Boys and more Boyz n the Hood. But it's taken 20 minutes to get him bitten and plot to start. How are there not thousands or millions of Spider-People in a world where every radioactive spider produces the same powers? As usual in the movies and TV shows, with limited rights and limited creative people of their own, they only acknowledge the existence of Spidey's "rogues gallery", not any of the hundreds of other supers placed in New York in the comics.

I'm not a big fan of urban graffiti; it's mostly criminals marking territory they extort protection money from, or vandals damaging property they don't own. Buy a fucking canvas to paint on.

Mama Morales speaks like two lines of Spanish ever, then switches back to English for the honky audience. NYPD Cop Dad is the stern-but-fair bullshit they'd like to sell; I expect he's all Training Day on the streets.

Even in cartoons, Stan Lee got his cameo. But not Steve Ditko. They can't spare one fucking scene in this Russian-epic-length film for the man who created classic Spider-Man and drew the comic until Stan stiffed him on money (as he did to everyone)? There's a passing mention of him in the credits, which is sadly better than most do.

I did genuinely laugh at one joke: "Hey, maybe you guys can go around? OK, thanks, New York."

Spider-Gwen and Noir SM are good takes on the idea; I'm familiar with SG from the comics. Has-Been SM and Spider-Ham are awful, jokes carried way past their sell-by date. Old Aunt May with a baseball bat is good and strong, as fits a potential Herald of Galactus. Mary Jane as slightly frumpy Jessica Rabbit is weird, but she has little screen time, she's just a trophy for various Peters.

Kingpin's a perfect villain as always and chews the scenery less than in the Daredevil TV show. But for someone so obsessed with family, he isn't very understanding of others' familial conflicts. Still, he halfway saves this flick.

Doc Ock is interesting, but I don't see how the relationship with Aunt May can work after this. Prowler's given a surprisingly good background (but a very Huntress-like outfit with nipple patches). The other villains are just big mooks, zero personality.

There's no plot or conflict except "can Miles survive 3d6 random fight scenes and then push a button?" You will be shocked to learn the answer is yes, he pushes the button.

By 1 hour 20 minutes in, I'm ready for the end of the movie, but there's 40 minutes of this to go. Brevity is the soul of wit, but alas. This just drags out the "kid can't fight" part before the moment of heroism schtick. Then a very long neon Jackson Pollock screensaver with Doc Ock taking an improbable amount of abuse, instead of using a bruiser villain or fighting with the tentacles. All the villain fights get dumber and more punchy as the film progresses. The collider's said to be making a black hole, which means it has at least the mass of a planet, possibly a star; but happily magic dimension shit just reverses itself and there's no lasting apocalyptic results like a city vaporizing even if you do shut it down. Consequence-free adventuring.

"Anyone can wear the mask", moralizes (oh, "Morales", I get why he's so preachy now, "Miles" of it even) a kid who is faster and stronger than any athlete, can recover from almost any injury, swings by his arms from tiny spider strings, and can be invisible (and what man could be good with that power?!) and shoot lasers from his hands. You know, like a SPIDER. If a normal kid wears a SM mask and leaps off a building, they'd just die horribly.

★★☆☆☆ — massively overstayed its welcome, shitty final sequence, too many underdeveloped characters.

What I'm Watching: The Boys

So, The Boys comic by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson is my 3rd favorite comic of all time (right behind Transmetropolitan and The Invisibles ). It carries on in Garth's inimitable tradition of showing how rotten everything is from The Pro.

A band of CIA-funded wankers based in the scenic Flatiron building, led by appropriately-named psychopath Billy Butcher, recruits conspiracy freak and recently bereaved Simon Pegg, er, "Wee Hughie", an organized freak NCO Mother's Milk, and two insane killers, The Frenchman and The Female. They power Hughie up like they are, and go fuck up superheroes who deserve it.

Wee Hughie knows nothing about superheroes or comics, so he goes on a Heart of Darkness style voyage of discovery into deep dark shit. The comics are heavily about the nature of comics and the superheroes they "report" on; they're from an age when superhero movies were pretty crap and nobody cared. Stan Lee is The Legend, now a useless old man in a comics shop basement, but he knows shit. Vought-American is very clearly doing the same Nazi-science-for-America thing we did with rockets, but there's supes all over the world, and everyone (well, anyone in "the industry") knows how they're made. And the supes are all insane with power, as they would be. The Seven live in a flying citadel full of awesome tech and everyone's flunkies and whores, because of course they do.

The Boys comics cured me of superheroes as a serious genre, and they can cure you, too. I can enjoy one for a laugh now, like Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy, but any serious preaching and I wonder who they're literally fucking to death. I know how they got that way.

But now we're in a more vapid, useless age, full of shitty superhero movies worth literally billions of dollars, comics conventions bigger than religious revivals, fucking jocks pretending they're superhero fans instead of nerds, bobbleheads, and social media. Especially social fucking media.

The Boys on Amazon Prime reflects this shittiest of all Human eras, the final death throes of the Anthropocene. It's not even terrible, just all the mediocrity of this decade shat into streaming.

So here, the Boys are vigilantes on the run; this reduces the number of sets enormously to just a few shitty warehouses and abandoned diners, no need for on-the-street shots of New York City, they can use shitty parts of Toronto instead, and boy do they. The Seven get an even worse downgrade, being in a mid-size skyscraper in a CGI "matte painting" (nobody paints them anymore) background, with only the Seven's conference room, one corridor, and a bathroom; we never see their lounges and bedrooms full of sluts, or the hangar for the plane Black Noir can't fly. Doesn't matter, you can't see anything because the cameras are permanently tinted dark orange/dark cyan. For shots with chipper superheroine Starlight, they go back to bright colors, because that's real subtle filmmaking.

Wee Hughie instead becomes a 6' tall Billy Joel-listening douchebag "l33t haxxor"/mom-and-pop electronics store guy (most implausible background of anyone: There are no mom-and-pop electronics stores anymore), who's madly into superheroes, especially A-Train. I think the vapid video producers thought this would provide "pathos", but it's just stupid. Lives at home with his Dad (actual Simon Pegg), not in the shittiest transient hotel in New York like Wee Hughie does. Does not rescue a gerbil. I suppose Richard Gere is tired of that story, but I never will be.

Billy Butcher is just a confused loser here. And short. No dog. Doesn't fuck. A couple references to Guinness and tea from other people, but he never brings it up. He's useless. I didn't like Karl Urban as Judge Dredd, either, he was more like Judge Mediocre Honky Cop on a Talking Dirt Bike in Generic Skyscraper "The Raid" Rip-Off, but that title was too long for them; in any case here he shows the same lack of menace, talent, or ability to enunciate; he mostly stands around while actors read their lines. Decent beard and trenchcoat; he's the only one who gets a trenchcoat in the show.

Mother's Milk gets some of the NCO personality, but he doesn't have his namesake's background, no powers, and still has a wife and a tiny daughter, not a junkie ex-wife and a teenage skank daughter; the point in the comic was he has all his shit together for everyone else, but his life's a disaster. No, here he's just good and professional. Whitewashed.

The Frenchman is… he's fine. Not quite enough insanity about France, but he's a violent, passionate lunatic anyway, and close enough that I won't complain.

The Female looks and works great, and the actress does a good job with the "behave like a mad dog" role, but in the comics she's independent, she's perfectly capable of taking jobs on her own and will if they don't have a supe for her to kill.

The supes are a mixed bag. Homelander came out OK; he has more of a plan this time, he's less overtly rapey, but on a scale of 1 to Genocidal Superman, he's pretty far up there.

Black Noir is more useful and less creepy silent stalker than the original; I doubt his backstory's been left intact. But he does nothing; I actually forgot he was there when I started writing this, "wait that's six, where's… OH!"

Starlight's great, she's as perky and stupid as possible, and seems like a decent girl-next-door in her sorta romantic scenes.

A-Train's great, an A-grade asshole murderer with no conscience; but he has a "reason" for being that out of control, which somewhat dampens it.

The Deep is changed from a probably-crazy black man in a diving helmet who can fly, to a white hormonally-bitchy rapist low-rent low-IQ Aquaman who can actually talk to fish (uh, including dolphins and lobsters… so he has general telepathy, he's just insane and only uses it with aquatic creatures?). He's useless and offensive to rapists, and they half write him off the team by the end. Every scene with him in it could be deleted and this would be a marginally less shit show.

Jack from Jupiter is replaced with "Translucent" the naked invisible man with diamond skin; it's such a stupid name that even the show tells him how stupid a name partially-transparent is for invisibility. I loathed Jack, so this is a good change, but then they just use it to have characters talk to empty air and an occasionally CGI shot of him fading in and out.

Queen Maeve gets hosed. From being the queen bitch of the Seven's station, with a harem of naked men, who literally cares about nothing except her next drink or fuck but can kill anything short of Homelander, to a mopey bi woman doing Xena cosplay, in therapy and AA, who's just kinda strong and tough. Just appalling writing, losing the whole point: What does absolute power do to someone that damaged?

James Stillwell ("The Man from Vought American") is replaced with Madelyn Stillwell (played by Elisabeth Shue, "Replacement Jennifer" from Back to the Future II-III; she's never the original). James is a cold, stoic, perfectly rational machine for optimizing profits and killing anything that gets in the way, the one mere Human the Homelander is wary of. Madelyn is a mommy-figure for sad broken little Homelander (and by extension all the Millennials who made incest porn so popular), and a doormat for Starlight (though if she wasn't a doormat, Starlight would have to act like she could plan and be sneaky… which she can't). Her arc is terrible, she's stupid and fallible, the writers are idiots. She's a goddamned catastrophe.

All the secondary stuff falls down bad. Popclaw goes from an active party girl (girl, maybe 18-20) to a middle-aged sad has-been kicked out of a team. She does have one of the more spectacular kills, but her story is garbage. A fat Doogie Hauser wanker not from the comics is introduced to provide exposition that shouldn't be provided. Tek-Knight is mentioned but never seen. The mad scientist just has a cinderblock room, probably filmed in Jeff Bezos' basement sex dungeon, not a silo and a nuke.

No other teams are seen or really mentioned; that ecosystem of D-grade teams feeding C-grade teams feeding B-grade teams feeding The Seven isn't touched on at all, when that's the pyramid scam behind the entire setting. In the show there's just a few villains planning everything, not an entire industry of scumbags using superpowers.

The Jesus freak event is sad, a tent show which cost them nothing to make and it shows. I can't imagine these cheap Amazon assholes making Herogasm, the annual party for supes, look good.

The politics show up and then vanish. In the comics, there's a pro-supes VP "Vic the Veep", like Ahnold Shwazzanagga crossed with Rain Main crossed with George W. Bush, with less IQ than any of them, and he's involved. Here, there's a governor and a senator seen at various times, we're told but not shown anything about a vote on military supes. Cheap and lazy and bad writing.

★½☆☆☆

I'm beyond disappointed. I had a real hard-on for this, but now I'm utterly flaccid. Occasional moments of characters doing something interesting interrupt an endless orange/cyan fog of nothing.

Shows have improved between seasons, superheroes especially. Sony's Powers (another good "superheroes are dicks" comic) adaptation on Playstation+ was unbelievably terrible in S1, decent in S2; Sharlto Copley as Diamond was ludicrous, but they wrote a good plot for him. Amazon's The Tick in S1 was the most depressed, mopey, unheroic, unfunny thing I have ever seen; S2 was less bad, though still inferior to the comics, the cartoon, or the first live-action series.

But for now, please go read the comics instead. They're fantastic.

Guardians of the Galaxy 3

Hell yeah. I grew up with some of my favorite comics being ROM Spaceknight, Nova, Rocket Raccoon, Adam Warlock (in Marvel Presents, I think?), and so on… the Marvel space series were so much better than their ground superheroes. While the films are a little trashy, they're fun trash, and the music was just awesome.

But then some Nazis doxxed Gunn and Disney was like "I'm shocked, shocked I say, to discover that the writer of Tromeo & Juliet makes dirty jokes!", but happily have seen sense since everyone involved wanted him back.

So here's the music again:

What I'm Not Watching: Umbrella Academy

Trying to watch Umbrella Academy, and it is so slow. The assassins are more fun than the "family", and they're in maybe 5 minutes per ep.

Two of the siblings are absolute monsters who should be drowned; exiling the tiny-headed gorilla to the Moon to fill sandbags until he dies was a good plan, but letting the two-faced mindbender, low-rent Kilgrave ripoff that she is, walk around loose and unmuzzled is just stupid. Doesn't help that I find both their actors/walking meatsticks stiff and incompetent, very obviously hitting marks and reading lines on a stage. Fire whoever hired these assholes.

Of the actual actors, Diego's an acceptable Daredevil/Batman/Punisher ripoff, but nothing new at all. The junkie necromancer would be fun, but played so broad and silly he's completely out of place in grimdark brooding land. "I waxed my ass with pudding!" is not a thing junkies say, dumbass writer. Normal girl who actually plays violin and writes is the only person in the family and she's beat down and useless; and Ellen Page has aged into a mousy little thing. Number Five is good, fucked up but interesting; that's the only positive reason to keep watching.

This bullshit of a CGI/robot ape butler and "mom" in an otherwise modern-tech universe is infuriating. If "dad" had AI and robotics that look exactly like real people or CGI animals, then he was already a superhero, didn't need six superhero kids. The entire world would be very different. It's like the Stepford Wives: You can solve world labor problems, bring about total prosperity and leisure for everyone… you use it to make one robot slave woman and keep going to bullshit job. Unsurprising, then, that the time traveller's "woman" isn't real, either.

And there's 37 other superheroes out there supposedly, zero mention of them by ep 3.

I'd like to see more of the time travel plot, and the assassins, but I don't think I can sit thru these fuckers whining at each other for hours.

★★☆☆☆

The Boys are Back in Town

Coming sometime this year. I'm more than cautiously optimistic, given this. The Frenchman, the Female, and Mother's Milk look great; I'm not keen on their Wee Hughie or Billy Butcher but you can tell who they are, they're not obviously embarrassing like the Powers adaptation. Hopefully all of them can act the part. The few action scenes in the trailer look great, the slutty, trashy lifestyles of the rich and superpowered look right.

They've replaced Jack from Jupiter with an invisible man; and/or a tracksuit that stands up by itself. Which really isn't much of a downgrade from Jack, the whiniest and least useful of The Seven. Hm. Though Jack can fly, which is important at a couple points.

The Boys TV-The Seven

The Boys TV-The Boys

The Boys is the cure for taking superheroes as magical demigods. Garth Ennis asks, "What if people had superpowers? What if a corporation could make more of them? What would they be like?" And you know what the answer is. They're people, they would be terrible.

So, the CIA funds a group of counter-superheroes. They get a little power, but not much. They use dirty tricks and crime and scams to keep the supers from getting out of control, and killing more people. And even then, what kind of people do you recruit for such a job? Not our best and brightest, but damaged people who have a reason to fight these fuckers in spandex.

The Boys-G-Men

What I'm Watching: Stupid Superheroes Edition

I really shouldn't watch superheroes. Well, Amazon supposedly has Garth Ennis' The Boys in production, and The Boys cured me of reading superhero comics forever, it's the best but last superhero story you'll ever need to read. And I'm expecting Deadpool 2 to be the best sequel to the best romantic comedy superhero movie ever. I don't really count the Marvel space fantasy comics or movies as "superheroes".

But otherwise, it's a disappointing genre. No, I haven't seen Black Panther, not a fan of tyrants worshipped as demigods holding bloodsports in their isolated resource-extraction-economy kingdoms. I wouldn't want a movie aggrandizing Dr Doom any more than I want a T'Challa movie. I loved the Joker in The Dark Knight because he's an anarchist and having so much fun at it, but the real villain is WayneCorp's stranglehold on the world economy, run by a crazy billionaire with military hardware beating up poor people "to stop crime" instead of, say, funding schools and jobs programs, and paying and screening cops to end police corruption. Gotham can only be a shithole if the Batman wants it that way.

Man, I miss the two Richard Donner/Chris Reeve Superman movies, and the two Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman movies.

So anyway.

  • The Tick: The Amazon series is weird. S1 was confused, almost grimdark '90s foil-cover "Superman Is Beaten to Death Like Jesus and We Mourn for 24 Issues" shit, nothing like the surreal parody comics or the insane Warner Brothers-level zany animated series, or even the half-assed but occasionally funny Warburton live series. S2 is less confused, but still not good. Most of the show balances right on the edge of too serious to enjoy, with moments of ludicrousness.
    The Tick and Arthur have a good dynamic, but the Tick comes off strange, not wacky. I like his journey of discovery of self, but it's in the wrong show. Arthur's inadequacy and neuroses are semi-crippling until the plot demands him to act, and then he just does HEROISM while whining a bit. Any chance for humor is stepped over.
    Overkill's a parody of Frank Castle, sure, but he's not any funnier than the real one; in fact, I think Frank in all grimdark Netflix Daredevil and Punisher is funnier. Miss Lint is consistently smirk-worthy but not fully sexy, terrifying, or funny at any time. At one point some marketing people pitch an ad deck to archvillain The Terror, and commit violence at minimal provocation, which gets a "menacing chuckle" from Terror. Which is how I respond to this. Dangerboat's behavior with Arthur plays out creepy and rapey rather than funny HAL-9000 with a cyber-boner parody which maybe they intended. Superion's a smarmy bastard, but then lets his guard down to show… basic decency? He's just not funny. The mad scientist has a funny physical condition, which gives sight gags but no jokes, probably just as well since they'd be offensive.
    Played completely straight, which this almost is, this could be just another shitty Marvel or DC series. Played for humor, this could be a great adaptation of the comics, they have the budget, CGI, and actors. But Amazon just dumped it down the middle.
    ★★☆☆☆
  • Jessica Jones: Started to watch S2E1, but it's even more grimdark and seething anger, without any attempt at humor or irony. I got up to a douchebro asshole picking a fight with Alias and she gets arrested, bailed, and charged in the same day (man, the justice system in Marvel is fast, in my reality it'd take weeks to get on a court docket after an arrest). Nothing fun here, can't take this bullshit right now.