Parasite Review

Believe the hype, I guess. Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite is the masterpiece it has been called.

Kim Ki-taek lives with his family, wife Chung-Sook and children Ki-woo and Ki-jung, in a part basement apartment. Largely unemployed, they work part-time folding cardboard boxes for a local pizza restaurant. Thanks to the recommendation of a family friend, Ki-woo gets a job as a tutor for the daughter of a rich family, the Parks. After overhearing the rich mother talking about needing an art teacher for her son, he suggests a friend of his, Jessica. There is no Jessica, instead his sister Ki-jung poses as an art tutor, and art therapist, to get a job with the family. Soon, all four family members are working for the Park family. That is when things really get weird.

Parasite sets up a poor versus rich parable. It puts you on the side of the poor family, as they work whatever menial jobs they can get, as they huddle around their elevated toilet to snag the wifi signal from a nearby cafe, and as they leave their windows open as exterminators spray the streets to get rid of the bugs infesting their hovel. The literally live below ground, in a semi-basement. You see how little they have.

That is contrasted with the Park family, with their elegant, elevated townhouse. That family is so well off that they are essentially inventing problems to solve. While the movie puts the viewer in the corner of the Kims, it does not demonize their victims. The Parks are oblivious and careless, not vicious. The father’s seem to get along when Ki-taek is driving, but at home it is clear that Mr. Park does care at all for his driver. Ki-woo and his pupil Da-hye have a romance, but when the Parks throw a party and he looks out over the rich, well dressed guests and wonders aloud if he fits in, she clearly has never even considered the question. The Parks are not evil, they are simply unable to see outside of their own sphere. They never look below them.

Parasite does an amazing job of juggling tones. In my admittedly limited experience, Korean movies tend to be elastic with tones and it can be disorienting. Bong Joon-Ho’s previous movie, Okja, did this as well. Parasite managed to vary tones while keeping a feeling of consistency. It is often very funny. It is also frequently tragic, or poignant. It is sometimes scary. The movie jumps from one to the other with amazing deftness, flipping from hilarious to sad and back again in a few seconds.

I am trying not to spoil much of what actually happens in the movie, but Parasite is easily one of the best movies of the year. It starts as one thing, a simple sort of heist movie, then morphs into something else about midway and never looks back. It is stunning.

*****

Motherless Brooklyn

There is something delightfully old-fashioned, for good or ill, about Motherless Brooklyn. I know the movie made significant changes from the source material. I am not quite sure about its portrayal of tourette’s syndrome. But I loved that Motherless Brooklyn is just an old-fashioned noir. It isn’t simple or without bigger themes, but it seems more than happy to just execute a solid formula that hasn’t gotten much use lately.

Lionel Essrog is a private detective working for his father figure Frank Minna. When a mysterious job goes south and Minna ends up shot, Lionel takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of why Frank was killed. As these things tend to go, what at first seems like a fairly simple mystery soon spirals into something much, much bigger. Lionel is a skilled detective, smart and observant. He also suffers from tourette’s and possibly some other neurodevelopmental issues. He works with Minna at his combination private investigation and car service, along with a trio of other orphans that Frank took under his wing. At first, they seem just as eager as Lionel to find Frank’s killers, but things get complicated.

The movie just jumps eagerly into noir tropes. After Lionel literally takes Frank’s place, wearing his hat and coat as he starts backtracking through the investigation that led to Frank being shot. He ends up at a jazz club and finds out that Frank was looking into something that leads to city hall. He meets a crazed seeming man at a community event, who gives him some insight on Moses Randolf, the unelected powerful man who secretly runs the city. Eventually, he discovers the secret that Frank had uncovered that he was going to use to blackmail some powerful people.

That is where the other thread of this movie comes in, bringing in the real history of New York’s policy of discrimination under the guise of urban planning. Lionel’s investigation brings him in contact with African American communities that are labeled as slums and cleared more for the profit of Randolf’s cronies than for helping to reform the city.

Motherless Brooklyn isn’t really showing the audience anything that hasn’t been done before. Chinatown comes to mind. It is a noir detective story, eventually the hero finds out that the system is designed more to enable the bad behavior of the people in charge than to rein them in. Still, the movie shines by being well acted and genuinely thrilling. Edward Norton is great as always and the movie is absolutely populated with recognizable faces. Bruce Willis seems more engaged than he has in years for his brief appearance as Minna. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is excellent as a young lawyer fighting against this gentrification who is more entwined in this that it first appears. The performance that will be most polarizing is Alec Baldwin as Moses Randolf. He channels more than a little of SNL impression of loathsome garbage, but it works for a character that is truly gross and somehow untouchable despite everyone seeing how gross he is.

Motherless Brooklyn doesn’t reinvent the wheel. But it doesn’t really need to. Sometimes all that is needed is something well executed. They don’t make movies like Motherless Brooklyn that often anymore, but I am glad this one got through.

****

My Favorite Crisis

With CW’s Arrowverse adaptation of the seminal DC crossover “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” it felt like a good time to look at my favorite of DC’s Crisis stories. That is not Crisis on Infinite Earths. CoIE is, undeniably, DC’s most important crossover; it shaped the DC Universe for a quarter of a century afterward. However, it is a giant mess of a story. A few really great moments, some nice artwork and a whole lot of nonsense. No, my favorite Crisis story is 2008’s Final Crisis, from Grant Morrison, JG Jones, Jesus Merino, and Doug Mahnke.

Crisis on Infinite Earths was not the first (note the capital) Crisis. Building off the concept of Flash of Two Worlds, where The Flash (Barry Allen) met The Flash (Jay Garrick). From essentially 1963 on, the annual alternate reality crossover between the Justice League, on what was designated Earth-One, and Justice Society, on Earth-Two, met up to have adventures. After 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, Crises became more rare, being reserved for big event crossovers. There was Zero Hour: Crisis in Time, Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis and finally Final Crisis. CoIE, Infinite Crisis, and Final Crisis operate as something of a trilogy involving the Monitors.

I’ve wanted to write about Final Crisis since I started this blog. Way back then, it was the most recent, big important DC story. Grant Morrison was in the middle of his all-time great Batman run. Comics bloggers were still a thing and I wanted to contribute to discourse around what I thought at the time was an unfairly treated triumph. But I found it hard to write about, and by the time I really focused on it, a few years had passed and DC had reset their comics universe with Flashpoint. It didn’t really seem worth going into when many of the characters in the story didn’t even exist in the comics anymore. Plus, I still couldn’t really find a solid angle to write about. As time went on, though, I liked the story more and more. Part of it was I read more crossovers, and realized just how bad most of them are. Final Crisis is different. There is more going on than just the immediate event storyline.

Final Crisis received a pretty tepid reaction when it first came out, and I think it is worth noting why that is. There was an unprecedented amount of build up to Final Crisis. DC did a weekly book, Countdown, that near the end became Countdown to Final Crisis. There were miniseries that sprung out of and from around that weekly book, like Death of the New Gods. These titles were supposed to set up Final Crisis. There were problems. Without blaming anybody, Countdown and its companions did not, in fact, set up Final Crisis. What they did was muddy the water and make things more confusing to anyone paying close attention. It is pretty well settled that Countdown was something of a disaster. It made it hard to transition into the full event of Final Crisis, with all this ultimately unnecessary build up. Reading it now, completely divorced from that history, Final Crisis is an achievement.

I have a hardcover collected edition of the story; one that contains the main series, Final Crisis 1-7, plus the spin-offs Superman Beyond and Final Crisis: Submit. It is not quite the complete story, but it has all the important bits.

It is still hard to get into what makes Final Crisis so great. What it does better than almost any other similar event is that it feels epic, it feels mythic. From almost the very start of Final Crisis you can feel that the fate of the universe is at stake and the book never really lets that go. There was a war in heaven, and evil won. The book opens with cavemen, specifically Anthro, the First Boy, receiving knowledge from the New God Metron. That knowledge includes fire. From there is moves to the modern day and “Terrible” Dan Turpin.

Dan Turpin is an interesting viewpoint character to start with. Dan Turpin is one of many characters created by Jack Kirby. Many of Kirby’s DC characters form the backbone of Final Crisis. Turpin arguably became most well known on the Superman Animated show from the 90’s, where he was modeled after Jack Kirby. Here he is investigating some missing kids when he finds the New God Orion dying in a dumpster. Red skies, the sign of a Crisis, are already here.

The dying Orion manages to say “. . . heaven cracked and broken … You! They did not die! He is in you all . . . fight.” before falling dead. While it isn’t clear at the time, it soon becomes obvious that the evil Gods of Apokalips, Darkseid and his minions, have possessed people on Earth and are trying to conquer it. The bad guys plans are already in motion, and the heroes don’t even know what is happening. The first issue moves to a meeting of the Secret Society of Supervillains, where the Martian Manhunter is killed so Libra can prove he can help the bad guys win. The Justice League, specifically the Green Lanterns, investigate the dead God. Dan Turpin tracks down the missing kids, and finds out that they have been brainwashed by Darkseid. Then the issue reveals the Monitors; now instead of one character, they are a group that monitors the 52 different universes of the Multiverse. One of them failed, and is cast down to live as a mortal. Finally, the issue ends with Kamandi, the last boy, meeting Anthro, the first boy, to get the weapon that Metron gave him to fight the bad guys.

I am not going to go through the series blow by blow, but this first issue show the breadth of the story. Obviously, it builds from there. Batman is taken off the board by a corrupted Green Lantern. Superman is sidelined when the Daily Planet is attacked. Barry Allen, dead since Crisis on Infinite Earths, appears chasing the bullet that killed Orion backwards through time. He and the other Flashes disappear chasing it. Dan Turpin is taken by the bad guys to be the new vessel for Darkseid. Events continues to outpace the heroes. Wonder Woman becomes the carrier for an evil disease. The Anti-Life Equation, the macguffin that Darkseid has been chasing since Jack Kirby started the Fourth World, is transmitted across the Earth over the internet.

This is when things get weird. Yeah, now. Superman Beyond is something else. Superman is taken on a universe spanning adventure by a Monitor with promise of something to save Lois Lane’s life. He joins a team of Superman analogues, including Captain Marvel–better known now as Shazam–as they try to avert a Multiverse wide catastrophe. They end up in Limbo, where Superman learns the history of the Monitors, as well as the legend of the evil Monitor Mandrakk. It has Superman yelling dialogue like: “There are 52 worlds in the Multiversal Superstructure. Take the Ultima Thule, Marvel! I’ll get the energy you need to return to the Multiverse. Warn everyone, like Paul Revere! Tell them Mandrakk is coming! I’ll do what I can to plug the hole in forever!” It has Superman turn into a giant Superman robot to fight Mandrakk, and cast him out of reality. Also, it shows Superman’s tombstone, which reads “To Be Continued . . .”

When you get into the back half of the series, the narrative starts to break down. Not out of a failure in the writing, but as a part of the story. Time and space are crumbling, and the story starts to break into jagged pieces. It gives you enough to grasp what is going on, but never enough to feel comfortable in the story. I can understand not liking it, but when the goal is to tell a story about all of reality breaking, the brief glimpses it gives the reader work wonderfully.

It basically goes from the heroes figuring out the bad guys are up to something to the bad guys victorious, with the last remaining heroes holed up in a few safe watchtowers, planning a last desperate stand. Wonder Woman has been corrupted, the rest of the big guns, Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, are all off the board. Instead, it focuses on lesser known heroes. Frankenstein. The Ray. Black Canary. Dan Turpin finally gives in to Darkseid, and it seems like humanity is on its last legs, just as they have mounted some kind of counterattack.

Then the last two issues happen. Issue 6 feels especially desperate. The Battle for Bludhaven, the heroes big plan happens and it is tense. Other than Supergirl, the heroes don’t exactly have their A-team. Batman finally reappears, having escaped. Breaking his rule against guns, he uses the bullet that killed Orion to shoot Darkseid, just as Darkseid blasts him with his Omega Beams. Superman reappears and turns the tide in the battle, setting up the final issue showdown with the wounded and dying Darkseid. All this is happening while reality itself continues to crumble. There is just so much going on. Of course the good guys win.

Final Crisis is the final in that trilogy of Crises. It is also a middle chapter of Grant Morrison’s own explorations of the DC Multiverse. It is in many ways a sequel to Seven Soldiers of Victory, another Morrison experiment I’ve really wanted to write about, and a prequel to Multiversity, which needs to be added to my list of comics to write about. For my money, and with respect to Spider-Verse and DC One Million, Final Crisis is the most enjoyable event crossover either DC or Marvel has ever put out. There are just so many moments and concepts. And considering that DC wiped that version of the world away a bare few years later, it feels kind of like the last gasp of the version of the DC universe I first learned to love. It is really worth tracking down and giving a read. I am sure the Arrowverse will never do an adaptation of it. Even more than Crisis on Infinite Earths, Final Crisis seems downright unfilmable as live action.

Harriet Review

I don’t mean this to sound as dismissive as I know it will, but Harriet feels like the movie you would watch in history class when there is a half day or a substitute. It competently goes through the motions of telling the story of Harriet Tubman, with more than a little skill, but somewhat lacking in style.

I can’t really point to any area where Harriet fails. It starts with Tubman, then called Minty Ross, as a slave in Maryland. Her free husband and father contacted a lawyer to straighten out the fact that Minty and her mother were supposed to be freed under the terms of their old owners will, but his son has refused to do that. That appeal goes about as well as you’d expect. After Minty prayers for her master’s death are granted, his son tries to sell her off to repay some debts. Minty has had enough and decides to run away. With some help from the local preacher and a kindly Quaker, Minty escapes over a hundred miles to Philadelphia and takes the name Harriet Tubman.

Harriet does an excellent job both keeping the focus on Harriet and in giving a glimpse into a wide variety of black experiences under slavery. Harriet is one, though a unique one is some ways, still an experience that many shared. She was born into slavery, but escaped to freedom. She knows what it is like to live under that evil, and wants to do everything she can to end it or help others escape. Her husband and father are free men, but live in the slave-owning South and were at one time slaves themselves. They are still subject to Southern Racism, but have a different experience than Harriet and different reactions. There is also Harriet’s sister, who refuses to leave with her. It is easy to look at it as a lack of courage, but the movie shows how the system affects people, how Harriet’s sister fears for her young children, who it would be very hard to take with them and let’s that fear keep her enslaved. In Philadelphia, there are free African Americans who were born in freedom. They recognize the evils of slavery, but only kind of understand its corroding evil. I don’t mean to say they don’t treat it as real, but their reactions are more analytical. The movie gives a peek at all these different experiences, mostly through the lens of how they see Harriet and how Harriet sees them.

The biggest white role in the movie goes to Harriet’s would be owner, Gideon Brodess. The movie never falls into the all too common in Civil War movie trap of letting him, and his fellow slave owners, off the hook for the evil the perpetrate. At first it seems like it might, playing him as slightly sympathetic to Harriet before she runs away, but soon the facade is removed and the movie shows him for what he is. It is a deep ingrained callow selfishness, where he just doesn’t view these people as people. Even near the end, when Brodess does something that could maybe be called good, the movie shows the self interest behind it.

It is somewhat less successful in wrestling with Tubman’s faith. The movie acknowledges it, but doesn’t quite seem to understand it.  Harriet has nothing to say about its protagonists faith.  She may interpret her blackouts as visions from God, and the movie actually gives her visions during her faints, but it just sort of happens without comment,

Harriet is a perfectly fine, by the numbers biopic. But it is telling a story that shockingly, or maybe not that shockingly considering who the main character is and Hollywood’s determination to filter every story through a white lens, has not previously been put to film. It is well done and gives a glimpse into the life of a national hero. It does not, in any way reinvent the wheel, but sometimes all you need is a well-made wheel.

***1/2

Midway Review

Midway is this mishmash of old school war drama and new special effects and (some) new sensibilities. It ends up being more than a little charming, even if it isn’t particularly good. Of course, I am generally a fan of movies about propeller planes and melodrama. So Midway was pretty solidly up my alley.

Midway opens with a brief scene in Japan, before the war starts as intelligence officer Edwin Layton has a talk with Yamamoto about the potential for war. The movie then jumps forward to Pearl Harbor, and follows the Pacific front through the titular battle. It largely follows a few characters. Layton and Admiral Nimitz at Pearl Harbor, who have to decipher intelligence to find out where the Japanese are headed. It also focuses on the pilots of the carrier USS Enterprise as they fight in the Pacific. It all culminates in one of the most decisive battles of WWII.

The characters, all based on actual soldiers, are broadly drawn. The actors are talented and do what they can—though Ed Skrein and Luke Evan occasionally struggle with the American accents—but the action is spread around too much to really get more than a broad feel for any of them. Skrein is the star as pilot Dick Best. He is a talented pilot, but his superiors are hesitant to put him in charge of a flight. Layton is played by Patrick Wilson, who is always great and generally underappreciated. It also occasionally checks in with the Japanese as they plan a surprise attack on Midway, and in a surprising movie it shows them as people, not just as enemies.

The flying scenes are exhilarating. I enjoy, at a certain level, any movie about flying small aircraft. This movie does an excellent job with it. It feels like a roller coaster as the pilots turn into a dive bombing run. And it has a lot of dogfighting.

One scene that stands out, I guess in a bad way, is the brief snippets showing Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo. Aaron Eckhart plays Doolittle as he conducts his daring raid by taking off from carriers in the pacific, flying over Japan and landing in China. His bits of the movie are small and the raid is at least tangentially related to the Battle of Midway, in the way that all of the war in the Pacific was related. It really feels like this little detour is in the movie for how it ends. Doolittle crash lands in China, and with the help of Chinese civilians manages to evade Japanese patrols and escape. While a movie about Doolittle’s Raid would be interesting, it appears to be in this movie so it can be sold in China.

Midway is just a generally enjoyable war movie. Good actors giving decent performances, some exhilarating action. It is historically accurate enough to pass without anything really standing out as just being wrong. I don’t expect to see it on any top 10s at the end of the year, but I liked watching it.

***

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep 11

Titans Season 2, Episode 11 “E.L._.O.”

I really didn’t like the last episode, Fallen, but this one wastes less time and appears to maybe have the show back on track. Or maybe I am an optimistic fool and the show is just preparing to disappoint me again.

Splitting the team up would have worked better if the show had done anything with those characters before splitting them up. This season had done little with any characters outside of Dick and Jason before the last couple of episodes. Those gave us some stuff for Gar and more fully brought Conner into the show. Then the show had Dick’s complete misfire of a trip to prison. Here, the show starts to pull everyone back, hopefully setting up a satisfying conclusion to the season.

Rachel is again having prophetic dreams, dreams about Dick being killed by Deathstroke. So she tries to follow those dreams to find help. Those dreams lead her to Elko, Nevada. Donna goes looking for help to find Rachel, and finds the mess CADMUS left in the tower. She apparently gets a call from Rachel that draws her to Elko. Kory, fully stranded on Earth and mourning the loss of her parents and friend, goes on a bender. Only to hear adds that draw her to Elko. Finally, Dawn, now separated from Hank, heads back to San Francisco, only for engine trouble to have her pull over in . . . Elko. With them drawn together, there is an airing of grievances and the team decides to be a team again. Donna and Dawn go to try to save Gar, leaving Rachel and Kory to try to save Dick.

Dick is being held in solitary, having a pity party and an argument with the imaginary Bruce Wayne in his head. He finally comes to some revelations, including the biggest one of the episode: Jericho is alive and his spirit is inside of Slade. Dick appears to be nearing the end of his journey.

The last, other than some interludes where Gar is being brainwashed by CADMUS, and best, storyline of the episode is Jason and Rose. They ran away to Gotham, and Rose is still working him. She is kind of transparent, even before the reveal that she has been working with Slade the whole time. I do wonder if she is actually Slade’s daughter; I still find it highly suspicious that she was completely absent in all the Jericho flashbacks. But she and Jason appear to forge a genuine connection. He is truly open and vulnerable with her, and they seem to bond. Jason remains one of the best characters on the show, and Rose is a great foil for him. He tries to be abrasive, mostly to be sure that he is not forgotten. He is still kind of a punk, but his actions are clearly defense mechanisms. He pushes people away as preemptive response to his assumed rejection. Rose acts similarly, but she is abrasive to keep anyone from getting close enough to learn her secret that she is working with Slade. The question is where her loyalties will lie when it all blows up. Did she really connect with Jason, or is she still playing him?

Stuff like the Jason and Rose stuff, as well as Kory stuff, is real good. It is why I keep watching the show. It isn’t anything revolutionary; it is just good superhero melodrama. The show spends a lot of time on characters and plotlines that don’t work as well, but the stuff that does work works so well. Hopefully this is the start of a much needed course correction and not a short lived quality bounce for the show.

Recap of the Titans, S 2 Ep 10

Titans Season 2, Episode 10 “Fallen”

Okay, so now Dick is in prison and this is a completely different show. I don’t know why the show is going this route or what Dick is trying to accomplish, but the show is pretty much off the rails at this point, so let’s see where it goes.

After the end of the last episode, Gar is alone in Titans Tower, Dick is in prison, Conner is wandering the streets of San Francisco alone (well, he has Krypto at the start, but he sends him away), and Rachel has run away and is in a homeless shelter.

The best part of the episode is again Gar and Conner. First, Conner sends Krypto away to keep him safe. Krypto, being a good dog and hands down the best character on the show, or in existence, runs back to Titans Tower and gets Gar, who goes to bring Conner back. Krypto is such a good dog. Unfortunately, Conner’s actions have caught the attention of Mercy Graves, and now that she knows that Conner isn’t dead she comes after him again. After seeing what Gar is capable of, Mercy switches her plan from kill to capture. So Conner and Krypto end up back at Cadmus again, this time with Gar in tow. This Cadmus storyline is interesting. I really wish it had been introduced earlier in the season and more time was spent on it than on rehashing the not particularly interesting or revelvatory past of the Titans.

I am not really going into Dick’s prison story, because I really, truly, do not care. That is what takes up the bulk of the episode and I could not care less. In prison, Dick at first refuses to help, but by the end of the episode his heroic instincts kind of kick in. I think the whole sequence exists so Dick can get told the story of the mythical bird who comes in the night and helps people, which I assume will be his inspiration to become Nightwing.

Most of the rest of the gang is absent. There is no Kory, Hank or Dawn. No Rose or Jason. Donna appears briefly and does precisely nothing. There is a brief Rachel storyline, where she tries to help another girl, but appears to lose control of her powers and someone ends up dead. It is something, I guess.

This episode is a real dud. I like the developments with Conner and Gar; that is an interesting storyline that should be pursued. The rest of this nonsense is just mopey, overwrought junk that I was hoping this series was moving past. I really thought the show was posed to really grow into itself over the back half of this season; instead, it feels like it is falling apart. Retreading well worn ground instead of growing into something new. Hopefully the show can pull itself together over the last few episodes.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep 9

Titans Season 2, Episode 9 “Atonement”

Atonement appears to a tipping point on this season of Titans, as Dick comes clean about exactly what happened to Jericho, leading to most of the team leaving Titans Tower. The old team members; Donna, Dawn, and Hank, are disgusted with his lies and want nothing to do with the team. Rose is upset about the revelations about her brother, and Jason goes with her. Even Rachel decides enough is enough. Gar stays. Kory also leaves, but only because her Tamaranean troubles have cropped back up. Dick then decides to exile himself, leaving only Gar and the unconscious Conner in the tower.

Each of the characters has their own thread the episode follows. Each of these threads could be interesting story hooks, but there just isn’t enough time for any of them. Hank and Dawn try to start over again, but their past catches up with them. Their past from the beginning of the season, when they were running some kind of halfway house. But there wasn’t enough of that for it to really be a storyline and it basically hasn’t been mentioned for seven episodes, so it doesn’t really work here. Kory meets up with Faddei, who tells her that her sister has taken over their planet, and they have to deal with her. Unfortunately, Kory’s sister, Blackfire, manages to possess Faddei. Again, this is a promising storyline, but there really hasn’t been enough done with it to matter. I guess it establishes Blackfire as a potential foe for the (entirely theoretical) team, but that is little.

The best part of the episode is Conner and Gar. At first Gar is alone in the tower as Conner recovers. When he wakes up, instead of calling Bruce like he is supposed to, he and Conner bond over video games and plot out what they will do as superheroes. Even that ends in tragedy, since Conner is essentially superpowered newborn is unable to understand the nuance of something like a man getting arrested. So Conner fights with a bunch of cops. Gar runs off, leaving him alone in the tower and Conner wandering the streets on the run from the authorities.

Dick’s story sees him seeking atonement for getting Jericho killed from Jericho’s mother. It, predictably, goes poorly. For some reason, Dick just takes Slade’s abuse. Like I really need someone to lay out exactly what is going through Dick’s mind, because his actions over this season, and including what I remember of last season, make no sense. The answers don’t actually answer questions, they merely make the questions not make a lot of sense. So he gets himself arrested for . . . some reason.

That problem is broader than Dick. Hank and Dawn have never really fit in, like they are in their own show separate from everyone else. Donna Troy remains a mess. The supposed stars of the show, Kory, Rachel and Gar, have been pretty well sidelined. Everyone’s motivations and character manage to be broad and ill-defined. And the show seems determined not to clear things up. It makes it disappointing, because this show is so good when it is good.

This episode makes me realize that while this season has been building, it has not remotely been building to what I thought it was. All I’ve wanted, essentially since this show started, was to see the team together and in action. Season 1 had an understandably slow build, as they had to put the team together. Here, the team is together, but they just refuse to be a team. Naively, I assumed that all the bickering and bullshit was what the team was working through until they came together for the last part of the season. Now, with time left in the season dwindling, the team has broken up after accomplishing precisely nothing as a team.

What I Watched October 2019

Movies

Joker – read review here. **

El Camino – I’ll be honest; I haven’t gotten all the way through Breaking Bad. I don’t really have an excuse. I did have the end spoiled for me (I guess I really spoiled it for myself). This is not really a movie event, but a double episode coda tacked on to the end of the show. An excellently shot and written modern day western that only really works as a goodbye to a character people already love. It is incredible for what it is. ****1/2

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil – read review here. **1/2

The Laundromat – I don’t understand why reviews for this film have been so mixed. I loved how it mixed the fun, glib explanations by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas with the real showing of how these schemes affect real people. The first stuff is enjoyable, but it becomes infuriating as it becomes clear that the crooks are going to get away with it and keep getting away with it. *****

Addams Family read review here. ***

Gemini Man read review here. **1/2

Missing Link – I am really sorry I missed this in theaters earlier this year. I loved Laika’s last movie, Kubo and the Two Strings. This one is just as strong. It looks gorgeous. It tells a great story about wanting to belong. I just loved everything about it. *****

The Current War – read review here. ***

Dolemite is My Name – This movie does just about everything right. Good performances, especially from Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes. It is funny without ever really making fun of its subject. It is loving, but not reverent. Just a lot of fun. ****1/2

Mission of Honor – A perfectly fine WWII movie about (mostly) Polish fighter pilots in Great Britain during the second world war. Personally, I love scenes of propeller planes, which was enough to get me past some of this film’s weaker dramatic points. It does end with a devastating kicker; after fighting to save the U.K., and their homeland, the Polish fighters are deported to their now communist home country, where they are not wanted or welcome. ***

Lord of the Rings The Two Towers – I don’t know when the last time I actually sat down and watched any of the The Lord of the Rings movies. I didn’t do it this time, either. I got interrupted about two thirds the way through this. The movie is still amazing. The special effects have aged, but they have aged better than you might think. I believe a structured rewatch is in my future. Not a marathon, but maybe seeing them over the course of a week or so. *****

TV

Undone – This is a hard show to describe. It is a trippy drama with sci-fi stuff that might or might not be real. Protagonist Alma is in a car accident and learns she can project her consciousness back through time. With the help of her dead father, possibly time traveling father she tries to unravel the mystery of his death. She also tries to deal with things happening to her in the moment, like her sister’s marriage to a man Alma doesn’t like or Alma’s dissatisfaction with her boyfriend. Underneath it all is the question of whether Alma actually has this time travel power, or whether it is a delusion caused by the accident. I was not a big fan of the rotoscope animation, but the show is really good.

Big Mouth S3 – This show continues to be strong, twitter controversy aside. I don’t mean to discount why people were mad, but that is one sour note in an otherwise excellent show. Big Mouth is a show that pushes boundaries in a way that seems really helpful to its supposed target audience. Though I would guess its target audience isn’t kids going through puberty, but people in their 20-30s remembering going through puberty. The show is doing a great job of widening its focus, especially as its two protagonists go down some pretty toxic roads. This is just a good show.

Goliath S3 – I wrote in my Carnival Row post that I had hopes that the third season of Goliath would fix a lot of the problems I had with season 2. Those hopes were misplaced. This season might not be quite as bad as the previous one, but it is still far from good. This season appears to be trying to be something like Twin Peaks as a legal drama. But it doesn’t do a great job of being Twin Peaks and it does an even worse job of being a legal drama. The courtroom stuff is almost completely an afterthought here. I like Billy Bob Thornton, but this show reeks of misplaced confidence. It doesn’t reek of desperation like some bad shows do, like it is flailing around trying to find what works; instead it feels like a show that is sure that it is working perfectly and is trying to stretch its legs a little, even though absolutely nothing it going right. It is a barely watchable mess. At least Dennis Quaid seemed like he had fun.

Modern Love – This is a real mixed bag. There are some great romantic stories here. There is also a couple of real creep shows. I don’t know, this didn’t really do anything for me, despite having some favorites, like Anne Hathaway and Tina Fey, show up and some actually very good episodes.

Carmen Sandiego S2 – I found this to be a big improvement over the first season. Mostly because it feels like it is doing less heavy lifting to set up its story and more just telling the story. It is still a cartoon for kids that focuses on geography and history. It is pretty fun.

Schitt’s Creek S5 – This show remains one of the strongest sitcoms around today. It had a kind of rocky start and still has a terrible title, but the show is good. I don’t have much specific to say, it remains funny and hits enough human moments to make you care. With Netflix losing pretty much every other easy watching staple in the near future, keeping this around would give them something.

CW DC Shows – I am going to write more about these when they go on winter hiatus, which is apparently halfway through the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover. I’ll just say for now that it has been a good start. The Flash especially seems rejuvenated. Also, newcomer Batwoman is a lot of fun.

The Current War Review

You can see a great movie hidden somewhere in The Current War, but it remains unilluminated in this release. This isn’t a bad movie, but it is a muddled mix of strong performances and unclear themes.

To start with, Michael Shannon is amazing. In this movie and also in every other movie I’ve seen him in. The rest of the cast is good as well; Cumberbatch holds up his end against Shannon pretty well, but his is the showier, yet somehow less memorable part. Tom Holland, Katherine Waterston, Nicholas Hoult, Mathew Macfayden all appear and are fine.

Where the movie seems to be muddled is in its very thesis. It contrasts Edison and Westinghouse, but the movie never really gives the viewer any reason to see Edison as anything other than a villain. The movie doesn’t treat him like a villain; it seems to think of him as a hero, but the movie never shows him do anything that isn’t at least a little bit contemptible. When he is forced out of his own company near the end, the movie frames it as tragic, but it seems pretty deserved. Westinghouse, using a conglomeration of patents and other people’s technology, builds an effective alternating current electric grid. His goal is to sell it to Edison and make them both a bunch of money while making electric power accessible to the masses. Edison won’t even meet with him. He refuses to consider anything but his own direct current system, claiming that ac is dangerous despite having no proof. When Westinghouse feels forced to go it alone, Edison pretty much immediately plays dirty. Westinghouse kind of does the same, but his dirty play is just to expose the truth about Edison.

The movie tries to soften Edison by showing him with his family; mostly of him ignoring them to do his work. It also has him harping on his refusal to build something designed to kill a man, which supposedly drives his refusal to work with high voltage ac. But he also goes against that building an electric chair in an effort to smear Westinghouse. Basically, the movie only shows Edison at his worst, but then expects the viewer to feel something when Holland’s character, who has been Edison’s right hand throughout the movie, says he is glad he worked for Edison over Westinghouse. I just can’t figure out why. The movie would have been better with a greater focus on Westinghouse. It is slanted towards Edison, but it doesn’t give enough of Westinghouse’s reaction.

Still, the movie absolutely sparkles at times. When Westinghouse and Edison finally meet at the Chicago World’s Fair, it is a great scene. They have a conversation about achieving greatness, with the defeated Edison already anticipating his next great success. Westinghouse is magnanimous in victory. Nicholas Hoult’s brief appearances as Nikola Tesla are solid as well. He doesn’t have enough time to do a whole lot; he mostly establishes himself as a brilliant inventor who is bad at business.

This is a great looking movie with some excellent performances, but the whole thing feels like less than the sum of its parts. It is far from a disaster, but it is clearly not as good as it could have been.

***