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.

***

Now Playing October 2019

Beaten

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne — This was a lot of fun. I still have more to do; some armor I want to make, some endemic life to capture, Zinogre to beat, etc. But I saw the credits roll and I am ready to put this away for a while. I really like a lot about Monster Hunter, but I am not a huge fan of fighting the elder dragons. I don’t mind failing a hunt because I, or my partners, got KOed. What I don’t like is hammering away (literally, the hammer is my tool of choice) at a monster for 50 minutes only to lose because he didn’t die in time. Sure, part of the problem is I need better tactics, but with the really frustrating monsters, like Kushala Daora, the problem is that there just aren’t a lot of opportunities to do damage. I realize this is post-game DLC, but a lot of the content here is elder dragon nonsense that just is not that much fun. That is the one part of this huge expansion that I didn’t like. I liked the snow area. I really like most of the monsters here. Nargacuga and Barioth are fun returning monsters. Banbaro is pretty great. There is a lot to love here. Just the very end annoyed me.

Final Fantasy VIII — I wrote about it here.

Ongoing

Persona Q2 — Yeah, I am really trucking on this now. It is still a game that is prone to throwing sudden, unavoidable deaths at me, but they are growing less frequent. Still, I cleared a stratum and a half in fairly short order. The bosses have been pretty uniformly a chore. I have been told that this is actually a pretty easy part of the Etrian and Shin Megami Tensei series. As someone who has beaten all of the Etrian games and most of the SMT games to reach the West, I disagree. This game is hard, and not in a fun or interesting way. I have never felt less interested in the demon fusion system; it feels like I am always full up on demons that are too high leveled to fuse in a helpful way. As I’ve said before, the map making tools are more stylish but wholly less useful. While I have begun to enjoy this game, it is still a disappointment. That is mostly on me; I don’t think this game was ever intended to operate as a farewell to beloved series and system on its own.

Sonic Mania — I only beat a couple of stages of this game last month. It is an excellent recreation of the Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog games. It captures that feeling perfectly. I was just never any good at those games past the first couple of Areas. I am trying to push through the back half of this game and I neither am good enough to do so, nor do I care enough to get better. It is definitely on me, not the game, but I am going to wait until I get a real itch to play this again before finishing it instead of trying to force it.

Upcoming

Judgment — This game keeps falling off the ongoing list, but I am going to clear it before too long. It’s fun. (Yes, I did mostly copy and paste this from last month)

Sega Genesis Games — I’ve got the mini, I am going to play some of the games that came with it. I already started with Alisia Dragoon, a game I do not understand at all.

Elliot Quest — I feel a need to go back and finish up some leftover WiiU games, or maybe some Wii games. Elliot Quest is one that I got most of the way through, and really enjoyed, but never got around to finishing. Another one high on my list is Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. Or maybe either of the Shovel Knight alternate paths, neither of which I’ve finished.

Okami HD — I’ve got this on my PS3 and I played the first chunk of it a year or so ago. I’ve been feeling the itch to get back to it.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

The first Maleficent movie was one of the better Disney live action adaptations because it was one of the few that did more than slavishly recreate the animated movie. I mean, a version of the story where the bad guy is actually the good guy is not the most original thing, but at least it’s something. (I know I didn’t like Dumbo which did the same, but it was bad for other reasons). This sequel had the potential to be something really good and at times its seems poised to realize that potential, only for it to be kind of muddled and distracted. Early on, the movie, when Maleficent is preparing to meet her daughters new in laws, practicing small talk with her raven companion, hints at a much better version of this. A movie that builds to the conflict between Maleficent and fey against the humans. A comedy of manners that spirals out of control. Instead, the movie jumps right to a brewing war.

The problem is the movie has so much to get to that it can’t let any of it land. There is the marriage plot, the people kidnapping fairies, the dark fey, like Maleficent, who are itching for a fight with the humans. Much of it needs to be explained. But in the midst of all the explaining, there is little time for anything else. It also renders the heroes alternately moronic and inert. The connection between Aurora and Maleficent was established in the first movie, it doesn’t make a lot of sense how quickly she believes the worst of her. Maleficent has to get all of the history of the dark fey and their current situation in a quick dump, with no time to process finding a whole world of people just like her. Phillip’s mother Queen Ingrith is plotting a war, and the movie has to walk the viewer through it.

All of these plots could be interesting, if the movie either handled them with a lighter touch or had a little more time to work through them. It almost feels like the last two parts of a trilogy smashed together. Maleficent’s journey doesn’t quite work. She goes from distant, but loving mother, to spurned and hated, to prophesied hero over the course of this movie, but none of it really lands. No one else really has much of an arc. Aurora learns something she already knew. Everyone else learns that racism is bad.

At least the movie looks good. The magical creatures don’t exactly look real, but they look appealing. The fey are really well done, with their wings looking and acting like real appendages most of the time. It also has some awe inspiring castles and vistas. The movie simply looks good.

Angelina Jolie is pretty great as Maleficent. And Michelle Pfeiffer seems to be having fun as the evil Queen Ingrith. Elle Fanning has precious little to do as Aurora, and Prince Phillip spends most of the movie being ineffectual. It is just short of being a waste of a great cast, only saved by how much the actors seem to be enjoying themselves.

As messy as it is, I still largely enjoyed Maleficent Mistress of Evil. I don’t think it’s good, but there are enough interesting things going on that I don’t regret seeing it.

**1/2

What I Read October 2019

I got through four books this month, and a couple of them were pretty sizable ones. That includes my birthday present to myself, Warrior of the Altaii by Robert Jordan. It was good to read something like that, completely inessential but very interesting. Otherwise, I finally cleared something off my reading list that has been there for years and a book I got as a Christmas a couple of years ago.

Labyrinth

Kate Mosse

I have been reading this book for what seems like forever. I read its two sequels before starting this one what I think was almost four years ago. Once it gets going it is pretty engrossing. I don’t really know why it took so long for me to finish this; it just sat there partially read forever.

This works along two timelines. The first is in the thirteenth century with the Cathars as the Catholics attempt to exterminate them from Southern France. Alais is the daughter of the steward of Carcassonne, who helps her father keep certain secrets while they fight a war. In the present, Alice works at an archaeological dig near the same place and uncovers some things that have been hidden for eight centuries.

Maybe it is just the prolonged time it took me to read this, but I didn’t realize until way too far into it that it was about the holy grail. Really, how long it took me to read this makes it hard for me to judge a lot of the plot developments. I remember generally what was happening, but I don’t really remember the details. I didn’t enjoy this as much as Citadel or Sepulchre, but then again, I don’t really remember them that well either.

The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul

Douglas Adams

The second Dirk Gently mystery. This one starts with Dirk being hired by a man a giant monster with a scythe. Though not believing the man’s ravings, Dirk takes the case for the money. Things turn serious when the man is found with his head cut off. Dirk’s investigation involves all sorts of weirdness, including Norse Gods and sinister nursing homes and record deals. If you’ve read Adams, you know what to expect. I don’t have a lot to say. I liked it; it is odd and witty and a little cynical. I really enjoyed it.

Warrior of the Altaii

Robert Jordan

This is a delight if you know what you are in for. The classy, sports team logo cover doesn’t really do the pulpy, almost lurid book found inside justice. Warrior of the Altaii is a book Robert Jordan wrote in the late 70’s and this reads like a late 70’s fantasy novel. This reads like the work of a man who wrote both the Wheel of Time and a bunch of Conan the Barbarian stories.

It is, primarily, that old sort of swords and sorcery adventure fantasy. But underneath there are shades of something more complex. There is some good military strategy stuff. The book builds the Altaii as a precursor to the Aiel from the Wheel of Time. There is also a lot of gratuitous nudity, some weird slavery stuff, and some just good, old-fashioned sexism. There are also some well drawn characters and really good action. Warrior of the Altaii would have felt a little old fashioned in the 1980’s, it feels completely ancient now. There is still a lot to enjoy here, but it requires the right mindset going in.

Natchez Burning

Greg Iles

I am conflicted with this book. There is a lot to like; some truly compelling characters, a great understanding of the setting, some really interesting thematic stuff. All of it is good stuff. The problem I have with this book is that it is a 900 page mystery/thriller that does not resolve its central mystery.

Penn Cage is the mayor of Natchez, Mississippi. His life is turned upside down when his father, a respected, half-retired doctor, is accused of murdering one of his patients. That patient once worked for his father as a nurse in the 1960s. Her son believes that Dr. Cage is his father. Looking into all of this brings back a lot of stuff from the civil rights movement, including the murder of the nurse’s activist brother. Soon, Penn is working with a journalist who has been investigating the KKK and the Double Eagles, an even more KKK splinter group.

The book is bloated, but never boring. The problem is that it doesn’t really resolve anything. One of the many villains meets his end here, but it solves none of the mysteries or resolves none of the cases the book has brought up. It also goes on some wild tangents, bringing in conspiracy theories about the assassination of JFK and MLK. It wants to do a lot of wild dumb stuff and important serious stuff, and honestly balances the two well. It just sort of ends before finishing the story. I know there are sequels; I accidentally spoiled one development for myself in the next book that really put me off reading it.

Final Fantasy VIII Remastered

I haven’t played Final Fantasy VIII since soon after it was released. Or at least, soon after it was released on PC. That said, it is still a game that means a whole lot to me. FF8, along with Pokemon Gold and Silver, was on of the first games that I closely followed prior to release.

I was a Final Fantasy fan before FF8. I had read about Final Fantasy 2 (4) in Nintendo Power and searched it out, but instead found the original Final Fantasy for NES in a Wal-Mart bargain bin. I played and loved that, but I didn’t have a SNES and did end up upgrading for some time. Still, I managed to experience Final Fantasy 3 on the SNES before that by playing it at a friends house. I ended up being obsessed with the game for several years, paying an exorbitant amount to get a used copy from Funcoland once I finally did get an SNES. That same friend also showed me the PC port of FF7, which gave me a chance to experience some of that game long before I got a Playstation.

It is a time that is hard to imagine now, but in 1998 my family did not have a computer. Not one capable of accessing the internet, at least. My ability to follow the pre-release hype of Final Fantasy VIII was limited to biking up to the public library for 1 hour of dial up internet access a day or for a few minutes at the school computer lab after school got out, as well as whatever I could find in EGM or Game Informer.

I followed it obsessively anyway. The scattered updates of grainy shots from E3 and the like. Text descriptions of cutscenes. Releases of character art that let me imagine who those characters might be. Then it was released to solid reviews, though with undercurrents of disappointment about how different it was from Final Fantasy VII.

I got it when it was released for P.C. My family had a modern (1999-era modern) that was not quite up to the task, but it worked well enough. I never truly grasped the junction system, appear to have straight up missed swathes of the story and gave up on the game not too far before the final dungeon. I still liked it well enough, but I was put off by the technical problems enough that I never reinstalled the game when my family upgraded our computer and when I finally got a Playstation, I moved on to games like Suikoden 2, Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy 9.

Something about the remastered release drew me, though. For some reason I really wanted to play the game again. I am glad I did. I understand how the game works much better now and I am still a fan of the look of the world.

The junction system has always been strange, but it is a flexible and interesting character building system. It kind of turns the characters into blank slates for the player to completely remake into whatever image desired. The only combat function that you have to have available is attack. Whatever other skills you want to use are up to you. It lets you summon your guardian forces whenever you want, but it turns out that they are much more situational in usefulness that I thought years ago. The big change is turning magic into a consumable resource and letting the player junction magic to stats, attaching the magic to that stat and increasing it by a not particularly obvious formula. One part that is clear is that the more of the magic you have, the greater the effect on your stats.

So casting magic is not generally a great idea, but instead conserving to make your stats better. Junctioning a strong magic to Squall’s strength is generally enough to handle most of the game, as it makes him so much stronger than everyone else.

I don’t know that I want to get into all the other changes: drawing magic, triple triad, enemy levels, guardian forces in general, how the game handles weapons. The game is strange, but all of its strangeness kind of works when put together.

I do want to comment on the story. For one big complaint, the back half of the story seems rushed and maybe unfinished. It spends a lot of time really building up the characters and the party, then as it seems to shift into high gear the end appears. When I gave up on the game way back when, I had no idea how close I was to the end of the game, I was thinking I was closer to the three quarter mark.

When I first played this game, I thought the cast was cool. I still think that about the designs are cool, but these characters as a bunch of dorks. I don’t mean that as a criticism; I think they work exactly as intended. When I was a teenager, I saw cool teenagers. As an adult, I see a bunch of stupid kids. I think I was right both times. Squall worked really well for me this time. His friends see a taciturn badass, but his being closed off is out of fear, not for any other reason. Irvine and Zell are projecting different kinds of cool, but it is clear how much they are faking it. Quistis attempts some maturity, but that is as much a projection as the boy’s attempted coolness. What all of them want is to know that other people like them, but none of them really think that is the case. The only one that seems to avoid that is Rinoa, and she has her own problems. Selphie seems to have come up with a genuine way of dealing with her emotions, with her happiness seeming to be less of a front than the others.

It contrasts nicely with the more adult Laguna, who still has his own problems. I feel like the game could have done a better job of fleshing that part of the game out, but it mostly works. I don’t know that the Edea and Cid stuff does; I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around what is going on there.

The big tragedy of the game is Seifer, but in the intended story and the execution. He is just like the other party members, but he ends up on the other side of the conflict, sticking with the Sorceress that they have a childhood connections with. He is delinquent and a jerk, but he wants to be loved as much as the others. He thinks he is the hero of this story, but it is hard to tell exactly what he is doing because the game doesn’t give the player enough information about what Seifer knows. It is still touching at the end when his cronies finally convince him to abandon his quest.

Final Fantasy VIII is not my favorite Final Fantasy game. In fact, I would probably put it in the lower half. But playing a game like this, that I don’t exactly love, reminds me of why I was and am such a big Final Fantasy fan. Games like FF8, or 10 or 13 or 4 , game that I like but I think are flawed, may outnumber the ones that I do absolutely love. But they are all so interesting and generally enjoyable that I can’t help but want to play them. I guess that means I should get back to Final Fantasy XV.

Addams Family

I feel like I shouldn’t like this version of The Addams Family. Sure the character designs for this adhere pretty closely to the look from the original single panel comics, but the movie does all the things that tend to sink bad modern animated movies. Gratuitous pop culture references, obnoxious needle drops, star-studded voice casts that aren’t really voice actors, cardboard stories. Somehow, though, I found myself very entertained by it anyway. That might just be my natural affection for the Addams family. This movie turns their satire of old money weirdness into a tale about immigrants, but it keeps the charm of this group of delightful weirdos. It isn’t the best movie you are likely to see this year, but it is a more than passable way to spend 90 minutes.

The plot is barely worth recounting. The Addamses, the consummate weirdos that they are, are driven out of their home country, due to racism that feels sadly timely. They settle in a New Jersey swamp and begin to raise a family. Some fifteen or so years later, someone builds a housing development in the swamp and suddenly the Addams have neighbors. This is happening when the extended family is coming into town for Pugsley’s Mazurka ceremony, where he becomes an Addams man. Wednesday wants to learn more of the outside world and go to the local middle school. The ‘normal’ people clash with the Addams. Everyone learns some sort of lesson.

There are plenty of good bits with the people reacting to the strangeness of the Addams. Whether it is Wednesday and Pugsley being caged schooled, or the constant murder attempts, or anything with Fester, they are fun. The Addams Family works because they combine the outwardly spooky traits of the Addams with their treating everything like normal. They are a happy family that just so happens to be filled with psychopaths. The movie goes overboard with the ‘normal’ people though. Does the town need to be named Assimilation? DO they need to sing a song about how great it is to be just like everyone else? There is a movie where that stuff would work, but this movie is either pushing it too far or not pushing it far enough. Go full brainwashed weirdness with that stuff, or dump entirely. Doing just a little bit of it muddles exactly whether these are normal people or cult members. Actually, the Addams family would likely love to be living next to a cult. There are good individual sequences and a good message in this movie but it only barely overcomes the junk that would sink a movie with lesser characters at the heart. (See The Angry Birds movie.)

One way this movie was never going to satisfy me is that it wasn’t going to replace the 90’s movies as my favorite versions of these characters. I won’t claim to be overly familiar with the comics, but I did watch quite a bit of the TV show on stuff like Nick at Night (a quick google search suggests that Nick at Night never aired the Addams Family; so while I watched it somewhere in the early 90’s, it wasn’t there). The movies, especially the sequel Addams Family Values, are what I really loved. This movie was never going to be that. But I am judging what it is, not what it is not. This movie stays true to the characters and the family, has some good jokes and is rarely actively obnoxious, but just as rarely actually truly outstanding. It is worth seeing.

***

Gemini Man

Gemini Man is a movie I wish I liked more than I do. It is this weird juxtaposition of a throwback to 90’s sci-fi thrillers and a movie that is pushing technological boundaries as far as possible. Ang Lee is more thoughtful with his approach than I believe most directors would be, but this movie still feels like it did not fully consider the ramifications of the events in the plot. Still, as unsatisfying as the story ends up being, it does feature a collection of largely excellent actions scenes to make it at least worthwhile.

Will Smith plays Henry Brogan, a government assassin who feels the years catching up with him and decides to retire after nearly missing a shot on a job. He meets up with an old marine buddy, who uses his connections to look into the man Brogan just assassinated, and learned that he was not a terrorist like Brogan was told. Before they can go forward, the old friend his killed. Brogan realizes that he is next and teams with an agent sent to watch him, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, to escape and figure out what is going on. He is escaping from Clay Verris, who reveals that his top agent is a younger version of Brogan. After a few showdowns where neither agent can get the upper hand, Brogan gets to the bottom of things.

As I noted above, the action scenes are really good. There is an excellent motorcycle chase and a brutal fight in some catacombs. It is not quite John Wick, but they are good. It also is more worried about the inner lives of its characters, or at least with Brogan and Junior, than most action movies are. It is also just filled with terrible, obvious dialogue. Like early on when Brogan laments that he “hates looking in the mirror.” It was bad enough then, but later the movie calls back to that line to tie it directly to his struggle with his younger self. The movie is full of stuff like that. Its bad. The plot is wild, though mostly internally consistent. I’ve heard some people complain about dropped plots, but it holds together well enough if you just pay attention.

I know some people are really into the technical aspects of this movie, but I am at best neutral when it comes to what this movie does. I do not get the appeal of high frame rate. I understand what it is and why it is technically better, but my eyes have been trained to watch movies at the regular rate. The same goes for 3D, which even when done well is not really a positive. The high definition stuff is good, I guess. I have some appreciation for the movie pushing boundaries, but that can’t be the only justification for its existence. There is enough good otherwise here to make the movie worthwhile. I guess the HFR and 3D stuff did not do anything to make the script terrible.

Gemini Man falls just on the side of being worthwhile. Will Smith and Mary Elizabeth Winstead fun to watch and the action scenes are well executed. The movie, however, is dragged down by some terrible dialogue and convenient plotting. It ends up feeling like something of a missed opportunity.

**1/2

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep8

Titans Season 2 Episode 8: “Jericho”

Jericho is an excellently executed episode that is unfortunately largely free of anything surprising or revelatory. That would not be a big deal, but the show has held back telling this portion of the story all season, alluding to the tragedy that happened with the Titans last tangled with Deathstroke, only to reveal to be exactly what one would expect.

Jericho takes place a few years in the past. After Deathstroke killed Aqualad, Dick forged a friendship with Deathstroke’s son, Jericho, to find him. The episode mostly focuses on its namesake, showing how is yearning for friendship brings him to the Titans. He tells his version of the story of who Deathstroke is while bonding with the team. Jericho has been through some stuff, including having his throat slit and being rendered mute. The Titans are uncomfortable using Jericho and are going to cut him loose. Then Dick learns of Jericho’s power. By making eye contact, he can possess another person, gaining complete physical control of them. This leads Dick to come clean with Jericho and invite him to join the Titans. At the same time, Deathstroke learns how the Titans are getting info on him and arranges to meet with his son to make peace. The other big revelation is who Deathstroke’s target was. It wasn’t Aqualad or Donna, but Donna’s Themyscrian protector. It all comes to a head in a rather predictable way that leaves the team completely shattered.

This is an episode where the characters’ motivations are as clear as they have been in some time. All of them want revenge for Aqualad, but their discomfort with deceiving Jericho is clear. As is Jericho’s devastation after learning that he has been lied to, both by the team and about his father.

For once, even Dove makes sense. Dove really has turned into the worst written character on this show. Most of the others have a clearly understandable position and arc. Hank/Hawk is a junkie, and his drug is being a superhero. He wants to do it so bad, but he knows keeping it up will kill him. His struggle is not jumping back into action as he so clearly desires to. Dick wants to save people, but he doesn’t want to be manipulative like Batman. However, acting like Batman is all he knows and he consistently falls short of his own standards. Dawn/Dove, though, is all over the map. Is she a junkie like Hank? Does she want to be a hero or leave that life behind? Who knows; it seems to change every episode. In the last flashback she told Dick to be Batman; in this one she says not to. Dick calls her out on this, but neither the character nor the show has a satisfying explanation. Dove, as originally conceived, was a superhero representing peace. Her arguing caution and peaceful solutions works. Her goading others into action or sneaking out to get some violence in does not. The character is just kind of a mess.

One odd touch is that Rose is not mentioned at all. She has made it clear that she knew her brother, but in none of the scenes featuring the Wilson family is she seen or even mentioned. It was only five years ago; she would have been ten years old. There are several possible explanations for this, from the pathetic, like is the show just decided not to show young Rose as a cost cutting measure because it would have required another actress, to the clever, like a reveal that Rose is not actually Rose Wilson, Deathstroke’s daughter. Maybe it was just a blind spot in the writing. Whatever the reason, it was notable.

I hope this is the end of the flashbacks and side stories. The show seems to have mostly dealt with the past and it has enough new stuff to deal with. It should be gearing up for the stretch run here. I have a feeling there is more to come though. Deathstroke is the big thread to resolve, but I am curious how deeply the show is going to delve into Conner or if it is going to go back to the Starfire thread it started the season with. What I really want to see is a deepening of relationships in the present; with as little time as the season has spent in the here and now, it feels like any sense of interpersonal dynamic on this team, as currently constituted has been lost.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep 7

Titans Season 2 Episode 7: “Bruce Wayne”

Picking up where last episode, and the one before it, left off, “Bruce Wayne” starts with several problems. Deathstroke has escaped, the older team members are mad at Dick for changing the plan, the younger team members are upset at being left out, Jason is traumatized from almost being killed, and Conner is dying from being shot at the end of last episode.

This episode gives viewers the first good look at Titans’ Bruce Wayne. I’ve heard complaints about him, but I think he works. Iain Glenn does not present as imposing a Batman as we are used to, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make for a good one. In this episode, he comes off as something like an Adam West or Roger Moore as James Bond; a little jokey, jovial. It might not be the right fit for this show, which seems consistently mired in humorlessness, but it worked in this episode, especially as Bruce’s job was to be the voice in Dick’s head. Throughout the episode, Bruce follows Dick, visible only to him, and critiques him on how he is trying to get to Deathstroke. I am curious if we are going to see him for real, either as Bruce Wayne or Batman, but as Dick’s snarky imaginary version of Bruce I thought he was pretty good.

Dick spends most of the episode operating on his own, using his detective skills to try to track down Deathstroke. While he is gone, the team fractures. Jason has some sort of tunnel vision, constantly seeing himself falling. Meanwhile, everyone else is finding remnants of the last old problems left in places to upset them. For reasons I don’t understand, they blame these things on Jason. The only ones not taking part in the blame Jason game are Conner and Kory. Conner because he is dying, Kory because she is busy trying to prevent that.

I am a little confused about parts of the follow up to last episode. Not confused with what happened, but confused why the show decided to sequence things the way it did. In the last episode, Conner left Eve to escape from Mercy and CADMUS. The episode set it up to appear like that was the last we would see of her. She even gave Conner some last minute (terrible) advice. As the episode ended, with Conner shot with Kryptonite bullets, Mercy then managed to recapture Krypto. In this episode, Eve escapes from CADMUS again, with Krypto in tow. So the end of the last episode existed to set things up for one scene this episode in which we really learned nothing. Eve even contradicts her bead advice. She needs to be there to give Kory the information she needs to save Conner.

Judging by the end of this episode and the title of the upcoming one, next is another flashback episode. I hope we finally get fully to the bottom of the Titans/Deathstroke feud. I am not sure I picked a great season of a show to try to do these reviews. Mostly because the only characters that seem to have any sort of ongoing arc are Dick and Jason. And the jumping back and forth between timelines and stories has consistently stalled the development of a lot of the characters. I know that in the comics Deathstroke was something of an arch nemesis for Dick and it makes sense for him to be the focus, but it kind of feels like everyone else is getting lost in the shuffle.