Mini-Review: Dark Matter, Season 3 (No Spoilers)

Without realizing it, I finished Dark Matter (DM) Season 3 (S3) last night, and overall, I liked it.  In my mind, it was a little more uneven than the previous two seasons were, but I think it is because they are trying to set-up multiple story threads to touch on in upcoming seasons (if the show has been renew–need to check as I haven’t looked to see if Syfy has renewed it yet).  Otherwise, the season had some ups and downs–more so than in the previous two seasons.

Permadeath & Exit Stage Right
They used death in S3 much as they had done in S2 to emphasize the (I guess) the capriciousness of the universe and to illustrate that they universe that the characters inhabit is a dangerous place.  The problem is, they used the deaths throughout the series, rather than at the traditional places where one might expect it, in order (again, guessing here) to keep viewers on there toes and to emphasize that no character is safe in this narrative.  However, they also had a fairly robust cast of “side characters” who existed in the world for a few episodes (or played a major part), who often left the ship for whatever reason, while others (new ones) would come on-board.  So this gave the episodes a less stable feel and very few characters on the ship were actually stable.  This contributed very much to the uneven feel of the episodes.

No Single Narrative Thread
There were many different plot lines running through DM: S3.  One such plot line (an important one that I won’t spoil) literally got introduced two episodes before the finale.  I think it (and another related “prophecy” plot line) should have placed earlier in the season, perhaps even in the first or second episode, and I think that would have gone a long way to giving the show a consistent plot “through line” to build on throughout the season.  As it was, there were many different elements going on–from double and triple crosses, to colonists rights vs corporate rights, to the idea of a good ruler vs a bad ruler, to searching for vengeance, to surviving, and et. cetera, that it all just came off just a bit jumbled.  A good kind of jumbled (for me, at least, as I love it when plots get convoluted), but still jumbled when compared to something that has a full season long arc that all the episodes have been building to (say, the final season of Star Trek Enterprise or Deep Space Nine).

Humor and Characters
One of the things that I really like about the show is that while DM can be a “dark” show (i.e., perma-death and all that), it isn’t all about blah, blah, world is such a bad place, blah, blah, blah, “Red Wedding,” blah, blah, blah, “hate all my characters, let me kill them all of in horrible ways,” blah, blah, blah.  (Yes, I know that this is a very unsubtle dig at Game of Thrones, but I’ll take any shot I can to restore a more “balanced” view of Fantasy that is more in line with tradition High Fantasy a la Tolkien, than the dreary, grim dark muck that we mostly have right now, even if that includes cheap shots).  DM allows its characters, particularly the character of the Android, but other characters as well, to inhabit an almost comedic space that one might find in a sitcom, rather than a drama.  Make no mistake, this is a sci-fi action show with the requisite space battles, warping, light speed, AI vs human conflict, etc., show that you might expect, but there are some truly hilarious moments that all characters get to participate in.  However, the Android gets to have some of the funniest lines, reminiscent of Data from Star Trek The Next Generation.  The actor’s deadpan delivery makes some of the lines truly laugh out loud funny.

Overall Rating: B (Above Average): Okay, so I was going to give it a B-, but then I got to thinking about all the fun that I had with the characters, especially the Android and I raised the grade slightly.  All it needs is a single through line for the season and less of a “revolving door” secondary character policy–let them stay on for an entire season.

Edit: Just discovered that Syfy has cancelled Dark Matter.  There will be no Season 4.  To be honest, I’m not really surprised, although it has more to do with Syfy than it does with DM.  To me, Syfy is just the television equivalent of EA at this point, with executives who care more about their investors and share prices that their audience.  I learned this the hard way when Syfy cancelled Star Gate: Universe just as it was finding its footing.  It put on the show Alphas as a replacement (only to cancel it after just two seasons).  Too bad, I really liked DM and thought it had room really grow.  I should let anyone know who might be interested in starting it though (a potential minor spoiler, but I don’t really guess it matters now): S3 ends on a cliffhanger (that is now likely to go unresolved).  Just thought you should know.

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Mini-Review: Die Another Day

Okay, so I finally saw and finished Die Another Day (DAD).  Why is this so moments, you might add in the light of movies such as Thor Ragnarok Justice League releasing this month?  Well, it means that I have see ALL James Bond movies that have been released so far.  And, as expected, it was a slog–that was the reason why I missed this in the theaters and why I didn’t watch it all the other times it had previously been on streaming–it isn’t very good.

00Camp
It is way too campy, but played with a straight face.  It almost wants the audience to laugh AT it rather than WITH it.  Most of the blame for this comes from the story and script.  James Bond, particularly under the Roger Moore era, has some really corny and goofy things happen, but as I mentioned in a previous post, that was reflected in other movies of the era.  Much of the “campiness” of Bond during Roger Moore was a desire to appeal to American audiences who were far more likely to have seen/enjoyed a movie like Smokey and the Bandit–which is mostly campiness with a few places of seriousness.  However, DAD hit all the wrong notes.  Audiences in America  wanted a more realistic treatment of the spy genre–which is where Bourne (Jason Bourne) fits into this equation.  He was hyper resourceful and hyper capable, like Bond, but he was serious–no double-entendre, quips, or gadgets.  The honest-to-goodness down-home appeal and brutal/lethal moves when necessary.

00BadScript
As mentioned before, the script is really what hurt DAD.  From paper then characterization, to dialogue that didn’t work, to relationships that were unnecessarily muddled, etc., this is truly what kept this movie from shining–not necessarily the acting.  This wasn’t new Hollywood with its eye on the future and fingers on the pulse of the movie-goer, this was old Hollywood–you’ll like this movie because it is the next iteration of James Bond, darn it, and we know how much you like James Bond.

00Completionist
Still, for all my griping about the movie, it does feel good to have a complete repertoire of James Bond movies under my belt.  Until now, I’ve always had to put in that except or but when speaking about the franchise.  I really wish this could have been a stronger entry, but even successful teams don’t always get it right: Spectre for James Bond and the appropriately titled Jason Bourne for Jason Bourne.  Neither of these two movies did a great job in returning their characters to audiences in their last outings.  Both seemed to lose the thread of the character based on thrilling, climatic, and revelatory the previous outings before their respective latest movies arrived.

Implications for my own Work
I’m learning that character and story (plot) go hand-in-hand.  You can’t divorce the two.  For my writing, plot is what comes in first (99% of the time), but it is the characters that people fall in love with and invest with and I’m learning that I need to spend as much time developing the characters as I do the plot.  For the makers of Bond and Bourne, they perhaps need to do what I’m doing, but on plot rather than characters, as it is there plots that are hindering their characters.

Overall Grade: D (Below Average)

Die Another Day (The Farce is Strong With this One)

Having watched half of Die Another Day, I now know why 1) I’ve been so resistant to seeing it and 2) why it is considered such weak entry into the Bond franchise.  I will be honest and say that I haven’t completed it as of yet (I’m about half way through), but even halfway is enough to start to figure out where it went wrong.

Story
To say that the story doesn’t make any sense would be disingenuous because there is sense to be had if you really take the time to follow the convoluted logic of the story, but none of the story scenes really resonate.  There is a tenuous tie through out the first half of the movie of uncovering the identity of spy/source who gave up Bond’s identity and helped to “burn” him (in spy parlance).  Yet, Bond goes from scene to scene without the audience clearly knowing what is driving him.  For instance, a short time after escaping from what we assume is a MI-6 recovery room after being tortured for 14 months in captivity, James is back to his normal “antics” with Jinx.  He is supposed to be consumed with a desire for revenge on the unknown “person” who set him up and a desire to clear his name, but he is back to his old “self” and is as right as rain, even back to the clever quips and ridiculous sword fight that would have (at the very least) sent members of the supposed fencing club running for their phones to call the police or running for their lives..

Too Much Farce
Which brings me to another point.  In DaD, there’s just simply too much farce to take seriously.  In one scene, Bond strolls into a ritzy and glamorous hotel (5 star) in his pajamas completely unshaven.  Now, let’s be real, even the local McDonalds has a no shirt, no shoes, no service policy.  If you or I tried to do what Bond did in real life, we would be turned away.  If we insisted, the police would be called.  Yet none of this happens in this movie.  Bond turns heads, but it is meant to be humorous/funny, but the writers forgot that humor doesn’t come from ignoring the way things work in reality, but highlighting them and pointing out the absurdity.  Guardians of the Galaxy‘s humor works because Rocket the Raccoon knows he is a Raccoon and comments on the fact (& takes umbrage when others belittle him for his origins).  Groot’s humor works because the audience only hears “I am Groot,” but we know based on the others’ responses that he is expressing himself in some manner that we are not privy to and that’s funny.  And so on with each of the characters.  DaD, on the other hand, expects us to laugh when they break the rules of how the world really works, when in fact, they are calling attention to the fact that this is unreal, that this is a “movie.”

Changing Tastes in Realism
M: The world changed while you were away.
B: I didn’t.
This is exchange was meant to emphasize Bond’s dedication to the mission, but what it really did was emphasize how Bond refused to change to be relevant to the change in audience tastes and expectations.  While Goldeneye still maintained much of the Bond tropes, it was actually a “forward-looking” Bond movie that was more realistic in a fun way than the dour realism of the Bond movies under Timothy Dalton’s reign.  Obviously, Ge’s realism was nothing compared to the gritty realism Casino Royal and Skyfall under Daniel Craig’s stewardship, but at the time, and for its time, Ge was fairly well received as a return to form for the Bond franchise.  DaD, so far at least, undermines this.  Yes, I know I like Roger Moore’s Bond and those Bond movies are often as silly as this one, but in the mid to late 70s and very early 80s, you could still get away with that.  Movies like Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run, Silver Streak and even as late as Superman III with Richard Pryor were a lot of what the Roger Moore Bond movies were taping into with their campiness.  However, with the introduction of the Bourne movies with Matt Damon, the world’s taste in spy movies changed, and DaD didn’t change with them.  Audiences craved a more realistic depiction of the clandestine spy hero, but DaD regressed at the very time it should have been more like its more realistic sibling, Ge.

So, I’m going to wrap this up for this week.  If all goes well, I will either finish this up piecemeal over the coming week while I wait for my phone to be repaired or I will finish it next weekend, but unless something major changes, this one is very much neck and neck with the George Lazenby Bond movie for the one I currently dislike the most.  I will, however, reserve judgment until I finish it completely.

The Bonds are Back (in Town)

So, this won’t be a long blog post today as I have a lot of work to do over the next few days–reading (Sister Carrie), grading (Rhetorical Analysis papers), classes (working on an informal paper proposal for 19th Century Lit. class) and writing (Character Sketch Plot Outline for Project Skye–yes, I’ve dusted off that old chestnut of a project and am going to try to revive it just in time for NaNoWriMo).

However, I felt compelled to note that Amazon (I believe) is getting all the Bonds back together.  They are streaming quite a few James Bond movies in the month of November.  After writing the post where I listed my favorite James Bond actors, I actually had a fairly large regret of not being able to say that I’ve seen all the James Bond movies and that I had to qualify them by saying all EXCEPT for Die Another Day.  Well, this movie is one of the ones that is coming back so I am going to make a special effort to see this movie.   They have quite a few of the Bond movies from all 4 of the recent Bonds if I remember correctly looking at the list, but it isn’t a complete back catalog.

Still, for someone who is a completionist such as myself, I need to make myself watch Die Another Day–even if it is only for half an hour a day so that I can have a complete grasp of the character through all his incarnations and hey, who knows, I might be able to use Bond in some way in an academic setting or paper in some way And I just know that “Shaken, not stirred,” would make a GREAT paper title! 😉

 

Mini-Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Out of the Shadows

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The four turtles in NY.  Image Source: YouTube

Okay, so I’m an original TMNT aficionado.  I grew up during the first independent comic craze of the mid 80s and then watched as TV struggled to get to grips with the new resurgence of comic mania (the original Flash TV show mania and hype (and letdown) in the 80s is probably a reason why I never got super invested in the hype for the current slate of DC/Marvel TV shows).  I didn’t have access to a (dedicated) comic shop at the time (I had to buy my comics from the spinners at Waldenbooks or Eckerd Drugs–now Rite-Aid), or I probably would have picked them up as I was into all things ninja/martial arts at the time.  I’ve seen the original trilogy, the multiple incarnations of animated series, and own the animated movie version that existed before this current reboot of the franchise.

So, coming from a TMNT aficionado (won’t say fan), is this movie any good?  In a word, no.  This is from Nickelodeon films and it all but screams “kid movie.”  It is if they took the cartoon (from the 80s), mixed it up with the original movie with the goofy suits, changed the goofy suits to slick CGI actors, and threw in an 80s/90s mixtape because, hey that’s what Guardians of the Galaxy did and it worked for them, so it’ll work for us too. There are so many elements that don’t work in the movie–the dialogue, the shift in tone from goofy to serious and back to goofy.  The motivations of characters or lack of motivations.  The forced plot lines and betrayals that seem forced.  And so on.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to suspend my disbelief in order to keep watching the movie.  Even from the opening sequence where the Turtles are “skating” across the buildings of the NY skyline–which seemed like a good, cool intro.,–had me wondering about all the damage they were causing.  There’s a reason why city officials go out of their way to build skate-parks and encourage skaters to use them instead of city streets and curbs–the damage skateboards can cause is enormous, and that’s on cement.  I don’t think the glass that most skyscrapers are made of would fare any better–yet, the filmmakers didn’t even take that into account when designing, planning, or displaying that scene.  And it just goes on from there.

Yes, TMNT is supposed to be campy (they are teenage turtles who know ninjutsu), but Eastman and Laird were able to find the right balance of farce and heart in their depiction of the characters.  This one is all farce, right down to the “flatulence jokes” of the henchmen, which begs the question of why the “baddest” villain of all time (aka Shredder) would tolerate his newest henchmen if that is all they could do.  It would have made a better movie, had the two henchmen been created within the first ten minutes of the movie and hunted the turtles “to extinction.”  Sort of like what Kraven the Hunter does to Spider-Man in several of his storylines.  Then it would have made the “moral crisis” of the movie (manufactured as it was) at least relevant: “hide among the humans as humans to save ourselves or stay true to our turtle forms and find a way to beat these two hunters as a team/band of brothers.”  As it stands, the way this actually plays out in the movie is very weak and not very convincing.

Bebop-and-Rocksteady-concept-art-TMNT-Movie-2016_tmnt_com

Character Sketches for BeeBop and Rocksteady.  Image Source: TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles.com (a TMNT fan site).

On the whole, I only finished the movie because: 1) for completeness sake–I’ve seen most everything else Turtles-related, so I might as well see this since it is on streaming and 2) I’m trying to stop abandoning movies mid-stream (I have at least four movies–Terminator: Genisys–I looking at you that I started, but did not finish because of the overall hokiness to them) and I’m trying to stop doing that (although this movie sorely tested my resolve).

OVERALL GRADE: D  (My suggestion–watch this ONLY if there’s nothing else to watch and make sure that you understand that you are going to most likely need to metaphorically “dive into the kiddie pool” in order to get through this one.)

Let’s (not) talk about CBS All Access

cbs-and-star-trek_exstreamist

So one of the new TV shows that I was all set to talk about was the new Star Trek show that will be debuting in the Fall.  New Star Trek show, you say?  Wait, why haven’t I heard of this new show?  Because, instead of being rational and putting this show on CBS or a traditional streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu, CBS is going to leverage this show and only put it out in the US and Canada on its new fledgling streaming service, CBS All Access for $5.99 a month. 😦

That’s right, instead of going the traditional route and having commercials pay for the program, or a distributor (such as Hulu or Netflix) pick up the show and pay for it, they are going use it as the backbone leverage consumers to pay for yet another online streaming service in order to get access to their programs.  Not only do they want advertisers to pay them (for the programs on CBS), but they also want consumers to pay them as well.  Just like HBO Go, CBS executives see consumers as a pot of gold that they want “access” to, but unlike HBO Go, CBS isn’t a premium service.  The only way you can get HBO is to be a cable subscriber–HBO Go was designed for “cord cutters” like me who wanted just the content they want and nothing extra, which is something cable companies still in 2017 won’t let you do.  CBS has no legitimate reason to withhold content except profit, or in this case greed as they have a channel on “free” TV as one of the big 3 networks–ABC, NBC, CBS.

Why is it greedy, you might ask?  They’re a company and they are in business to make a profit, right?  Then I ask you, why, oh why, are they allowing Netflix to show the new Star Trek show a day after it premieres on CBS All Access all over the world EXCEPT in the US and Canada?  Two words, “online piracy.”  CBS knows full well that pirates all over the world are not going to stand for “locking down of content” in this way.  So this it their bet, give everyone else an opportunity to get it legitimately, but force consumers in the US and Canada not to have an option to get it anywhere but though our All Access service.  There is no reason why CBS could not have included the US and Canada in their negotiations with Netflix other than the desire to use the show to launch their own streaming service.  Netflix would love to be the premiere player in the streaming world as is in a two-way dogfight with Hulu and Amazon.com Prime streaming.  You know that a new Star Trek show on their network would be a feather in their cap (esp. since Amazon won the rights to the Grand Tour with the former hosts of Top Gear).

Much like the AMC foolishness with Spider-Man Homecoming, companies continue to shoot themselves in the foot through outlandish schemes to increase their revenue streams.  Here’s an idea (one that I’m ardently trying to follow myself as a writer): put out a high quality product that is so good that it gets people excited and talking about it and makes them want more in that universe and makes them look forward to the next project that you’re working on and the next after that and so on and so on and so on . . .

That (in my opinion) is a truly sustainable business model.