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: Spider-man Homecoming (No Spoilers)

Over the Thanksgiving Break, my family and I watch Spider-man Homecoming (SMH) and we liked it.  It wasn’t our favorite Marvel movie, but it was still fun and exciting.  I thought I’d do a Mini-Review for the blog based on my love of comic book movies, Marvel movies, and Spider-man movies.  This one was very good–not the best, but still very good.

Action AND Humor
One thing that SPH really gets right is the action sequences as well as the humor of the character.  One of the crucial things that filmmakers don’t really get about the character is that Peter Parker is a “sincere” human being having to react to some of the scummiest situations (both in terms of everyday life and over-the-top villainy) that are out there.  His defense mechanism is his ability to turn every situation into a joke or a wise-crack.  Yes, as Spider-man, Peter is insanely powerful and gifted, but it is the humor that helps him deflect much of the trials and tribulations that he goes through.  While not nearly as funny as say, Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s still a bit of that irrepressible mixture of deft humor along with very strong action scenes that help to sell the movie and Tom Holland’s performance of the character.  As much as I disliked the high school stuff (see below), I think that Tom Holland’s performance of Peter Parker might be my favorite so far (I’ll have to reflect more on that as the year ends and I see it more times to be sure).

Straight Outta’ High School
So why isn’t this my favorite of all the Spider-man movies?  In two words: high school.  The filmmakers decided to “reset” Peter as it were, and placed a significant portion of it in Peter’s high school life/activities.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this is where quite a bit of both the tension and the humor comes in, but I’m just not one who really likes (for the most part), high school narratives in movies.  In this case, while well done, these were (again, for the most part) some of the least interesting parts of the movie.  Yes, they were well acted and all the rest, but having collected Spider-man comics during my high school and early college years (freshman & sophomore years), I really think that the true strength of the Peter Parker narrative comes from his struggle to support himself as a young photographer at the Daily Bugle with J. Jonah Jameson.  Yes, I know Peter originally started in high school, but I personally don’t feel that the stories came into their own until his college/work years, and this perception colored my feelings towards the movie.  I liked it, but I would have liked it even more had the filmmakers chosen to “age-up” Peter’s character (as I assume they will in future movies).

Marvel Movie Genres (This would be the YA Movie)
The Marvel movies have been good with mixing different genres into the standard comic book movie formula (well, with the exception of “horror” movies which they don’t seem to want to do even when it is the most appropriate genre–Age of Ultron).  However, this one would the YA movie, if that’s the case.  Much like movies like The Hunger GamesThe Spiderwick Chronicles, etc., the reliance on such a young cast and the focus on quite a bit of high school drama/activities makes this feel more in line with a YA movie than it does with a typical Marvel movie–not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of.  I should note, however, that the performances by the cast, both younger members and older members, were excellent and well done.  I look forward to their next outing whenever Marvel and Sony team-up again to produce another one.  My only hope is that we move past the high school setting into college and work-life and that they can make that as compelling in the movies as it was in the comics.

Overall Grade: B (Solid performances, action, and humor, dragged down by an over-reliance on high school drama and a bit (not too much, but a definitely bit) of teen angst/drama).

Implications for my Writing: I have to understand that I don’t really like certain genres/things: the “heist” movie, “crime” movies, and apparently “high school” movies.  If I don’t like them, it’s probably not a good idea for me to try to write them in that I probably won’t be able to create a story that is credible and true to the genre because I can’t see past the “flaws” of the genre to do it justice.  There are probably genres that I won’t be successful writing, and the “high school drama” might be one of those genres.

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)

Finished Goosebumps

So, for Halloween, I thought I’d mention that I finished Goosebumps over the weekend (well, not really–it turns out that GB is on the list to go away from Netflix’s library in Nov).  As I had seen about ⅓ of the movie, I wanted to finish it before it left, so I watched it over the weekend.  I have to say that I liked it.  It was more fun than I thought it would be.

It is the quintessential Young Adult movie with a few scary elements.  It actually reminds me a lot of the Spiderwick Chronicles and Inkheart.  It has a lot of heart and isn’t a cynical cash grab like some other “YA franchise films.”  Some of the students at my old Middle School really loved this film, but it has enough for adults too.

Without spoilers, basically, the movie is a “What if?” scenario:  What if R. L. Stine was real (well, he is real, but real in the movie’s world) and the monsters in his books were also real and can literally leap off the page?  It takes some of the most famous characters and books from Stine’s work and creates CGI monsters to bedevil our protagonists.  There’s not a lot of teen angst and the love story is “sweet” (not saccharine, but really nice one that actually has a basis in the plot of the movie).  That being said, there are a couple of cringe-worthy moments that kids won’t mind, but adults will roll their eyes at, but on the whole it is a fun movie.  And, to be honest, the movie earned major cool points with me for having Jack Black’s R. L. Stine character take on Stephen King on who’s a scarier writer and a better bestseller.  The scene is small, less than two minutes of screen time, but it was a nice Easter Egg for a former Bookseller/Librarian Assistant like myself who sold/checked out countless Goosebumps books.

Overall Grade: B (Above Average)

Here’s hoping everyone has a fun (& safe) Halloween!

Mini-Review: Magnificent Seven (2016)

I just finished the 2016 remake of the film the Magnificent Seven and I have to say that I was actually quite impressed by the effort of the actors and the filmmakers.  I really enjoyed the movie and thought that it seemed to be a credible remake of an old classic for a new audience.  After seeing it, I was a bit dismayed by the lack of critical and commercial success for it.

Now, for full disclosure: I haven’t seen all of the original version.  I’ve only seen bits and pieces.  Somehow, it never seemed to come on network TV (as I recall) and when it was on cable, there always seemed to be something more interesting on that I wanted to watch.  Also, if I recall, the original is a black and white film, and it is MUCH harder for me (personally) to “suspend my disbelief” with black and white films as I’m always doing the “Wizard of Oz” game where my mind tries to fill in what would the movie look like in color (as the original Wizard of Oz starts out in black and white, goes to color, and then moves back to black and white for its ending).

However, this movie seemed to be very much in the spirit of the older classic.  It told a great story with some pretty good performances by the various actors.  The story, in many respects, had a tone much like the latest (as of this writing) Star Wars movie, Rogue One.  I really liked most everything about it.  Sure, there were a few cliche western moments, but it really doesn’t deserve its 54% Metacritic score.  Now, don’t get me wrong–even without the western “cliches,” there are still problems.  One the main ones is the main character’s motivation for helping.  The movie made him seem way too altruistic even though he is getting paid for his services.  While the movie foreshadows the reason behind this a before the midpoint of the movie, we don’t actually get the revelation until the final conflict with villain.  Because we don’t get to see Chissom (Denzel Washington’s character) struggle, 1) he comes off as emotionally distant–we never see why the plight of the town really matters to him and 2) we don’t see him struggle–he has it all too easy.  He doesn’t really have to struggle with the town accepting him, he doesn’t deal with any major conflicts between his team (outside one conflict with another old time associate).

However, even with these issues, I still enjoyed it.  I had only intended to watch about half of it this week (about an hour) and then finish off the other hour next weekend, but I found myself so engaged by it that every time I went to turn it off, I stayed my hand, so the actors, director, and filmmakers did something right, even if the critics and the majority of the audience doesn’t agree.

Overall Grade: B+ (It probably would have been a B- due to the way the protagonist’s motivation was written, but a couple of strong performances more than made up for that flaw in my mind).

Doctor Who: Series 1 Mini-Review

ninthdoctor_bbcamerica

So, I’m re-watching Doctor Who again from the beginning as I would like to do an academic paper on it in the near future (especially in light of the casting of Jodie Whitaker as the first female Doctor).  I finished the first season of the show’s reboot from 2005 with Christopher Eccleston playing the Ninth Doctor and this is a mini-review of the season (full disclosure–I’ve seen this season already, back in 2005, although as I’ve noted before, this was before I understood how British TV worked and so I thought I’d missed episodes when in fact, I hadn’t).

Series 1 Grade: A (Excellent)

Is this season perfect?  No, it isn’t, but it re-established Doctor Who in the public consciousness and brought a clever, fun, and sometimes dour Doctor to the screen.  I’d only seen 1 or 2 episodes of the Doctor before this (I distinctly remember a story involving K-9), but as I was a child and had little reference for a time-traveling alien who changed his faces, I wasn’t able to become a “Whovian” until this reboot hit the air waves.

Eccleston has a pluckiness that he infused into the Doctor’s personality.  Eccleston’s Doctor could be dour and serious as the situation called, but there was an attitude of irrepressible joy (almost puckishness) in the delight that he got from traveling time and space in the TARDIS, captured perfectly by his catchphrase of “Fantastic!”  Billie Piper as Rose was also a great companion.  It is been note that the audience sees the Doctor and the world the eyes of the companions and Piper’s Rose has both that wide-eyed wonder and plucky demeanor that allowed me to become part of the Doctor’s circle.  The stories were varied and (mostly) hit for me, with only the odd episode just out of tune here or there.  While there were a few “dark” episodes, they mostly tended toward the lighter side during this first season with a recurring “motif” linking the episodes (I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen the show).

In closing, I really liked what they did with Series 1 of the show and watching it again reminded me of why the show managed to grab me as an adult in the way it couldn’t when I was a child.  More emphasis on characterization, storytelling, and special effects were able to pull me deeper into the story than ever before.

Stranger Things: Mini-Review (No Spoilers!)

stranger things

HORROR FOR A NON-HORROR FAN

I just finished watching Season 1 of Stranger Things (ST) and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I was afraid that the series wasn’t going to live up to the hype set up by online fans of the show.  However, after watching all eight episodes, I have to say that I really did come to enjoy it.  It started a bit slowly for me (Episodes 1-3), but the middle episodes (4-6) really ratcheted up the tension and while the resolution was good (7-8), they weren’t nearly as impactful as the middle episodes in my opinion.  This, I think, is why I didn’t rate it higher.  When it is good, it is excellent, but the slow beginning and the not as impactful ending really made the show seem not as suspenseful as it could have been.  Now, I didn’t “binge” watch it, but rather watched it one episode at a time on Saturdays (as a reward to myself for getting through a “hard” week), so perhaps that had something to do with it, but in my mind, a really good series should be able to be watched either one episode at a time or “binged” watched without it making a difference.

The one thing that the show really gets right (and makes the bulk of the middle episodes) is the idea of mystery and suspense.  These episodes drip feed the story to the viewer in just the right amount of atmosphere, suspense, mystery, character development, and plot progression.  We discover more about the characters, the world, the mystery of what is going on, and how all of this came to be in the middle episodes and that is what makes this show so great.  While there are horrific elements, the goal is less on trying to scare the viewers and more on creating tense and suspenseful encounters to place the characters and I really appreciated that as a viewer.

STEPHEN KING “LITE”

Okay, so I’m not really a “Horror” fan.  When I say that, I mean that while I have read some horror novels and seen some horror movies, they do not make up a major component of my genre experience (unlike Fantasy and Science Fiction).  I read authors such as Dan Simmons (in his “Horror” phase) and British author James Herbert (who would now be considered Dark Fantasy instead of Horror).  I’ve also seen movies such as Alien and others like it, but in general I prefer the feeling of wonder and excitement to that of dread and horror.

I used to read Stephen King (his 80’s and 90’s work) and ST gives me a Stephen King “Lite” vibe.  It has a construction of a less intense and less horrific version of Stephen King’s It.  I think that it is the focus on suspense rather than horror that really helped me to become invested in the series.

GOOD RESOLUTION (FOR THE MOST PART)

I liked the ending, although I have to confess, that I wanted the “love” subplot to go differently than it turned out.  The resolution of that subplot seemed forced and cliche and relied on a character change that wouldn’t have happened in real life based on the way the original boyfriend acted in the earlier episodes.  The character does a complete 180 change in behavior that was hard for me to accept based on his earlier behavior.  Also, the creators set up the early episodes giving the “new” love interest a lot of pathos by showing his backstory, his motivations, etc., but because of the old boyfriend’s abrupt change in behavior, this doesn’t go anywhere.

The ending of the main plot, however, seemed to end well and left itself open for a sequel, as shown by the Super Bowl Ad.  It definitely seems that while things resolved, it doesn’t seem like the sequel will be forced or unnecessary.   I’m actually looking forward to it.  I think it will take the show into some very interesting places.

RATING: Season 1 Grade: B+ (Above Average)

If you like suspense and mystery and don’t mind a few chills and scares, then this is a great show to watch.  Even though the cast includes a mix of child and adult actors, they all do a great job and are completely invested in the world that the show runners created.  I look forward to Season 2 later this year.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MY WRITING

I learned that putting characters that I like into dangerous situations helps to create suspense because you’re invested in that character and you don’t want to see anything bad happen to that character.  This tension is what creates suspense and why I think that the middle episodes (4-6) are so good.

Also, I learned that I shouldn’t change a character’s behavior mid-way through without a good reason (perhaps externally).  The show runners obviously wanted to show that the “old” boyfriend had a change of heart, but his change wasn’t earned well enough/strong enough (in my mind) to result in the change that occurred.  I need to remember to make any change in the character that deviates radically absolutely explicit to the reader to make the reader believe that the character could change realistically in the way I show by clearly showing the internal/external struggle that forces that change.