Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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Category Archives: Netflix

The Problem With Infini

Okay, y’all… I’m going to criticize this film. But up front, let me tell you that it did keep me riveted to my seat with suspense for over an hour straight. There’s a lot here to like: neato ideas, interesting setting, unusual puzzle, etc. etc. And like Alien, this is another one of those movies that could easily take place in a Traveller universe.

(But seriously, huge spoiler warning here.)

So we’ve got this scenario where it’s completely hopeless and one by one these insane rescue workers kill each other off like some jacked up Lord of the Flies montage. And we know it’s aliens and stuff. And there’s something to this… if only our protagonist can just figure it out, right?

Then we get to the end. After all this violence and daring and gore and adventure… the hero gives a little speech into a mike where the inscrutable aliens can hear… and then he slits his wrists.

So that’s strike one right there. Suicide is never heroic. It’s not artsy. It’s not edgy. It’s not a cool plot point. It’s freaking stupid. And portraying it like it’s some kind of solution is, well,… it’s suicidal. (Seriously, what is wrong with these people?)

So what is the answer…? Well, I guess the aliens are actually capable of shame or something. After killing every human in sight, suddenly… they have to fix this. But only for the team. (Why not for all the dead miners and soldiers? No idea!) The search and rescue team is resurrected by the magic goo… and everything’s cool.

I gotta say, there hasn’t been an ending this stupid since Martians just randomly succumbed to human diseases in War of the Worlds. Strike two for the brazen deus ex machina, y’all. Oh, but this isn’t completely random and capricious on the part of our brilliant plot engineers. No, there’s a reason for all this. And yep, it’s been set up from the very beginning.

As our hero is set to teleport back to earth, he looks out the window and sees the alien goo creatures in humanoid form… and in the thing’s hand it has… the little note his pregnant wife sent with him. D’awwwwwww! Yes, that odd scene at the beginning where the guy’s wife is after him to come back safe… and that other scene where the hero gets razzed by the guys for wanting to be home on time instead of going out for drinks… it all comes together now.

Again, no one saves the universe here. Just an arbitrary group of people out of a stupidly large number of dead. And the ones that are saved is only because the aliens are somehow moved by the fact that (as the “sarge” character puts it) the “hero” is pussy-whipped. Strike three, you turkeys!

This is weird not just because it’s some sort of indirect attack on the concept of heroism. It’s also a fairly uninspiring angle on “true love” as well. Do you think you can salvage a solid hour of mayhem, insanity, and sick self-destructive acts with this saccharine frame of the doting wife and the guy that’s keen on getting home from his crummy day job…? Sorry, but no. I don’t know how much got spent on this film, but it was a complete waste.

For the complete opposite take on practically everything about this, take a look at Leigh Brackett’s classic story The Jewel of Bas. Here’s the opening:

Mouse stirred the stew in the small iron pot. There wasn’t much of it. She sniffed and said:

“You could have stolen a bigger joint. We’ll go hungry before the next town.”

“Uh huh,” Ciaran grunted lazily.

Anger began to curl in Mouse’s eyes.

“I suppose it’s all right with you if we run out of food,” she said sullenly.

Ciaran leaned back comfortably against a moss-grown boulder and watched her with lazy gray eyes. He liked watching Mouse. She was a head shorter than he, which made her very short indeed, and as thin as a young girl. Her hair was black and wild, as though only wind ever combed it. Her eyes were black, too, and very bright. There was a small red thief’s brand between them. She wore a ragged crimson tunic, and her bare arms and legs were as brown as his own.

Ciaran grinned. His lip was scarred, and there was a tooth missing behind it. He said, “It’s just as well. I don’t want you getting fat and lazy.”

Mouse, who was sensitive about her thinness, said something pungent and threw the wooden plate at him. Ciaran drew his shaggy head aside enough to let it by and then relaxed, stroking the harp on his bare brown knees. It began to purr softly.

That’s how it’s done, y’all.

On Netflix: Rambo!

You know, Daredevil pretty well lost me the moment it devolved into being The Kingpin’s origin story with a little bit of filler from the supporting cast. I was going to watch another episode because people tell me that it really will all make sense when I get to the end, but one look at Wilson Fisk’s fat-faced momma’s boy Oedipus complexioned mug on the preview shot and I backed out. I just can’t take it anymore.

Instead I watched Rambo.

Now, I joke about hating everything that came out after 1980. And this is came out in 1982, so I was prepared to be disappointed. And yeah, I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw the scene that inspired the splinter removal bit in I’m Gonna Get You Sucka. And good grief, the last thirty minutes or so with the ludicrous M60 action was so in line with Weird Al’s parody from UHF, it was uncanny. And the monologue at the end? What in the world?! The best thing about that was that I was spared having to comprehend the actual words!

But the first half of the movie or so… oh, it was perfect.

They introduce John Rambo with just a touch of mangst. They crack the door on his pain and loss just a bit… and he stoically tamps down on it. The bit where he gives the lady the picture of his old war buddy because the memento is suddenly pointless was well played. Why indulge in sentimentality, right?

But the treatment he gets by the cops– it was straight out of the Robert E. Howard play book. They were playing a corrupt and weak civilization in contrast to Rambo’s barely tempered barbarism. All they had to do was let him stop for a bite to eat as he passed through town. But they couldn’t let it happen. They were too comfortable swinging their weight around in the system that afforded them the extra forty pounds of fat that would have gotten them killed in short order in a guerrilla war. And with every escalation, the filmmakers made you hate them more and more while ratcheting up the viewer’s investment in the archetypal John Rambo.

The fly in the ointment is that even by 1982, people were too self-conscious to depict in the sort raw heroism you see in the old Conan stories. They had to make Rambo insane. But hey… a Rambo consumed with Vietnam flashbacks blubbering his way out of a no win scenario is still better than watching Wilson Fisk pick out his cuff-links and making breakfast.

“Expelled From Paradise” is Fairly Good Anime

John Carter had Dejah Thoris. Earl Dumarest had Derai. Conan had Bellit. But in the decades since these characters’ stories first debuted, a trend away from their vein of storytelling has emerged. Oh sure, the guy got the girl in the end whether it was a sixties era John Wayne movie or whether it was an eighties science fiction blockbuster: The Last Starfighter, Back to the Future, My Science Project, and so on. But somewhere, somehow… sinister forces declared this trope out of bounds — as if it reduced women to being some kind of prize or something to whatever dude happens to save the universe.

So filmmakers put a twist on the old formula and delivered Chronicles of Riddick– which conflated the archetypal Best Buddy™ with the Love Interest™ to produce some sort of Strong Female Character™ that has the charm of neither. Vin Diesel’s character at least ends up king of the universe at the end of that one, but that’s really too good of a deal for this decade. Elysium upped the ante by presenting a hero that lost his childhood sweetheart to some other dude, that is desperate for favors from the very person that dumped him back in the day, and that even gives his life for a child that isn’t even his. Noble, yes… but even Luke Skywalker got a medal for his efforts. (Interstellar almost looks like an attempt to turn back the clock on this trend by telling the story of a guy that saves an entire planet… but in the end his own daughter ends up taking all the credit. To add insult to injury she even has the history books go on about how much he liked farming when he really hated it. (And you know, as much as I enjoyed that film, that ending really struck me like a slap in the face. Maybe the fact that I watched it on Father’s Day made the insult all the more palatable.)

Expelled From Paradise is exactly the sort of change of pace I’ve been looking for. First off, it is an excellent mashup. It’s like Tron coupled with Gamma World. Even better, it features a classic swaggering, worldly wise “Han Solo” type character at the top of his game. He lives by is wits on post-apocalyptic earth and always seems to come out ahead. His foil from the Tron/Elysium type place is a hotshot mecha pilot… but she is completely naive about how life really works out in the real world. It’s shocking to see the hero school this Strong Female Character™ throughout the duration of the film because this sort of thing would never fly in the states these days. But there’s more to this as there is a layer of genuine philosophical debate incorporated into the mix that gives a surprising amount of verve to how the story develops: this movie is different in that it makes a strong case for why you maybe wouldn’t want to actually live into the Elysium type place.

Yeah, it’s jam packed with action scenes and gratuitous shots of a scantily clad 16-year-old anime babe… but there’s still something relatively thought provoking that comes out of it all in the end. Maybe it doesn’t grab a full five stars, but I think it deserves a bonus for how it makes up for the dreariness of the past twenty years of Hollywood cinema. Does the guy get anything for his efforts? Heck, I can’t even remember at this point. But he sure doesn’t get kicked around, dumped, or taken for granted like the guys in Elysium or Interstellar. And even if he doesn’t land himself in a fairy tale “happily ever after” type match in the end, he at least comes out of the affair with his self-respect and his independence intact.

I liked this one. Four and a half stars out of five.

Why I like Netflix’s “Daredevil”

This is a thoroughly enjoyable TV show. I am really glad that whoever owns the rights to T.M.N.T. graciously allowed this to be made– after all, the whole thing is built right on top of the Turtles’ origin story.

I took a gander at the pilot several weeks ago and then got around to picking it back up just a few days ago. I have to say, though… the second episode is completely on point:

  • Daredevil starts out in a dumpster hanging by a thread. Even after he’s patched up again it’s like he’s running below zero hit points in GURPS and he just. has. to. keep. making. those. health. rolls. It’s brutal. Is he too much like Batman? Holding that guy over the ledge was a very Batman move. I dunno. I think maybe he’s better than Batman. He doesn’t pull the sad sack rich playboy routine. Daredevil is all about determination, brute force, guts, and above all, getting back up.
  • The climatic fight scene is positively epic. It’s just so physical. I love that it’s rooted in boxing rather than goofy “cinematic” action or kung fu. It’s more reminiscent of that famous Spiderman comic Ron Edwards was talking about. People get knocked down. They struggle to get back up. They’re fighting to master themselves in the middle of chaos. Dardevil is straining to get the most out of every last fatigue point he has. It’s awesome.
  • The childhood thread is equally good. They really establish “kid” daredevil’s dad as a positive force in his life. Man, I can’t remember seeing something like that on the television. This whole arc of him going from cleaning his dad up after a fight, to explaining braille to him, to seeing him rooting for his dad’s boxing match… oh, it’s just perfect. Yeah, it’s kind of an Uncle Ben thing. But it really works.
  • And good golly, Karen Page is great, too. She’s just got the perfect combination of “cute” and “awkward” about her. I mean, it’s not like the super model type that they put glasses on in order to make her look nerdy. There is something pleasantly awkward about this character that’s just really appealing. I don’t know how much of it is full on acting, but I eat it up. It’s sort of like Bailey versus Jennifer Marlowe or Mary Anne versus Ginger. Karen Page is really attractive but they spin it as if she were still reasonably attainable. It’s so much better than all the other super heroes’ mostly forgettable girlfriends….
  • And I gotta say, I like the romantic tension that they were setting up in the pilot. It reminded me of… I dunno… maybe some of the old Moonlighting episodes? Oh, I hope this stays in the mix. It’s really hard to hold on to this sort of thing. For instance, I caught an episode of Castle the other day and was really disappointed to see that the chemistry that I loved so much in the first couple of seasons was gone. I don’t know if Daredevil is going to get into some of that, but the potential sure is there. In any case, I’ll watch as much Karen Page as the writers want to throw in.

So when I said the other day that “sense8” was a hot mess, I gotta say… Daredevil is the exact opposite. Every scene has to be there. Everything works together. There are solid arcs going on for each of the main characters that provide a good mix. And as of episode two, it feels like things are going somewhere, too. Everything just sings. This is good stuff. I have no idea if this will hold up. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. totally went of the rails for me half way through the first season, the second season of Heroes was a disaster, and Green Arrow never even really got off the ground.. Daredevil looks to me like it really has potential.

Passing on Neflix’s Original Series “sense8”

Okay, I’m not going to pour out my wrath on this one. I am a sucker for exactly this sort of thing. It’s basically a blend of ABC’s Lost and NBC’s Heroes… which both managed to hook me when they came out. Furthermore, I’ve basically already paid for this one because we already subscribe to Netflix. And good grief, this one has the Wachowski Brothers putting it together, too. So I’ve got a lot of reasons to give this one a chance. Never mind that it’s all about telepathy and stuff, too. It wasn’t enough to save it, though… which is too bad.

Anyway, here’s where they lost me:

  • The opening scene has Naveen Andrews in it. — Now… I like this guy; he’s a great actor, sure. But putting him in a key role in the opening scene? After the sixth season of Lost that sort of thing makes a statement. It’s like telling me upfront that the writers have no idea how to pay off everything they’re going to set up. Is that unfair? Yes, but it’s how it is. George Reeves and his fellow cast members couldn’t really be anything other than Superman characters after their TV show… and everyone on Lost have taken on a particularly unfortunate stigma of their own. That’s just how it is.
  • “No one ever defended me.” — Okay, the whole Pride sequence. Yeah, this sort of thing had to be drug into nearly every Doctor Who episode at some point. And now that Game of Thrones is a thing, we have to get it good a graphic, too. But whatever. The scene where the mean girl in effect kicked sand on the butch girl’s girly girl girlfriend? It didn’t ring true to me. And you know, I’m no expert. I only have a few people that I’ve known that I could generalize from for processing this scene. But it came off to me like there was this standard comic book love story script that these characters were just arbitrarily dropped into– one that people spend a great deal of time complaining about if it involves a dude and a girl. Hey, you know… maybe it happens like that in real life, I dunno. Nevertheless, I got cognitive dissonance from the whole thing.
  • “Just one thing, God. I’m not in love with him.” — Okay, a religious character shown in a good light for a change. This thread had some promise. But again, this doesn’t match up at all with the people I’ve known. I’ve ended up working with a few Indians over the years and they almost always get asked about the whole arranged marriage thing. If you tease them about it, they don’t get miffed at all. (One guy simply asked to compare the divorce rates of our too countries.) Again, maybe I can’t really generalize from just a few people I’ve met… but this whole “I’m not in love with him” thing seems a little bit outside of the scope of what I’d imagine a real life Indian to frame all this. I mean, maybe it’s the case that marrying for love just doesn’t have quite the same priority over there, right? Also… having her talk to the elephant god idol like she was doing was similarly off. Now… I know I don’t know much about the many religious beliefs of the big subcontinent. But I do expect it to be different from what I’m used to. And the tone of her monologue is very much in line with a middle school aged American country girl having one of those “are you there, God?” moments that used to be a thing in Young Adult novels. It’s the same thing as the Pride sequence. They have this standard plot element and they’re dropping something in which doesn’t really fit at all. I can see what they’re trying to do, sure. But I expect more cogency than what I’m getting here.

Now it wasn’t all bad. I enjoyed the scenes with the British musician-girl and the Chicago cop and how they came together. I especially liked the whole heist sequence. But “good in parts” is not going to fly with this many hours of investment at stake. As such, I’m all the more willing to assume that the story just isn’t going to go anywhere by the end. So I’ll happily pass and instead read a novel from before 1980 that gives me a complete standalone story without any of the mess.