The Crown Season 2 and The Problem With Biopics – A Review of Sorts

Here’s a thing:

I was watching Season 2 of The Crown and while I still enjoyed it with its well directed, well shot, well acted, goodness, I also kinda felt like I was wasting my time a bit.

The story of season 2 starts where we left of last season with the impending Suez crisis and the Royal marriage on a bit of a shaky leg. That part of the season is engaging. Then that all gets resolved by the half-way mark of the season and we’re left with Prince Charles’ unhappy upbringing at his dad’s old military school, a situation in Ghana, Princess Margret’s scandalous scandals, and a bunch of kids being born. I might have dozed off in the second half. It didn’t help that, for historical purposes, they had to replace the magnificently played larger-than-life-Winston Churchill with Harold McMillan and Anthony Eden, and while their inability to fill the former’s shoes is a big plot point and leads to their failure, it makes for a bore of a viewing experience.

Point is, the second half is less engaging than the first. And that’s fine, that certainly is life. But here we might already get the main problem with structure of The Crown following the events of real life throughout the decades. Never mind the fact that they can’t stick around till the Queen dies in real life, most of royal centered events just aren’t terribly exciting. What we remember, and what is significant, has at this stage really been covered, with maybe one or two scandals per decade still ahead until we inevitably come to the elephant in the room called Diana. And while that will certainly make for some kinda twisted but still interesting drama from a hoo-man perspective, it highlights one big problem with biopics:

Real Life Does Not Have a Dramatic Arc

For every constitutional crisis, for every King dying and replaced by a successor, there is a reason why Queen Elisabeth II’s life has been described by newscasters as “chugging along”. Sure, there might be some interesting landscapes here or there, but unless you live an action hero life and die young, what’s the point of covering an entire lifetime?  Continue reading “The Crown Season 2 and The Problem With Biopics – A Review of Sorts”

Advertisements

The New Viewer Fallacy of TV

Short remarks:

I think you know this problem: there is this show that’s been going on for a while now and your friends tell you to watch it. You give it a shot, maybe even several episodes, but it is not for you. So you give up on it. It’s simply a bad show.

Then something dreadful happens. No, the show does not get cancelled and reduces your friends who stuck with it to tears. No, the show starts getting good, or at least your friends tell you it has gotten good.

If we are talking about network television this will mean a show that has gotten good in its second season will have 20-26 episodes in the can so far, 20-26 hours of storyline. Even if it is not completely serialized as a cable show with 13 episodes. In many ways a cable show that you are told to watch because it’s gotten really good is even worse, because those are literally 13 episodes of story you need to catch up on.

This is why there are still so many shows out there that are not completely serialized, at most lightly serialized, or have maybe 10 out of 26 episodes that are story related. This allows us to catch up. But is it really worth it? From a viewer perspective, should I need to sit through a season or two to catch up to the storyline and drag myself through all the bad stuff? Sure, you can read a summary on Wikipedia but we all know that this doesn’t give you the emotional connection necessary for the inevitable highs your friends keep telling you about. And from the perspective of a fan or showrunner? Continue reading “The New Viewer Fallacy of TV”

Cutthroat Island: Surprisingly Okay Pirate Film

Stupid article title aside, I spent my previous Tuesday evening this week actually watching Cutthroat Island, the notoriously bad pirate movie from 1995 that heavily injured both Geena Davis and Matthew Modine… ‘s careers for a good long two decades, bankrupted a movie studio, and lost 100 million dollars.

So anyway, I came away liking it quite a bit.

After emerging from the Facebook Messenger of Rage (TM) having just bitched with Jessica aka Angriest Fangirl There Is about Agents of SHIELD like every other week, we (or rather I) talked also about the film. It occurred to me then that many of our generation, those lazy post-1990 born millennial-hipster-commies, have never even seen the film. We were, however, regaled with tales of its awfulness and a steady stream of Hollywood blockbusters getting worse and worse over the past decade, while the genre output of those films steadily shrank down to scifi, fantasy, superheroes, scifi superheroes, fantasy superheroes and science fantasy superheroes. You get the idea. This past ten years also saw the rise, fall, and further fall of Pirates of the Caribbean, a once popular series of swashbuckling pirate movies where only the first one was good.

Cutthroat Island is far from being as good as Pirates of the Caribbean 1. That came at a time just a few years after Cutthroat, looked much better, had better effects, and a once in a lifetime performance by Johnny Depp to elevate what would have been another Cutthroat Island come to think of it now.

In retrospect, watching this film in a post-Pirates era, makes it quite easy to see how a few tweaks to Cutthroat could have elevated it up to that level. It needed a bit more polish all around, a bit more focus, maybe twenty minutes trimmed. It looks ten years older than it should, and yet Geena Davis’ surprisingly good turn as a swashbuckling pirate captain kinda made the movie for me. It’s a role that actresses to this day would kill for, which speaks volumes more about the industry today than about the quality of the film, but still.  Continue reading “Cutthroat Island: Surprisingly Okay Pirate Film”

Shameless Plug: Historian’s Crusade now €0.99 on Kindle!

Update on Historian’s Crusade: after nearly two months out, I’ve decided to reduce the price of Historian’s Crusade to €0.99 in time for the Christmas season. I figured it’s only fair since you can get a base version on the website. Consider it an early Christmas present.

Star Trek Discovery: “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” & “Into the Forest I Go” Review + State of the Franchise

Final thoughts on the first block of episodes of Discovery by Alex and returning guest writer Jessica aka “Angriest Fangirl There Is”.

With the first block of episodes of Discovery complete, I thought it would be nice to stand back for a minute and take stock of… WHAT DO YOU MEAN TWO MONTHS BREAK?!

Joke aside, I’m so surprised how positive my experience with Discovery has been on the whole this past two months. My live Star Trek watching experiences have boiled down to Enterprise, the Nemesis, and the Kelvinverse. Yeah, I’ve got some issues. The more surprising it was that Discovery blew my socks off.

In retrospect, the pilot is arguably the weakest part of the season, having to introduce characters and events to set up the series proper yet not give enough time to really care about anyone at all really, making Burnham’s betrayal kind of hard to follow. Yet the nature of the show allowed it to steadily build over the next few weeks. It’s a reaction I’ve now seen from both my dad and cover designer/collaborator Peter, as both needed a couple of episodes to get into it. I think my reaction was so overwhelmingly positive to begin with because I was just starving for some good space opera, and a good Trek show to boot. Something familiar yet new. Discovery delivered despite some growing pains.

Look, I’ve babbled on and on about this show for several reviews now and you know my position at this point. All I can do is reiterate and say that this pair of episodes was simply great. You care about the characters like no Trek team before in the short period you had with them, the story, while simple, was engaging, and I felt myself on the edge of my seat during “Into the Forest I Go” specifically. It’s sometimes hard to put into words what makes Star Trek what it is. Most people have their own opinion, usually depending on which show introduced them to the franchise. For me that was watching TOS. More specifically, the TOS movies on VHS and on TV, as much as the other shows. While DS9 has my favorite story and characters, the charm and pull of TOS can’t be overstated. As cliche as it is: it truly was a simpler time. Swashbuckling adventures with some high (and low) brow scifi concepts. I think it says something about the quality of a show when you can so vividly recall singular moments. I probably know more about the other shows combined, but TOS is more memorable still in the small details.

I give you this preamble to state once and for all one thing: Discovery is Trek. It oozes its love for the franchise. Star Trek is flexible, it can take on many forms and has done so in the past. Discovery can, and has, bridged the divide between the old and the new and put itself squarely in the middle with a statement: ‘Star Trek is back, we know what we want, and we are here to stay.”

Trek has been on autopilot for a long time before the new movies. From TNG onward we had variations on a theme, to the point that Enterprise, a show set two centuries before, is still so heavy in its Next Gen DNA that it was eventually crushed by it. Then you had the Kelvinverse films, and those have been going on for 9 years doing, what exactly? Set up a new universe, then do the scifi equivalent of the Lion King 1.5, then a big budget TOS episode. What makes the first of those films so frustrating is the good elements being overshadowed by a lack of confidence in the original material. Beyond knew what worked about TOS and went back to it, it embraced it while still updating what didn’t work. I know logically that 09 had to be a bit simpler to get in the normies, to set up something, but it is still tainted by being adjacent to Into Darkness. If anything the success of Beyond as a film and as a Trek film all the same makes me hate those first two even more: everyone knows Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the others, you can just tell a story that you could easily plop in anywhere in the 5-year-mission. Replace destroyed Enterprise with damaged and you can have the next episode of the week afterwards.

Discovery, in many ways, while not borrowing its formula did borrow the confidence Beyond oozed. Just tell your Star Trek story, make it good, make it compelling. If it is good people will come. And come they did: Discovery was renewed after just a couple of episodes. Is it to everyone’s liking? Well, I’ll let the Angry Fangirl get the last word in on that subject matter, but I’ll just drop the words “TNG” and “You cannot replace Kirk and Spock” and let you decide.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with the series, especially because it was weekly. Into the Forest I Go especially gave us so many conclusions and pay-offs yet also new strings to follow. It is the way a mid-season cliffhanger should work, and you can be damn sure I’ll be back in the first week of January.

And now for the State of the Union by Jessica “Angriest Fangirl There Is”:

Before I discuss Discovery, I want to acknowledge Star Trek Continues.

What in the Alpha Quadrant is that, you may be asking. It’s an amazing fan series that includes a lot of professional actors and does everything it can to emulate Star Trek: The Original Series. It picks up where TOS left off and concludes with the pieces in place for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Because there are few episodes and the makers focused strongly on story, it’s like eleven really excellent TOS episodes. The first part of the two-part finale aired the weekend before Discovery, and the finale aired a few days ago, just after the Discovery fall finale. I don’t want to say much more since I highly recommend the show to any TOS fans, but it’s a remarkable production.

A couple of weeks ago I was pretty hard on the Trek fandom due to the reaction to Discovery, but make no mistake – I grew up with Trek. I am a second generation Trekkie – my mom watched TOS as a kid and when I was little we would watch it together on SyFy channel, back when it was still called Sci-Fi.

So it’s very nice to have the last piece of Star Trek Continues wrapped around Discovery, because with all of the hostility around Discovery turning what should have been a fun experience very sour in places, it was so nice to see a wonderful fan production that reminded me why I love this universe and this fandom. Oh, and, guess what they included in the final episode? A shot of Kirk looking at a bronze version of a Discovery class starship in a lineup of bronze starship models. That made me so happy – and it was so nice of them to include. I actually squealed in happiness when I saw it. Thank you, Star Trek Continues, for giving us something new and wonderful.

And now, on to our regularly scheduled discussion of Star Trek: Discovery.

This was a very mean cliffhanger to leave us on, but I am very excited to see what the rest of the season has in store for us in January.

I am a bit disappointed that the second half of this two-parter didn’t pay off the “Errand of Mercy” allusion that I assumed the first episode was setting up. That said, I loved the Pahvans – it’s always nice to have an actually alien alien species on Star Trek, and Saru’s interaction with them was very, for lack of a better word, humanizing. You really felt bad for him and the internal conflict he had about how to interact with them. I’m fascinated by what he’s said about his people and Doug Jones’ performance is simply amazing.

So I’m pretty sure Ash = Voq is all but confirmed, as I can’t see any other reason for L’Rell to take such an interest in him, and to say something like “Don’t worry, I won’t let them hurt you.”. I am assuming that Ash/Voq is like some Cardassian agents during the Occupation of Bajor – the episode “Second Skin” established that some Cardassian field operatives were surgically altered to look Bajoran, then had their minds wiped so they couldn’t give away anything about the Cardassians even if they tried, and were retrieved and re-introduced to their original identity at a later date. As such, the sexual abuse Ash remembers was probably actually a consensual relationship, but that leads me into my next point.

Whatever the truth turns out to be with Ash, the way that his trauma is handled in this episode is poignant and wonderful. I saw someone complaining that it makes Michael more of a Mary Sue to “reduce another character to a whimpering idiot to make her look better” and I almost threw my computer across the room. Ash’s PTSD doesn’t conveniently disappear in time for the action scenes like most fictional character’s, and that’s excellent. Furthermore, the show and the characters within treat his humiliation and terror after being raped completely sympathetically. No one tells him to man up, no one jokes about it, the flashback dream isn’t filmed in a titillating way (all though xenophiles everywhere were quick to rejoice at the sight of Klingon breasts, apparently). It’s treated with as much gravity as if a female prisoner had been raped by male captors, and given how most fiction and even Star Trek has winked or laughed at such things in the past this is very refreshing. (Remember that time Riker had to bone an alien to save himself and his crew?) If Ash really is Voq and the “rape” never actually happened, it’s going to be terribly ironic all things considered.

The action scenes are awesome, Kol went out with a bang, and hey, they got Georgiou’s tags back! That made me so happy, especially the little look Michael had while watching the ship of the dead explode.

And we finally got a kiss between Stamets and Culber! About damn time! I still think these two don’t have the most chemistry in the world, but this episode definitely marked an improvement in that department.  They seemed more convincingly in love, and my heart hurt for the doctor having to watch his boyfriend suffer during the extended jump sequence. And that was a cute actor allusion at the end with Stamets offering to take Culber to see La Boheme (both actors have appeared in Rent, which is a modern take on La Boheme).

So – viewers with sharper eyes than me caught that Lorca may have purposely screwed up their coordinates. That combined with his talk with Stamets earlier about the possibility of using the spore network to explore alternate dimensions and the knowledge we’re getting a mirror universe episode at some point strengthens the fan theory that Lorca is from the Mirror Universe and just wants to get home. Even if he’s not, I imagine we’re now in the mirror universe and I have a strong suspicion this show may have just become Voyager 2.0 – about the crew trying to journey home through myriad universes, which would be freaking hilarious given how many haters were complaining that this show “isn’t real Trek” because there isn’t enough exploration going on. Hopefully it’ll be actually better than Voyager.

Other possible theories: They just went to some previously unseen area of space, maybe even another galaxy, the Delta quadrant, or the Gamma quadrant (I will love the showrunners forever if they give me Weyoun’s progenitor). But really, I’m hoping for Mirror Universe or something we haven’t seen before – I think we should explore new things as much as possible in this show. There is so much ground left to cover before we start retreading things again, and of course meeting familiar aliens too early will screw up the continuity.

My overall thoughts on the series so far: I am so, so pleasantly surprised. My optimism going in was very tempered by all of the news about production issues and the bullshit way CBS hid it behind a paywall and my own nerdy reticence about things like the design change on the Klingons and the appearance of tech and uniforms. I wasn’t really sold until the third episode – I’m so glad I gave it a chance because it’s been so good. The characters are layered and complex but ultimately likeable, the plot is quick-moving, and the ideas on it are interesting and wonderfully weird. And of course, it’s a gorgeous show – this is what Trek looks like with an actual budget, but that’s secondary to everything else. It’s a nice cherry on the cake.   

Star Trek Discovery: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” Review

Discovery’s first ‘classic’ stand-alone.

Discovery has finally done it. They’ve managed to make their first ‘I want to revisit this multiple times’-episode.

Okay, that doesn’t sound as grandiose as saying they made their first classic, but here’s the thing: an episode, a movie, a book, they  can be utterly brilliant and yet I might not want to revisit it. “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” meanwhile is just 45 minutes of high concept fun and character bouncing off each other.

Let’s go to the obvious complaint people will have: this has been in Trek episodes before. Time loop that one of the crew remembers and then they slowly have to piece together what’s going on. Yes. It’s also never been done quite right. A time loop story can only work with great direction and enough material to substitute for already seen bits and pieces from previous loops. I love my Star Trek, but good pacing has never been a strong suit of it. Previous shows, when doing this concept, have always suffered under the talk-heavy nature of something like TNG or Voyager, grinding the pacing to a hold. This episode with the long title (I know, Ctrl+V…) plays it more like a chess game between Mudd and the crew, while in TNG’s example of “Cause and Effect” it’s a natural(ish) occurrence they need to tech-tech their way out of. This is much better.

Rewatching TOS from the beginning, I cannot believe how much I ignored Harry Mudd. Outside of Khan he’s the only enemy to face Kirk more than once, and for the love of Spock, he’s such a delight here in this reimagined, younger and more ruthless form. The fact that nobody died in this, at least permanently, and his large ham personality makes his presence such a delight. He’s essentially playing a game by reloading the save file. Giving the crew a person to play off of instead of technobabble makes the conclusion of sending Harry off with Stella so much more satisfying.   Continue reading “Star Trek Discovery: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” Review”