Tag Archives: My New Favourite Thing

Dan at the Movies: War for the Planet of the Apes

Okay. So. Can we talk about something? There has been a Planet of the Apes trilogy running over the past six years, essentially a prequel to the original Charlton Heston film (though not canonical to the first prequels to the original, Conquest of and Battle for the Planet of the Apes), and what’s weird about it is that despite there being a full trilogy at this point, we don’t think about them when they’re not in theatres.

Let’s be clear. This is not me shouting from a street corner about how the Planet of the Apes franchise is great and only I seem to know it. I am like you. I forget about them as well. I have seen Rise of, Dawn of, and now War for the Planet of the Apes in theatres… I saw Dawn while on vacation in New York freaking City, when I could have been doing infinite other things, and had zero regrets… but unlike all of my other pop-culture interests, I give it no thought between movies. I don’t follow casting news… in fact, I probably heard that Woody Harrelson was in the new one more than once but kept forgetting. I don’t watch and rewatch trailers. Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a trailer for War. I’ve seen each of them on the big screen, often opening weekend or close to, yet I’m always surprised when a new one shows up in theatres.

As, I imagine, are you.

And the reason, friends, the reason that this is weird? They’re so good, you guys. They are all so good.

The current Planet of the Apes franchise is consistently well-made, well-acted, and has potentially ended on a tense, powerful, emotional finale that challenges Wonder Woman and Baby Driver for best movie of the summer.

And maybe the reason that we keep glossing over it is that Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake was so very, very bad. It was, we can admit that, it was. I saw that one in theatres as well, also on opening weekend, but thankfully at a time when I didn’t need to pay for movies. Because that film had flaws, yo. But no Planet of the Apes film should ever be judged on that Marky-Mark-starring incoherent train wreck. It stands alone and rightfully unloved. And since 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this has become a franchise without a weak link.

So let’s talk about this weirdly forgotten but excellently made trilogy while I still remember it exists and doesn’t have musical numbers.

Stop the Planet of the Apes I Want to Get Off

Not gonna be the last time I reference this. Just to warn you.

But first, an acknowledgement

Brianna Wu, frequent target of internet misogynists who prove that man is, indeed, the real monster, raised an issue about the most recent entry… the female roles aren’t the best. Her assertion is that no female character, human or ape, has a spoken line in the movie. I would counter that three female characters, human and ape, have dialogue delivered via sign language, and shouldn’t that count, but… let’s not get into a debate over what is or isn’t ableism. That is not my purview.

Also, it’s not important whether the exact facts involved in her complaint are correct, the important thing is that she’s not wrong about this franchise lacking when it comes to writing for women. Rise to War, it is a male-driven franchise. I’m sure the first two movies had female characters, save for Cornelia the ape (looking up her name tells me that Keri Russell was in Dawn, which you’d think I’d remember), but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. That’s… that’s a problem. That’s an authentic problem.

So let’s just go ahead and put “Roles for women and POC” on Wonder Woman’s scorecard for “Best movie of the summer,” much as we’ll be giving “Well written villain” to War for the Planet of the Apes. Or Spider-Man: Homecoming. OBaby Driver. LET’S…

Let’s just focus on the apes from here. They’re not great at writing for women, that’s unfortunate, but let’s move on.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Spoilers ahead. And throughout. If you want to watch the whole trilogy unspoiled, oh my God go do that right now. Stop reading this and watch these movies. Otherwise… allons-y.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out a full decade after Tim Burton made the concept look worse than 1960s production values ever, ever could. Some brave soul thought that enough time had passed that people were ready to revisit this brand, and developed an all-new prequel to the 1968 original film. So I guess it’s kind of a reboot, since Conquest of and Battle for the Planet of the Apes already did the prequel stuff back in the 70s, but there’s still at least one Easter egg setting up the original movie.

James Franco (James freaking Franco used to be in this series, that seems incredibly weird six years and two films later) plays Will Rodman, a biologist trying to find a cure for neuro-degenerative issues like Alzheimer’s, which his father suffers from. His father being played by John Lithgow (John freaking– no, no, that dude has range, he can be in whatever he likes). So eager is Rodman to find this cure that he does his own off-the-books testing with a baby chimpanzee he names Caesar (mo-cap superstar Andy Serkis), and ultimately his own father. This causes some issues.

First, Caesar attacks Will’s asshole neighbour when he gets hostile with Will’s father, and is taken to, basically, a dog pound for apes. Here Caesar meets a fellow chimp named Rocket and an orangutan named Maurice who, like Caesar, speaks sign language. Rocket (Terry Notary) and Maurice (Karin Konoval) will be two of Caesar’s closest friends and acolytes for the rest of the trilogy, and these three will be the only people to appear in all three movies. Notable amongst the staff of the… I hesitate to use the word “sanctuary,” because these people are terrible… is Harry Potter/Flash star Tom Felton, who is given two of Charlton Heston’s iconic lines from the original movie.

Second… Will’s serum has some unfortunate side effects. Viral in nature, it makes apes super-smart, but is lethal to humans. And spreads really easily. Soon Caesar has enhanced an army of apes, and is charging the Golden Gate Bridge. But not to conquer anything. Just to take his much-abused ape brethren, be they chimp, orangutan, or gorilla, away from humankind to somewhere they can live in peace.

Not that that will be an option.

Also, Will’s asshole neighbour is an airline pilot. So, while infected with this lethal virus, he heads to work at the San Francisco international airport, allowing said lethal virus to go everywhere.

And thus the fall of humankind begins.

This movie is great. It was great. I remember thinking that. And the most important non-ape character (obviously the most important character is Caesar, being the lead of the entire trilogy) might be Tom Felton. The ape pound provides our best look at what will be the central theme of the entire trilogy… hatred and fear of The Other drives us towards war and away from peace and progress. In this case, mistreatment of apes pushes them, once gifted with higher intelligence, towards banding together and leaving the world of humans.

Maurice, by the way, is named after the actor who played orangutan scientist Dr. Zaius in the original movie.

I did warn you.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

This was the hardest one to motivate myself to see. But not so hard that when my parents said to me, on our trip to New York, “Want to see a movie…”

Yes, my parents took me to New York in July of 2014. Just because my travel agent friend had a deal. It was awesome. My parents are pretty great. That is not our topic.

Anyway, my parents suggested a movie, this being a night when we hadn’t pre-booked a show (and maybe it was Monday, and nothing was on? I’m honestly not sure), and down the street from our hotel was a theatre that had re-dedicated itself to being as fancy as possible, so I said “Sure. The theatre down the street is showing the new Planet of the Apes, may as well see that.”

One of the consistently best-made summer movie franchises and I see them largely by accident. This is the whole “nobody thinks about them” thing.

I hadn’t been excited for this one because of the basic plot. The survivors of the “simian flu,” aka that lethal side effect I mentioned from last time, are attempting to rebuild society in the ruins of San Francisco, near Caesar’s ape village. A human named Malcolm (Jason Clarke, who you’d probably recognise from something but never bothered to learn his name) reaches out to Caesar, hoping to build a peace between human and ape. Caesar is down with this, having been raised by a human (who died between films, probably from the simian flu). But there’s a problem. The head of Malcolm’s group, played by Gary Oldman, does not trust these apes at all. And one of Caesar’s top lieutenants, Koba (Toby Kebbell), is a former lab animal who cannot let go of his hatred for humans.

Sidebar… between Caesar, Rocket, and Koba, there were now three past and future King Kongs in the franchise. That doesn’t really mean anything, save that Serkis, Notary, and Kebbell are good at motion capture, but I thought it worth noting.

So anyway, that’s the central conflict. Caesar, Jason Clarke, and Keri Russell think peace between man and ape is possible, but Gary Oldman doesn’t buy it, and Koba is actively trying to start a war.

My one complaint, my only complaint, is that, well, it’s not called Dawn of the Planet of Apes and Humans Who All Get Along and Everything is Fine, so… it’s kind of a foregone conclusion.

Which, depending on your perspective, might only help the movie. It’s an epic tragedy, like the better Godfather movies or The Empire Strikes Back or Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which is still one of the best Batman movies. Fight me.

So I didn’t rush to watch it, and it had this thing weighing it down, but it’s excellent, really it is, and it’s vital to understanding what comes next.

And we reach the War

Seeing this was somehow even more accidental than the last one. I only saw this one on opening day because I misremembered a start time and we were 20 minutes late to The Big Sick. But it worked out.

It’s now 15 years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes, according to the opening text bursts. The opening text also serves as a valuable tool for those who didn’t see or just forgot about the last two movies, because they summarise the events and highlight the words “Rise” and “Dawn” so there’s no confusion.

In War For the Planet of the Apes, Koba’s choices still loom large. Humans and apes have been at war since Koba started a larger fight. Caesar still pushes for peace, but the nearby human military, led by Woody Harrelson’s unnamed Colonel, are not having it.

Matt Reeves, writer/director of both Dawn and War, indicated that The Colonel also killed Jason Clarke and Keri Russell’s characters from Dawn, but had to cut the dialogue that revealed that. Not surprising, since the movie’s already over two hours, and that dialogue is not strictly necessary.

Matt Reeves and Woody Harrelson steer hard into the comparison between the Colonel and Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. The apes discovering graffiti reading “Ape-pocalypse Now” is actually one of the more subtle allusions.

The Colonel is definitely and unquestionably the Bad Guy. He’s cruel and and merciful, displayed by how he treats both ape-kind and humans he finds lacking.

Did you think we were finished with this?

However, all of his many, MANY misdeeds come from one easy to understand source. He sees where all of this has been going: apes replacing humans as the dominant species. His fear of this eventuality pushes him into truly dark actions, including an attack on Caesar’s ape hideout that leaves some of Caesar’s own family dead. Caesar is then determined to bring down the Colonel in return.

Caesar: Hate. The Colonel: Fear. Thus are our two main themes represented. Maurice even points out that Caesar’s hatred is making him more like Koba, whose hatred of humans caused all of this, and who continues to haunt Caesar through dreams and hallucinations.

Worse than that, several of Koba’s acolytes now work for The Colonel. They’re known as “Donkeys,” for two reasons: 1) they’re basically treated as pack animals, and 2) as the Vietnamese were known as “Charlie” and the Germans were known as “Fritz,” the apes are referred to as “Kongs.” Thus the traitor apes are “Donkey Kongs.” I dig that.

This movie is so good. Aside from another excellent exploration about how hate and fear are destructive to any attempt at civilisation, and how tribalism drives cruelty, Reeves knocks this one out of the park. Serkis is as good or better in this movie as he was as Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Steve Zahn is great as Bad Ape, an unexpected ally they pick up along the way. Karin Konoval’s thoughtful, philosophical, empathetic Maurice has been and remains a series highlight. Newcomer Amiah Miller acquits herself well as Nova, a young human girl who helps bridge this movie and the world of 1968’s Planet of the Apes in a way I’m choosing not to spoil. And Woody Harrelson? He is amazing. He gives Michael Keaton’s Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming a run for his money as the summer’s best villain.

Sorry, Wonder Woman and Baby Driver, you are fighting for third and that’s just how its is.

And the effects. God, the effects. If I didn’t know that the apes are done through motion capture, I would assume that the mask work on this movie was bleeding edge. In other words, the CG on the ape performances is so convincing that if you told me that they actually bred apes who could act this well, I wouldn’t be 100% sure you were wrong.

What I’m saying is that the ape characters look incredibly realistic. More than the last two, the apes carry this movie, and they do not look like CG apes at all. Which means that the performances of the humans behind the apes are able to absolutely crush it, and the CG never once took me out of the moment. Scenes involving Caesar and Maurice were absolutely heartbreaking.

War For the Planet of the Apes moved me in a way that only two movies in the last year have. And not any of the best picture nominees: just Wonder Woman and Rogue One.

A thing I haven’t gotten around to mentioning yet. The latter-day Planet of the Apes trilogy are not action movies. If memory serves, the trailers lean on what action there is. (I say “If memory serves” because I don’t think I’ve watched a trailer for any of them since 2014.) But they aren’t, on the whole, driven by action. All three have a very well-done action set piece in the climax, but the meat of the film is in the drama, not the fighting.

In terms of sheer fun, maybe Spider-Man: Homecoming and Wonder Woman edge out War For the Planet of the Apes, because it is a kind of grim story. I mean, again, the title kind of implies that humans are not going to do well, although this time we are just straight up the villains, so sure, fine. Also, the recurring theme that fear and hate hold us back does not present an easy solution. These movies basically say “fear and hate will screw us over, and there’s nothing we can really do about that as long as the fearful and the haters are in charge.”

But maybe if we all really try, we can move past fear and hate. Maybe we can embrace hope for a better future, and the will to see it through. And if the Green Lantern comics teach us anything, it’s that will backed by hope is unstoppable.

Yes, I went nerdy there. I’m not sorry.

Long story short. Watch War For the Planet of the Apes. And if you haven’t seen the others, track down Rise of the Planet of the Apes and work your way forward. This franchise is too good to be overlooked.

And now my declaration of that fact will live on, even when I forget how good these movies are and assume that only Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and Edgar Wright knocked it out of the park this summer.

Oh, shoot, I forgot about Dunkirk and Valerian. Man, it’s almost enough to make you miss last summer, when you could take all of June off from the movies and miss nothing.

Geek Talk Junk Drawer

It’s Thursday, things are slow, I’m listless and a little agitated. This would be a perfect time to lose myself in another hilarious and slightly heartbreaking episode of Bojack Horseman, My New Favourite Thing… only I’ve run out. There are no more. Not until next year. And I don’t seem to have the attention span for much else.

So let’s chat, you and I. Let’s pass some time on these here interwebs by discussing things that wouldn’t fill a full blog. Which might be difficult because apparently I had 2,000 words’ worth of things to say about the new Sin City movie, when “Two hours of sub-par to terrible Sin City fan fiction” would have summed it up.

But this will spare all of you from getting an earful about Bojack Horseman. It’s hilarious, it’s got a surprising amount of heart and emotion in the back half of the season, Will Arnett and Alison Brie are both in it, just go watch it already.

New Doctor!

Check it!

Check it!

Part of loving Doctor Who is learning to accept new Doctors, even if you’re not ready to. I was just a kid when I heard that Tom Baker was leaving. I was taken completely by surprise when Colin Baker changed into Sylvester McCoy (despite it having been a rerun… this was pre-internet, there weren’t easy ways to learn these things). I was heartbroken when I learned Christopher Eccleston was only doing one season… and those were the easy ones. I may have actually screamed “NNNOOOOO!” out loud when word got out that Matt Smith was moving on.

But now the new guy, Peter Capaldi, aka. Twelve, has had two episodes to establish himself. And I think he’s doing okay. He has a sterner style, which sets him apart from Ten and Eleven. He wants to be a good man, but isn’t sure he is (something he has in common with Bojack Horseman–sorry, sorry, it just slipped out). And Clara’s finally getting more to do, after the whole Impossible Girl story kind of prevented her from being properly developed. All in all, Capaldi’s crushing it, and they still have my devotion.

But I haven’t figured out his theme music yet.

Not the opening credit theme, of course I know that. The in-episode theme music. Nine had The Doctor’s Theme, Ten started with that, then switched to The Doctor Forever in season three before returning to an amped up Doctor’s Theme in season four. The Doctor’s Theme played for the last time (well, until the 50th anniversary) in Ten’s final moments, and when Eleven began his tenure in the 11th Hour, so too debuted I Am the Doctor, which later evolved into The Majestic Tale (of a Madman in a Box). And as someone who clearly thinks about background music in TV shows a lot, those two were my favourites.

I don’t know the 12th Doctor’s theme yet. Sure, there’s some Youtube videos claiming to have it, but I need to hear it in action. I need to hear it against the Doctor telling the Atraxi to run, or facing down the Silence alongside River Song and the Ponds. I probably have, I just haven’t figured out what it is. Guess I should rewatch Deep Breath and Into the Dalek when I get a chance.

There are worse fates.

Shazam’s getting a movie!

Shazam-Or-Black-Adam

This has been running around the web for a while, but the rumours and suggestions have finally been confirmed: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will be playing Black Adam in an upcoming Shazam movie.

Seeing a lot of blank looks out there. What? You didn’t know reading my blog activates a camera in your computer/phone? I am always watching.

Erm… by which I mean, what, you don’t know Black Adam? Let me explain.

When I say the word “Shazam,” you think of Captain Marvel: a kid named Billy Batson who shouts the word “Shazam” and turns into an adult with magical powers that make him a nigh-equal to Superman. Black Adam had the powers of Shazam centuries earlier, but his more… forceful way of defending his home nation of Khandaq (think ancient Egypt turned into modern day Iraq) got him shut down by the wizard who made him his champion (that wizard being Shazam). But when Captain Marvel comes onto the scene, Black Adam finds a way to come back. So, Captain Marvel is the kid-turned-hero, and Black Adam is his nemesis.

That’s the classic stuff. Fast forward to today. Now Billy Batson’s alter ego is just called “Shazam,” because DC got tired of never being able to put “Captain Marvel” on the cover of a book thanks to their competitors, and decided that if everybody mostly knows him as the Shazam guy, they may as well call him Shazam and be done with it. I still haven’t fully adapted to that but it’s happened.

Black Adam, meanwhile, is still a primary nemesis of Captain Mar–Shazam, but he’s not always a straight up villain. While writing Justice Society back around the turn of the century, Geoff Johns altered the character: no longer was he a modern day thief who accessed the powers of Shazam to become Black Adam, but was instead the original reborn in the modern era. And the original never saw himself as a villain, simply the protector of the Khandaq who draws a different moral line than some prefer. In the last fifteen years he’s crossed the line to hero almost as often as he’s been a villain. He served in the Justice Society for years, possibly outlasting Captain Marvel*. Most recently, in the event book Forever Evil, when the Crime Syndicate (an evil version of the Justice League, I’ll spare you the explanation) wiped out most of the superheroes and conquered the Earth, Black Adam was the first of a small band of villains to step up and try to bring them down.

So Black Adam isn’t a mustache-twirling, magic-space-rock-wielding world conqueror like so many other superhero movie villains lately, and talk from Dwayne Johnson and the studio is that they’re going to keep him on that blurry line between villain and anti-hero, which I for one am excited to see.

Less excited by the rumours that Shazam will not connect with Justice League, but… well, we’ll see.

*Interesting story with no connection to Black Adam: Captain Marvel left the JSA in disgrace after his budding romance with teenage hero Stargirl (who had discovered that he was actually a teenager himself) was discovered by either the golden age Flash or Green Lantern, who, not knowing that Captain Marvel was really teenager Billy Batson, obviously disapproved. Cap left the team rather than reveal his true identity/age, because “too many people know, and it always changes things.” Sad story, but interesting reading. Anyhoo.

Supergirl back on TV?

Supergirl

New in the rumour mill: DC may be shopping around a Supergirl TV series. Now, this is a very young rumour, and even if it is totally accurate, a lot can go wrong between here and being given a series order, if two failed pilots for Wonder Woman and one for Aquaman teach us anything. But I like the idea. There is a risk that, even though the CW is currently believed to have passed, the makers might embrace the teen soap opera that defined Smallville and remains a part of Arrow. But you know what? Let ’em. As I said in an earlier post, Supergirl (well, Kara Zor-El) has never been better written than when they were targeting her towards younger women/girls. So I say, even in the face of ten years of Smallville striving to prove me wrong, it can work. But maybe try to make it more like Arrow and less like Smallville. In fact, always do that.

But making it appeal to girls without becoming female-oriented-Smallville, or Gossip Girl with super strength, is only challenge one. Well, challenge two, after getting a network to bite.

Next challenge: is this another stand-alone like Constantine? Or will they tie it into one of their other properties? And that’s a trickier question than I like. Because I don’t know that I want a Supergirl series set in a world where Superman doesn’t exist.

Don’t get me wrong: Supergirl’s been around long enough that she deserves an identity of her own, rather than being defined as “Superman’s cousin.” The current writers of her book are trying, but her more famous relative is never that far from her narrative. A weekly series (or Netflix series) might give her the chance to be her own character as well. So I’m not saying I need Henry Cavill to pop by on a regular basis, but… Superman should still exist. Putting each character in their own box, where no other DC character is allowed to be, is something I’d hoped DC was moving past.

So that means I also don’t want Supergirl to join the Arrowverse, something that feels alien to say. But it’s true, for the same reason I don’t want Nightwing showing up: for all the characters that they’re adding to the Arrowverse, Superman and Batman aren’t on the list, and Nightwing without Batman doesn’t even make sense. Ra’s Al Ghul, okay, fine, he can exist without overt references to Batman, but not Nightwing. Why not use any other similar character, like Blue Beetle or the Question or Manhunter? Oh, right, they are using Manhunter… no not the Martian one, one of the other 20 DC characters named “Manhunter.”

Right, sorry, Supergirl. There may be super powers in the Arrowverse now, thanks to the Flash, but no aliens. And if we’re going to add Kryptonians, let’s start with the big guy. Or if you want a Supergirl type, introduce Wonder Woman, or Hawkwoman, or Big Barda–no, no, bad call me, you do NOT want Apocalypse and the New Gods on TV, you want them in the Justice League movies. That last bit might not have made sense to you. But you’re reading this on the internet, and I assume you know how Google works. Must I hyperlink everything?

That said... there are worse characters you could introduce in Justice League...

That said… there are worse characters you could introduce in Justice League…

Anyway. A Supergirl TV series that ties into Man of Steel and Superman V. Batman: Dawn of A Thousand Internet Complaints may be too much to hope for. But a Supergirl series where Superman is nowhere to be seen is like, I don’t know, making a TV series about Batman’s daughter where Alfred is a main character but Batman himself is never seen or heard from.

Hint: that didn't work.

Hint: that didn’t work.

The New Pornographers have a new album!

Finally… if you can listen to this without feeling at least a little happy, I feel sad for you.

Until next time, have a good day and WATCH BOJACK HORSEMAN.

Better for TV: American Gods and other favourites

I love Neil Gaiman. That much is clear. His stories are rich, his characters fascinating, I could (and do) read his books over and over again. And of everything of his that I’ve read, I would have to say that my favourite is American Gods. Well, my favourite that he wrote by himself. There’s also Good Omens, which he co-wrote with one of my other all-time favourite authors, Terry Pratchett, but for pure Neil I’m all about American Gods.

Sure, Neverwhere is a faster read, and Stardust has a lot to recommend, but if I want to lose myself in a slow-cooked epic? Gotta be American Gods.

It’s the story of Shadow, an ex-con who ends up taking a job as bodyguard to the aging con-artist Mr. Wednesday, joining him on a rambling quest across America. An America that, as we and Shadow both learn, is filled with gods. Every time people came to the continent and worshiped their gods, the gods would manifest. But as the years went by, they became old and tired, starved for worship. And now a new pantheon is rising, gods of media and technology and celebrity idols. And a war between the old gods and the new is brewing, with Shadow right in the middle.

It takes its time, as Shadow slowly makes his way through small-town America, encountering gods and myths, trying to unravel the mysteries behind everything. It has one of the best casts of fascinating people you could ask for. And I never, ever wanted to see it as a movie.

Because there’s too much. There’s just too much. The story is too deep, the world too rich, the plot too complicated to possibly fit into two or even three hours. No, I thought that it could be adapted, but it would have to be a miniseries. Eight hours, minimum. I even came up with a rough breakdown a long time back. Wow. Thirteen years ago. Damn.

But now it looks like I may actually be getting my wish. Starz, the US cable network out to be an edgier AMC or lower-rent HBO, is breaking ground on bringing American Gods to television. And the guy behind it? Bryan Fuller, creator of Pushing Daisies, showrunner of Hannibal, person behind the legitimately good season of Heroes. Basically, one of my favourite people working in television right now.

Now, when Seth Rogen was announced as writing the pilot for a series based on the classic comic Preacher, I was conflicted, because as much as I loved Preacher and enjoy Seth Rogen, the pairing seemed too unexpected to wrap my head around. But this? This goes beyond good news. Beyond My New Favourite Thing. This comes closer to proof of a loving God. Or at the very least, a karmic “mea culpa” for some of the shittier developments in my life the last while.

A television series would give the story time to meander and explore the world, and as the larger world and relaxed pace of the journey are key components of the story, this is absolutely vital. Plus, as a bonus, it’s long been said that if an American Gods TV show was successful, Gaiman would write a second book to give them more material. And I am all good with that.

Or perhaps they’d just tweak one or two things in the finale to give themselves somewhere to go in season two. Like how in From Dusk Till Dawn, Robert Rodriguez went from an expanded but primarily faithful adaption of the movie in the first five episodes to telling a completely new story in the back half, partly to set up season two, and partly because “And then vampires attack, woogy boogy boogy” was barely enough story to fill an hour of movie and would never have covered five hours of television.

Which I mention in order to set up my next point. If Bryan Fuller’s doing American Gods (and if you still need proof as to how amazing he can make a novel adaptation, start watching Hannibal already) and Robert Rodriguez can turn From Dusk Till Dawn into a surprisingly good TV series, what else would I like to see come to TV, and from who?

V For Vendetta

Why this? I love the crap out of V For Vendetta. Used to read it once a year. Alan Moore’s vision of a post-WWIII England that succumbed to fascism (written at a time when the UK was in actual danger of succumbing to fascism under Thatcher), and the one psychopath out to bring it all crumbling down, is a masterpiece of comic book storytelling. The mysterious and brutal V; his odd relationship with Evey, an orphaned factory worker-turned-almost-prostitute that he takes under his wing and helps grow into a better person than he himself ever was; national head detective Eric Finch, on a quest to bring down V no matter the cost to his career or sanity; and the Game of Thrones level intrigue brewing amongst the senior staff of the government as the Leader’s credibility begins to erode.

V is the last survivor of a medical experiment in a concentration camp that horribly killed most subjects but left him strong, brilliant, and insane, carefully constructing a plan for revenge that would take years to carry out, but that would collapse the system that imprisoned him… and honour a wish from a woman he never met, but loved all the same.

Look, the financial woes of the last few years are making the world a dark place. Fascist parties are making a resurgence in Europe, Christian fundamentalists are running amok in the US, Canada’s going disturbingly right-wing… maybe this is a good time for a story about how any government that operates through oppression is a bad thing, and we the people do not have to accept it.

And yes, I am aware they made a movie out of this already, and people say it’s pretty good. However, they had to streamline a lot. A lot. V’s initial series of revenge murders, against key government personnel who worked at the concentration camp while he was there, are swiftly sped through, when they could fill two or three hours on their own. The poetry of V’s vengeance is gone. And the intricacy of his plot beyond their deaths is also stripped away: in the movie, V wants to kill the Leader (for himself) and blow up parliament (as an inspiration to the people). In the graphic novel, he settles for nothing less than the collapse of the Leader’s entire society, rendering it to rubble so that anarchy can grow to take its place. And least forgivable, in the movie V is in love with Evey, while in the graphic novel he’s grooming her to be his replacement, to build the better world that will have no place for him. It’s an epic tragedy, with a ray of sunshine for the future at the end, but to do it right you need more time.

Sadly I can’t see anyone adapting it for television when it, by necessity, would last two seasons tops. Well… maybe the BBC…

Who should do it? Stephen Moffat. First of all, he writes for the BBC, one of the few networks who might say “Sure, we’re fine spending money on a miniseries with no franchise potential.” I mean, they let him do Jekyll, which was an excellent mini-series that had little if any potential for follow-ups. So if anyone’s going to walk into a board room and say “I want to film V For Vendetta, I’m thinking one series of ten episodes and that’s it, that’s all we’ll ever do” and actually get a green light, it’s him.

Plus, look at his best known works right now. First, Doctor Who, a story about an enigmatic protagonist who seems friendly and good but harbours a dangerous dark side, and his companion, who looks up to him but isn’t always certain she can trust him (especially in series eight, if the teaser’s any indication). Second, Sherlock, a series all about elaborate and labyrinthine mysteries whose true natures are but hinted at throughout, leading to a climactic reveal.

V For Vendetta features an enigmatic protagonist involving a younger female companion in a labyrinthine plot whose true nature is only hinted at in the early stages. Throw in a penchant for monologuing and this is the dark reflection of everything Moffat’s been doing lately. Plus making Evey every bit as complex, well-rounded, and ultimately strong a character as Alan Moore did (she finds her true strength by embracing the lessons V has been presenting her, but rejecting his path) might help counter some of the accusations he’s been getting about how he writes women the last year or so.

So yes, that’s what I want the next time you’re waiting for Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman to have matching time off… Stephen Moffat’s V For Vendetta. I mean, I doubt this will ever, ever happen, but it’s nice to imagine.

Planetary

 

absolute-planetary-book-one

Why this? Warren Ellis’ 27-issue series Planetary was brilliant. The only flaws it had were that it took 11 years for those 27 issues to come out, and that the initial premise was discarded too quickly. The Planetary organization are “archaeologists of the impossible.” Cold-powered Elijah Snow, super-strong Jakita Wagner, and The Drummer, able to read and manipulate electronic information without the use of a computer, investigate the secret history of their world. This includes twists on Godzilla, the Justice League, John Woo-style justice ghosts, and their ultimate nemeses, a dark twist on the Fantastic Four.

There’s a secret society formed to build a better world founded by Ellis’ homages to, among others, Doc Savage, Tarzan, and Fu Manchu. There’s an ongoing mystery about Planetary’s past, and their funder, the Fourth Man. There’s a funeral for a friend that was, in effect, a funeral for the founding comics of DC’s Vertigo line, including Sandman, Swamp Thing, and Hellblazer, all of which were launched by British writers in the 80s, and all of which (Ellis claims) were marked by the darkness that Thatcherism brought to England in the 80s. In the end, the John Constantine character reveals he faked his death because the time had come to embrace a new paradigm… and the fact that he ditched his Constantine trenchcoat and took on the signature look of Transmetropolitan’s Spider Jerusalem means this is pretty clearly Warren Ellis addressing the reader directly.

The things Ellis did with pop culture and sci-fi concepts were nothing short of mind-blowing. And while he did cut the “secret history” aspect after the first six issues to begin shifting focus to the battle between Planetary and The Four, Planetary remained a great enough read that it stayed a cult favourite even when it was taking months or even years to crank out an issue.

Planetary would be awesome on a streaming service or cable network. With only 10 to 13 episodes to fill, they wouldn’t have to worry about stretching out plots or the excessive filler episodes that come with a network 22 episode season. Ellis left all sorts of room to play with in the Planetary world, so they could easily stretch out beyond the story of the books. And pop culture and sci-fi are always coming up with new concepts and ideas to twist and play with. Get Clive Owen as Elijah Snow, Aisha Tyler as Jakita Wagner, and Seth Green or Cabin in the Woods’ Fran Kanz as Drummer, and we’ve got a show.

Who should do it? I want to say Joss Whedon (when don’t I?) because I’m sure I once read an article where he said he was a Planetary fan (and once got in a hilarious shouting match with Warren Ellis in the comment section of Ellis’ blog), and so I’d like to think that if anything could lure him back to television, it’s Planetary.

No no no. Don’t bother mentioning Agents of SHIELD. I’ve yet to see any evidence he was involved in that past the pilot.

But he’s pretty busy writing billion dollar movies, and has expressed a weariness with telling other people’s stories. So you know who’d be a good replacement? His Cabin in the Woods co-writer and Buffy disciple Drew Goddard. Cabin in the Woods shows he has the chops for pop culture dissection, and he’s clearly moving into more comic-based projects as of late.

Plus, now that he’s left the impending Daredevil series for the Sinister Six movie, he’s gonna need something to do when that franchise falls apart.

Assassin’s Creed

Assassin-s-Creed

Why this? Assassin’s Creed, at its best, has a deep story of the struggle between the Templars and the Assassins, which really boils down to the classic Order vs. Chaos battle, with the Assassins fighting against the oppressive Templars to build a more free world. Of course, the games never look into what that world would look like, but that’s all the more reason to give them an expanded playing space. Through advanced technology, a man named Desmond is able to relive the memories of his Assassin ancestors, the most popular of which is Renaissance Italian Ezio Auditore.

They’re working a movie right now, with heavy involvement from the studio, but there’s two problems. First, the story is too complex. There’s rival factions trying to steer all of history, Templar plots behind countless historical figures, Ezio’s story alone covers decades, and that’s not even touching the plotline where aliens posing as gods basically created human society, leaving behind artifacts of extreme power that could determine our future, and revealed this to Desmond by explaining it to Ezio, knowing that Desmond would relive this moment centuries in the future. Show me a two-hour script that can do even a little of that justice. No, the movie will, at best, be two hours of parkour-driven revenge-murder with conspiratorial undertones, and at worst will be as bad as most other video game movies.

Who should do it? You know who loves historical conspiracies and badasses with daddy issues (most of your AC protagonists learn about their heritage after their father dies, explaining nothing to them first)? J.J. Abrams. Whether it’s the contemporary characters dealing with modern day Templar plots, or the historical characters doing Renaissance-style adventuring, this is right in J.J.’s TV wheelhouse. The man does spies, Italian inventors way, way ahead of their time, and compelling larger mysteries. If the guy behind Fringe and Alias can’t make an AC series worth watching, I don’t know who could.

I don’t know why I keep writing posts about TV series that I’ll never see. Maybe because I can’t stop thinking about them and this helps get them out of my system. Who knows.

Until next time, then.

Favourite Things Speed Round!

There’s something missing from my life.

Who Knows, the Doctor Who tribute play I’d been directing since March, came to an end a week and a half ago. And for all my attempts to stay busy and avoid the typical post-show crash of depression… I miss it. I miss seeing my delightful cast every day. I miss waiting for the gasps from the audience when the Dalek made its appearance. I miss the cheers we’d get from certain houses when a notable costume turned up, like when Roger entered as the Master at the top of act two, or when Sarah James emerged from the vent in Amy Pond’s kiss-a-gram outfit. I miss it all… but I can’t have it back.

So, rather than dwell on things left behind (after all, first rehearsal for Frost/Nixon is but 12 days away), let’s do a speed round of Favourite Things that never really seemed worth a full post.

Allons-y! (Damn it, now I’m just depressing myself…)

Welcome Back, Potter

I would do a whole piece on Cracked Studios, and attempt to review each of their three (thus far) series, but every time I try I lose steam something hard. It’s like, “Why am I writing this down, and why would anyone read it?” So instead, let’s just cover everything I like about the latest (and most publicized) series, Welcome Back, Potter.

First, let’s be real, I find Michael Swaim and Daniel O’Brien hilarious, and Katy Stoll to be funny, engaging, and super cute. Put these three together in a parody of anything and I’m going to watch it.

One of my favourite After Hours episodes, also written by Swaim, is the one where they tear apart Harry Potter. It’s not that I dislike Harry Potter (I don’t), but whether we’re talking books or movies, that series has some holes, and Swaim knows how to exploit them for laughs. The notion that 12 year-old Harry Potter (should have been 11, but whatevs) would, upon learning he’s destined to fight the most evil wizard who ever lived, simply book it for America and hide tickles me. As do various other shots at Potter lore, from wondering if they tried to fight Voldemort with anything besides young orphans to the fact that wizarding school gives you zero prep for life in muggle world, to the fate of the Dursleys in a world where Harry lacked adult supervision (they had a run-in with some water moccasins).

It’s a fun series, and Daniel O’Brien’s take on Ron Weasley as a Jersey Shore guido (“I deeply regret so much of how I look and act. OH!”) is reliably amusing. Michael Swaim has been pushing it with behind-the-scenes videos and articles, so he clearly want to make more, and I’m hoping he gets to. Thus, me plugging it.

5-second Films

The mission statement of 5-second Films is a simple one: wasting your time, but not very much of it. For several years, the team put out a video every day, each lasting only five seconds (well, plus two seconds of opening credit and one second of closing). Somehow I managed not to hear about them until just recently, despite the fact that they got popular enough to feature guest appearances from Patton Oswalt, some of the Cracked staffStan Lee, Larry King, Weird Al, and Freddie Wong.

Look, this one’s pretty simple. And if all of those links aren’t swaying you, here’s a sampler.

Their output has diminished recently, as they’ve been working on a feature length film based on one of their videos, Dude Bro Party Massacre Three. Or maybe they actually were concerned that the rise of Vine made them obsolete. I don’t know. I’m not internet-famous enough to have spoken to them personally. But it’s probably the movie thing.

That said, if you’re just discovering them, like me, there are hundreds upon hundreds of five second comedy films to check out (and five really depressing ones from Bummer Week), so have at.

The Flash Trailer

I watch this a lot.

Okay. Lightning round.

  • Even people I know who don’t watch Arrow are talking about how good this looks. For me, a massive fan of Arrow? I cannot wait.
  • Harrison Wells (guy in the wheelchair, aka JD’s brother from Scrubs) seems to have a secret room somewhere. Six to five and pick ’em he’s betraying Barry by the end of season one.
  • Some people complain that they’re giving Flash his own team right off, instead of building it organically like Arrow did. On the other hand? One of his team is Caitlin Snow, better known to comics fans as Killer Frost, so between her and Wells this might not be the reliable inner circle that Oliver Queen has.
  • They call the bad guy, generally believed to be classic Flash villain Weather Wizard, “Clyde Mardon,” which is actually the Weather Wizard’s brother, and the man he stole his weather powers from. So if he doesn’t survive the pilot, don’t panic. I’m sure the Rogues are coming.
  • Barry’s father is being played by John Wesley Shipp, the star of the last Flash TV series. Come on, that’s cool.
  • The addition of legit super powers to the Arrowverse is everything I’ve been waiting for.
  • I’m not saying that if enough people watch this, they will cross over Arrow and Flash into the Justice League movie (in fact it is all but assured that they won’t), but it could not hurt.

My webseries films soon

It’s coming, dear readers. Writers’ Circle: the Web Series is mere weeks from rolling. When that starts happening, you’re going to be hearing about it. A lot. I’m not sorry. It’s just what has to happen.

Also, it’s going to be amazing, so you’re going to want to be in the loop.

Next time… I don’t know. I’m hoping by next time I’m past this “Nothing seems worth blogging about” thing and ranting about nerd stuff again. Or, you know, something like that. Well. Until then.

My New Favourite Thing: Geek TV News

So this week was the network upfronts, when the US networks announce what new shows will be hitting screens next season, and what bubble shows have gotten the axe. And I have… some reactions. There was enough good news (for me, at least) to file this one under My New Favourite Thing… save for one piece of news. But we’ll call the upfronts this week’s New Favourite Thing just the same.

Allons-y.

Gotham

Okay. I have spoken out against this show in the past. “Smallville but about Batman” seemed like a woefully bad idea. But the trailer… the trailer does not look awful.

And I just want to get this out of the way: yes, I complained about the series existing. Yes, I was afraid of watching another Smallville. But that’s because I knew, deep down, that if this show made it to air, I was going to be watching it. And the trailer not being terrible doesn’t dissuade me from that being an inevitability.

As a bonus, it may not be full-on Smallville. It certainly helps that it’s on a network other than the CW, which seems contractually obliged to slather a minimum amount of teen soap-opera and pretty 20-somethings on anything they air. So it may not be about Bruce Wayne going through puberty and moping over not being able to ask out Selina Kyle because he needs to focus on his Batman training. It’s more about the struggles between the cops and the criminals, in particular Jim Gordon, freshly arrived in the GCPD, and young Oswald Cobblepot, climbing the ranks from low-level henchman to, ultimately, the Penguin. And there might yet be some material to mine here.

Will it turn out that Bruce’s parents’ death is part of a larger mystery? Maybe. Would that be a stupid thing to do? Yes, absolutely. The whole “Become a bat” thing hinges on the fact that his parents were killed in a random street crime, thus to make sure no other child suffers as he did he needs to take on all criminals, not because they posed a threat to some sinister organization. (Although if the showrunners wanted to sneak the Court of Owls into the works, I wouldn’t complain.)

But there is a chance that I won’t have to hate myself too much when I ultimately start watching it in September.

The Flash

This one, on the other hand, I’m nothing but excited for.

THE-FLASH-Full-Suit-ImageTwo years ago, I learned that the CW, looking to replace Smallville, had greenlit a TV show based on Green Arrow, albeit a new take on the character and not the continuing adventures of the Smallville version. That a TV show based on Green Arrow, a character I like but not exactly an A-list DC superhero, would even exist seemed improbable. That it would a legitimately good, sometimes great series was nothing short of miraculous. And now the producers have gotten the go-ahead for their spinoff featuring Barry Allen, the Flash.

Arrow has been soaked in DC lore, filled with Easter eggs and reference characters, and Flash looks to be even more so. There are already three supporting characters pulled right out of the comics. Eddie Thawne of the Central City Police sounds like a play on Eobard Thawne, better known as Flash’s arch-nemesis Zoom, the Reverse Flash (that is not going to sound less ridiculous out loud but he actually is pretty deadly)…

If you were paying attention, they already foreshadowed him on Arrow.

Laugh at his name and he might run into the past and kill your parents right in front of you.

STAR Labs scientist Caitlin Snow sounds like she may be destined to become her comic book counterpart Killer Frost…

Not a good guy. If that wasn't clear.

Not a good guy. If that wasn’t clear.

And her associate Cisco Ramon has been making a comeback lately as Vibe, once upon a time the most regrettable Justice Leaguer.

Made Aquaman look like Batman with a lightsaber.

Made Aquaman look like Batman with a lightsaber.

With his uncomfortably over-the-top Latino streetwise attitude and powers derived from… erm… breakdancing, Vibe has long been seen as a cautionary tale about trying to create new superheros while freebasing cocaine, as I’m pretty sure was standard practice for most of the 80s. Not just comics creators, pretty much everyone was on cocaine in the 80s. DC head honcho/Flash executive producer Geoff Johns is on a mission to redeem Vibe, having rebooted him in the comics…

LESS lame, I'll give him that...

LESS lame, I’ll give him that…

…and now sneaking him onto TV. We’ll see how this goes.

So yes, absolutely I’m excited to see the Flash return to TV. I enjoyed it in the 90s (that show holds up better than I expected), I enjoyed the Arrow two-parter that introduced Barry , and I’m excited to see actual super powers added to the Arrowverse, which remains the best comic property on TV. Yes, by all means, give me The Flash as a companion show to Arrow.

Elsewhere, also on the CW…

iZombie

I don’t know much about the comic iZombie. I read a preview for it that looked intriguing, but never got around to picking it up. Basically, a young med student finds herself turned into a zombie, needing to consume brains. So she feeds off corpses, and in the process also absorbs the dead person’s memories. Which gives us our TV show’s premise: she helps solve murders, using the victim’s memories to help her. Not entirely unlike Pushing Daisies, where Ned the Piemaker could revive the dead just long enough to ask who killed them. And it’s from the creator of Veronica Mars, and co-stars Mr. Sark from Alias, so what the hell, I’m on board.

And there’s still more comic-based news…

Marvel’s Agents of stuff

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is back for a second season, and will be joined on ABC by Marvel’s Agent Carter, a spinoff series for Captain America’s love interest from his first movie. Now, Agents of SHIELD did not exactly hit the ground running. Their larger plots moved too slow, they spent too long being weirdly reluctant to use anything from Marvel comics, their villains made the killers-of-the-week from Hawaii Five-0 look like Heath Ledger’s Joker (We’re pagan anarchists, so we’re smashing things! Because, um, anarchy! Right?), the high-tech touchscreens they used to solve every problem were dull, and their cast was a little bland, especially leading man Grant Ward.

Gonna spoil some stuff now.

But then came Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Then came the fall of SHIELD, following the revelation that they had been utterly, thoroughly infiltrated by Hydra, since the very beginning. And for Agents of SHIELD, everything changed. And it suddenly became a show worth watching for something other than Agent Coulson. Bill Paxton gave an amazingly compelling face to their season-long nemesis, the Clairvoyant. The head of the AIM-from-Iron-Man-3-knockoff Centipede was not a precog, just a high-ranking SHIELD agent who was actually Hydra the whole time. Even more amazing? Agent Ward finally became interesting once they revealed that he, too, was Hydra. It took them 17 episodes, but Agents of SHIELD has finally become a show worth renewing, so I’m interested to see where they go from here (with SHIELD dismantled, backsliding to the show they used to be is pretty much impossible).

And Agent Carter might be okay as well. Peggy Carter was no Phil Coulson, and I worry that they’ll feel a need to remind us she kind of dated Captain America for a bit way more often than they need to, but we’ll see how they do.

Okay, that’s Marvel (who could probably cut back on putting “Marvel” before the name of everything they do… “Marvel’s The Avengers” was necessary for copyright reasons, but “Marvel’s Agent Carter” is pushing it). Back to DC, because there’s still more.

Constantine

Ever since bringing him out of their mature readers line and back into their mainstream comics, DC has been milking John Constantine, magician and conman who sometimes begrudgingly saves the world from demons and monsters, for all he’s worth. And now he will officially be coming to NBC in his own show. I have to say, they have nailed his look…

Not that it's hard to do.

Not that it’s hard to do.

…and the descriptions of the show imply they’re capturing his edge as best they can on a broadcast network. Okay, fine, they didn’t cast Mark Shepard (still time to get him in as a recurring villain), and unlike Flash it’s basically guaranteed to never cross over with Arrow, likely existing in isolation from all other DC properties. But I’ll allow it. Constantine doesn’t need crossovers to be cool. And it might not be on HBO, but just look at what NBC lets Hannibal get away with. Oh, hey, that reminds me…

Hannibal

Third season! Despite being chronically low-rated, Hannibal has scored a renewal once again. I’ve already discussed my love for this show, despite its overwhelming grimness, and the opportunity to get more, to see the show continue to inch its way towards the events of Red Dragon, is definitely good news. I’m used to losing the shows I love: Fox lives to cancel geek-friendly shows, and I still recall the year ABC cancelled six shows I liked or loved in one season. But NBC… NBC gave Chuck five seasons when the ratings never fully justified it, so they’ve earned some love from me.

Even though not all their news thrills me.

Community

After five seasons on the brink of cancellation, two of them as a mid-season replacement with vague commitments to air eventually, Community has finally come to an end.

I’m of mixed feelings. At it’s best, Community was the sharpest, funniest, and smartest comedy on television, with gags ranging from broad to so subtle you barely see them, and one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory. At it’s worst, it was a desperate attempt to trade on mass-market quirkiness, inside jokes and references to fan-favourite episodes. Season four, in other words. The year NBC thought they could live without the series’ creator, Dan Harmon.

A year ago the only reason anyone would have been sad to see Community go was that it would be a shame for a show that used to be so brilliant to end on the worst episode they’d ever done. But then, miracle of miracles, Dan Harmon was re-hired to run the show, and they pulled themselves back from the brink. They weren’t at their peak, especially after Donald Glover left, but they were Community again. But now that’s over, with our final sentiment being Abed’s claim that if they weren’t back soon, it was because an asteroid had hit the Earth and killed everyone. “And that’s canon.”

Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe Community should end now, while they were still a show worth loving, before sinking back to where they were a year ago, somewhere between self-parody and Community fan-fiction masquerading as the real thing. I’ll miss the Greendale gang, to be sure, and if a cable network throws them a lifeline (something that gets rumoured every time a cult favourite gets cancelled but only rarely happens), I’ll follow them, but for now… you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Right now we can believe the sixth season (and the movie) would have been hilarious. An actual sixth season might have proved us wrong, especially if losing John Oliver (again) and Jonathan Banks (surprisingly effective replacement for Chevy Chase) hurt the show as much as losing Donald Glover or Dan Harmon.

That said, if a Kickstarter titled “Fine then, FIVE Seasons and Movie” turns up, I’m on board.

Any or all of the shows I’ve mentioned could be joining Community on the scrap heap by Christmas. But hopefully they don’t, because most of them sound fun.

 

 

 

My New Favourite Thing: From Dusk Till Dawn

As an avid consumer of media, I’m often encountering things I consider neat, impressive, bizarre, amazing, and/or worth sharing with those around me. The problem is that I encounter these things way more often than I actually have opportunities to discuss them, between my lax social calendar and tendency to get interrupted by a topic shift. And so I’m introducing a new weekly feature (yes, I know that my update schedule as of late makes “weekly feature” seem hopelessly optimistic, I’m working on it) to share these things as they happen: My New Favourite Thing. And perhaps describing them here will save people having to hear me rant about True Detective or John Mulaney: New in Town until I’m not the only one referencing them in casual conversation.

I will still be the only one referencing them in casual conversation. I have a sickness.

Anyway, let’s kick this off.

From Dusk Till Dawn is a TV show now

Does everybody remember the 90s movie From Dusk Till Dawn? The first full-on collaboration between artistic soulmates Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez? It’s the story of Seth and Richie Gecko, fiercely violent bank robbers, who abduct the Fuller family (an ex-preacher and his two children) in order to use their RV to escape to Mexico. Once in Mexico, they head for a skeevy strip bar catering to bikers and truckers to wait for Seth’s contact Carlos so that the Gecko brothers can retire in El Rey, where Seth hopes his more psychotic brother will find some peace. Except it turns out the bar is an ancient Mayan vampire lair, and the Geckos, the Fullers, and their new pals Frost and Sex Machine have to spend the night fighting off wave after wave of vampires.

I would totally have watched a spin-off movie called “Frost and the Machine.”

What’s fascinating about the movie is how the plot turns on a dime. The first half of the movie is a tense thriller based around the frightened Fullers trying to deal with the hair-triggered Seth and the psychotically violent Richie, in the hopes that Seth will honour his word and release them once everyone reaches Mexico. And then out of goddamned nowhere suddenly there’s vampires all over the place.

Anyhoo, if you have seen the movie, did you ever think to yourself “That was pretty neat, but I wish it had been a little longer?” Like, eight hours longer? Because apparently Robert Rodriguez did. The movie has been turned into a ten episode TV show that’s currently running on Netflix. And I don’t mean Rodriguez has made a TV series set in that world, he has expanded the “Robbers escape to Mexico, oh no there’s vampires” story from the movie into a ten-hour series.

It’s a baffling experiment. On the one hand, I have yet to find anyone who thinks there was eight hours’ worth of story missing from that movie. On the other hand… there are some neat additions. Richie’s a far more interesting character now, and the vampire element is less random. Richie already has a creepy connection to a cult of Mayan snake vampires, and his killings are less a matter of being a creepy psychopath and more being driven by supernatural visions. Richie sees things others cannot, and it’s left him wise in ways but less than sane.

While here in Canada it’s a Netflix original, the series actually debuted on Rodriguez’ El Rey network (named after the Gecko brothers’ planned destination, no doubt), a US cable network targeting Latino audiences. As such, they’re only releasing one episode per week. As such, I’ve been popping an episode on while at work on Saturdays, and emailing a running commentary to my associate Keith, who just finished directing my theatre company’s production of Reservoir Dogs and is one of the biggest Tarantino fans I know. He claims these commentaries are a highlight of his week, so I’m opting to share some of them with you now.

Episodes one and two

In which the ten minute intro scene where the Gecko brothers kill a Texas Ranger and shoot up a convenience store gets stretched into a full hour, and then the Fullers are introduced as some vampire stuff begins to seep into the narrative.

  • I guess this is Salma Hayek’s character being sacrificed by the Mayans? I don’t recall death by snake being a cause of vampirism…
  • I certainly don’t know of any species of boa constrictor that crawls into its victim’s mouth while it’s alive. What the shit was that.
  • Oh good. Because the key to improving the gas station showdown is to make it an entire episode instead of a perfectly succinct action/character beat. And let us really get to know the ranger you showed us dying before the credits. Can’t wait to be given a list of reasons why I should be sad he’s dead. Guess this is how we’re rolling on this show. (note from the present: Texas Ranger Earl McGraw, originally played by Michael Parks, is now played by Don Johnson)
  • Dude playing Seth Gecko is trying to be 1990s George Clooney super hard. George Clooney doesn’t even try to be 1990s George Clooney anymore.
  • Well Richie Gecko is creepy as fuck, so they’ve got that going for them.
  • Did… did they just have a commercial break? On a Netflix original series? Ain’t no commercials, why did you cut as if there were? (I now understand this was designed to have commercial breaks, I did not at the time)
  • Well great. Richie’s insanity is being connected to the Mayan vampire whatnot.
  • And now we’re in episode two, and the family in the RV has arrived. I already like the kids more, although the daughter’s younger. Was the father always dragging his kids to Mexico basically against their will?
  • Still trying to figure out what exactly is going on with Richie. He’s not just crazy like in the movie, there’s something weird going on.
  • Oh. They’re snake vampires. Explains a thing or two.
  • Still not sure what I think. Some of the new stuff is interesting. Some of it is blatant padding. Seems like I’m-a keep watching for the nonce.

Episode three

Apparently I did keep watching, because the commentaries continue. In week three, we continue the trend of spending a whole episode on people who had two minutes of screen time before being killed by Richie in the movie. Also, meet Seth’s ex-wife, who exists in the movie as a reference in a one-liner.

  • Come now, Seth. What exactly about the rest of today suggests that Richie can be left alone with the female hostage?
  • Katie Fuller, the ex-preacher’s daughter, is way cuter than I’m comfortable with.
  • As foretold in the pilot, Big Kahuna Burger makes an appearance.
  • Adrienne Palicki! Yay! Jake Busey. Boo.
  • If you didn’t want to be creeped out by the crazy man’s sketch book, don’t ask to SEE the crazy man’s sketch book.
  • Again with the cuts for non-existent commercials! Did he make this for a network that turned it down? (Again, did not know about the El Rey network at the time)
  • Like his father, Jake Busey can’t act not crazy.
  • So Richie’s Cthulu-crazy, seeing horrible truths, not brain-chemical-crazy. Should probably still not leave him alone with hostages.
  • Be honest, Robert Rodriguez. Was this whole Mayan snake vampire cult/cartel something you always wished you’d included, or a way to make “and then they fight vampires” less jarring than it was in the movie?
  • Also at this rate that’s going to be like episode seven.
  • Oh my god did Jake Busey just try to Jedi Mind Trick the Marshall?
  • Okay, yes, he dumped some bullets on the counter. This is Texas. Is that something people in Texas get to freak out over?
  • 25 minutes. After three episodes we have covered almost exactly 25 minutes of the movie. Honestly, more than I thought.
  • We’ve had a lot of fun here tonight, mostly at the expense of this show, but damned if “The Geckos are being lured to the vampire bar for a larger purpose” doesn’t intrigue me a bit.

Episode four

At this point I think we can firmly declare that whatever complaints and nitpicks I’ve had, this is now a show I watch. I’m better at keeping up on this than half the shows I claim to be a fan of (really got to catch up on Hannibal and Supernatural soon…)

  • Tonight, on “From a Bit Before Dusk Till Slightly Closer to Dusk.”
  • I guess “Jacob Fuller is a drunk” is a better justification for stopping at a motel when you have an RV than “The guy who bought an RV doesn’t understand what they’re for.”
  • What kind of motels have maid service at sunset? That’s crazier than Richie.
  • Uh oh. Looks like the late Texas Ranger Earl McGraw’s protege might be going Cthulu-crazy like Richie…
  • Rest easy. The cantankerous old motel manager remains as vital a part of the story as ever.
  • STOP BREAKING FOR COMMERCIALS YOU ARE ON GOD DAMNED NETFLIX (Okay, look, if you put “Netflix original” at the beginning of the episode, I’m going to make some assumptions regarding format.)
  • I give this show a decent amount of grief, but it’s certainly well cast. I’m sure this statement is unrelated to Katie Fuller in a bikini.
  • Nnnnnnnngggggyyyyyaaa Richie has found Katie in the pool I am so uncomfortable right now
  • Seriously, try to watch Seth Gecko in action and not see it as a 90s Clooney impression.
  • Richie and Kate Fuller bonding is powerfully weird to see.
  • Sure, more Earl McGraw flashbacks. Let’s do that. Otherwise we might reach Mexico by the halfway point of this series.
  • I get it. You paid for Don Johnson, you want to use Don Johnson. But NOT paying for Don Johnson was an option.
  • Tune in next week for “Stuck in line at the border” on “From Pretty Close to Dusk Till It’s Almost Dusk, Honest.”

Episode five

The bank teller hostage and Texas Ranger Earl McGraw each got massively expanded stories for this series, and Seth’s contact Carlos has become a whole new presence, so if one of the next few episodes is NOT titled “Shooting From the Hip: the Life and Times of Sex Machine,” me and this show are having words.

  • Okay. Nearing the halfway point. Let’s rock.
  • Pastor Jacob Fuller is played by Robert Patrick. His ministerial ID is old enough that he still looks like the T-1000. This shouldn’t be a point of interest, yet I’m unable to ignore it.
  • I’ll give them this, the Jacob/Seth banter remains sharp, albeit tainted by being a conversation between Robert Patrick and a high-end George Clooney impersonator.
  • Nobody on the show seems to be having more fun than Wilmer Valderrama as Seth’s contact Carlos. This is more sinisterness than I expected out of Fes from That 70s Show playing Cheech Marin’s third least-threatening character from the movie.
  • Richie, if you want Seth to take you seriously as a strategist, stop acting like a spree-killer.
  • And the moral of tonight’s episode becomes clear early on: if you try to treat severe depression with prayer and positive attitude, don’t be surprised if your wife dies in a car wreck. I mean, getting kidnapped by violent fugitives and eaten by vampires seems like fifty pounds of punishment for five pounds of crime, but part of Jacob’s downfall seems predictable.
  • That said, at least Jacob’s demented determination to drag his kids to Mexico is making more sense.
  • The problem with being Cthulu crazy like Richie is that some of the things you spout might be prophetic (Jacob’s not a demon now, but there’s a long night ahead), but there is no way for any of them to sound not-crazy.
  • Huh. The RV reached the border before the end of the episode. I thought we’d have an extra half hour of RV-related cat-and-mouse to deal with before we got here.
  • Aaaaaand I spoke too soon. Clearly I underestimated how long all of the principal players in this little chase could be stuck in a border crossing traffic jam.
  • Oh, Katie. Asking someone to listen for the word of God is a lot easier when they’re not already being drowned in the word of Mayan Snake Vampire Goddess.
  • “What a fantastic idea, let’s bring another hostage on board.” Took the words right out of my mouth, Richie.
  • Okay, Rodriguez. Show me how the Gecko brothers and the Ranger chasing them can be in the same border queue without the series ending here.
  • Great plan, Jacob. Nothing attracts less attention from border guards than clearly anxious teenagers trying to get into Mexico.
  • Okay, BULLSHIT. That is TWICE that this show has violated one of the core concepts of the movie. First Carlos, now the border guard who inspects the RV? Someone better be played by Cheech Marin pretty damn fast!
  • How do we resolve this tense border standoff? Have we considered throwing some snake vampires at it?
  • Oh, Ranger Gonzalez. Will you ever win?
  • Gonna have to wait a few weeks before we know if snake vampires are bullet-proof or if border guards are just god-awful shots.
  • We reach the Titty Twister right at the half. Just like the movie. At long last dusk! Next week, more dusk!
  • Also: nearly an entire episode spent at the border crossing. CALLED IT.

Next week: a different favourite thing. Before then: hopefully another blog of some sort.