I’m sure I’ll be insanely overscheduled as usual, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. DC is one of my favorite cons, for a number of reasons. Some of my fondest con memories are from this great show, and I can’t wait to go back on my silver anniversary!
I was going to give this a 1, but for the one interesting thing in this sodden episode: the notion of the virus being the method by which the Loque’eque try to keep themselves alive as a species. But it only raises it to a 2 because that notion should have made for a good episode, as opposed to whatever this is. There was a chance to do a fun little horror-movie version of TNG’s “The Inner Light.” Instead, we got this, alas.
Listening to this song, you would be forgiven for thinking it was released in 1984 when, in fact, it was released in 2009. But it’s so totally a throwback to 1980s synth-pop, and it makes me smile every time I hear it. With thanks to ToniAnn for introducing me to the song, here’s “Bulletproof” by La Roux.
Let’s start with the obvious: I apparently do not have COVID-19, despite the universe’s best efforts to give it to me.
I’m also still sick and have been for a week now.
What a long strange trip it’s been…..
Let’s start at the beginning.
Since, oh, the late 1990s or so, a group of us have gotten together roughly once a month to play poker. The personnel have changed over the 25 years or so that we’ve been playing, as some folks have moved away, and one, sadly, has died, but it was a regular thing to do in person right up until the apocalypse of 2020. At that point, we switched to a virtual poker game, using the web site playingcards.io, which has “rooms” you can customize and enables anybody at the URL for your room to manipulate the cards, and also with a section only visible to you. Every Saturday night since early April of 2020, we’ve been at least attempting to play poker this way — which has had the added bonus of allowing two of our former players (who moved to Florida) to rejoin the game.
Last weekend, for the first time in three years, the local contingent of the poker gang was all free, and we decided to at last play in person. It was wonderful, we had a grand old time, we ate pizza, we drank fermented fluids of various sorts, and it was fabulous. I was down three bucks, but it was worth it to hang out with folks. (The game is a $10 buy-in, and we play with chips that are either a dime or a quarter. Not exactly high stakes….)
There were eight people in the house where we played: the six poker players, and the spouses of the two poker players who lived in that house.
Sunday morning, one of the poker players tested positive for COVID-19.
Adding insult to this injury is that I’m feeling like absolute shit. Saturday night at the end of the poker game, I had the chills, and Sunday morning I woke up sick as a proverbial dog. First thing I did was test myself, make sure I wasn’t the plague rat. But the COVID test came up negative.
Nonetheless, given the exposure, I immediately isolated. Wrenn has a job currently that is hourly paid and doesn’t have sick time, plus she’s part of a group of supervisors who are already short-handed, and her losing time to illness would be bad on multiple levels.
The good news is that we live in a large enough dwelling, complete with large guest room, so isolating is easy. That was Dale’s room when we first moved here, and Matthew’s room after Dale died. Since Matt moved out, it’s become a guest room and also Wrenn’s craft room. It has a TV with a ChromeCast, a minifridge, a desk with a comfy chair (chair thanks to ToniAnn), and a very comfy queen-sized bed.
The bad news is that I have been really sick all week. Even if it isn’t COVID (and it apparently isn’t), my nose has been running like Jesse Owens, I’ve been coughing up a lung every twenty minutes, and my energy levels could charitably be called “fluctuating.” I spent most of Thursday dead asleep…
I didn’t even bother testing again until Wednesday, as that was the soonest I would test positive if I got exposed at the poker game (most aren’t until five days in, but some of the new variants show up as soon as three days). But I did cancel my karate class, as I didn’t want to expose myself to anybody.
Since Sunday morning, I have been pretty much living in the guest room, masking whenever I leave the room. I didn’t leave the house at all until Friday when I ventured out to a) do laundry and b) go to the Urgent Care and get a PCR test, which is more reliable than the home tests.
This morning, that PCR test also came back negative. At this point, I’m pretty sure I dodged the COVID bullet again, and can keep my three-year streak of not getting it alive.
But I’m also still blowing my nose, y’know, a lot, and coughing heavily (one of those lovely phlegmy coughs) on the regular, so I’m staying mostly isolated, but Wrenn and I have agreed to dispense with the mask, at least, and interact more, for which we’re both grateful. This separation sucks, man.
Not everyone at the poker game has been so lucky: besides me and the original plague rat, there were six people in the house where we played, and three of them have tested positive thus far. Of the remaining three, one has remained negative; dunno about the other two yet.
Writer Brain has been on strike for far too much of this week. I managed to squeeze the rewatch of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever out of my brain, and a few paragraphs of my Sherlock Holmes novella, but that’s it. Today I’m gonna try to write something — maybe a Patreon review, maybe more Holmes.
My first convention of 2023 will be Farpoint at the Hunt Valley Inn — or, rather, the Delta Hotel by Marriott in Hunt Valley, Maryland — from 10-12 February. Below is my schedule. The information on who I’m on panels with is incomplete — I only know those because I’ve been in touch with the folks in question on the subject. I’ll update this post with more information when I have it. EDITED TO ADD: Here’s my final schedule….
11am-noon: Boogie Knights concert (Valley)
2-3pm: autographing, w/Glenn Hauman & Jay Smith (Table 1)
3-4pm: reading, w/Christopher D Abbott & MJ Blehart (Derby)
4-5pm: “Discovery–A Star Trek Renaissance,” w/Wesley Britton & Rigel Ailur (Salon A)
5-6pm: “Sherlock Holmes for the Modern Age,” w/Christopher D Abbott, Michael Jan Friedman, & Aaron Rosenberg (Salon D)
10-11am: “Deep Space Nine at 30,” w/Rigel Ailur, Miles McLoughlin, & Kim Iverson Headlee (Salon A)
I grew up in the 1970s, and I love so much about the decade, but the era’s fascination with goofy-ass musicals has always been incomprehensible even to me. This is the same time period that gave us The Star Wars Holiday Special and Legends of the Superheroes and other bits of ridiculousness. This particular production was also done on the cheap, even by the standards of the time. Superman’s flying effects are klutzier than what they did with George Reeves twenty years earlier, and the backgrounds are probably meant to look like comic-book drawings, but mostly just look like they didn’t want to spend the money on properly painted sets.
What’s frustrating is that the basic outline is a story that could work. There’s a very good message about believing in yourself here, embodied primarily in Sydney’s “You’ve Got Possibilities” pep-talk song to Kent and later in Jerry and Joe’s urging of Superman to let his freak flag fly. And the notion of Superman being wracked by guilt because he failed to stop a crime is one that good stories can be built off of (and have in the comics). But it’s buried under a lot of nonsense.
This TV movie manages to drain almost all the life out of the concept, to ill effect. Lothar is still African royalty, but he’s no longer super-strong, and doesn’t actually do a helluva lot in the story—his one moment to show off his strength is just him almost getting run over by a car and failing to stop the bad guys. Similarly, Stacy’s one “action moment” is to get hit in the head while Jennifer is kidnapped. Otherwise, the pair only serve administrative functions.
The worst, though, is the treatment of the title character.
For starters, while everything around Mandrake is made less bombastic (and less interesting), they lean into the absurdities of Mandrake’s powers. Instead of inheriting the ability to wield magic from his immortal father, Mandrake instead learns it from Asian monks who take him in after his father dies—basically giving him the Shadow’s origin, wrapping it all up in the worst Orientalist clichés.
Still, these are minor joys in two movies that manage the neat trick of short running times, yet take forever. These have to be the most plodding time-travel movies ever produced. Timecop at least has some fun performances in cliché roles from Bruce McGill as The Put-Upon Supervisor, Gloria Reuben as The Snarky Partner Who Turns On Our Hero, and especially [Ron] Silver as The Scenery-Chewing Bad Guy.
Sadly, those kudos don’t extend to the lead. As an actor, Jean-Claude Van Damme makes a dandy kickboxer. [Jason Scott] Lee is a better actor in every measurable sense, and he’s also got martial arts chops for the fight scenes, but where Timecop is bland, The Berlin Decision is clumsy and awful in its scripting. Though I do like the way the sequel film embraces the loopiness of history changing, with Doc going punk and O’Rourke with the eyepatch and such…
One of the things I absolutely adore about this movie, though, is that it—in a kind, compassionate, not at all mean-spirited way—calls out one of the biggest flaws in the [Sam] Raimi and [Marc] Webb films, which was that most of the villains ended up dead in the end: Norman Osborn (both times!), Harry Osborn (only once), Otto Octavius, Eddie Brock, Curt Connors, and Max Dillon all die. Flint Marko is the only one of the five in this movie who is guaranteed to survive when returning to his universe. And that never sat well with me, especially in movies about a hero who won’t kill.
And this movie pushes back against that tendency—which has been a trope of action movies forever, which has bled over into far too many superhero movies—by having Spider-Man work, not to stop the villains, but to save them.
This is the fifth movie that [Matthew] Vaughn co-wrote and directed I’ve done in this rewatch, but the first where he didn’t co-write the script with Jane Goldman. After watching this film, I think Goldman deserves a lot more credit for the quality of the other four, because this script with Karl Gajdusek doesn’t have anywhere near the same life to it. There are some great lines, mind you, but the overall pacing is wonky at best, the characterization is hit-and-miss, and it feels like so many golden opportunities were passed up or mishandled. Perhaps the biggest example of that last issue is the stunt casting of Tom Hollander as each of the three ruling cousins, a stunt that utterly fizzles, because Hollander doesn’t bring any verve or excitement or distinctiveness to the roles. Indeed, Nicholas, Wilhelm, and George are three of the least interesting characters in the movie, which ruins the whole point of casting the same guy in all three parts.
But Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson actually give us the dark knight detective, as Batman has to think his way through a lot of this movie. There’s a great line from the comics, The Question Annual #1 from 1988, written by Denny O’Neil—one of the greatest writers of Batman, as well as one of the greatest editors to work on the Bat-titles—where the Green Arrow says, “I thought you just swung down from the rooftops and cleaned bad guys’ clocks.” Batman’s reply: “Occasionally, I do. That’s approximately four percent of my activity. The rest of it is finding out things.”
Pattinson’s Batman is always finding out things, and it’s great to watch. He’s also a Batman who’s still figuring stuff out, isn’t always together, occasionally makes mistakes, and sometimes bites off more than he can chew.
What I especially like is that Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is young in a way that Christian Bale never was, even when he was doing Batman’s very beginnings. He’s still in seventeen kinds of pain from the death of his parents, and he hasn’t figured out how to balance his life just yet. But he’s working on it. It’s a stage of Batman’s career that we rarely see (though not as rare as [Ben] Affleck’s older version), and it’s a nice change from the prior iterations of Bats on screen. I particularly like the way he evolves from his “I am vengeance” declaration at the top of the movie—an appellation that both Kyle and Penguin make fun of him with throughout the film—to realizing that he needs to be a symbol of hope and justice, not vengeance.
I will give [Matt] Smith credit for trying his best. He chows down on every piece of scenery he can get his hands on as Milo, and I particularly like his awkward white-guy dancing, showing us how Milo is reveling in being able-bodied for the first time in his life. And at least we know where he stands. [Jared] Leto’s Morbius winds up being neither fish nor fowl. He’s not edgy enough to be the rebel the script tries to portray him as, he’s not noble enough to be the hero the plot keeps trying to maneuver him toward (in particular his mass murder of a boat full of mercenaries is kicked under the bed in the hopes that we’ll forget it ever happened), and he’s not evil enough to be a bad guy (Milo gets to do all the cool bad-guy stuff).
Okay, this is the ninth paragraph of this review, and I’ve hardly talked about the title character at all. Benedict Cumberbatch is never not wonderful, and while I’m still not all that thrilled with his version of Strange taking over the Snarky-White-Guy-With-A-Goatee role from Tony Stark, he’s at least very good at it. Cumberbatch doesn’t get anywhere near the credit he deserves for his comic timing. (If you ever want to be blown away, check out the BBC radio show Cabin Pressure, in which Cumberbatch voices a screwup of a pilot. He’s absolutely hilarious.) I love Palmer’s line to him early on about how he always has to be the one holding the knife, and Strange’s control-freak tendencies are beautifully examined here. It’s something that has been true of the character in all his MCU appearances—even his cameo in Thor: Ragnarok—and [Michael] Waldron’s script does a good job of digging into what that means, and how it affects his personality and his performance as a superhero. We see three alternate versions of the character who pay the ultimate price for that arrogance just to drive the point home. And the question of whether or not he’s actually happy continues to be asked throughout the film, never with an adequate answer.
(Also, I was a little peeved at Strange virtually ignoring the fact that he killed his counterpart late in the film. This is the same Stephen Strange who was livid at being forced to kill one of Kaceilius’ hench-mages in his previous movie and made it clear he would not be put in that position again if at all possible.)
Mind you, the movie is terrible, but it embraces its terribleness to a degree that is endearing as hell. It’s pretty much Flash Gordon, with the hero going from weird place to weird place on the alien planet, while fighting to bring down a tyrant. This sometimes results in a very disjointed film, not surprising for a movie with so many credited screenwriters, as well as many scenes that were apparently left on the cutting room floor.
It helps that the movie doesn’t take itself in the least bit seriously. Right at the beginning, you know we’re in something like a farce when Barbarella offers to put some clothes on, and the President tells her no, as this is an affair of state. It’s to Jane Fonda’s credit that she embraces the absurdity, never once winking at the camera or going over the top. A lot of why the movie works is the earnest sincerity of Fonda’s performance, even as everyone around her is hilariously over-the-top—particularly Milo O’Shea’s goggle-eyed lunacy as Durand Durand and Anita Pallenberg’s slinky-seductress act as the Great Tyrant.
Director Jim Wynorski has declared this to be the worst movie he’s ever helmed, and the depth of that statement is impressive given the other movies on his resumé: Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre, Dinocroc vs. Supergator, 976-EVIL II, Deathstalker II, and all three (!) Busty Cops movies. Yet he still lists Vampirella as the worst!
Not without reason, mind you. Talisa Soto was considered a terrible choice by most comics fans when her casting in the title role was announced, especially since her resumé was mostly leaden turns as a Bond woman in Licence to Kill and Kitana in Mortal Kombat. Vampirella’s iconic look was changed to what was probably a more comfortable outfit for Soto to wear, but which still made her look mostly like a low-rent stripper. And her performance here was just as wooden as it was in every one of her other roles.
In her defense, it’s not like anyone else in this movie is any good. Roger Daltrey’s a really good actor—he’s done Shakespeare! (No, really, he has! He played both Dromios in the BBC Shakespeare production of A Comedy of Errors opposite Michael Kitchen in 1983.) And he was superb in his recurring role of Hugh Fitzcairn on Highlander: The Series.
The overall plot is generally fine, but the details are head-scratching to say the least. Probably the most confusing aspect of the whole thing is the spectacular inability of the title character to figure out that he has regenerative powers until he sees film of himself getting shot in the head. This is a guy who’s already survived hanging himself (he was in the noose for ages before his landlord found him), falling from great heights, and what look like at least second-degree burns all over his body, and he still doesn’t realize that he can’t die? And that’s just the biggest of the many plot holes, from the lengths gone to set up firebombing the hotel when they can just, y’know, firebomb the hotel, to there being absolutely no payoff for the revelation that Sparks’ mother was pregnant when she died, to the utterly unconvincing full recovery of Heavenly from being shot.
The movie put a bad taste in my mouth right from the start when Korg is providing exposition about Thor’s previous MCU appearances, specifically mentioning who has died in his life. Frigga, Odin, and Loki are referred to lovingly as his mother, father, and brother, and then the Warriors Three are fobbed off as three other people who don’t get names or listed as friends, just “that guy” and “whoever that is.” Then, neither Natasha Romanoff nor Tony Stark nor Steve Rogers are even mentioned as friends he lost for some stupid reason, and then we see that he’s back in fighting shape after Endgame in a cheap-ass training montage.
While I had some issues with aspects of how Endgame dealt with Thor’s PTSD (specifically the unnecessary fat jokes), in general it and Infinity War did a good job of showing Thor’s pain at losing Asgard and so many of his dearest friends. Here, it’s just him sitting beatifically on a planet wishing he had love, which feels reductive.
Unfortunately, I saw the big revelation at the climax coming a mile off. In fact, I saw it coming from the very top of the movie when Sam’s voiceover established that Samaritan and Nemesis were twins who both had the same powers. From that moment, I figured that Joe was Nemesis, because that was the obvious “twist,” and twenty-first-century dramatic fiction writers are never happier when they’re pulling a twist out of their posteriors.
It soured my entire viewing experience, unfortunately, because I was wondering why it never occurred to anybody that Joe could be Nemesis. After all, every argument that he could be Samaritan also applies to him being Nemesis, including guilt over being responsible for the death of his brother causing him to give up his costumed identity. I mean, it’s probably better that they established that they were twins right off, as saving that fact for near the end of the movie would’ve been even worse, but still, one wishes for a way to make that revelation less blindingly obvious.
But what absolutely makes the movie are the performances of Aldis Hodge and especially Pierce Brosnan, who knock it out of the park as two of DC’s most venerable heroes. I first noticed Hodge in two episodes of Supernatural he guest-starred on, and he has since gone on to be amazing on Leverage and City on the Hill and any number of other places, and his Hawkman is superb. And that’s as nothing to how perfectly Brosnan inhabits the weary sorcerer. I especially like the rapport between the Hawkman and Fate—you immediately realize that these two have been friends, colleagues, and teammates for a very long time, and the comfortable bond they share is a joy to watch.
Finally, we have [Angela] Bassett, and what the hell were they thinking killing her off? I was wondering for four movies why Ramonda wasn’t the one who took over ruling Wakanda when T’Chaka died, and this movie just proves that I was a hundred percent right to ask that question, because she’s phenomenally good at it. In fact, she’s demonstrably better at it than any of the other four members of her family we saw in the job (T’Chaka, T’Challa, Killmonger, and Shuri). The scene where she owns the UN, punctuated by the Dora Milaje dropping off the zip-tied mercenaries, is truly epic, her ranting at Okoye for losing her other child is devastating, and she generally brings a tremendous gravitas to the proceedings.
Killing her off doesn’t even make story sense, because the last thing Namor would want is a martyr. He wants to demoralize Wakanda, not piss them off. And then they gave Bassett a (deserved) Academy Award nomination, making the decision to kill her even stupider, in retrospect.
I’ve got two more convention appearances to announce….
At the end of February, from the 24th to the 26th, I’ll be helping Pensacon celebrate their tenth anniversary by being one of their author guests. This will be my third time at this excellent show in Pensacola, Florida, and I’m very much looking forward to being there. It’s also my first Bard’s Tower show of 2023, and I’ll be at the Tower alongside fellow word-slingers Jonathan Maberry, Kevin J. Anderson, Steve Jackson, Andrew E.C. Gaska, Marion G. Harmon, Gama Ray Martinez, and more!
I’ll also be helping Trek Long Island inaugurate their debut show in May. This two-day show in Hauppauge, New York will run on the 20th and 21st, and I’ll be one of the author guests there, too, with a table to sell and sign books. Other guests include a bunch of actors from several of the new shows, most notably Doug Jones, Oded Fehr, and David Ajala all from Discovery, as well as fellow Star Trek scribes Robb Pearlman, Michael Jan Friedman, and John Peel.
Remember, also, that I’ll be at Farpoint in Cockeysville, Maryland in February, Zenkaikon in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in March, and HELIOsphere in Piscataway, New Jersey in April.
Thrust unexpectedly into the lead role by the death of her costar, Wright shines in this movie as a person in a thousand kinds of pain and no idea how to deal with it. One of the themes of several of the Marvel movies—particularly the ones featuring Thor and the Black Panther—is that being a political leader and being a hero are almost mutually exclusive callings. We already know that Shuri is a capable hero when she’s in her right mind based on Black Panther and Infinity War, but as a leader, she fails pretty spectacularly—for the same reason that she fails as a hero for a portion of this movie. She’s hurting so badly from T’Challa’s death—and her own sense of guilt over not being able to save him—that she’s not thinking straight. This results in a spectacularly wrong-headed assault on Talokan in which Wakanda nearly loses. Indeed, were it not for Shuri’s direct triumph over Namor, Wakanda’s forces—who are not pushovers—would’ve had their heads handed to them. Attacking someone who breathes water from a small ship (small, that is, by comparison to, y’know, the entire friggin’ ocean) in the middle of the Atlantic is not a well-thought-out strategy. Nor is it wise to choose a battleground where you can’t use your battle rhinos. (Yes, this makes three movies in a row with no battle rhinos. What the hell, people? I WANT MY BATTLE RHINOS!)
This would’ve made a better season premiere than “The Xindi.” For one thing, there’s actual plot movement, with the discovery of the spheres, the downloading of the database, and the revelation about the use of trellium-D. True, we got a bit of plot movement last week, but that was really just finding out that there are five Xindi species instead of one. “Anomaly’s” revelations are also wrapped around a much more exciting storyline.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t make this episode good, only better than last week, and the biggest problem with it is the same one I had with “The Expanse” and with Tucker’s behavior in “The Xindi”: the macho idiocy that suffuses this episode, with Scott Bakula setting his jaw and getting that distant look in his eyes and throwing Orgoth into the airlock to show that he’s tough on terrorists, and he’s gonna get the job no matter what it takes and what morality and rulebooks we have to throw out the window.
If you missed me, Hildy Silverman, and Gary Frank discussing the Star Trek-adjacent space operas The Orville and Galaxy Quest with host Russ Colchamiro on Russ’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster last Wednesday, fear not! The discussion has been archived on the Tube of You for your listening (and viewing) pleasure! Check it out…..