The Three Hundred Twenty-Sixth Blog: The One Where I Contemplate Growing a Pencil Mustache to Twirl…

Hello, everyone!  I just got finished watching X-Men: Apocalypse. I’m not going to review it, because by now you’ve seen it and have made your own decisions about how good it is or not, whether you’re going to buy it on Blu-Ray or DVD and whether or not the guy playing Apocalypse looks familiar or not (my decisions: good enough for the X-Men franchise, but not good enough to knock Deadpool off the #1 slot, Blu-Ray for the extras, and the guy who played Apocalypse is the same one that played Poe Dameron on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”).

As I was watching it, I found myself nodding along with Apocalypse and he desire to remake the world. Sure — the whole Darwinian thing was a bit of a put off (those of you who was seen me in real life know where I fall in the whole ‘fit / not fit’ thing),  but if we look at how he approaches it…he’s fair. In the movie, he never separates the world into “mutant” or “non-mutant”. He simply goes for “weak” or “strong”. If you can do the job that he sets out for you — in this case, it’s trying to not get crushed by tons and tons of flying debris — you get the privilege to go to sleep in a cozy pile of rubble and do the same thing tomorrow.

"Everything they built will fall and from the ashes of their world we will build a better one!"

En Sabah Nur 2016!

Am I losing my mind? Some are going to argue that you can’t lose something you’ve never had. They’re right, but let’s also take another look at what makes En Sabah Nur a lot better than the comic book Apocalypse: he cares.

That’s been the whole crux of the Mutant Struggle in the movies. What we don’t understand, and what we as a society can not control is what we fear. Mutants fill that role completely. What are you going to do with a six-year-old who can bench press a car? I mean, other than make sure she gets that pony she wants. You thing your teenage years were awkward? How about the teenager who knows how awkward it is for you because you can’t stop thinking about it and he can’t stop picking up those thoughts? Erik and Charles are (and the writers of the comics have confirmed this) the Mutant version of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr respectively. Their goals are the same: a place where mutants can exist without fear of persecution. Professor Xavier looks to co-existence and the school. Erik realizes the mutants of the world have no one to rely on but themselves and they must be ready to defend themselves “by any means necessary”.

En Sabah Nur takes it to the extreme for either side. While he could have been a raving megalomaniac (like his earlier comic appearances), and we would have accepted that and moved on to the next scene; we see him taking on a paternalistic approach to The Horsemen he gathers. He doesn’t promise them riches, or suits that cover more than 45% of the body. He simply says:

 You are all my children, and you're lost because you follow blind leaders.

How many of us (in this political season, especially) can identify with that statement? The more I watched the movie, the more I listened to how En Sabah Nur talked to his followers, the more I realized that he was perhaps the best person to lead anyone and everyone. He didn’t trade money for votes, he didn’t set up straw men to knock down. What you saw was what you got. How many mutants in that world would have heard that and said: “Hell, yeah!”

And what pulled me back from painting myself blue and heading to Cairo? Other than that I have work Tuesday and my skin is a sensitive sort when it comes to grease paint? This:

[reciting Apocalypse's message to the world]
Charles Xavier: This message is for one reason alone: to tell the strongest     among you...
Apocalypse: Those with the greatest power, this earth will be yours!
Charles Xavier: Those with the greatest power...protect those without. That's  
my message to the world.

There you go. In the end, for all of En Sabah Nur’s posturing about making someone the best, about enhancing their powers — if you fail, you’re nothing. There is no forgiveness, no salvation, no ‘you’ll get them next time, slugger’. You’re tossed overboard and the next one stands up. Even Erik at his worse in this point doesn’t advocate dominance of one over the other — he just wants the world to know that you can push so far before you get pushed into a car. Xavier’s goal of co-existence is reachable, and his dedication to it is utterly saint-like. Don’t forget — Erik was willing to lay low and work with people, even giving himself up to save a friend. Things didn’t go to Hell in the proverbial handbasket until Erik had nothing to lose. Which is when En Sabah Nur came in and seduced Erik to his side. Erik’s sin throughout this whole series isn’t anger…it’s despair.

Ultimately, this particular X-Men film is timely for the upheavals we are facing today. When we are approached with someone who says they have the key to your happiness, who can come in and solve all of your ills — read the fine print. The Devil is not only in the details. He’s the one holding the contract.

The One Hundred and Seventy-First Post: The One I Wrote While Under The Thrall of Insomnia

I can’t sleep and I don’t know if it’s because of more mounting frustrations with work – to which I can only blame myself this time – or the fact that there is a raging thunderstorm outside right now. As I write this, it’s 6 AM and I usually get up at 10:30. So if I were to feel tired right now, I could go back to sleep and get a decent nap in. Since I don’t see that happening any time soon, I guess this would be a good time as any to make some recommendations for a show that I am watching. Maybe if I bore myself enough, I can get back to bed.

Bates Motel
is trying really hard to be a re-boot of the popular Psycho franchise. Normally, I enjoy re-boots – I like a show that can take a known franchise or series and have me look at it in a new light (BSG comes to mind). Here’s the problem that I keep running into with Bates Motel: It’s set in the wrong era. Norman Bates shouldn’t have to deal with cell phones, modern teen angst and sex. I know that humanizing the killer is all the rage now-a-days, but not Norman Bates. What made him so successful in both the novel and the Psycho is that we had no idea beyond “Mother” what motivated him to kill. Yes, Norman Bates is based heavily off of Ed Gein and Lord knows we don’t know everything that went on in his head. In this day and age where serial killers are glamorized and even idolized (yeesh), the idea of Norman Bates: the quiet guy with an interesting side hobby trope doesn’t really fly… especially when the whole town appears to be as corrupt as D.C.

OK – this is going to turn into an “I Would Have Done It Differently”. If you don’t like this, I apologize and feel free to turn off your computer. This is the process of boring myself to sleep.

Here’s how I would have done it and I can sum it up in just two words: period piece.

Period pieces work and work well – Downton Abbey and Mad Men are two great examples. There is no reason why Bates Motel shouldn’t be any different. Bates Motel explores Norman as a young, sensitive man being pushed into the monster role (as we assume thus far) by his over-domineering mother – who doesn’t really comes off as all that domineering thus far (I speak from experience). The show can still do that, but we need to keep a lot of the things the same – mostly, the time frame. We need to have it taking place earlier than the movie Psycho – if this is going to be an exploration of what makes Norman Bates howl in the moonlight, and by omission, what could push the average viewer to join him – the audience needs to see The Quiet Young Man on the verge of breaking. We know what’s going to happen when a car pulls up and a blonde woman steps out of it. That should be the final scene in the series – Janet Leigh stepping out of her car and a fade to black and white. The series up to that point should revolve around Norman’s inner struggle. From when he comes back home after being ‘away’ – never mentioned beyond a vague wave of the hand and ‘fatigue’ – we should see Norman making himself busy in getting the hotel ready for customers… and always in the background, we hear a voice telling Norman that’s he’s not right… he’s a filthy degenerate… letting those whores use that hotel, use his business (and you can read into that whatever you want, kids) to make their money… that he needs to get himself right. If we’re going to do this, we need to see the world through his eyes. Mother not only needs to be heard from the attic, but she needs to be seen stomping around in the house never giving him a moment’s peace. We can have people come and go to the hotel to give us brief flashes of an outsider’s perspective (not too often, lest we get reminded that Norman’s crazy to start with and loses some sympathy), but in the end, it’s just a man with his mother on one side and his crumbling sanity on the other.

Then again – no one listens to me… except Mother.

The One Hundred and Fifty-First Post: The One Where I Review a Movie, a TV Show and a Novel Idea…

Now that my coffee/blood level is back to normal – let me regale you lucky people with a very belated review, a slightly belated review and an idea that might not make it out the gate. First – more coffee for me.

The Cabin in the Woods
is a brilliant send-up of that particular genre of horror films, and sly wink to the audience. I regret not being able to see this film when it came out in the theaters, but I managed to find it on Pay-per-View and saw it last night. If you’re a fan of horror films, deconstruction of horror films and Joss Whedon (or like me, all three), then this film is a must-see, or if you got to see it in the theater – must see again and buy on DVD. I would tell you more about it, but I really don’t want to spoil the ending.

Now, for a more extensive review: The Following, currently on Fox. OK – this is one of the shows I have been looking forward to watching, and I have not been disappointed. While there are some people who are going to want to compare Joe Carroll to Red John from The Mentalist, there is a sizeable difference. While both of them are good at manipulating people and getting them to do what they want, Red John is the McGuffin. He is what drives the major plot of the show. We’re never going to see him directly until the show ends (if the writers are smart, that is). The show is not about Patrick Jane and Red John – it’s about Patrick Jane and his interactions with the CBI. Because we never see Red John, we are merely informed that he has followers. We have no idea how he gets his followers – are they recruited? Blackmailed? Is there a sheet hanging in a Laundromat with phone numbers on little tabs that reads ‘Want to kill now? Ask me how!’ in the back next a lost dog notification? With Joe Carroll – he’s teaching and guiding. He’s doing what he does best. He teaches. He manipulates (that poor woman). He guides. While he is wrapped up in a Romantic notion of madness – I am seeing a tint of Lovecraftian insanity: the mortal mind, when confronted with the truth that the universe at large doesn’t care a whit about you, snaps and splinters like old, dry wood. Joe’s novel is panned and a failure, which drives him to his first murder. The show makes great pains to paint Carroll as a Romantic madman, but I don’t see it. I see Lovecraft pushing Carroll along. Or maybe it’s just me.

Now on to the idea – if anyone here is familiar with the ‘Hellraiser’ series of movies, there is that one classic line in the beginning

Kirsty Cotton: Who are you?
Lead Cenobite: Explorers… in the further regions of experience. Demons to some, angels to others.

OK – we know who sees them as demons. What about the angels? What would drive someone to actively seek out the Cenobites? Seized with this idea, I tossed and turned for a good part of the night (more coffee!) turning it over in my head. While I have a good idea for a novel, I don’t really think it is an actionable piece for one reason: Clive Barker will sue me back to the Paleolithic Age. I can dance around it as best I can. I can not mention them by name (‘Cenobite’, ‘Pinhead’ et. al.), but if you squint hard enough and turn your head, you can see the source material. I am caught up enough in it to put it in my common book, but I worry more about the lawyers that Mr. Barker can summon than the Cenobites. Who knows? I might put it out privately.

Well, I need to make lunch, play around more with Scrivener and listen to one of my favorite Art Bell episodes with Ghost Investigative Services. I miss them actually.

Sincerely,

Seething Apathy

The Fifty-First Post: The One Where I Am No Longer The Happiest Of Campers…

One of the best shows on TV got unceremoniously cancelled.  Really, guys?  This is why I am really not interesting in broadcast TV anymore.  There are only two shows on broadcast TV that I follow closely.  All the other shows, I watch – cable.  Once the Olympics are over, I am going to wash my hands of NBC and bid them adieu.  Personally, I blame MTV and The Real World which started the modern reality TV craze under which we currently labor under.  If I want to see decent dramas, I end up going to AMC (God Bless You, American Movie Channel) or to BBCAmerica (still waiting for Sherlock to come over).  I used to like Sci-Fi (it and NBC are owned by the same parent company: Universal), then they started to go down the dark road of wrestling, reality shows and series that started in BBC (which no one seems to notice…).

What is it with TV nowadays?  This is always my one standing gripe about this medium: money wins out over story.  There have been a lot of shows (Awake one of them) that could be really good if they’re given a half chance – especially science fiction and fantasy.  Don’t look at Sci-Fi – I don’t think they have any really original shows other than Lost Girl and Warehouse 13 – and I like one of those shows.  FOX will murder your favorites with all the glee of someone you know by their full name.  There is one channel that seems to have several good shows: CBS.  Have you seen Person Of Interest?  If you haven’t, you should be mildly ashamed.  This show is 1/2 Burn Notice and 1/2 NCIS – completely worth your time.  Yeah – CBS has a number of crime procedurals, but they have found the secret: it’s not about the crime – it’s about the people solving the crime.  Person Of Interest is a good example of this.  The spycraft is fun to watch, but what’s more interesting is Reed trying to get more information about his employer.  The cat-and-mouse game is spellbinding, and wow – can they parcel out the information in tiny, tiny, tiny drips.  Do yourself a favor and get this on iTunes before its too late…

What do I look for in a show?  Good characters, strong plot and something to keep me guessing, or at least let me think I’m learning something.  Burn Notice is really good at this.  Once upon a time, FOX had a similar show called Profitt, but they killed it for… something that I think failed a year or two later.

Yeah – I’m still sore about that.  If you have a good show to recommend, or at least a show to avoid – feel free to give it a shout-out.

 

Sincerely,

Seething Apathy

I Would Do It Differently: Nikita

Monsters We Are, Lest Monsters We Become

OK — please don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying that I am better writer or show-runner than the people who make the shows I like, nor is this an attempt to infringe on anyone else’s copyrights.  I’m merely saying that I would have written the series differently.

With the series Nikita — there’s a lot going on.  A Russian mafia princess, out of wedlock children, dead spouses to contend with on a weekly basis.  That’s more than enough conflict to go around, not even adding Percy’s manuerving and Oversight’s interference.

I ask you this — what’s the real story?  Is it Nikita trying to single handedly (sorta) taking down Division to avenge the death of her fiancee?  Could it be the awkward attraction that Michael still has for his agent?  Perhaps it’s Alex coming into her own power with GOGOL.

Let me posit this: it should be none of these.  It should Nikita looking into the bathroom mirror everyday and telling herself: I am not like Division. I don’t have assets.  I have people.  However, we know that every day she says that, and every day she sends her moles Alex and other moles (split up into cells outside and inside of Division, further making everything dangerous) to try to undermind Percy at every turn.  Nikitia puts people into harm’s way every day in every way imaginable — but she tells herself that she’s not Percy.  She cares for every agent and when Division is dust, she’ll let every one go with some money and a new ID.  She treats them like people.  She tells herself that every day.  She is not nor will she ever be Percy.  Percy is a cold, emotionless socipath after all.  The only difference between Nikita and Percy is that Percy did all of this willingly.  After all, this is what Nikita tells her recruits (and us by proxy).  Why should she lie to us?  She checks up on her charges, tries to train them… she’s a little hard on them, but she’s going up against the evil Division!  Whatever doesn’t kill them and all that.

The day she has to sacrifice a pawn to try to trap the King, we’re going to see the beginning of the long graceful slide to Percy-ville, population now 2.  That will be the crux of the episodes: Nikita trying to balance the greater good (dismantling Division brick by blood and mortar affixed brick) verses her own desires (everyone comes home alive).  This is what would make our heroine even more approachable: how far is she going to go?  When the first of her moles gets cut down trying to throw a monkey wrench in Percy’s well-oiled murder machine, how is Nikita going to react?  More importantly, how is everyone else going to react to Nikita’s reaction?  The first agent: a tragedy for sure; a much needed sacrifice for the greater good.  The fifth or sixth agent?  A statistic to have words muttered over a polite grave and a handful of dirt tossed in for good measure.  Now the others should be starting to think that Nikita’s goal is a little quixotic for them.  Not all of them, obviously — Alex should be the sole hold out until the end of the series.

Enough about Nikita — what about Division?  Division should be a monolith.  A bright, steel and chrome building not unlike a modern office building after all, Division is a business.  Daycare center, fully staffed cafeteria — the audience should question Nikita’s judgement for the first few epsidoes.  Save revelations for the now popular mid-season break, but make sure that they’re not huge, game-changing revelations — even if we’re all familiar with the Nikita Mythology, we need to be shocked at how quickly we get seduced to agreeing with the company’s 401K policy over cheesecake and coffee.

There are only three people that we need to care about in Division: Percy, Michael and Alex.  Everyone else is a pretty face in a nice suit with folders in their arms and a smile on their lips.  Any horrible information we get initally about Division should always be from Nikita only.  She needs to be the funhouse mirror that Division reflects off of durning the epsiodes in which we deal with the company exclusively — and sparingly.  Division-centric episodes should be very, very few but jam packed with enough double-talk to confuse William Casey.  When we see Division, our thoughts should go to: How much of this is political intrigue… and how much of this is a woman gone mad with grief?  The answer: a little from column A and a little from column B.

As far as the people we see in Division, it’s not the Big Three of Percy, Michael and Alex.  It’s the Dynamic Duo and Alex.  Michael is a painfully straight arrow.  No dead wife or daughter, no secret son — just a man trying to make a buck.  Percy?  Nikita likens him to the Devil with a good tailor.  When we see him in Division, he’s crafty but somewhat overworked bureaucrat.  He’s got HR, Acquisions and Logistics clamoring for his attention and he only has 24 hours in his day. What of our lovely little mole Alex?  At first, Percy sends her out on a lot of low-risk ‘assignments’ — over-glorifed coffee runs that she knows are pointless and even Nikita acknowledges that.  What everyone else knows is that Alex is being groomed for ‘upper management’.  When Percy retires (not “retires”), he knows that Michael is going to need someone who can do the dirty jobs, or at least assign them to people that she knows can get it done.  Percy also knows that you keep your friends close and your enemies closer… especially if they’re a step away from that crazy widow Nikita.  Nikita pushes Alex (very hard) to get Percy’s trust.  Percy politely requests Alex (very, very politely) to make contact with Nikita and get into her inner circle.  Whenever we see Alex, we should start to wonder if this is the episode that she cracks under Nikita’s pressure and runs scream to Percy… understanding, gentle and considerate Percy who has never done so much as raised his voice, always visited her in the hospital.  A few seasons of this and the audience will find themselves trying to keep some sense of support for our Nikita… just like everyone else in the series.

Ultimately — the conflict is not Nikita (imperfect puppetmaster) vs. Alex (resentful marionette), it’s not Nikita (single soldier) vs. Division (looming corporate Juggernaut).  The ultimate conflict is between Nikita (revenge driven widow) vs. Nikita (friendless and tired loner).

But… then again — what do I know?

The Thirty-Fifth Post: The One Where I Complain About a Trend in Music and TV.

This will be the inaugural post of me talking about TV and things I see going on today… and what I see is disturbing.

Note to TV editors, and people who are responsible for background music: please stop giving us the 3 minute montage with some unknown woman wailing like she’s Tori Amos. If you need to have music to tell us what we’re supposed to feel during this near useless scene, then the scene doesn’t work. If you’ve run out of something to say and you have to have three pages of filler – fill it with story. I am really tired of the same type of artist singing the same sort of music to the same sort of montage. Main character (usually female) has to make some sort of decision, but she feels obligated to sit in pajamas or lingerie and look mopey.

Really? What are you doing with this? Is this an insult (We think you’re too stupid to be able to read facial expression, so we’re going to hammer this emotion into you with the sound of cats vomiting that we swear sounds like real music. Enjoy.)? Is this a crass marketing ploy (You’re a brainless fan, and we thing that you’re going to buy anything with the name of this show on it – just wait until we come out it the personal hygiene products! Hope you have a strong stomach – not only for the music, but for those hygiene product placement ads!)? Is this the writer just running out of steam?

Don’t get me wrong – I like music in TV. I understand its function in the genre, but… for God’s sake, why can’t we stick to instrumental music? It’s not like we the audience can’t be able to understand the emotional context without hearing someone wail about how their love is a red and rotting rose. Several of the programs that I like are guilty of this (Nikita and Ringer come to mind), and I could take one or two of them – but this is creeping into a lot of shows and I am not a huge fan of this.

What do you think, Good Reader? Is the music irritating or does it work for you?

 

Sincerely,

Seething With Apathy