A review of the “Westworld” pilot (2016)

Blog Correspondent Pete Harrison suggested I give the Westworld” series (2016) a try, and I’m damn glad he did.  The first episode was superb, and it’s safe to say it’s reeled me in.  I’d give the pilot a 9 out of 10; this seems like it could be the best science fiction television show I’ve seen in a long time.

I still think the premise is just slightly cheesy — grown men and women spending a fortune to visit a western-themed amusement park with interactive android cowboys.  (I think maybe westerns were a more mainstream genre in 1973, when Michael Crichton’s original film was in theaters.)  And there are times when the show’s central western-themed motifs are a little annoying to me … even though I know the park is supposed to appear superficial and cliche.

But “Westworld” is a highly intelligent thriller — it looks like a hell of a lot of thought went into the script.  Just about every aspect of the show seems like it was well developed — everything from the actors’ performances to the set design.  And don’t let the gorgeous, idyllic, sunny landscapes fool you — there is no shortage of pathos here.  It’s brutally dark in its storytelling.  (By the way, if you happen to be a fan of this show, I must recommend 2014’s “Ex Machina” film — it is similarly cerebral and dark in its outlook.)

Anthony Hopkins is fantastic, as usual; Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton are all very good.  They’re all overshadowed here, though, by two stellar performances.

The first is Ed Harris as a black-clad psychopathic visitor to the park — I had no idea he could be so frightening.  Dear God.  Has he played bad guys before?  I’ve always associated him with nice-guy roles — even his antagonist in 1996’s “The Rock” was misguided and sympathetic.  I’d love to see him get a role in an upcoming “The Dark Tower” film, maybe as one of the Big Coffin Hunters, if they are ever featured.

The second is Louis Herthum, the ostensible “father” of Wood’s heroine.  (They are both androids within the park — I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler, as it’s all over the show’s advertising.)  Herthum may be a lesser known actor, but he stole the show in a tour-de-force performance, in my opinion.  And that’s no small feat in a cast including Hopkins and this surprisingly vicious Harris.  I haven’t seen a performance that good on television since NBC’s “Hannibal” went off the air.

Anyway, I noticed something funny here.  Steven Ogg plays a bandit who invades people’s homes and murders them … this is basically the same role he plays as Negan’s chief henchman on “The Walking Dead.”  It must be weird to be typecast like that.

Hey … it is only just now that I realized the logo below is a riff on Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man.”

 

Throwback Thursday: “Wolverine: Rahne of Terra” (1992)

This was the first “Wolverine” graphic novel I ever owned — “Wolverine: Rahne of Terra.”  It was an “Elseworlds”-type of story in which Wolverine, along with Rahne of the New Mutants, was transported to some sort of sword-and-sorcery universe.  (It didn’t affect any continuity in the main Marvel universe.)

It was much better than it sounds, having been written by the great Peter David and illustrated by the equally great Andy Kubert.

 

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Wolverine Rahne of Terra - Doug

Wolverine Rahne of Terra - The Beast there is

 

 

A very short review of “Now You See Me 2” (2016)

My enthusiasm for “Now You See Me’s” hero magicians waned just a bit after seeing last year’s sequel.  It was fun enough, though, so I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

Much of my enjoyment was hampered here by the use of an overly convenient plot device that was also utterly ridiculous — one of the “Four Horsemen” protagonists can simply employ hypnosis to persuade anybody to do anything.  It seems like a godlike power, and it feels like a pretty big cheat on the part of the screenwriter.  (I think anyone familiar with hypnosis knows it absolutely doesn’t work as depicted here, anyway.)

If even one of the protagonists has this ability, why do they need to employ legerdemain to commit or stop crimes in the first place?  Instead of disguises or sleight-of-hand, couldn’t they just program unwilling confederates to do everything for them, at minimal risk to themselves?  And why steal anything in a conventional sense, if they can just brainwash a target into “giving” it to them?

Like the first film, though, “Now You See Me 2” is entertaining, if you take it as an escapist fantasy.  It’s still a pretty creative premise, and it’s still nice and funny.  (The exception is a bunch of jokes connected with a twin brother for Woody Harrelson’s character.  The character, also played by Harrelson, was annoying and creepy enough to make me cringe.)

One nice addition to this film was Lizzy Caplan as the new female “horseman”  after the departure of actress Isla Fisher.  Caplan is charismatic and fun to watch, and she has good comic timing.

I’d recommend seeing this, if you enjoyed the first movie.

 

 

 

 

A few quick words on”Now You See Me” (2013)

I ought to pan “Now You See Me” (2013), but I just had too much fun with it.  It’s a smile-inducing heist film that barely qualifies as a thriller, given its upbeat tone.  It held my attention and made me laugh, so I’m giving it and 8 out of 10.

Much of it is preposterous, especially if you stop to think about it.  The comedians over at Cinema Sins really skewer it here, for example.  (Spoilers.  Do not watch the linked video until after you’ve seen the movie.)  But if you take it as an escapist fantasy, it’s a good movie — like maybe one of the Roger Moore-era James Bond films.  It’s got a terrific ensemble cast, it’s funny, and it makes great use of its novelty story device — famous stage magicians using their skills to commit high-profile crimes, and incorporating those crimes into their show.

I’d definitely recommend this.

Quick note — if you’re a movie buff and you haven’t checked out the Cinema Sins Youtube channel, then you’re cheating yourself.  Their “Everything Wrong With” and “Honest Trailers” series are two of the best things on the Internet.

 

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