A few quick words about “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” (2017)

I was skeptical about “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” (2017), and I’m not sure why — maybe because I assumed it would be a failed and shameless imitator of “Black Mirror” (2011).  But I’m happy to be proven wrong — the first episode was damned good.  It isn’t quite as good as “Black Mirror” (the success of which doubtlessly helped this series reach fruition), but it looks like it could be a great show in its own right.  (None other than Ron Moore and Bryan Cranston are among the producers for “Electric Dreams,” so that should make us optimistic about the show’s quality.)

I’d rate the first episode a 9 out of 10.  (The entry I’m referring to here is the “Episode 1” with which Amazon Video audiences will be familiar — the episodes appeared in a different order when this series first aired last year on Britain’s Channel 4.)  It’s got a great cast, including Anna Paquin, Lara Pulver, and the incredible Terrence Howard.  (His acting skills are among the best I’ve ever seen.)  And its story is damned neat, even if it employs a Dick story device that we’ve already seen in some other adaptations.  (Can I write “Dick story device” without my Facebook friends snickering?)

This was good.  I recommend it.




A review of Season 2 of “The Exorcist” (2017)

A show like “The Exorcist” must be difficult to write.  It stands in the shadow of some of horror’s greatest films (William Friedkin’s 1973 original and the third movie in 1990).  Its plot device is inevitably redundant.  (How many possessed innocents can we see strapped to beds while priests pray at them?)  It seems easy to stray into camp.  And it seems like a story concept that is tough to structure into a serialized format.

But the second season of “The Exorcist” was … fantastic.  It surpassed the first season, and I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.

The ten-episode arc wisely changes things up a bit from Season 1, which was maybe a bit too reminiscent of the films.  Our priestly dynamic duo are on the road in America’s northwest, and on the run from a Vatican that has been infiltrated by followers of the demon Pazuzu.  (As stupid as all of that sounds, the show actually depicts it quite well.)  As the story proceeds, there are a couple of surprise plot developments that will contradict most viewers’ expectations.  (I won’t spoil them here.)

The characters are all likable and all well played.  Ben Daniels remains possibly the show’s strongest asset as the senior priest; he’s just a superb actor.  John Cho also gives a fine performance as the head of a foster home where a demon runs amok.  Alfonso Herrera is quite good as the apprentice priest — his character is better written this time around, and isn’t saccharine to the point of annoyance.  And Herrera himself seems more comfortable in the role.  The kids are damned cool — all of them, and their interaction with their foster father was surprisingly sweet and funny — which raises the stakes emotionally when the entire household is besieged by a sadistic force.

The weaknesses here were minor.  I think the ten episodes could have been shortened to seven or eight, to make them tighter.  (I realize I write that about a lot of shows, and I’m not sure why.)  The first five episodes were tightly plotted, while the second five were a little loose.  I think better editing would have entirely excised the flashback scenes depicting Daniels’ character and this season’s new female exorcist, played by Zuleikha Robinson.  (Yes, that is indeed Yves Adele Harlow from “The Lone Gunmen” and “The X-Files.”)

The flashbacks were cheesy, even if they gave Daniels a chance to show his range.  They depict his tutelage of Robinson’s character decades prior, complete with some cliche pulp novel stuff.  (Ugh.)  We’re shown that the priest is younger because of his blond, surfer-esque haircut.  (Really?)  The flashbacks were out of place, and a little too campy.  They reminded me of the comic book style of the “Highlander” films and TV series — this show could have done without them.

I also found myself slightly annoyed by a dearth of exposition about the process of exorcism itself.  After the films and now two seasons of the show, I wanted to know more about the key actions here that affect the story’s resolution.  Do some prayers or methods work better than others?  Then why not use them all the time?  Why are some interventions more lengthy or difficult?  We are told that the demon attacking this family is different than Pazuzu, who we’ve seen in the past (though Pazuzu still puts in an appearance this season).  Can the demons coordinate their efforts, or at least communicate with each other?  If not, why not?  These seem like logical questions to ask, both for the characters and the viewers.

But there is something more that bothered me.  If a demon is intelligent and wants to harm people, then why make its presence known — and why torment or kill only a few people?  Why not remain undetected until it can commit a mass murder?  Or even perpetrate an act of terrorism, and harm far greater numbers of people by causing riots or wars?  That would suit evil’s purposes far more than the garish individual spectacles we find them performing in horror tales like these.  (Maybe I’m just analyzing too much.)

Anyway, I cheerfully recommend “The Exorcist.”  It might be the most grownup horror show on television.

And one more thing — there’s some fun to be had here recognizing actors from other roles.  Daniels was a member of the Rebel Alliance in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016).  And there is actually another “The X-Files” alum here — even if it was only a small role.  I thought that Harper’s mother looked familiar — the actress playing her was Rochelle Greenwood.  She’s none other than the teenage waitress who witnessed Walter Skinner getting shot waaaaay back in 1996’s classic episode, “Piper Maru.”  (Can I remember faces or what?)



“Do you come from the land down under?”

When I reviewed the second season of the outstanding “Wolf Creek” television series (2016) not too long ago, I neglected to mention something — the trippy rendition of Men at Work’s “Land Down Under” in its opening credits.

It’s a beautiful cover by Australia’s Sabrina Schultz, and it’s perfect for the show — it should please both horror fans and anyone who remembers the original song from 1981.  It has a dreamy, melancholy quality that hints at the show’s weird juxtaposition of brutal violence with its gorgeous outback setting.

Check it out below.





Botetourt County, Virginia, December 2017

These are the last photos of 2017, I suppose.  It’s nice that they are of such a beautiful place — despite those cold, foreboding gravestone-colored skies this past weekend.

Virginians are a hardy and gracious lot.  And the people of Botetourt define hospitable.  My friends there showed me terrific time when we celebrated the holidays.

And check out the second-to-last shot below.  Those are the world famous Llamas of Botetourt County.










A beautiful woman tied me up this Christmas. (Pics.)

Isn’t this tie the greatest?  She sure can pick ’em!  I like to think of it as a bold, metallic blue.

Or maybe cerulean blue, like a gentle breeze.  (Actually, it isn’t, but I can’t resist an obscure “The X-Files” reference.)

And it has the truly unpredictable effect of enhancing my impression of Robert De Niro in “The Untouchables!”  (See the photos below; I am the one on the right.)





A short review of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (2017)

I’ll never be able to love “Star Wars” the way its lifelong fans do.  After the unexpected magic of the first three films, the subsequent movies almost always seemed to me to be just space fantasies for kids, formulaically developed to hit all the right notes and sell licensed merchandise.  (The exception would be last year’s generally excellent “Star Wars: Rogue One,” which uniquely felt like a genuine, human story that a creator wanted to tell, rather than something brainstormed until consensus in a corporate writers’ room.)  With that said, I’ll happily report here that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was actually very good — as someone with little favorable bias toward the franchise, I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

The movie simply got more right than it got wrong.  It’s still a marketing-oriented space opera developed for mass appeal, but it managed to rise above that because its many elements included more hits than misses.

If I had to pick one thing that made this movie succeed for me, it’s the balance it struck between its epic war story and its narrower sword-and-sorcery central plot thread.  I like how the film began with an interstellar war — it had ordinary, mortal, relatable human characters fight and make sacrifices.  Anyone can relate to characters like that because they are interchangeable with people fighting a war in our world.  (It was also excellently rendered, in terms of fantastic visuals and some creative ideas.)  Only afterward does the movie layer in the far-out Jedi stuff, which contrasts the war story and adds complexity to it.

The second thing I liked about it was its terrific special effects — I’ve never seen a “Star Wars” movie without them, even if the prequels had a more cartoonish, toylike quality to what they depicted.

The third, I think, was the return of Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker.  Hamill is actually quite a good actor, and his skilled turn here was alternately funny and dramatically convincing.  I found myself more nostalgic after watching Luke’s return to the franchise than after Han Solo’s return in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015).  (And I love Harrison Ford just as much as everyone else in the universe.)

Is there a lot to nitpick?  Sure.  In addition to some plot holes, the character of Rose was rather annoying.  (Spunky young idealists can grate on the nerves if they’re too cutesy and seem to ingratiate themselves to the viewer.)

But a far larger weakness is that “the force” has become more of a deus ex machina than ever before.  I can’t be specific here because I want to avoid spoilers, but both the Jedi and their Sith counterparts employ incredible new powers in the movie that are absolutely unprecedented.  It isn’t explained at all, and it isn’t consistent with any prior “Star Wars” movie.  And it feels like a cheat that is both sweeping and … a little strange.

Still, I’d recommend this movie — even if you didn’t love every “Star Wars” movie you’ve seen in the past.

I’ll end with a quick note about the “porgs” — those little penguinesque aliens that are supposedly dividing longtime fans into opposing war-camps.  I loved the damn things.  It makes perfect sense that Luke’s hideaway planet would have local fauna.  And I read that the filmmakers actually did include them for an understandable reason.  The island shooting location’s landscape was inhabited by puffins.  It made more sense to overwrite them with CGI stand-ins than to digitally remove them altogether.



A review of “The Defenders” (2017)

I hate to say this, guys — I really do.  But aside from some admittedly standout action sequences, Netflix’ “The Defenders” (2017) was generally mediocre stuff.  I’d rate it a 5 out of 10 for mostly being a clunky, messily written, rare misfire for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

What we’ve got here is an eight-episode story arc depicting nothing less than a cabal of mystical ninjas endeavoring to destroy New York City — and four superheros racing to stop them.  And yet it still manages to feel slow.  I’m surprised at how plodding so brief and urgent a story concept like that could be executed.

It’s confusing too.  The cabal in question here is The Hand, and their nature, origins, history and modus operandi are all too muddled to follow — the result of sloppy screenwriting.  Their goal within “The Defenders'” storyline is actually pretty narrow and specific by comic book standards — I’m not sure how razing New York is necessary at all.  (Their actions cause … an earthquake?  How, exactly?  And wouldn’t that jeopardize their process if an earthquake occurs earlier than they expected?  Do these mystical ninjas employ seismologists to forewarn them of that?)

Other questions abound as well.  What is “Black Sky,” exactly?  Does it matter much, considering it’s a story element that doesn’t much change things?  Is the resurrected uber-Elektra really that much different from the regular, mortal Elektra we saw in “Daredevil” (2015)?

To make matters worse, the character elements here are frequently off key.  Elektra herself feels like a mostly flat protagonist, the leads sometimes lack chemistry with one another, and the script pay far too much attention to supporting characters that viewers did not tune in to watch.  (If I hear one more saccharine pep talk between Claire Temple and Colleen Wing, I’m going to scream.)

Look, I’m not saying the show was all bad.  Like “Iron Fist” (2017) before it, “The Defenders” partially redeems a bad script with absolutely excellent fight choreography; Hell’s Kitchen is the corner of the MCU with the best martial arts action.  I cheered a couple of times.

I also think that the cast is roundly excellent.  I’ll always love Charlie Cox in the role of Daredevil and Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones.  Mike Colter is perfectly cast as Luke Cage, and we even have none other than Sigourney Weaver classing up the MCU (even if she occasionally seemed to phone it in a little).

And I’m including Finn Jones as Iron Fist here — I don’t think he’s the show’s “weak link,” as other viewers do.  The actor is actually quite good; it isn’t his fault that his titular series and this follow-up were poorly written.  In fact, I really like the character concept of Iron Fist as it’s presented here.  It’s mired in a lot of weird and dated kung-fu-type cliches, but this is a comic book property, after all.  The character’s shtick might be the closest the MCU comes to having a “Jedi”-type figure, and that’s fun.  (A good friend of mine who is a lifelong Star Wars fanatic really loves “The Defenders,” as well as Iron Fist’s solo show — I don’t think that’s an accident.)  Plus, Iron Fist is a great foil for the other characters on The Defenders team, who are each cynical and traumatized to some extent– he appears young and idealistic and with a sheltered upbringing, like a recent college graduate with superpowers.

I don’t know that I can actually recommend this, as you can tell from the above.  But I will say that nearly everyone I’ve heard from about this show enjoyed it more than I did.  Your mileage may vary.