A few quick words on “24: Legacy” (2017)

I hate to say it, but “24: Legacy” (2017) was mostly average stuff; I’d give the 12-episode arc a 7 out of 10 for being a mildly engaging thriller, but nothing more than that.

I was one of the few people back in the day who opined that “24” could continue even without Kiefer Sutherland.  As priceless as he was in his role as anti-hero Jack Bauer, he wasn’t the only star of the show — the show’s gritty universe and its unique format could carry on without him.  I even thought, during the early years, that Fox was grooming Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) to be a viable lead if Sutherland departed.

I still think the show could manage without Sutherland.  The real culprit behind “Legacy’s” failure to stand out was its somewhat average writing.  It wasn’t bad, exactly … it was just average.  (Alright — for a little while, it was bad.  We see a key subplot/cliffhanger repeated three times, consecutively, in the same season. I’m surprised that major redundancy made it past the editing process.)  But mostly, it was average — we see thin staples of characters, and a plot that seemed largely reminiscent of … well, every other season of “24.”  (Admittedly, it must be tough after nine years to think up an original story for a serialized contemporary terror thriller in real-time format.)

The sad part is this — during the show’s final two or three episodes, it started showing more promise, with truly original plotting and unexpected conflicts.

The show got disappointing ratings.  We won’t know until at least May, but I think most viewers are guessing it won’t be renewed for another season.

 

“Life’s” a bitch.

Or at least it is to the astronauts who make an abortive attempt to escort it back to Earth.  (They realize that bringing a Martian organism home is a bad idea in this year’s surprisingly satisfying science fiction-thriller.)

I actually had more fun with this than I expected; the movie is much faster paced and scarier than the trailer made it look.  There are some real surprises and moments of genuine horror here, following a requisite plot setup that is relatively brief.  It’s a really nice monster movie that should please fans of the genre.

I actually didn’t prefer its ending, which is something for which other reviewers are praising it a lot.   I’m disinclined to say more, for fear of spoilers.  The movie’s marketing already spoiled enough.  (The ads infuriatingly show the fate of a main character.)

I will say what the movie is not, however.

One, it’s not a stealth prequel for Sony’s planned 2018 “Spider-Man” spinoff, “Venom” (though that’s such a clever idea, I wish I’d thought of it).

Two, it’s not a ripoff of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” (1979).  Yes, it’s got the same MacGuffin, and some story parallels that I noticed early on.  But I like to think of this as a more grounded contemporary thriller, where “Alien” was a futuristic fantasy creature feature.  Besides, if we criticize every “haunted-house-in-space” movie as an “Alien” imitator, we won’t get more of them.

I’d give this an 8 out of 10, and I’d recommend it.

 

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Grandin Village, Virginia, March 2017

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Only in the South can you find an “ice cream and soda bar” on the main strip.  Some great friends of mine introduced me to “Pop’s” a couple of weeks ago.  Diet be damned; I can’t wait to find an excuse to go back.

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The below sign for Tae Kwon Do apparently advertises training in styles from “Traditional” through “WTF.”

I’d love to know what the “WTF” style of fighting is.  I’ll bet it’s something to see.

Below the sign is Grace’s Pizzeria.  (I wish I’d gotten a better picture.)  The pizza there is damn good, if a little extra greasy.

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A review of “Logan” (2017)

I’m not sure I agree with quite all of the accolades that “Logan” (2017) has been receiving.  (It’s being compared with Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” for example, as well as Frank Miller’s medium-altering 1986 graphic novel, “The Dark Knight Returns.”)  It’s still a damn good movie, though, and easily among the best of Fox’s “X-Men” series.  I’d give it a 9 out of 10, and I’d firmly recommend it.

This absolutely doesn’t feel like a “comic book movie.”  It feels more like a brutally violent, sometimes introspective, road-trip drama — though all of the comic book elements are still there.  I’d caution comic book fans that “Logan” was actually much darker than I expected — and, no, it wasn’t just because of the visceral violence that could only be afforded by this movie’s unusual “R” rating.  There was a lot more that went on here that got under my skin … I just can’t say more for fear of spoilers.

There is one thing I can tell you — there is none of the escapism of past “X-Men” films.  (C’mon, for being about a supposedly oppressed group, those movies always made being a mutant look fun as hell, and even glamorous.)  This film follows an aging, ailing Wolverine, and an even worsely afflicted Professor X — subsisting in secret in the Mexico desert.  What’s more, they and their aging friend, Caliban, appear to be among the last of their kind, thanks to an unexplained, decades-long absence of new mutant births.  And what little exposition is given about the other X-Men suggests that they are dead.  If you’ve been a fan of these iconic characters for a long time, then seeing Wolverine and Professor X being so painfully not larger than life is jarring, and even sad.  No matter what is the outcome of its story, this movie’s plot setup alone can make an “X-Men” fan a little despondent.

The action is damned good.  The movie surprised me by how smart it was, too.  Its examination of violence and its consequences is unflinching.  Also, we’ve been instructed through so many “X-Men” movies that humans should not seek to contain the mutants out of fear … yet “Logan” adroitly and subtly questions such one-sided moralizing.  The acting, across the board, is extremely good — predictably from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, and surprisingly from 11-year-old Dafne Keen.  She’s perfect as the young, imperiled, yet ferocious Laura.

My complaints with “Logan” were minor.  One thing that irked me was my own confusion about whether it was “canon.”  Are we to assume that this takes place in the “X-Men” movies’ “main continuity?”  Or is this a parallel universe or a different timeline?  The feel of this film is so radically different that I found it difficult to imagine it following the previous films (although the post-credits sequence in 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse” seems to set up “Logan.”)  I thought that this was based on Marvel Comics’ “Old Man Logan” storyline … wasn’t that an alternate universe story?

Maybe adding more to my confusion, “X-Men” comic books actually exist in the universe of this film.  Laura carries a bunch of them, and they are a minor plot point.  Does this mean that the humans in this universe have finally accepted mutants, enough to create comic books about them being heroes?  How did that come about?

My second criticism of “Logan” is that the character of Laura is thinly rendered.  Saving her is the plot device for the entire film, and Keen is absolutely talented.  Shouldn’t we know more about her, and about her relationship with Logan and Charles?

All in all, this was a superb film, though — with an unexpected tone and a surprisingly sober, risk-taking approach to Jackman’s avowed last appearance as Wolverine.  If you like the “X-Men” movies at all, then you should definitely see it.

 

 

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A short review of “XX” (2017)

I’m sorry to report that this year’s “XX” doesn’t quite live up to the great horror anthology that its trailer promises.  This quartet of female-directed horror shorts is actually quite average, when considered together, and I’d give it a 6 out of 10.

Only the first segment is truly memorable — “The Box,” adapted from a short story by Jack Ketchum.  The directing and scoring is superb.  (Seriously, the music is quite good.)  The acting is also good throughout this segment, most especially by “The Strain’s” Natalie Brown.  She’s a good actress and she’s starting to grow on me.  (And her memorable last lines here, which I assume come from the text of Ketchum’s story, are weird and haunting.)  This quarter of “XX” gets under your skin.

Despite “The Box” being capably developed and unnerving, however, there were no conventional scares at all.  It hardly felt like a horror short; it was more like a particularly macabre and ambiguous parable.  Nor is the story’s mystery solved — it’s left open-ended.

The second segment is largely a waste of time, despite being stylishly shot and scored.  (Hint: it’s got the same story device as “Weekend at Bernie’s.”)

The remaining two tales are more standard horror stories.  I’d suggest they are somewhat fair at best.

I think I would recommend this only to the most well rounded horror fans who are in the mood for something different.  And, even then, it might only be for the peculiar elements of “The Box.”

 

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A very short review of “Don’t Hang Up” (2017)

“Don’t Hang Up” (2017) is an absolutely derivative horror movie that nevertheless manages to be halfway decent.  I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.

We follow a handful of older teenage boys whose favorite avocation is perpetrating cruel prank phone calls and then posting them on the Internet.  The horror genre’s penchant for vengeance should make their comeuppance predictable.  “Don’t Hang Up” seems to borrow in equal (large) measure from the “Saw” and “Scream” film franchises, with touches of “Unfriended” (2014) and even “Silence of the Lambs” (1991).

Still, this was a halfway serviceable scary movie.  There were nice moments of tension, and it held my interest.

This doesn’t belong on anyone’s must-see list, but it’s a fun enough time-waster if you can’t find a better movie.

 

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