Category: Netflix (page 1 of 27)

A Return To Television

Courtesy Fox
“A ten percent levy on BAKED GOODS??”

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, particularly Hulu and Netflix, I’ve been able to start getting some television back in my life. I was already using Hulu for Supernatural and Law & Order: SVU, but I’ve started using it to watch newer shows, as well.

Agents of SHIELD

The first new show I broke into was the one I was looking forward to the most. Clark Gregg the actor and Phil Coulson the character are both draws to the show, as well as its promised tie-ins with the cinematic arm of the Marvel Universe. Joss Whedon got his start with television, and knowing his penchant for balanced group dynamics and tightly-plotted stories. All of these things had me set to tune in week to week from the outset.

Unfortunately, it’s also the one that’s taken the most time to get up and running. I like the characters and the premise, but the pacing and quality of stories has been somewhat inconsistent during the first season. It’s taken a couple episodes for the actors to get comfortable with their characters. It’s got plenty of potential and it’s improving with every episode, so I’m still on board.

Sleepy Hollow

This is not the Disney version of the classic tale of the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane. Nor is it anything like Tim Burton’s sumptuous adaptation. This time around, Ichabod Crane is a soldier fighting in America’s war against the British. He meets a particularly nasty Hessian mercenary on the battlefield, and the two come to blows. The Hessian deals a mortal wound to Ichabod, who responds by cutting off the hired gun’s head. Both of them fall, and that would be the end of it… except 250 years later, the Hessian rises from the dead, as does Ichabod. He’s picked up by the local police, and meets Lieutenant Abbie Mills, who’s lost her mentor to a redcoat on horseback minus his head. The question is, can she trust this seemingly insane Englishman who claims to have been a soldier under George Washington?

I’ve heard the premise of this show called ‘a bit silly’. And it is. The whole thing is a bit silly. But it’s no sillier than your standard set-up for an episode of Supernatural, and I watch the hell out of that show. What Sleepy Hollow has going for it is smart writing, deliciously old-school production values with practical effects and some wicked monster designs, and an excellent cast. I also like that Tom Mison, who plays the intelligent and determined but somewhat hapless Ichabod, is the only white male in the hero cast. Nicole Beharie and Orlando Jones are both phenomenal, portraying strong, smart, and interesting characters that don’t get relegated to spouting colloquialisms or falling into stereotypes. The pilot hits the ground running and it’s kept up a good pace since then. It’s definitely a new favorite.

Almost Human

The year is 2048. Technology has kind of exploded, and lead to all sorts of open and black market nastiness. To keep up, police have started using military-grade androids to supplement their human detectives. During a raid, Detective John Kennex is seriously injured, and spends a couple years in a coma, waking up to find his leg has been replaced with an advanced prosthesis. He doesn’t acclimate to work too well after that, and he keeps going through synthetic partners. Rudy, the lab technician and local android guru, pairs Kennex up with a DRN model, instead of the usual MX one. While MX models are designed to be purely logical and coldly calculating, ‘Dorian’ was created to be as close to human as possible, with all of the emotional unpredictability that entails. Everybody’s just crossing their fingers that Kennex doesn’t push this one into traffic.

From the start, the show gave me a very pleasant Blade Runner/Deus Ex vibe. I’m a fan of Karl Urban in most of his roles, and casting him as a law enforcement officer keeps reminding me of how good he is as Judge Dredd. Pairing him with Michael Ealy’s Dorian works extremely well. Dorian reminds me a bit of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but where Data was perplexed by the concept of emotions, Dorian struggles to deal with his while making observations on Kennex’s condition and behavior. The two have fantastic chemistry and, like Sleepy Hollow, the show has hit the ground running. The concepts and visuals of the near future have almost an ‘uncanny valley’ feel to them, as it feels like our world and yet is totally different. It’s well-realized, well-shot, and I’m eager to see more of it.

What TV have you been tuning into lately? Will you check out these shows?

Movie Review: Justice League: Doom

Even when I was younger, I knew there was something that set Batman: The Animated Series apart from other cartoons. At the time I chalked it up to visual style – the black cels really sold the noir asthetic of Gotham. However, looking back, the writing is incredibly solid and often goes to dark places for what is obstensibly a children’s program. I haven’t watched a great deal of the Justice League or Justice League Unlimited series, but after watching Justice League: Doom instead of shelling out for Injustice: Gods Among Us, I may have to correct that oversight.

Courtesy Warner Bros

Batman is, as a rule, paranoid. He’s a very rich man with a very odd nightlife and some very interesting friends, ranging from nigh-invincible aliens to smart-alec test pilots with magic jewelry. He knows for a fact that they’re good people, these friends of his, but he also knows that good people can be mislead, controlled, manipulated, or even turn bad. So he has plans for dealing with each and every one of these friends. Now what, do you suppose, happens when these plans get stolen, cranked up, and unleashed on Batman and his friends in the Justice League? This is the brainchild of immortal douchebag Vandal Savage and his newly forged Legion of Doom.

What Justice League: Doom does right is taking the focus away from major super-powered threats or earth-shattering kabooms. The scope of this film is a lot smaller, its tone more intimate, than most stories that deal with super-heroes, especially teams. With animated features, where special effects are less limited by things like budget, the temptation can exist for a creative team or vision to override more character-focused story points. Thankfully, Doom does not fall into that trap. For most of its running time, we see how Batman’s contingency plans wreck havoc in the lives of his teammates. And since the plans are meant to deal these super-powered individuals on both a physical and a psychological level, the plans can be rather insidious, and make for good watching.

Courtesy Warner Bros
The art style is crisp but may seem too childish or anime for some.

The nature of the conflict is matched by good pacing and excellent voice work all around. Both Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly reprise their long standing roles as Batman and Superman, respectively. I happen to like Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, and Nathan Fillion supplying the voice was a great bonus. With this core of talent, the characters really come to life. This helps drive home some of the moments that could define, or destroy, these heroes. There’s also the fact that many of those moments go to very dark territory. We have bombs bolted to people’s bodies, live burials, major psychological trauma, and even people getting shot point-blank in the chest. It’s clear from the outset that this story isn’t messing around.

Unfortunately, Justice League: Doom is not perfect. The nature of the Legion of Doom’s formation means that each member other than Savage has a personal beef with an individual hero on the Justice League, and pairings pretty much remain fixed throughout the final battle. For example, Mirror Master might have given Superman a run for his money, and how would Metallo fare against Green Lantern? Another problem is in said final battle; since the plans are resolved as a prelude to said battle, most of the interesting character points have already happened or are largely inconsequential. It feels a great deal like the final minutes of Justice League: Doom simply run out of steam, which is a shame considering it’s good opening and fantastic second act.

Courtesy Warner Bros
I really like Mirror Master’s design. The see-through look nails the character.

Stuff I Liked: The implementation of the plans to take out the Justice League. I liked seeing these versions of Bane, Star Sapphire, Metallo, and particularly Mirror Master. Batman revealing he’s always got kryptonite available made me grin like an idiot.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: Vandal Savage is perhaps my least favorite kind of villain: he’s evil for evil’s sake. His plan is megalomaniacal in the extreme and he has only the most paper-thin of excuses for carrying it out. I’m still not a huge fan of Superman; it seems difficult for a given writer to decide just how much power kryptonite has over him or how long it takes for the glowing rocks to weaken him.
Stuff I Loved: The voice acting is very good. There’s a moment about halfway through involving Cheetah and Vandal Savage that really impressed me with its audacity. I’m not too ashamed to say I enjoyed Superman getting shot. Hal Jordan remains my favorite Green Lantern, and having him voiced by Nathan Fillion was a great moment of fanboy enjoyment for me.

Bottom Line: For all of the imperfections I saw emerging, Justice League: Doom still tells a decent story and inhabits some of the more fantastical characters of the DC universe with some humanity and vulnerability. As good as it could have been with some elements mixed a bit more and a couple more chances taken, what it does is done well.

Hiatus

Courtesy the Parable Teller

This is something I’ve been thinking hard about lately. Here’s the situation.

Angry Robot Books and their precocious & spry child company, Strange Chemistry, are opening their doors to authors in late April. I’d love to send them a finished novel, and the work with the best chance, Citizen in the Wilds, is in the middle of a major rewrite. Between work and my other interests it’s been difficult to find the time to give the novel the attention that it needs, and I’ve been making lots of lame excuses to myself.

I’m gonna nip that in the bud right now.

I’m putting IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! on hiatus for the foreseeable future. It’s had a decent run, but it’s a bit time-consuming to put together every week considering how little difference it makes in my overall impact at the moment. And besides, the plan’s always been to become a novelist, and insightful if occasionally cranky podcast movie reviews may be fun but they really don’t contribute to that.

I’ve been brewing something else to do on Fridays, something more in line with my overall goals, but that too will have to wait. What I will probably do between now and April 30th, the day the aforementioned doors close, is keep track of how many words I’ve written/copied from the old draft, how far along I am in the overall plot of the novel, and share inspiration or frustrations I’ve encountered in the course of the rewrite.

This also means that my Cold Iron efforts are somewhat on hold. I’ve gotten great feedback from a couple of my test readers and I’m excited to work on the cover for the novella, but to keep working on that would, again, take time away from Citizen. To make sure I meet my deadline I’ve had to flip those priorities, so I’ll be back to writing about the pursuit of supernatural nastiness Law & Order style sometime in April or May.

Finally, I’m going to have to force myself to not log into my games. Chuck would tell you that writers need to carve their time in bloody chunks out of other parts of the day, and sometimes you need to stick the gore-dripping knife in the well-meaning face of your distractions and say “No.” This is one of those times.

So that’s it. To everyone who’s supported ICFN with your comments, suggestions, and criticisms, thank you. I’m in your debt. I’m glad my work in that particular experiment has entertained and amused, and am especially grateful to those of you who supported me with direct donations. I’ll update the archive page over the weekend so you can always find the old entries, filled with spotty audio, derivative commentary, plenty of would-be intellectual musing, and the occasional cuss-filled rant.

Just be sure to hit the lights on your way out.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Aliens

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

I may have said this before, but it bears repeating: there was a time when sequels were not foregone conclusions. People like a good serial, to be sure, but not every entry into a genre is going to become a bestselling franchise. These days sequel hooks are practically a requirement as part of the conclusion of a story. Having one person survive a horrific ordeal doesn’t necessarily qualify as a sequel hook, but it does have the advantage of concluding the original story in a satisfying way while leaving the door open for a new story to pick up where the original ends. Such was the case in 1986 when Ridley Scott’s Alien was followed by James Cameron’s Aliens.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Of the events aboard the ill-fated Nostromo, there were two survivors: Warrant Officer Ripley and Jones, the ship’s cat. Rescued by a salvage team as the Nostromo’s shuttle drifted through space, Ripley is awakened from cryonic stasis to find 57 years have elapsed and she has no evidence of the unknown attacker that savaged her crew and forced the destruction of her ship. The company revokes her flight status and tell her that if such creatures exists, the 50-60 families that colonized the planet her crew landed on would have said something, right? When the company loses contact with the colony, they tap Ripley to accompany a team of Colonial Marines sent to investigate. They have military training, superior firepower, plenty of attitude… and are completely unprepared for what awaits them.

This film is a significant tonal shift from the original Alien. Ridley Scott’s film is a claustrophobic and shockingly intimate descent into nightmare, while Cameron’s plays more as a sci-fi action yarn with horror elements. Even so, there is a coherence in aesthetic that keeps the stories feeling closely related beyond threads of the plot. Despite not taking as much time to expound on every character involved, Aliens still contains the close environments and elements of tension that make the original memorable to this day. In other words, it does what a sequel needs to do in order to be a true success: it holds true to the original while expanding the scope of the story.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
It’s all about girl power.

While many action films draw their power from the decidedly male side of things, Aliens also continues the tradition of not only having a female lead, but playing on rather feminist themes. Alien dealt very much with rape and bodily violation (even if it was interspecies) while Aliens focuses on female empowerment and motherhood. From the smart-gun wielding take-no-prisoners Vasquez to the dropship pilot Ferro, women are seen comfortably holding positions of power and performing jobs with distinction. Ripley herself continues to grow, showing a great deal of depth and complexity along with the ingenuity and bravery that got her through the first encounter. This isn’t to say the men are marginalized by any stretch. Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen turn in great performances, and Al Matthews’ Sergeant Apone is quite memorable, serving as the template for future Marine sergeants in places like Halo. Carrie Henn turns in one of the most effective child performances I’ve ever seen. Finally, Aliens pulls off the feat of making everybody want to punch quintessential nice guy Paul Reiser in the face. Though I’m sure those who didn’t like the TV show Mad About You wouldn’t need his role as a sleazy corporate douchecanoe to add to their incentive.

In addition to its cast being well-rounded and progressive rather than running entirely on machismo, Aliens seems to have something to say about the nature of asymmetrical warfare. Here we have a team of highly-trained well-armed soldiers plunging headlong into an environment they know little about, trusting their high-tech weaponry to prevail over whatever’s in their path. But the enemy is something they’ve never encountered before. They are belligerent and numerous. They exist in a setting that is unnerving and (let’s face it) alien to the Marines, and they use the enemy’s ignorance to their advantage. They conceal their numbers, they strike without warning, and their methods are brutal and inhumane. This setup could be used as a metaphor for quite a few of America’s wars, though Cameron had Vietnam in mind when he was making the film.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Oo-rah.

All the same, it goes without saying that Aliens is decidedly less frightening than Alien. There are elements of horror, to be sure, mostly in the form of jump-out scares, but given the expansion of the cast, the shift in focus, and the presence of so many automatic firearms, this should come as no surprise. It does have tense moments, though, exemplified in the Special Edition scene involving the sentry guns. It’s funny to me that 20th Century Fox said this scene showed “too much nothing” when building tension in a movie like this is essential to its success. I guess it shows what studio executives know about storytelling.

No matter what edition you see it in, Aliens is definitely worth watching. It’s solid construction comes from being built on the great foundation of Alien and it wisely finds ways to expand its scope without sacrificing what worked the first time around. A strong female lead, great character beats all around, and the visual aesthetic of a sci-fi action director who would become one of the best in his field contribute to make a memorable film that may other movies and several first-person shooters would borrow heavily from for decades. It’s a great mix of fun and frightening.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Alien

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/alien.mp3]

Our fear of the dark is something primal, something elemental. It hearkens back to the days when we were scraping out our existences in caves and under large trees hoping bigger predators covered in fur and claws weren’t about to leap out of the underbrush and use our intestines as a meaty spaghetti dinner. Since then we’ve learned to do things like create firearms, build sturdy housing, and put all of our information in one place so we can share, argue over, and laugh about it all day instead of doing necessary jobs. But even with the Internet and guns, the fear of the dark is, for many, still there. And it doesn’t get much darker than the depths of space, where as Alien reminds us, nobody can hear you scream. Unless you’re on a spacecraft of some kind.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

The events do in fact take place on a spacecraft, the interplanetary ore hauler Nostromo, crewed by the half-past-the-future equivalent of a team of truck drivers. The captain, Dallas, receives orders from his corporate masters to set down on a planet nearby to investigate a distress signal. Despite the protestations of his crew, he sets out with his first officer Kane and navigator Lambert after they land. When they return, Kane has been… attacked. Warrant Officer Ripley, senior member of the crew with Dallas away and Kane incapacitated, orders them to remain outside for quarantine, but the science officer, Ash, lets them in anyway. What happens next has rampaged through nightmares and five more movies of varying quality.

This is where it all began for the disturbing alien creature referred to as a ‘xenomorph’ in the sequel. Strange creatures born out of space doing nasty things to human beings is nothing new in cinema. War of the Worlds and This Island Earth immediately spring to mind as examples of previous films that dealt with this sort of close encounter. Few of those films are truly frightening, coming off these days as more cheesy or quaint. Alien, however, despite thirty years of film making innovation, holds up as something disturbing to an effective degree. You may not lose all bowel control as folks tend to do when playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but you’ll probably come away from the film at least little unnerved.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
“No. I don’t care what you say, I am NOT sitting in its lap.”

Part of this is due to the casting. Veterans Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, John Hurt, and Yaphet Kotto were joined with newcomer (at the time) Sigourney Weaver to play normal, working-class people who just happen to do their jobs in space. Their conversations and interactions should remind modern fans of the sort of back-and-forth seen in shows like Firefly, if a bit more subdued and quiet. It’s still a bit difficult for me to hear every line spoken in the first twenty or so of the film, as the conversations are held at a low, interpersonal tone. I have to wonder if this was intentional on the part of director Ridley Scott, drawing us as the audience closer inch by inch until things start grabbing bloody hold of the crew.

When shit does hit the fan, it does so as viscerally as possible and there’s very little time to catch one’s breath. The scenes in the latter two thirds of the film are filled with tension and uncertainty. Very wisely, we don’t get a very clear view of the xenomorph until we’re close to the end. As it crawls through the Nostromo‘s air ducts picking the crew off one by one, the brainchild of H.R. Giger shows itself to be a very intuitive, very vicious, and very perverse sort of creature. It seems to truly enjoy stalking these humans and doing unspeakable things to them. This is a major part of what makes it so fearsome. It isn’t a mindless beast lashing out in fear or hunger. This thing knows exactly what it is, what it does, and likes it.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Bilbo’s probably just missing Bag End.

There are a couple jump-scares that happen, but most of Alien‘s effectiveness comes from the fear of the unknown, the twists that new viewers may not see coming. They’re done so well and with such sincerity that even I, a repeat viewer, am still a little unnerved by what happens. This is the sign of a story well-told. No matter its age, no matter the scene of popular media around it, its beats still ring true and its characters still come to life. This, above any of the disturbing imagery or foundations of films that came after, is why I highly recommend Alien. Fire it up and see how this nightmare began.

And next time, I’ll tell you how it continued.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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