Category Archives: TV & Movies

I’ve reached Peak Underwood

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Antagonists Frank and Claire Underwood

With the newest season available on Netflix, the Underwoods are less a pair of anti-heroes and more the antagonists of their own show. Season four of House of Cards gives us more of the ongoing antics of a trio of psychopaths: Frank and Claire Underwood; and their attack dog Chief of Staff, the bootlicking Doug Stemper; and surrounds them with a gaggle of people either crippled by their own corruption and moral compromises, or else compliant sheep, like the Vice President.

Spoilers follow.

I found myself cheering for Lucas, knowing he’d fail, because his assassination attempt came too early in the season to have the possibility of succeeding. I even found myself tempted to cheer for the vile Governor Conway. Tom Hammerschmidt is really the character I wanted to succeed. He’s the only protagonist I really thought might have a chance. And he does strike a possibly mortal blow to the Underwoods, who cross over into cartoon supervillainy by the end of the show.

I know that House of Cards is supposed to be some dark funhouse mirror on what happens in Washington when powerful people set their sights on a goal. But with the real life possibility of an impending Trump presidency, I don’t know that I need a fictional series about these horrible characters. I don’t want another season of them terrorizing everyone around them and having things break their way. If House of Cards isn’t about the Underwoods’ downfall, I don’t know that I will be tuning in for more House of Cards.

Baseball is stranger than fiction

 

Fiction for all that it frees the writer to bend the world to our will can still seem a step too far beyond reality when we create a certain situation or a character. It would be hard to believe that someone could get to the queen’s bedroom if Michael Fagan hadn’t done it. Or that pitcher Randy Johnson would hit a bird that happened to fly between him and home plate with a fastball.

As a part-time writer, I make stuff up for my stories. But I don’t know that I could have made up the events of last night’s ALDS game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers.

And this game came after the Jays lost the first two of the series and won the next two to force a game five. This isn’t something that happens often. Most teams that lose the first two games in the playoffs end their season and get eliminated. The stats argued against the Jays making it to game five.

In the top of the seventh inning, in a fifth and deciding game of the series, the Blue Jays are tied with the Rangers after trailing for six innings. Rougned Odor (his real name, and something no writer could make up) is on third with two out. Shin-Soo Choo, the batter, stretches his arm out to adjust his sleeve before the next pitch. Russell Martin throws the ball back to the mound. And it deflects off Choo’s outstretched arm and rolls down the third base line. Odor hesitates then runs for home. The umpire, Dale Scott waves that the ball’s dead, but Odor crosses home plate. Confusion reigns for those first few moments. Is the ball out of play? Is it dead? The umpires send Odor back to third then gather together and discuss the play. He’s ruled to have scored a run and the Rogers Centre in Toronto explodes in disapproval. After much delay and the throwing of garbage onto the field, play finally resumes. Sanchez, the pitcher strikes out Choo, but Toronto is behind by a run.

We move to the bottom of the seventh inning, where the strangeness continues. On three successive plays, the Rangers infielders make three successive errors. The Rangers should have been out of the inning, but they’re not. Instead the bases are loaded and nobody’s out. Toronto left fielder, Ben Revere, hits the ball to first base and Mitch Moreland throws it home for an out, but the bases are still loaded. Next, Toronto third baseman, Josh Donaldson, hits it just out of reach of Rougned Odor and a run scores. The Rangers manage to get Revere out at second. So now there are two outs but there are still two men on base.

Jose Bautista steps up to bat. The count goes to one ball and one strike. And in a movie moment he hits the next pitch to the third level in left field and flips his bat in a display that old time players call grandstanding. The Toronto Blue Jays go ahead six to three. The benches then clear over a misinterpretation and it looks like there’ll be a fight, but things diffuse for play to continue until the third out of the inning when the benches clear again over something minor.

Crazy.

If I wrote that inning in a story, or if you saw it in a movie, you’d roll your eyes in disbelief. Last night’s events were too bizarre to be a product of fiction, and reminds me why I like to take a break from fiction at times to watch baseball. You never know what can happen, and sometimes  it’s just so strange you can’t believe it happened.

Ex Machina: reflections on the movie

I saw Ex Machina on Friday, after waiting a while for it to be in wide enough release in my home town. Before getting to the spoilers, and there will be some , I wanted to say that I really enjoyed Ex Machina. It was the kind of science fiction that’s a nice alternative to the norm of giant explosions and overwhelming visual effects. If you like that type of movie; like Her, or Moon, then support this by going to see it in the theatres. Then we might get more movies like this.

I liked the minimal use of effects, and that this was a mostly-quiet, dialogue and idea driven story.

Ok, spoilers about the movie’s end ahead. Continue reading

New Star Trek

A few years ago, the idea of watching Star Trek fan films would have had me laughing. My first thought would have been of the kids from Galaxy Quest making a film in someone’s basement or garage.

But then at a 2005 convention in Toronto I got a look at Star Trek: New Voyages‘ episode In Harm’s Way. The show was set in the original series and meant to continue the five-year mission cut short after three years.

While the cast showed its mostly amateur background, the effects, sets and costumes were surprisingly good. The story was entertaining, combining fan favourite elements from the Doomsday Machine, and Guardian of Forever from City on the Edge of Forever, and time travel.

From there I watched as the group went on to produce more episodes. In each, the quality increased as they took on scripts written for the never-produced series Star Trek: Phase II by writers such as D.C. Fontana and David Gerrold. They recruited Star Trek alumnus Walter Koenig, George Takei, Grace Lee Whitney, and Denise Crosby, along with even more.

Then earlier this year another group started releasing episodes; Star Trek Continues. They began with a continuation of Who Mourns for Adonais, and since then released two more episodes, one a continuation of Mirror Mirror that I felt did a better job than some of the later DS9 episodes in that same vein.

In my opinion as a Trekkie these two fan series are doing more to further the Star Trek philosophy of boldly going more than the most recent big-studio version of the franchise.

I hope they both live long and prosper (but not monetarily, because then Paramount would sue).

Movies, movies, movies

In just over a week I’ve seen three movies. And all three have been well worth the price of admission.

First up was X-Men: Days of Future Past, the first of two time travel movies I saw. I never read the original comic book version of this story, so I can’t comment on its faithfulness, but the movie version was enjoyable in its own right. It was nice seeing some of the versions of characters I’ve become familiar with from past movies in the franchise, even if Ellen Page and Halle Barry don’t have much to do. It’s fun watching early versions of the characters in action, played by a good cast.

Next was Edge of Tomorrow, which was like a more violent, action themed Groundhog Day. There are a lot of similarities between Edge of Tomorrow and Groundhog Day. A character trapped in time, repeating events, trying to get himself out of the loop. Surprisingly Edge of Tomorrow also has flashes of humour based on the circumstances the protagonist finds himself in.

The third movie was How to Train Your Dragon 2. This one was different in tone overall, but still had some serious moments and more mature themes, corresponding with most of the main characters reaching early adulthood. It was visually inspired. The creature design of the many species of dragons was fantastic, and the setting and landscapes fantastic.