Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mini movie review: The Martian

I'll just come right out and say it: while this movie is pretty good, it is not as good as the book.   The Martian, by Andy Weir, was a surprise bestseller, a terrific science fiction book where even NASA said that the science was spot-on.  It is a very funny book too, in addition to all the science and suspense, told in first-person by Mark Watney, stranded on Mars after a mission gets scrubbed.  You can read my mini review of the book for plot summary, if you like, because the movie does stick pretty well to the narrative.

The Martian-movie version is a little too long and just not as funny or as suspenseful as the book.  Although he does a decent job, I'm not convinced Matt Damon was the right choice to play Watney.  It's a tough role, seeing how so much of the story is just Watney, alone on Mars, doing calculations and science-ing the shit out of stuff.  The rest of the cast is good, filled by surprisingly big names who don't get all that much to do.  I'm glad I watched it but if you have a choice, read the book.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Preacher recap "Pilot" S1E1 5/23/16

When I finished watching the pilot for AMC's new series, Preacher, this is about all I could articulate:  "Whafuck?"  And so now I'm going to recap it.  I know absolutely nothing about the comics so what we see on the show is what we get.  Please note: this show is best consumed with a glass of whiskey.

OUTER SPACE - In the cheesiest, most mid-century sci-fi way possible, some throbbing thing shoots through the galaxy, heading for Earth.

AFRICA - The alien(?), invisible, throbbing thing bursts into a corrugated tin shack church, slamming into a charismatic preacher just as he holds forth about the Word of God.  The small congregation cheers and applauds the miracle and the preacher intones in a deep, throbbing voice BE QUIET.  Everyone immediately gets silent. The preacher says that he is the prophet, the chosen one.  And then he explodes, drenching the first few rows with blood and guts and bits.  The congregation flees, shrieking, and the alien, invisible, throbbing thing rushes out of the church, looking for its next infiltration.

FLASHBACK - In black and white, a preacher, on his knees, tells his off-screen son Jesse to promise him [something].  Jesse promises and then there's a gunshot.

TEXAS - Our preacher, the now-grown Jesse Custer, drags his hungover self out of bed and into the church.  He voiceovers his sermon - a page of which he inadvertently dropped; and a portion of which hinges on an episode of Friday Night Lights - as the camera moves through the dried-up town of Annville.  He's a terrible preacher and his organist plays him off the pulpit so everyone can get outside to the picnic portion of the church day.  There are a lot of rednecks, drinkin' beer and shootin' squirrels and eatin' potato salad.  A boy grabs a beer out of the cooler and tracks down Preacher Jesse, who is desperate to get away from a sad sack parishioner who is bending his ear about his troubles with his mother.  When Jesse sends the sad sack away, the boy says that his dad is mean and hurts his momma, and he wants the preacher to hurt him - he's heard that before Jesse became a preacher, he "did things."  Jesse demurs because "violence makes violence makes nothin' much at all."  He does offer to talk to the kid's daddy and the kid blows him off, disgusted:  "Right.  Pray for me, preacher."  Jesse:  "If there was anyone listenin', I would, believe me."

Later that evening, Jesse is sitting in his truck on Main Street, drinking straight out of the bottle when Sheriff Root interrupts him.  He asks Jesse to swing by and see "Eugene," who has been asking for him.  Jesse agrees.  He asks the sheriff to talk to the boy's momma, the one who's being beaten by her husband.  The sheriff is all, I will respond to a formal complaint, which of course they both know isn't coming.  Jesse: "Of course.  Don't want to lose the wife-beatin', squirrel-shootin', redneck vote.  I imagine that's a key demographic for you."  The sheriff sort of brushes him off and tells him to drive careful.

30,000 FEET UP - There is a serious party going on in a private jet, heading for Tijuana.  One of the bartenders is a hilarious, nearly unintelligible Irish bartender who is doling out drinks and drugs as fast as his customers can consume them.  When the bartender excuses himself to the bathroom, he finds a heavily annotated Bible hidden in a cabinet. It means something to him because when he returns to the main cabin, he instigates the most amazing fight.  There are more swords, spears and large knives hidden about the cabin than you might imagine and the other men make use of them, but the Irish bartender handily takes them down, using a golf club, a heavy glass bong, a silver tray and empty wine bottles, one of which he throws into the chest of the pilot who has also entered the fray.  The bartender asks "How'd you wankers find me then?"  When one of the remaining men tells him to go to hell, he shrugs - when will you idjits ever learn? - and then plunges his face into the man's neck.  Because he's a vampire, of course.  Alarms start sounding as the plane starts going down, so he fills an empty booze bottle with some blood, grabs an umbrella from the coatrack and throws himself out of the plane with a grin.  I don't know what the fuck is going on here but it's awesome.

TEXAS - Jay, the sad sack, is plaguing Jesse at the diner the next morning as he eats with his organist (also a waitress at the diner), talking about sick parishioners, next Sunday's church service, her love life.

BACK IN AFRICA - Two weird dudes, dressed head to toe in early 20th century khaki safari gear, drive into the village and check out the church.

TEXAS - Jesse goes to check on a parishioner who has missed work.  The old man is passed out on his couch and when Jesse steps into the house, he sees a pistol on the sideboard and hears the shower running.  "Thanks for the warning, Walter," he snipes at the unconscious man as he quickly skedaddles.  A young woman hears the door and steps out of the shower, watches Jesse drive away.

KANSAS, NOT THAT LONG AGO - A muscle car swerves off the highway and through a cornfield as the driver - a young woman, the one who stepped out of the shower at Walter's house - fights with two much larger men who are also in the car.  She kills one of them quickly (he collapses onto the gas pedal, keeping the car going); she struggles mightily with the other guy, biting his ear off.  The car emerges from the cornfield into a farmhouse's dooryard: the man falls out of the car; the girl kicks him in the crotch and then slams two unshucked ears of corn down his throat.  "Gimme back my map!" she says, pulling it out of his pocket.  From behind her:  "Awesome! So awesome!"  Her audience is a couple of little kids:  the little girl informs her that she's ten, and she's in charge.  The young woman quickly assesses the situation and asks the kids if they like arts and crafts.  She is funny and charming and clever and they help her MacGyver together a bazooka out of cans, moonshine and tin soldiers.  The kids are smitten.  As a helicopter approaches, she puts them in the tornado cellar and tells them not to come out until the noise has stopped, "just like a parade."  The camera stays with the two little kids in the cellar and we watch their stunned faces as we hear the offscreen shots, explosions and screams for mercy.  When it quiets down, they come out.  The young woman apologizes for all the mess ... "but fun, huh?"  The little girl asks her name.  "My friends all call me Tulip," she says, and gives them a wink before driving off.  The little girl's face is transcendent, full of hero worship.  I have to say that I'm fairly smitten by Tulip myself.

SOMEWHERE - The Irish vampire is alive, but just barely, body exploded in a crater by the impact when he landed after bailing out of the plane.  A curious cow comes over and the vampire coaxes it closer.  "Come to Cassidy," he coos before grabbing the poor cow.  I guess you need sustenance after, you know, exploding on impact.

TEXAS - Jesse fulfills his promise to the boy from the church picnic, going to talk with the boy's mother, Betsy.  She admits that her husband (Donnie) hurts her - beats her, whips her, scalds her - but when Jesse asks her to make a complaint to the sheriff, she's all, you don't understand.  "I like it.  When he hurts me, I like it."  She seems to be telling the truth and Jesse is all, WTF?

RUSSIA - The two weird dudes, this time wearing huge fur hats, drive up to a Satanist church as a frantic man screams [Russian subtitles] about how the priest just exploded, getting brains and blood all over everything.

TEXAS - Jesse and Tulip meet up.  They've got a lot of history and Tulip tries to convince him to help her with some job, the one with the map she had to kill those guys and the helicopter for.  He rebuffs her, saying that he doesn't do that anymore.  She can't believe that he's back here, in this town, playing straight: "We are who we are ... why waste another minute pretending we're different."  After he leaves her, he goes to the sheriff's house to see Eugene.  The sheriff hands him a disgusting puree of red meat, hot sauce and veggies - "It's his dinner" - and sends Jesse upstairs.  Horror movie music plays as the preacher climbs the stairs ... then the bedroom door is flung open by this young man.  Eugene is a sweet, enthusiastic, open boy - whose face is weirdly, disgusting disfigured [I believe in the comics his nickname is "Arseface," so picture that].  Eugene wants to come back to church because he thinks God has abandoned him because of "what [he] did."  Jesse agrees that what he did was wrong [Are we to assume that whatever Eugene did caused his face to be like that?] but that church is for everyone and God forgives him.  Jesse is very kind to him: "No matter what you done, if you need Him, He has to be there for you ... God doesn't hold grudges."  Eugene thanks him and pulls him into a big hug.

T.V. news onscreen in a bar in town:  Tom Cruise has just spontaneously exploded at a Church of Scientology meeting.  How fucking awesome is that - genius.  As Jesse sits nursing a beer, Cassidy struts in, asking for a bottle of whiskey.  He drinks half of it and then scoots over to talk with the preacher.  Neither Jesse nor I can understand more than one word in three he says.  After Cassidy excuses himself to find a phone (he calls a buddy, asking for money and asking how "they" keep finding him), a bunch of Revolutionary Civil War reenacters walk into the bar.  Donnie is one of them and he wastes no time punching Jesse around for talking to Betsy.  It isn't until Donnie says he's going to have to beat his son for snitching that Jesse takes a stand.  He was willing to take a few punches but only a few.  And then a most excellent bar fight as Donnie and at least four of his buddies try to beat the living shit out of the preacher.  But Jesse can more than hold his own - a slight smile on his face throughout the whole fight - and he puts each of them down, with a very slight assist from Cassidy.  The sheriff arrives to put a stop to things but Jesse is all, "Almost done, Sheriff."  And then he snaps Donnie's big, meaty forearm over his knee and Donnie squeals at the bone poking through his skin.

Later, in the cell, Cassidy is all, WTF kind of preacher are you?  "The bad kind," admits Jesse.  With some coaxing, Jesse says that he came back to keep a promise.  The church organist bails Jesse out and drives him home.  He tells her that he's quitting and he'll tell the parishioners at Sunday's service.  "I am who I am, I guess."  She is bitterly disappointed:  "You were never really here in the first place, Jesse, so what difference will your leaving make?"  After she drives away, Jesse notices lights blinking up at the church.  He goes inside but the power is off and everything is still.  He sits in one of the pews and gives God an ultimatum:  speak to me now or never.  When he gets no response, he shrugs, lights a cigarette and stands up.  Just then, the alien, invisible, throbbing entity enters the church, pushing the wooden pews aside as it moves up the nave.  Jesse stares, dumbfounded, as the entity/force/??? moves closer and closer.  And then it slams into him with a rush, throwing him back up into the altar.

FLASHBACK - Jesse's dad, on his knees, tells him that he needs to be one of the good guys because there's too many of the bad ones.  As off-screen young Jesse sobs, someone shoots his dad in the head.

TEXAS - After being unconscious with a fever for three days, Jesse wakes up on Sunday.  (Please note that he hasn't exploded.)  Cassidy had found him passed out in the church; the Irishman subsequently moved into the church attic and fixed the A/C.  Jesse hurries to get ready for the service and as he walks up to the church, the sad sack catches him again, still complaining about how his mother treats him.  Jesse turns to him and says - in an intense, throbbing voice - "Be brave, tell her the truth, open your heart."  The sad sack stares at him, repeating the words.  Jesse: "Did you hear that?" as car alarms go off in the distance.  But the sad sack is already walking away, repeating Jesse's words like a mantra.

At church, where Tulip and Cassidy have slunk in the back, Donnie is with his family, arm in a sling, and Eugene is sitting next to his dad, Jesse tells the congregation that there's no sermon today, plus he'll try not to punch anyone either.  Then he says that he's let everyone down, that he's been a bad preacher, and that as of right now, he's gonna fight for them, pray for the sinner, avenge the innocent, cool the wrathful, welcome those who are lost and speak forth the Word of God.

Speaking of the Word of God, the sad sack has taken a plane to Florida and then driven to his mother's retirement home, continuously repeating Jesse's words.  He pauses at the snacks table and then finds his mother.  Calmly, he asks his mother to stop criticizing him constantly and although he has been a disappointment to her, he is her only son and it would mean so much to him if she would treat him with respect.  And now, he goes on, unbuttoning his shirt and picking up a huge knife, "I have to open my heart to you."  And he plunges the knife into his chest and rips the still-beating heart out of his chest.

Cut to Jesse:  "For all this I am responsible.  I am that preacher.  This is my answer.  This is why I've come home: to save you."

Cut to: those two weird dudes.  One of them eats a teabag (???!!?) while the other walks up and reports, "It's here."  Now they're wearing big cowboy hats and cowboy boots and they're standing just down the road from Jesse's church.

I mean, seriously, this is the most bugfuck show I have watched in a long time and I watch a lot of weird stuff.  So far, I love it.

Next time on Preacher

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Mini movie reviews: Trainwreck and Sleeping with Other People

I'm not generally one for romantic/sex comedies/dramedies so it is a little surprising to me that I ended up watching not one but two this weekend:  Amy Schumer's Trainwreck and Alison Brie/Jason Sudeikis's Sleeping with Other People.  In the interest of full disclosure: I watched the whole of Trainwreck but my faulty Netflix DVD of SwOP crapped out on me with about twenty minutes to go - on the plus side, I can't spoil the ending for anyone!

I thought Trainwreck was a hoot.  Amy Schumer plays a hard-drinking NYC working girl who took her philandering father's life lessons to heart and cannot commit to a monogamous relationship.  Even when her would-be steady guy is played by John Cena (DAAAAAAMN).  She parties hard and picks up dudes as she likes and - other than the sheer numbers of partners - has a very healthy sex life.  She knows what she wants and what she wants, in part, is for the guy to not sleep over.  Amy works for a Cosmo-like magazine and is assigned to do an article on this young orthopaedic surgeon to the pro sports stars, played by Bill Hader.  Since this is a rom-com, these two mismatched people fall for each other, break up and ultimately get back together.  But as written by Schumer, whose Inside Amy Schumer I like a lot, with the gender roles upended, the traditional formula doesn't seem so traditional.  With strong supporting players - Brie Larson as Amy's long-suffering, more stable little sister, Colin Quinn as their aging, ailing dad and scene-stealer Lebron James - Trainwreck is both funny, sweet and fun.

I went into Sleeping with Other People with some confusion: I thought it was going to be a slightly darker take on a rom-com.  And I guess that technically it is but it is much less light-hearted and comic than I presumed.  Alison Brie's Lainie and Jason Sudeikis's Jake first meet in college, where they lose their virginities to each other.  A decade+ later, they reconnect in NYC, each with their own sexual issues:  Jake cannot commit, with a never-ending parade of women traipsing in and out of his bed; Lainie is hung up on this total dweeb of a guy (a nearly-unrecognizable Adam Scott) who is about to marry someone who isn't her.  Jake and Lainie become best friends, speaking honestly to each other, supporting each other and basically becoming a couple - except that they don't have sex with each other.  (I assume they end up with each other in the end? Anyone?)  Brie and Sudeikis have fantastic chemistry and there are very funny moments, but overall I found the tone of SwOP to be a little sad.  Other reviewers thought it was pretty terrific - you should decide for yourself.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Mini movie review: Captain America: Civil War


That was fun and way better than Avengers: Ultron.  Although there is a lot going on in CA:CW, it didn't seem over-stuffed and it finally felt like you got to spend some time with the characters.  Yes, some didn't get much screentime (Clint, Vision, Scott Lang) but we definitely got to know some of the others (Scarlet Witch) better.  The newest Spiderman got just enough time to be completely engaging - and to act like the enthusiastic teenager I believe Peter Parker is supposed to be - and T'Challa ... Man, I was ambivalent about the Black Panther movie before but now I'm excited for it.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Still alive

But clearly I am going to have to move True Blood S7 up in my Netflix queue because I just don't seem to be watching or reading anything here these days.  I'm thinking about recapping Preacher when it comes on but I don't know anything about the source material so I don't have any idea how I'll like it.