Supernatural Carries On In The End

Supernatural aired its very last episode “Carry On” a couple of nights ago, which brought an end to the long-running horror/fantasy series about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles), and their adventures in hunting supernatural forces. As a series finale it left me feeling unsure about how I felt about it. But the more I think about it the more I feel that its penultimate episode “Inherit the Earth” would have been a better finale.

*Major Spoilers will follow*

“Carry On” was a fine episode and basically served as a coda to the lives of the Winchester Brothers. Some may think the very last episode should have been some kind of epic throw down against the forces of evil but Supernatural ended the way it began with a monster-of-the-week episode. In this case, a nest of vampires. Honestly this was the least interesting element of the episode. What followed after the vampires were killed was more important. OK, final warning on spoilers ahead.

Dean died after the vampires were killed after being impaled on a metal rod sticking out of post. It was a bit of a surprise and kind of underwhelming as far as deaths go. That is because the two brothers (and their allies and enemies) have been killed before multiple times in the show and then resurrected. It was hard to believe this was it. Or that the show creators felt this was best to finally kill Dean off in a sort of mundane manner. Yet others may feel it was appropriate that the great Dean Winchester not die in some epic battle but during a humdrum mission. I disagree, and find it surprising that Sam would not try to find a way to resurrect his brother.

winchester heaven

The scenes that followed with Sam Winchester mourning his brother with only Dean’s recently adopted dog for company was heartbreaking. However, by this point I was wondering if the show ran out of money because of the lack of guest stars. Sure, we got to see Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver) in heaven with Dean, but none of the other mainstays like Castiel (Misha Collins) or Jack (Alexander Culvert) showed up. I read that this episode was filmed after the show’s shutdown ended (thanks again COVID-19) and the showrunners did not want to risk bringing in many people unless necessary. Still, the lack of mourners/guest appearances robbed the impact of Dean’s sudden passing.

As Dean explored heaven (basically shown as the empty backwoods and roads of middle America), scenes were intercut showing Sam moving on with his life as the song by Kansas, “Carry On Wayward Son”, the show’s unofficial theme song, played. He fathered a son he named after his brother; we don’t see who the child’s mother was, presumably it was his girlfriend Eileen (Shoshannah Stern), but we never got a good look; and Sam grew old and died with his adult son at his side. Cue to tears as Sam and Dean Winchester were finally reunited in heaven. The end.

As I mentioned earlier “Carry On” was fine by itself but the nitpicks kept nibbling me. It was great to see at least Sam being able to live out a normal life past hunting monsters, but it was sad that Dean was not allowed this destiny and God knows he deserved it since he was the more spiriturally troubled of the two. His death while being a Hunter was appropriate, but it should not have felt so mundane.

The previous episode “Inherit the Earth” could have and probably should have served as the series finale for Supernatural. The Winchesters had their final confrontation with Chuck/God (Rob Benedict), after he wiped out all forms of higher life on Earth. In their confrontation, the brothers were outmatched by Chuck, but he was defeated by Jack the Nephilim, who absorbed his powers. Afterwards, Jack became the new God and restored the universe in a cosmic reset before he vanished to become one with reality.

“Inherit the Earth” concluded with a great montage showing all the characters the Winchesters met during Supernatural’s run as the two drove off in Dean’s car while Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” played. To me this was how Supernatural should have ended. A bit open ended as Sam and Dean Winchester ride off into the open road looking for their next adventure now that they and the world were finally free of Chuck’s control.

If it matters that much to any fan, it’s best to stop watching Supernatural with its penultimate episode and just imagine Sam and Dean Winchester lived happily ever after hunting ghouls, evil ghosts, demons and whatever supernatural force came their way. If not then consider “Carry On” to be an acceptable, if sad, coda or epilogue to their lives and the show itself.

José Soto

Of Love And Monsters

Love and Monsters was released last month through video on demand and had a limited theatrical release. Like practically every film since this spring, it too could not get a widespread theatrical release because of the coronavirus. It’s a shame since this extraordinary film deserves much more attention, though positive word of mouth might elevate it to cult status sometime down the road.

love and monsters dog

In a nutshell, Love and Monsters stars Dylan O’Brien as Joel Dawson, an insecure twentysomething doing his best to survive during a giant monster apocalypse, all in the name of love.

As told in the film’s opening segments, years ago, a giant asteroid threatening Earth was destroyed with missiles, but the fallout mutated Earth’s cold-blooded creatures into gigantic monstrosities that essentially destroyed civilization. Now what is left of humanity ekes out meager existences in underground shelters and bunkers, and do their best to avoid the bloodthirsty critters that have claimed the surface world.

Joel pines for his lost love, Aimee (Jessica Henwick), who was forced to separate from him years ago. Recently, he tracked her down at a colony over 80 miles away from his own and he decides to risk it all to reunite with her. The only problem is that Joel lacks basic survival skills and somehow has to find a way to make it through the deadly surface landscape without being eaten.

Along his voyage, he comes across a handful of memorable characters. These include a loveable dog called Boy, which quickly bonds with Joel, a broken robot Mav1s (Melanie Zanetti), and a scruffy but friendly survivor Clyde (Michael Rooker) and his spunky companion, a young girl named Minnow (Arianna Greenblatt). They help Joel out and teach him how to survive in the rugged landscape by using his wits and valuable survival skills.

Naturally, Joel and Boy face many dangers, some of which are genuinely creepy and tense, but he discovers his own potential as he grows during his journey. Sure, it seems implausible that Joel could have survived for years in the giant monster apocalypse without having basic survival skills, but his emotional journey was quite satisfying to watch.

Love and Monsters is such a pleasant surprise. It is not a dire, dark film, but it is still boasts its fair share of thrills. By the way, the creature designs are very imaginative and unique. The best way to describe the many monsters Joel and the others encounter is to think of those creepy pit creatures from Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong.

Yes, thanks to its lighter tone, Love and Monsters can be compared to Zombieland, though it is not as funny. Still, it does have a lot of heart, has charming characters and it is easy to tell everyone involved from the actors to the production crew to the writers (Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson) and director (Michael Matthews) gave it their all. The result is a satisfying giant monster film with a ton of heart.

In fact, the film strikes and inspirational tone with its message that although a situation may be dire, it is possible to overcome it and thrive. In some strange way, Love and Monster is somewhat relevant to our current situation by demonstrating the pluck nature of humanity will overcome obstacles, which in the film’s case are giant monsters.

José Soto

The Boys’ Second Season Beats The Sophomore Curse

The second season of The Boys just finished streaming on Amazon Prime a few days ago and its final episode “What I Know” was a tense and satisfying season finale. It concluded many story arcs while paving the way to new directions in the third season. Yes, there will be a deserved third season for this great TV show.

The Boys continues the storyline from the first season of a ragtag group of powerless vigilantes (led by the always-talented Karl Urban as former merc Billy Bitcher) and their struggle against the Seven, a group of superheroes, and the corporate forces that support the Seven.

Based on the comic book series of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, the Seven are actually a bunch of sociopathic and flawed individuals without any redemming qualities…except for a couple of characters. The leader of the Seven, Homelander (Anthony Starr), is the worst of the lot; basically think of him as Superman without the morality to keep him in check.

Part of the appeal of The Boys, aside from its dark and macabre humor, was seeing the desperate plight of the Boys fighting against the odds to expose the Seven and their sponsoring corporation, Vought International. As it stands the Seven are huge celebrities and revered by billions, complete with corporate sponsorships and connections throughout society.

One of the more interesting plots in the season dealt with Stormfront (Aya Cash), the newest member of the Seven, who is actually a former Nazi and a terrifying presence in the show. What made her so fearful was not how her electrical-based powers made her nearly unbeatable but her violent, racist demeanor. What is worse is that Stormfront is able to successfully hide her true self and Nazi past to the general public. After killing a supposed super terrrorist, she quickly becomes the latest media darling, which Homelander sees as a threat to his own popularity. The two eventually join forces, becomes society’s latest power couple, and start spouting dangerous messages and dog whistles about super terrorists and immigrants that echoes our current, dark events.

The paths of Homelander and Billy Butcher cross in that Homelander kidnapped Butcher’s wife, Becca (Shantel VanSanteen), years ago, raped her and forced her to bear his son, Ryan (Cameron Crovetti). Becca is imprisoned in a rural home and tries to raise Ryan to be as normal as possible because the young boy is developing his own superpowers and she does not want him to grow up to be a monster like his father. However, in the second season, Homelander takes more of an interest in his son and wants him to be more like himself. This conflict between Becca, Homelander and Butcher comes to a tense and powerful conclusion in the final episode and is heartbreaking for many reasons.

Meanwhile, Butcher’s gang is trying to expose Vought by releasing information to the public that Vought International is actually responsible for creating superheroes with a substance called Compound V, which was given to infants. The full ramifications of the expose were not as thoroughly explored as it could have been in the season. That is probably because there are only so many episodes alloted to the season, but it did lead to some terrific moments such as in the fifth episode “We Gotta Go Now” when Homelander nearly loses control in front of hundreds of protesters and imagines himself killing them with his laser vision.

homelander loses control

Contrasting the nastiness of the homicidal Homelander and Stormfront are Starlight (Erin Moriarity) and Maeve (Dominique McElligot). Starlight/Annie January is secretly giving information about Vought and the Seven to her boyfriend Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid), one of the Boys, and a younger brother figure to Billy Butcher. The relationship between Annie and Hughie form the heart of the show and is fraught with danger as Annie tries to keep her ties to the Boys confidential. Meanwhile, Maeve/Maggie Shaw not only has to fight her own disillusionment with being a superhero, but she was outed as a lesbian by Homelander. Now her privacy is destroyed as she is thrust in the media spotlight. This naturally has a detrimental effect on her relationship with her partner Elena (Nicola Correia-Damude), who doesn’t have powers and Maeve knows Homelander did this to keep her in line by subtly threatening Elena.

While these personal story arcs were well done and were engaging, some characters were short changed in The Boys’ second season. Notably the other members of the Boys, Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), Serge (Tomer Capon) and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), a mute superhuman refugee. They do have storylines, notably Kimiko as she grapples with her fear of Stormfront, but so little screen time is given to them. Hopefully, they will be given more to do in the next season.

There is another percolating subplot concerning a cult, called the Church of the Collective, modeled on Scientology, that has strong sociopolitical ties. Two former members of the Seven, A-Train (Jesse T. Usher) and the Deep (Chace Crawford) become members of the church and through them we see its hypocrisy and corruptive influence. It is clear the Church of the Collective will have more screen time in the next season as will Congresswoman Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit), an anti-superhero politician with her own agenda. 

Despite its few flaws, the second season of The Boys beats the sophomore curse of many second-season TV shows. Most of its dark humor hits the marks and its gross-out moments are truly squeamish, like the instance with the exploding heads in “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker” or in “The Bloody Doors Off” where Mother’s Milk encountered a superhuman with a prehensile penis that is more of a tentacle! Needless to say the final confrontation between the heroes and Stormfront will leave everyone cheering at the top of their lungs.

What is important is that after watching The Boys’ second season, you are left wanting to see more, and thankfully we will. 

José Soto

 

Star Trek: Lower Decks Lacks Humor & Wit

Trek Lower Decks poster

The newest Star Trek TV series, Star Trek: Lower Decks, is the first animated Trek series since the 1970s and while that old show for the most part lived up to Star Trek, this animated show does not, unfortunately. There are many reasons why Star Trek: Lower Decks is just not up to par with Trek standards, but the most glaring is with its humor, or lack of.

Star Trek: Lower Decks, which streams on the CBS All Access app, was promoted as a comedy that takes place on the starship Cerritos, an unexceptional Starfleet ship assigned to mundane missions throughout Federation space . The show focuses on a crew of young Starfleet ensigns who for the most part dream of being promoted to senior officers while burdened with humdrum tasks like cleaning the holodeck, changing carbon filters and so on. The problem is the show just is not funny.

It tries its best, sometimes too hard, to be humorous and slapsticky, but at best the show elicits a few chuckles or wry smiles that only Trek fans can appreciate. The show is saddled with trying to be funny while telling traditional Star Trek stories and the tone winds up being very inconsistent. Some story lines are kind of interesting and could have worked in a normal Star Trek episode but then they gets thrown off with uninspired sight gags and jokes that are not especially witty and ruin the story. Take for instance this episode called “Moist Vessel”. The Cerritos is supposed to tow an ancient generational ship that has a substance that turns inorganic material into organic ones, which would be useful for terraforming purposes. This substance is accidently unleashed on the Cerritos and uncontrolled growths of organic material threatens the ship. This would have worked in a regular Star Trek episode, but in this case the plot is used for cheap laughs, though it did provide a platform for some character study.

mariner and boimler

As for the characters, they are not outstanding except for Ensign Mariner (Tawny Newsome). Unlike her overeager shipmates, she is more of a disillusioned slacker who complains nons-stop about Starfleet life. This is an interesting way to go for a Star Trek character, except it leaves you wondering why does she still stay onboard the ship? Why not just quit Starfleet? How is it she is still allowed to remain on the ship? For that last question, there is more to her story; her mother is the captain of the Cerritos and she is especially hard on Mariner, but that is about it. Her partner is an overeager and over-annoying Ensin named Boimler (Jack Quaid whose talents are better used in The Boys), who comes off as those petty buttkissers that no one likes, so it he is hard to empathize with. There are a few more ensigns who are alien or enhanced with cybernetic parts, but they do not stand out at all.

Star Trek: Lower Decks would have benefitted with wittier and funnier scripts that went all out and perhaps even meta. Perhaps a different animation style would have served it better because right now the show looks so cartoony that you expect it to be stuffed to the bulkheads with outrageous, LOL moments and jokes or even oulandish scenes that would have been too expensive to film in live action.

The show is not the worse thing out there and some revamping would salvage the endeavor. It does have potential, so it may be worth keeping an eye on. However, if fans want something to tide them over in between regular Trek productions like Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery, they are better off watching The Orville, at least that show has better wit, humor and characters.

 

 

Time Runs Out For A Convoluted Tenet

Tenet is the latest film from director Christopher Nolan, which finally debuted at the tail end of the 2020 summer movie season; if one wants to say this summer has had a movie season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Tenet was heralded as Nolan’s grand epic, this year’s most anticipated film, the one that would salvage the summer movie season. Well, unfortunately, the film falls short of such aspirations.

This does not mean that Tenet is a disaster or a poorly made film. No, actually it is an ambitious film with high-end production values and the acting is generally good. The latter is due to the strength of the film’s lead John David Washington who is simply known as the Protagonist. The fact that Nolan could not be bothered to give the main character a name indicates one fo the problem with Tenet. The film is technically well crafted, but it lacks an emotional soul. This has been a flaw with some of Christopher Nolan’s other films, but in this instance, the issue overtakes the film. It is difficult to care about what is going on in the film even though there are high stakes in its meandering plot.

Christopher Nolan’s new film is a spy thriller with an Inception-inspired sci-fi angle. The Protagonist is a CIA agent who is recruited to prevent a world war and is involved with nefarious arms dealers and a secret organization called Tenet. During his mission, the Protagonist learns of bullets and other objects that run backwards in time due to a process called “inversion,” which means that if he tries to fire a gun with inversion bullets, from his point of view the bullets are already fired and fly back into the barrel of the gun. He learns the bullets came from a Russian arms dealer called Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who is gathering intel from the future and wants to create a doomsday event using artifacts that are inverted in time. Along the way, the Protagonist travels throughout Europe and Asia and finds himself operating backwards in time; in many instances revisting scenes from earlier in the film from a new viewpoint.

If this sounds confusing, you are not alone. Nolan is so enamored with having scenes play backwards throughout the film and trying to be too smart for the film’s own good. The result is a film with a disjointed nature that only add to the convoluted nature of the film’s plot. You have to pay very special attention to the film and frankly, watching Tenet several times is necessary in order to fully grasp it. The problem here is that the film is not engaging enough to make you want to bother watching it all over again (the film is nearly two and a half hours). The visuals are impressive and up to par with what Nolan has delivered in the past, but the inversion scenes quickly feel gimmicky. By the time, we get to the film’s climax, the entire viewing experience is just underwhelming and disappointing despite the film’s technical wizardry.

What makes matters worse is that the sound mixing is shockingly poor and leaves much of the dialogue difficult to hear. Most attempts to explain the convoluted and complex plot or how inversion works are garbled and spoken very quickly or too low from characters, which makes following the polt a chore. Unlike Inception where the process of entering people’s dreams was not important, Tenet demands a sound explanation of how inversion works in order to understand what is going on, but Tenet fails in this aspect.

Who knows? Maybe a third or fourth viewing of Tenet may improve it, but a film has to engage you from the initial watch to make you want to revisit it again. Tenet only calls for it just to watch the well-crafted visuals of inverted fights and car chases. But doing that will be easier and more rewarding when watching it at home instead of theaters. At least from your device or TV you can skip over the plodding and convoluted first half of the film and get right into the off-kilter action scenes.