The Strain Rushes To Its Conclusion

The Strain, the FX TV show based on the books by Guillermo Del Torro and Chuck Hogan, concluded its run. On the whole, the series was often enjoyable and creepy while its fourth and final season was a satisfying conclusion to the vampire/apocalyptic saga of Dr. Eph Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and his ragtag band of vampire fighters. That doesn’t mean that the final season was perfect, but at least the show got to finish telling its story.

The fourth season takes place months after Goodweather’s young son Zack (Max Charles) detonated a nuke near Manhattan. The brat had fallen in with the vampires or strigoi trying to take over the world and he was enraged at Eph for killing his strigoi mother. This stupid, impulsive act caused an off-screen nuclear war and the nuclear winter that followed allowed the vampires to live in a world of constant twilight. From there, it was easy for the vampires to openly rule the world by entering into a false “Partnership” with the surviving humans where human collaborators supply fresh blood in exchange for security. Yes, this does not make much sense, a nuclear exchange severe enough to cause nuclear winter would leave very few people alive and survivors would have some form of radiation poisoning. Not exactly a viable food source for the strigoi. Also the depiction of life after a nuclear war with largely intact cities and environments and where no one seems to be suffering from fallout stretches credibility. But it’s one of those plot devices that viewers have to accept and move on.

As the final episodes of The Strain aired, many dangling plot lines and character threads were wrapped up, sometimes a bit too quickly. This was another problem for the fourth season of The Strain, though the people BTS did the best they could with the short ten-episode season. For the previous seasons, The Strain smoothly flowed in its narrative as people struggled to maintain civilization by confronting the growing vampire threat that spread through worm-like creatures secreted by the vampires into their victims. When the fourth season began there was a large time jump that showed the aftermath of the strigoi takeover as they began implementing their version of the perfect solution; meaning turning humanity into cattle. The fourth season’s premise was mesmerizing, but sadly felt rushed and did not flow organically. Previous seasons allowed themes to play out, but in the final episodes, many promising storylines were glossed over as new characters came and went and plots were concluded quickly.

setrakian kills eichorst

However, the fourth season had its fair share of awesome and disturbing moments. Probably the best one was the inevitable final confrontation between the vampire Eichorst (Richard Sammel), a former Nazi, and the aged vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley). Their conflict took place a couple of episodes before the finale and it was short, brutal and epic. Due to his advanced years and hardship in the season, Setrakian was wasting away, on his last legs. Meanwhile the near-immortal Eichorst was as supernaturally spry as ever. It seemed hopeless for Setrakian after he was infected by Eichorst, who started drinking his blood. But the stubborn vampire hunter was not a quitter; he had overdosed previously on pills that acted as poison for Eichorst. This gave Setrakian the chance to deliver the killing blow, and his cathartic rant as he beheaded Eichorst was truly epic. While those final moments were great, the loss of these two characters before the show concluded was noticeable. The strigoi by now were faceless grunts to be mowed down by Eph, and his partners Fet the exterminator (Kevin Durand) and the half-vampire Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones), Fet’s love interest Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas), and former gang leader Gus (Miguel Gomez). What kept the show watchable was the solid acting by the remaining cast and the fact that the storyline was ramping up to its conclusion. The show’s heroes had smuggled a nuke into New York City, the headquarters of the vampires’ leader, the Master (Jonathan Hyde), in an attempt to cut off the head of the snake. Without the slimy and well-spoken Eichorst, it was up to the Master and Zack to carry on the villainy and the results were mixed.

Given the rushed nature of the fourth season of The Strain, it was a small miracle that the final episode was largely satisfying as some characters were unexpectedly killed. It perfectly played up the theme of sacrifice for the greater good and sold the point that victory does come at a cost. Still, it is rankling that the BTS people were not given an extra episode or two to properly tell their story. OTOH, at least the cable network gave them the opportunity to conclude the story, which is something that many series do not have.

The Strain was never as popular as The Walking Dead or hip as American Horror Story, but unlike The Walking Dead we got to see how the apocalypse came about. It was disturbing to see humanity and civilization falling bit by bit throughout the seasons with the macabre fate being that humans wind up as a food source. Also, The Strain had a linear story to tell with a beginning, middle and conclusion, which is something that The Walking Dead lacks. It is too early to tell how The Strain will resonate in the future, but hopefully those that haven’t had the chance to see it duirng its first run will get another one later on.

 

Waldermann Rivera 

 

 

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The Defenders Come Together At Last

marvel-defenders-tv-show-images

The Marvel Studios mini-series event The Defenders just premiered on Netflix and is the culmination of the past four Netflix/Marvel superhero streaming shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. The Defenders finally brings the main leads from those shows together at last like in The Avengers, which what fans have been waiting for ever since the superhero shows were announced years ago. Needless to say this is a big deal for fans of the shows for obvious reasons.

Running only eight episodes, The Defenders stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Finn Jones as Danny Rand/Iron Fist along with the supporting actors from their respective shows and Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra, the show’s main villain. The Defenders does not take long to get into the action and meat of the story. It starts with all four heroes separately running afoul of the mysterious Alexandra and by the third episode they all meet in the heat of battle and the story just moves along from there. As expected with these Marvel Comics stories, the four don’t exactly get along at first, which is best shown with Rand actually hurting the invulnerable Cage with his Iron Fist. But all ends well as they put aside their differences to face their mutual foes.

In their separate investigations, they learn  that the shadowy criminal organization, The Hand, who have appeared in Daredevil and Iron Fist, are making an ominous move in New York City. In a nutshell without giving too much away, the leaders of the Hand, which includes Alexandra, are carrying out an operation that will wind up destroying the city and it’s up to our heroes to stop them.

alexandra and gao

Overall, The Defenders is an enjoyable and brisk-moving mini-series that should delight fans and casual viewers. All the actors bring their A game to the show with the standouts being Cox and his own show’s cast. Fans of the shows should be pleased that all the characters are faithfully presented. Matt Murdock carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, Jessica Jones drinks whenever she can, Luke Cage stands around and gets shot at without any injury and Danny Rand finds any opportunity to say “I am the Immortal Iron Fist!”

Despite all the complaints about Jones and his show, his character here is much better portrayed and less insufferable. Fortunately, Jones proves that he can bring something to the role and Iron Fist’s appearance here presents the case that the faults with the Iron Fist TV show were due to those showrunners, not the character or actor. For example, Jones seems more at ease during his fight scenes, a critical flaw with Iron Fist, and on the whole, the fight choreography was crisp and full of power. The standout fight scene was probably in the third episode when the four Defenders finally all meet each other, but the others spread out in the other episodes are fun to watch and grab your attention, though at times they are too dark and it is clear that some of the actors seem more natural at fighting than others. That criticism does not apply to Jones, believe it or not.

defenders hall fight

The villains are another quibble with The Defenders. Unlike The Avengers which had the breakout villain, Loki, the villains in this show are not particularly compelling. Basically, they are just a bunch of super ninjas and though that is appropriate for the power levels of the Defenders, they could have been more threatening or had more clear motives. Another gripe about the show and the villains has to do with the fact that the show takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  It is not the fault of the show, but it is annoying that with the severity of the threat to the city, no one has the notion to try to contact the Avengers or even Dr. Strange given the supernatural aspect of the Hand. We don’t even see the Avengers Tower in the New York skyline, whereas in Spider-Man: Homecoming that film took every opportunity to show the tower whenever there was a shot of the city. Then there is the reaction of some of the characters to what is going on; basically they have a hard time believing in the Hand and their threat, and even the nature of the leads’ powers. This goes for especially Luke Cage, who cannot accept that Danny Rand spent time in another realm and became a mystical warrior. That is a strange reaction for an inhabitant of the MCU that has seen open alien invasions and big league superhuman battles. Let’s not forget that Cage himself has superhuman powers. For these reasons it is hard to accept that The Defenders takes place in the MCU. But that is something that fans have to ignore and just go with the story.

daredevil and defenders

What ultimately makes The Defenders work is the camaraderie between the leads and seeing them all together. Thankfully, after taking time to introduce them individually in the first episode with interesting cinematography that presents each hero with a different color scheme, the show quickly has them teaming up and getting to the meat of the story. Their interactions were very amusing and some of the show’s best moments. They all had good chemistry and complemented each other well to the point we were sold that they came to care about one another. While The Defenders may not have the same thrilling impact and joy of The Avengers, it is quite enjoyable in its own right and helps set a path forward for the future of these grounded heroes.

Lewis T. Grove

 

 

Disney To Do A Proto-Westworld With Its Star Wars Hotel

star wars lobby

The big news to come out of the D23 Expo was the announcement from The Walt Disney Company of its plans to build a Star Wars-themed hotel in Walt Disney World. This hotel or resort is not going to consist of just slapping on Star Wars wallpaper and bedsheets into hotel rooms, but an immersive experience for guests. From the moment guests checks in they will be transported to the Star Wars universe while the resort doubles as a massive starship. This will allow guests to have interactive, role-playing experiences as they become part of a Star Wars story.

Imagine going to this Star Wars hotel to cosplay as a Jedi Knight or a Sith Lord and living out your space fantasy. Bob Chapek, the chairman of the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, promised that the experience for guests will be “100 percent immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day.” Adding to the immersive experience will be new tech that gives the illusion of being onboard a starship which will feature wandering droids and all the Star Wars creatures and aliens that will excite any fan.

Sound familiar? Just swap out the droids and space pirates for gunslingers and cowboys and you’ve got Westworld. For anyone who hasn’t seen the old movie or the acclaimed TV show on HBO, Westworld takes place in a futuristic theme park where guests are fully immersed in elaborate recreations of the Wild West as they have shoot outs with android cowboys and interact with other Western archetypes that are also androids. The only difference between the two parks is that Disney will be using actors and not androids (that is if you discount the assorted non-humanoid droids who won’t have the level of intelligence as those seen on Westworld). Given time, Disney will be able to replace human actors with androids. After all, they are pushing the envelope with their famous animatronics. Already we are seeing experimental mobile animatronics that can interact with guests at the parks.

This concept is not exactly new. Dude ranches exist, as well as zombie cruises. Universal Studios Orlando has Diagon Alley, which is a richly detailed recreation of Harry Potter’s hidden wizarding alley in London. What also sells the illusion of being in Harry Potter’s world is the Hogwarts Express train ride that transports you from London to the famous wizard academy. Expect that similar technology will be used to showcase epic space scenes outside the hotel’s windows. Not that long ago, there was the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas where guests were literally transported into a replica of the Enterprise and Deep Space Nine and interacted with famous Star Trek aliens. The actors playing the various Ferengi, Vulcans, and Borg always stayed in character while they served cuisine and drinks inspired by the franchise. Disney will probably look to the Star Trek Experience for ideas and inspiration and learn about potential problems.

One thing to consider is that not everyone who visits the Star Wars hotel may not want to be fully immersed in the experience. They can just be companions of more devoted guests who will wholeheartedly plunge into the experience. So how will they be catered? Will the actors simply ignore them if they see the guests are unwilling to play along? That has happened in the Star Trek Experience, which was fine since it wasn’t a completely immersive experience, but won’t this shatter any illusions in the resort?

Also, trying to keep up the illusion will strain logistics, which will translate into increased costs. So, we all know what that means. Yes, be prepared to shell out a substantial amount of money, probably several months’ worth of rent money, to pay for a short stay. But, maybe Disney will feel benevolent and provide coupons and discounts to us poor peons as the slimy lawyer suggested in Jurassic Park. In the end, most of us will not be able to afford to spend time at the hotel, and do not be surprised if visitors are not even allowed into the lobby for fear of disrupting the illusion. After all, how can a serious cosplayer all decked out as an X-Wing fighter pilot enjoy his or her stay in the Star Wars hotel if they encounter not Jawas, but tourists in tacky t-shirts? But, it was expensive to stay at Westworld so a high cost in this coming hotel should not be unexpected.

star wars hotel story

If this takes off, no, when it takes off, expect other immersive resort stays and not just Disney. Already there are rumors that Disney’s main theme park rival, Universal Studios Resort, is looking into creating a fully immersive Harry Potter experience, which might include a Hogwarts hotel. Some may complain about this but this competition will induce creativity and maybe make these experiences affordable. In any event, this is exciting development for Star Wars fans as they ponder this resort experience and have something else to anticipate from Disney.

Lewis T. Grove and José Soto

 

 

Comic-Con 2017 Movie & TV Highlights

San Diego is host once again to Comic-Con and after a slow couple of days, interest exploded into unbridled passion today with the reveal of several high profile trailers and announcements. By no means does this mean that the news coming out of Comic-Con before today wasn’t anything to laugh off, it’s just everyone was waiting for the big guns today.

ben-affleck-as-batmanBefore today’s revelations, the biggest news coming out of the comic book/genre convention could have been considered negative. First, was the rumor that Ben Affleck was stepping away from the role of Batman in the DCEU. That was disturbing to the fledgling cinematic universe since his character was supposed to be the lynchpin tying the DCEU films together. It was kind of ironic because when he was first announced as Batman/Bruce Wayne in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, his casting was widely derided among fans but since the release of that film, many have come around to embrace his portrayal as an older and embittered Batman. In fact, many have claimed that Affleck has been the best actor to play the legendary superhero to date. Today, the actor dispelled the gossip and stated his intention of remaining in the role. Whether that holds up as filming starts with The Batman remains to be seen, but hopefully it will be true.

Next was the unveiling of the second trailer for Marvel’s upcoming TV show Inhumans. Overall, it was a better looking trailer compared to the first bland teaser, but what ruined it was the cheap looking CG used to animate Medusa’s hair, something that everyone was waiting for and it was a disappointment. With the IMAX pilot coming in less than two months it is hard to see how the effects will improve significantly. The other disheartening news was that 20th Century Fox is apparently not letting go of the Fantastic Four film rights with the announcement that a Doctor Doom film is in development. If this were to happen, the rights will stay with the studio instead of going back to Marvel Entertainment since Marvel’s premier supervillain is so closely associated with the Fantastic Four. The fact that the film is being developed by the showrunner of Legion is a bittersweet salve for fans hoping and desperately wishing that Marvel Studios would get back the rights to the superhero team given Fox’s abysmal record with their versions of the Fantastic Four.

Today, the big guns were brought to bear as trailers after trailers were released to hungry fans attending the crowded convention or scouring the Internet. In many ways, Warner Bros. and DC Studios won the day with the universal acclaim received for the third trailer for this year’s Justice League. Building on the success of this summer’s Wonder Woman, the new trailer opens with the Amazonian princess doing her thing then quickly cuts to showcase the other members of the team and a tantalizing tease of the film’s villain Steppenwolf. The Flash stole the trailer with his awkward and funny demeanor that called to mind Spider-Man. Sadly, although he was teased, there still isn’t any sign of Superman. Come on DC throw us a bone!

Speaking of Superman’s absence, DC Studios announced their updated slate of films and a sequel to Man of Steel was not on the roster, which is disappointing. However, some of the announcements made up for it with Green Lantern Corps, Justice League Dark, Batgirl, Wonder Woman 2, Shazam, Aquaman (this one is no-brainer given that it’s currently filming and footage was shown tonight), Suicide Squad 2, The Batman and The Flash: Flashpoint. The last film sounds very exciting since it can be the method used to reboot the DCEU if needed, and on the other hand could explain the recasting of Batman if that were to happen.

Marvel Studios, like DC Studios, had a huge presentation with stunning announcements and teases of their upcoming films. We got a glimpse of concept art for Captain Marvel and sweetening that presentation was the news that Captain Marvel will be set in the ’90s and have her fighting the Skrulls, one of the core enemies of the Fantastic Four. We also learned that Lawrence Fishburne and Michelle Pfeiffer are joining the cast of Ant-Man and the Wasp as Bill Foster/Black Goliath and Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp.

The highlights for Marvel Studios’ presentation were the trailers for Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War. While the visually stunning and trippy Thor: Ragnarok trailer was released online, the ones for the latter two films so far are absent. This has been super frustrating for fans online since we have all been teased for a week about how jaw-dropping the footage is in Avengers: Infinity War. It was first shown in the ultra-exclusive D23 expo last week and everyone was hoping to see it this weekend. For some reason, probably for marketing, Marvel has refused to drop the trailer and most of us have to contend with leaked grainy footage. Our best hope is that enough leaks forces Marvel to release the trailer like DC did with Suicide Squad two years ago. But seriously, Marvel stop the tease, you could have topped DC tonight but you let that victory slip from your fingers!

Other trailer highlights include these nuggets:

Stranger Things 2! With our favorite ’80s geeks cosplaying the Ghostbusters as they come upon another sci-fi mystery!

Defenders, which has a kick ass trailer featuring a grounded and gritty version of the Avengers and Justice League!

A new trailer for Star Trek: Discovery, looks stunning though the Klingons seem weak compared to the classic space viking look!

But the most exciting trailer for the day was the first teaser for Steven Spielberg’s next sci-fi epic, Ready Player One. This trailer about a futuristic video game player is so loaded with genre Easter eggs, it warrants multiple viewings! Who knows how jammed the final film will be? But the awesomeness of this trailer will make anyone want to go out and read the book that inspired Ready Player One. Those shots of the Iron Giant and the DeLorean from Back to the Future sold it!

That does it for this year, sure there is one more day left of Comic-Con 2017, but no major announcements are expected, but you never know. Maybe first looks of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, The Predator, or Avengers: Infinity War will finally be unveiled to the entire world. Check out our Facebook and Twitter pages for updates, and here, of course!

Han Solo Film Directors Fired = I Got A Bad Feeling About This

Solo cast fired directors

The movie world, not to mention Star Wars fans, are still in absolute shock over yesterday’s stunning news that the directors of next year’s Han Solo film, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, were fired from the film. What made the announcement so jaw dropping is that most of the film has been completed with only three weeks of principle photography remaining. That is just unheard of and feels unprofessional on the part of Disney and Lucasfilm to just let two talented filmmakers go when their film is nearly complete. On top of this, Lucasfilm is still standing by the film’s planned release date of May 2018. That is probably not going to happen.

So what happened? The truth is we may never really know. All we do know, based on trade reports, is that Phil Lord and Chris Miller clashed repeatedly with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and the film’s executive producer and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan. Much of that had to do with the improvisational directing style of the two directors that made the old guard executives uncomfortable with their take on a Star Wars film and the iconic character. Kasdan, who wrote the book on Han Solo in the original Star Wars film and Episode VII, has a distinct viewpoint of the space pirate. He saw Han as selfish and cynical, and wanted him portrayed in that manner. Meanwhile, the two young directors wanted to present Solo in a lighter, more comedic light. This would have complemented their humorous directing style as seen in the 21 Jump Street films, The Lego Movie and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Face it, Lord and Miller are more known for their comedic films so it was a surprise that they were chosen to direct Solo: A Star Wars Story (if that is indeed the final title).

The problem here is that they had been hired to direct the Star Wars spinoff film for quite some time. They were involved with Solo: A Star Wars Story from the beginning and started shooting it earlier this year in January. Shouldn’t the executives have known that these two would not fit into the world of Star Wars? Why let them go on for so long? Why didn’t someone at Lucasfilm had the foresight to nip the problem in the bud and replace them much earlier? Kennedy, Kasdan and other executives had to have worked closely with the two directors and had meetings with them. They must have stressed that the film was to be a certain way. They had to have picked up the notion that Lord and Miller may have wanted to try a different approach and be defiant. Whether Lucasfilm wants to admit this or not, Phil Lord and Chris Miller have genuine film creds. They have delivered well done films that pleased critics and audiences. Why not just have some faith in them and let them finish the film? The film studio could have then just taken over post-production like they did with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and edit it into the kind of Star Wars film they wanted.

We get that Disney and Lucasfilm are protective of their IP, after all, they spent billions to acquire it. With that mentality they are entitled to keep it safe and the best way to do that is to play it safe. So why go to the trouble of hiring these two to direct the film headlining the franchise’s most beloved hero? The reason to recruit new blood into the Star Wars franchise is to bring in fresh ideas and different outlooks into the Star Wars films. Firing Phil Lord and Chris Miller this far into production just shows a lack of confidence in this approach. Consider that director Garth Edwards was pushed aside in post-production of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story because Lucasfilm felt the film wasn’t quite a Star Wars film. Now this happens. Lucasfilm might as well just hire workhorses and yes-people to direct future films and give up this idea of bringing in new talent because clearly they are not welcome.

Now, Lucasfilm has to shut down production and find someone willing to come in at this late hour to complete Solo: A Star Wars Story. Will Lucasfilm pull a Salkind and have most of the film re-shot as what happened with Superman II? If so, kiss May 2018 goodbye. Can Ron Howard (the currently rumored frontrunner to take over UPDATE: Howard has officially been hired to finish the film) or Joe Johnston or someone safe come in and finish the film, while imparting their own vision? Finishing it is doable, but trying to leave their own mark is impossible with so much already filmed and with so little time. Who would want this burden?

In any event, the message is clear to other would-be Star Wars directors, especially those foolish enough to think they will have some measure of control: You can play with the Star Wars toys but at the end of the day, you have to give them back in the shape you found them.

José Soto

Post Script: After Ron Howard was picked to complete the film, Lucasfilm has been in full-scale PR damage control. Stories are circulating that the film’s star, young Han Solo himself, Alden Ehrenreich, was the first one to voice concerns about the direction of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Reportedly, the film was too comedic and slapsticky for the execs’ taste. On the one hand, Star Wars needs to branch out creatively, but on the other hand, a Han Solo film may not be the best venue to go full-scale comedy. If all this is true, the question still stands as to why Kennedy, Kasdan and the other higher ups let this go on for so long? The few bright spots coming out of this debacle are that Phil Lord and Chris Miller are now free to jump onboard the stalled Flash movie, which fits their style anyway, plus Howard has already shown that he has a lot of class with his recent praise of Lord and Miller’s work on the film. Given his close ties to Lucas and his solid directing background, he is the best choice to come in and salvage the film.