31 March 2018

Penny Dreadul: Season 3

Penny Dreadful Season Three a Disappointing Finale
by Kristin Battestella

I loved me some Penny Dreadful. Previously, I watched the First Two seasons twice or more before writing my reviews a few months after I had simmered in the immersion of all things sophisticated Victorian macabre. I re-watched the entire series again when finishing this obviously late review, but Season Three's still blindsiding finale and haphazard resolution of the series undermines the glorious potential that was yet to be found in Penny Dreadful.

Year Three hits the ground running with some delightful circumstances in “The Day Tennyson Died.” Our quirky little family of evil fighters – Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), and His Monster (Rory Kinnear) – is scattered about the globe from London to the Old West and Africa to the frozen north. Their townhouse base is shabby with covered furniture and piled mail before the titular solemn and lovely poetic references reconnect old friends with tenderness and sympathy. After all they've been through, those in London are allowed to stew and cry – unlike the unforgiving railroad and lawless land of the New Mexico Territory. Though blindingly bright compared to the British bleak, there's an underlying ominous to the witches and werewolves among the lawmen. Letters from Africa with burials made right also find Chiricahua Indians in the most unlikely Zanzibar alley while faraway frozen trawlers debate cannibalism and melodies remind monsters of when they were men. Famous names face racism at Bedlam as pale minions with anemia excuses lurk. Penny Dreadful has a lot to do but does it with superb conversations, new allies, and bloody vignettes. “Predators Far and Near” adds vintage photography, jurisdiction technicalities, a modified barber's chair for experimenting on patients, and fear of the gramophone cylinders recording one's sin. Therapy confessions recount prior indiscretions, but the prescription for godless loneliness is doing something innocent and happy no matter how small. Women debate on light and dark souls while men bond over their love of daughters and a son not birthed to them but bound with their suffering. Talbot family history, ritual chanting, and colorful vision quests counter the sophisticated Victorian science lectures and whimsical memories of adventures the likes of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. Unfortunately, our dreadfuls are more familiar with lunatics and monsters rather than childhood heroes, with Jekyll and Hyde-esque transformations on crazed victims, deceptively charming courtships, a wise Apache woman reminiscent of the fortune teller in The Wolf Man, and a desert full moon to aide one's bone cracking escape.

Unholy alliances between witches and the Wolf of God continue in “Good and Evil Braided Be.” Is it the beast or angel, good or evil that's the real persona? Does the mind create phantoms and demons to explain the darkness and pain? Do you bury the animal inside or unleash it? Between the werewolf curse, divided locales, tug and pull father figures, and hints of Hyde, Penny Dreadful creates superb dual themes alongside several racial moments and of the time derogatory Native American comments. Sophisticated light and dark visuals and good and evil motifs are interwoven against crudeness, triumphing over those who define what's black and white or right and wrong solely based upon skin tone rather than soul. The audience isn't hit on the head with the social commentary, but one scene beautifully addresses the sadly still lingering attitudes upfront. New, risky hypnosis techniques further retrace past darkness and despair in Episode Four “A Blade of Grass.” Memories and present offices blur in a dreamy act with current doctors and familiar faces in unexpected places uncovering new revelations of a forgotten padded white room. In camera foregrounds and backgrounds accent the confined or expanded four walls as needed with overhead views, zooms, face to face close ups, and wide angle warped. Finite descriptions of precious few details, amplified sounds, and demon shadows match the kindness of an orderly or the evils that await. Precious blankets are taken away amid growling, crying, straight jackets, and water torture. Can God find you in a place like this or are you alone? Our patient fears the evil within and wants to die over the betrayals and sins committed, yet the tender bonding with her jailer turned poetic advocate provides an unlikely compassion. Whether you can face yourself in the mirror or not, these fugue state manifestations overcome evil with the truth at Christmas in one excellent parable. The least amount of effects, minimal characters, and few locales leave nothing but the emotion and anguish upon their faces. It's divine, just everything television should be and perhaps the best episode of the entire series.

And then, somehow, Penny Dreadful went to shit.

Series writer and creator John Logan hands Penny Dreadful over to new writers mid season – a maneuver suggesting a viable transition rather than leaving unknowns to resolve your planned finale with rushed characters and compressed stories. Andrew Hinderaker (Pure Genius) pens “This World Is Our Hell” with The West as a barren purgatory full of symbolic multi-layered pursuits on who the righteous should save or whom the evil would kill. Water is scarce among the grave sins and shame worn as redemption; forgiveness versus temptation comes in revealing fireside chats recounting past ambushes and the difficulty of serving multiple masters – fathers, duty, Lucifer. Unfortunately, these lofty topics are undone by nonsensical mysticism. Witches can summon snakes to conveniently wipe out pursuers but cannot heal injured mounts or conjure water and dying people somehow have enough energy for awkward evil sex after days of thirst. The Victorian mad science and desert shootouts jar in an anchor-less back and forth when the confrontations between our converging father figures are more interesting. Lengthy exposition on past horrors feels odd in a series that often shows rather than tells. Why not have an entire Talbot past hour the way “Closer than Sisters” showed us how Penny Dreadful really began? Otherwise the audience is left confused over who's really at fault for the faithful turning evil. It was Ethan's dad's fault for making it the army's fault who made the Apaches to blame??? Penny Dreadful always had pacing issues and uneven characters, but this Old West excursion could have ditched the dead weight characters and been back to London in half the time. I don't think it is necessarily Hinderaker and newcomer Krysty Wilson-Cairns' fault, but “No Beast So Fierce” throws even more at the screen with too many threads regarding who's evil or who's the law amid busy shootouts, vampire minions, Bedlam serums, how to kill a man tutorials, Egyptian wonders unrealized, and new steampunk introductions. What's supposed to be important – monsters being kind to sick children or sassy sword wielding new characters? If the key to defeating evil is holding fast to loved ones, why has our family been apart all season? Perhaps one writer should have been responsible for one set of characters the entire year, as Dracula's apparently content to wait out the cowboy adventure while other isolated and aimless immortal plans go round and round and pull Penny Dreadful apart at the seams. 

Penny Dreadful has an innate melancholy – cemeteries, grave digging, mourning shrouds – but the dark romance is used for unnecessary preachy in “Ebb Tide.” Separated characters finally meet, but one knock on the door and a brief scene reconciling the past and present is not enough. Friends that could fill this empty manor and fight the bloodshed are pushed away while our team in the West doesn't heed ancestral warnings. Despite insisting London is home, characters remain obstinate just for the sake of creating drama, leading to contrived betrayals and more speeches begging for the fast forward button. Touching conversations on who will bury whom are interwoven with weaker plots, straying from the core and repeating exposition we already know. Visions unite players who have been apart but such mystic conversations and wisdom on rescuing one another from darkness should have happened much sooner – two episodes ago, nobody cared. Krysty Wilson-Cairns writes the quick at forty-three minutes “Perpetual Night,” and it's the shortest episode of Penny Dreadful when the series desperately needed more time. The boys rush back to Londontown amid foggy cityscapes, morbid voiceovers, tasty frogs multiplying, and rats amok. Dead wolves and toothy minions everywhere require swift blade work and fireplace pokers to stave off vampire infections – but no one thought to call Dr. Frankenstein away from Bedlam's dungeon when people are said to be dying by the thousands? Penny Dreadful bites off more than it can chew, takes too long to achieve what matters, and spits out the excess when there's no time left. Ironically, the “The Blessed Dark” finale also delays, saving choice moments with its stars rather than going full tilt with the dream hazy, bodies on hooks, and bats as sad lullabies over the special credits recap the sad state of our separate characters. It's very exciting to see the reunions and werewolves fighting vampires in true monster mash up fashion as it should be – Dr. Jekyll passes by as Dr. Seward hypnotizes Renfield! As a season finale, this hour provides closing moments on some toiling plots. However, as a series finale, it barely resolves anything. Brief mentions on her destiny, his destiny, and previous prophecies don't make sense anymore, and Victor literally bumps into the gang at Bedlam. The team is together again by accident! Major moments with his monsters earn one scene each, and none of those super strong immortals join the End of the DaysTM battle. Instead, bad ass walking down the street filler and a few ridiculously outnumbered pistols struggle with conveniently confusing action choreography. Bitter ties to the First Season become unrealized tangents, and new characters are inexplicably more steadfast than our original crew. Four episodes ago, life was worth fighting for but now isolated characters give up because the script says they should in a one hundred and eighty degree turn that's painful to see end this way.

Vanessa Ives begins alone, a recluse living in squalor before rising thanks to words and wits with her therapist. Eva Green's heroine cleans up and humbly restores the manor. Despite losing her faith, Vanessa is inspired by Joan of Arc's confidence and says she will remain resolute. Oddly, she doesn't seem as psychic or intuitive anymore and fails to recognize evil tendencies she previously pegged so astutely. It's sad to see Vanessa open herself, revisiting innocent things that make her happy or having a man's company once again end in terror. She's willingly hypnotized to face her repressed psychiatry treatment, addressing her past doubts, regrets, and battles with Lucifer. “A Blade of Grass” shows her at rock bottom before a ray of hope and renewed prayers – if you believe in evil, then you must believe God is there to defeat it. Unfortunately, Penny Dreadful squanders the Lucifer issues, fast tracks Dracula, and circumvents Vanessa's body and soul versus the fallen brothers with a past event cheating viewers out of a current victory. Vanessa can sense and see Kaetenay when the plot says so, but her lack of psychosexual possession and failed insights inexplicably have her give up despite knowing overdue help is on the way. Green saves this sloppy writing and deserved more hardware for Penny Dreadful. I don't blame her if she recognized the tone had changed and was ready to depart. The series could have continued in searching for an evil Vanessa as an absent lead a la Blake's 7 rather than two scenes with bad girl red eye shadow trying to make up for rushing to resolve Vanessa's story. Josh Hartnett's Ethan “Lawrence Talbot” Chandler is also not only reluctant to see his real father, but he's angry at being adopted as Kaetenay's Apache son. Ethan knows there is blood on his teeth and his soul deserving of punishment and wears his guilt on his sleeve. Unfortunately, his history comes from three different sources – so for all this New Mexico excursion, we don't get a clear picture. The Wolf of God also spends about fifteen minutes being evil, standing up for Hecate over Malcolm because he won't repent and belongs in hell. Ethan speaks evil prayers at the dinner table, but isn't this the guy who's Latin single-handedly exorcised Vanessa? His reciting of the Lord's Prayer in the finale feels hollow thanks to his satanic reversal just a few episodes earlier. Was Ethan's western escapade and Vanessa's evil each meant to be it's own season storyline? They both have a scene or two of darkness, and one moment in the finale doesn't make up for Ethan's back and forth. Meanwhile, Sarah Greene as Hecate travels in white, an unassuming Gibson girl who loves horses and animals but loathes people. She wants to be evil beside Ethan, but her powers are both handy or nonsense as needed. Hecate kills unnecessary to teach him a lesson and lingers too long in this uneven capacity – crowding an already busy Penny Dreadful while not being a character in her own right. The English Sean Glider (Hornblower) may be an unusual choice as a U.S. Marshall, but his crusty ways balance the British tidiness of Douglas Hodge as Inspector Rusk as they pursue Our Mr. Talbot. Rusk may ask for tea in the bar car and insist Scotland Yard Inspectors do not carry firearms, but he doesn't underestimate the ruthless West. He begins to believe the Occult upon his case and does take up more violence as the blood on their path increases – before a thankless end, of course.

The beard is back for Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm, and even if he doesn't know all the details, he's ready to respect Wes Studi's (Geronimo: An American Legend) Chiricahua Kaetenay if it will help save Ethan. Like an oasis in white in the mostly unlikely place, it's wonderful when Malcolm and Ethan finally meet up for some shootout action. However, Malcolm really doesn't have a whole lot to do this season beyond listening to Kaetenay. Most of his dialogue is responsive filler, and even before the surprise series finale, I suspected Dalton would not be returning for Season Four. You don't keep a talented name without giving him quality writing, and Malcolm ends up repeating the same plot. Chasing after lost lamb Ethan, fighting a vampire to rescue Vanessa – he's again saving his family even as his travels keep him from his home and any relationship with Victor. Malcolm could have returned to London post-Africa, maybe to meet Catriona sooner or dislike Dr. Sweet, as it's a disservice to reduce him to little more than Kaetenay's sidekick. That said, yes please to more of Studi's set in his ways Apache. He still scalps because old habits die hard, but he doesn't drink and believes one can't die until his purpose is served. Granted, Penny Dreadful is trading the mystical negro trope for the mystical Apache stereotype, but the moonlight visions and enigmatic destiny talk tie the blood, suffering, and wolves together. Kaetenay pushes on after Ethan no matter what – he and his people have endured much but he's prepared to face this darkness over London. There should have been more time for his revelations, and Penny Dreadful only makes use of Kaetenay when needed. It takes seven episodes for Ethan to heed his warnings about what is to come, and he should have mystically connected with Vanessa from the start. As Ethan's father, Brian Cox (Coriolanus) also has some great one on one's with Malcolm. They are wonderfully alike, right down to the conquest map on Jared Talbot's wall, the mountains named after him, and an empty home as the cost. However, a boat load of family history that Ethan already knows is repeatedly told rather than seen, leaving Talbot Senior unevenly written with sorrowful or crazed exposition amid one gunshot and stand off after another. Had we seen the first terrible shootout that has him so angry, then this second battle in his ranch chapel would have had much more meaning. Kaetenay provided connecting visions when necessary, so why not have some kind of mystic Talbot dream that showed the betrayals and horrors causing all this pain?

Fortunately, Rory Kinnear's Creature aka Caliban aka John Clare has some superb redemption on Penny Dreadful. He won't harm a dying cabin boy, recalls more about who he was, and realizes who he may yet be after touching moments in the Fourth and Fifth episodes showing his life before his death and resurrection. He is again at the window or in the eaves, on the outside peering in on those that think he is dead. The Creature risks rejection and reaches out despite the pain, blossoming from being an angry violent child to almost the man he used to be. His resurrection allows Caliban to find his family – only to loose it again thanks to innocence versus the unnatural. This season, Clare is almost totally separate from everyone else, alone on this sympathetic journey beyond too brief moments with Vanessa, erroneously on the fringe without even seeing Dr. Frankenstein. He may piece together his past, but not enough was done with the connection between Vanessa and the Creature. She recognizes him, but not him her, and Penny Dreadful cops out by resolving their past in a flashback. Again, just because we the audience saw it does not mean the characters themselves received any current resolution. Why didn't Caliban ever knock on Malcolm's door? He would have been welcome in this misfit family dang nabbit! Reeve Carney's Dorian Gray and Billie Piper's Brona cum Lily Frankenstein, however, should have stayed home. By his very nature, Dorian is a supporting character that never changes. They aren't missed when absent but Penny Dreadful uses him and Lily to shoehorn in some kind of modern feminism vengeance that goes nowhere fast with repetitive, ad nauseam speeches. Whether it is justified man hate or not, the appearance of Jessica Barden (The End of the F***ing World) as Justine perhaps a la the de Sade wastes time with back alley torture, nudity, and bloody threesomes. The warped justice is all over the place with even less to do Dorian getting stabbed for funsies before he gets bored from having seen such depravity already. Episodes grind to a halt with their round and round male behavior psychoanalysis, briefly tossing in suffragettes and violence that makes them just as bad as the abusers from who they claim to rescue women. Penny Dreadful has done better psychosexual themes, and compared to Caliban's soul searching, Lily realizes her humanity too late in one great soliloquy that should happened the moment she was reborn, and Ethan never finds out Brona has been resurrected!!!!

Harry Treadaway's junkie Victor Frankenstein becomes a mopey little piss ant bent on proving his superior science can conquer death, and he arrogantly thinks he can perfect on Jekyll's methods. Maybe there's a parallel between his wanting to create angels instead of monsters and Lily's superior woman army, but their uneven storylines barely intersect beyond a few redundant stalker scenes and never factor into other plots. Victor goes about getting Lily back in the worst way possible, becoming like his originally angry Creature in a fitting poetic justice. He's deluded in thinking Lily owes him anything, and it should be a great destructive character arc. However, rather than having him freaking call on Vanessa while they are both in London twiddling their thumbs, Penny Dreadful treats Frankenstein as an afterthought before one last lesson on how to be a human rather than the monster. One poetic voiceover from Victor such as, “Sir Malcolm, I hesitate to confess it now, but I must inform you I have a singular talent for defeating death as we know it...” could have ended Penny Dreadful in a uniquely twisted vein. Sadder still is that Shazad Latif (Mi-5) as Dr. Jekyll somehow turns into a handing Victor the scalpel lackey. He has history with Dr. F. – roommates and dare I say something more – and faces much “half breed” Victorian racism. Jekyll despises his white father but wants his acclaim and title to help prove his serum on anger and duality. Simply put, there is no way he was intended as a throwaway character and we deserved to know him more. Although scheduling conflicts necessitated the departure of Simon Russell Beale as Mr. Lyle, his being written off as going on assignment to Egypt just begs to be told! Did everyone forget all the prophecies on Amunet and Lucifer or the hieroglyphics carved onto the vampire bodies? Of all the friends still about London who never bother to visit, it's Lyle who draws Vanessa out and into therapy because thanks to his closeted sexuality, he understands what it is like to be unique and alone. Of course, he might have mentioned Perdita Weeks' (The Tudors) thanatologist Catriona Hartdegen when they were studying all that Fallen Angel and Mother of Evil stuff. She's a woman of occult science fencing and wearing pants who doesn't blink at the thought of Dracula being in London. Her one on one scenes with Vanessa are well done with possible replacement or lover vibes, “It's 'Cat' for you, as in cat o' nine tails.'” Wink! She calls Malcolm “Sir M” and I would have liked to see more of them together, but Catriona's style provides a steampunk cum The Time Machine and albeit meaningless potential. Her cool fighting skills are ultimately convenient and inexplicable – if we weren't going to learn more then all these superfluous characters should have never been introduced.

We are however given some divine new characters with Patti LuPone returning to Penny Dreadful as Dr. Florence Seward – an alienist said to have distant Clayton ancestry due to her resemblance to LuPone's previous cut-wife role. Though rigid and progressive, Seward is there to heal the ill, who aren't bad or unworthy, just ill. She calls out every politeness or mannerism, pegging Vanessa's loss, isolation, and depression in delicious two-hander scenes with award worthy dialogue and delivery. A moving session recounting Vanessa's tale, however, makes the doctor strike up a cigarette. She refuses to believe the paranormal causes or that vampires are after her patient, but she does understand pain and has some murderous history of her own. Samuel Barnett's (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency) seemingly innocent Renfield is Dr. Seward's secretary, but his red light district cruising leads to bloody encounters and insect snacks. Where Penny Dreadful initially had to dance around the Stoker limitations, these superb character interpretations deserved more than this season's rushed attention. Christian Camargo (Dexter) as zoologist and charming widower Alexander Sweet is a man smitten using rapid fire science references to woo Vanessa, but his reveal as Dracula is too darn early. This romance seemed so happy and Sweet is almost empathetic, but evil lurks in the House of Mirrors of all places! He doesn't want Vanessa's submission, just to be seduced by she, the Mother of Evil and serve her. Sadly, unraveling toppers instead go unresolved. After admitting he was directly responsible for Mina's demise and all of Season One, Penny Dreadful lets Dracula exit stage right and we aren't supposed to notice? What is worth noticing are the trains, dime western action, and steampunky flair alongside our usual penny blood, gore, buzzing flies, broken necks, and bat silhouettes. The cobwebbed and boarded manor opens the windows and clears the dust as the camera focuses on the period touches – vintage motion picture cameras, spectacles, brandy decanters, nibs, and ledgers contrast the hay, canteens, wagons, saw dust, and Native American motifs. The fashions are a little more modern, but the museums, taxidermy, skeletons, and specimens in jars invoke Victorian sciences amid the carriages, cobblestone, and tolling bells. Although some CGI backgrounds are apparent with a foreground actor and fakery behind, the desert vistas, mountains, and ranch compounds create bright lighting schemes to contrast the British grays, developing a unique style like nothing else on television. 

Unfortunately, with NBC's Dracula long gone, Crimson Peak's less than stellar box office, and Penny lost too soon, the promise of more Victorian horror and a new dark romanticism appears short-lived. Whether the cast or Logan wanted to depart or Showtime disliked the production expenses, something behind the scenes was the final nail in Penny Dreadful's coffin. The two hour finale burned off the last episodes yet advertising promoting the event as a season finale later backtracked with the series' fate. More merchandising opportunities never seemed capitalized upon, and there was little award campaigning. Having had Season One available on other streaming platforms might have helped the show find more audiences, however Penny Dreadful wasn't available on Netflix until after its cancellation in a tidy Three Season binge package. The series' props have been auctioned off, so it appears no one shopped Penny Dreadful to any other networks. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but in late 2015 while this Third Year was filming was also when Tom Cruise swept in to take over The Mummy and start Universal's highly anticipated but ultimately D.O.A. Dark Universe monster revival. Did somebody squash the competition? Maybe it isn't as simple as that, but I will always be skeptical of Logan and Showtime's he said/she said claiming that this was always how Penny Dreadful was supposed to end. With new locales and more colorful literary characters among our beloved team, why couldn't Penny Dreadful sustain itself? Previously, one could overlook any small inconsistencies because the sophisticated scares and morose design far outweighed any negatives. This season, however, becomes a chore to continue and is best left at Episode Four. After finishing Dexter and losing interest in Homeland and Ray Donovan, we've canceled our Showtime subscription since Penny is no more. There were other ways to do Penny Dreadful justice than this, well, what seems like internal sabotage, but gothic viewers shouldn't let this rushed Season Three dampen what has otherwise been a stellar and macabre program.

16 March 2018

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Recent Magnificent Seven Entertaining but Safe
by Kristin Battestella

Director Antoine Fuqua's (Olympus Has Fallen) 2016 The Magnificent Seven has all the hallmarks of the original 1960 western with a motley 1879 crew of cowboys, gunslingers, outlaws, and gamblers defending the town of Rose Creek against a ruthless industrial baron. Although the shootouts and genre action are entertaining, unfortunately this endeavor lacks inspiration thanks to an uneven narrative that plays it safe.

Dynamite mining, strangleholds on crops, and meager offerings of $20 per station lead to town meetings amid fears of this new businessman and his hired guns terrorizing churches and burning buildings. How can these pioneers defend themselves against such violence and shootouts? Although a wicked scene in itself, the all for show opening of The Magnificent Seven is extreme and over the top compared to the otherwise safe tone of the picture. Why not meet the town and its charred church when our eponymous heroes do and let the audience imagine the horrors happening for themselves? The serious western start and subsequent lighthearted adventure are mixed window dressings with little depth – even town names onscreen as they ride on to shooting contests and recruit more heroes is a superficial way to create scope. A slow ride toward the saloon with a man's reputation preceding him provides The Magnificent Seven with more western spirit. Poker, ordering whiskey, asking the barkeep for information – the gun clicks, cigarette smoke billows, and shotgun below the bar are tense! Our charming and ornery enlistees face-off against gunslingers on the roof and dodge bullets as they vow to protect Rose Creek. Of course, so many shows have already rifted on this famous heroes teaching farmers with pitchforks to fight plot, and this almost willingly plays into that generic western familiarity rather than adding anything new. The middle of The Magnificent Seven feels like one big montage as defense preparation builds – they walk, they plan, they booby trap trenches and magically train ridiculously bad townsfolk unable to throw knives or aim at any targets. Granted, viewers wouldn't accept a simple cut to the final battle with everything easy peasy, but the pace is forced and disoriented. We meet people for an hour and practice for another half hour before the titular boys get drunk and have some laughs over naming their guns women's names. If we knew their personalities equally, the bonding humor would happen on its own. Instead, cheery scenes are out of place amid brooding characters who do have history, religion, and reasons for doing what they do. The sardonic moments are better once we're under siege with our team shoulder to shoulder for one more huzzah. People are seriously wounded with well done blood and fire while tolling bells and prayers accent the lengthy but sometimes chaotic or confusing finale that squeezes three acts into one – the surprise defense, bleak enemy firepower retaliation, and the last sacrificial inspiration. The Magnificent Seven has serious and touching moments in the end, but the heroics come as we always knew they would, deflating some of the fine one on one justice and cathartic catching the bad guy entertainment.

Well, the piano player stops when Denzel Washington (Best Actor for Training Day but should have won for Malcolm X) walks into the saloon, oh yes. Sam Chisolm is an authorized warrant officer and man of the peace who would rather not use his quick draw unless provoked. He claims he isn't for hire but hears the proposition to help Rose Creek and assists without taking the gold they offer. His simmering rage suggests there must be a reason why, but Chisolm's going to see this through because he says these people deserve their lives back. The Magnificent Seven provides Washington some great dialogue for his on point delivery, even if that's because Chisolm speaks the most and tells others what to do. It's disappointing that the side eyes he receives and the racism of the era aren't addressed more, and the final scene explaining his history deserved a better thematic build. However, The Magnificent Seven really only has time to show his story and mostly does it right alongside heroic leaps through windows, a cool rearing horse, and a great cowboy silhouette. It might have been interesting to see a prequel of Chisolm alone becoming licensed to vendetta, but unfortunately, I'm not feeling Chris Pratt's (Jurassic World) gambler Josh Faraday. His old fashioned dialogue doesn't sound natural, and jokes about Koreans, American Indians, and Mexicans are unnecessary. The card tricks and fast draws don't hide the fact that Pratt's just playing the same cool guy he always does, and The Magnificent Seven wastes time on him being the funny pretty white guy when other characters have more interesting tales to tell. It's tough to take Faraday seriously even when he shoots off an enemy's ear, as Pratt's casting purely for the appeal is apparent. I shudder to think about some of the in-development casting rumors: The Magnificent Seven featuring Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, and five other guys you don't need to worry about playing cowboys! In contrast, Shakespeare quoting sharpshooter and southern gentleman Ethan Hawke (Daybreakers) sits at the campfire with Chisolm, reflecting on their history while increasingly reluctant to fire a rifle thanks to his own infamous Confederate past. They've been through these kind of hurrahs before, and this personal PTSD arc deserved more than just being a few somber moments amid lighter banter and gunfire.

Likewise, Lee Byung-hun (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (From Dusk till Dawn: The Series) each have their own specialty as Billy Rocks and Vasquez. There's a whiff of Asians in the West stigmas and Spanish dislike, too. However, the colorblind castings feel superficial – roles not for the historically accurate representation or to detail the discrimination they face but still little more than token appearances. We need more films like Posse addressing minorities in the West, but neither knife wielding Korean nor Mexican vigilante talk much and hardly receive up close shots or any camera focus. The blade action is cool, and a sword wielding nod to the Seven Samurai origins may have been on the nose, but seriously, why couldn't any of the minorities in The Magnificent Seven have been Pratt's second lead? Unsurprisingly, the appropriate casting of Martin Sensmeier (Salem) as Comanche warrior Red Harvest is also delightful to see yet under portrayed, resorting the character to always being hungry, eating raw meat, and disliking beans alongside typical mysticism fears from the rest of the team. He only speaks Comanche – or so they think – and the use of the bow and arrow amid all the rifle love deserved more showcasing. There should have been more to his rivalry with the Comanche counterpart fighting on the bad side, too – a Snake Eyes versus Storm Shadow one on one rather than a late blink and you miss it confrontation. The almost unrecognizable Vincent D'Onofrio's (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) spiritual mountain man Jack Horne is old, a bittersweet remnant of past ways. He's happy to do what's right and fight alongside men he can respect, and once again, deserved more attention. Righteousness won't do barely there Matt Bomer (Magic Mike) any good, but his wife Haley Bennett (The Girl on the Train) is almost part of the seven. Although her red hair, rosy cheeks, low cut shirts, and boob illumining lanterns aren't striving for costuming accuracy, Emma can shoot without Faraday's trying that flirtatious gun lesson cliché. Maybe it would be typical to have her be a teacher or nurse, but she deserved something stronger a husbandly connection. Of course, it's not shocking to see Peter Sarsgaard (Flightplan) as the villainous Bartholomew Bogue. He looks coked out, a snotty little asshole who hides behind Gatling guns and isn't much of a man when it comes to fighting himself. Bogue makes scary examples of children in the name of his so called industrial progress, however, his brutally over the top ruthless is absent for over an hour. Between all the permeating sarcasm, what should be personal terror strays into caricature – Bogue's almost there just because we need somebody to hate, and we don't discover his history with Chisolm until their final scene.

Blue skies, colorful prairies, and green valleys in The Magnificent Seven also look too modern, a scheme digitally over saturated rather than the dirty and dusty western rugged audiences expect. Rustic buildings, wagons, stagecoaches, and horses better set the mood amid fitting hoof beats, dynamite explosions, and gunfire. There's not much indoor action, but the dark saloon adds tension while real outdoor filming with windswept riding, rocky outcroppings, and mountain echoes build Old West atmosphere. The enemy charge is well done with steady zooms, choice slow motion, and upward horseback angles alongside unique knife battles, ax work action, riding feats, and fancy precision shooting. However, some transition scenes and silent montage moments are useless, and the pacing tries to keep up with today's in your face yet falls back on old strategies and cinematic tricks – the rope across that unseats a rider, a hidden trench with a surprise, or decoy ammunition distractions. A ridiculous amount of camera work also focuses on our men and their gun belts, panning up to the holster as one spins his six shooter or sweeping down as he bends to pick up the shot gun. Whether its to show off the bad ass gear or the tight chaps, once was enough – it's not sexy, just more like over compensation or penis envy. o_O The music for this Magnificent Seven is also woefully uneven. If this is supposed to be a heroic adventure, let's hear the theme! The unfinished score from the late James Horner (The Wrath of Khan) borrows cues, remaining contemporary and standard rather than instantly recognizable and rousing. Not until the movie ends are viewers treated to the familiar upbeats and a fun credits design that should have set the tone at the beginning. After such basic plots, hearing the music coda made me want to watch previous incarnations of The Magnificent Seven more than anything else. Therein is the trouble with all these reboots, sequels, and remakes today. Why tune in to these when you can just enjoy the original nostalgia again and again? Of course, I love the 1960 film, enjoy the follow ups, and really liked the brief 1998-2000 television series. Heck, I taped them of television on chewed up VHS, and wow, I feel really old by admitting I signed up for one of those early internet campaigns to save the show!

Westerns are ripe for a comeback because this is a genre that can encapsulate all our current gritty cynicism or let the good guys win when we need it. Rather than inserting superficial diversity with little time to explore all the characters, it's surprising this project wasn't another Magnificent Seven serial with time to address the history, racism, and personality of each hero. Were they hoping to make a movie franchise with the latest cool guys varying the seven each time? Unfortunately, this Magnificent Seven wavers between lighthearted adventure and innate lawlessness in a try hard PG-13 attempt more concerned with safely appealing to all audiences rather than balancing the cast and the heroics versus grit tone. At two hours plus, The Magnificent Seven delays a story we know and have seen many times – this picture needed more polish or substance and isn't as good as it should be. It's worth seeing through for fans of the cast, but this doesn't have a lot of repeat value. The gun violence may not be for young viewers, however, The Magnificent Seven can be a fun yarn for a movie night if you expect nothing more than temporary popcorn entertainment.

12 March 2018

Family Frights and Perils 2!

Family Frights and Perils, Second Story!
By Kristin Battestella

It's time for another round of families under siege as these recent chillers use ghosts, zombies, technology, and suspicious real estate to terrorize one and all.

Hidden – Andrea Riseborough (W.E.) and Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood) star in this 2015 parable from The Duffer Brothers (Stranger Things) beginning with dialogue in the dark before a single flame reveals a stark bunker with metal beds and a green, fall out patina. A doll, one vintage board game, a deck of cards, and a handmade periscope with distorted mirror glances of their chained closed manhole and the debris outside placate the daughter inside amid whispers of what's above and the family rules – never open the door, don't talk loud, and they must not lose control. Candles, canned food, and carving the days into the wall for math lessons reflect the functioning but frazzled underground routine. How do you raise a child in a bomb shelter? It's a miracle they have survived together this long, but they are losing weight, rats are in the food, and water is precious. After fires inside and materials lost, can they risk going to the surface? Some of the bonding time with positive Dad is somewhat saccharin, but Mom doubts this can be a home and not a prison, creating tension as they both assure their daughter comes first no matter what the cost. Fade ins mirror the darkness and suggest the passage of time while past details come as memories triggered by the current smoke and surface rumblings – outbreak flashbacks giving enough information to accent forward momentum rather than lingering long or coming as in your face dream flashes. Footsteps echoing above, an inopportune talking doll, and glowing eyes peering in hit home the fear as the family tells themselves to hold fast amid banging sounds and screaming used to chilling effect. The desperation to surface increases with tense panoramas, hectic running, and close calls once exposed with dangerous escapes, injuries, and sacrifices. Where can they run? Dark highways and siege attacks lead to a taut revelation on what's really happening as the destruction comes full circle. While not slow or boring thanks to the sense of danger and the innate understanding of what parents won't do for their child, this is a confined play with the claustrophobia felt. The well woven narrative never keeps us too far away from the shelter for too long, remaining trapped by the environment be it inside, outside, or the truth – and lies – we tell ourselves for survival. Though there probably isn't a lot of re-watch value and today it is nearly impossible to go into a picture like this cold, this is a bleak and emotional surprise.

House Hunting – A low priced, seventy acre foreclosure is too good to be true for two families in this 2013 mind bender starring Marc Singer (The Beastmaster). Rather than a scenic credits montage, the obligatory drive to the horrors is a claustrophobic car conversation between a young wife and the unheard step-daughter. Shrewd editing places the divided family each in their own frame, and our second trio also argues over a teen son on crutches and a grumpy dad rightfully asking what the catch is on this dream property with automated sales pitches in every room. Surprise accidents, hidden guns, tongues cut out, crazy people on the road, and disappearing figures in the woods pack seven different characters into the SUV, but all the country drives lead back to this house. What choice do they have but to stay inside by the ready fireplace? Flashlights, hooded shadows in the corners, just enough canned food for all – the families stick together in one room but cigarette smoking, hooting owls outside, and chills in the air add tense while a bloody ax and a straight razor foreshadow worse. The men take watches but one women wants to get to work on Monday while the other is almost happy to be there and clean the house. Can they wait for help to arrive? Instead of any transition, the screen simply moves to “One Month Later” with piled cans, smelly clothes, and nobody sleeping. Household papers reveal those responsible for the foreclosure are closer than they think, but they're trapped in this routine, strained by violent visions and hazy apparitions. Is it really ghosts or cabin fever? If one family stays, will the house let the others leave? Finger pointing, blame, and distrust mount amid suicides and new assaults. Of course, the metaphors on being trapped by one's own consequences and reliving past mistakes aren't super deep and the atmosphere falls apart in real world logic. Why does no one do what the real estate recordings say? Have they no pen or paper to recount events? Why don't they hunt for more food? This is a little weird with some trite points, unexplained red herrings, and an unclear frame – problems from a lone writer/director with no secondary eye to see the personal family connections through without changing the rules for the finale. Fortunately, the supernatural elements aren't flashy, in your face shocks, and the plain fade ins mirror the monotony, freeing the eerie to develop with meta jigsaw puzzles, doppelgangers, us versus them threats, injuries, and standoffs. Are they getting what they deserve? Will the house let them apologize and escape? The clues are there, but selfish bitterness and vengeance prevent one and all from seeing the answers. While slow for those expecting a formulaic slasher, this festival find remains unusual and thought provoking.


I.T. – Stock reports, public trading, jet setting apps, tech jargon, and mod homes spell doom for Pierce Brosnan (Goldeneye) and his modern family in this 2016 thriller. Mom Anna Friel (Timeline) wants everyone to have breakfast, their daughter in a stars and stripes bikini wants faster wi-fi, and self-made dad can't work the coffee machine, but the open, glass designs give buildings both personal and professional a Matrix style interface amid graphics or text messages onscreen and tricked out cars. We are accustomed to this technology, however, with screens on the wall and motion lights more relatable compared to expensive closets, high rise corporate meetings, big investors, and private aviation plans. Dad wants to move into the future but likes his privacy, and interesting conversations on technology, privacy, and opinion or what we must give or give away to obtain each are too brief. In the nineties when computer technology was emerging en masse, this kind of cyber thriller was common, and the green lightning, New Wave pop, and nightclub den contrasts the bright, streamline high society tech – mirroring the have and have not divide. Of course, the cliché hipster tech guy says all the right things, stalking and worming his way into this family unaware he is not included but just there to fix the internet. His crying over this misinterpreted social cue is a hammy excuse to tap into their cameras, and the parents of a seventeen year old girl are right to set boundaries on a creepy twenty-eight year old man – but how do you draw the line when one can infiltrate your home? Unfortunately, between the emo weak and solo rave fist pumping, the crazy enemy plotting is totally unnecessary. It would be much more frightening if the elite man had to sweat over his family, home, and business without knowing where this tech threat originates. Sprinklers on in the night, music blaring, and lights flashing come amid doctored paperwork, trade investigations, hefty aircraft hacks, and compromised medical records. It's impossible today to stop using computers or cell phones, and the played police disbelieve our family because the evidence is their own devices. Old school calling the cleaners, reducing physical footprints, and stealing thumb drives become an undercover race to erase, but the going off the grid response ultimately runs out of steam. This premise should be disturbingly timely, however contrived conveniences have authorities never looking at the jump drive evidence or following up at the family home – not to mention that saucy teen shower video filmed and distributed without the minor's consent is completely forgotten. The stormy, slow motion final standoff resorts to a hokey mano y mano physical confrontation rather than a shrewd tech answer, playing its hand early and falling apart instead of providing the audience with any real fear of subversive technology.

Skip the Basement!

The Open House – My husband watched this 2018 Netflix Original one morning without me and spent the rest of the day complaining about it. Who was the guy? Was he in the house the whole time? Why did the trailer play at something supernatural? What was the point of the crazy lady? What a stinky ending! Suffice to say he summed it all as thus: “I want my hour and a half back.” ¯\_()_/¯ 

09 March 2018

Science Fiction and Action Thrillers!

Science Fiction and Action Thrillers!
by Kristin Battestella

These new and old, film or long form science fiction and action spectacles with memorable stars are a hodgepodge of space ships, disasters, aliens, robots, and more. Something for everyone!

Earthquake – Despite the older phones, analog equipment, suave seventies corduroy, tacky wallpaper, and patterns everywhere; we can see the genre influence of this star packed 1974 disaster yarn written by Mario Puzo (The Godfather) on films like Independence Day. The titular rumblings begin early for engineer Charlton Heston (Planet of the Apes), his cranky wife Ava Gardner (Mogambo), and an Afro sporting Victoria Principal (Dallas) as terse conversations introduce the drama. Higher up cops chew out George Kennedy (also of that other disaster flick Airport '77), and no one believes the scientist who thinks the big quake is imminent even amid fleeing animals, reservoir perils, and landslide action. Yes, the actress reading flirtatious script lines meta falls flat. The age difference between rough Chuck and ingenue Genevieve Bujold (Anne of a Thousand Days) is ridiculous – almost as bad as his father-in-law cum boss Lorne Greene (Battlestar Galactica) looking as old as his onscreen daughter Ava. However, there are enough seismic sciences, probability curves, and scale debates alongside a whiff of social commentary regarding ignored Mexican victims, so-called religious freaks, negative treatment of soldiers, homophobic slurs, and racist insults. Red tape at the top contributes to the situation with officials worried over public panic and implausible evacuations, but certain action is laughable, too – be it the trailer full of cows going off the overpass or crumbling models of famous buildings and hello faux splatter in that disturbing elevator mishap. Green screens and matte backgrounds are at times obvious, yet most of the effects actually aren't bad, with green smoke and orange fire creating eerie glows. Of course, these two hours will be slow for those expecting the disaster quickly, and the story does stall with inadvertently over the top seriousness and too many characters that should have been combined cluttering what's important before the tolling bells, trembling bridges, falling bricks, smashed cars, and buckling highways. It's interesting how these crisis scenes are also done sans dialogue – there's no news coverage, authorities are non-existent, and some of our disparate people never even meet. This starts with detail but becomes haphazard, bouncing from scene to scene with dam releases, sparking wires, and seemingly significant players disappearing in the chaos. Ironically, today such movies are one visual sensation after another desensitizing spectacle for the entire ninety minutes! Aftershocks damage supposedly safe buildings where the rescued gather, crowds remain in peril, the military is portrayed as crazy, and one anonymous kid with a transistor radio tells us this disaster is the worst ever. Sadly, we've seen far worse than this fiction, and shootout injuries, looting assaults, dangling scaffolding, and claustrophobic tunnels may be upsetting for some younger audiences. The big watery consequence should probably have happened earlier, gas and fire damage are unrealistically minor, and this is both of its time in lacking a narrative resolution yet progressive with some seventies cynicism and a few dramatic surprises. We love it when our stars rescue puppies, and only Charlton Heston can save the day – because he must rescue not one, but two babes. After all, an earthquake is the perfect time to break up, and most importantly in a crisis, that megaphone is announcing where the hot coffee is available.

Didn't Think It Was *That* Bad

Saturn 3 – Underground Titan bases, a twenty-two day eclipse, cut off communication, and evil robots spell doom for Kirk Douglas (The Man from Snowy River), Farrah Fawcett (Charlie's Angels), and Harvey Keitel (Bugsy) in this 1980 British tale with not terrible but obviously influenced by Star Wars celestial illustrations and space graphics. That futuristic faux serious marching, foreboding mission preparation, and emergency radio chatter opening, however, is all unnecessary hype. Rather than showing a murderer switching places with the real pilot over a failed psych test, just begin with the supply run landing at this sheltered assignment and leave the ulterior intentions unknown. The duo here has chosen this cool but behind schedule hydroponics lab with its artificially blue tinted water and green lit plants, and of course the talk of never having been to earth or how nice it would be to go outside and breathe real air happens in the shower! Such sheer robes, nudity, sex, and drug experimentation stir the tense dynamic between this older gent, younger woman, and new younger man amid ominous device sounds and spying on the monitors by all parties. Weird scene transitions and epic music at the wrong times under estimate the mature audience and don't need to try so hard when our newcomer is unmistakably blunt about his desire; jacking in interfaces, blasting hoses, and sliding the giant head in and out of the robot cavity make for better symbolism. He's building this demigod robot with brain tissue and advanced connections to replace half the couple – who overhear this obsolete talk and fear the end of their idyllic. Can they toss their problems out the airlock or will kindness be their undoing? Scary injuries, creepy surgeries, and dogs in peril are well-filmed tense when the cast is allowed to stew, argue over who has the more violent tendencies, or foolishly think one of them can control such intelligent machinery. Again, knowing the new guy and his toy are trigger happy takes away some of the fun when playing chess with the machine leads to something more sinister, but our sassy robot with the laughably tiny little head and giant oversize body takes charge with a creepy machine re-assembly. References to Hector, Troy, and the original fight over a woman accent the man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus himself conflicts while a touch of blood and gore add danger. Did we need the robot terror on top of the chilling human story? The narrative unevenly wastes time with the commonplace machine chase instead of dealing with the personal elements, meandering with random running down the hallways and under the deck grate attacks that ironically give Aliens inspiration. Editing or behind the scenes troubles are apparent and an expected twist that should have come much sooner pads the final twenty minutes with spectacle when the taut science fiction triangle is interplay enough. Although its flaws prevent this from being a totally well told SF parable, the juicy defeat of man at his own science remains late night entertainment.

Should Have Been Better

The Kettering Incident – Lovely forestry, mysterious lights, hooting owls, mountain fog, and past abductions open this 2016 eight episode Australian series starring Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager) before London blackouts, nosebleeds, and creepy phone messages. Journal entries record the hours missing, but security footage captures actions unknown amid strobe sounds, distorted camerawork, and unaware travels to eerie Tasmania. Aurora Australis, frozen birds, and UFO snowglobes in the general store add to the awkward homecoming, bizarre happenings, threatening letters, and small town who is who as local pubs versus bonfire raves reflect generational clashes and radical environmentalists protest the logging industry. Older homes, dusty case files, big computers, and the often down internet create a backwater mood as newspaper clippings, retro tunes, and decades old unsolved crimes lead to more abductions, hidden drugs, crooked cops, and under the table deals. Thunderstorms, reflections, ruins on the ridge, hazy dreams, and surreal colors askew nature while affairs, police egos, power outages, strange science, and cancer diagnoses divide the community. Cover ups, stonewalled investigations, phantom blood samples, and tense family relations interfere as mysterious rashes spread and moss grows indoors. Dogs turn on their owners, rare plants bloom, and high radiation counts contaminate fish, but ghostly static on the radio, chainsaw mishaps, night vision goggles, and geophysicist readings uncover catatonics and whispers of who knows what. Desperate men – accustomed to ruling over disposable daughters and drinking mothers or bar maids useful only for hitting, cooking, or sex – take matters into their own hands despite electromagnetic fears, screams in the woods, poison bogs, altered blood types, and multiple moons. From the ill but edgy cops and doctors to missing girls and suspicious sleepy inlets, unfortunately, this has a lot of cliches often seen in commonwealth television. Lacking procedures, tainted crimes scenes, and cryptic doctors bend for plot conveniences, and our lead isn't piecing the case together but preposterously meddling as dramatic effect requires. While it's pleasing to see strung out and realistic looking people; no one asks how everything is interconnected nor shares information. If they worked together, the mystery would be solved in six episodes. Instead, Lost style montages, red herrings, and tangents pad the weird occurrences, delaying important clues and stretching disbelief as smart police and scientists are made stupid with unaccounted for people sans alibis, fingerprint clues, and stolen evidence ignored. This isn't billed as science fiction, so the straying focus and point of view changes become window dressing as Antarctic connections and Dyatlov Pass similarities are tossed in with unnecessary sex scenes. Apparently, people won't share information unless they have sex, the hermit in the woods is never questioned, and established information is literally forgotten until the final hour. Dramatic asylum cliffhangers are easily resolved, and never held suspects unravel the intriguing underground evidence, craters, stolen weapons, and bio tech company bribes. Voiceovers resolve actions and revelations that were obvious all along – telling events rather than having the lead discover anything for herself. Maybe the lack of communication is part of the moral here, but the unlikable dumbing down and bait and switch genres take on too much flab. Empty shocks meant to sustain weekly viewing are better to binge marathon, for this doesn't know who its audience is and therefore underestimates not one, but two potential viewing groups in anticipation of a second season to explain everything. Those expecting a crime thriller will find the science fiction outcome annoying, and today's sci-fi audiences will be irritated at the slow potboiler pace not putting the fantastic at the forefront.

A Disappointing Skip

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – The themes, pacing, and characters for this 2017 Episode VIII from writer and director Rian Johnson (Looper) are very disjointed. John Boyega, newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, and Benico del Toro (The Wolfman) are lost in an irrelevant subplot of intergalactic casino races, contrived theft, and star destroyer stealth attacks made useless by The Resistance's slow crawl through space. Domhnall Gleeson's cranky General Hux doesn't so much pick off the fleet as they merely sacrifice themselves one by one with dumb counter attacks while purple haired Laura Dern (Jurassic Park) is wasted and Oscar Isaac does little but redundantly repeat the elder ladies' jejune wisdoms. There were several moments to fittingly send off the late Carrie Fisher, but instead, The Force goes even further beyond what we ever thought its mystical capabilities were. Daisy Ridley's Rey and the utterly lame Kylo Ren play telepathic footsie for most of the movie – I really hope they aren't related – while poor Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker is sort of there...maybe. Too many characters old and new enter or exit without deserving time. For all the female fronting, the cardboard women tropes are obviously written by a man and don't seem like characters in their own right. Each is defined by what the men around them need – sacrificing, motherly, crushes, babes blowing on dice, or alien maids. Even Leia is repeatedly stressed as Luke's sister being her most important value. Gwendoline Christie's tough Captain Phasma is easily defeated in one scene, and CGI covered Lupita Nyong'o is reduced to a hologram call. More silly animated animals, easily dismissed villains, and lengthy purely for the spectacle sequences litter the screen while a major female character's narrow escape from an exploding ship on a stolen shuttle is told by another male character rather than shown. Although rebel numbers dwindle constantly, there are somehow plenty of people to keep fighting while the overlong two and a half hours plus battles over whether the space action or Jedi plot is more important. Despite so many should be enjoyable people and dazzling designs, this is incredibly busy for being so boring. It's also disappointing, even angering, to hear there is no overall trilogy sequel plan and that each director can do his own thing – leaving these films to meander as long as it pleases Disney to manipulate Star Wars fans. In low budget horror, problems arise when one writer/director has no second checks or balances, and this makes for expensive, glaring issues here amid lifted elements of Empire and Return of the Jedi as Last tries to be a personal middle a la The Two Towers but grasps for air rather than giving us anything to hold. I'm still nicknaming VI as just Jedi and shortening this to Last – as in the last Star Wars movie I'll see at the box office for the foreseeable future. The rehashed but recognizably fun Episode VII launched something new and Rogue One came full circle where we never knew possible. I'm still thinking of this one, but for all the wrong reasons, and I wish we just had The Thrawn trilogy as films instead.