Thursday, January 28, 2016

The X-Files Reopened! - Founder's Mutation


A Tale of Two Families


This past episode of The X-Files was really a story of family.  Not just the family of man but of the individual family as well.

"Founder's Mutation" managed to tie in the new conspiracy of rebuilding the human race from within and it's nefarious motivation.  But it also managed to focus on the nuclear family and how it also evolves for better or worse.  In fact, one could argue the close knit individual family is the foundation to the larger family of man and if it goes, then so goes humanity.




Augustus Goldman certainly had an interesting take on the family of man.  (By the way, how's that for a name?  Evocative of Caesar and suggesting a man of gold.)

Goldman came across as a man of the people and a champion of the children.  Instead, he manipulated the innocent and exploited the very charges he had professed to protect.




It didn't take long for Scully to suss him out.  At first I thought she had bought into his story but as she walked by the children's "pens" I think she realized what was really going on.



What an interesting menagerie that was.  I was compelled to watch but bearing witness to those poor children was very difficult.  One after another they passed us by.  Goldman claimed the rooms were for their own protection but it was apparent it was their prison.




As we were to learn, he even kept his own daughter a prisoner there.  (Director James Wong made good use of reflective surfaces in this episode as seen above with Molly and her brother.)  I wonder if Goldman was really compelled to help the human race.  Yes, he worked for the DOD but I wonder if he thought his work in genetics was actually good for humanity.  By creating human/alien hybrids, was this to protect humanity from some threat?  Disease?  Alien invasion?

It seems not.  Instead of doing "God's work" he embodied a God complex.  It looks as though he was looking to perfect humanity at the expense of the rest and culling the weak.  A final solution of sorts.



He got what he deserved then.





We go from prostituting one's family in the interest of horrific science to the protection of another.  Ironically, the destruction of each family is rooted in the same cause.

Mulder and Scully sought to protect their son William by hiding him away.  Sadly, it meant a wound that will never heal for both of them.  

*** Quick Note *** 

I think we're going to have to invoke the "Chekov's Gun" rule here.  I think by referencing their broken family and William in these first two episodes we are going to have to see William by the last episode at least.

*** End Note ***


To watch Mulder and Scully's pain was perhaps more agonizing than the parade of malformed children.  (Okay, perhaps not.)  We're familiar with both characters and it's been a joy to see them back.  Now to see them suffer so is especially difficult. 

It was interesting to see how the relationship played out with William.  For Goldman we saw it in linear fashion as the story played out.  For Mulder and Scully we saw it in sort of flash forward with a "what if" scenario mixed in.  I refer to both as their "Dream Sequence."

Let's take a look at both.


Scully's Dream






A fascinating use of light, color and shadow by Director Wong here.  We had a sun splashed afternoon where mother greets child after school.   She watches him leave as mother's have to do (kids grow up) Then Scully seems to sense something and as she turns her head the sky darkens.

Running to the scene of an accident she finds her son gravely injured.  Perhaps a metaphor for the pain she is feeling and her inability to protect him in real life.  She attends to her son when she is distracted again.

The scene darkens as Scully turns once more.  Her son calls to her and she proceeds down a blackened hallway.  As she opens the door her son turns to her, his face transformed, and pleads, "What's happening to me?"

Scully gasps in utter bewilderment.  She exits the dream sequence with a look tinged with abject helplessness.


Mulder's Dream 







A wonderful father son moment unfolds.  Mulder and William attempt to reach for the stars via their model rocket.  As the Mercury Redstone arches skyward a delighted William exclaims, "I'm going to go up there some day."  (Ouch.)

Like Scully's dream, Mulder turns his head as hears his son call for him.    I've thought about Wong's use of the "turning head" I think it is meant to denote a passage of sorts but more importantly it serves to show how Mulder and Scully have taken their eye off their son and something has gone wrong.

Mulder runs down a similar hallway as Scully's.  He bursts through the door only to find his son floating in midair.  William is bathed in light and calls for his father.  Mulder screams, "No!" and in a flash of light William disappears.

We find Mulder alone in his kitchen staring at the baby picture of William.  Seems he hasn't put it behind him after all.   As the camera pulls back the music tugs at our heartstrings.

Fade to black.



Movie References & Cinematic Inspiration

 



Let's lighten the mood a little starting with Dr. Sanjay's suicide.

What movie did this remind me of? Pi of course!  Not only does it deal with a Wall Street conspiracy but a religious one too.  Our hero stops the noise in his head by impaling himself with a drill.

 

Familiar yes?

 




Next up, "Agnes of God"

 



How convenient for our character to be named Agnes.  In the movie, nuns deal with a mysterious pregnancy that ends with death. 

 "Desire is the Devil's pitchfork!"

Thoughtful of Agnes to provide us with our next movie reference.

  

Planet of the Apes!  I think what we see in the background is "Escape From The Planet of the Apes."   

Young Cesar is born to intelligent apes and it spells the end of humanity.  Sounds familiar?

Shall we continue with our ape theme?




2001: A Space Odyssey.

Here the apes are the precursors to man.  William and Mulder enjoy a little sci-fi and Fox explains to his son how smart humanity is.  Yeah, right.  What could happen?


Lastly....

October Sky 


 

Boys and rockets, what's not to like?



Actually, I think we could throw in "The Elephant Man" and "Alien" for movie references but we need to move on.

Odds and Ends


 
I liked Wong's use of perspective in this episode.  The overhead shots resonate with a "Big Brother" like theme where somebody is always watching from above.  (Or way above.)  The shot also evokes thoughts of sheep like humans marching in single file like lambs to the slaughter.  We want to feel secure but obviously our world is not.



We get the overhead perspective of Scully's autopsy also.  Again, someone is always watching but in Scully's case is it higher more spiritual power?





I mentioned earlier Wong's use of reflective surfaces and glass.  Here our perspective takes us through the x-ray display.  An interesting touch wherein death or the just plain weird come between Mulder and Scully.




Molly's bother nearly gets run over by a distracted Scully.   He's seen through the glass windshield of the car.  Mulder and Scully are isolated and protected in their car while Jonathan (actor's name.) is out is the cold, vulnerable and alone.

Humor Dept. 



I laughed at Mulder's reaction to having a close encounter of the fellatio kind.



It was good see the two men return to the bar and have a meaningful conversation.  Gupta got to learn of his friends death and Mulder provided some measure of solace.




 Ha!  Chris Carter usually sticks it to the Conservative bunch but here the Lefties get the lash.  Big government!


Elsewhere 




Hey, they changed the part in Scully's hair.  Good, it makes look a little younger.  The center part from episode one made her face look too narrow.  Yes, I know it's a wig and I hear it was very uncomfortable to wear.  Poor Gillian!




Holy smokes there must be a conspiracy to include Ryan Robbins in every Sci-Fi show possible.  Check out his resume at IMDB .  



 Can I point out one more thing?




Grabbed this from the preview for "Mulder & Scully Meet The Were-Monster"

The guy throwing Mulder is wearing some serious "Kolchak The Night Stalker" clothes. 

See?


I was a little stunned to see the headstone for former X-Files director Kim Manners.  Manners passed away in 2009.  I guess it is a salute.  Jack Hardy too.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The X-Files Reopened! - My Struggle




Well that wasn't so bad.

Voices from Variety to Vulture to Vanity Fair pronounced the X-Files dead on arrival.  (Hmm, perhaps the are the real "Visitors".)  Granted some of them counseled patience but for the most part the first installment of the reborn X-Files was dubbed a flop.

"Au contraire," as they say in distant parts of the galaxy.

Surely it got a little breathless and hyper-ventilated at times.  Yes, the exposition came out like the rat-tat-tat of a machine gun (pulse cannon?)  Mulder was especially guilty of the quick fire argument wherein you talk so fast and with such conviction it must be true.  But beyond that, it was gloomy angst filled delight filled with juicy conspiracy and characters you just want to hug.  (A one armed hug that is.  You'll want your other hand in your pocket holding a taser just in case.)


I think I'll take the advice Mulder scrawled on the back of Scully's car and not give up.





So let's venture forth into this tele-visual alien autopsy and discuss some of the high points first.


Mulder and Scully


 

I'm going to try and not gush but it was a treat to see them together again.   I know it is a trend to breath life into old properties but, c'mon, this isn't "Fuller House."  (And they look pretty good.)

Mulder looks a little weary.  Time waits for no man!  A little jowly, a few more pounds.  A bit disheveled.  He has the look of a warrior returned from a long campaign with nothing to show for it.

Sadly, Scully's diagnosis of depression fits him like a glove.

Duchovney's still got it though.  Just light the match to a new conspiracy and the fire still burns within.  (And what a conspiracy it is.)  Duchovney's Mulder is responsible for some of that over the top breathless urgency I spoke of earlier.  However, it is in  the quiet moments when he is most convincing.  Whether it is on the phone with Scully or in the parking garage, Mulder still smolders with the deepest confidence.  He pleads with his former partner with an intimacy that comes from affection and conviction.

Like I said, he's still got it.




There were some rough points for Gillian Anderson's Dana Scully too.  Her exchange with Mulder on Sveta's front porch was a little desperate.  

Forgiven!

The rest was pretty on the nose.  And she can still do the classic Scully eye roll.




  
Just check out the look she give's Joel McHale's Tad O'Malley. 

Part of Dana Scully's charm is her vulnerability.  Yes, she more than competent and an expert in her field.  But take a look at her face when she realizes Tad O'Malley is interested in her.



Ouch, the pain of being alone too long.  A little hurt mixed with desire that could use some flame.  Somewhere deep inside the fire still burns for Dana Scully too.

The Other Players


Whatever Mitch Pileggi is taking I want some of it.

They guy looks great.  He still has authority and command of the stage.  When Mulder challenged his loyalty the hurt was palpable.  

More Skinner please!




Excellent work by Joel McHale.  He got to display some of his comedy chops and made a great ring wing conspiracy nut job.  (And he hit on Scully!)

The Humor



Imagine trying to counsel Mulder on paranoia.  Pah!  The classic Mulder look followed by Tad's exasperation.  Very nice.




There was also subtlety of humor when Mulder was ushered into his old office and the pencils were still stuck to the ceiling.  Loved it.




Geeking Out Over the Aliens

 
Loved all the alien related stuff.  Here, poor little ET is just trying to survive and he gets gunned down by one of the original Men in Black.  Was that "Black Oil" for blood?



This is exactly what you do when presented with one of your life dreams.  You reach out and touch it.   There is nothing like the tactile sense to reinforce memory.  Like Captain Picard said in "First Contact."  You just have to feel it.  (Data didn't get why he had to touch Cochran's spaceship.  Robots, sheesh!)





The craft itself was, I dunno, wicked awesome and bore a striking resemblence to the Navy's XB-47 seen below.



 A nice "reverse engineering" real world touch.

And then there was this...





Not only did it disappear but it went someplace too.   These guys really get it.

So I might as well get to the part I didn't like and I don't think I'm alone.


The Conspiracy





Are we?

Yes, it turns out our favorite X-Files conspiracy is a conspiracy.  I got that right, right?  The conspiracy is a conspiracy? 

Cue Dana Scully eye roll.




Yep, that was a tough one to swallow.

If I understand it correctly a cabal of ultra secret industrialists have been faking an alien invasion scenario to throw people (Fox Mulder) off the scent of their real goal which is to reap all the dividends of the world's needs, hide alien technology to suit their own needs and then take over the planet. 

You know why a conspiracy like that is doomed to fail?  Any group of people that greedy would be at each others throats to steal the other guys shares.  Simple as that.  They'd be killing each other off so quickly the whole thing would be over in a month.

Seriously, they've proven to be murderous so why not eliminate the competition?  Each other!

Then there were things like this.





Just take the craft don't blow it up!  You've got the manpower.  Kill the scientists if you want but grab the damned craft.  A stupid waste that made no sense.


In keeping with that line of thinking.





Really, you send a goon squad to blow up the craft but you send a craft to blow up Sveta?

Over kill much?

Just capture her!  She can incubate some more babies for you!  Duuuumb!




Still, the bad does not out weigh the good.  I'm sure a conspiracy theory as bad as that one can be ultimately saved by someone as evil as the "Cigarette Smoking Man".  

All hail William B. Davis!  I saw him at an X-Files convention and he was the key speaker.  So funny and worth the price of admission alone.

Here is a picture of my wife and I being accosted by aliens at the convention.



 Odds and Ends



I didn't mean to be dismissive of the Sveta character earlier.  She just wasn't as important as I thought she would turn out to be.  I do like the image above.  It seems to be saying she is protected by a thin veneer and it is already beginning to tear.

It reminded me of the cold war movie, "Torn Curtain" that starred Paul Newman and Julie Andrews.  Here is a brief synopsis from Wikipedia.

 Torn Curtain is a 1966 American political thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews. Written by Brian Moore, the film is about an American scientist who pretends to defect to East Germany as part of a clandestine mission to obtain the solution of a formula resin and escape back to the United States.

It deals with the basic double switch of the good guy becoming the bad guy while still remaining the good guy all along.  I have a sneaking suspicion one of our characters will follow a similar route.

And lastly, "My Struggle."  That's an interesting title for the episode.  The German translation for my struggle is "Mein Kampf" which was the title of Hitler's manifesto.  Why make an allusion to one of the greatest murderers in human history?  Does it have to do with the fascist takeover of the world like the cabal wants or is it just referring to Mulder's own mission to seek out the truth?

Odd. 
 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

I Just Finished Jessica Jones.



I know what you're thinking, "Congratulations Dave, we finished it weeks ago."

What can I say I'm an old school TV watcher.

I pretty much did the same thing with Daredevil.  I'm just not a binge watcher.  I like the episodic feel spread over several days or weeks.  Not that I haven't done it.  I caught up on the first season of "Penny Dreadful" a year ago in a weeks time basically because I couldn't stop watching it!

That's not to say Jessica Jones wasn't compelling.  It was.  In fact there was a string of episodes near the middle-end I refer to as it's "Golden Age."  (More on that later.)

Jessica Jones definitely is a different type of "Superhero" show.  First of all, it has a female protagonist.  That's hardly rare but at first blush I can only think of Supergirl with the lead hero as a female.  (These two shows are polar opposites.  Supergirl is slightly saccharine and full of sunshine while Jones is all about the angst and definitely dark.)

I had my trepidations about Jessica Jones too.  Respected critic, Joanna Robinson, comment on her Thought Bubble podcast that Jones "Just wasn't her type of superhero."  (To paraphrase Ms. Robinson.)  That set off alarm bells with me.  Also, I'm not much of a "street level" fan of that particular sub-genre of the comic book form.  I'm more of a Thor or Captain America guy.  What would call that level, world class? (Avenger class?)

Yes, I have familiarity with that "level."  I did grow up in the Frank Miller Daredevil era and I absolutely loved those comics.  I eagerly awaited that Netflix adaptation.  Sadly, I had to look up to see who Jessica Jones was.  Sorry!

So what did I think of Jessica Jones?





I thought it was pretty good and I give it a B+ overall.  (Somewhere Terry Matalas is slapping his forehead and sticking another pin in his Inter-dimensional Dave voodoo doll. I gave his freshman effort, 12 Monkeys, a B+ too.)

I noted earlier Jessica Jones is full of angst and to say they deliberately colored this show with a noirish palette would be an understatement.  That can be off-putting but if your into gloom, well,  you just won the lottery.




The embodiment of that great dollop of sorrow is Jessica herself as portrayed by Krysten Ritter.

The entire premise for season one is built around the guilt, shame and yes, sorrow as personified by Jessica Jones.  Jones has been pitted against an antagonist who literally has her in his thrall and compelled her to participate in some unspeakable acts including her own rape and the murder of an innocent.  To make matters worse, she was fully aware of her misdeeds yet she was wholly incapable of acting against them.

That's a pretty painful start and maybe that's what turned some people away.

"Jones" doesn't stop there either.  Jessica sets out to atone for her sins by taking a case (she's a P.I.) from two desperate parents only to locate the principle involved (their child) who ends up murdering the parents Jessica gets involved with in the first place.  The icing on that cake is it's all been arranged by the fiend that had Jones in his thrall to begin with.  Because he feels he has been wronged by her! (A stunning and clever plot twist that really pulled me into the series.)

Now would be a good time to speak of that "Golden Age" I referred to earlier.




Episodes 8, 9 and 10 are some of the best TV I've watched in the past year.  The truth is, the stakes that have been so carefully set up in the previous 7 episodes, many that some may have found too grim or a bit slow, explode in a 3 piece arc that set the entire series on it's ear.

They are brutal, shocking and ultimately fulfilling.  Sure the series slows down a bit as it reaches it's final conclusion and it is a little hamstrung by the set up for season 2.  

Don't let that stop you from watching "Jessica Jones."




It's also worthy to discuss the major characters of the show and by doing so I thought I'd grade them just for a little fun.

Krysten Ritter AKA Jessica Jones

A-

This one was tougher than I thought.  My original thinking was to grade Ritter on a "B" level.  How hard can it be to sulk all the time?  Then it occurred to me the dynamic that existed between the Jessica character and some of the other major players in the show.  It's actually pretty fascinating.

Yes, Jessica can be pretty dour (24/7) but how do the other characters interact with her and how does it define their own character arcs?  In asking this, I found out how, childhood friends, lovers, strangers, and even foes develop in the most captivating ways.

I credit Ritter in bringing the best out in her compatriots and or fellow characters.  It if wasn't for Jessica's laser focus, bulldog mentality and struggle with being a hero I don't think the rest of the bunch would have been half as interesting.




Rachael Taylor AKA Trish Walker

A

Thoroughly impressed with Rachael Taylor.  I was stuck where I had seen her before then it came to me she was in Transformers way back in 2007.   Guess I missed the rest of her career which is pretty sizable when it comes to her TV work.  My loss.



I was a bit mystified to start at the nature of the relationship between Trish and Jessica.  My mind spun wildly out of control and I considered all possibilities.  As the series unspooled we learned they shared a common childhood and and a traumatic past to boot.  This served to add a heartfelt depth to their relationship and it obviously continues into their adulthood.

It was great to see Taylor work off that dynamic.  Especially when there was a little role reversal and Trish got a chance to put on the hero boots on and bail Jessica out. I found their relationship to be tender, sincere and fiercely loyal.

There's talk Trish might eventually evolve into the hero, "Hellcat."  I hope not.  At least not for a while.  There is such a thing as superhero saturation and I think Jessica would be better served with a friend than another crime fighter.




Mike Colter AKA Luke Cage

A

(Sensing a trend here?)


What a bear of a man.  Seriously, this guy is a human boulder.  Which make the tender/sensual moments with Jessica all the more remarkable.   There was one line that stuck with me as Luke learned of Jessica's earlier perfidy, "You let me inside you."   The heartbreak of betrayal with someone you've been intimate with was achingly palpable.  Contrast that with the wrecking ball mentality Colter adopted when he also fell under the spell of Jessica's arch nemesis and you have a superb performance.

Okay, enough waiting, let's get to that arch nemesis.




 David Tennant AKA Kilgrave

A+

Man child, psychopath, jilted lover and stand up comedian.  David Tennant was them all.  In a word, brilliant.  (And I thought he was great in Broadchurch.)

Tennant's ability to transition from petulant child to shrill murderer was pitch perfect.  He made the ultimate antagonist for the perpetually morose Jessica.   He traipsed about with juvenile glee leaving a trail of human destruction in his wake .  No one was immune.

Well, except Jessica eventually.  And, aye, that's the rub.  Kilgrave's "power" was one of mind control and he used it with brutal efficiency.  If I understand it correctly, it was viral in nature and something he could emanate in close quarters.  (Which eventually grew wider and wider in scope.)  Jessica eventually became immune (not sure how, overexposure?) and turned the tables on him in the most touching and cleverest of moments.

Tennant was in 11 of the episodes (out of 13) but it still didn't seem enough.  His brief flirtation with being a hero was a delight and left you wanting more.  But sadly he will not be in season 2.   We'll have to look elsewhere for our fix and until then I remain firmly under his spell.


 

 Carrie Ann Moss AKA Jeri Hogarth

A

Is everyone yAAAwning at the A's I been handing out?  Sorry, they are well deserved.  

If there was ever a shark in the water it was Moss' Hogarth.  Just look at the above frame and you can get a sense of her character sizing up Jessica for a future meal.  Confident, self assured, hand on hip and dressed to the nines.  Moss takes measure of Jones likes something she wants to devour.

That's not a comment on her sexual proclivity but one never knows.  Her sexuality was one of desire but also opportunistic in nature.  If Hogarth could could take advantage of a situation to suit her needs she would do it with a flick of her shark skinned tail.

Moss' acting agility is reminiscent of physical work from the Matrix trilogy but her real acuity in the field dates back as far at Memento.  Her ability for deception, duplicity and naked treachery seemed chameleon in nature.  Even at the very end when exposed for her true self she turns that persona to her advantage and literally bails out Jones much to Jessica's stunned relief.

Hopefully Moss will make it back for season 2 of Jessica Jones.  She has a credit on IMDB for the first episode of Iron Fist so that is a good sign.


 


Eka Darville AKA Malcolm Ducasse

A

Screw it, everyone gets an A.  I'm always impressed when someone can replicate the ravages of drug use.  Darville was exceptional at this but it didn't end there.  When his character escaped the thrall of Kilgrave he became the sensitive peacemaker.  He brought the survivors together and showed a lot of heart.  He remained fragile yes, but at the very end showed the inner strength needed to, well, pick up the phone and decide to enter the fray.

Frail, valiant and courageous, Darville covered them all.  Welcome to the team Malcolm.






It won't be long before we see Jessica again.  She returns when she is added to the Defenders slated to come out on Netflix sometime in 2016.  Will she wear the skin tight costume Trish hilariously brought out for her?  Not if Jones has anything to say about it!