Friday, October 21, 2016

TV Review - Supergirl: Season 2

It's rare for a series to be cancelled at one TV network and then be picked up at another. The last time and probably only other time that it happened with a female super hero was Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, which moved from the WB network to UPN. Last year, CBS launched this series about the DC Comics character to some fanfare but the ratings dropped to unsustainable lows, so it was moved to the CW, a network that is actually the combination of the now defunct WB and UPN. It joins a lineup of super hero shows on the CW, including Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, all in the same universe, one shepherded by big-time, Hollywood producer, Greg Berlanti. It's also been teased that either the titular character here will appear in any of those other shows or characters from those other shows will appear here.

Melissa Benoist (Glee) stars as Kara Danvers, a reporter at CatCo Media, a conglomerate in National City. She's mild-mannered and meek, a little awkward and clumsy. She also wears glasses. In other words, she's a female Clark Kent, except slightly younger. Like Clark Kent, she has an alter ego who wears rubber tights and a cape. She can fly and shoot lasers from her eyes. She has super strength and is invincible. Kara is Supergirl, the hero of National City who fights crimes, saves people from fires and defends against other super beings like aliens.

Calista Flockhart (Ally McBeal and Brothers & Sisters) co-stars as Catherine Grant, the owner of CatCo Media, and the version of Perry White in this series. Perry White is the iconic boss of Clark Kent at his reporter job at the Daily Planet in the city of Metropolis. Catherine or Cat, however, is more like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. It's a much more developed character than the caricature it can seem. She's actually a mix of the mentor figure in The Flash, played by Tom Cavanagh.

Flockhart is easily the best performance in the whole series. Unfortunately, when the series moved to the CW, it also moved from filming in Los Angeles to Vancouver, Canada. This means the actors would have to move and essentially live in Vancouver for six to eight months. Flockhart couldn't or didn't want to do that, so her character leaves the series after the second episode. She's so funny, beautiful, bittersweet and a light that will certainly be missed.

Mehcad Brooks (True Blood and Necessary Roughness) also co-stars as James Olsen, a photographer from Metropolis who worked at the Daily Planet. He's now working at CatCo Media and has worked his way up. When Cat Grant leaves, James takes over her office. His relationship won't be the same to Kara. He was a potential love interest but has been put in the friend zone for now.

Ian Gomez (Felicity and Cougar Town) who plays Snapper Carr is potentially going to become the new Perry White for Kara and possibly fill that contentious mentor role Tom Cavanagh has in The Flash.

Also new this season is Superman visiting National City and Supergirl. In the first season, Kara talked about Superman but we never saw him. Finally, this year we do. Both Supergirl and Superman are aliens from outer space. Both have the same powers. When Superman visits, he helps Supergirl stop bad guys and save people from disasters. He's normally doing so by himself in Metropolis and there is all kinds of history there, which is carrying over here but most are assumed from the major beats in the comics.

Tyler Hoechlin (Teen Wolf and 7th Heaven) plays Clark Kent aka Superman. Hoechlin is in great shape and has an amazing and very muscular body, but he's not in as great shape as Henry Cavill who stars in the movie version of Superman. Cavill is taller, bigger and way more buff. He's huge, chiseled and extremely more masculine than Hoechlin who comes across here as a boy compared to Cavill.

However, his boyish charm actually helps him to be a better Clark Kent. If Hoechlin never puts on the tights and cape and was only Clark Kent, I wouldn't mind. Hoechlin is more comfortable and more a fit in that role. As Superman, he just looks like a kid playing dress-up for Halloween.

The show is good with developing relationships between Supergirl and people in her life like James, Catherine and now Clark. It's just as good in that regard as the other Berlanti properties. What it fails to do, at least in these first two episodes, is establish its villains. The first two episodes center on a villain named Metallo, played by Frederick Schmidt.

Unfortunately, aside from his name, there is nothing that is learned about him. Superman: The Animated Series did an episode about Metallo back in 1996 called "The Way of All Flesh." Malcolm McDowell voiced Metallo and that vocal performance not only provided more depth and nuance to the character but the writing really supported the character, much more than the writing here did.

The cartoon ironically fleshed out the character of Metallo a million times more than this live-action series. The cartoon helped to understand who Metallo was as a person and what his life was like and what he felt. This series didn't.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Mondays at 8PM on CW.

TV Review - Conviction (2016)

This series has a slightly different angle but in reality it's a police and legal procedural like most others. The different angle is that people investigate cases that have already been tried and convicted. The premise being is that a lot of those cases have put the wrong people behind bars, which is a truism to a degree. Yet, the way the show goes about it is no different from other shows that are about the initial charge and trial of any particular crime be it rape, murder or anything else.

Created by Liz Friedlander who directed shows on the CW, as well as CBS' Stalker, and also by Liz Friedman who wrote for House, the series feels like those procedural programs. It has the format of Stalker and House. It leans more toward House but set not in a hospital and not centered around a male character but a female one.

Hayley Atwell (The Pillars of the Earth and Agent Carter) stars as Hayes Morrison, the daughter of the previous U.S. President who used to be a defense attorney and a law professor. She gets hired to the District Attorney's office to be the leader of a unit that looks into possible, wrong convictions. Yet, she's a coke addict and somewhat promiscuous. In that regard, Hayes is like the protagonist of House as well as the other show Friedman wrote, Elementary, which was about a drug-addicted Sherlock Holmes.

Like House or Stalker, she of course has a team that helps her. None of them are interesting with the exception of Manny Montana who plays Frankie Cruz, a Latino forensics expert who used to be in jail but now works to free wrongly convicted people. Of the first two episodes, it's hinted that Manny is gay and has a relationship with a guy still in prison, and now wants to free him.

The series has only hinted at this though. If the series has a full season, it seems likely that it will pull the trigger on this storyline and devote an episode to Manny getting Hayes and the team to help him free his gay lover in prison. It probably won't be as compelling as the same storyline in HBO's Oz between Tobias Beecher and Chris Keller, played by Lee Tergesen and Christopher Meloni.

I'll be curious to see that episode, but it will probably be a one-off and never followed up. As such, it will leave this series otherwise as another lame procedural.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG-VL.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Mondays at 10PM on ABC.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

TV Review - Quantico: Season 2

I never finished watching the first season, but I did see for a while that it was about a group of young people training to be FBI agents and then later, some time in the future, those young people are investigating a terrorist attack in New York City. It got very convoluted as one of the FBI agents was revealed to be one of the terrorists.

The first misstep was the killing of the character played by Brian J. Smith, but understandably Brian J. Smith couldn't do much more than a couple of episodes before returning to his role in the second season of Sense8, a far better role than any role here.

Priyanka Chopra stars as Alex Parrish, the FBI agent who was accused of being a terrorist in that first season and not just because of her brown skin. Yet, she ended up figuring out who the real terrorists were and stopping them, all while looking gorgeous.

Jake McLaughlin (Crash and Believe) co-stars as Ryan Booth, another FBI agent who is a white manly man and who is also there to be the sexy, rough, love interest for Alex. He hooks up with Alex in the first season and builds a relationship with her.

Created by Joshua Safran (Gossip Girl and Smash), the series is structured on two timelines and simply flashes back and forth between the two. One timeline is the agents in training and the second timeline is in the future with the agents at work to solve or stop some terrorists or criminals. This second season is no different.

Instead of a bombing in New York, this time around it's a hostage situation. It goes beyond territory covered in Scandal where in the first episode here the First Lady is beheaded. In Scandal, the son of the First Lady is poisoned, but here the First Lady herself is actually beheaded and it certainly ups the stakes. It does so in the way that makes you want to stay in this future hostage situation. However, the writers feel the need to flashback to a year ago to show us the agents in training, which seems more distracting and diluting of the thrills than anything else.

There are pleasures to be had in the flashbacks to the agents in training. Instead of training to be FBI agents, the young people in question are training to be CIA agents near Williamsburg, Virginia, at a secret facility known as "The Farm." Alex and Ryan are still FBI agents, but they're assigned to work undercover at the CIA to uncover a conspiracy that's suspected to be there.

The pleasures to be had include learning CIA basics, or the fundamentals of being a spy. Those fundamentals involve getting information from people or hiding information from people, as well as assessing or analyzing one's surroundings like threats and being highly observational. It's interesting to learn spy craft. However, those pleasures don't trump actually seeing that craft in action in a real situation. In that regard, this series doesn't come close to Homeland on Showtime.

Other pleasures are the young people themselves. The makers of this show have assembled a very attractive cast of actors. Blair Underwood (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and In Treatment) plays Owen Hall, a former CIA agent who is the teacher at The Farm and the one training all the young people. Underwood is sexy himself, even at age 52. Yet, three of the young people are guys whom are frequently shirtless and are as Alex describes a, "CrossFit Leader Board."

Russell Tovey in 'Quantico'
Russell Tovey (Looking and Being Human) plays Henry Doyle. Aarón Díaz plays Léon Velez and David Lim plays Sebastian Chen. Not much is known about Henry, Léon and Sebastian, except all being drop-dead gorgeous. It's actually Alex and Ryan's job to learn about them and discover which one they can trust.

There are also three other young people, two women. Tracy Ifeachor (Doctor Who and The Originals) plays Lydia Bates, the daughter of Owen Hall and Pearl Thusi plays Dayana Mampasi. Heléne Yorke plays Lee Davis, a blonde event planner. All three women are beautiful and all three become under suspicion as well. So, one can relish in the delights of these good-looking actors giving enticing performances. Yet, the series relies too much on the flashbacks and mystery to be wholly enjoyable.

There was an article online that detailed why this series was frustrating, according to its treatment of its gay character, Elias, played by Rick Cosnett (The Flash). It was apparently not as unforgivable a sin to me as it was to certain bloggers. My hope is that Tovey's character Henry is gay and will end up redeeming the show to some degree.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG-LSV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Sundays at 10PM on ABC.

TV Review - Secrets and Lies: Season 2

The first season was about a man who is accused of a child murder. It was a shocking crime and the series was mainly about the man's frustration, as the series makes clear he's innocent but the female detective doggedly investigates him. The series follows the man as he basically figures out himself who the killer is. The first season was a remake of the Australian show of the same name and pretty much copied that Australian version faithfully. This second season is not a remake or an adaptation. It's a new thing unto itself.

This season is interesting because it centers on a black man who is the prime suspect when his wife is murdered. His wife is a white woman. Given all the hoopla over the O. J. Simpson case this year in both film and TV, the idea of a black man suspected of killing a white woman is topical, but it's a wonder why this season isn't playing up the racial aspects more. I suppose that writer Barbie Kligman's ignorance of racism is a sign of progress.

Diversity is good, but, as this season goes along, it's still very much male-centered. The protagonist and prime suspect again is a man. Despite being obvious that the prime suspect isn't guilty, the likelihood is that the killer is another man, which in many ways is boring. Maybe Kligman will swap her protagonist's gender next season, if there is a third season.

This season focuses on a wealthy family. Last season was about a small business owner who lived rather well in a really upscale suburb. Yet, he was blue-collar and worked a lot with his hands. He got dirty and sweaty for his job. This is the opposite of the protagonist here.

Michael Ealy (Sleeper Cell and Almost Human) stars as Eric Warner, an executive at his father's financial firm, the Sherwood Equity Group. Eric is being groomed to take over the company. He's a black man but his father is white. He's black but he's also white collar. He dresses in what looks like tailor-made or fashion designer suits. He always looks impeccable. He probably sits in an office all day.

The first episode is the death of his wife, Kate, played by Jordana Brewster (The Fast and the Furious). She falls off the top floor of the building where Sherwood Equity Group is located. Prior to the fall, there was a party. Piecing together who was where and who would have had motive to kill her are the focus.

Juliette Lewis (Wayward Pines and The Firm) reprises her role as Andrea Cornell, the detective from the first season who is the epitome of stoicism. She is strictly professional. She displays no humor and no compassion. She is there to be a thorough investigator and nothing more. She acts seemingly without passion or prejudice. She's a veritable ice queen.

As last season, her character exists mainly to be a foil to the main character under suspicion. The problem is her character remains in the background and somewhat distant. Kligman and her writers never allow us into her head or to follow her or see things from her point-of-view. She might as well be a phantom haunting Eric. She's not like Gillian Anderson in The Fall who balances stoic woman with a fully developed character shown outside her work.

With no racial or gender issues to juggle, the only things left are rather standard soap-opera tropes. The third episode suggests what might be akin to the issues involved with the 2008 financial crisis, but the revelation at the end of the first episode about Kate having a mystery baby that Eric never knew seems to be a driving force. Long lost children popping out of nowhere has been a soap-opera trope forever. This series picks up that trope and runs with it

Terry O'Quinn (Hawaii Five-0 and Lost) co-stars as John Warner, the father of Eric and the owner of Sherwood Equity Group. He's getting older and wants to pass the business onto his three children of which Eric is the eldest. He has a black wife who has been hospitalized and comatose. He's a sweet and loving man but he's not opposed to covering things up.

Mekia Cox (Undercovers and Almost Human) also co-stars as Amanda Warner, the sister of Eric who happens to be a lawyer. She represents Eric in his interactions with Detective Cornell. She's a no-nonsense kind of person, a good match for Cornell but we really only see her in connection to Eric's interactions with the police.

Charlie Barnett (Chicago Fire and The Happy Sad) co-stars as Patrick Warner, the younger brother who is the veritable comic relief. He's very personable, charming and funny. He's there as not only a brother but also a friend, a true friend who's there for Eric. He's a more smooth and suave version of Dan Fogler in the first season.

Eric Winter (Days of Our Lives and Witches of East End) plays Neal Oliver, the best friend to Eric and co-worker.

Kenny Johnson (Bates Motel and The Shield) has a recurring role as Danny, a mysterious enforcer. He's a big, buff, tough guy who seems like a threat but might have an agenda that aligns with Eric.

The cast is of course fantastic, but the way in which the mystery is unpeeled or doled out slowly makes me want to skip to the end and only watch the very last episode. What's interesting is seeing how a man deals with the aftermath of being under suspicion of murder. In the business world, there is a lack of confidence that affect how companies operate. This might be compelling to watch, but instead, the series will likely veer to mystery baby drama and who might the father be.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG-L.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Sundays at 9PM on ABC.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

TV Review - Timeless

Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan have created this series. Kripke created Supernatural, a fun, horror adventure in the vein of The X-Files and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Ryan created The Shield, an innovative, thrilling and superior, cop drama that probably stands as the top-five or top-three, best cop dramas of all-time. Unfortunately, Kripke and Ryan bring none of that skill or brilliance to this series about time travel. It doesn't help that this year there have been four other TV shows that are about or strongly incorporate time travel. After all those shows, this one feels really derivative and mostly lame because it's not really setting itself apart. It simply feels like a lesser version of all of the previous and recent, time-travel shows.

Abigail Spencer (Rectify and Suits) stars as Lucy, a history professor and anthropologist. She has a sister and a sick mother, which is the extent of her personal life that we know. She is struggling to get tenure at her job, but the government recruits her to work at Mason Industries after terrorists stole a time machine invented there. Mason Industries has a prototype that they want Lucy to use to go after the terrorists and prevent them from altering the timeline.

Matt Lanter (90210 and Star Wars: Clone Wars) co-stars as Wyatt Logan, a Master Sergeant in the Special Forces, a military soldier who tags along as the muscle and the sharp shooter. He's also a widow.

Malcolm Barrett (Better Off Ted and Peeples) also co-stars as Rufus Carlin, the African-American scientist who works at Mason Industries. He's basically the pilot of the prototype time machine.

Goran Visnjic (Extant and ER) plays Garcia Flynn, the leader of the terrorists. He steals the main, time machine and wants to alter the timeline for some reason. His altercations involve killing people before they originally died in history. To what end is not yet revealed. Lucy has brief encounters with him in which he doles out bits of what his end goal or motivations are. Yet, mostly Garcia is a mystery.

Three of the other four TV shows about time travel are on the CW network. One of which is Legends of Tomorrow, which had a terrorist named Vandal Savage who also steals a time machine and goes back to change the timeline by killing people too. Therefore, Garcia Flynn equals Vandal Savage. Vandal's motivations remained a mystery too for too long on that series. Hopefully, this show won't do the same with Garcia.

So far, each episode has Garcia going to very specific, historical events. The first episode was May 6, 1937, which was the Hindenburg disaster. The second episode was April 14, 1865, which was President Lincoln's assassination. Lucy and her team track him to each of these events and what happens is that Lucy accidentally ends up interfering with those events. Lucy then has to try to correct the interference. It echoes what The Flash has been doing on the CW this past season, or what 11/22/63 on Hulu did as well.

Like The Flash, when Lucy returns to the present, she finds little things in her personal life has been changed. For example, after she gets back from the Hindenburg disaster, she learns that her sister no longer exists. She tells this to the government officials, but they don't seem too concerned. She even proves what happened yet no one really cares.

Things get even stupider when Wyatt and Rufus want to start making changes in the past. When Lucy tells them that it isn't a good idea, they make her feel bad about it. Again, it's like they don't care that Lucy's sister no longer exists and was erased from history. They don't care about the consequences. They just want to act selfishly and in the moment.

It's as if nobody has seen the TV series Star Trek and its iconic 1967 episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever." Even as cheesy as it was, that series by Gene Roddenberry was far better. In fact, the 1989 series Quantum Leap was far better than this.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG-V.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Mondays at 10PM on NBC.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Movie Review - Kevin Hart: What Now

Kevin Hart is a record-breaker. He has been defying expectations for a while. As an African-American comedian trying to establish himself, that certainly helped. His on-stage persona is loud and abrasive. His voice can often be annoying and one can either be charmed or turned off by his jackhammer, nails-on-chalkboard, rapid-fire delivery. As an actor, he mostly just transplants that same persona on screen. He doesn't act. He seemingly can't act beyond that persona. He's certainly not like Eddie Murphy who can do impressions and really portray characters. He's not even Chris Rock who isn't the greatest actor but who is a smart and very sharp writer.

Hart tamped down that loud and abrasive persona for his previous film and summer hit Central Intelligence, opposite Dwayne Johnson. He was mainly the straight man. It was a departure that represented potential growth for Hart. Unfortunately, none of that growth is evident here. What we see is typical Hart that either you'll accept or not. It's clear that at least 53,000 people accepted it. That's the round number for how many tickets were sold in this one-time event. Hart performed at Lincoln Financial Field, the huge football stadium in Philadelphia. That event was sold out, which was one for the record books.

It's just him alone doing stand-up. He does some interesting things with his lighting design, as well as still images and graphics in the huge monitors behind him on stage. Other than that, it's Hart taking us into issues with his domestic life. Topics include things that scare him about his mansion-like home, things that bother him about his family, particularly his children, things that would make him or anyone leave or give up on their significant others and things he hates about Starbucks. He has recurring gags about injuries from animal attacks and how black women don't believe anything.

If there is a theme to this stand-up special, it's probably that he doesn't give a shit, as he says. It's part of his on-stage persona that he has little patience for a lot of human behaviors, or little empathy for empathy. He has a hardcore realness and is the ultimate straight-shooter. Yet, for some reason, many of his jokes felt stale or ones I'd heard him do before. I don't know why but his opening joke about a raccoon felt old-hat. His joke about the "pocket pussy" felt old as well, but mainly because the TV series Blue Mountain State did a joke about it that was a million times better.

The audience reaction shots were a lot funnier than a lot of the punchlines that Hart was dropping. The only time I truly laughed was during the framework for his stand-up act, which a lot of stand-up specials do. It's a James Bond spoof. It involved Don Cheadle who has a hilarious but ultimately brief bit. Cheadle made me laugh. What does it say about a Kevin Hart movie where the one thing that made me laugh was not Kevin Hart?

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for some sexual material, and language throughout.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 36 mins.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Movie Review - The Accountant

Yes, this is a Ben Affleck movie. No, he didn't direct it, but the takeaway is probably going to be his performance, as it will be one to add to the ever-growing stable of films about autism. Unlike most, this isn't just a sentimental drama aiming to be a tearjerker or a highly sympathetic look to the struggles of people with development disorders, or mental issues like Rain Man (1988). It's instead trying to be a thriller or quasi-action film that's supposed to show even a person on the spectrum can be a bad-ass, stone-cold killer in the vein of John Wick (2014). A lot of the marketing leading up to the release of this movie compared it to Jason Bourne. This isn't quite correct. The comparison to the Keanu Reeves movie John Wick is probably more appropriate.

Gavin O'Connor is the director and O'Connor is known as the man behind Warrior, a kind of sports drama about two brothers who live separate lives, distanced due to parental issues, who then come together by the end after fighting each other physically. Not to spoil this movie too much, but it's basically a remake or what could be called the spiritual sequel to Warrior. While O'Connor's 2011 film was more grappling with socioeconomic issues and fatherly abuse churning sibling rivalry, here it's the discrimination and difficulty of autism or similar birth defects and mental disorders.

Ben Affleck stars as Christian Wolff, a man who is autistic but who is high-functioning. He's sensory-sensitive and he's obsessive-compulsive about completing tasks. As is the stereotype, probably started with Rain Man, he's very good at math. It's not the first film that Affleck has done about a person who's super-good at math. It's reminiscent of the film, which won Affleck his first Academy Award, Good Will Hunting (1997). Yet, Affleck is ostensibly in the role that Matt Damon had. With the comparisons to Jason Bourne, which also starred Matt Damon, one could argue that Affleck is somewhat chasing Damon's career. This role, however, isn't as charming or engaging, though by design. Autistic characters have the stereotype of being socially awkward and even emotionally awkward. Here, Affleck is practically robotic.

If anything, this could stand as an origin story for Affleck's version of Batman. There are flashbacks here akin to Batman Begins where you see his younger version learning martial arts and practicing ballistics. The ending has a bit of a hokey resolution that echoed the one in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Batman and Superman aren't brothers, but spiritually could be considered two sides of the same coin. As here, the fight in Batman V. Superman is ceased due to an expression of parental connection.

The writing is a little lacking in the conspiracy that builds in the plot. Assassins are sent to kill Christian Wolff and it's a leap in logic as to why his character is targeted and is needed to die. Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect) plays Dana Cummings, a fellow accountant who is targeted for death too and the reason she's targeted is too over-the-top. She's never a threat, or a threat that rises to the level of assassination.

J. K. Simmons (Whiplash and Juno) co-stars as Ray King, a director at the Treasury Department. He's aware of an accountant that works for several, criminal organizations like several, hardcore, mafia groups. He assigns and in fact blackmails a young, black, female analyst into helping him find the accountant. The analyst is Marybeth Medina, played by Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Spartacus: War of the Damned and Arrow).

Again, like in Batman V. Superman, Ray King and Marybeth engage in a brief debate about vigilantism and if they should be going after this accountant, even when it's revealed that he brutally killed about nine people. Because those people are mobsters, we're supposed not to care. This accountant is meant to be one of the lovable anti-heroes that have dominated film and TV culture for now nearly twenty years, exemplified with such characters as Tony Soprano, Walter White and Dexter Morgan.

Marybeth is given a back story almost intentionally designed to make her character more empathetic to the idea of vigilantism, or committing violence in the aim of some greater good but in reality for revenge. At no point does the movie profess any moral certitude or counter-balance to the sheer, ugly and brutal masculine expression that might is right.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong language and violence.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 8 mins.